Once upon a time -- this is how all fairy tales begin -- there was a vast land ruled by two powerful wizards, one good and one evil. The good wizard, Dumbledore, lived in the north; if truth be told, he actually ruled most of the land, leaving only a small region in the south for his rival, the evil Voldemort. As you might expect, Voldemort was none too happy with this state of affairs, and was constantly making incursions northward, trying to expand his territory.
Now, in the area ruled by Dumbledore there were two villages close by to one another, separated by a river. On the river's north bank sat the village of Gryffindor, and on its south, the village of Slytherin. Several bridges crossed the river, and the villagers mingled freely, but each village still retained its own distinct character. The people of Gryffindor were known to be brave at best, foolhardy at worst, with honest, open hearts. Those of Slytherin were shrewd, cunning, and clever. It was said in the taverns that if you needed someone to negotiate a deal, you should hire a Slytherin; but if the deal failed and you needed to use the persuasion of force, a Gryffindor should be your choice.
In the village of Gryffindor there lived a boy named James Potter. He had hair as black as ebony, and eyes as dark as the night sky, and was generally acknowledged to be a fine-looking, good-natured lad who would doubtless grow up into a fine-looking, good-natured man. He had many friends, both in Gryffindor and in Slytherin, but the one who concerns us in this story is Severus Snape.
Severus lived in Slytherin. He had hair as black as ebony, and eyes as dark as the night sky, but his nose was a bit too large and his body a bit too awkwardly long-limbed, and nobody ever called him a fine-looking lad. Neither was he particularly good-natured; in fact, he was quick to anger and had a tongue as sharp as his nose. Still, he had many friends, both in Slytherin and in Gryffindor. And one of them was James Potter.
They were both on that awkward cusp of manhood, somewhere around sixteen years old, when Severus had a most disquieting realization. His friends were teasing the girls and stealing kisses in darkened doorways, but he had no inclination at all to join them. No, the one he wanted to steal a kiss from was James, beautiful James, who had indeed grown up to be fine-looking and good-natured.
One evening, James and Severus were sitting by the river together, throwing stones into the water and watching the fish jump.
"So, what will you do when you finish school?" asked James. It was springtime, and they were both in their final year.
Severus shrugged. "Work in my father's apothecary shop, of course." He loved working in his father's shop, chopping roots, compounding mixtures, decanting them into the colored glass bottles that sent prisms through the room when the sunlight hit them.
"Which of our pretty girls will you marry?"
"None of them. There's not a one that I care for."
James nodded and smiled. "Same with me."
Severus looked at James suddenly, shy desire in his eyes. His hand stole across to cover his friend's. "James…I was hoping…"
James snatched his hand away and gave Severus a confused glance. "Well, I'm a true son of Gryffindor. None of these local girls for me! I'm going to ride off and chase after adventure, find a lovely princess to marry, and live happily ever after!" He patted his friend on the back, briefly. "I'll miss you, of course. But I have a destiny to fulfill!"
And that summer, James did indeed ride off, on a splendid black horse. Eventually he came to the castle of King Perseus where he met and fell in love with the king's beautiful red-haired, green-eyed daughter, the Princess Lily. As in all fairy tales, King Perseus had set several tasks for any would-be suitor: climbing a mountain of glass, defeating an ogre, things like that. If this were James' story, it would give all the details; but for now it is enough to know that he succeeded in climbing the glass mountain, he killed the ogre, and he married Lily. Because this is Severus's story, and Severus remained in the village of Slytherin, working in his father's apothecary shop.
Now, over the next several years, Voldemort's power increased. He became increasingly dissatisfied with his paltry holdings in the south, and made even more forays into Dumbledore's territory -- including into the village of Slytherin. He threatened and cajoled, promised and frightened, and soon many of the young Slytherins were declaring themselves openly to be on Voldemort's side.
