Title: Under the New Regime
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Content Notes: Angst, AU in that Severus lives
Pairing: Harry/Severus pre-slash
Summary: Hearing that Potter has given up magic and moved out of the wizarding world is the last thing Severus expects. The life-debt he thought was settled has begun itching again, and the only thing that seems sure to quell it is teaching Potter the meaning of magic and wonder...even if the last thing Severus wants to be is a bloody teacher.
Author’s Notes: Another of my “From Samhain to the Solstice” fics, for Averon, who asked for a one-shot in which Harry has left the wizarding world and given up magic, and Snape is the one who has a problem with it.
Under the New Regime
“Yeah, mate. I mean, I don’t understand Harry at all, but if he wants to live his life as a Muggle, I reckon that’s his choice.”
Severus paused in the turning over of his newspaper. Then he leaned back and looked carefully across the small cafe that he always visited under a glamour to the source of the voice.
Ron Weasley was seated across from a sandy-haired man whose name Severus struggled to remember for a moment. Yes, Finnigan. Severus curled his lip and thought about turning away. News about Potter would not be worth the memories stirred up of Finnigan and his tireless cauldron-ruining partner, Longbottom.
But no papers had had tales of Potter in years now, and Severus was curious.
“Not natural for a wizard to live as a Muggle, though, mate.” Finnigan shook his head and devoured the cup of chocolate in front of him with a disgusting slurp. “The magic might actually hurt him if it’s not expressed.”
“He visited someone and had them perform a charm to lock away his magic so it won’t do that.”
Severus barely managed to keep his hiss quiet. What Weasley was discussing was the highly illegal Caged Soul Curse. And yes, it wouldn’t hurt the wizard with the caged magic as far as Severus knew, but it meant that he could not defend himself against an attack, or easily see the Leaky Cauldron, or—
Any number of things.
Finnigan seemed to have the same reaction, good in a way, since he could probe Weasley for information in a way Severus couldn’t. “He did what? Where did he even find someone to perform that damn curse?”
Weasley shrugged and leaned close to Finnigan. Severus promptly and without shame cast an Eavesdropping Charm. “Knockturn Alley, apparently. Don’t ask me why he wanted it, but that’s where he found it.”
Of course that’s where he found it, the little fool.
Severus listened to the rest of the conversation, but there was little worthwhile information. Weasley refused to tell Finnigan where Potter was living, although why he had begun speaking of Potter in the first place if not to share that, Severus could not imagine. He did say one interesting thing as he and Finnigan pushed back their chairs and plates and prepared to depart, however.
“Why did Harry want to give up his magic?”
Weasley paused with his hand on the back of his chair and a moody expression on his face—not that such a thing was unusual for him, as Severus well remembered. “He said something about how the ugliest things he’d ever seen in his life happened because of magic. If his parents weren’t wizards, they wouldn’t have died in a war, he said.”
“But the Muggle world isn’t perfect, either.”
“Hermione reminded him about that. Harry said he didn’t care. He said that Muggles had only ever hated him when they knew him personally, while wizards hated him based on a stupid idea. And magic was used as a weapon against him from the time he was a baby. He wants to disappear in the Muggle world and soak up the indifference.”
Severus sat back down heavily as he watched Weasley and Finnigan depart. Then he closed his eyes and shuddered. It felt as though someone had reached out and laid a heavy hand between his shoulder blades.
When the tingling itch of an owed life-debt crept along his skin, Severus was nearly ready for it. But that did not completely end his despair.
By rights, Severus should not have owed Potter a life-debt. It had been James Potter who had claimed that dubious distinction, and Severus had saved his son’s life often enough to negate the damn thing.
But the rules of magic and his own sense of ethics—small, dark, and twisted though it was—did not always follow common sense.
Severus stood in his lab and scowled down at his ruined, smoking cauldron. He hadn’t had an accident like this in years. But the life-debt pulled at him like an insistent child, one Severus couldn’t make back off with a threat of murder the way he did when one approached him in Diagon Alley.
He had woken from the slumber that he had thought would be death to find himself in St. Mungo’s attended by a tight-lipped Healer. The Healer had said very little about why he was willing to work on Severus’s wounds, but had finally revealed that someone had paid him. And the same person had brought Severus to hospital and threatened “consequences” if he didn’t recover.
