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World in Pieces

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"You're coming down to celebrate with us, aren't you, mate?"

Harry shook his head as he stepped onto the first steps that led up to Gryffindor Tower. "Not right now. I don't think I can take it."

Hermione gave him a motherly glance that made Harry inwardly groan. It wasn't that he didn't appreciate the mothering, it was just that once it started, it went on and on. "Are you all right, Harry? I thought you were looking a bit peaky earlier, but--"

"I'm fine as far as health goes, I think," Harry said. "I just need to be by myself and think right now. And I need some sleep."

Hermione's face softened at once, and she reached out to hug him. "Of course, Harry. I think everyone needs that," she added, as if talking to herself. "Be careful, though."

"Yeah, mate," Ron added, leaning on her shoulder and giving Harry a contented smile. "I'd hate to think that you'd fallen down a step and broken your neck just when everyone was ready to celebrate your victory."

Harry punched him on the shoulder to show what he thought of that, and Ron went downstairs wincing. Hermione leaned back against him, and he forgot about exaggerating his pain to put his arm around her shoulders and beam into her face.

Harry winced himself this time. He wanted to have what they had with Ginny, but at the moment, that felt so distant and far-away.

You're tired, he told himself firmly, and then climbed up the stairs to Gryffindor Tower, hesitating before he opened the door. He didn't know how much things would have changed under the Carrows, and he didn't think he could bear it if the common room furniture was all overturned and slashed up, or if the room was empty.

But instead, it looked relatively normal. Harry could feel a tingle against his skin that probably came from nasty enchantments, but they were already fading away. He slogged his way across the room, through carpet that felt as thick as grass against his feet, and mounted the stairs that led to the seventh-year boys' bedroom.

It was short by two beds, probably because he and Ron had left before the start of the year. Harry frankly didn't care. He cast a Vanishing Spell to get rid of some crumbs and dirt on the bed nearest the door, which looked to be Seamus's, and then crawled in and pulled the sheets over him.

He shut his eyes. It felt as though he hadn't slept for years, and he wondered how long it would take him to get there.

Not long, as it turned out. Harry found himself drifting off at once, despite the fact that he ached all over and his head hurt and he still had the slender shapes of two wands awkwardly clutched in his hands.

Shit, I forgot to put the Elder Wand back in Dumbledore's tomb, he realized muzzily. Oh, well, I can do it later.

Everything was "later" right now, he realized with a vast sense of contentment. And "later" was large.

*

"What are we going to tell him?"

Harry frowned. Why were people talking right next to his head? He'd assumed that Ron and Hermione would be the only ones who'd know where he was, and they'd at least have the courtesy to knock first. He rolled over, grunting, and tried to sit up.

"Shit, that was fast. I've never seen any of the others recover from the spell that quickly." This voice sounded familiar, teasing and tugging at Harry's mind, while the first voice hadn't. But the reference to "the spell" made him shoot up in bed immediately, grabbing for his wands, instead of trying to figure out who it was.

He banged his head, and dropped down again, hissing. When he opened his eyes, he saw a length of steel above him that looked like the bottom of a stacked bed, and when he turned his head, he saw bars marching down the length of the front of the room.

Beyond the bars stood a whole bunch of people, staring at him, and two of them made him roll to the floor and cast as strong an Expelliarmus as he could straight through the bars.

Two Expelliarmuses, actually. The Elder Wand hummed in response to his touch, though Harry was sure that he had only told the holly wand what to do, and Snape and Lucius Malfoy cried out in shock and staggered back as their wands went flying to him. Harry whirled around, prepared to cast it again.

This time, though, he stopped, because he had seen who the familiar voice belonged to. His vision darkened briefly, but he fought his way back to his feet and his mental balance. No, this had to be someone else, maybe using hair left over from a long time ago, using Polyjuice of Sirius. Not the real thing.

Just like Snape isn't really dead?

Harry shook his head and shifted into a position that would allow him to move quickly in any direction. "Who the fuck are you?" he asked quietly. "Why the fuck am I here? Is Voldemort not dead after all?"

Glances flew among all the people. Harry watched them, counting them and trying to recognize the ones he could see.

Sirius, or the person Polyjuiced as Sirius, whom he wouldn't look at. Snape. Malfoy. A blur behind Malfoy that might have been Draco. McGonagall. Ron. Hermione, though Hermione with an unfamiliar scar around her mouth and brilliant, intense eyes.

And Dumbledore, standing in front of the group and looking at Harry anxiously. Harry stared back and swallowed.

"This is a dream, then," he said, seizing the first explanation that made sense to him. "It has to be."

"No, it is not," Dumbledore said, gently. Harry thought he was waiting for something more, and realized a moment later that it was "dear boy." He wasn't used to a Dumbledore who didn't show him a sign of affection beyond the careful way that he was phrasing things. "We have brought you from your world to ours, to defeat the threat that we know you have very recently defeated there." He paused, as though considering how to word the next thing he said, but Harry didn't think he had chosen a very smart way when he continued, "You see, our Harry Potter is dead."

The ground seemed to waver beneath Harry. He put out one hand, because it felt as if he were falling, and rested it on the bars. They hummed beneath his fingers, arcing bolts of energy zipping up his arm. For the moment, Harry ignored them. "Excuse me?" he managed. "You--what?"

"This is another universe, of course," said Hermione, in a bold, impatient tone that Harry had only heard her take when homework was several days late. "You have to realize that. We were using a Dream Mirror to watch your progress, and I know that several people are alive here who have died in your universe. Like the Headmaster, and Mr. Black, and Professor Snape."

"How...fascinating," this Snape said, his eyes inscrutable as they watched Harry. "The others had managed to preserve me. How badly did you manage to handle the mess in your world, Mr. Potter, that you succeeded in defeating the Dark Lord without saving my life?" His voice had a faint, interested tone to it, as if Harry were a potion that had behaved in an unpredictable way.

Harry shook his head, but before he could ask why they were playing this elaborate practical joke on him, someone pushed his way forwards to the front of the crowd. It was Draco Malfoy, who looked at Harry in a weird way, as if he was the answer to all his prayers and his worst nightmare at once.

"He looks mostly like him," he announced to his audience. Harry had to assume that didn't include Harry himself. "But not exactly. I think my Harry was sharper and had suffered more. You could see it in his eyes."

"The fuck?" Harry told him, ignoring the way that McGonagall winced at the word. "What are you talking about?"

"The Harry Potter who was born here," Malfoy said, his voice lowering as he leaned forwards until he touched the bars. "My Harry. We were dating when the war got bad." He shook his head and stepped away abruptly, turning his head to the side. "You aren't him, but if you defeat the Dark Lord, then that's enough for me."

Harry lowered his head and pushed it into his hands. "You're shitting me," he said. "This is a really bloody strange dream."

Malfoy only sniffed and started to say something else, but Dumbledore interrupted. "No dream, Harry. I am afraid I must tell you that there is no returning to your own world. We have summoned you here, but the passage is one-way only. We could not even have summoned you if the place our Mr. Potter took in this world were not left...vacant."

"The fuck?" Harry asked weakly again, but then Sirius spoke.

"He does look like him," he said. "But not exactly the same. I think this Harry is more like James." He peered intently at Harry, and smiled a little. "Will you tell us what House you were Sorted into, in the dreams? We couldn't tell."

Harry smiled, glad to find an inconsistency in this mad story of theirs that would make him feel less like the world was spinning beneath his feet. "But if you had this Dream Mirror or whatever it was, then you ought to know everything about me, including which House I was in," he said.

"The Dream Mirror only shows your battles with Voldemort," Hermione said. "Nothing else."

Harry found himself glad, for some reason, that this Hermione had the courage to speak Voldemort's name like his own did. Then he shook his head fiercely. He was thinking as though he believed them. "I was wearing my tie during some of those battles."