But not so Severus. He had developed quite a reputation as an expert creator of elixirs and potions, far beyond the village boundaries, and he did his best to ignore the winds of change which came sweeping through Slytherin. Unfortunately, his very reputation attracted Voldemort, who could see that a young man skilled at the apothecary trade might be very useful indeed.
"Join me, Severus Snape," hissed Voldemort across the counter where Severus worked on a compound to soothe aches and relax muscles. "Join me and I will give you power."
"I have no need for further power," replied Severus. He held up a bottle. "Here in my father's shop, I can bottle fame, brew glory -- even stopper death. What more could I want?"
This enraged the evil wizard. "I will give you one year," he snarled. "One year to change your mind and come to work for me." He waved his hands in the air and uttered a curse in a mysterious language. "I curse you, Severus Snape. In one year's time, if you have still not come to me, you will prick your finger on a briar rose thorn and fall into a magical sleep, never to awaken."
Never? Well, fairy tales have certain rules, you know, and Voldemort knew them as well. I expect he thought that the chances of a handsome prince awakening a sleeping Severus -- gawky, big-nosed Severus -- were pretty darn slim.
Severus was an intelligent lad. He had no intention of joining Voldemort, and he figured that as long as he avoided briar roses, he would be all right. It had been a very specific curse, and he knew the rules, too. Of course, briar roses were an important ingredient in many of his mixtures, but he got around this little problem by not collecting them himself. Instead, he hired a friend from the village of Gryffindor, a young man named Peter Pettigrew, to pick the roses and carefully strip the thorns before delivering them to the shop.
The year went by quickly, as years do. Severus watched with sadness as more and more of his friends fell prey to Voldemort's wiles, but he himself stood fast. And here, I am afraid, prejudice of the worst kind comes in. You see, because the folk from Slytherin were crafty and sly, and the folk from Gryffindor noble and brave, most countrymen assumed it was only the Slytherins who joined with the evil wizard. But just as Severus, a Slytherin, remained firmly on the side of Dumbledore, there were also those Gryffindors who followed Voldemort.
Who can say why Peter threw his lot in with the side of evil? Nobody knew; he never told a soul, and perhaps it's only conjecture anyway. Perhaps it was entirely accidental. But on the last day of the hottest month of summer, one year to the day that Voldemort cursed Severus, Peter left a few thorns among the briar roses he brought to the apothecary. As Severus gathered them into his arms, he pricked his finger on a thorn.
As he stared at the blood, remembering the curse, a number of rather astonishing things happened. The countertop where he was preparing his potions lengthened and softened into a bed. The colored glass bottles turned into fine gems. The stone walls of the apothecary grew upward until they resembled nothing so much as a castle. Peter, if legend is to be believed, turned into a rat and scurried away. "Oh, hell," said Severus, sinking down onto the bed and yawning.
At the same time, far away, the anniversary of another event was being celebrated. King James and Queen Lily -- Perseus had retired upon their marriage, and moved to the seaside -- were celebrating the first birthday of their son, Prince Harry. Harry was fine-looking and good-natured, at least as much as any one-year-old child can be; he had his father's ebony hair and his mother's green eyes. From all over the land, well-wishers had gathered to pay their respects to young Prince Harry. But in the throng was one not-so-well-wisher who had something else in mind.
Yes, Voldemort was at the festivities, although he had not been invited; and truth be told, he was a bit angry about this. Wasn't he a powerful wizard, second only to Dumbledore? Granted, he was evil, and a bit power-mad, and he had gleaming red eyes that would probably send any one-year-old child into a screaming fit. Still, he felt, proprieties must be observed. He disguised himself as a harmless old man, and slipped into the celebratory throng.
(Back in the twin villages, Peter Pettigrew gathered roses.)
The evil wizard wound his way through the crowd, arriving at the dais where King James and Queen Lily sat proudly holding baby Harry.
"A fine boy," said the disguised Voldemort. "I have a special gift for him."
("Good afternoon, Severus," said Peter. "I have the briar roses for you.")