The Healer wouldn’t reveal the name of that person no matter how much Severus tried to threaten or manipulate or startle it out of him, and he had turned out to have annoyingly good Occlumency shields, as well. Severus could still have tried to circumvent them, but the Healer would have known, and Severus didn’t feel like going to prison for illegal use of Legilimency when he’d barely escaped it for being a Death Eater.
But he had become certain that the person was Potter, and Potter was the reason he still breathed. And then he had found out that the idiot boy had indeed walked to his death, and actually died, and he had decided that he—in fact, the whole wizarding world—owed Potter a debt for that.
Severus sighed and Vanished the mess in the cauldron, then went to fetch his traveling cloak. He wouldn’t be able to track Potter by magical signature with him under the Caged Soul Curse, but he wouldn’t need to. The life-debt was happy enough to point the way.
Severus found himself on a street of Muggle flats that made him grimace. This wasn’t Cokeworth, but it was so similar: the predominant color was grey, people splashed past each other with their collars turned up and not a word of greeting, and the street was a mess of broken pavement and puddles. He stepped through the first door he saw into the block and tossed his hood back.
He saw doors, suspiciously staring people, and a lift. Severus walked grimly over to the lift and pushed the first set of buttons he saw. The life-debt lay quiescent for a few seconds as the lift moved upwards, and then began to leap and cry as Severus neared the third floor. Severus punched the button and made it stop.
Then he shook his hand. Honestly, the lack of magic made his skin sting as much as a warning charm would have. How could Potter be content living here?
He reminded himself the Caged Soul Curse would have made Potter essentially a Muggle, and stepped out of the lift, looking up and down yet another anonymous corridor of closed doors. The carpet on the floor was as beige as Potter’s soul had to be right now.
The life-debt told him which door to turn to, a plain and unlovely one with chips and cracks along the edges. Severus hesitated once, then lifted his hand and knocked.
There was no response for long enough that Severus thought perhaps Potter wasn’t home, and the life-debt had only tracked the place where he resided the most often. But then he heard footsteps shuffling across carpet and Potter opened the door, his hand up as though even the pale light in the corridor was painful for his eyes.
“Let me in,” Severus said, because opening the door didn’t make Potter complete that simple action.
“Snape?” Potter said, shaking his head as if he couldn’t believe it, but he did step back and move out of the way. Severus ducked into the flat, his eyes darting around.
The inside was dim, and that was its best quality. The furniture had chips and cracks, just like the door, and it looked as though Potter had only one dining room chair and one drawing room one. The interior walls showed up in odd places, interrupting lines of sight without really separating the rooms. Severus did see one closed door that might lead to the bathroom, but Potter’s bed sat behind one of those half-walls with unmade sheets rucked all over it.
Severus turned around and looked down his nose. He thought Potter should explain his presence more than Severus should explain his, which, honestly, was only natural. Potter was the one with a pale face and a three days’ growth of beard. “Yes?”
Potter rubbed his eyes again and stepped back, as if the sight of Severus in his flat was so unexpected he had to literally put it into perspective like a painting. “What are you doing here?” Potter asked finally, voice an unwatered croak.
Severus sighed and sat down on the chair nearest the door, raking Potter with an unimpressed gaze. “Someone had to come and rescue you from your own madness with the Caged Soul Curse.”
At least Potter could still react. He jumped like a frog when Severus spoke the name of the spell, and grabbed the back of the other chair. His eyes narrowed. “Get out.”
“I don’t think I will. What were you thinking, you stupid boy, to pay someone to cast that!”
“I was thinking that I’d never be able to have a normal life in the wizarding world and it was time for a bloody change!”
“And you think a normal life is a good one?”
“It’s all I’ve ever wanted, Snape.” Potter abruptly bowed his head, and his defiance went out like a snuffed candle. Severus shivered with how wrong that felt. “From the time I was aware that I was different from the Dursleys, even if I didn’t know why until Hagrid brought my letter. I wanted to be just…Harry, not a celebrity. I know you don’t believe that, but it’s the truth.”
Severus breathed out slowly. Old irritations clashed and jangled at him, but he resisted their pull. Yes, he had come to see how much Potter loathed his fame. It was not a matter of much sense to Severus; he would have relished in being famous, used it to his advantage, and Potter could have done that even if he hated it. But he hadn’t. He’d gone into full-blown retreat instead.