Hermione gave a short, violent laugh. Ron didn't move away from her, which increased Harry's huge, sinking conviction that these weren't his friends playing a joke. "The Dream Mirror moves very quickly," she said. "You only get to watch each scene once, and I was far too busy taking notes on the important things, such as the battle skills you displayed, to see something that irrelevant."

Harry bared his teeth. "Fine, then," he said. "Gryffindor."

The noises that they made were not at all what he expected. Sirius whooped, leaping in the air with his clasped fist above his head. Snape flinched, and Malfoy made a sound like a kicked dog, causing his father to step forwards and grip his shoulder. Hermione said, "What?" with Ron right behind her, and Dumbledore sucked in a breath. McGonagall was the only one who gave him a normal smile.

"What?" Harry demanded.

Malfoy--Draco--was the one who answered him, voice so soft that Harry couldn't hear the emotion in it. "My Harry was Slytherin."

Harry rolled his eyes. "Well, there's the problem with your bloody universe right there, then."

Malfoy acted as if he would try to attack, but his father laid a hand on his shoulder and restrained him. Harry shifted uneasily at the current look he was receiving from Lucius. Cool and—something else. Well, maybe Lucius was glad that his son’s boyfriend was dead, or glad that Draco wouldn’t be dating him. Harry had no idea. He still didn’t know enough about what was going on, or what they wanted him for, or even if this was real.

He turned to Dumbledore, not because he trusted him the most of anyone here but because he seemed to have recovered more quickly from his surprise than the others had. “How did your version of me die?” he asked.

“It is incorrect to say that he was a version of you,” Dumbledore murmured. “You could as well be a version of him. The theory of other worlds does not tell us which one came first, or if every one exists side by side, but I do think that to talk about an original is misleading.”

Harry waited and let him get that out, since it seemed he needed to, and then repeated, “How did he die?”

“He killed himself,” Hermione said.

Harry blinked at her. “Because he had to, or because he wanted to?”

He had wrongfooted everyone with that last question, he saw immediately. Most of them had disgusted looks on their faces. Dumbledore was startled, and Sirius—or the person Polyjuiced as Sirius, Harry reminded himself conscientiously—leaned forwards and peered at him. “Are you all right, Harry?” he asked. “Why would anyone have to kill themselves? But no, my—my godson committed suicide out of despair, and fear that he wouldn’t be able to stop Old Noseless.”

“I had to kill myself,” Harry said, ignoring the way that he felt about that revelation of the other Harry’s emotions. If they were real. If there hadn’t been a private conversation between that Harry and this Dumbledore about what he had to do. Dumbledore had gone back to looking calm and wise, so there might have been. “Or let Voldemort cast the Killing Curse at me a second time, really. There was no choice.” He looked at Dumbledore, wondering if everyone here knew about the Horcruxes.

Dumbledore didn’t help by just giving him a long, slow look. Harry sighed and turned around at a question from Snape. “If you killed yourself,” Snape said in a voice like sand sifting through a sieve, “how are you here?”

“Well, I came back,” Harry said. “Obviously.”

How?” Snape’s face still looked intense, not angry. If my version of him had been like this, Harry thought, I might have hated him less. “Is there a way to retrieve the dead, in your world?”

Oh. Harry shook his head. Maybe Snape hadn’t hated this version of Harry quite so much if he was in Slytherin, or maybe he wanted him back because he seemed to favor Draco and Draco had been this Harry’s—boyfriend.

Which was still strange to think about. Yuck.

“No,” he said. “I came back because I had the choice to come back. If he had the same choice, he must have picked a different option.”

Snape lowered his eyes to the ground and appeared to be thinking. But Malfoy—Draco, whatever, Harry was unused to having two Malfoys in the room and thus having to differentiate—took a step forwards and hissed, “Are you saying that my boyfriend was a coward?”

“It’s like you to think that I was,” Harry retorted. “But no, how could I? I don’t know. Maybe he was never presented with a choice at all. Maybe things are different here.” He turned around and focused on Dumbledore, who had still offered him the most solid information. “Why can’t you send me back home?”

Dumbledore touched his beard, then left his hand there as if he had forgotten his purpose for lifting it in the first place. “Because the spell only works in one direction,” he said absently. “It is, in some ways, very restricted, which is why it is not often used despite its power. Each summoned person can travel between the worlds only once, and they must have a place free and waiting for them, freed up by another person’s death.”

A slow, dreamy panic opened in the middle of Harry’s throat. He swallowed against it and demanded, “Am I the first one you’ve summoned?”

Dumbledore’s eyes shot to him, widening, and Harry realized that the man hadn’t expected him to ask that question. And, of course, that meant he probably wouldn’t like the answer.

“Well?” he asked, when the silence went on, and on, and on.

“No,” Hermione said at last in a small voice. Ron put his arm around her shoulders and leaned in to whisper something in her ear. Hermione closed her eyes, as though he hadn’t comforted her, and continued, “There were two others. One was very close to our own Harry, one very different, but the first one died in battle. Voldemort tortured the second one to death.”

Harry snorted. He didn’t know what would happen to the sound, but eventually it opened out into hysterical laughter. He leaned back against the hard pillow on his bed and laughed so hard his stomach hurt.

“Mr. Potter.” Snape, his voice cool. “Do you need a Calming Draught?”

“I m-might—augh!” The laughter conquered Harry again, and he went back to choking and gagging on it. He could feel everyone staring at him in freezing silence. That only made him laugh harder, until he felt tears creeping down his face, thought of the picture he must present, and managed to sit up with a last, hard whoop.

“The fuck?” he asked them. “Three other versions of me have failed to win out over this Voldemort you’ve got, and you think I will? I survived because of my mother’s blood magic and help from friends and a lot of luck! I’m not the bloody champion you need!”

“You survived,” Dumbledore said in a heavy voice. “That is more than our version of you did, Mr. Potter.”

“And these other versions of me?” Harry looked at Hermione this time, since she was the one who had volunteered the information.

She flinched a little, took a deep breath, and said, “They conquered him in their own worlds.”

“But not here,” Harry said. “That’s the sticking point I’d like to see resolved, please. Why do you imagine that I can do this when they couldn’t?”

“Is it not obvious?” Snape said in a voice that made Harry like him a little better, because it was like pouring ice on a fire. “We reached out to you—they reached out to you—because there is no choice. Because no one else can save our world, and any chance is better than none.”

Harry nodded. “And you’re not emotionally invested in me the way you were in the Harry you knew, so it doesn’t matter if I die,” he said.

McGonagall and Sirius stared at him, while Ron, Hermione, and Dumbledore started a chorus of protest. Snape and the Malfoys all blinked, and for the first time, Harry thought that Draco Malfoy looked like the Draco he knew, not the tearful child he’d turned into.

“That is one way of putting it,” Snape said at last. “Though not a way I would have expected you to see.”

“It’s not true!” Hermione said hotly, more like herself at the moment than since he’d seen her. “We can’t care about you in the same way we cared about our Harry, but we do care if you die fighting him!”

“Because you’d have to do the spell again?” Harry asked. He found that he was oddly calm. Probably because he’d learned this year how much Dumbledore had seen him as a weapon along with a person to be valued, he thought, and how much the rest of the wizarding world saw him as a symbol of hope. At least this view of him was consistent with the ones he was familiar with.

And at the moment, he would take all the consistency he could get.

Not just that,” Ron said. “Are you sure you weren’t Slytherin in your own world? Because that’s the kind of thing one of them would say.”

Harry shrugged. “The Hat offered me the chance,” he muttered. “But I turned it down.”

“You’re mental.” That was Malfoy, Draco, shaking his head as though he was the one who’d been brought to a different world. “Turning down the chance to become part of the greatest House in Hogwarts history? And what do you mean? You can’t persuade the Hat to Sort you where you want.”

