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From Where I Am

PG / 22,700 words / 8 chapters / friendship, family / published 01/02/10 / For sapphiretragedy / Art

Summary: Prior to leaving Hogwarts for Christmas break, Albus Severus Potter rediscovers a secret of the Room of Requirement. What he doesn't expect, however, is that the secret will forever change the holiday for himself – and his father. Pre-slash.

Disclaimer: The brilliant characters belong solely to J.K. Rowling. The plot and typos are my own. No profit is being made.

Prompt: Albus Severus returns from Hogwarts with fantastic tales of the Great Severus Snape. Harry assumes his son has been talking with ghosts and portraits – until Snape shows up at his house, looking like he's 36, and upset that he's alive. (I'm very partial to this one.) The rest, is up to you.

A/N: Some small details from canon were changed to suit this story. If you don’t notice them, pretend I didn’t say anything. Cheers to my awesome beta, ChooseToLive, who helped me immeasurably (more than she knows, I’m sure) – especially when my little 5,000 word story decided to whizz past 20,000 (*ahem*). Also, a warm shout-out to my cheering squad (you all know who you are). Your support means a lot to me. For my giftee, sapphiretragedy: I loved your third prompt; it is the basis for this story. I just adore Albus Severus Potter. I know you asked for slash, but I saw a bigger story there that was begging to be told first. The idea of it fascinated and inspired me, and this is what came out of that process. I hope you enjoy it. Written for Snarry Holidays 2009.


“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances:
if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” – Carl Jung



Chapter 1 : Nowhere Else

Harry Potter gracefully wove his way through the throng of people around him, many of whom stopped talking to gaze at him as he approached or turned to clap him gently on the shoulder by way of a greeting. As he walked, Harry acknowledged them all with a friendly smile and a nod of his head, but clearly had a destination of his own in mind and kept to it resolutely. Only two in the crowd were bold enough to extend their hands, and smiled in relief and thinly-veiled awe when Harry proffered his own in return.

In the nineteen years since the demise of Voldemort, rare was the occasion that Harry could go somewhere in public without being recognized. He was well used to it by now, however. King’s Cross was hardly the place to go if one wished to maintain a low profile, yet that is exactly where Harry found himself on a chilly December afternoon.

As he cleared the waiting crowd, a richly-timbred voice spoke somewhere off to his right.

“Potter.”

The voice was reminiscent of another and it stilled Harry’s body for the briefest of moments, as though his heart dared to hope. But as he turned to look over his shoulder, his eyes quickly mapped out the long-familiar – but gently aged – face of Draco Malfoy, and he scoffed internally at his willful sentimentality.

“Draco…" Harry nodded minutely. Not really wanting to indulge in further conversation, he kept walking, but stopped abruptly when he felt a hand on his forearm. It was Draco’s.

“Erm, sorry to hear about you and Ginny. The divorce, I mean.”

Harry blanched slightly at the knowledge that his personal life had reached Malfoy’s ears, but then remembered with a pang of resentment that he’d be hard-pressed to find someone in wizarding England (or beyond) who hadn’t yet heard.

He regarded Draco for a moment, almost like he was seeing him for the first time, and realized there was sincerity in those gray eyes. “Thanks,” Harry sighed, a little puzzled. Why did Draco care about a Weasley? Or him, for that matter?

Seeming to sense the awkwardness, Draco switched gears. “I hear one of your sons was sorted into Slytherin. Scorpius mentioned it. That must have come as a shock,” he added, his voice softer.

Harry would have barked out a derisive laugh if it hadn’t been for the almost cautious, conversational tone to Draco’s voice. Was it possible he was trying to bury the hatchet after all these years? Harry narrowed his eyes almost imperceptibly.

“Yes, that’s correct. Albus, my middle child.” Harry paused for a second, adjusting to the odd truce that seemed to be forming. He continued more casually. “As for him being sorted into Slytherin, I was thrilled. Seeing as how he was named after Severus – Professor Snape – I felt it only fitting that Al would have the chance to honor that legacy by being in the same House.”

At this, Draco’s eyes went wide and he spluttered out something that sounded a bit like an apology, pathetic though it was with its large amount of back-pedaling. Harry smirked slightly at the notion of Draco floundering – oh, how things had changed indeed – yet felt a strange sense of esteem wash over him at the realization that perhaps Draco was no longer the manipulative, amoral prat he remembered from school. Harry supposed that being a father might have had something to do with that – children had a way of shifting your priorities, and bringing what is truly important to light.

After a few more polite but stilted exchanges, Harry decided he might be able to get used to this new civility between them. Finally, bidding Draco farewell with a small wave, he wandered over to an empty spot on the platform. Leaning his back against the wall, he crossed his arms over his chest, his wool coat pressing against the cold stones. Relishing his moment of solitude, he took a deep breath and reflected on the thoughts of Snape that had begun to swirl in his mind.

A long-familiar rush of emotions swept over him and his heart felt heavy with guilt. Severus. Harry closed his eyes and remembered – Severus’ memories in the Pensieve, the Shrieking Shack, Nagini, Voldemort, his blind hatred – all of it.

Absentmindedly, he lifted one of his hands and rubbed at his scar. It had faded slightly over the years but would never disappear, he knew. It served as a continual reminder of his past, his turmoil, his sacrifices – especially those who had sacrificed for him – and ultimately of his triumph. But was it a triumph when you lost so many people in the process? He wasn’t always so sure. Friends, teachers, other students, those he considered family, those he never got the chance to know but would have liked to if circumstances had been different… and those he had sorely misjudged.

Harry frowned, sighing heavily. The weight of his… his life… was too much to reconcile at times. What he regretted most was the missed chances; all the things he would never get to say. And somehow talking to a portrait just wasn’t the same. It wasn’t… real. Ironically, despite all his work helping to exonerate Severus (and successfully clearing his name), Harry had not once been to the Headmaster’s office to visit Severus’ portrait. His stomach had churned ruefully whenever the opportunity had arisen – and there had been plenty of opportunities over the years – but somehow he always convinced himself that being the one responsible for ensuring there was a portrait there in the first place was enough.

Or he hoped it was, at least.

But one question still nagged at him more than any of the others. Why had he not gone back to try and save Severus that day at the Shack? He was not actually certain Severus had died. He had thought so, but…

And Severus’ memories had changed… well, everything. Hadn’t they? Harry was not a Healer, true, and probably would not have known what to do for Severus, but perhaps he could have signaled for someone to help him. There had just been so much blood, though…

Harry opened his eyes then, staring ahead but unfocused, watching as his vision swam with a large expanse of scarlet red. Yes, so much blood…

Harry pinched his eyes closed again to rid himself of the thought, but when he reopened them, it was with a small degree of shock. The scarlet red was slowly shaping itself into a boxcar. Harry blinked and his eyes focused more. From a train. The train! The train was here?

How had he missed that? Harry shook his head to clear his muddled thoughts.

The Hogwarts Express had indeed entered the station, crawling along its tracks slowly, its engine churring and whistling as the great train lurched to a halt. Steam billowed merrily from its stack and rose high, swirling in the wintry air as hands and arms and heads started to appear in open windows, waving excitedly at the families gathered – who were, in turn, waving back.

Moments later, it seemed, the exuberant, youthful voice of Albus Severus Potter rang out above the commotion of the other students spilling out onto Platform 9¾.

“Dad!”

As he ran towards Harry, his blue eyes sparkled with glee and he reached his arms out. Harry’s mouth spread into an easy, broad smile and he knelt down on one knee to accept his 11-year-old son into a warm embrace.

Harry pressed his nose to his son’s messy mop of black hair (only slightly less messy than his own) and inhaled softly. Closing his eyes briefly, the familiar comfort of that scent registered and suddenly he was home again. He had no idea how his children could do this to him, but as he felt those small arms gripping his shoulders with youthful intensity and exuberance, a wave of contentment settled over him.

And he knew, in that moment, there was nowhere else he’d rather be.


Chapter 2 : Namesakes

It was Al’s first year at Hogwarts, and consequently, his first break in term. Harry briefly reflected back on that time in his own life, remembering with fondness that Christmas break meant he was free of the Dursleys – and studying – for nearly four blessed weeks. That one year, Ron had stayed at the school too, and that had been one of his best holidays yet. Even so, he wished he could have had a family to go home to instead, like all the other students.

As he glanced down at Al walking next to him, he realized those experiences only served to redouble his dedication to his own children and ensure they had the life he didn’t. Harry squeezed the smaller hand in his until Al looked up, beaming.

“Ready for Diagon Alley?” Harry asked with a smile.

“Yeah!” Al responded excitedly, bouncing as he walked, swinging their hands.

Harry chuckled. “Button up, then,” he advised, helping Al pull on his stocking cap.

As they walked out of King’s Cross and into the wintry afternoon bustle of central London, Harry realized this Christmas was bound to be memorable. The family was going to be split up for the first time… ever.

James had been invited to stay with friends for the duration of the holidays, and had agreed to go before telling either of his parents – presumably so they could not easily object. Secretly, Harry felt James was having a tough time with the divorce, although he and Ginny had tried to split as amicably as possible.

They had shared the reason for their divorce with James and Albus, but not Lily, feeling she would be too young to understand it yet anyway. Frankly, the same could have been said for Albus, but they both decided it would be best to tell him. Al had always been keenly intelligent and observant – if not a little precocious – and had reflected upon the news for awhile before commenting.

“So Dad likes men? And that’s why he can’t be married to a woman anymore?”

At that, Ginny and Harry had both looked at each other, stunned at the simple elegance of his understanding.

Later that night when Harry was putting Al to bed, Al sat up abruptly – obviously considering something, as evidenced by his furrowed brow and pursed lips. Harry bit back a smirk at this trademark gesture of Al’s and waited patiently for the question to make itself known. When Al finally turned to Harry, his eyes were alight with purpose.

“Will you please marry a man then?”

Stunned for the second time that evening, Harry tipped his head with a small smile. “Why would you ask me that?” he inquired gently.

“Because you deserve to be happy, Dad.”

Harry swallowed hard. Yes, precocious alright. He considered Al’s statement for a few moments before deciding this was not the time for that discussion. “Thank you, Al. That means a lot to me. But for now, it’s time you get some sleep.”

Al frowned but lay back onto his pillow with what sounded like a little huff of exasperation. Harry smiled and leaned forward to kiss Al’s forehead and pull the blankets up around him. He whispered a wandless Nox and the lights doused.

As Harry was about to leave, Al’s voice cut into the silence.

“Dad?”

“Yes?”

“I love you.”

Harry’s smile broadened into the darkness, although he knew Al would not be able to see his face. “I love you, too,” Harry said, and then closed the door softly behind him, knowing Al would be able to hear the smile in his voice instead.

Al’s voice interrupted Harry’s reverie.

“Hey, Dad, look! The Leaky Cauldron!” Al had stopped walking and was pointing at the otherwise inconspicuous sign.

Harry looked at him curiously. “Al, we’ve been here before – at the start of term. Don’t you remember?”

“Of course I do. But it’s still cool.” Al shrugged and wrenched open the door. Harry laughed and followed him in.

Once inside, Al continued. “Are we going to get something to drink?”

“I was thinking we’d get some ice cream. Would you rather have butterbeer?”

Al considered his options for scarcely a moment before making a decision. “Definitely ice cream. Let’s go!” Excitement coloring his face, Al grabbed the arm of Harry’s coat and pulled him along out to the brick wall behind the pub.

Harry tapped it with his wand, and as the archway opened up into Diagon Alley, Al slipped his hand back into Harry’s and looked up at him. Harry couldn’t help but bask in the unmitigated joy emanating from his son’s face as he prepared to take in their surroundings – and what a sight it was.

Every shop had been decorated for Christmas, replete with oversized candy canes and glittering red tinsel and gifts and toys stacked and arranged in every window. Ribbons and bows and oversized presents had been charmed to hover above doorways and rooftops, which spun slowly, unraveling and reassembling in the most enchanting of shows. A fusion of holiday sounds and music drifted through the open air, matching the cheer of the bright sunshine as it glistened against the fresh blanket of snow. The street was overflowing with revelers and festive commotion as people wandered from shop to shop, their arms full of packages, kids laughing and pointing and throwing loosely-formed snowballs at each other.

The mood was infectious.

As they made their way down the street, snow crunching underfoot, Harry couldn’t help but notice Gringott’s and the large evergreens that lined both sides of the white staircase. The pointed, snow-capped trees looked like holiday sentinels, ready to herald the arrival of Christmas with what appeared to be thousands and thousands of twinkling blue lights.

Just then, a strolling group of carolers passed, and the familiar tune of “White Christmas” continued to ring in both Harry’s and Al’s ears long after the singers were out of earshot.

When they approached Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour, Harry handed Al some money and watched him tromp off ahead to inspect the various flavors available. Harry was glad when the parlour had reopened many years ago. It had been a favorite spot of his when he was a Hogwarts student – helped along, no doubt, by the liberal amount of free ice cream from Mr. Fortescue himself. The new owner was not as generously inclined but the ice cream was still as delicious as ever.