So Severus had to believe him, as little as he liked it.
“You are not normal,” he said instead. “You never will be. So you can learn to accept that and live with it.”
He was going to continue and explain that he could show Potter how as a condition of fulfilling his life-debt, but Potter just gave him a rude snort and shook his head. “It’s only one world that hates me or adores me at the command of the Prophet, Snape. I can live as a Muggle just fine.”
“This is living?” Severus asked involuntarily, looking around the flat.
Potter flushed all the way down underneath the collar of his overlarge Muggle shirt, but he just lifted his head and said, “Yes. I know I could do things differently. I choose not to. That makes it my way. I’m going to be absolutely normal. That means not using money that I wouldn’t have if I was a Muggle.”
“You are not a Muggle.”
“With my magic caged, I might as well be.”
Severus wanted to hit something. But Potter only continued watching him with a tiny, infuriating smile, as if he knew exactly how much it galled Severus not to be able to achieve his goal, even if Severus hadn’t had the chance to explain what that was.
Severus restrained his impulses. He folded his arms and said, “I know that you are the one who paid the Healer to take care of my wounds when I was in hospital.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Severus wanted to purr as he saw Potter’s eyelid twitch violently, “Oh, don’t you? You could never tell a lie worth a Knut, Potter.”
Potter glared at him, but before he could open his mouth, Severus continued on. “And I think that the whole of the wizarding world owes you a debt. We piled the weight of defeating the Dark Lord on your shoulders, and you managed, even though it was an unfair burden to expect any child to bear.”
Potter eyed him, then looked around the flat. “Who are you and where did you hide the real Severus Snape?”
“That combination of things means that I owe you a life-debt, Potter. And it won’t leave me alone until I fulfill it.”
“I don’t want it!”
“That doesn’t matter.” For the first time in his life, Severus thought he might enjoy being under a life-debt. Potter’s eyelid was doing a whole dance of its own right now. “The person who owes the debt is the one who decides when it’s fulfilled, not the one it’s owed to.”
“I don’t care!” Potter stalked right up to him, glaring. But without his magic, which had always lent his presence an edge, he wasn’t intimidating. Not that Severus thought he would have found many people intimidating who were so dedicated to this pretense of normality. “Leave, Snape!”
“You can’t convince me to take my magic back.”
“If I convince you that it is joyful instead of a burden? Then I will convince you, and then the debt will be fulfilled.”
“What am I going to say when people ask me why I suddenly have someone dressed in robes living in my flat?”
Severus smiled slightly. “Do your neighbors pay you that much attention that they would notice the change in routine?”
Potter paused, thrown. “Well. No. But they will notice if someone dressed in robes is walking around and coming in and out of my flat.”
“Relax, Potter. I grew up in the Muggle world. I know well enough how not to stand out. As you know from my memories,” Severus couldn’t help adding.
Potter paused and swallowed. “Right. Do you—do you want those memories back?”
Severus held Potter’s eyes. “To complete the transfer, both people must have magic. Do you want to undo the curse you’re under so that I can retrieve them?”
Potter scowled at him and turned away. Severus would never have been so unsubtle as to laugh aloud, but he enjoyed the sensation of the glee that warmed the inside of his chest. There weren’t many other people he would have been able to get away with this with. Plenty of people would have kicked him out of their flats even if they had paid for a Healer to save his life.
But it seemed Potter’s caging of his magic hadn’t affected his disastrous nobility at all. Severus could torment him endlessly under the guise of doing him good, and the debt itself would be satisfied that way, as well as Severus’s sense of what was right.
And he felt steadier and calmer than he had in some while, in a way that he didn’t think was just the satisfaction of the debt. He had missed this, he realized. Doing things for Potter’s own good that irritated the hell out of him. It was the only thing about teaching at Hogwarts that he did miss.
Now to go back home and retrieve my things, Severus thought idly as he Apparated, already making a list in his head. The list would have to include proper wards for Potter’s flat. Potter could live as a Muggle all he liked, but Severus refused.
“Why is there suddenly an extra room in my flat, Snape?”
Severus looked up from the cauldron bubbling in front of him to the doorway where Potter stood, arms folded. Severus looked around carefully as if he needed to memorize the layout of the stone floor and walls and workbenches in the lab himself.
