Severus raised an eyebrow as he read the letter that the elegant black owl had delivered to him. The owl was perched on the special chair Severus had chosen to sacrifice for birds. It was from his dead counterpart’s quarters, and had evidently been one of some value to him.
That made Severus all the more delighted to disfigure it with claw scratches and owl pellets.
“Who’s it from?” Harry’s voice sounded hollow, behind the special wall of spells that Severus had set up, marching down the middle of the Defense classroom. It was necessary so no bits of exploded training dummy or stray spells would intrude on Severus’s concentration as he sat reading in preparation for the upcoming school year. This world’s Minerva had seemed so grateful when he agreed to stay and be Defense professor, Severus had simply accepted without saying more about it.
That he would be only staying a year, until Harry was finished taking his NEWTS, didn’t need saying at this point.
“Lucius Malfoy.” Severus set the letter aside and studied it thoughtfully. “An invitation to Malfoy Manor, to discuss things that he says ‘would have been of importance’ to the ‘real’ Severus Snape.”
“I wish they would stop acting like you’re a fantasy or something,” Harry muttered. Severus looked over to see him wiping sweat from his face as he sat down in a casually conjured chair. “You’re a lot more real than that sarcastic bastard in the portrait up there.”
Severus hid a smile. Since Harry had heard of the way the portrait had treated Severus when he went to see it, he’d made frequent, disparaging references to it, even though he hadn’t spoken with the portrait himself. Severus made no objection. He had no reason to like his counterpart, and every reason to value Harry’s roaring Gryffindor protection.
“It must be hard to wake up one day and realize that a man you thought dead, but the version from another world, is alive,” he said, watching Harry closely. “They would not know how to react. I am neither dead nor the resurrected form of what they lost.”
“So what? You’ve been here three months now. That’s enough time to get used to you.”
“For someone with the adaptive flexibility of a Gryffindor, perhaps so,” said Severus, and rolled his eyes a little. But the warmth was still burning in the center of his chest, and he wanted to see what else Harry would say. “Would you advise me to accept the invitation?”
“Not unless you want to be poisoned or something.”
“You still haven’t told me about everything Lucius did in this world.”
Harry’s mouth tightened to a firm line, and he spent a moment looking at the floor. Then he looked back up. “They weren’t my secrets, really. But now that I think about it, you’re hardly likely to blab.”
Severus studied him with narrow eyes, not liking that Harry had thought he would “blab” at all. “What did he do?”
As Harry told him the story of Tom Riddle’s diary and Ginny Weasley, Severus listened attentively, now and then glancing at Lucius’s letter instead of Harry’s face. So. This Lucius is not so different from the one in my world.
But he had come closer to causing permanent harm. Severus would keep that in mind when he went to visit him.
Because of course he was going to. Severus had never yet learned to avoid a challenge in his new world.
“Severus…” Lucius Malfoy shook his head a second later and stretched out a steadying hand. “Forgive me for staring. You really do look just like him.”
“I am him,” said Severus, accepting the hand and shaking it. He felt no threat, although he knew the pause and the apology both were meant to unbalance him. He could enjoy sparring games when there would be no terrible consequence should he lose. “From another world.”
“I can’t get used to that.”
For a moment, with the voice so like Lucius’s, Severus thought it was, but he knew his world’s Lucius would never have said anything so revealing. Indeed, Lucius gave a glance off to the side and flushed with chagrin, and Severus smiled a little as he shifted so that he could see Draco Malfoy. He inclined his head.
“I find it hard to get used to being in another world, one without a madman who summons new versions of Harry Potter to fight the Dark Lord,” he said calmly. “But I will adapt. We all will.”
“My son Draco,” Lucius said, with a sound of gritted teeth. “Of course, you must have known him in your other world.”
“I did indeed,” said Severus. “I was his Head of House, there as here, I understand.” He paused, waiting for the moment when Draco relaxed, and added, “Of course, it does strike me as strange that this version never became Harry’s boyfriend. Why is that? It seemed fundamental to the Draco of my other universe.”
