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The Basilisk and the Unicorn

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“Potter. You look—different.”

Harry threw Malfoy a faint, amused glance as he sauntered past him towards the Gryffindor table. He knew Severus had seen the Malfoys over the summer, and offered to help them with their redemption plan. He’d also told Malfoy that his counterpart from Severus’s original universe had been in love with the Harry Potter born there.

From the way Malfoy scowled at Harry now, he was trying to figure out what his counterpart, who he was never going to meet, had seen in any Harry.

“Malfoy,” was all Harry said, though, as he moved to sit down. Severus had already humiliated Malfoy enough. Harry didn’t have any desire to tease him further.

“That was very mature of you, Harry.”

Harry turned to smile at Hermione. “Well, after I learned to call the other one Draco, it’s kind of hard to go back to name-calling.”

I could,” Ron muttered next to Harry, before he looked eagerly towards the front of the Great Hall. They had a large crowd of first-years waiting to be Sorted. There were Muggleborns who should have been here last year among them, as well as Muggleborns that Harry knew Professor McGonagall had searched out herself, who hadn’t responded to their first letters. She was a much more hands-on Head of the school than Dumbledore had been.

Harry still missed Dumbledore—the one he had known, not the bastard he had dealt with in the other world—but he approved of Professor McGonagall’s tactics.

“Well, we don’t need to,” Harry said peacefully as he leaned back and watched Severus take his place at the Head Table. He was getting a lot of sidelong glances and muttering from everyone in the room except the other professors, who had had the summer to get used to him, and the new students. Severus wore a faint smile. Harry knew he enjoyed the perplexity he was causing.

Severus would be taking up the Defense post for the next year, while Slughorn remained Potions professor. Harry thought it was perfect.

Severus caught Harry’s eye and inclined his head, which caused the speculation to stir up to a new, frenzied height, like the buzzing of bees with smoke in their hive. Harry ignored it peacefully. He was better at rejecting his fame, too, and forging his own path.

The summer had changed him a lot.

He applauded politely as each new Gryffindor was Sorted, although some of them gave him particularly wide eyes. The Muggleborns probably would have been told about him by their yearmates, and they would have seen the constant articles the Prophet printed about Harry during the summer, speculating on everything from why his wand looked so different now to what must be extremely secret dates, since they couldn’t find out anything about them.

But what did it matter? Harry ignored the staring, too, and smiled at the ones who smiled at him, and happily talked with Ron and Hermione and Neville and Ginny as he ate. Luna wandered over from the Ravenclaw table to say hello. Susan and Hannah and Ernie followed her from the Hufflepuff table, and Harry thought maybe a few Slytherins would have come over if they dared.

All in all, it was a near-perfect beginning to his year.

*

Severus watched the students of his NEWT Defense class critically. The Slytherins had given him secretive smiles the minute they walked into the room, all except this world’s Draco, who avoided his eyes. The Hufflepuffs cringed. The Gryffindors glared, except for Harry’s welcoming smile and Granger’s and Weasley’s neutral expressions. The Ravenclaws looked stoic.

And all of them except Harry, his friends, and possibly Draco were going to be surprised.

“Good morning,” Severus said calmly, and watched with a raised eyebrow as people shifted in their seats and dropped their jaws and, in one case, looked about to faint. “I will call your names, as I may or may not be familiar with you from my world, and then I will allow you to ask questions.”

A few Ravenclaws edged their desks back, or their chairs if the desks refused to move. Severus kept his calm expression as he went through their names. Only a few were unfamiliar. His world and Harry’s were relatively close in terms of student population, then.

Once he put the roll list away, Severus conjured a small hourglass that would actually only pour the sands needed for thirty minutes. He put it on his desk and said, “You have until the sands run out to ask your questions.” He paused; no one said anything. “You have probably heard that I am from another dimension, and that I am not the man who died here in pursuit of a war. Well? You have no questions?”

Neville Longbottom finally raised his hand. He looked considerably more confident than the Longbottom Severus had known. He supposed killing a gigantic serpentine Horcrux would do that to someone. “Why did you decide to come back to this world, sir?”

Severus looked at Harry before he began. Harry just nodded. They hadn’t discussed what information should be shared and what should not, but then again, Harry trusted Severus not to spill anything too sensitive.

“Because I had little left in my original one,” Severus said. “Mr. Potter was summoned there to kill off the threat of that world’s Voldemort.” He sighed as he watched flinches cover the room like foam on a beach. That was something he would hopefully train them out of by the end of the year. “I helped him, but in doing so, I left my teaching position and alienated most of my allies. And my counterpart in this world was dead. I was free to come. So I did.”