While Al was off selecting his treat, Harry remembered the last time they were all here as a family – James had eaten so much ice cream that he got sick. It was strange to think that James would be at another family’s house for the holiday. And Lily, still too young for Hogwarts, was staying with Molly and Arthur while Ginny was off playing in a holiday Quidditch tournament. Although a professional player for Wales’ Holyhead Harpies, she had moved herself and the kids back to England after the divorce so that they were closer to the rest of the family. As a newly-single mom with an erratic work schedule, she often relied on her parents and brothers to help her out on short notice. And fortunately, they were only too happy to oblige.

Ginny had asked Harry to move back, too, but he opted to stay in Wales. His kids were only two Apparition points away (and he saw them whenever he wanted) but had grown to love the house in Cardiff, as well as his settled – and mostly quiet – life.

Harry had actually been looking forward to his time alone with Al for weeks – they had always enjoyed a special bond with each other. When Al was at Hogwarts, they shared thrice-weekly correspondence – sometimes more if extra reassurance was needed (although Harry was not allowed to tell James that!). Then, sometime in late October, Al had written to tell of a new friend he made and how excited he was and that maybe he wouldn’t need to write as much now. After that, the correspondence between Harry and Al dropped to once per week. Harry still smiled fondly at that, remembering how tenuous a new school could be until you found someone to share the experience with – someone who understood it, and you.

With a plunk, Al dropped into a chair opposite Harry, pulled his stocking cap off, and smiled as he spooned in his first bite of ice cream. Harry reached over and stuck his finger in what looked like Rudy Rolasto’s Flavor Burst with Sprinkles, scooped out a small portion and then popped it into his mouth quickly, grinning around his finger.

“Dad!” Al said indignantly. “Get your own!”

“I just wanted a taste. That’s all.”

Al huffed and pulled his ice cream closer, curling one of his arms around it as though in protection.

Harry laughed deeply, his eyes twinkling with mirth. Then Al giggled too.

“Ohhhkay, I guess I can share with you,” Al sighed, drawing the words out for effect so Harry would understand what an imposition it was.

Harry laughed again and reached over the table to ruffle Al’s hair affectionately.

“Hey, Dad, can I ask you something?”

“Of course.”

“Remember how I told you about my friend? Umm… from school?”

Harry perked up at this, long since eager to hear something – anything – about Al’s new friend. “Yes?”

“Well…” Al paused and pushed his spoon around in his ice cream distractedly. Then he looked up at Harry. “I hope it’s okay… I invited him over for Christmas.” He paused again, apparently trying to assess the reaction to his news. “He didn’t have anywhere else to go,” Al added quickly, obviously hoping it would help his case. He looked back down at his ice cream.

Surprised, Harry blinked for a moment while his mind was barraged with thoughts. Slightly crestfallen at the idea that his holiday alone with Al was going to gain company, he also realized what compassion Al had shown his new friend in extending the invitation. He – Harry – knew exactly what it was like to not have anywhere to go over the holidays. So how could he possibly fault Al for that? He wished Al would have asked first, but that seemed to be a pattern with his kids: do first, ask permission later. He sighed, knowing all too well who they got that particular trait from.

“Dad?” Al asked timidly, looking up at him through the fringe of his hair.

Harry drew his lower lip into his mouth in consideration and leaned forward to loosely fold his arms on the table. Thoughts of Scorpius Malfoy and scads of other little Slytherins flashed in his mind. Then again, what made Harry think Al’s friend had to be a Slytherin? “Al, I really wish you would have asked me about this first.”

Al looked remorseful. “I know, I’m sorry. It all happened really fast. And I was afraid you would say no.”

“I see.” Harry paused, thinking how best to go from here. “Is your friend in Slytherin too?”

Al looked up suddenly and a quick flash of panic crossed his eyes, but then disappeared. “Well, yeah…”

Harry furrowed his brow slightly, trying to decode his son’s hesitation on that question. “Does ‘he’ have a name?”

“Yes,” Al took a deep breath and paused before smiling hopefully. “His name is Severus. Severus Snape.”

Out of the five or six answers Harry had anticipated hearing, that was certainly not one of them. His head spun upon mention of the name (already fresh on his mind from earlier) but mainly from the unexpected context. He felt his brow furrow as he swallowed hard, confusion battling with emotions, but then realized what Al must be referring to and he composed himself quickly.

“Have you have been in visiting with Severus’ portrait?” His features relaxed into a small, fond smile at the mere idea.

“Nope,” Al responded, digging his spoon into his ice cream and looking victorious at the large chunk he pulled out.

Harry studied his son briefly. “So there is… does he have… a ghost in the castle?” Something about the idea of that unsettled him greatly.

Al tipped his head as he pulled the spoon back out of his mouth. “No, he’s a real person.” Al shrugged, and then before Harry could react or respond, he plowed on, suddenly gaining confidence and excitement. “He’s teaching me all about potions, too. I thought I would only get to watch but then he let me help him!”

Harry’s mind seemed to be going in every direction as he tried desperately to make sense of it all. For the briefest of moments, his heart began to hope that maybe, perhaps, Snape had really survived.

But how was that even possible? he wondered, before fiercely stamping out the thought. There must be some mistake, or perhaps the Snape bloodline still existed and Severus was just a name that had gotten passed down through the generations. Yet that didn’t seem at all plausible, especially given that Snape’s father was a Muggle.

Harry set out to clarify.

“What does your friend – Severus – look like?” he asked, with as much idle curiosity as he could muster.

Al thought for a moment and then said, “Well, he’s got black hair like me, but his is longer. Umm, he has hair on his chin like you do.” Al gestured his fingers below his mouth to indicate a goatee. “Oh, and he has a really big nose.” Al giggled at this, covering his mouth with his hands.

Harry felt the air rush from his lungs as his heart jumped into his throat. It couldn’t be… it wasn’t possible!

Was it?

Harry removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose, squeezing his eyes closed for a second, trying to ignore the rising panic and anticipation swirling in his body. On a whim, he threw out one more query.

“How old is Severus? Is he a student at Hogwarts?”

“No!” Al answered, shaking his head in an exaggerated fashion, grinning. It was as though that was the silliest question anyone could have asked of him. “He’s your age, I think.”

Astonished, Harry’s mind quickly tried to process this information. “You mean he’s thirty-seven, like me? Or does he look more like Grandpa Weasley’s age?”

“He’s not old like Grandpa! He looks like you.” Al spoke so matter-of-factly that for a minute, Harry could not decide if this was all part of some elaborate ruse – though how Al could pull that off, let alone conceive of it, he did not know – or if it could be possible that Al was telling the truth. But the Snape he knew had been nearly twenty years his senior – that certainly didn’t explain the younger doppelganger Al had befriended. Perhaps it was just someone who had adopted the name for their own self-serving reasons.

Yes, it must be a coincidence.

Disregarding it as he was wont to do proved difficult, though, when a nagging, suspicious thought continued to nettle at him.

“So it’s okay that Severus comes over?” Al asked, sounding hopeful once again.

Resolving himself to play along for now – and realizing there was only one way to get an answer to this – Harry nodded.

Al smiled, relieved. Then, seeming to consider something else, his smile faded.

“Did I mess up Christmas?”

Outwardly, Harry smiled kindly. Inwardly, it was laced with an unease he couldn’t place, but he did not allow it to show. “No, you didn’t mess up Christmas. It was good of you to open our home to a friend, especially this time of year. Next time, though—”

“—I know, I know, ask first,” Al grinned. “I’m sorry, Dad.”

Harry let out a soft bark of laughter as he regarded his son fondly. So much like himself in many ways, but also quite reminiscent of his two namesakes lately.

Namesakes.

Harry’s mind lingered on Severus for a moment longer before he decided to push the thoughts forcefully from his mind. No, now was not the time. Instead, he refocused his attention on Al, who had just finished his ice cream and was licking his fingers.

“Ready to go pick out some presents?” Harry asked him, he tone re-engaged and interested.

At this, Al’s face lit up as though he had almost forgotten why they were there. “Yeah!”

“Alright then, where should we start?” A warm smile infused his tone.

Hand in hand once again, they began to walk down the street, the whole of Diagon Alley and its Christmas wonders stretched out before them, beckoning, glinting and magical in the waning afternoon light.


Chapter 3 : Saving Snape

In the blackness of night, just before dawn, the last echoes of Voldemort's omnipresent voice dissolved into the stifling air. It was followed by the fading footsteps of Harry, Ron, and Hermione as they made their way back through the tunnel, leaving an unnatural silence to descend upon the Shrieking Shack.

Had he been alert, he would have recognized it for what it was: the calm before the storm. But as it was, Severus Snape lay unconscious on the rune-etched floor of the Shack, amidst a pool of blood from the cursed wound in his neck. The bite from Nagini had gone deep and the blood loss had been quick – so quick, in fact, that Severus had had only enough time to release his memories for Harry before the room started to spin and his vision and mind faded into oblivion.

Harry.

Harry had seemed to appear out of nowhere, those green eyes regarding him with a mixture of horror and confusion and pity. As Harry’s face had swam in Severus’ rapidly-blurring vision, a rush of emotions hit him as he tried to concentrate on those eyes – so unguarded and searching – while his mind whispered to him conspiratorially: look at me, Harry. See me, Lily.

Precious few moments later, everything went black. Unfortunately, Severus was not able to witness what happened next.

* * *

From somewhere in the vicinity of the highest turret at Hogwarts, the fiery plumage of a magnificent winged bird leapt into action and soared soundlessly towards the Shack – its flight wholly undetected, no doubt by design. With a faint whoosh of wings, the phoenix entered an open window and landed on the grimy floor next to Severus with a soft thump. Blinking as though to assess the situation, Fawkes tipped his head with a twitch and hopped closer. Trilling softly, he craned his head over Severus’ neck and closed his eyes for a long moment. When he reopened them, glistening beads of moisture appeared and slid heavily down the smooth feathers of his face. As each tear landed, a sharp hiss emitted from the wound – the distinctive sound of flesh being healed from the scourge of dark magic.

* * *

Severus stirred with a painful groan but did not open his eyes or otherwise move. As though that was the confirmation he was looking for, Fawkes briefly flexed the long, slender feathers on top of his head and cawed. Then, he lifted his wings upwards in one graceful, sweeping motion until the two feather tips touched, and disappeared instantly in a brilliant burst of flames.

Seeing the flash of light behind his eyelids, Severus’ mind slowly ground into gear and he tried to process his surroundings. It was quiet and chilly. His body started to shiver, but more likely from the exhaustive effort of physical recovery than from the temperature. His mind began to reel, trying to remember what had happened and how he had come to be in this place.

Is this what it feels like to be dead?

All he seemed to have the energy for was to try and open his eyes. When he did so, he panicked when his gaze was met with a shroud of inky black darkness. He feared he had lost his sense of sight and felt his eyes dart back and forth into the expanse of space before him, desperately trying to make out any semblance of shape or form. As his heart rate pulsed, he felt himself gulp inelegantly for air.

That was when he saw it: a swift, blinding burst of flames. The reds and oranges and yellows and whites seared into his retinas, and by impulse alone, he snapped his eyes shut as fast as he could, a vain attempt to shield himself from the onslaught of intense light. Realizing he probably could not move or protect himself in any way from whatever had just happened, the panic set in anew. But just as he was about to brace himself for attack, a gentle melodic sound rang out into the silence and caused him to still his mind and listen. It was familiar, somehow, and oddly comforting.

Nearby, the heavy shuffling of feet further directed his attention. The sound got louder as it seemed to approach, then stopped altogether. Finally, a voice, barely above a whisper.

“Severus? Can you hear me?”

Severus’ mind caught at the mention of that name and he mentally recoiled. Severus. It was a long moment before he realized that the name was his and that the person speaking, whoever it was, was talking to him. He fought to open his eyes again to acknowledge the question, but felt trapped in something thick, as though his mind could not find its way to the surface.

Without warning, he felt a hand on his shoulder, touching him tentatively. The voice, when it spoke again, was directed somewhere off to Severus’ side.

“He’s fading quickly. We need to move him now.”

A soft thrush of wind hit Severus’ cheek as he felt something lightweight land on his arm, followed by a short caw.

“No, go on ahead and take Severus to my place. I will be right behind you. Quickly, now.”

At those words, Severus felt something thin and sharp pinch firmly onto his arm, but before he could respond or react, he saw another flash of light spring up behind his eyelids as a strange sensation pulled at his navel from the inside. All at once, his body seemed to be pulled into a space that, by all accounts, should have been too small to allow such a thing, and it caused the air to rush from his lungs.

The discomfort was short-lived, though, and moments later he registered something soft beneath his shoulder and head. Disoriented and weary, he gladly let the darkness take hold again, letting his mind fade into those welcoming depths.

The last thing he remembered was the word phoenix, as though it was whispered directly into his subconscious.


Chapter 4 : Secundus Vicis

The light that started to filter through his closed eyelids was enough to make him squint, and he was suddenly aware that he was alive. Or at least he thought he was alive.

As though to test the theory, he peered out from under heavy lids in an attempt to ascertain his surroundings. It seemed he was alone and it was quiet. Slowly opening his eyes all the way, he took in the sparse furnishings of the small room before him: he was lying on a bed, a small wooden nightstand to his left. On its surface was a dusty, antique lamp and a white clock that long ago seemed to favor repair. A lone window split the length of the longest wall and a paneled door stood just beyond the foot of the bed. To its right, in the corner, sat an old rocking chair; over its rise, a quilt was draped haphazardly.