Draco turned so pale he had to catch himself on the doorframe. Lucius stepped towards Severus as if he wanted to attract his attention, and distract it from his son. “What do you mean by that, Severus?”
“The Draco Malfoy I knew became enamored with the first Harry Potter, the one native to my world, very young. He was extremely lost when that Harry died. I assumed things would be the same here—the infatuation, not the death, of course.” Severus was glad that they were not, but no one could have surmised that from the perfect, polished concern in his voice.
“I never fancied Potter!” Draco’s voice soared into a shrill note. “If he told you I did, he’s lying!”
“I do not think this Harry gave you that much thought,” Severus said. “It could have gone one way and still made you similar to the Draco I knew.” He watched in interest as Draco spluttered for a second, and then turned and abandoned the room.
“Excuse the interruption, Severus.” Lucius held out an arm to gesture into a sitting room. “My son has—much to learn.”
“Harry told me a little about his role in the war,” Severus said as he strolled into the sitting room and appraised it. Two exits, three counting the fireplace, but both the chairs let him keep an eye on all of them. Severus chose the one nearer the hearth, which was of marble so dark that it gleamed all on its own, and raised an eyebrow at Lucius. “He might yet surprise you with what he can learn.”
“I hope so.” Lucius sat down in the other chair, and a table laden with several steaming plates of rice and duck immediately appeared between them. “Lunch?”
Severus nodded and accepted one of the plates, as well as a small etched glass of wine. He calmly cast several detection spells on them, to test for poisons. The more common potions, he trusted his nose to sniff out.
“That is insulting.”
“You are not the man I knew,” Severus said, not looking up as he speared a forkful of rice and duck and brought it to his lips. Perfect and melting, with a delicate brown sauce on the duck, not that he expected less of the Malfoy house-elves. “I am not the man you did. It makes sense that you would try to influence me.”
“Only with words.”
“Then tell me what they are.” Severus glanced at Lucius, who was eating himself, his lips narrowed into a thin line that seemed hardly able to let food through. “I should warn you. I am not likely to forsake my loyalty to Harry.”
“But I have things to tell you that should make you do that.”
Lucius nodded, his motions already losing their tension. “Yes. Did you know that he continually taunted and defied your—counterpart in this world? Insulted him in class, came late all the time, was never good in Potions. Draco told me all about it. Where any good student would have attempted to improve his comprehension and his grasp of the material, Potter would sneer at you, or refuse to read, or fail exams.”
Severus let out a light, incredulous chuckle. This was Lucius’s version of a secret? “I know exactly how my counterpart thought of Harry. I spoke with his portrait.”
“Then you—already know.”
Lucius’s voice faded out at the end. Severus tilted his head. “I understand that my counterpart had a grudge against Harry that means he never got to know him. Perhaps Harry never made any effort, either, but he was a child. The other Snape was an adult. I did not allow my bitterness to rule me, and the Harry native to my world, the one who died first, was in my House. There should have been no deficiency in my counterpart. He should have been able to overcome his bitterness.”
“But this Potter, the one you’re so fond of, disrespected him!”
“He seemed worthy of disrespect,” Severus said, and decided that, after a few mouthfuls of plain rice, the sauce was really needed to make the meal. He shifted a forkful of it from the duck to the rest of the plate.
Lucius leaned back in the chair and stared at him dazedly.
“I wondered why you wanted to speak to me, what secrets you thought you might have to impart.” Severus sipped the wine again, and nodded. The rice without sauce was the only part of the meal that could have been improved. He was tempted to ask the house-elves at Hogwarts for this exact meal. It would challenge them, and they often seemed bored during the summer. “Now I know. You intended to turn me against Harry.”
Lucius only stared some more.
“Under the impression that he would have kept everything about his past from me, and I would be angry enough at the lies of omission to become more like my counterpart.” Severus sighed delicately and put the wineglass down. “Which only proves that you do not understand the concept of alternate worlds.”