The wizard shed his disguise, eliciting a gasp from the assembled visitors, then lifted his hand. A bolt of green lightning shot out at the young prince. Those who knew wizardry saw that the curse was intended to kill.
The green lightning struck Harry's forehead, leaving an odd mark shaped like a lightning bolt, then bounced right back at Voldemort; who, if legend is to be believed, turned into a snake and slithered away.
(In the apothecary shop, Severus pricked his finger on a thorn.)
Time passed. Eighteen years passed, to be precise. Voldemort had not been seen since he'd cast the failed curse at Prince Harry's birthday celebration, and throughout the entire land everyone rejoiced. Particularly Dumbledore, who now had the place to himself.
Around the twin villages of Gryffindor and Slytherin, the briar roses swiftly grew into an impenetrable hedge. When the hedge was still small, in the earliest years, one could still look through the gaps between the briars and see the villagers, all seemingly frozen in their day-to-day tasks; but as time went on and the hedge grew denser, the villages vanished from sight. Eventually, most people forgot that there had ever been villages there at all.
Inside the stone walls of the apothecary-cum-castle, Severus slept. Well, not slept, exactly; it was a magical sleep, a sort of stasis. He was caught in a waking dream, never growing a day older, never seeing a living soul -- if you didn't count the rat that occasionally scurried in through the chinks in the stone walls.
Prince Harry grew to be a fine-looking young man -- if you could overlook the lightning-bolt-shaped scar on his forehead, which wasn't too difficult, as his hair tended toward messiness and generally covered it up. He was also a good-natured young man --if you could overlook his Gryffindor tendencies, inherited no doubt from his father, to blindly charge in where fools, rightly, fear to tread. The young girls who lived near the castle all preened and giggled when he passed by, but he paid them little mind. He knew the rules; and he was a prince, after all. And so nobody was particularly surprised when on his nineteenth birthday, he mounted a splendid black horse and rode out to seek for adventure, the kind that involves a lovely princess and living happily ever after.
On the third day of his journey, he came to a crossroads. At the side of the road sat a giant, stroking the neck of a dragon.
"Master Giant," said Harry, "I greet you and bid you good day. I am Prince Harry, and I seek adventure."
"Ah," said the giant, "so yer a Seeker, are yeh?" He eyed Harry from his considerable height. "I am Hagrid, and this 'ere is Norbert."
"I am honored to make your acquaintance. Do you happen to know of any beautiful princesses in need of rescue?"
The giant nodded his vast head. "Seems to me I've 'eard of one that might suit yer needs. If yeh take the left fork 'ere, and travel for a fortnight, or mebbe a month, or mebbe two, you'll find a castle surrounded by a thorny hedge of briar rose. Inside the castle lies a beautiful maiden who's been sleepin' fer the past hundred years. Perhaps you will be the prince who will awaken her."
A hundred years! A beautiful maiden! Stories do grow in the retelling, don't they? Especially when a story is retold by a giant, who some might consider an exaggerated man, as it were. But Harry was young, brave, and ignorant, so he simply thanked Hagrid and turned his horse down the left-hand path.
He traveled for many days; it had been more than a fortnight, but less than two months, when he came upon the briar rose hedge. He marveled at its extent, and its height, and its sheer thorniness. He admired the dewy pink roses that grew upon it, for roses were in season. Then, drawing his sword, he hacked it to bits.
Of course it wasn't as easy as that. Even as his sword cut through a vine, another twined in sharply from behind to take its place. The thorns scratched at his body, tearing his clothes and cutting intricate patterns on his skin. But he was nothing if not brave, not to mention persistent. And then there was the thought of the beautiful sleeping maiden on the other side to keep him going.
He emerged inside the thorny hedge, not noticing the green snake which slithered through behind him, and walked over to the first person he saw, a rather severe-looking older woman who stood near what looked to be a school. "Excuse me, madam, but can you direct me to the castle wherein lies the Sleeping Beauty?"