“Why not?” Harry asked, glad when Malfoy didn’t immediately retort, and turned to Dumbledore. “You can’t send me back home.”

“No,” Dumbledore said, watching him closely.

“Is there another spell that can?”

“Not that we know of,” Hermione said, apparently because Harry hadn’t paid enough attention to her in the last few minutes.

“That’s my bargain,” Harry said. “I fight for you only if you work on a way to send me home.”

“And if there’s no way?” Hermione’s mouth turned into a thin line. “Are you going to refuse to fight?”

“I will if you stop working on it,” Harry said. He touched his forehead, wondering if the scar would burn hot, but it remained quiet. Maybe he didn’t have a connection to Voldemort in this world, or the death of the other version of himself had destroyed it. He didn’t know, but it still felt like a dream. “And don’t say it’s hopeless. This battle looks pretty bloody hopeless to me, but I’ll still fight it.”

Everyone seemed to exchange at least one glance. Harry watched them, swinging his legs, and wondered what had happened to make Ron and Hermione and Malfoy—or Draco—so comfortable with the adults. Had they been part of the Order of the Phoenix since its beginning? Had they cleared Sirius’s name? How did Sirius and Snape manage to be in the same room without fighting?

“Very well,” Dumbledore said at last. “As long as you understand that we may fail, even with dedicated research.”

“The very same thing I was going to say to you,” Harry retorted, and hopped to his feet, tossing their wands back to Snape and Malfoy as McGonagall cast a spell that opened the door.

He felt sort of heartless to himself, but he knew that he had to stay tough and keep going. Otherwise, he’d collapse.

No way back…

No, he didn’t know that yet. Not for certain. He had to have hope.

*

“This is the room that you slept in.”

Harry looked around in resigned distaste. The Slytherin common room had looked much the way it had the one time he’d seen it in his own Hogwarts, but the bedrooms were—well, the only word Harry could come up with for them was poncey. There was lace on the dark green curtains that framed the beds, for God’s sake. There was a pillow on each that looked like it was made of silk. Portrait frames lined the walls, all empty right now, but each one made of a dark wood that Malfoy indentified as mahogany, ebony, aged oak, and so on, taking it for granted that Harry wouldn’t know what they were.

And he didn’t. But he disliked having it assumed.

The same way he disliked Malfoy’s assumption that he was apparently going to sleep in the room that his old boyfriend slept in. Yeah, it was terrible that that Harry had committed suicide, but Harry was still too busy thinking about how they’d snatched him away from his old world and how he might never see his friends again to spare much sympathy for Malfoy.

“Well? What do you think of it? Green was always your favorite color.”

Harry started and turned around. Malfoy was behind him, close behind him, eyes enormous and so dark that Harry thought he could see someone drowning in them. Then he realized that was his own face, and shook his head.

“I’m not him,” he said. “Yes, green is my favorite color, but not because that’s something essential to being Harry Potter. I can’t take his place. I can’t be whatever he was to you.” It still struck him as so strange that this Harry had been Malfoy’s boyfriend that he wasn’t sure what to feel, if he had to feel anything, but he believed what he was saying. “Stop trying to make me into him.”

Malfoy fell back a step, flushing and raising one hand as though to hold away a blow. “I wasn’t!” he protested.

“You’re trying.” Harry regarded Malfoy for a moment, wondering if he was more likely to talk truth and sense without his father looming over his shoulder. “How long ago did he die?”

He couldn’t really soften his voice, but as he’d thought, Malfoy was too grateful for a chance to talk to care much about that. His words leaped ahead, his hands slamming against his legs. “Six months ago. And everyone talks about him as though it doesn’t matter, except for Professor Snape and my father, who understand that it was like yesterday.” His voice descended into a rasp.

Harry tried to look as sympathetic as he could. “How did he die? If you don’t mind telling me,” he added.

Malfoy laughed, but must have thought the sound was as horrible as Harry did, because he shut up soon enough. “You’re the only one who doesn’t know the story already, so this is the first time I’ve told anyone,” he said. “He turned his wand into a knife and used that to cut his throat. It’s—it’s instant. It meant that even if someone had been right nearby and found him while he was still dying, we couldn’t have saved his life.” His voice fell even lower.

“Did you find his body?” Harry asked.

Malfoy nodded, not looking up.

“I’m sorry,” Harry said, and then turned away to study the bed again. “Did he die here?”

“No, outside near the lake,” Malfoy murmured, relieving Harry’s mind a great deal. “He left a note pinned to his robe that said something about wanting to die in sunlight and air, and—that he was sorry, but he had to go.”

Harry frowned and cocked his head. That didn’t fit with the tale of despair and fear he’d already heard. “Do you think he killed himself because he was afraid of Voldemort?”

Malfoy flinched back so hard that he banged his shoulders against a bedpost. “Don’t say that!” he whispered. “My father says that he can hear you and fixate on you when you say that.”

Harry snorted. “If you’ve brought two of me over already and he’s killed them, I won’t be a surprise. Answer the question.”

Malfoy stared at him as if he had never seen anyone so strange as Harry, but answered in a murmur. “I think that he was afraid, yes. He tried several times to kill him after he understood what he had to do, and each time the Dark Lord emerged stronger. He was drinking up Harry’s power. I think he was drinking up his will, too. Father says that no one can do that, but I doubt it. He’s the Dark Lord; he can do anything he wants.”

That was spoken so simply that it reminded Harry of some of the students at Hogwarts who had believed that he could do anything to them because he was the Heir of Slytherin. On the other hand, that hadn’t kept them from telling stories and jeering at him behind his back. Maybe he would find someone here who hadn’t let their fear destroy their desire to stand up to Voldemort. “Do you think I’ll win?”

Malfoy gave him a deep, cow-like glance. “Of course not,” he said. “The others didn’t, and they were all Slytherin. They’d learned more about Defense and cunning, and they made strong friends with the people of the Order of the Phoenix who were here. You said yourself that you don’t have many weapons, and I think that you’ve managed to antagonize everybody.”

“Maybe not everybody,” Harry said, thinking of McGonagall and Sirius. Snape, too, had looked at him in a strange way, but Harry thought that was probably leftover fondness for the Harry from this world, the way that Malfoy’s was, and wouldn’t amount to much. “I’ll try to get along with them so we can win.”

“You won’t,” Malfoy whispered, and turned and left the room abruptly, breaking into a run near the door, as if the memories were too much for him.

Harry climbed into the bed and closed his eyes. He’d expected to fall asleep right away, since he’d needed sleep back at Hogwarts and the drugged enchantment the spell had put him into probably didn’t count, but instead, his thoughts wandered and dived and circled around the series of unpleasant facts he’d been presented with.

To never see Ron and Hermione again…

To have to stay here, in a world where everyone wanted someone who wasn’t him…

To be apparently fated to die, since three versions of himself had struggled against Voldemort and hadn’t managed to kill him…

But what his mind returned to again and again was the oddity of Harry Potter from this universe killing himself. It just made no sense to Harry. There had to be some larger goal that he’d accomplished. Perhaps he was the only one who knew about the Horcrux in him and that he had to die, Harry thought drowsily, and then he’d chosen to leave King’s Cross. That made the most sense.

Except that Dumbledore isn’t dead here, so who was there to meet him in the train station?

Harry sighed and finally let his mind slip towards darkness. He might know more than anyone else in the world about what that Harry’s mental state and experiences when he was dead might have been, but it would do him little good right now.

*

“Wake up.”

Snape’s voice. Harry’s eyes snapped open and he sat up, heart hammering and mind full of the Shrieking Shack and Nagini, before he remembered where he was. Stolen to, he thought, rubbing the back of his mouth as he looked at Snape, who was standing at the foot of the bed. Condemned to.