“I—did not want to turn you against Potter.” Lucius found his tongue with a sticky swallow. “I only wanted you to know the truth about him.”
“And I do.” Severus asked a question he didn’t expect an honest answer to, but he was curious as to what he would get. “How much do you know about why my counterpart treated Harry the way he did?”
“I knew it had to do with James Potter.”
“Yes. It had to do with bullying and spiteful behavior that I experienced in my world as well. But I was able to rise above it. When I saw that the original Harry Potter I knew had been Sorted into Slytherin, I knew I must. And that made me able to recognize someone I wanted to ally with when he made overtures—which the Harry from this world did.” Severus paused. “I have no interest in becoming the man you think me to be.”
Lucius simply sat there. Severus suspected he was pondering, and gave him time to do it. In the meantime, the duck was delicious, and so was the dish of sliced pears that appeared on the table just as Severus finished his lunch.
Finally, Lucius said, “You took the Dark Mark in that other world as well.”
Severus nodded. “Many things were the same.”
“Yet you feel gratitude to the one who destroyed the Dark Lord?”
“Two of them,” Severus said, glancing up. “Two Voldemorts, one there and one here.” He noticed with immense satisfaction how Lucius seemed to curl up in his chair at the name. “I would have thought you would be more grateful to him yourself, Lucius. He’s told me that you didn’t seem…eager to have Voldemort in your home.”
Lucius shut his eyes. “He threatened my son and held our lives hostage for Draco as well. He destroyed my reputation and sullied my house.”
Severus shrugged and began to cut the pears into smaller slices. “Then why try to turn me against Harry?”
“I…” Lucius sighed. “I thought you might be associating with him for political reasons, and you’d reveal those to me once you realized that this Potter is very much a Gryffindor, through and through. And you could be an ally for me in rebuilding my reputation.”
“No. I associate with him because of alliance and friendship.” Severus smiled at him over the fruit. “I might still be interested in helping you rebuild your reputation, if you made it worth my while. But threatening Harry, or the bond I have with him, is the wrong way to do it. What else did you have in mind?”
Lucius sat up, his face gaining a little more color. “You won’t despise me forever?”
“Little is forever, Lucius. Now, talk.”
And as he did, Severus had to admit he could see some advantages in what he said.
“I can’t believe you chose Potter.”
Severus shook his head a bit as he turned to face Draco, who stood in the doorway of the entrance hall at Malfoy Manor, head cast down and arms folded. It was amazing how much one Malfoy could sulk like another. He knew this expression from his world’s Draco when he’d been given detention.
But this Draco had not learned the harsh lessons that the other one had. He was a survivor, not yet a conqueror. “It was to my advantage to do so. And then to my pleasure to do so.”
Draco stared at him. “What could he have offered you to make it worth your while?”
“Alliance and friendship.”
Severus did enjoy that answer. It was perfectly true, leaving nowhere for an enemy, or a potential enemy, to squirm underneath it and possibly try to use something he’d left unsaid as a weapon. And it confused Draco as it had confused his father, from his gape.
No, perhaps more, Severus considered, as Draco’s jaw snapped shut again and his flush mounted. This world’s Lucius had not known Harry well; he had found him a political obstacle and annoying. But he had been a rival to this Draco.
“He’s a git. A Gryffindor. Do you know how many times he messed up your plans? How many times he mouthed off to you in Defense? How—”
“That was not me.”
Draco stumbled to a halt, and stood staring at him again. Severus looked back, serenely. He had no problem with giving Draco reminders when he forgot. What he would not do was try to justify himself.
“But you’re just like him.”
“The man who lived in this world before I did? No, I am not. I have more perspective. I am stronger of will, and more dedicated to overcoming the past that would have eaten me alive. And I have a friend.”
Draco shook his head, his eyes as pale as moonlight with his bitterness. “I thought—it would be different after the war. I would never have to see Potter again, and I could go on with my life. I didn’t know he would still be stealing from me.”