“Parvati Patil, sir,” said a Gryffindor girl quickly. She did resemble the one Severus had known, although in his world she had followed her sister into Ravenclaw. “Did—you can only come to another world if your counterpart there is dead?”

Severus nodded. “That was the only reason that the Order of the Phoenix I was a part of could summon Harry to defeat Voldemort at all.” The flinches repeated. “The Harry Potter I knew there had died. They had summoned more than one other dimension’s version of him. They had died as well.”

“But that’s horrible!” said a Gryffindor boy who Severus knew was Seamus Finnigan, while someone else in the back he couldn’t see clearly exclaimed, “What’s the Order of the Phoenix?”

“The order that Albus Dumbledore built to fight the return of Voldemort. And I know he is dead here as well, so I will ask you a question. Why do you flinch from a name?”

“He was a horrible person!”

“He murdered my aunt!”

“You were one of his Death Eaters!”

“My tale diverges from the one of my counterpart early enough,” Severus said. “But you should learn to grow beyond the fear of the past, or you will not be able to master any Defense Against the Dark Arts. This discipline does not require one to be fearless, but it requires understanding of what can hurt you and what cannot.”

Harry nodded fervently. Severus smiled as he noted some of his students looking at Harry. The ones who would not believe him might believe Harry, then.

Immediately, the one Gryffindor girl Severus did not recognize at all cringed back from him. Severus raised his eyebrow at her. “Yes, Miss—” A flick of his eyes at his roll. “Miss Brown?”

“You smiled! You never smile!”

“I think you will find that I am not my counterpart. That does not mean I will tolerate nonsense in my classroom,” Severus added, without raising his voice. “But you may be assured that I will not bully you as I am told he did.”

As I know he did from speaking with his portrait. That still remained the most unpleasant experience Severus had encountered in his new world.

“Terry Boot, sir,” said a Ravenclaw boy, only barely waiting for Severus to acknowledge him before he blurted out his question. “Does that mean you were never a Death Eater in your world?”

Harry was already turning his hand palm upwards when Severus flicked a glance at him. That palm meant, Your choice. Harry had told no one except his two best friends any of the details of Severus’s life.

They were his to reveal or not reveal.

Severus reveled quietly in that experience for a moment and then said, “No, Mr. Boot. I was. But I changed my methods and personality as well as my allegiance. And since both Voldemorts in both worlds are now thoroughly dead, you need not fear that I will torture you for asking that question.”

Mr. Boot gave him a weak smile. Severus narrowed his eyes. The young man appeared to believe that he was not joking.

There are some jokes I will not be able to tell here until more time has passed, I see.

“Why are you and Harry friends?” blurted the Weasley girl.

Severus studied her for a moment. In his world, she had been a weak student, one he never would have pegged as a surety for NEWT Defense. But in this world, they had had Harry training them for part of a year. “Because we made common cause in a world that distrusted us both. And fighting allies do become friends sometimes, Miss Weasley.”

Miss Weasley bit her lip and nodded. It was Draco Malfoy, who had a hoarse voice and pale face, who asked, “What was he like in your world, sir?”

Severus didn’t pretended to misunderstand the question, although it might have been entertaining to assume it referred to the crush his world’s Malfoy had had on Harry. “Terrible,” he said, and his voice spread a rippling pool of silence around the classroom. “Terrible in a way that I do not think I can adequately convey to you. The war had lasted years without hope. He was cleverer than the one in this world, I think—”

“Oi!” said the Weasley boy. “You’re undermining Harry’s achievement.”

Severus let it be seen that he rolled his eyes. That made another wave of furious whispers start up. “When he defeated two Voldemorts in a row, one that should never have been his problem in the first place? I am not, Mr. Weasley.”

He did shoot a quick glance at Harry to see how he was taking this, and found him simply smiling, amused. Then again, Harry had told him over the summer how his friends would defend him, and the sort of gaping and hissing that used to follow him around before this Voldemort’s defeat.

The sand in the hourglass ran out then, to Severus’s relief. He stood up. “Let us see how educated you are in basic curses.”

*

“Basic curses? Those were basic?”

Harry chuckled and patted Ron’s shoulder as Ron tried to straighten out his arm. Severus had shown them one that stiffened a joint until it was impossible to bend. Harry had practiced it that summer and knew how to deflect it, but Ron had been hit several times on the elbow, first by Severus and then by Malfoy. “Sorry, mate. But they are. They’re the sort of things we should have been learning all along, if we hadn’t had such shitty Defense teachers.”

“Harry!” Hermione hissed beside him. “Professor Snape is right there!”