Is this some kind of hospital or institution? Severus wondered.

Just then, there was a knock at the door. Severus tensed and watched the entrance to the room closely, a pang of unease and fear flooding his body. He felt stiff and sore and knew he would be at a disadvantage if he needed to move or react quickly. He immediately thought of his wand, but before he could attempt a nonverbal location spell, the door to the room opened slowly and revealed a familiar, yet unexpected face.

Aberforth.

When Severus did little to hide his surprise and confusion, Aberforth slipped into the room and closed the door behind him quietly. As he turned back around, he began to speak, but stayed rooted to the spot where he had entered.

“Hello, Severus. I just came up to check on you. You are safe here. You had a serious injury but you seem to be recovering well. I’m sure you will have a lot of questions, but for now just rest and I will tell you everything soon.” Aberforth regarded Severus cautiously for a few moments, as if he was unsure how Severus would react to the information.

For Severus’ part, he just lay there, his mind murky. He was trying to make sense of how he came to be in this place – wherever he was – and why Aberforth would be looking after him. What time was it? What day was it? What happened? Severus closed his eyes in an attempt to stem the flow of thoughts and briefly wondered if he would be able to speak. His throat felt raw and scratchy as he tried to swallow into it, and then glanced instinctively at the nightstand for some water.

Aberforth caught the glance and surmised its meaning quickly. He brushed past the bed and disappeared into a doorway on the other side of the nightstand – one previously unnoticed by Severus. When Aberforth reappeared and held out a glass of water, Severus realized that room must be an adjoining bath. When Severus didn’t move to accept the water, however, Aberforth set the glass gingerly on the nightstand and went to resume his position near the door.

Severus was not sure he would be able to move his limbs on his own yet and did not wish to endure the indignity if he should attempt to grab the glass and fail. So he waited, and said nothing.

Aberforth seemed to take that as his cue to leave and slipped back out of the room in much the same way he had entered. When the door closed with a soft click, Severus slowly rolled his head to the side to regard the glass of water. The light from the room was dancing in the clear liquid, and as it shone through the glass, it cast rippling patterns onto the furniture’s surface. Severus’ attention wandered briefly.

So I am alive, he thought. What does that mean?

As though his mind was waiting for him to ask precisely that, it began to awaken, revealing a spinning canvas of scattered images and colors and events and faces – some familiar, some not – barraging him with visuals until he could no longer decide if he was watching real memories or exhaustion-induced hallucinations.

But one word did manage to push through, precise and unmistakable.

Phoenix.

* * *

Aberforth found his routine changed little in the days that followed. In between customers at his pub downstairs, he busied himself with bringing up food trays and fetching books and newspapers for Severus, but otherwise did not attempt any further conversation.

Severus had been a good patron of his pub in the days before the war – and curiously, had always protected the place from Death Eaters – something Aberforth never quite understood but was grateful for nonetheless, as nothing would turn his regulars away from the door faster than a sniff of trouble. Aberforth knew enough about the guarded man he was looking after to understand that when talk was warranted, Severus would initiate.

And that was exactly how it happened, on the eighth day after Severus’ arrival. Aberforth had just set down a lunch tray on the nightstand when a soft, harshly rasping voice cut into the silence.

“Thank you.”

Aberforth froze momentarily as he processed what he heard. Lifting his eyes, he found they met the lucid, black eyes of his guest, and it caused him to stand upright again. It was then that he took in Severus for the first time since entering the room: sitting up in bed, propped on pillows and leaning against the headboard, a book folded in his lap. The pallor of his skin appeared a shade warmer than it had the day before; the angry scar on his neck less swollen. The improvement seemed encouraging, if slow.

Before Aberforth could stop himself, a clumsy question tumbled out. “For what?”

Severus swallowed and blinked for a long moment. When he reopened his eyes, he whispered, “For helping me.”

Aberfoth scoffed lightly. “Don’t thank me, it was Fawkes who saved your life.” He paused, a slight sneer coloring his features. “No doubt something Albus orchestrated…”

At these words, Severus looked pointedly at Aberforth as a dawning comprehension started to settle over him. He then directed his eyes downwards, somewhat unfocused, remembering the word that kept haunting his subconscious.

Phoenix.

Of course – phoenix tears!

Absentmindedly, Severus reached a hand up to his neck and pressed his fingertips to the raised and tender scar that had formed there. Images flashed in his mind. Voldemort. A giant snake in a floating, fluid cell. The Elder Wand. The searing pain of a poisonous bite followed by the helpless drain of hot blood on exposed skin. A dull thud as he hit the floor. Green eyes. Harry.

Harry.

With a sudden jolt of panic, he sat up straight in bed and then immediately regretted his action as the room began to swim before him, his head throbbing with confusion and disorientation. A light touch to his shoulder told him that Aberforth had moved and was attempting to guide him back to the support of the pillows behind him.

“You should keep still, Severus. With or without Fawkes, you still need time to heal properly from your injuries.”

Just then, there was a sharp rap to the glass from outside the window. Severus leaned back, pinching the bridge of his nose as he tried to gain his bearings again, and therefore did not notice when Aberforth opened the window to admit yet another guest. A soft caw and a rustle of feathers forced Severus out of his haze and he glanced over to the sill. There, perched on the wooden ledge, were the vivid reds, ambers and golds of Fawkes’ plumage. Set amongst them was the uncannily wise and watchful gaze of the enigmatic bird.

Severus regarded Fawkes for a moment before his mind was barraged with questions. He turned to Aberforth.

“What of Voldemort?”

“The boy defeated him,” Aberforth replied.

“Potter?” Severus inquired, needing to be absolutely sure.

Aberforth nodded, the relief evident on his face despite his weary countenance.

Severus exhaled soundly while he considered the implications of this. When he continued with more questions, he found that Aberforth obliged him with answers as best he could, and for the better part of an hour, the two men went back and forth until everything was clear in Severus’ mind. Except one thing.

“So the wizarding world thinks I am dead?”

Aberforth’s expression softened almost imperceptibly. “Yes.”

“Yet if someone should return to the Shack to retrieve my body, it will not be there.”

Aberforth’s eyes twinkled, eerily reminiscent of Albus. “Correct. But neither will the Shack. I burned it after Fawkes saved you that night.”

“You burned down the Shrieking Shack?” Severus asked, alarmed, then remembered the newspapers he had been reading (although the timing of everything had been unclear). “That was you?”

Aberforth hummed noncommittally and shifted his stance. “Well, it’s not as though anyone will miss it – blasted eyesore if you ask me. A good riddance.” He shuddered slightly and crossed his arms over his chest.

So the wizarding world thinks I am dead, killed by Voldemort – then burned to ashes in the Shack by an unknown aggressor.

Then, as though prodded by some invisible force, Severus’ thoughts quickly turned to Harry Potter. He had given his memories to Harry. Abashedly, he wondered what Harry’s reaction had been. Then, with a start, he realized that handing them over must have yielded the desired effect – just as Dumbledore surmised it would – that something contained within Severus’ memories was the key to the downfall of the Dark Lord.

So I had a hand in killing Voldemort after all, Severus mused, feeling vindicated by that knowledge. Then, wondering again at how he had come to be in Aberforth’s care, he asked one final question – his voice still barely above a whisper.

“How did this task fall to you?”

Aberforth, who had taken to staring at a thread-bare rug on the floor, looked up and met Severus’ eyes at the query. A familiar, piercing blue stare told Severus everything he needed to know.

* * *

Three weeks later, Severus found himself pacing the confines of his small room above Aberforth’s pub, completely healed and altogether restless. As he gazed out the window onto the streets of Hogsmeade below, a thought that had plagued him for the entirety of those three weeks came rushing back with a vengeance.

The wizarding world thinks I am dead.

The gravity of that began to settle thickly upon his mind. What would become of him now? He could not just wander out the front door of the pub and idly reinsert himself into society. Frankly, even if it were possible, the idea held no merit – he had no purpose there anymore. As it was, he often wavered between bouts of melancholy and relief – at times wishing he had just perished as he expected and prepared to do, and other times grateful for a second chance.

But was this a second chance? And to what end? Being cooped up in Aberforth’s home for the rest of his days or facing banishment to some corner of the globe where no one knew his name?

“What would you have me do, Albus?” Severus whispered to the silence of the room. After a long moment, he sighed and sat down on the edge of the bed, dropping his head into his hands.

A knock at the door roused Severus from his thoughts and he scrubbed his hands over his face before instructing Aberforth to enter. When Aberforth didn’t speak right away, however, Severus followed the man’s gaze – it was fixated on his hands, which were holding a small, brown parcel and a tightly-wound scroll.

Aberforth looked up as he held out his hands. “Albus left these for you. Now that you’ve recovered, I think it’s time you have them.”

After setting the items in Severus’ hands, Aberforth turned and left the room, closing the door behind him. Severus looked down at what Aberforth had given to him and felt his heart thump loudly against the walls of his chest. Time seemed to tick by slowly and he wasn’t sure how long he stayed like that. Eventually, he picked up the scroll and unrolled it.

A familiar, loopy scrawl read:

May one who is dead to the world find salvation in rebirth.

Severus let out the breath he had been inadvertently holding and looked away from the parchment for a moment, thinking. When he looked back, he reread the note several more times, his brows furrowing in consternation, trying to absorb all possible meanings. Curious – if not a bit cautiously – he looked over at the small brown parcel he had set next to him on the bed.

Unwrapping the paper carefully, he removed the lid. Severus was alternatively stunned and confused by what he saw. Inside was a small crimson egg, its delicate surface peppered with faint brown speckles.

A phoenix egg.

Reverently, he traced the shape of it with his forefinger, daring only the lightest touch. He had only ever seen illustrations in his potions texts and reference materials. They were extremely rare, phoenix eggs, and were endowed with incredible magical power.

When he turned the box around slowly to inspect it further, Severus noticed a small slip of paper cradling the underside of the egg. Gently, he reached in and removed it, and as he did so, his finger also touched something rigid underneath, and so he withdrew that object too – a small glass vial containing a bluish-green substance. Then, unfolding the piece of paper, he found five words:

Venenum Reservo
Unum ingenero tergum

Severus’ mind labored for a moment as he tried to place it. He immediately recognized venenum as the Latin word for “potion” but reservo did not jog his memory. On the next line, he knew unum meant “one” and tergum meant “back” or “previous.” His Latin was rusty but the construct of the second line seemed to indicate an incantation of some kind.

Just then, he caught a glimpse of Dumbledore’s partially-rolled scroll again and a few of the words echoed in his mind.

salvation in rebirth.

Severus’ pulse jumped into his throat as he realized what this must mean. Imbibing a potion – the one in his hand, perhaps? – when combined with a phoenix egg and the incantation created some sort of rebirth by harnessing the egg’s inherent magic. But what kind of rebirth?

Severus looked again at the slip of paper. Then suddenly, it came to him, and he inhaled sharply.

Ingenero.

He whispered the translated word out loud. “Generation.”

The word hung on his lips for several moments as he realized what this was in his hands; what Dumbledore had given to him: it was a de-aging potion. Specifically, one that would send him backwards in age by one generation.

It appeared he already had everything he needed, too, save for one thing.

A decision.

* * *

The next two weeks dragged by slowly as Severus did his best to ignore the contents of the nightstand drawer. His internal monologue raged a war of wills with itself as he both argued and pondered the gift from Dumbledore.

What is he on about, wanting me to de-age? What purpose could that possibly serve?

But the more Severus fought the idea, the more it got under his skin, and slowly he started to see reason with it. What other options did he have, really? Following his current life trajectory was looking more tiresome and bleak with each passing day.

Then, one afternoon on the start of a new week, Severus sighed deeply as he finally resigned himself to his new fate – whatever it may entail. Once again he seemed to be at the mercy of someone else’s machinations, but at least this time he stood to gain something from it – a life. His own life: one that he could create as he saw fit; one without fear of retribution from enemies hiding in shadows or around every corner; one where he was free. Or as free as Severus Snape was ever likely to be.

He would take it. He would take it while he still could.

After all, he had nothing to lose by trying. And with that, he had made his decision.

Pulling the drawer to the nightstand open slowly, he took a deep breath and pulled out its contents one by one, as though observing a ritual. Uncorking the vial, he combined the egg with the potion and moved to stand in front of the bathroom mirror. Pausing for a moment, he intoned a reminder to himself.

Nothing to lose.

Tilting his head back, he closed his eyes tightly and poured the potion into his mouth. After he drained the vial, he swallowed thickly and recited the incantation.

He remained in that position for several minutes, unsure of whether or not he should move, and waited. When nothing appeared to be happening, he lifted his head and sighed. But when he reopened his eyes and focused on the image in front of him, it was with shock and disbelief and wonder.

Staring back from the mirror was the eighteen-year-old version of himself.


Chapter 5 : Granting Passage

It was a quiet afternoon in mid-October that found Albus Severus Potter alone again on the seventh floor of Hogwarts. Agreeably, his classes had just finished for the day and he had a couple of hours to spare before dinner. Setting out from the dungeons, he had made his way up through the bustling activity of the lower floors of the castle to a now-familiar set of hallways on the seventh. He had been here before, on several occasions, each time trying to puzzle out a story his parents had told him last year. So far, he had come up empty-handed. He knew he could not ask anyone, for that would only rouse suspicion – or worse, thwart any and all future attempts at finding what he was looking for.