“I had not realized that caging your magic affected your memory,” he said. “I will have to brew a potion for that. But since you asked, Potter, it is called wizardspace, and I was rather good at it when I had the chance.”
“You can’t just add another room.”
“You were right. I couldn’t.” Severus waited for Potter’s expression to change before he added, “I had to add two. The lab and a bedroom for me. I decided the bathroom is acceptable for the moment.”
“Yes?” Severus faced the cauldron again and added another stir, then nodded and switched from the glass stirring rod to the bronze one. The potion was nearly ready, but the thick smoke—which spells channeled away from the door and dissipated into harmlessness so that no Muggles would spot it coming from Potter’s windows—said he would need another half-hour.
“I wanted to live simply. Without any wizarding accoutrements.”
“Accept my congratulations on learning the word ‘accoutrements,’ Potter.”
“That means simply. Without extra rooms. Poor Muggles wouldn’t have extra rooms like this. That means that I can’t have them, either.”
Severus faced Potter and said softly, “Why are you so intent on denying your own nature? You are neither poor nor a Muggle. You are not ordinary.”
“I want to be!”
And at the moment, Severus judged, he was hearing a cry from the heart. He stirred the potion once more, and laid the stirring rod down. He had another fifteen minutes before he would need to complete the next step. “Why, Potter? Tell me why.”
“Because—because then people will leave me alone.” Potter raked a hand through his hair as if he wanted to tear it off his head, and turned around to stare into his little flat. Severus knew he was looking at something that wasn’t there, but unlike Severus’s mother and father, he wasn’t dreaming of a better place than this poky little one. He was seeing a quieter life still. “Because then I can just be ordinary.”
Severus stared at his back. He had thought that Potter didn’t like his fame because of the pain it had brought him in the past, and he would have been content to embrace it if his parents had lived, if it had not led to a Dark wizard trying to kill him, if—
But it was more than that. Severus could not have imagined someone who loathed that fame so completely, which was one reason that he was inclined to believe Potter now. He cleared his throat as softly as he could. “You can have a quieter life, but you will never be that.”
“I am going to be that. You can stay here and enlarge my flat all you like. I’m never going to go back.”
And he went over to the bathroom and shut the door. Severus stood where he was and let the potion be ruined.
“Do you know how I will consider the debt paid, Potter?”
“I’m sure you’re going to tell me.” Potter was eating Muggle pizza. Severus had wrinkled his nose at the smell and avoided it, but that didn’t seem to upset Potter. In fact, he had only taken two slices, and set aside the rest, as if to make sure that Severus knew he was poor enough to always retain the leftovers.
“When you learn joy in your magic again.”
At least that made Potter chokes on a mouthful of cheese. He set the pizza slice aside and narrowed his eyes at Severus. Severus held his breath for a second. There was a flash of darkness, of suspicion, in those green eyes that was at least familiar, and made him feel for a second as if he was back in Hogwarts, trying to figure out what danger Potter had exposed himself to this time.
“I can’t do that when I don’t even have magic,” Potter said, and shook his head as he picked up a napkin to wipe his mouth. “Have you thought about that, Snape?”
“No. Because you were born to magic, and I am going to show you the kind that makes you want to reclaim it and then live out your life in the world you were born to.”
Potter rolled his eyes. “Good fucking luck, Snape.”
Severus allowed himself to do no more than blink at the obscenity. He had already accustomed himself to the fact that he would have to put up with things far more distasteful if he was to live with Potter. “I can show you mine, however.”
Potter leaned back in his chair and laughed. “That sounds like a proposition.”
Severus eyed Potter as he drew his wand. “Please. As if I would proposition someone who loathes himself as intensely as you do.”
Potter folded his arms. “It has nothing to do with self-loathing. It has to do with finally being able to live the life I want after the defeat of Voldemort.”
Severus turned away without answering and flicked his wand at the telly, concentrating hard. It had been years since he had cast this spell—not since his fifth year at Hogwarts, in fact. That was the last time he had had a friend with whom he had wanted to share the glory the spell was capable of conjuring.
Lazy, swirling colors of magic began to move over the telly. He could feel Potter tense even from where he sat, but Potter’s voice was remarkably level. “If you break my telly, Snape, you’re paying for a new one.”