“You have news for me, sir?” His voice was a croak. He cleared his throat and wondered when the last time was that he’d had something to drink or eat. He couldn’t remember, despite the testimony of his pounding head and stomach.

Snape nodded minutely, but stood there giving him such an utterly blank look that Harry thought he’d changed his mind about speaking it. Finally he turned away with a sneer and said, “You are to attend a strategy meeting in the Headmaster’s office to explain the past and present of the war.”

“All right,” Harry said. “I’ll be along in a little while.”

Snape whipped around to stare at him. “You are summoned now,” he said, each word dripping with ice. “Not in an hour, not in a day. The Order of the Phoenix is waiting for you.”

Harry laughed, which seemed to upset Snape more than all the rest, if the narrowing of his eyes was anything to go by. “I need the time to summon a house-elf and get something to eat,” he said. “Otherwise, I’ll trip going up those stairs to the Headmaster’s office, crack my head on the wall, and die, and you’ll have to go through the trouble of summoning another me from another universe all over again.”

Snape went still. Harry didn’t know why, and he didn’t care. He turned away and clapped his hands briskly, not knowing what name he would call here for a house-elf and not caring.

“Yes, Master Harry!” said an elf who appeared a moment later, bobbing up and down in what looked like ragged bits of old sheets and napkins, a radiant smile on its face. Harry studied it closely, but it didn’t look like either Dobby or Winky. “Master Harry is needing something to eat? What can faithful Burny bring Master Harry?”

Harry smiled at the elf. “A peanut butter sandwich and a glass of pumpkin juice would be fine, Burny. Thank you,” he added, when it looked like the elf was on the verge of vanishing before he could say it.

The elf stopped, stared at him with tears trembling in its eyes, and then burst into loud sobs. Harry winced and cast an appealing glance at Snape. Snape folded his arms and raised his lip at him.

“You must be prepared for such antics,” he said, voice dry, “if you thank one of them.”

“Yeah, I reckon,” Harry said, and settled back to wait for the food, which was there less than a minute later. There were several biscuits and slices of fruit on the plate with the sandwich. Harry shrugged when he saw them and started eating.

“Another student whom I know,” Snape remarked to the ceiling, “had better manners than to eat like a starving wolf.”

“I bet he didn’t,” Harry said, swallowing an orange slice. “He just did it when you weren’t around.”

Snape surged a step closer to him this time. Harry reached out and put his hand on his wand—well, a wand. He couldn’t tell just by touching them whether it was the holly or the Elder Wand he held, though he didn’t think the Elder Wand would react like this one did, warm and friendly to the touch.

“Do not mock me in my mourning,” Snape said, words stark as crows. “I cannot kill or wound you while we need you for this battle, but what I do afterwards would make you beg for the Dark Lord’s mercy.”

Harry seriously doubted that, but since both Snape and Malfoy were sensitive about this other Harry, he decided he might as well learn to keep quiet around both of them. He shrugged. “Sorry,” he said, and returned to eating.

Snape let him finish the sandwich and the pumpkin juice as well as most of the fruit and one biscuit before he waved his wand. The rest disappeared. Harry jumped up, but Snape only gave him a smug look, daring him to react.

Harry took a long, deep breath. He didn’t know if Snape had tormented this universe’s Harry this way or whether it was specially reserved for him because he was the replacement, but either way, he needed Snape’s help, and he didn’t need another feud. He just exhaled and turned to make sure both wands were close to him.

Snape stared at him. Harry knew what that freezing look felt like, but he still didn’t look up as he moved towards the door of the Slytherin common room. Snape followed, staring so hard that Harry was amazed he didn’t stumble.

I hope the bastard realizes that he has to work with me, too.

*

“Please come in, Harry.”

One part of Harry wanted to say that he hadn’t given this Dumbledore permission to call him by his first name, but then he decided that it was probably better than “Mr. Potter”—as long as no one else started acting like he should be a dead bloke. He nodded and walked into the office, glancing guardedly around to see who else was there.

It looked like everyone who had been outside his prison cell, with the addition of a tall woman, the tallest Harry had ever seen, with long dark hair and intense blue eyes. She glanced at him, nodded once, and then looked back at Dumbledore. “I hope you know what you are doing, Albus,” she murmured.

“Prophecy speaks true, Evelina,” said Dumbledore, and his eyes did the twinkling thing at her, giving Harry an unexpected sense of homecoming. “We need Harry Potter to defeat Voldemort. It did not say which Harry Potter we needed.”

Harry scowled, then rolled his eyes. Well, he had known all that already. Why else would these people from a different universe be interested in him? He was only one more meaningless name and face from all the universes in the world—no, wait, all the universes in existence—to them otherwise. He sat down in the empty chair that had been left, vaguely noticing that Snape didn’t sit anywhere but leaned against the wall and stared at him.

Probably to keep an eye on me, Harry thought, and nodded to Dumbledore. “Professor Snape said that you were going to tell me about the history of the war, sir.”

“Yes.” The Headmaster’s twinkle was gone again, and he leaned forwards, his hands folded on his desk as he studied Harry carefully. “I suppose you know from our conversation already that Voldemort is extraordinarily powerful.”

Everyone in the room flinched, Harry noticed from the corner of his eye, except Hermione, Sirius, and the woman Evelina. He wondered if Dumbledore just didn’t care or thought they should get used to the name. He nodded. “Yeah, but he was in my world, too, and it only took one of me to kill him.”

Malfoy—Draco—made a soft sound. Harry could feel intensified glares coming his way, but he ignored them. He didn’t know why they expected him to be so sensitive and gentle around people where he didn’t know them and would step on their toes anyway, through sheer ignorance.

“Yes, but I believe there was a difference, based on the glimpses that I had of your world in the Dream Mirror,” said Dumbledore soberly. “I believe that the Voldemort you fought was insane.”

Harry blinked and nodded. “Well, yeah.”

“The one you have to fight here is not,” Dumbledore said. “As far as we can tell, he did make Horcruxes in the past, but then destroyed them and somehow managed to reunite his soul. He did not, I think, drink unicorn blood as he did in your world. He has people who would fight to the death for him and whom he only occasionally tortures. He has made allies among the magical creatures.”

“Sounds like you’re fucked,” Harry muttered, and once again had to endure glares. He shook his head, suppressed the impulse to tell them all that they were stupid, and said, “But the prophecy’s still in force?”

“Yes,” Dumbledore said quietly. “That is why we have some hope at all. We know that Harry Potter can kill him. We do not know how. The prophecy speaks of a power that the Dark Lord knows not—”

“And which none of the rest of us know, either.” Snape leaned forwards. “I beg you, Albus, as I have before, to let me—”

Dumbledore raised a hand, and Snape fell silent, his eyes half-closing as though he was trying to shut out a vision of the future. Harry wondered what he would have said, but Dumbledore was going on. “Our Harry struggled against him. He prevented him from claiming the Philosopher’s Stone or using the basilisk against our students. And he had a few years to gather his breath, the third and the fourth year.”

“What?” Harry twisted around in his chair to stare at Sirius. “He didn’t free you during his third year?”

“Free me?” Sirius had a faint smile, but he blinked. “No, why would he? People listened when I told them what had happened immediately after the war, and I never had a trial. I think the Sirius in your world did, though,” he added soberly. “I’m sorry for that.”

“So…” Harry said, swallowing.

“Harry’s home was with me.” Sirius looked at him in some curiosity. “So where was yours? Not with me, obviously, I knew that, and I know that Lily and James died in your world, too.’

Harry shook his head. He would have responded, but Dumbledore interrupted with, “Sirius, I can’t see that that matters, and we must move quickly. By now, Voldemort will probably have felt the resonances of the summoning spell and be deciding what to do.”

When the moment passed, Sirius looked at Harry again, but Harry just shrugged and grinned. He wasn’t so sure that he wanted to tell anyone about the Dursleys. What good could it do? Obviously things were different here, and they might mock or they might pity him, but they wouldn’t understand.