No, he was determined to figure this out on his own.

As he turned down one of the last hallways, retracing his steps from a previous visit and very nearly ready to give up for the day, he stopped and looked up at a strange tapestry that clung to the wall. It suddenly struck him as odd that it was the only piece of artwork on one of the longest walls. The subject matter was even more curious: it depicted trolls in ballet slippers and a brown-haired wizard in gray robes attempting to… teach them to dance?

Suddenly, with a leap of excitement he hoped was not premature, Al remembered something from his parent’s tale about a lone tapestry somehow marking the correct spot or standing watch…

Watching.

Al spun around and looked at the unassuming, plain stone wall opposite him. He wondered…

On his third pass by the wall, concentrating hard, Al stopped abruptly when his peripheral vision registered movement. Slowly, he turned his head to follow the path his eyes had just taken, and looked disbelievingly at what transpired before him. The outline of a great arched doorway began materializing… from nothing.

Quickly jetting a nervous glance to his left and right, he saw that he was still alone in the hallway, and turned his attention back to the doorway that now stood open before him. He marveled at how quickly and silently it had appeared, where moments ago not even a trace of its elegantly carved, ornate details had been visible.

His face alight and his heart thrumming excitedly in his chest, Al stepped into the Room of Requirement.

* * *

Severus Snape sat in the brewing area of Prince Apothecary, bent over his latest simmering concoction. Casting a wandless Tempus, he mentally calculated the time remaining until this particular potion would be complete so he could break for the evening. Leaning back in his chair, he scrubbed his hands over his face and decided to wait it out. Eight and a half minutes were certainly tolerable – a trifle, really, when he considered that most of his life had been comprised of waiting.

Stretching his body slightly, he let his eyes wander around the small room that he had occupied for so many years now. Formerly Aberforth’s sitting area, it had long ago been transformed into a working lab and storeroom. It was home, really, just as it had been for nearly nineteen years. It also served as the operational base for his owl-order potions business – work he fell into easily and somewhat accidentally when Aberforth began surreptitiously requesting things from him one day. Whether the potions were for himself or his patrons, Severus never asked, but when the venture started to show signs of profitability, it quickly became apparent that a tidy solution for his reclusive existence had presented itself.

At first, proximity to the pub’s steady stream of customers proved invaluable, but it didn’t take long for word to get out that the elusive and young Mr. Prince, proprietor of the newly appointed Prince Apothecary, was exceptionally proficient at potion-making. Prodigious, they said. That alone earned Severus his credible reputation, and from there, his requisite regulars.

Over the years, Severus often reflected back to that time as an entrepreneurial 20-year-old – a 20-year-old with the skills, experience and wherewithal of someone twice his age. It was surprising to him that no one ever thought to check into the matter, either for his youth or his tremendous skill, but regardless, Severus grew to accept his quiet, if occasionally boring, life. Once in awhile, people even caught a glimpse of him in public, but his age, smattering of facial hair, shortened black locks and clean, simple clothing resembled nothing of the Severus Snape they remembered (or perhaps wanted to forget) and so he remained, mercifully, Mr. Prince.

It was an odd existence, though – the paradox of having to be involved in society, yet mostly withdrawn from it at the same time, was not lost on Severus – but the business proved to be quite financially viable and satisfied Severus’ twin desires for conducting research and acquiring knowledge. Keeping a low profile also meant not inviting questions or press by relocating to shop space of his own, so Severus negotiated permanent space upstairs from the pub early on. Fortunately, Aberforth was companionable enough, and also acted as something of a gatekeeper for the public side of the business.

Severus glanced down at the potion bubbling before him and recast Tempus. Just under four minutes left to go. Idly, he let his eyes inventory his shelves. They were laden with books and reference materials of all kinds – tomes, pamphlets, historical archives, classical fiction and encyclopedias – most of which had been recovered discreetly from his derelict home on Spinner’s End. It was a prized collection and he was glad to have it back in his possession, yet what he tended to miss most was the personal library he had so meticulously built and maintained at Hogwarts during his tenure as Potions Master.

Severus turned his attention back towards his rough-hewn worktable – one he had inherited from the pub downstairs – just as his Tempus spell reached maturity. Summoning several empty vials from his stores, he carefully siphoned the viscous mixture from the cauldron into the glass containers, then corked and labeled them, and finally walked them over to the closet to match them with their orders.

Satisfied that he was done with his day’s tasks, he returned to his desk and cleared up his workspace. As he was doing so, one of the Daily Prophet newspapers slipped off a stack of documents and slid into view. Picking it up, he could not help but read the headline again:

HARRY POTTER - DIVORCED!
The Chosen One’ Becomes ‘Most Eligible Bachelor’

Severus scowled at the byline. Figures that treacherous leech of a woman is out for blood again, he thought. Although disgusted with the sensationalized tripe they published, Severus still maintained a subscription to all the major newspapers (and had for many years), recognizing that they would be his primary link to the wizarding world, even if he did have to read between the lines to get the real news. Harry was omnipresent fodder, of course, but the Ministry and Hogwarts also graced the interior pages, as did the more mundane aspects of wizarding life – all of which he followed.

Severus had watched from afar as Minerva McGonagall retired as Headmistress, as Kingsley Shacklebolt welcomed a successor as Minister, as factions of the old resistance surfaced time and again, and as news of his own death came and went – too quickly, he thought morosely. Many of the Death Eaters were still locked away in Azkaban – a fate worse than death, Severus knew – but for his former colleagues and Order members, those with whom he had fought side-by-side and protected… those were the ones he remembered with a fondness that only time and reflection could grant.

It had taken Severus many years to realize the true significance of Dumbledore’s gift to him. The power to live over half of his original thirty-eight years over again – and to do so while retaining all of his memories and intellect (a fact he later discovered was due to the specific potion left to him – Reservo, the word he hadn’t been able to decipher initially, literally meant “to preserve”) – well, it was nearly incomprehensible at times. It was equal parts wondrous and challenging and bizarre and liberating, although sometimes it brought to light more emotions than he cared to deal with.

Overall, though, it was gratefulness he felt – however much he convinced himself it was undeserved.

* * *

Setting the newspaper down at last, Severus exhaled loudly as his mind swam with thoughts of Harry. So far, nothing in his new timeline had shocked him more than his ever-growing affection for his former student. It had been fairly easy keeping up with Harry over the years – as the media darling of the wizarding world, rarely could he take a step without having it plastered across the front page. In the beginning, this was advantageous for wanting to learn more about him, but now the blatant invasion of privacy just incensed Severus.

“Hasn’t he done enough for you ingrates?” he muttered aloud.

The surge of protectiveness Severus now felt towards Harry surprised him. After all, for so many years Harry was merely a symbol of his poor choices and mistakes, occasionally the bane of his existence, yet ironically, also a beacon of his atonement (if such a thing were actually possible to obtain, that is). And probably one of the most courageous young men he’d ever known.

It had been interesting watching Harry mature over the years in both stature and demeanor – and also in looks, if he was being honest with himself. He watched as Harry completed his Auror training and worked in the field for several years before settling down to start a family. He saw the clandestine photos taken at Harry’s private wedding to the Weasley girl and then vague pronouncements thereafter about the birth of their children. Severus couldn’t recall how many Harry had – surprisingly, the media had actually honored Harry’s request to keep his kids’ faces out of the papers – but a rough calculation of the years seemed to indicate that at least a couple should be in Hogwarts by now.

Secretly, Severus liked to believe the reason the papers kept out of the kids’ business was because Harry had threatened them at wandpoint. It’s what I’d do if they were my kids, Severus thought, deriving no small amount of pleasure from the idea of pressing his wand tip into that woman’s throat, even though he knew that was probably more his style than Harry’s.

Then there was the family’s move to Wales – a controversial thing at the time because many witches and wizards felt England was losing its rightful centerpiece. They would always deny the allegation if pressed, though, saying it was ridiculous that someone should come to think of Harry as property. That same edition had also shown pictures of his wife as a professional Quidditch player for some team or another. Harry had played for awhile, too, but for a different team.

Then, as recently as ten years ago, the papers indicated Harry had transitioned into the role of business owner and investor; although to what end, the papers never said. He was also said to be tied to a handful of organizations within the wizarding community, but again, he seemed to prefer anonymity in such matters and so specifics were never revealed. That was the last update Severus could recall reading so he assumed it was what Harry still did.

All of this was made more bizarre by the fact he and Harry had been matching each other year for year this time. In a manner of speaking, he was growing up alongside Harry – yet never farther away, he knew – experiencing all the ups and downs with him. And the more time that passed, the more he longed to talk to Harry. Perhaps growing up again had afforded him this new perspective, he wasn’t sure; perhaps it was just the knowledge that Harry had seen his memories. In doing so, Severus’ motives (and by extension, his true self) had been laid bare for witness and judgment – a vulnerable position he never would have put himself in if he thought he’d survive it. Yet he had, and if he could get the chance, there were things that needed to be said.

But how would he be received? There was no way to tell, and it certainly wasn’t worth the risk of upset to Harry’s life, and exposure of his own. There really seemed no other way around it – solitude was for the best.

Now, the headlines were flashing red again, this time for his divorce. The story was straight conjecture, devoid of any substance save for the announcement itself, and Severus would have just dismissed it summarily if it hadn’t been for one common theme that ran through the piece: Harry was gay. Severus had scoffed the first time he read it, just as he did this time, yet still couldn’t shake the niggling thought that stuck to the back of his mind – perhaps they had more in common than he thought.

Then, out of nowhere, he heard a soft click, and movement from above the fireplace caught his eye. Turning, he watched the portrait of Ariana Dumbledore swing open, revealing the inquisitive but uncertain face of a young boy – probably no more than 11 years old if he had to guess – with blue eyes twinkling sociably below a mop of black hair.

For a moment, Severus did not move or say anything, astonished first of all that there was an opening behind the aged, dusty portrait. Then he wondered what lay on the other side of it (and its origin), and finally, who belonged to the face that was now smiling tentatively at him.

“Hullo, sir. May I come in?”

Severus mentally recoiled at being called ‘sir’ but found himself nodding his head almost automatically. The child’s grin widened as he jumped down from the passage opening. To observe politeness, however, he remained where he landed, but clearly tried to steal glances at all the fantastic things in the room without being too obvious. (He wasn’t successful.)

As Severus contemplated his guest quietly, he readied himself to inquire after a great many things, but the boy spoke before he got the chance.

“Am I disturbing you, sir?”

This second use of ‘sir’ prompted Severus into action, his brain finally catching up with his mouth. He held up a hand to wave off his words as he spoke.

“No need to call me ‘sir.’” Then he paused, considering something thoughtfully. “Just… Mr. Prince, is fine.”

The child’s face brightened. “Oh, right!” He looked around the room in earnest now. “This must be Prince Apothecary!” He stepped forward, bolder this time, and extended his hand. “I’m Al. It’s sure nice to meet you, Mr. Prince!”

Surprised by the formality and eagerness, Severus regarded the small, outstretched hand for a moment before grasping it in his own larger one.

“Pleasure’s mine, I’m sure,” he replied, a bemused expression softening his features.

Al positively beamed.

“Would you mind if I stayed for a few minutes?” Al asked as he craned his head slightly to take in the surface of the desk. “If I’m not interrupting anything, that is,” he added quickly, remembering his manners.

Catching Al’s survey of his work table, Severus turned in one fluid motion to shuffle the newspaper he had been reading under a book and then spun back around to stand up. Al seemed to shrink under the towering stature of Severus but was quickly reassured.

“A few minutes should be fine. I’m afraid I have nothing to offer you, though, aside from a chair.” He gestured to an old wingback that had been pushed into the far corner of the room.

Al accepted it happily and plopped into it like the 11-year-old that he was. “It’s okay, Mr. Prince. I don’t need anything.”

Severus glanced over at his young guest and smirked slightly, watching him swing his legs back and forth underneath him, as of yet too short to touch the floor. He looked comically small when set against the oversized chair.

Wandering over to the portrait on the wall, Severus grabbed the still-open frame and swung it wide to get a better look inside. After a moment of inspection, he turned back to Al.

“Where does this passage go?”

Al smiled. “Hogwarts.” Then, surprised, he added, “You didn’t know it was there?”

“No…” Severus responded, his voice trailing off as he turned back towards the passage.

Dismayed, Severus found it both shocking and disappointing that there were still secrets about the great castle he didn’t know. Then again, this could be a new passage. Although, that didn’t make sense either, as he had occupied this very room for nearly nineteen years and had never once been alerted to its existence – or creation. Aberforth hadn’t mentioned it either, not even when they had converted the sitting room into a lab – and if anyone was bound to know of its presence, it would be Aberforth. Vexed, Severus realized his logic would only continue turning him in circles, so he pressed for more information.

“Where in the castle do you access this passage?”

Al blushed slightly as a guilty look swept across his face. He bit his lip and shrugged slightly, averting his eyes.

“Where?” Severus prompted again. It was a simple question, but it struck him as sounding remarkably like the version of himself that was at home in his old Potions classroom.