“Not the same one,” Harry said automatically, and tilted his head a little as Severus stepped past him. “Sorry, sir.”

He got a raised eyebrow and a faint smile before Severus went on to lunch. Hermione, meanwhile, was shaking her head at him. “I meant the language, Harry, not the fact that he might think you were talking about him.”

“Oh.” Harry was taken aback for a second; Severus hadn’t corrected him on his language all summer. Then again, Harry hadn’t said things like that in front of the Headmistress or the other professors who spent the summer at the school. “Yeah. But why not be concerned that he might get offended?”

“I can’t picture you ever doing that on purpose,” Hermione said, after thinking about it. “And if you did it by accident, I’m sure that Professor Snape would give you a chance to explain. I mean, come on, Harry. We don’t feel the same way about him, but no one can mistake how close you two are.”

Harry felt his shoulders come down from hovering around his ears. Yes, now that he thought about it, his friends couldn’t miss it. And neither of them had made a fuss even if they didn’t understand. He smiled at her. “Thanks.”

Seamus and Dean came up to them then, to complain about “basic” curses, and that was how most of lunch passed.

*

“Yes? Can I help you, Miss—Parkinson?”

It was a guess, but not much of one. In Severus’s world, Pansy Parkinson had looked much the same, and been much the same mix of sulky and defiant that she wore now. She stepped in through his office door and shut it deliberately behind herself.

“Is this about your marks?” Severus asked, although Pansy Parkinson was not in NEWT Defense. But Severus could not think of any other matter she would have come to him about.

“No,” Parkinson said, her voice low and nasty. “It’s about you spending all your time praising a Gryffindor.

“Being sensible, then?” Severus smiled, used the smile like a whip, and watched in some satisfaction as she flinched. “I am not your Head of House, Miss Parkinson. You can speak to Professor Slughorn about matters concerning that.”

“But you look just like him! You talk just like him! Don’t you care that he cost Slytherin House a lot of prestige?”

“I care that my predecessor lowered your reputation in the eyes of the rest of the school, yes. I can do nothing about that other than to encourage exemplary behavior among my Slytherin students now.”

“No! Not—” Parkinson stopped, and then said tightly, “I was talking about your resemblance to Professor Snape, sir, but I was talking about Potter for the last bit.”

“It seems to me that if you mean Mr. Potter’s defeat of Voldemort—” Severus would probably never get tired of the flinches that name provoked even among people he liked, and Pansy Parkinson was far from that “—then Slytherin House lost its prestige on its own. And I even heard an intriguing story, Miss Parkinson, about how you corroborated the notion of tossing Mr. Potter to Voldemort to save your own hide.”

“He was going to win!”

“And yet, as you see, he did not.”

“I was frightened!”

“That is one reason I approve of you being in this school instead of expelled to find your own way in the world without your NEWTS, Miss Parkinson. You were frightened. You did not do it out of the same malicious intent that some of your fellow Slytherins joined the Death Eaters. As far as I know, Mr. Potter has forgiven you as well. What, then, is this about?”

“You could—you could stop Potter swaggering everywhere if you wanted! You could cut him down!”

“You mean, continue a pointless grudge against him that I never held? Continue the poisonous favoritism of Slytherin that my predecessor did? Or do you mean, soothe your hurt pride by turning on a friend, as seems to be a grand tradition in this world’s version of Slytherin House? Put it in plain terms, Miss Parkinson.”

Parkinson slammed her mouth shut and felt behind her for the door handle. Her eyes were huge as she stared at him. Severus had cast no spell on the door, and she seemed to feel that in a second. She tore free and then tore down the corridor.

After that, at least no Slytherins came to him and expected him to act as their Head of House. Severus continued to pass those who did well, instruct those who asked for extra help, and fail those who refused to put in the effort. If any of them stared at him like he had an extra head for doing the same for Gryffindors, Hufflepuffs, and Ravenclaws, they did it where he couldn’t see.

*

“Perhaps you would care to give us a demonstration, Mr. Potter?”

Harry grinned and stood up. He had actually expected this sooner, but then again, Severus had been working on knowledge for the past few months that they should have had already, the kind Harry had been teaching himself over the summer. This was early November, and their first dueling demonstration.

Harry stood up from his desk and moved over to face Severus. They’d done this before, but not with an audience, and Harry felt a frisson of excitement move through him. Still, on the outside, he did his best to keep his face calm, the way Severus would expect.

“A formal duel is one thing,” Severus said. “But in the world outside this classroom, you will not find yourself involved in a formal duel that often, and you can look up the standards and the regulations if you wish. For us, the more useful lessons will be in defending yourself from someone who wishes to rob or kill you.” His eyes hadn’t left Harry as he talked. “Ready, Mr. Potter?”