“At the end of the fourth year,” Dumbledore continued, “Voldemort did manage to kidnap our Harry and use his blood in a resurrection ritual, but Lucius Malfoy turned against him, seized Harry, and Apparated to us. The last few years have been the years of war. And of death.” He closed his eyes for a moment. “We have lost so many,” he whispered. “And then we lost Harry, in a way that we would never have anticipated.”

“About that,” Harry said. “Are you sure that he took back all his Horcruxes?” He was still a bit wary about mentioning them, but if Dumbledore had talked about them, then he thought it was all right, and his scar wouldn’t matter to the Voldemort in this world anyway. “Because I had one in me in my world. That’s why I had to die and come back, because otherwise I couldn’t have killed him.”

“I am sure,” Dumbledore said. “But someone else might have told our Harry and convinced him that…” His eyes flickered around the room, so fast that Harry couldn’t see who he suspected, if anyone.

“I never heard of anything like that,” Hermione said. “Why would we? The Horcruxes were all objects. I didn’t know that you could put one in a living being and have it continue to live.” She was looking at Harry with the interest that Harry thought she would give a scientific experiment.

“He had two that were living in my world,” Harry said. “Me, and Nagini.” He watched Hermione flinch and lift a hand to her cheek, and suddenly he thought he might know where her scar came from. But it wasn’t important right now, so he turned to Dumbledore and asked, “Sir, why can’t you destroy him? You’re not dying the way you were in my world, and you must have magic as powerful as his. And you’re not afraid of him.” Harry thought that was the most important part. Once they had destroyed the Horcruxes, then anyone could have tackled Voldemort as long as they weren’t afraid of him. Here, with no Horcruxes to destroy, it ought to have been easier.

Dumbledore cleared his throat. “It is not that simple, Harry, not when a prophecy is involved,” he murmured. “Did your own Albus explain the way that prophecies work to you?”

Harry shrugged. “There wasn’t much point. I heard the one that referred to me and Voldemort, but we’d destroyed the prophecies that the Ministry gathered at the end of my fifth year, so I don’t think it was ever really important again.”

“How did that happen?” Snape demanded, leaning forwards as though a study of Harry’s face would reveal why he was so much more careless and stupid than the Harry Potter he had known.

“It was an accident!” Harry protested, but from the wintry glare that Snape gave him in return, Harry didn’t think that excused it, at least for him. He shook his head and turned back to Dumbledore. “What’s important about how prophecies work, and why does it explain why you can’t destroy him?”

Dumbledore fetched up a sigh from the depths of his gut. He did that a lot, Harry thought, and tried for a moment to think if his own Dumbledore had done that, but he couldn’t remember.

“A prophecy acts like a magical barrier around the people it concerns,” Dumbledore explained. “It seals them off from the rest of the wizarding world, at least as far as the actions predicted in the prophecy are concerned. Yes, other people in your world could destroy the Horcruxes that you said Tom created.” Harry resolved to keep his eyes on the floor next time so Dumbledore couldn’t read his thoughts. “But when it comes to the final battle, only the two of you matter.”

“Have you tried?” Harry demanded. Now that he was waking up and thinking more about the situation they had plopped him into, he was getting angrier. Here was this business that had caused them to summon more than one of him from a different universe, and not to care that those Harry Potters would almost certainly die opposing Voldemort. They wanted to be free and have their own lives back, and they didn’t care whose lives they disrupted doing it.

They reminded Harry so much of the people who had blamed him for being imperfect and then turned back and implored him to be their savior that his disgust threatened to overwhelm him.

But then he closed his eyes and thought about the other people, outside the school, who probably knew nothing about this and just thought that Harry Potter was unusually resilient. He would fight for their sake, if he couldn’t fight for Dumbledore and the rest of the Order of the Phoenix.

“Yes,” Dumbledore said, voice flat as if he didn’t like being questioned. Too fucking bad, Harry thought in his general direction. “And nothing happens. My spells are deflected from him if they are mortal. The ones that are not can pass through the barrier of the prophecy and affect him.”

Harry grunted, deciding to say nothing else for the moment. “All right. So. What kind of story have you spread to keep people from knowing that the other versions of me died?”

“That we have a strong and secure safehouse that shelters you between the times that you face him and lets you recover from your wounds,” Sirius said promptly. “And we do have safehouses that are like this.”

Harry nodded. “Are we going to get any support from the Ministry?”

Snape laughed, the harsh sound startling more than one other person, Harry thought, if the swiveling heads were anything to go by. “The Ministry has surrendered long since, Potter. The Aurors and others who didn’t wish to do so fled to us. What’s left cooperates with him.”

“That was the case in my world, too,” Harry said, remembering the Muggleborn court in front of Umbridge. “And we still beat him.”

“You are not listening to Albus,” Snape said, stepping forwards until he was fully in Harry’s line of sight, as if he assumed that would make Harry listen to him more seriously. “You are the only one who can defeat him. You came from a world where that happened, as did the others we summoned, and you are naturally hopeful. But this Dark Lord is not the one you have faced in the past. He is stronger, saner, more cunning.”

“I don’t think anyone who really wants to kill all Muggleborns can be sane,” Harry said. He knew he sounded stubborn and childish, but the alternative was backing down in front of Snape, which he was not about to do.

Snape put a hand over his eyes. “Do you listen to yourself?” he asked, and then turned away so that he faced Dumbledore. “I respectfully request to be excused from this one, Albus. When he dies like the rest, I do not want the burden of knowing that I wasted time on him.”

Harry glared at Snape’s back. All right, so he might not hate Harry as much as the one back home did—had, but he was still annoying as hell.

“No, Severus,” Dumbledore said. “You have sacrificed more than anyone else in the fight against Tom. You will be demeaning your sacrifices if you stop fighting now. I must ask that you stay.”

More than anyone else except the various versions of me, Harry thought, and rolled his eyes.

“Are you going to give me any advice on how I can do that?” he asked. “Or are you just going to expect me to go out there and perform a miracle, the way that they did?” He felt guilty for that a moment later, because his Dumbledore had been right about Harry’s death giving them the power to defeat Voldemort, but these people didn’t seem to have even that much of a plan.

“I come in here.”

That was the tall woman Harry had noted when he first came into the room. He turned unwillingly to face her. He wasn’t sure what she was, Auror or Hit Wizard or random assassin or professor or simple member of the Order of the Phoenix. She studied him now and smiled.

“You have the instincts of a fighter,” she said. “We need to train so that they become paired with the body of a fighter.”

“I haven’t exactly had the chance to eat properly and exercise a lot when I was chasing around half the bloody country on a Horcrux quest,” Harry snapped.

“Do show Evelina some respect, Harry,” Dumbledore chided, sounding more than faintly shocked. Harry had thought Snape would join in the scolding, but instead he looked at Harry with raised eyebrows, as if he had become interesting. “She gave up her valuable free time to visit us. And she can do what she promises. In all of wizarding Britain, there is no one who has killed more Death Eaters or come closer to destroying Tom than she has.”

“Then why don’t you kill him?” Harry asked Evelina. “Do you believe in this prophecy, too?”

“Yes,” she said promptly. “I’ve tried my most devastating spells against him, and they deflect. I would recognize the effect of personal wards or the kind of spells that can be woven into robes. He makes no effort to defeat me. He doesn’t have to, because the prophecy barriers that the Headmaster spoke of are raised.”

Harry grunted. He felt exhausted, for a moment, as though they had already plunged him into the midst of war.

But he shook off that grey, misty feeling, and sat up straight. “You can tell me more than the others, then.”

“Perhaps.” Evelina clasped her hands in her lap. “It would depend on what you want to know.”

Harry nodded. “How close do you think he is to winning? If I killed him, would chaos follow, or would his followers immediately flee, or would there be a resistance force that could pick them off before they became a problem?”