The woman made no reply, and after an embarrassed moment, Harry realized that she was neither blinking nor breathing. Looking around, he saw twenty other villagers, all motionless. All caught in mid-gesture, in mid-speech, in mid-laugh. All frozen in time, until the curse be broken.
Wandering through the village, he soon caught sight of a stone tower on the other side of a river. Not a proper castle at all, he grumbled to himself as he walked over the bridge, but he didn't see any other building remotely resembling a castle, so he knew it must be the place.
The wooden door was unlocked, and Harry kicked it open. A circular stairway led him up to another door, and he kicked that open as well. At the top was a stone chamber, all hung about with brightly colored jewels, with a bed in the very center. He stepped into the room -- unnoticed, the green snake slithered in as well -- and approached the beautiful maiden who lay sleeping on the bed.
Who abruptly sat up, looked at Harry, and said, in a voice that was at least an octave too low to belong to any maiden that Harry had ever met, "James?"
"Er. I'm Prince Harry." He was taken aback. This was not going according to plan.
"Harry." The eyes did not waver from him.
"My father's name is James, though."
"You look remarkably like him."
Harry coughed, and studied the floor. "You look…well, I was expecting you to be sleeping."
"I was, until a few moments ago. Do you always charge into a room like a herd of hippogriffs?"
"I was expecting you to be beautiful," said Harry, not daring to look up from the floor.
A snort. "And you think I'd be at my best just after waking?"
"And, well," said Harry, softly, "I was sort of expecting you to be a maiden."
Black eyes flashed. "Don't be a dunderhead. Can't you see that I'm under a curse?"
Oh! Of course. She must have been transfigured into...Harry looked appraisingly at the non-sleeping, non-beautiful non-maiden. Actually, she -- he, whatever -- looked rather intriguing; about his own age, tall, slender, with thick shoulder-length black hair and a sharp hawk's-beak of a nose over scowling but somehow sensual lips. Something stirred inside Harry, something that he'd never felt even when looking at the prettiest girls back home.
Well, Harry knew exactly how to break a curse; it was in Chapter 7 of the Fairy Tale Prince's Handbook. He unstrapped his sword, stepped up to the bed, put his arms around the slender shoulders, and bent to press a kiss upon those lips.
It was like kissing lightning, kissing fire. The magic crackled around him and through him, and he felt the curse shatter. The mouth opened beneath his and a smooth tongue darted at his lips. Arms reached up to pull him closer; he sank down on top of the figure on the bed, feeling every contour against his own body.
Contours which remained angular and hard and not in the least feminine.
He broke the kiss. "Er. You're still not a maiden."
Severus smirked. "I never said I was. I just said I was under a curse. Which, by the way, I thank you for breaking."
"You're welcome," said Prince Harry. He did look remarkably like James, except for those green eyes. "You know," he continued, thoughtfully, "I don't think I mind, actually."
He answered by kissing Severus again. Or, at least, he started to kiss Severus again. They were interrupted by the sound of a throat clearing. It was a throat which needed to clear noisily, as it hadn't been a human throat in eighteen years. The rather large lump in that throat, the lump that it was working to clear, might possibly have had something to do with the rat which it had swallowed a few minutes ago, when it had been a snake's throat.
"Severus," said the voice issuing from that throat. They looked up. There stood Voldemort, arms crossed, tapping his foot, and looking extremely angry.
"Voldemort!" said Severus.
The evil wizard raised his hand.
"Oh, bother," said Harry, crossly. "Can't you see that we're busy?" He scrambled off the bed and picked up his sword. In one smooth motion, he sliced Voldemort from stem to stern, then sideways for good measure.
"Right, then." He dropped the bloody sword and returned to the bed. "Where were we?"
Severus smiled. "I believe," he said, drawing Harry back into his arms, "that we were just about to get started on living happily ever after."
And they did.