Al gulped and shifted in his seat. Faced with the somewhat authoritative question, he responded softly, “The Room of Requirement.” He chanced a look up at Severus to gauge the man’s reaction before continuing. “I didn’t even think it was real. I thought it was just a story my parents told me. But I found it today and the room let me inside, and in it was this passage.” He dropped his head then, preparing for the worst.

But it never came. Instead:

“Your parents told you about this?” Severus’ eyes narrowed slightly, a hint of incredulity to his voice.

Shocked, Al’s head snapped up. “Yes. I don’t think they meant to, exactly, but…” It was his turn to trail off, a small grin now replacing the guilty look from moments before.

Severus thought he might laugh at that but managed to maintain his composure. Reaching up, he swung the portrait closed, the soft snick of the latch echoing into the silence that hung temporarily between them.

“Is anyone missing you right now?”

Al tipped his head. “What?”

Severus sighed lightly. “Is there someplace you are expected to be at this moment? I do not want any of your teachers barging into my lab, demanding your whereabouts.”

“Oh.” Al flushed. “No. No one knows I am here. I should go back for dinner soon, but that’s all.”

Severus acknowledged that with a nod, relieved that a wanderlust student from the school was not about to expose him or his carefully-constructed life.

Or so he hoped.

* * *

After thirty minutes of conversation that passed in a surprisingly effortless manner – especially considering his guest was far less than half his age – Al bid him farewell with an exuberant wave and climbed back into the passageway, presumably to rejoin his classmates for dinner. After he was inside, though, he stopped and turned to look over his shoulder.

“Would it be okay if I come back and visit you again?”

Taken aback, Severus found he didn’t have an immediate answer. It had been a strange and curious thing, having a child invite himself into his life – but no less enjoyable for it, he realized. Reluctantly, he admitted it had been nice to have someone other than Aberforth as company for a change. After a few moments, Severus steeled his resolve and decided not to let this opportunity pass – whatever it was.

“Yes, that would be amenable.”

The last thing Severus saw before Al turned back around and disappeared into the depths of the passage was an expression of utmost glee: an impossibly bright face – the effect of which had seemed to drive his eyebrows up under his fringe – and a small, cherubic mouth spread into a wide, toothy smile.

As he closed the portrait after his young visitor, Severus was surprised to find that he was smiling, too.


Chapter 6 : Mysterical

As the sun started to set, making way for dusk, a soft snow began to fall around Harry and Al as they wandered idly through the quieting street. Diagon Alley’s shops would be closing soon, as evidenced by the thinning bustle of patrons and revelers alike. Their surroundings were shrouded in white from an earlier snowfall, but the fresh coat falling now made the awnings and windowsills and rooftops sparkle in the early evening light.

Despite the eagerness of his son, Harry had decided they would take their time shopping this year. The simple pleasure of spending time with one child alone was almost unheard of for him and he intended to indulge in it as much as he could. By late afternoon, he was sure they had visited every shop in Diagon Alley – a few of them more than once – and could tell by the look on Al’s face that he was having a grand time of it.

As they walked, two fresh sets of footprints marked their progress. Harry marveled at how silent the world became when it snowed – as though everything was somehow holding its breath, waiting. Looking around at the quaint, shop-lined street, with his son trotting happily beside him, he was overcome by how truly magical this moment was. The first time he had really celebrated Christmas was when he was Al’s age, and even then, if it hadn’t been for gifts from Dumbledore and Hermione and the Weasleys, he scarcely would have had one at all.

Harry stopped then and tilted his head back, looking up towards the sky. Blinking, he let the snowflakes dot his glasses and cheeks. Al giggled as he took in his dad’s behavior, and then promptly mimicked him.

“Hey, Dad, stick out your tongue!”

Harry looked over just in time to catch Al with his mouth wide open, tongue stretched out as far as it would go.

“Lahk dhis,” Al managed, hopping around on both feet, as though repositioning himself repeatedly would allow him to catch more snowflakes.

Harry turned his head skyward again and stuck out his own tongue, feeling the tiny, cold pecks of moisture melt on contact.

“It’s mysterical!” Al announced cheerfully.

“What?”

Al jumped and landed in a pile of snow on the edge of the walk. “Mysterical. I just made it up.”

“I gathered,” Harry said with a chuckle.

Al just shook his head in mock impatience. “Dad!” He drew out the word as though it had three syllables. “It means something is mysterious and magical! It’s a big thing, you know, so you need a cool word to describe it.”

Harry laughed heartily and reached over to wrap his arm around Al’s shoulders, squeezing gently. “Alright, mysterical it is.”

* * *

“Al?”

Harry adjusted the packages he was holding from one arm to the other as he and his son admired a new shop through its large, plate glass window. Al peeled his eyes away from a stack of specialty cauldrons and looked up.

“Yeah?”

“Were you telling me the truth before, about your friend?”

Al sat down on the bench in front of the shop and frowned. “Of course I was. Don’t you believe me?”

Harry sat down next to him and balanced the packages on his lap. Sighing lightly, he turned towards Al. “I want to believe you, Al, I do. But the Severus Snape I knew should, by all accounts, be dead now. If he was still alive, why has no one heard from him? Or seen him?” He eyed Al thoughtfully, but knew his questions were probably more rhetorical than anything.

Al just shrugged. “I don’t know, Dad. Maybe you can ask him at Christmas.”

The reminder of their intended visitor shot a pang of anxiety and anticipation through Harry. His thoughts raced, still trying to mentally puzzle it all together. “How did you meet him?”

Al perched on the edge of the bench and toed his boot into the snow, eyes cast downwards.

“Al?”

“I don’t think I can tell you.”

Harry leaned over the packages in his lap to draw himself closer. “Why not?”

“Because I’d probably be in trouble.”

Confused – and a little concerned – Harry prodded gently. “Why would you think that?”

For a long moment, Al seemed to consider the question – as evidenced by his furrowed brow and pursed lips – but didn’t say anything. Then, with a shuttered expression, he looked up at Harry. “Would it be okay if I told you later?”

Harry sighed lightly, a little deflated, but nodded. Al didn’t seem to be in any trouble – not the sort he always remembered finding himself in, at any rate – so he let it pass for now. Besides, if Al’s friend did indeed show on Christmas, there would be one other person there that knew the story of how they met – and that version might, perhaps, be the one he’d rather hear anyway.

Al hopped off the bench and stood eye-level with Harry. “Dad?”

“Yes?”

“Would it be okay if we bought a present for Severus?”

* * *

Harry waited in the street as he watched his middle son run into the potions supply shop, the snow falling softly on the shoulders of his wool coat. Almost at once, he found his mind beginning to fill with thoughts of Severus again.

If Al’s friend really is the Severus Snape I knew, what will it be like seeing him again after nearly twenty years?

What would we say to each other?

Where has he been all this time, and what happened to him?

Where on Earth did Al meet him?

Harry found that he had no answers to these questions. An array of mixed emotions flooded his heart as he thought about the implications of this, and it caused his pulse to race. Before he could think much longer on it, though, Al emerged from the shop. His face bore a satisfied grin as he clutched a flat, brown parcel, and as he came to a stop in front of Harry, he opened one of the shopping bags and set his gift carefully inside.

Harry briefly wondered what Al had selected, but quickly pushed the question from his mind. He decided it was okay that Al kept some secrets of his own.

“Ready to go home?” he asked instead.

Al looked up at him with a tired smile and nodded, the warmth and regard in his eyes evident.

“Grab hold, then,” Harry instructed.

Al reached up and looped both of his arms around one of Harry’s and gripped as tight as he could, scrunching up his face as though bracing himself. Harry looked down at him and chuckled. Then he pressed his hand against the wand inside his coat pocket and initiated the first of two Apparition jumps to their home in Wales.

* * *

In their wake, the distinctive pop! of wizard teleportation echoed through the street before Diagon Alley once again descended into a comfortable silence.


Chapter 7 : Revelations

It had been four days since Al’s first trip through the passageway to Prince Apothecary, and as he sat in his final class the following Monday, he found he could barely contain his excitement. Monday afternoons were one of two days during the week when he had a two-hour gap between classes and dinner, and it was this time specifically Al had decided to reserve for his visits to Mr. Prince.

When the clock finally announced the end of class, Al jumped up and nearly sprinted from the classroom. Not wanting to waste even a minute, he headed straight for the seventh floor of the castle. Eyes alight with purpose, he rounded the corner of the long, empty hallway and located the strange tapestry of the dancing trolls. Across from it, as he expected, the gray stone wall once again stood as bare and unassuming as it had the first time. Al grinned, mainly to himself, relishing in his discovery and the fact that it had all the markings of a satisfying, secret adventure.

* * *

Leaning back in his chair, Severus regarded the ceiling of his lab briefly while he smoothed a hand over his chin, the hair there coarse against his fingers. In a few minutes, the potion before him would be cool enough to bottle and store. As he started to rest his eyes for a minute, he heard a soft knock from somewhere in the room. Immediately, he glanced towards the door, which stood slightly ajar but was otherwise uninhabited. Convinced he was probably hearing things, he mentally shrugged it off and returned his attention to the potion.

Then, a second knock – a little louder this time – followed by the sound of a latch opening quietly. It was then that Severus knew the source: Ariana’s portrait. Not even bothering to suppress his smirk, he spun around in his chair and watched as the small, dark-haired head of Al cautiously appeared from the open side of the frame. When he saw Severus looking at him, his face relaxed and he broke into a smile.

“Hi, Mr. Prince! May I come in?”

Severus left his smirk in place and nodded, waving his hand to grant entrance.

Al jumped down, dragging his book bag with him, and then launched it into the wingback chair he had used on his first visit. As he sidled up to the edge of the worktable, he perched his hands on it, tracing its grooves with his fingertips.

“What are you working on today?” Al asked, craning his neck to see what was in the cauldron.

“This is a Sleeping Draught.”

Al leaned up on his tip-toes to get a better look. “Will you teach it to me?”

Startled, Severus turned to size up his young guest. “Perhaps… one day.”

“Cool.” Al’s smile widened, giving the distinct impression that that was settled. Severus just blinked at him.

“Mr. Prince, could I ask you a question?”

“You may.”

"Do you think I could come and visit you on a regular basis?" Al looked suddenly embarrassed at his question but was no less eager for the answer.

One of Severus’ brows arched and he fought to keep the amused expression off his face. He almost startled himself with his answer.

"If you wish."

Al beamed. "I think Mondays and Wednesdays are the only days I could do it. Is that okay?"

"Whatever works for you."

And with that, a schedule was set.

* * *

"You're a Potions Master?" Al breathed, his tone laden with awe. He turned the letter he was holding so that Severus could see the front of it. It was labeled:

PRINCE APOTHECARY
Attention: Potions Master
Hogsmeade Village
Scotland, UK

Severus felt his spine straighten and he squared his shoulders instinctively. "Indeed."

Al slipped off his usual chair in the corner and began wandering around the lab then, taking in the fascinating array of items that lined every shelf and covered every surface – bottles and books and neatly-stacked parchments and supplies – and the best collection of cauldrons Al had ever seen in his life. He let his fingers drift along the contours of book spines as he walked slowly, eager to feast his eyes on and memorize everything in the small room.

Severus' eyes followed Al's progression around the room with both curiosity and alarm, still unsure of how to react to this young interloper in his routine, solitary life. It had been such an unforeseen thing, yet something he found he looked forward to more and more. Perhaps it was just the lack of companionship in other areas of his life, or maybe it was because this 11-year-old child had simply taken Severus at face value. These were both things he was wholly unaccustomed to, although now that he had them, he realized how sorely they had been missing. Stranger, still, was that it had arrived in such an unexpected package.

Glancing over at Al again, he realized he had no desire to question it.

As Al neared Severus' desk, he took in the empty cauldron there but seemed to decide against touching it.

"I really like potion-making and my teacher says I'm good at it, too. It's my favorite class. I think I want to do something like this when I finish Hogwarts." He gestured loosely at the room around him. "Is this what you always wanted to do for a job?”

Severus blanched lightly – he was not accustomed to being asked personal questions. He thought about it for a moment, though, watching as images and memories from his life – both lives – swam in his mind's eye. What did he want to do? He had no idea, really. All he saw was what he had had to do, what others had expected of him, then eventually what he had expected of himself. But that was a far different thing entirely when compared to choosing what you wanted to do strictly for the pleasure of it all. In the end, he settled on the least complicated answer.

"Potion-making comes naturally to me, so I suppose this was as good a fit as anything."

Al frowned slightly, seeming to sense the resignation in Severus' voice, but only nodded. However, his face brightened again as he thought of something else.

"Do you ever need any help with your potions?" Then, realizing how absurd that must have sounded, he corrected himself. "I mean, do you ever need an assistant? Because I could help you!" Al flushed at his bold proposition and smiled shyly.

Caught off guard once again, Severus wasn't sure what to answer. In nearly twenty years of running his business by himself, never once had he considered an assistant – nor allowed himself to hope for something so frivolous. Unfortunately for him, concealment of his true identity had to come before exploring new avenues for his business. In the end, wanting to buy himself more time to think on it, he peered down the length of his nose at Al.

"We shall see."