“The Ministry will be no help, for reasons that you have already heard,” said Evelina. “What I think is our best solution is to draw a cordon around the battlefield and round up the Death Eaters while you battle Voldemort. Otherwise, yes, there is a high chance that they might get away and cause new wars and rebellions. Our population is so cowed that they don’t know how to hold up their heads anymore, and wouldn’t even if they were suddenly freed.”

Harry blinked. The searing contempt in her voice was something he hadn’t expected, and it might mean that she shared his opinion of the people who would put up a seventeen-year-old as a hero and expect him to save them. It was something he resented a lot more here than he ever had back home.

She might help me to return home where the others would put off the investigation, he thought.

“Were you an Auror, madam?” he asked.

Madam.” Evelina laughed, but the sound had honesty rather than mockery in it, as had her voice when she told him about her attempts to cast spells on Voldemort. “Yes, I was,” she said. “But I was never the kind of person who would be addressed by that title, I think.”

“You’re too young?” Harry asked, although he found it hard to tell how old she was. There were no wrinkles on her face or grey in her hair, but on the other hand, her face had a kind of stillness that didn’t match up with people like his yearmates.

“No, it’s too respectful.” Evelina chortled again. “And in the end, that’s why I had to leave the Ministry: a lack of respect.” She closed one eye in a slow wink at Harry. “For the rules, for the regulations, for the kind of injustice that seems inevitable in a system reliant on enforcing the laws, for pretty much everything.”

Harry grinned back at her. It sounded like she might not respect what Dumbledore had told him were fundamental magical rules, either. That made it all the likelier that she’d work with him on a spell to get him home.

“Mr. Potter,” Dumbledore said, in a loud voice that made it sound as if he was repeating himself, although Harry knew that wasn’t the case. He just wanted to reassert control over the meeting, Harry thought. “Do you accept our offer of training? Though Tom may not yet know where you are or that you have arrived, he will very soon. This can be dangerous.”

“You haven’t left me much choice,” Harry said, but with less rancor than he would have just a few minutes ago. If he had someone to train him who wasn’t someone he knew from his own universe and who didn’t seem to have known the dead Harry, then he thought he would get along better. And no matter how he tried to slice it in his mind, he knew that there were people here who needed him. He couldn’t turn his back on them, although he resented the Order of the Phoenix for dragging him into this mess.

“Good.” Dumbledore slumped back in his seat with a sigh. “Then we’ll begin your training immediately.”

Harry nodded, and jumped as he felt a hand squeezing his shoulder. When he looked back, Sirius stood there, his eyes brilliant and proud.

Harry swallowed around the clench in his throat. This might be workable after all.

Chapter Text


“I need to know how much you already recognize about battle before training you.”

Harry nodded and hoped he looked like a serious adult instead of a little boy as he stared at the room in front of him. It was an enormous place, bigger than he had known the Room of Requirement could create, with a hollow, rising ceiling that made it look as if it were capped with a dome. The walls were some flat, blank material that Harry thought might have been wood, but when he let his hand rest on one, it felt more like stone. There was no crack or join in it that he could see, and none in the floor, either.

Scattered here and there were mats, cushions, ropes dangling on hooks from the ceiling, chairs, large stands that Harry thought looked like easels but with hooks and handles on top of them instead of places to put a canvas, stair steps leading nowhere, and rings on chains. Harry looked around for some sign of weapons, but there was none. Only Evelina standing in what looked like the center of the room, a ring of white light on the floor, watching him with assessing eyes.

“Strength training can only do a limited amount,” she muttered, as if to herself. “We could try with the weights, but the goal is to build as fast as we can in a limited amount of time. Speed and stamina are the best bets.”

“Are you talking about me?” Harry asked. He was still a little sore about the way Dumbledore had all but patted him on the head and told him that there was no way to beat the prophecy. At least the talk hadn’t lasted long before Dumbledore told him that he would have to train with Evelina.

“Yes,” Evelina said. “You’re far from the tallest student I’ve ever taught. We need to make you fast, rather than trying to prepare you for contests of strength that you’ll lose anyway.” Without seeming to notice how much she had insulted Harry, she spun her wand around between her fingers, still watching him intently. “And I’ll need a demonstration of your skills before I decide what we should work on first, of course.”

Harry nodded stiffly and asked, “Do you want me to tell you what spells I know?”

Evelina laughed a bit. “Showing is better than telling, don’t you see?” she asked, and sent a sharp Stunner at him with a twist of her hand that Harry had never seen imitated.

Harry raised a Shield Charm without thinking; the Stunner cracked into it and halted. Harry Transfigured the ground beneath Evelina’s feet to ice and ducked around the nearest chair, which was the end one of a long row, scrambling beneath them on his hands and knees towards the far side of the room.

The chairs flew into the air, tumbling about, the legs of the one he was under scraping painfully at Harry’s arms and sides. He rolled over and cast another Shield Charm straight above himself. The yellow spray of fountain-like light that was diving towards him hit the shield and bounced out to the sides, making the floor steam and smoke. Harry winced, but also felt a slight appreciation, as strong as it could be under the circumstances. Well, at least she isn’t playing around. If she can really train me to survive Voldemort, then I’ll work with her.

Evelina performed some other charm; Harry heard her incant it, but he didn’t know what it did until he found his vision flipping over and an odd rushing motion in his ears. He felt as if he was going to vomit, and his eyes bulged. He could hear a distinctive sloshing in his ears that he hated. If it wasn’t really his brain turning over, which was what it felt like, it was near enough to that that he didn’t want to experience any closer.

He ducked and weaved, sometimes crawling, sometimes running, as he made for the nearest stand of easels or whatever they were. But then Evelina blasted them away, and Harry realized that he couldn’t see where they’d flown off to with his vision wavering around all over the place.

Instinct made him dive, smashing a shoulder painfully into the floor. But it was nothing compared to the Blasting Curse that sailed serenely by and would probably have taken his head off, or at least broken his shoulder instead of only giving him a bruise.

Harry whirled around, pushing with his fingers off the floor and taking advantage of the height he was currently at to cast his own Blasting Curse at Evelina’s feet. That made her leap like a frog, and Harry gritted his teeth in grim satisfaction as he raced on, this time launching himself into a roll that carried him to temporary safety behind a rope.

Evelina’s Cutting Curse severed the rope before Harry could decide to climb it. Harry groaned. She likes taking away my cover and anything I could use as weapons. Well, I’ll have to do something else, then.

He rose to his feet—her charm was still in effect, making him nauseated, but not as bad as it had been—and raced straight for her.

Evelina’s eyes widened, and then narrowed in appraisal. She moved back and flipped up one hand, wand following. Harry felt a jerk behind his navel and wondered what she could have been using as a Portkey, since he’d touched nothing; then his world flipped again and he realized that he was hanging upside down from the ceiling, his feet tangling in an invisible net.

Expelliarmus!” he cried, still able to orient on her even though his perspective had changed so drastically.

Evelina crouched down, using her body to shield her wand so that all it did was fly into her free hand. Then she rose and strolled towards him, Harry grimaced and held his wand close so that it wouldn’t fall onto the floor.

“So you won,” he said.

“Of course,” Evelina murmured. “Still, it was nearer than I expected. Since Albus told me you mostly survived your battles with the help of luck and your friends, I was wondering if you knew anything about fighting at all. I am pleased to see that you do.”

Harry scowled at her. She smiled at him, and he sighed as he realized that she was only acting the way she had acted all along: like someone who had to train him to survive and wasn’t sure if she could. At least she was significantly more honest and less weird that some of the other people in this world had been acting.

He shuddered as he thought about them, and then said, “Are you going to teach me the spells that you used on me today?” He winced. All the blood was rushing to his head, and he thought that he would faint if it went on much longer. But he wasn’t going to ask to be lowered before Evelina did it.