“What has he stolen?”
“You. I trusted that I could come back to Hogwarts and you would be there and you would lessen the way everyone would sneer at me. But you’re not going to be.”
“Of course you should have not have thought the old biased Head of Slytherin House would be there. He is dead, Draco.”
Draco turned his back without a word and retreated into the house. Severus chuckled and made his way outside to the Apparition point once more.
Severus had not meant to step around a corner and make Slughorn stagger back with a hand to his heart, but he had to admit it was an unexpected benefit of arriving at the school in late afternoon and walking silently.
“Severus! Sorry! It’s just—a shock to see you there.”
Severus stood waiting for the panting, red-faced man to recover, idly studying him. As far as he could tell and Harry had been able to confirm when Severus had told him tales of the Slughorn he knew, the two men were the same in both worlds. Both fond of luxuries and collecting names and gifts. That would make it easier for Severus to slot into the year of teaching he would do while waiting for Harry to be ready to leave Hogwarts.
“Attend the funeral, and then the man’s alive again the next time you turn around,” Slughorn muttered, mopping at his face with a handkerchief. Severus didn’t think he’d meant for Severus to hear that last part. He looked up and tucked his handkerchief away. “Kind of thought you might want the Potions position.”
“I am good at Potions, but much more interested in Defense,” Severus said, truthfully. At least while Harry is taking the class and I can keep an eye on him.
“Well, then, you’re where you need to be!” Slughorn patted him on the shoulder and leaned back to look into his eyes. “If you want to be there.” He hesitated, then added, “And there’s no—nothing troubling you about living in this world?”
“I never died. And I had my reasons not to stay in the dimension I came from.”
“Yes, Minerva told me a little about that.” Slughorn frowned and shook his head. “Terrible things…well. You’re here now. And Mr. Potter’s here now. And I look forward to what you can achieve together.”
Severus felt a smile teasing at his lips. Slughorn was Slughorn, no matter the dimension, and sounded as if he hoped to be included in those achievements. Severus saw no reason not to do that if he proved amusing and useful. “Thank you.”
Slughorn continued down towards the Potions master’s quarters, and Severus opened the door of his own. Harry was lounging on a sofa he’d Transfigured a chair into, and he looked up and sighed a little as he saw Severus.
“Interrupting your reading?”
“No.” Harry tossed the Defense book aside. “I’m just glad that I don’t need to go over to Malfoy Manor and rescue you from Lucius. I’ve seen enough of that place.”
Severus stared hard at him. Harry looked back innocently. After a moment, Severus decided no insult was meant and shook his head, dropping into his own chair. “Lucius was interested in making me into the man my counterpart used to be.”
“What did he tell you?”
“About how disrespectful you were in class. The younger Mr. Malfoy tried much the same thing.”
Harry laughed aloud, and Severus smiled back. Perhaps Draco wouldn’t be so incredulous at my considering Harry a friend if he could hear that. “Seriously? They didn’t have any better ammunition than that? But you didn’t storm out of there when you heard that, or you would have been back here sooner.” Harry cocked his head. “You’re probably going to help Lucius regain some of his influence, aren’t you?”
He sounded resigned. Severus shrugged. “It would help to have him in debt to me. And I should act before the Malfoys figure out they might be able to reacquire some of that influence on their own.”
“Really? How do you reckon that? There have been plenty of unflattering stories about them in the papers.”
“Money still talks. That’s what I told Lucius. And he’s too addicted to hoarding blackmail and secrets he has on powerful members of the Ministry for a crisis that might never come. I have convinced him that this is the crisis, and that he should…”
As Severus talked about the outline of the plan he’d developed, and went on to outline his amusing encounter with Draco, Harry listened, chin propped on his fist, nodding often, sharing his opinion of how much of a git Lucius was, laughing where the story required it, admitting the duck and rice sounded good.
And a vast contentment overflowed Severus’s chest and settled in the bottom of his heart.
This means more than all the amusement in the world.