* * *

Although it was only his sixth visit to Prince Apothecary, Al was already making himself at home. Leaning back in the old wingback chair he had now officially adopted as his own, one leg draped over the arm, he was leafing through a potions book that he had procured from one of Severus' shelves.

Severus was seated at his desk, alternately watching a potion simmer and jotting notes into a rather worn, leather-bound journal. Sometimes it was only companionable silence the unlikely pair found themselves in, but neither seemed to mind. He knew that for Al, it was a welcome respite from the excitable chaos of Hogwarts, as there were very few places within the castle he could truly call his own. For himself, he found that their camaraderie and mutual interest in potions was becoming the highlight of his days.

Looking out of the corner of his eye at Al, he regarded youth in a way he had never been able to appreciate in his days as a professor (or perhaps even before that, he noted). Or maybe it was just this generation of youth, having grown up in different time altogether; one without the constant foreboding of evil that threatens to destroy everything they hold dear. Al approached life with a sense of wonder that was truly infectious, carefree in the knowledge that he was just seeking to enjoy everything to its fullest extent and in whatever manner suited him most.

For the moment, unbelievable though it was, that seemed to include Severus.

Glancing back at the potion simmering on his desk, an urge struck him: perhaps it was time for an assistant. Affecting his most casual tone, he uttered, "Just so you are aware, this particular potion will require ground root of hyssop shortly."

At this, Al looked up from his book, a blank expression on his face. Then, moments later, it was replaced by total reckoning. His eyebrows shot up into his fringe as he said, cautiously, "You mean I can do it?" Carefully, he started to fold his tome closed and sat up in the chair, never once moving his eyes off Severus.

Severus pursed his lips slightly as his eyes softened. "I should think so, yes."

Al let out a whoop of glee, but remembered to gently set the book down before trotting over to the worktable. Eyes alight, he leaned closer to the bubbling cauldron and regarded it before grinning happily at Severus.

Severus took in the open expression on Al's face and found it stirred things within him he never knew existed. He wondered how such a simple gesture on his part could incite such a thrill in another. He didn't remember ever having that effect on his students – or anyone else, for that matter – but Al acted as though he had just been bestowed a great honor. Severus could not fathom why, but decided just this once to let it be what it was: enjoyable.

He slid the dried roots towards Al. "When the color turns dark green, you may add these. Slowly, however, as we don't want to overburden the mixture. It must be—"

"—slowly incorporated," Al interrupted, smiling.

Severus' eyebrow arched as he regarded his young helper. "Indeed," he finished slowly.

For the first time in recent memory, the inclination to correct a student for interrupting him faded and he merely sank back into his chair and crossed his arms over his chest, watching, something akin to amusement on his face.

* * *

Al set down his glass of pumpkin juice as he collapsed onto the floor in a fit of giggles.

"Honestly, it is not that funny," Severus retorted indignantly, a response that only served to make Al laugh harder. Severus huffed and made to stand, gathering up the Exploding Snap cards as he did so.

Catching his breath, Al wiped the tears from the edges of his eyes and looked up at Severus. "Hey, where are you going?"

"I think it is safe to assume you won that game," Severus remarked dryly, shuffling the deck back into its box.

Al grinned and stood up next to him, his face full of mirth. "But you said you knew how to play!"

"It seems I was mistaken." Severus tried to maintain his sour expression but found he was verging on a laugh, too.

Al shrugged. "My uncle taught me how to play. Maybe he could teach you sometime, too."

Severus felt a brief pang of regret at that, realizing how unlikely that would be, but did not answer. Instead, he handed the cards back to Al and then walked to the nearest bookshelf. Narrowing his eyes, he searched the spines for a specific volume, and when he located it, pulled it down with a flourish. "Ah, yes, now the game is on, my young victor. Let us see how you do with identifying the uses of the following ingredients."

Without skipping a beat, however, Al flung himself back onto the floor and perched on his knees, ready to answer. He was equally as excited by anything potions-related as he was about card games. As Severus took in the eager expression on Al's face, it struck him just how special this boy really was.

* * *

It was the ninth of November when, mid-way through some instruction about how to select the proper cauldron for caustic potions, a knock was heard at the door to the lab.

"Severus?" the voice said as the door began to open. As Al and Severus both turned at the same time to look at the man who had entered, several things happened at once.

Aberforth stopped in his tracks at the sight of Al and immediately back-pedaled. "Oh, I'm sorry to interrupt, I didn't realize you had a visitor." He paused, taking in the face of the small form before him. "Albus. You’re growing like a weed."

Severus' face went from surprise to shock to panic at the realization that his given name had just been spoken in front of Al, and then turned abruptly to stare at Al when Aberforth had not only recognized him, but called him Albus.

Al looked first at Aberforth and smiled politely, briefly lifting a hand in greeting. Then, moments later, he was staring right back at Severus, an astonished look on his face.

Silence stretched on in the room as thoughts bombarded Severus’ mind.

Aberforth finally cleared his throat. "We can just discuss these later," he said to Severus, indicating the parchments he was carrying. He placed them in a nearby basket and then retreated quickly from the room, closing the door behind him.

Severus glanced briefly at the door as Aberforth left and then returned his gaze to Al. Then, slowly, "Your name is Albus?"

Al nodded and then, rather shrewdly, offered his own question. "Why did Aberforth just call you Severus?"

Severus sighed and leaned back in his chair. Roughly carding a hand through his hair, he closed his eyes, realizing that he was very likely about to blow open his cover identity. But he also felt that Al deserved the truth. Understanding the risks of what he was about to do, he answered.

"Because it's my name."

Al's mouth fell open, although Severus didn't see it until he reopened his eyes. For a long moment, Al didn't say anything, his eyes cast to the side, considering this new information. Then, as he looked back up, his brow furrowed. "Are you related to Severus Snape then?"

"In a manner of speaking, yes." Severus paused, exhaling loudly. As he considered his young charge, he knew that elaborating now would mean there would be no turning back. Yet, the earnestness in the eyes that were now gazing upon him seemed to indicate it would be alright either way, and so he forged ahead.

"I am one and the same, in fact."

At first, Al's eyes just went wide, but then he began looking at Severus as if for the first time, eyes roving around his face, mapping his features as though he was committing them to memory. When Al spoke again, it was with a much quieter voice. "Then it was you I was named for. My middle name is Severus."

It was Severus' turn to go wide-eyed. "What?" he uttered slowly, trying to hide the rising panic in his voice.

Al cast his eyes to his lap and fidgeted with his hands. When he spoke, it was directed towards his chest. "My dad named me after you. He told me the story, but he said you had died."

For Severus' part, his mind was simply on fire, each thought as unlikely as the next. Then, as a growing suspicion started to tickle the back of his mind, things that seemed unrelated before started clicking into place: the black mop of hair; the name Albus; the fact that Aberforth had recognized him; the utter disregard for Hogwarts rules. Severus’ heart began to thump insistently in his chest and he swallowed hard before looking back at Al.

“Are you Harry Potter’s son?”

* * *

Severus had to admit, the revelation that Al was actually Albus Severus Potter was not as difficult a thing to accept as he would have thought. After all, it’s not as though he had been exactly forthright about his identity, either. (Also, as Al had pointed out, Severus hadn’t asked for his surname.) Accepting people at face value went both ways, it seemed.

Severus was also surprised to discover the relief he felt that someone other than himself and Aberforth knew the truth – indeed, the only other person he’d told since his de-aging.

Conversation was much easier now that he didn’t have to monitor and filter his words carefully. Not surprisingly, Al had grown even more interested in Severus since finding out he was his namesake.

By mid-November, a month into their association, they had moved on to questions about family, and Severus barely concealed his curiosity about the Potters – one member of the family in particular. It was a strange thing, to be consorting with the third generation now: Harry's son. The mop of black hair and sparkling blue eyes had taken on new meaning for Severus, and the family resemblance was uncanny now that he knew to look for it.

Just then, Al interrupted his thoughts with a question. “So how come you aren’t actually dead?”

Severus looked up from his chopping and considered it thoughtfully for a moment. “That, my young friend, is a long story. One for another day, perhaps.”

“Okay,” Al shrugged. “But just so you know, I won’t tell anyone your secret. I think it’s yours to tell, if you want.”

Dumbfounded, Severus swallowed. “Thank you,” he answered quietly.

“People could probably just ask your portrait in the Headmaster’s office, anyway.”

“Wait. What?” Severus stared at Al, then shook his head a little. “I have a portrait in the Headmaster’s office?”

Al grabbed a jar of herbs off the shelf behind him and unscrewed the cap, pouring the contents into his mortar. “Yeah, my dad made sure they put one up. He also cleared your name with the Ministry. He worked on that for a long time.” Al put the cap back on the jar and returned it to the shelf. “You didn’t know that?”

Severus sat back in his chair, reflecting. “No…”

How could he have missed that? Had it occurred prior to him taking out subscriptions for the various wizarding publications? Or had the papers just not considered that news fit enough to print? The latter seemed more likely.

Then, with a jolt of panic, he wondered on something else.

“Have you ever been in to see my portrait?”

Al looked up. “Yeah. But you look different in it.”

Severus could only imagine it was borne from his Hogwarts-era look, which actually was quite a bit different than how he looked now, if only in the details. “Was it animated?”

“Of course. It’s a portrait, silly!”

Severus would have smirked had it not been for the heavy thoughts on his mind. How could it be animated if he hadn’t actually died? As he worked on preparing the potions ingredients in front of him, he considered that fact for several minutes, running all possible reasons and scenarios through his mind.

Then it hit him: it was the de-aging potion that Dumbledore had given him. The disruption to his timeline must have been enough to activate the animation in the portrait, thereby ensuring no one in the wizarding community would ever be alerted to the fact that he had actually survived the war.

Genius, he thought, bloody genius.

How Dumbledore had always managed to keep track of every single moving part was beyond him. Awed, he shook his head to clear the thought and returned to the task before him, switching gears back to his original thread.

“So, you said you have two siblings?" Severus asked idly.

"Yup. My older brother is James – he’s in Gryffindor. Lily is my little sister but she’s not old enough for Hogwarts yet."

Severus acknowledged the answer with an arch of his eyebrow, not having to think long or hard on the origin or purpose of those names. Nor for Albus Severus, to be fair. Harry always was a sentimental fool, he thought with some degree of amusement.

“And what House are you in?”

“Slytherin,” he said as he glanced at Severus with a meaningful expression. “Like you.”

*

Al had finished chopping ingredients for the potion they were working on and lifted a small cutting board above the cauldron to tip dried herbs into the bubbling mixture. He watched it carefully while stirring, first three times to the left and then three to the right, just as Severus had shown him. When he reached for the wormwood, however, Severus tutted. Al froze, his hand hovering in mid-air. Severus nodded his head towards the powdered anise instead. Al frowned and sighed.

"Do not be hard on yourself. This potion is way beyond the scope of a first year curriculum. You are doing well."

Al gave Severus a half smile and then added the powdered anise, as instructed.

"Do you understand why it must be done in this order?"

Al finished sifting in the anise and stirred it slowly before turning to look at Severus. He appeared to be thinking hard on the question, no doubt running what he already knew and what he had recently learned through his mind. He seemed determined to get it right. "Because the wormwood would not be effective if added first?"

"Correct. Anise must temper the mixture before the addition of wormwood will have the desired effect."

Al smiled broadly. Clearly the private tutoring with Severus was one of his favorite things about visiting.

Severus quirked his lip as he watched Al work on the potion. Thankfully, Al seemed to have inherited his grandmother's talent for potions as opposed to Harry's. While he still had the chance, he took the opportunity to inquire after said father.

"What is your father up to these days? Is he doing well?" Severus tried to sound casual but wasn't sure how successful he was. Fortunately, Al was concentrating on adjusting the heat underneath the cauldron and did not seem to notice either way.

"He's doing okay, I think. Splitting with my mum was hard."

The Daily Prophet article popped instantly into Severus' mind. The thing he most wanted to know – whether or not the rumors were true – was on the tip of his tongue, but knew it was none of his business, and so refrained from voicing it. He also knew it would be inappropriate to leverage his favor with Al and trick him into answering it. But as luck would have it, he didn't have to do either.

"I just want him to be happy," Al sighed.

Severus saw the opening for what it was, although he was a little disgusted with himself that he was not above taking it. Still, he wanted to know; had to know.

"What do you think would make him happy?"

Al siphoned the remaining mixture from the cauldron into a large glass vial and set it back down on the table. The expression that graced Al’s delicate features then was rather telling: as he considered his father’s happiness, his countenance shifted to exude only warmth and obvious regard. As he turned to Severus, he answered, "Finding a nice man who loves him."

Severus felt the breath catch in his throat, his mind preparing to reevaluate everything he thought he knew about Harry.

* * *

"Ready?"

Al nodded, but swallowed thickly as he held out his hands. In his left was a stirring rod and a small paring knife; in his right, his wand. An empty cauldron sat on the table before him. "Is this all I get to use?"

"That is all you should need."

"No book?"

Severus shook his head. "No book."

Al looked doubtful but nodded again.

"You may begin... now," Severus said, drawing his wand around in a circular motion in front of him, casting a timing charm.

Al stared at the glowing clock for a moment as it bobbed mid-air in front of him, watching the second hand tick by. Then, shaking his head to focus, he took a deep breath and set himself determinedly to his task.