Evelina flicked her wand in the next moment—either she had never meant to keep him up that long, or she knew what she was doing better than Harry had thought—and his world flipped right-side up again. Harry sighed in relief as he massaged his head and gazed curiously at Evelina, who was studying him this time as if she thought she would be able to read his thoughts through his skull.

“Yes,” she said. “I am amazed that you survived the war without learning them. Were those all the spells that you know, the ones you used against me?”

“Of course not,” Harry answered, a little huffily. “The Hogwarts professors taught me a lot more.”

“Yet you didn’t use them,” Evelina said. “Why?”

“You know the answer to that.” Harry rubbed the back of his neck and avoided his eyes.

Evelina moved so that he had no choice but to look at her. “I don’t, actually,” she said. “And I am trying not to underestimate or overestimate you, because there are dangers either way, and either way the war could continue. What do you know? What do you need to learn? What can I help you to make better use of? I’m trying to determine which spells belong to which category.”

Harry spent a bit more time in dubious study of her face, but she didn’t roll her eyes or change her expression in the silence, so finally he gave in. “I know a lot of charms,” he admitted. “And the kinds of hexes that children use on each other. Not much about Potions, and the Defense spells are mostly ones I picked up on my own. The Shield Charm, the Patronus Charm, and the Disarming Charm are my main ones.”

“Ah. Hm.” Evelina cocked her head at him. “I find it strange that you would have learned to cast a Patronus before you learned to change someone’s inner balance.”

“Was that what you did to me?” Harry still had the urge to spit, his mouth had tasted so awful for a bit there.

Evelina nodded. “Among other things. The charm is a common one, but I’ve added modifications of my own inventions.”

Harry blinked. “I didn’t know that you could modify a spell, except to make it more or less powerful when you cast it, because, well, some people aren’t as strong.” He didn’t think he’d said that the right way; Hermione would have had all the right theory and all the right words.

He clenched his teeth when he thought about that. He wanted to be home with his friends right now, not training for a war that he’d already fought and won, no matter how nice Evelina was to him about it.

She was silent right now, staring at him so hard that Harry knew he had said something wrong again. Then she shook her head with a sharp little movement and said, “It’s so—unusual to find that you know some things at an advanced level and others not at all. May I see you cast a Patronus Charm?”

Harry nodded, held out his wand, and thought, without effort, of the warm, sunny days at the Burrow just before Fleur and Bill’s wedding, when he and Ron and Hermione had snatched a moment of rest from the chaos to sit outside and watch the sunset. “Expecto Patronum!” he called, and the silver stag leaped from his wand.

Evelina took a step back and then walked around it, as if she wanted to see the way its hooves touched the ground and make sure it was real. The stag turned its head to watch her, and she shook her head in wonder.

“A corporeal Patronus,” she whispered. “That—you shouldn’t have been able to cast that until you were considerably older than you are now, if at all.” She studied him again.

“There were Dementors at the school in my third year,” Harry said, answering her unspoken question. “Sirius—my godfather—was a fugitive in that world, and they thought that he had come to Hogwarts to try and hunt me down. So the Dementors surrounded the school, and they affected me. Professor Lupin taught me the charm so that I could defend myself. Is he here?” he added, with a sudden blast of hope.

“Lupin? I believe a professor of that name taught at the school some years ago. I do not know where he is now.” Evelina hesitated, then spelled over one of the chairs that she’d scattered earlier and sat down in it. Harry sat next to her when she called a second one and wondered what she had to tell him. The long line across her brow and the way her hands clenched in her lap said it was something.

“Do you think I won’t survive?” he asked her bluntly.

“If you went out on the field the way you are now?” Evelina pressed her fingers against her mouth with what looked like a meditative look. “No, you wouldn’t.”

Harry winced, then nodded. At least she’s honest.

“How do we make it so I have a fucking chance?” he asked. “I assume you know some spells that the Aurors wouldn’t teach me, or at least normal Aurors wouldn’t, but you would?”

“Dumbledore did give me permission to teach you anything I wanted and thought you could need,” Evelina said, still in a musing tone. Harry hated that. He wished she would pay attention to him so that he could be sure she wasn’t seeing some other student in her head, or, even more likely, all the ways he could die. He waved a hand in front of her eyes, and she blinked, then focused on him. “That could include some of the spells that made me have to leave the Aurors.”

“Did you use Dark Arts?” Harry asked, half-wary and half-intrigued. He had used the Unforgivable Curses against the Carrows and to sneak into Gringotts, after all, and he had thought he might have to use them again since he’d been here.

“Not as such,” Evelina said. “Not curses that were illegal. But ones that made the criminals so uncomfortable that I was privately asked to stop using them. I didn’t want to, and in the end I walked away from the Ministry.”

“That’s stupid,” Harry said. “Why would they want you to stop using spells that would allow you to survive?”

Evelina smiled. Harry stiffened, because it had an edge of pity, but from her next words, the pity wasn’t directed at him. “Because there are other goals than simply surviving,” she said. “Upholding the law. Showing everyone how kind and decent you are. Mind you, a lot of the Aurors aren’t kind and decent people. But they were better at pretending than I was.”

Harry snorted. “I’ll have to think about what it means to be an Auror, before I try to become one in my world.”

Evelina shrugged. “At the time, I didn’t think there was any other profession that would accommodate my love of chasing people, bringing them down, and using complicated magic. I would choose differently if I had the choice to make over again.” She leaned forwards and continued briskly, “I noticed that you used mostly defensive magic. We’ll concentrate on offensive magic first, the spells that you should have learned and didn’t—”

“Not my fault,” Harry muttered. “We had incompetent Defense teachers almost all the years I was there, and two of the ones who weren’t incompetent hated me.”

Evelina paused. “Who were they?”

“One of them was Snape,” Harry said, deciding that, in case he disappeared here before he could confront Voldemort, someone should know who had likely killed him. Snape hadn’t done much but stare and snipe at him yet, but Harry was smart enough to know that could change at any time. “The other was a Death Eater disguised as Moody.”

Evelina paused thoughtfully. Then she said, “From what I understand, the Professor Snape that we know—that I know—would never have been a poor teacher to this Harry. Not on purpose. I think he is a poor teacher in other ways.”

“I’m glad someone agrees with me,” Harry said hotly. He hated the way that the Snape in this world stared at him. He couldn’t help who his parents were, and here, he couldn’t help that he was alive and the other Harry was dead. “He kept on being Potions teacher in my world despite the fact that everyone hated him except the Slytherins.”

“It helped that this Potter was a Slytherin, of course,” Evelina said. “But I’m afraid that I can’t tell you much more than that. I only know what they told me when they brought me in to act as a tutor to you, and Albus didn’t consider the intimate relationship between his dead student and that student’s Head of House something I needed to know.”

“Are you really trying to help me?” Harry asked, because it had suddenly become important. “I mean, do you care if I survive or not? Or are you only doing this as a favor to Dumbledore, and it doesn’t matter very much whether I live?”

“I can want to help you survive for the sake of the world, and not for your own sake,” Evelina said. “I think a lot of the Order of the Phoenix are like that, and you will be disappointed if you try to rely on them for anything else.”

Harry winced. He almost wished he hadn’t asked the question, now. But it probably was better to know that he stood alone, without a friend around him, than to think he could treat them like the people in his world. It had been different here. It had.

He would have to find someone to tell him how different. Malfoy—Draco—might be a good one for that, Harry thought distractedly. He looked like he wanted to talk to someone anyway, and it shouldn’t be hard to get him to talk about the dead Harry.

“But from what I’ve seen of you,” Evelina continued, “you are someone I want to survive, yes. Among other things, I don’t want to think my teaching was wasted.”

Harry relaxed a bit. “Did they have you teach the others?”