Severus lifted his wand, and the colors followed it. There was red and blue there, trailing off into pink and indigo, and then it settled into more definite shapes than the abstract swirls it had formed at first. Severus slashed downwards with his wand, and the colors became the image of a sunset he had based on a picture in a library book.
With the image came the sound of lapping water; the view was from the shore of a tropical island, and Severus included glimpses of the trees and the green shore, all framed and cut off by the sides of the telly screen. Potter reached out a hand, then snatched it back to his side. But his sudden, longing gaze was only slightly less powerful than the smugness Severus felt.
“If you can put memories out in the open like that,” Potter whispered, “why does anyone use a Pensieve?”
“It is an image based on a photograph, combined with imagination and a touch of reality,” Severus told him. The sound of the waves was taken from a memory of Hogwarts’s lake, the palm trees from some he had seen on a private estate he’d visited during his Death Eater days. “A spell I invented.”
“I’m not surprised about that, sir. You were great at inventing spells.”
Severus lowered his wand and turned fully to face Potter. Potter gave him a nervous glance, but folded his arms and tried to look casual.
“You would like to go to such a place as the one that you thought existed in that image,” Severus said, and tilted his head at the telly.
“Of course. I’ve never been.”
“If you still had your magic, you could Apparate there.” Severus lowered his voice to a coaxing murmur when Potter only stared at him. “If you had your money, you could pay for a journey there.”
Potter glanced aside. “That wouldn’t make me as happy as this normal life would.”
“Would it not? You don’t seem to have much joy in this life, Potter. Only broken furniture, a dusty flat, a job that you don’t bring home with you—”
“I like that part!”
“I’m sure you do. But you come home and you eat dinner and then you watch telly or literally stare at the walls. I’ve seen you, Potter. That doesn’t say to me that this normal life is making you happy. It says to me that you’ve given up on the concept of happiness altogether.”
Potter was taking rushing breaths so hard that Severus moved around a little to the side to catch him in case he fainted. Then Potter shook his head and opened his eyes. Severus had thought he saw a faint beginning of sparks of magic around his hands, but they disappeared as Severus watched.
“No,” Potter whispered. “Listen to me, please. There’s no happiness in my life right now, that’s true. But I just need to—find a hobby. Or wait for some more time to pass since the war. That’s it. That’s what I need.”
“Allow me to suggest some hobbies to you.”
Potter twisted his head to glare at Severus. “You would probably suggest brewing or something.”
“Why would I suggest something you have no talent in?”
Potter turned and stomped away, slamming the door of his bathroom, as hard as he could slam something that was slow and moved on creaking hinges. In the silence left behind, Severus grimaced.
Yes, that will help so much in getting Potter to take up magic again.
“I wanted to apologize, Potter.”
Potter paused in the middle of eating his bowl of bland Muggle cereal and stared at Severus. Even the ridiculous animal on the box seemed to stare at Severus, a feat for an image with its hair already standing on end.
“You? Apologize?” Potter coughed and spat out something that Severus turned his eyes aside from. “Why?”
“I made an unfortunate comment yesterday when I suggested that you couldn’t brew. It might be true, but I could have expressed it better. I apologize for irritating you.” Severus sat down and turned the cereal box around so that he could read the list of ingredients. It made him shudder. “Would you like me to make you breakfast?”
Potter leaned back slowly in his chair. “And what are you going to put in it?”
“Something that is not all this sugar,” Severus muttered, still reading the box’s ingredient label.
Potter shook his head. “Sorry, but I don’t have time to eat anything cooked in the morning, and I don’t want to ask you to get up earlier. I gobble this meal and run as it is.” He shot a quick look at the melancholy clock on the wall and gulped more cereal, then stood up and carried the bowl to the sink.
“You wake up, you eat, you go to work, you come home, you eat, you stare at your telly, you go to sleep,” Severus told his back. “Is that any kind of life?”
Potter clenched his hands on either side of the sink. Then he looked up and shook his head. “I don’t have time to discuss this. I’m going to be late for work,” he said, and left, shutting the door firmly behind him with a final click.
Severus was ready when Potter opened the door and came staggering in. The way he walked, with his head bowed and his eyes on the floor, was actually perfect. It meant he didn’t look up and take notice of Severus’s changes until he was already far across the threshold. Then he froze, one hand still gripping the doorknob.