Forty-five minutes later, Al was beaming a bright smile as he gave the mixture in the cauldron one last stir. He certainly looked confident. Then, as if right on cue, the floating timer dinged. Severus tapped it once with his wand and they both watched it dissolve quickly into the air.

Severus leaned forward in his chair and regarded the potion now cooling in Al's cauldron. He borrowed Al's stirring rod and gave it a twirl for himself, lifting it up and out of the cauldron to test the mixture’s viscosity. Then he tilted his nose closer and assessed its odor. As he sat back up in his chair, he hummed noncommittally.

"What?" Al's face looked crestfallen.

"It appears, young Master Potter," Severus drawled, pausing to draw out his comment for effect, "that you were indeed successful."

Al blinked. It seemed to take him a moment to realize what Severus had just said, but then his eyes grew wide and he let out a cry of delight, thrusting his arms into the air triumphantly.

Severus found he could not stop the corners of his mouth from curling into a gratified smile.

* * *

As the month of November drew to a close, it found Severus standing in front of his fireplace, attempting to coax the small flames in the hearth back to life. He caught himself glancing up at the portrait of Ariana often, wondering after Al, but each time scoffing at himself for his ridiculous attachment.

It was fifteen minutes past Al's usual arrival time, Severus reasoned, and Al had not missed a visit since his first appearance back in mid-October. Nor had he ever been late.

Severus picked up the book he had been reading earlier and sat down in his chair – anything to keep himself from pacing. After only a few minutes, however, he closed the book and sighed, realizing that all he was managing to do was stare at the same line without reading a thing.

He couldn't decide what was bothering him more – the dull pang of worry he felt, hoping that wherever Al was, he was safe and unharmed; or the fact that his lab, his home, felt empty without him.

When nearly an hour had passed, Severus resigned himself to the fact that Al would not be joining him for the afternoon. He cast a sidelong glance at the portrait before retreating from the room. As he made his way down the hall towards the kitchen, he hoped an early supper would take his mind off things.

* * *

A week later, the distinct sound of the portrait opening roused Severus from his work and, as he turned immediately to take in the now-familiar face of Albus Potter, he felt a rush of relief and contentment – if not a little ire – flood through him.

He was safe. He came back. Where had he been?

As Al jumped down from the passage, he deposited his bag into the wingback as usual and wandered over to the desk where Severus sat.

"You've returned."

Al stilled, trying to decipher Severus' comment. "Is that okay?"

Severus turned to look at him. "Yes. I was merely remarking on your presence after a gap in your visits."

Al furrowed his brow for a moment. “Sorry about that. The caretaker started guarding the hallway on the seventh floor so I couldn’t open the door to the Room of Requirement. I think someone might have seen me going up there and told him.”

Then, as he took in the expression on Severus’ face, he suddenly realized what was going on. In a lighter tone, he smiled as he said, "You were worried about me!"

Severus scoffed. "No, I was not. I had just been eager to discuss the next section of your workbook with you. That is all."

Al snorted. "Were not!" Then he started to giggle.

Color rose high onto Severus' cheekbones and he turned away, wishing for all the world that he could have been swallowed up at that moment and saved from the misery of his foolishness.

Then, he felt a small hand touch his shoulder. "It's okay. I missed you too."

Severus stiffened under the touch of the boy who had since moved to stand at his elbow, but then let himself relax. He turned to regard the hopeful face before him and then offered a small smile in return.

Al grinned broadly and then suddenly clapped his hands together. "Hey! Guess what?"

Severus chuckled once under his breath. "What?"

In a flurry of motion, Al yanked out a rolled piece of parchment from the inside of his school robes and began to unfurl it for Severus, providing commentary as he went. He explained that his end of term Potions exam was coming up but that he had also taken the opportunity to do other work for extra credit. Not that he needed to, of course, but he was learning so much in the private tutoring lessons that he wanted to try more advanced things. "Look!" he beamed. "I got the highest mark possible!"

Peering at the parchment, Severus took in the details. "A burn-healing antidote? Impressive. That is fourth-year material."

Al blushed. "I know, my teacher couldn't believe it either." He turned the parchment around in his hands so that he could review it for what Severus guessed was probably the hundredth time.

As he gazed upon Al, a rather self-satisfied sensation spread through him. He found that he was relishing his role as mentor and the fact that Al was succeeding under his tutelage. He also realized, after the events of the last week, that he needed – more than he was ever prepared to admit – his friendship with this extraordinary boy.

It was also then, for the briefest of moments, that he wondered if this was what it felt like to be a father. But before he had time to think on it, he felt two small arms wrap around his midsection and a mop of black hair press against his chest.

"Thank you so much, Severus." The words were muffled but the sentiment was unmistakable.

He froze at the unexpected and impromptu hug and looked down at Al holding onto him tightly. He was not used to the type of unabashed affection children favored – or the type between adults, either, if he was really being honest. Slowly, though, amid a mind lost in emotions he had scarcely known before, he lifted his free hand and patted Al gently on the back. The arms around him gripped tighter, and then pulled away.

When Al stood back up, he smiled. “Would it be okay if I call you my best friend?”

* * *

Al collapsed into his chair in the corner of the lab and huffed out a sigh. When Severus cast a sidelong glance at him, arching an eyebrow in his characteristic manner, Al appeared as though he was trying not to smile.

“Well?” drawled the inquiry.

“Well what?”

“I presume you’ve completed your end of term Potions exam?”

“Yes…” Al grinned.

“And?”

A muffled giggle caused Severus to swivel around fully in his chair and take in the small form draped over the wingback. “Out with it, boy.”

Al laughed and then suddenly clapped his hands together, his voice high and full of glee. “I got perfect marks!”

Severus leaned back in his chair and lazily draped his arms across his chest. “Naturally,” he remarked dryly, smirking, knowing that Hogwarts was still probably using the same curriculum as when he taught there. His curriculum, in fact. So it was no accident that his tutoring with Al covered every one of those potions, among other things, including advanced work. “How many more exams do you have?”

Al counted off on a couple of his fingers. “Two! That’s it, thankfully,” he sighed.

The room remained silent for a moment while Al sat thinking.

"Mr. Prince?" Al seemed to hesitate, looking puzzled. "Should I still call you that now that I know your real name?"

Severus contemplated this for a moment and then looked over at his young friend. “When it is just you and I, Severus will be fine. For anyone else, I should think Mr. Prince would be best.”

“Okay, then. Severus?”

“Yes?”

“I just realized I won’t be able to visit you for awhile. Probably not until January…” Al trailed off, a pout gracing his lips.

“It will be fine,” Severus parried. “I will see you soon enough, and then you can tell me all about your holiday.”

Al furrowed his brow. “But what will you do for Christmas? Do you have plans?”

“Plans?” Severus scoffed lightly. “I haven’t had plans for Christmas for twenty years.”

Al’s mouth opened in shock and he looked outraged at the injustice of it all. He hopped down from the chair and seemed to appear instantly by the worktable. “What do you mean you don’t have plans? Everyone should do something, it’s Christmas!”

Severus smirked and he ruffled Al’s hair affectionately. “Perhaps.”

A toothy smile met the gesture. “My dad always does that to me.”

Severus froze, stilling his hand, and then drew it away slowly. “My apologies. I didn’t mean to—”

“It’s okay,” Al interrupted. Then, shrugging, “I like it. So you will come then?” An expectant look brightened his face, which caught Severus completely off guard.

“Come where, exactly?”

“To my house for Christmas! It would be so fun and you could stay for dinner and then you could talk to my dad again! You don’t have to stay for long if you don’t want to! Please, say yes!” The words rushed from his mouth in one long, continuous stream, as though stopping for air would have lessened the effectiveness of his delivery.

For Severus, he found the air was actually being pulled from his lungs. Pressing two fingers above his right eyebrow, he closed his eyes for a brief moment. When he reopened them and looked at Al, the expectant look had brightened even more and he was nearly bouncing where he stood. As Severus studied the meaning behind Al’s clear blue gaze, he knew he didn’t have it in his heart to say no. He would have to accept the invitation.

In any case, hadn’t he been the one who had wanted to speak with Harry so badly – and for years, now? Perhaps this is what it had all been leading up to? He couldn’t be sure.

Swallowing thickly, he uttered his assent towards Al, barely aware of the whoops of delight it garnered. Once again, Severus felt a familiar stirring in his life – the sort of stirring that indicated his life was propelling itself forward, with or without him.

* * *

It was a quiet morning in mid-December when Severus heard the familiar knock on the back of Ariana’s portrait. Confused, he turned and regarded it carefully. Fridays were not one of the regular visiting days for Al, and for a moment, Severus wondered if someone else had found their way through the passage. Just as he was about to get up from his desk to check, however, the portrait swung open. A familiar giggle was accompanied by the top of a gray knit stocking cap – and then shortly thereafter, the smiling face of Al as he peered around the frame.

The brow above Severus’ left eye inched towards his hairline. “Don’t you have a train to catch?”

Al grinned as he pulled his hat off. “Yes, but I just wanted to make sure of something.”

“What?”

“That you are really going to come visit – for Christmas.”

It had only been three days since the invitation, and already Severus found he could barely think of anything else. He nodded towards Al.

"Are you sure?" Al pleaded.

“Yes, I will see you on Christmas.” Then, hoping to ward off the inevitable next question, he added, “I promise.”

The response seemed to satisfy Al, for his expectant look transformed into a wide, exuberant grin.

Severus’ right eye twitched in something passable as a wink. “Now go. Your father will be expecting you to get off that train in London.”

Al nodded happily and seemed just about to turn and head back to Hogwarts when he stopped short.

“Severus?”

“Hmm?”

“I’m really glad you said yes.”


Chapter 8 : To Where We Go

It was with no small amount of trepidation that Severus Snape reached out to grasp the bronze knocker on Harry Potter's front door. There were any number of ways this encounter could go, many of which Severus did not care to consider. He and Harry had been adversaries for so many years – was it foolish to think that time and a few isolated memories could change ingrained attitudes?

He hesitated then, seized by uncertainty. Perhaps this was a grave mistake. His mind flooded with reasons for why it was better that he kept his distance, for why his decision to come at all was imprudent… for why it was probably best that he leave now and not linger.

Only one thought stopped him: Al was expecting him.

He recalled that fateful afternoon over two months ago, when, for the first time, he looked upon the smiling face of an unfamiliar boy as he peered out from behind Ariana’s portrait. Little did he know then that the trajectory of his life was about to change. For in that moment, against his will, he completely surrendered to the friendship of Albus Severus Potter.

His friend.

A small, wistful smile appeared on Severus’ lips, and his body started to relax at the comfortable thought.

Yes, he owed it to his friend to keep his promise, to take a chance – no matter the outcome. With his pulse racing in anticipation, he squared his shoulders and prepared for the unknown. One deep, steadying breath later, he tightened his fingers around the bronze handle and knocked.

* * *

Although he only waited for several long moments, it felt like an eternity that he stood before that heavy, wooden door, as though awaiting his fate. But before he knew it, the door was being wrenched open, revealing a familiar, smiling face in its wake.

“Severus!” Al swung the door wide and flashed his signature, toothy grin. “You came!”

“I said I would,” Severus replied warmly.

“I know, but you could have changed your mind. I asked you a long time ago.”

“It has only been about two weeks.”

“Well, that’s a long time!” Al huffed, adorably indignant. “Anyway, I guess it doesn’t matter. Come in, come in!” He gestured eagerly. “My dad’s in the kitchen, he said he would be right out.”

Severus’ feet felt heavy as he stepped over the threshold and into the house. His eyes darted around, trying to absorb what he could of his surroundings. The foyer he was admitted into opened up to a living room – no doubt intended to be an elegant sitting room based on the architecture of the house – yet the furniture was so unpretentious he couldn’t help but feel at home immediately; the decor was warm and comfortable. The house itself was large, at least what he could gather by the exterior (and what little of the interior he had seen so far), but not overwhelmingly so; certainly not showy. That didn't seem like the type of thing that would be important to Harry, anyway.

“You can put your boots and your cloak there,” Al said, pointing to a rubber mat and coat rack. Severus complied, making sure to track as little of the snow he had brought in with him as possible. As he removed his outerwear, he kept one eye on the room before him, wondering when he would see Harry… or when Harry would see him.

By now, his heart was nearly beating its way out of his chest.

As he rejoined Al in the living room, he took stock of a large, leather recliner. Just as he was about insinuate himself into the chair, movement out of the corner of his eye stopped him. His pulse now in his ears, he turned his head slowly to take in the adult figure of Harry Potter.

They both froze, staring at each other, no one in the room saying a thing. Al looked back and forth between the two of them, but seemed inclined to wait for one of them to make the first move.

Harry looked exactly like his more recent newspaper photos – his messy mop of black hair; his stylish, square-rimmed glasses; the obvious stubble that hugged his jaw and chin. He was dressed in a dark green wool sweater that set off his eyes – eyes that Severus felt always pierced right through him – and a pair of careworn Muggle jeans. He was barefoot. A small, white towel was slung over his right shoulder.