“Ready, sir.” Harry always called Severus that in front of his classmates, even if he usually didn’t think of him that way.

Severus turned his body halfway around to face the rest of the class. “You will find in an arranged duel that—”

And he was spinning again, his arm high as he threw a blinding wall of fire at Harry, spreading out to encompass the room.

Harry leaped into the air and came down in a crouch that let him hit the base of the wall of fire with an ice charm. Right behind it came a howling wind that Harry knew from experience would fill his brain with dizziness and nightmares if he let it touch him. He blocked it with a Shield Charm that broke its force, and from underneath the shield, fired a curse at Severus that would make his feet waver and dump him on the floor without permission.

Severus replied with birds, blood-red hawks that arched over the top of the shield and came down to tear at Harry’s eyes and ears with furious beaks and talons. Harry shook his head and cast the countercharm that made the hawks rip apart, and then a spell that was meant to blind Severus, and hit squarely. He wanted to show his classmates how effectively someone could fight without their eyes.

Severus did it very effectively.

In seconds he was behind a stone wall that he had conjured instead of a more regular shield, stretching all the way across the classroom, and raised a shield on top of that. Harry paced slowly to the side, wiping blood from his torn forehead when it wanted to drop down into his eyes. That was a disadvantage he couldn’t afford right now.

Cutting through the wall would take a lot of time and energy. Severus must have had the incantations for those defensive spells right on the tip of his tongue, ready to go.

Harry narrowed his eyes. So don’t cut through it. He lifted his wand, the basilisk and the unicorn combined in it singing to him, and called out, “Concussio!”

The floor beneath the wall began to shake. Harry heard distant screams, but he didn’t let them distract him. Instead, he watched as the wall crumbled in his miniature earthquake, and charged ahead the minute the other side of the classroom was revealed.

It turned out to be a mistake. Something quick and lithe snapped shut around his ankle, and the next thing Harry knew, he was falling, without even the ability to break his fall. Something else had bound his arms, including his wand hand, to his sides.

He did manage to turn so that he fell on his shoulder, instead of right on his face. Then something else took his glasses. Harry coiled his legs and waited, and kicked out when a blurred dark shape loomed over him. He heard a grunt of impact as his feet hit Severus, probably on the chest, but Severus didn’t sway or fall.

Instead, he leaned his wand against Harry’s throat and asked evenly, “Do you surrender?”

Although his ears were still ringing with adrenaline and the fall and all the spells that he’d cast, Harry heard that clearly. He swallowed and nodded, and Severus stepped back and banished the spells that had bound him and tripped him. He handed his glasses back. Harry took them and put them on his face.

He caught Severus’s smile. Either one of them could have won that, although they would have had to cause more damage to the classroom than Harry was comfortable with to do so. What had mattered was that they’d shown an effective, creative demonstration to the other students, not just the same few spells that people tended to use over and over again even in NEWT Defense.

And they’d had fun.

“That is what an unarranged duel may look like,” Severus said, turning to face the class. “What are your questions?”

*

Severus looked up when Harry lingered behind the others. He had wanted to make sure Harry wasn’t too injured, but being breathless and bruised from a fall and bloodied on the forehead were nothing compared to some of the things he had endured in war. Severus himself was breathless from that kick and still had enough adrenaline surging through him to render things crystalline, but he had escaped without fundamental injuries, either.

“Yes, Harry?”

“Thanks.” Harry grinned at him, and his eyes were the kind of brilliant that Severus had seen before only when they’d dueled or he’d explained some lesser-known spells to Harry during the summer. “I think they understand now.”

“Who understands what? You will have to labor harder than that to make me think that your classmates could survive what you have.”

Harry laughed softly, and part of Severus that had still been tensed relaxed. “No, I just meant that my friends understand more about why you’re my friend. Hermione could tell that we fought hard and still didn’t really hurt each other. And Ron said something about how well we fought together.”

Severus raised his eyebrows. “Well, then.” He did not care about being close to Weasley and Granger, but they were still a large part of Harry’s life. “Did you enlighten them on the fact that you will be moving on after Hogwarts?”

“Not yet. We still don’t really know exactly where we’ll go, right?”

“That is correct. But I would like to spend at least a year somewhere that is not Britain.”

“So would I.”

Severus nodded back, and watched as Harry left. It would be well, he thought. Harry would tell his friends, and they would settle into accepting it after some grumbling. And Severus would have his one true friend at his side.

It would be well.

Perhaps even better when we do not have to be in a place with so many memories.

But, as with the duel today, they had the rest of the year to make new ones.

The End.