Severus tilted his head at Potter, curious to see what would happen. He was rather fond of what he had done. The drab wallpaper and dull color of the paint on the walls was gone, replaced by glowing, muted hues: dark blues, deep greens, and, after a mental struggle Severus didn’t want to admit to, jewel-like reds. Severus had cleaned up the dust and repaired the sagging cushioning and broken springs on the couch. He had made the sides of the telly gleam as if with a polishing and surreptitiously added charms to the device that made the picture brighter and clearer to compensate for Potter’s eyesight.
(The device still worked after his adjustment. He’d checked).
Potter stood and stared around. Severus had also added more light. He’d embedded charms in the ceiling and the corners of the walls that looked like soft lamps. They would shine until Potter commanded them to turn off—Severus had made them responsive to Muggle voices—and fool any Muggles who looked at them. They didn’t look like magic at all.
“Why did you do this?” Potter finally whispered.
“Maybe I can’t convince you to resume your magic or your vaults,” Severus said, leaning against the wall with his arms folded. “Maybe you do want to keep pursuing your useless job and living in this place. At least I can make the place where you do it beautiful.”
Potter turned to him and took off his glasses, rubbing his eyes as if he assumed the lights and the new colors to the walls would disappear if he cleared them. Then he put his glasses on and took a deep breath. “Thank you,” he said.
“But,” Severus said, hearing it coming and wanting to hurry it out.
“It’s too much.” Potter hissed under his breath as he stared at the ceiling. “It’s so beautiful. It’s wasted on someone like me.”
Severus cocked his head. Perhaps they were coming nearer to the heart of the problem than Potter had admitted to yet. “So you think you do not deserve even the kind of beauty that fifteen minutes of spellwork can create?”
Potter turned around and glared at him with his arms folded. “I didn’t say that.”
“No. But by saying that fifteen minutes of spellwork makes something too beautiful for someone like you, you are implying it.” Severus loomed over Potter, a tactic that he thought might still work even though technically Potter was too old to be intimidated by it. “Are you not?”
Potter stood the intimidation tactic for about two seconds, and then he turned away and flung himself on the couch. He seemed irritated to find it softer. “You don’t understand.”
“I do not. Try me.”
Potter eyed Severus warily, but finally began to speak, his voice as croaking as if he was dealing with a respiratory infection. “I want to be normal. Utterly normal. That means no big amounts of money, no magic, no one—no one spending this much time and money working on me. I have to earn it.”
“I have spent no money,” said Severus, but he was thinking. “Potter. Is that why you have no Muggle friends and have not permitted your magical friends to visit?”
Potter jerked and then turned to look at him. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, Snape.”
His voice was a suppressed snarl, but even that was better than some of the emotionless things that he had said in the past few days. Severus turned and held his eyes. “No, I think I want to know this. If I don’t know what I’m talking about, then prove it to me.”
“I don’t make Muggle friends because I want it to happen naturally. And I don’t want Ron and Hermione to visit because Hermione would scold me.”
“The same things you do! Giving up magic, living like this.”
“I doubt Granger would think it shameful to live in the Muggle world, or to live like a Muggle. That is what she comes from. But living in a way that damages your health, that surrounds you with ugliness? Yes, she might disapprove of that.”
Severus was actually musing aloud to himself, not expecting an answer because Potter so far had done nothing to give them, and was startled to hear Potter actually shout at him. “You don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“But if it’s nothing, why are you so upset about it?”
Potter stood for a second, breathing, his hands clasped together, his eyes wide. Then he turned away and whispered, “You still don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“But I want to understand.” Severus moved around in front of Potter and spoke as calmly as he could. “Why do you have no Muggle friends? What do you mean by letting it happen naturally? Why do you have no one visit from the wizarding world? What would Granger fuss about?”
Potter swallowed several times. Then he dropped back down on the couch and whispered so fast and so softly that Severus wouldn’t have heard him even a meter further away.
“All my life I was unwanted and abnormal. And then I got into the wizarding world and found out it was the same thing, just the other extreme. Still unwanted half the time, and the rest panted after. But they didn’t want the real me, they wanted some actor. They wanted me to have adventures and be the hero. And I had to because otherwise Voldemort would have got the Stone and Ginny would have died and Sirius would have been executed and—all these other things. Maybe some people even thought I enjoyed it.