As Harry advanced slowly into the room, towards Severus, he pulled the white towel off and dropped it absently on the floor, never once taking his eyes off his target. He was moving so slowly that all Severus could do was hold his breath – it was caught in his throat anyway, unable to be dislodged even if he had wanted to. So he just stood there, unsure of what to do, his arms hanging by his sides, his gaze riveted on Harry.

Then Harry stopped, a few paces from Severus, his eyes roving everywhere as if trying to take in every nuance. Severus knew it was mostly the same, with some differences in the details.

“It is you… isn’t it?” Harry asked, his mouth open slightly.

Severus swallowed hard and then nodded slowly.

Harry seemed to reel for a moment, and then in one sudden movement, rushed forward and pulled Severus into a desperate and firm embrace, his arms circling the taller man’s shoulders, pressing their bodies together as though this was going to be their first and last chance to ever do such a thing.

Severus found that all he could do was stand there, accepting Harry’s embrace. He felt blasted open – the relief and ire and confusion and hope that had ebbed and flowed over twenty years, and beyond, now inched dangerously close to the surface, ready to pour out of him at any moment. He managed to maintain his composure, though, at least for the moment. However, if the arms around his shoulders and the warm body against him had lingered any longer, he would not have been able to promise such a thing.

Mercifully, Harry pulled back then, and Severus was surprised see moisture welling in his eyes. Harry removed his glasses and quickly wiped his face with his sleeve.

“I’m sorry, I just can’t believe this. What happened to you? How are you even alive? I don’t understand…” he trailed off, shaking his head, clearly trying to make sense of everything but coming up empty-handed at every turn.

Severus waited until Harry looked back up at him before responding. “Yes, it is really me.” He sighed heavily. “However, I think it best that I explain everything to you later.” He gestured his head to indicate Al.

Harry looked at Al for the first time since entering the living room, almost as though he had forgotten he was there. He considered him for a long moment before nodding his head in agreement.

Just then, two small arms reached up in between them and directed a flat, rectangular box towards Severus.

“I bought you a gift,” Al said, smiling. “Merry Christmas, Severus.”

Disoriented, Severus accepted the package. The shiny red paper and large green bow swam in his vision for a moment as his mind refocused. The wrapping was very clearly Al’s handiwork, yet all the more meaningful and charming because of it, he realized. Severus’ mouth spread into a small, thin smile. Truthfully, he couldn’t remember the last time he had received a gift simply because someone had wished it so.

Carefully, he opened the package, and Al grabbed the discarded paper as it fell away from the box. His eyes were fixated on Severus, watching his every move with anticipation, an eager smile on his face.

As Severus lifted the lid to the box, Al stood up on his tip-toes to peer inside of it along with him.

Severus regarded the black, leather-bound potions journal with genuine surprise. Instinctively, he lifted a hand to trace his finger over the embossed initials – S.S. – that were set into the cover. The well-appointed book was clearly of the highest quality. It was perfect.

Severus looked first at Al, who was beaming back at him, and then chanced a glance at Harry, who just gave a little shrug in response as if to suggest he had nothing to do with it – it was all Al.

“Thank you,” Severus started. “This is very nice.” He paused for a moment, fighting with an impulse, and then finally gave in. He knelt down on one leg and pulled Al into a quick hug – a gesture that felt as foreign as it did liberating.

Al was positively vibrating he was so happy. Then, excitedly, “The one you always use looks really old so I thought maybe you could use a new one. And this one has your initials on it, see?”

Severus grinned as a small finger directed his attention to the embossing on the cover. Then, with a bashful look on his face, Al leaned over and whispered near Severus’ ear, although it still would have been loud enough for Harry to hear.

“I have one sort of like this, too, but I use it for a diary. You can use yours for a diary too. If you need one, that is.” Al flushed as he stood back up and darted a quick glance towards his dad.

Severus was sure the color pinked on his cheeks, too, but had no idea how to respond.

* * *

After an increasingly awkward silence, Severus finally cleared his throat. “I suppose it's my turn, then.” He excused himself and headed into the foyer to collect something from his traveling cloak. He lingered a moment, grateful for the short reprieve, and took a deep breath.

When he returned, he pulled a small parcel out from behind his back and handed it to Al. Then, touching his wand to the top of the package, he enlarged it back to its normal size. “Merry Christmas to you, too.”

Face alight, Al’s eyebrows shot into his fringe and he accepted it with awe. Trotting over to the couch, he sat down and put the present on his lap to open it properly. Harry looked on with an affectionate expression, his arms crossed loosely over his chest. As Al lifted the box top off, he inhaled sharply. He reached in to grab a hold of the gift and pulled it out quickly, making a show of it to his dad, his face brightening even more.

Harry looked at the cauldron in Al’s hands and raised an eyebrow, but made sure to smile reassuringly despite his confusion. Severus caught the response and knew that to the average onlooker (which unfortunately included Harry in this case), it would appear his gift was just an old cauldron. But to the seasoned eye, one would notice it was not just any old cauldron – in fact, it was a 12-year-old, well-seasoned, expertly-cast cauldron. Nowadays, the expensive and hard-to-find kind. Indeed, the type of thing that only a Potions Master would appreciate. Or an 11-year-old boy with a similar passion.

“Wow…!” Al gasped. “Thank you!” He held the cauldron up in front of him to inspect it closer, the soft light in the room clearly making it hard for him to revel in the details.

“That was one of my favorites,” Severus noted with mock seriousness. “Take good care of it for me.”

“Oh, I will!” Al exclaimed, suddenly hugging the cauldron protectively against his chest and nodding soberly. Then he pulled it away again and continued to examine it reverently.

Severus grinned, but let it fade quickly when he realized Harry was watching him. Turning to let his black eyes meet green, a surge of warmth flooded his body as they locked gazes for a moment. He didn’t understand the origin of the sensation, but didn’t question it, either. Although Harry’s gaze was soft, he looked away first this time. However, it was Severus who spoke first.

“I’m sorry that I did not bring you a gift. I was not sure if it would be appropriate, given the circumstances. But I did want to return something to you that has been in my possession for many years. Too many, perhaps. You are the rightful owner.” At this, he withdrew an envelope from his pocket and paused momentarily before handing it to Harry.

Curious, and a little confused, Harry tipped his head to the side slightly as he regarded it. It was blank except for his name written on the front in an untidy scrawl. With a quick check over to Al, who was so engrossed in his new cauldron by now that he was not paying the slightest bit of attention to the other occupants of the room, Harry turned back to the envelope in his hands. Cracking open the seal, he tentatively reached in and pulled out the two items it contained: a photograph and a piece of parchment, both apparently torn from something larger. Upon closer examination, he found he recognized them instantly – a family photo that included only his mother, Lily, and a portion of the letter she had written to Sirius Black, her sign-off and signature still appearing as though they were penned yesterday.

Harry looked up suddenly in amazement, obviously touched by the gift. He was clearly at a loss for words because he only pinched his lips together firmly and lowered his gaze back to the items in his hands, scanning them thoroughly.

Silence lingered between them for several long moments, and when Harry lifted his head, it was to blink back tears.

“Wait here a moment,” he said softly. With that, he swept from the room quietly and Severus was left to stand there, wondering after him, hoping he had not unduly upset him.

When Harry returned a couple minutes later, he was holding a small, ornately-carved wooden box and a scroll. Mimicking Severus’ own actions, Harry held out the two items. “And I think these belong to you.”

Furrowing his brow, Severus regarded the wooden box first as he took hold of it. Unfastening the small latch, he opened the lid and eyed its contents: a small, glass vial with a swirling, misty substance inside. It was unmistakeable: they were memories. But whose? As he looked back up at Harry, their eyes met again – Severus’ in confusion, Harry’s in anticipation.

When Harry did not offer an explanation, however, Severus reached in to pick up the vial from its holder, set snugly against a dark green velvet lining. It occurred to him then that the box was probably custom made for the vial…

Then it hit him.

“These are… mine?” he managed, now cradling the vial delicately in his hand.

Harry nodded after a moment.

Severus closed his eyes and willed himself to breathe, closing his hand firmly around the vial. Lifting it to his closed mouth, he pressed his fist lightly against his lips, remembering. When he reopened his eyes, he placed the vial carefully back in the box and then closed the lid.

Turning his attention to the scroll, he untied the ribbon and let it unravel slowly. Inside were two items. The first appeared to be an aged newspaper, distinctive with its yellowed appearance, and the other a certificate of some kind. Unfolding the newspaper gingerly, a large, bold headline jumped off the page at him:

SNAPE EXONERATED!
The reformed Death Eater cleared on all charges by
Harry Potter, an outspoken and ardent supporter

For a moment, all Severus could do was stare, but then a cursory glance of the date indicated it was a Daily Prophet edition from mid-2000 – almost precisely two years after the final battle with Voldemort. His mind started to spin a bit, but then he realized that was before he had started subscriptions to all the wizarding newspapers. Prior to that time, he would grab one only when they were conveniently accessible, which was not often.

Silently, Severus wondered what else he had missed.

He got the answer to that as he turned his attention on the final item Harry had given him: the certificate. As he unrolled that, too, a proclamation glinted in foiled red text:

ORDER OF MERLIN: FIRST CLASS
Posthumously Awarded to Severus Snape For Substantial Contributions in—

But Severus could read no more of it as a lump formed inconveniently in his throat. He stood there and stared for a long moment, the gravity of everything settling in on him. Al had mentioned that Harry had cleared his name with the Ministry, but had not provided specifics. Severus also knew Harry had seen to it that a portrait now hung in the Headmaster’s office. But he had also accepted the Order of Merlin on his behalf and saved his memories all these years – seemingly, with no intention of ever disposing of them, if the archival box was anything to show for it.

But what does this mean? Severus’ mind proved too far away to make sense of it.

When he looked back up at Harry, he was met with a pair of searching eyes, laden with concern and compassion. Almost instantly, Severus was overwhelmed with the significance and emotion there and found he had to look away quickly.

Then, he felt a hand softly touch his forearm. “I’m sorry, maybe I should have waited to give you these things. Perhaps this is too much all at once. I didn’t think, I’m sorry.”

“No,” Severus interjected, looking back at Harry. “It’s not that. It’s just…” he trailed off for a moment, pinching the bridge of his nose. “You did all this for me?”

Harry looked surprised at the question but only nodded. “Yes.”

“But why? I thought you…” he paused, almost afraid to voice it now. “I thought you hated me.”

At this, Harry reached out and placed a couple fingers lightly on top of the wooden box that contained Severus’ memories. He seemed distant then for a moment, as though he was lost in memories of his own. But when his eyes returned to Severus, his face wore a meaningful expression.

“These changed everything. I had been wrong about you and didn’t know it.” He paused to swallow and then pressed his lips into an apologetic smile, pain flashing behind his eyes. “Thank you for entrusting them to me.”

Severus cast his eyes downward and nodded silently. He had not been prepared for how hard this was going to be, drudging up the past and sifting through his old life, feeling these intense shifts of emotion storm through him, knowing he was utterly ill-equipped to speak what was truly in his heart. But perhaps the most difficult thing of all was being back in Harry’s presence – the man and no longer the student – witnessing the obvious guilt and regret that revealed itself in his countenance.

So where do we go from here? Severus wondered.

Almost as though Harry was reading that thought directly from his mind, he said, quietly, “If you’d like to stay for dinner, I’ve already set out a third place. I made roast duck with vegetables and Christmas pudding for dessert. If that’s okay.”

Severus looked up quickly, finding that several questions crowded his mind at once, each competing to be heard. The only one he could manage to get out was, “You cook?”

Harry chuckled lightly. “Yes. Is that so hard to believe?”

Severus just blinked, but found some degree of amusement to it. “I suppose not. But roast duck? By non-magical methods?”

“Yup, just these,” Harry said, lifting his hands to wiggle his fingers. “As to the duck, Al is partial to it, and hoped you would like it, too.”

Severus turned to look at Al, who was still sitting on the couch but had taken up reading a book.

“Al, you ready for dinner?” Harry asked.

Closing his book with a quick snap, Al grinned and hopped up from the couch, leaving Severus with the distinct impression he had actually been listening to their conversation the whole time.

Slytherin to the core, Severus thought. He just shook his head and grinned at Al as he passed by.

Al grinned back, his eyes playful and light.

* * *

When the three of them were all seated around the dining room table, a house elf emerged from the kitchen, levitating a tray with two wine goblets and a small glass tumbler. Severus watched with interest as the elf set a wine goblet in front of both he and Harry, and the other glass in front of Al. Instantly, the stemware filled with a rich, burgundy-colored wine, and the tumbler with what appeared to be orange juice, if he had to guess.

Delicately, Harry picked up his goblet and gestured for the rest of the table to mirror him. Just as he was about to give a blessing for the meal, Al stopped him.

“Hey Dad?”

“Yes?”

“I love you.”

Harry’s expression softened as he smiled. “I love you, too, Al.”

When Harry was about to start speaking again, Al interrupted for a second time.

“And Severus?”

Startled, Severus looked over at him, and felt a sudden rush of discomfit.

“Yes?” he asked, though quieter than he had intended.

Al kneeled up on his chair so that he could reach across the table. As he tipped his tumbler gently into Severus’ goblet, the delicate tinkling of crystal on glass echoed into the quiet room.

Al smiled warmly, his eyes twinkling.

“Merry Christmas.”

~ Fin ~