“I hate my fame, Snape. It gave me all this adulation I didn’t deserve. I don’t want it. I want the absolute opposite. My fame and living in the wizarding world with all this attention I don’t deserve didn’t make me happy. Maybe living in the opposite extreme would make me happy.”
“You don’t know anymore,” Severus said, because he had picked up on that tone of desperation in Potter’s voice.
Potter dropped his hands from his face and glared at Severus. “You’re the only thing that’s making me uncertain! If you would stop talking about magic and just let me live out my life—”
“A life that makes you miserable? Is that truly what you deserve?”
“I’m alive and they’re not!”
Severus paused when he heard that shout. Yes, now they came to the crux of it, he thought. Survivor’s guilt.
Except that Potter thought he had figured out a way to atone for that emotion. He thought giving up his magic and going to live out a terrible, cramped life would somehow make up for things.
“Your magic is part of you, Potter. Cutting it off won’t make you less alive except in the sense that you’ll live a dull, drab life and hate every moment of it. It won’t bring them back.”
Potter folded his arms and turned his back, pacing over to stare at the wall where Severus had embedded a few of the charms. “But magic’s not a source of joy for me, either, Snape. I watched it hurt almost everyone I know during the war. I watched it kill them. I watched the relatives who thought I was terrible and a freak have to go into hiding because of it. Maybe this life isn’t the best one I could have chosen. But I’m not coming back into the wizarding world and going back to that useless life, either. I’m not going back to dodging curses the way I’d have to if I lived there.”
Severus hesitated. Potter probably couldn’t get rid of Death Eaters and others who were insistent on taking revenge completely. He also probably couldn’t get rid of people who expected him to be a hero and might become lethally disappointed when he refused.
“Then make a life here,” Severus said, barely believing what he was saying. “Better than this one.”
Potter looked at him cross-eyed. “What?”
“In the Muggle world. There are wizards who live here, although mostly Muggleborns. You can use magic and make things better in the Muggle world, if that’s what you want to do. Just don’t give it up completely.”
Potter squinted at him. “You’re very insistent about me reclaiming my magic.”
“I am,” Severus said quietly. He felt for the prickling stretch of the life-debt over his shoulders, but it appeared to have gone. He took a deep breath and continued, “I dislike seeing you so unhappy.”
“That’s a new one, Snape.”
“Yes, it is,” Severus said. Potter visibly floundered. “I did not ask to be put in a situation where I am in charge of returning your joy to you, but that is the situation I am in. I ask that you help me as much as you can.”
“By what? Letting the curse go, resuming my magic?”
Potter closed his eyes. Then he said, “You can’t do anything about my fame or my reasons for giving up my magic in the first place, Snape.”
“If you mean persuading the wizarding world to regard you differently, probably not. But I can help you resume your life in this world. That is what I meant, Potter, and I have already said it. Don’t pretend that I want you to return to walking Diagon Alley and shopping there when it is not what I meant.”
His voice cracked like thunder. Potter jumped and stared at him. Then something deep in his eyes seemed to shift.
“It doesn’t matter if I make fun of you. It doesn’t matter that your behavior’s changed.” His tone was more incredulous than Severus would have liked. “You’re not going to give up and go away, the way—the others did.”
“Am I not the first ambassador from the wizarding world to try and persuade you to change your mind, then, Potter?”
“No. Ron and Hermione did visit, once. But they said they couldn’t bear to see what I was doing to myself, and they didn’t just want me to open up my magic again. They wanted me to return to living in Hogsmeade and shopping in Diagon Alley.” Potter looked down, running his hand over the kitchen counter that Severus had Transfigured to smooth away the splinters. “They didn’t listen to me.”
Severus released a rattling sigh. He could see that easily. Granger cared for Potter, but too often didn’t shut up, and Weasley would splutter and say the wrong thing. And Weasley had never lived outside the wizarding world, while Granger had, but didn’t seem to value it much or feel she had lost anything when she became a witch full-time.
“I know you are aware of this, Potter,” he said. “But I grew up in a Muggle neighborhood. I had a miserable childhood, but that was down to my parents. Not the mere fact that I lived among non-magical people. I think that you can make a good life here for yourself. You simply need the will to do so.”
Potter lifted his head and stared Severus full in the face for a moment. Then he nibbled his lip and nodded. “You—you make a lot of sense, sir. I’m going to try and—I know how to cancel the curse.”
“I thought it was one of those spells only the caster could break,” Severus said, intrigued despite himself. He didn’t know much about the Caged Soul Curse, of course, and so he might have overlooked an important piece of information easily enough.
“Most of the time, that’s true, but only because once your magic is imprisoned underneath it, then of course you can’t break it.” Potter paused. “I’m enough of a freak that I’m powerful enough to snap it. The curse barely contained my magic anyway.”
“I would appreciate it if you did not refer to the savior of the wizarding world as a freak.”
Potter opened his mouth, then shot him a sharp look and snorted a little. “Very funny, sir.” He closed his eyes and bowed his head, crossing his arms over his chest. Severus found himself holding his breath and shook his head, irritated. He would not be as prone to dramatics as Potter had been and still was.
Potter breathed a few times, and then abruptly tossed his arms up as if he was breaking hoops wrapped around his body.
Severus staggered back a step as Potter’s magic flooded the flat. It curled around the soft lights that he had embedded into the walls and made them flare for a second. Fire leaped to life in the dead hearth Severus had created. The telly sparked and fizzed in a way that made Severus fear for its long-term survival. Then it settled down, and so did the magic that almost visibly encircled Potter.
Potter kept his head bowed. Two tears slipped down his cheeks as Severus watched.
“Potter?” Severus sounded apprehensive and he knew it. But truly, he did not know how to cope with tears.
“I—I’m all right. I didn’t know what was missing. I—no wonder I wasn’t making any Muggle friends.” Potter raised his head and turned to look at Severus. “I had no idea that an essential part of my soul was shut away.”
Severus took another step back. Potter’s eyes were aflame with brilliance again, the way they had been the day that Severus had seen them last in a photograph in the Daily Prophet, the way they had been so many times when he was a boy and defying Severus. He stared into them and they lost every likeness to Lily’s forever for him. Lily had shone; she had not blazed.
And something else shifted underneath Severus’s own breastbone. He cleared his throat and tried to pretend that his blood wasn’t bounding along his own veins. “I trust that you understand now what kind of joy magic could bring to your life, Potter?”
“Yes.” Potter smiled at him, and that was a blazing thing, too. Then he hesitated, and added, “But the money really is gone, sir. I spent all of it on charitable causes before I went into Knockturn Alley to have my magic bound.”
Severus shrugged. “You have your salary from your Muggle job. I suspect there are those in the wizarding world who would be glad to hire you to give them personalized Defense instruction even if you met in Muggle London, or there are other jobs you could do. I hope that you will at least consider this possibility. I can support myself well with my potions.”
Potter blinked at him over the last words. “I know you can, sir. I wasn’t asking you to support me.”
Severus paused for a moment. Then he said, “I was only trying to reassure you that you would not be responsible for my maintenance.”
“But—why would you want to stay here?” Potter’s astonishment was obvious; he actually reached out for a second as if he might shake Severus’s shoulder and ask him to reconsider. “I mean, you could go back to the wizarding world now. The life-debt must be fulfilled if I have my magic back.”
Severus waited for his own instincts and the feeling of his magic to answer that, while he examined Potter’s face. He was thinking of how he had messed up one particular potion in the wizarding world and in Potter’s flat. He was thinking of how the life-debt might act up again someday and it would be troublesome to come back from his own dwelling to the Muggle world. He was thinking of the questions Potter’s friends would have and how they might try to get him to come back to Diagon Alley, to Hogsmeade, to all the other places that were not synonymous with magic and that Potter didn’t want to live.
He was thinking that Potter’s face when he wore that blazing smile was the most handsome one he had seen in some time.
“You never know,” he said at last, though the lack of agitation from the life-debt assured him that he had paid Potter back in an important way. “Something might happen that requires my presence. And I can brew here as well as in my own home. Better, in some ways, since people are more likely to pay attention to me when I buy ingredients in the wizarding world than if I come as a visitor from the Muggle world.”
Potter stared at him.
“I know how to live in two worlds, Potter. I told you that. And I think I have finally learned to live both in the past and the present.”
Potter drank air for a second. Then he put out a hand that his magic crackled around.
“Call me Harry,” he said. And smiled.