“No. I suspect that Albus thought the training he gave them was enough.” Evelina waggled her wand at the nearest rope, and two of the strands untwisted and spun into a tight scroll that began to fill with the names of spells. Harry studied them in some dismay. He didn’t think he could learn and memorize them all in the short time they probably had before Voldemort learned he was here.

Then he took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. You’ll learn them if you have to, if you want to survive and go home. And you know you want that more than anything.

“What kind of training did he give them?” Harry asked, wondering if it was like the private memories that Dumbledore had showed him of Tom Riddle.

“Defensive spells, mostly,” Evelina said. “And training in what were supposed to be Tom Riddle’s signature spells when he was a young man.” She paused, then shook her head. “Of course, I don’t think that the Harry Potter native to this world ever got to use them, since he killed himself before he and You-Know-Who could have a final confrontation. I don’t know about the others.”

Harry firmed his lips. “And you think learning offensive spells will help me more?”

“Yes,” Evelina said. “You can only retreat for so long.” The scroll of spells seemed to have finished creating itself, and she grabbed it, shook it once to snap it out, and spent a few minutes scanning it before she nodded. “This will do,” she added as she handed it to Harry. “You should be able to do all these incantations nonverbally by the end of the week, and I want you to surprise me with one each day.”

Nonverbally?” Harry listened to his voice rise, and fought to bring it back under control. “I’m not as good with nonverbal magic as—”

“As you should be,” Evelina finished calmly. “Yes, I know.” She hesitated again, then added, “You’ll have to be. I think that’s the only way you’ll survive. More to the point, becoming good at nonverbal spells is the only way to anticipate them, and your enemies will hurl them at you.”

Harry squeezed the side of the chair, and then let go and grimly accepted the scroll. “What about other ways of fighting?”

Evelina brightened. “I don’t know that you’ll ever do it with You-Know-Who,” she said, “but I can teach you some hand-to-hand fighting skills that ought to impress the Death Eaters if you have to close with them. And I suspect that he’ll send them after you first. He’ll be curious, eager, to test your skills, but he has some sense. No use going after someone who would be able to kill him on the first try.”

Harry nodded, a little downcast. Until then, he hadn’t realized how much he’d depended on Voldemort being crazy and liable to do things like simply rush into battle or send the Death Eaters who were stupid and could be tricked.

Evelina leaned forwards. “This has been a chance for me to understand your strengths,” she said. “But even more than that, you need to learn to understand yourself. And there is some knowledge that I can give you to take out of here today.” She reached out and pressed two fingertips hard into the left part of Harry’s chest, hard enough to make him wince. “Never go for the heart.”

Harry frowned and cocked his head. “Why not? I thought that was supposed to be the one thing that would make someone drop dead immediately.”

Evelina smiled, her eyes glinting. “And in the case of a spell, if you can hit the heart, that is true. But if you’re going after it with a blade, the way that I’ll train you to, the ribs get in the way. That’s what they’re supposed to do, after all: protect the heart. Imagine the knife in your hand jolting suddenly and skidding off to the side, or sticking in bone.” She raised her eyebrows. “Not what you want to happen when you have some other enemy coming at you.”

Harry nodded. “So where do you cut?”

Evelina turned her head to the side and laid her fingertips against her neck. “Throat,” she said. “A cut, remember; don’t try to strangle someone unless you’re doing it with magic. Strangling someone with a garrote or similar will take more strength than you have.” She moved her hand down, widening her legs so she could tap her left thigh. “The femoral artery. They’ll bleed to death in a few minutes. It’s a surer cut than the throat in many ways, because if you don’t cut deep enough on the throat, it’s possible for your enemy to live a few minutes. Not likely, and they’ll probably not be able to get their breath and call out even if they do, but we’re talking about tactics that can help you kill your enemies.” She glanced at Harry, and her eyes were very cold. “Not leave them alive but wounded.”

Harry nodded. His hands felt as cold as her eyes looked, he thought, and tried to wipe them off on his trousers without her noticing. “And where else?”

Evelina moved her hand on the thigh higher. “The groin. Vulnerable in the first place—though not as much so on a woman; don’t expect to disable a female opponent right away unless your kick is really strong—and a cut there will also bring down the blood, and the death.” She paused, her face distant. “There was a man who thought he was going to rape me, once. I always carry more than one knife, and I daresay he was surprised when he bled to death within two minutes of taking his clothes off.”

She turned back to Harry, seeming to shake off the memory or trance that had almost consumed her. “Learn as many binding spells as you can. One thing you’ll want to do is keep their hands away from the wound. If they manage to plug it, the blood won’t spurt as fast and they’ll have a chance to live.” She paused. “Of course, you could also learn a spell that will cut their hands off,” she added. “That’s always a useful one.”

Harry stared at her. “Was that the spell that got you kicked out of the Aurors?” he had to ask.

“No,” Evelina said. “That was the one that destroyed their blood’s ability to clot, so that a slight cut would make them bleed to death.” She shook her head, her smile faint but there. “The Head Auror and I had a long talk where I pretended not to understand why he was upset. I did understand, of course, but he was sending me, without a partner, into situations where it was use spells like that or die.”

She reached out and poked Harry above the heart again. “And the same thing is going to be true for you. Can you kill?”

“I’ll try,” said Harry. He felt deadened, a great huge hollow around his beating heart.

“Memorize ten spells off that list for tomorrow,” Evelina said, getting to her feet. “And find yourself a weapon. A short knife, I think. No point in a long blade, for you.”

*

“I really cannot agree, Harry.”

Harry took a deep, calming breath, and reminded himself that Dumbledore was probably used to a Harry who just did as he was told. It would make a lot of sense, since that Harry had been in Slytherin and Snape seemed to tolerate him. Snape wouldn’t tolerate someone who broke the rules left and right.

“I’m not asking for a lot, sir,” he said, when he thought he could speak without shouting. They were in Dumbledore’s office, Harry sitting in a chair across the desk from him, a large, cushiony chair with lion’s heads at the end of the arms. Harry wondered if Dumbledore had given it to him on purpose so that Harry wouldn’t be able to stand up and move away quickly if he wanted, but that was a bit too paranoid. “Just the backstory. More about Harry—the other me who was here, and the kind of training you gave him. You told me the history of the war.”

Dumbledore gave him a misty smile. Harry closed his hand down on the holly wand, and wished that the Elder Wand in his back pocket wasn’t throbbing like a second heart. He hadn’t taken it to training with Evelina that morning, but then he’d realized that someone might find it in his bedroom—or the Slytherin bedroom that Draco had said was his—and what would they think? He’d keep it with him from now on.

“The history of the war was information you needed to know if you were to fight effectively for us, Harry,” Dumbledore said. “But the information you’re requesting is sensitive, and the people who could tell it best are Draco and Severus.”

“Well, then,” Harry said, and started to stand up. He’d only come to Dumbledore rather than Snape or Malfoy because he didn’t want to deal with sneering and tears.

“I was saying,” Dumbledore said, his hand rising as if he would physically push Harry back into his seat with a palm on his forehead, “that they could. I think it would be terrible to ask them now, when they are grieving for a young man who was very real to them, no matter how strange or nonexistent he may seem to you.”

Harry snorted and rolled his eyes. “I’m the one who’s nonexistent, at least to you. You treat me like I’m a bloody puppet, like I should be happy to be hauled out of my universe and put with you.”

He had wondered earlier if it was a bad thing to complain so openly, but then he’d remembered. They couldn’t do anything to him that would be permanent, because they needed his help with the war. He hadn’t ever had that in his world, because people there were just as happy to hate him and turn against him as help him. But now…

Now, the Order of the Phoenix—and Evelina, Harry reckoned she counted as outside the Order—were the only people who knew they were here, and they had to spoil him. Harry had already resisted a few temptations that Dudley would have taken.

“That’s not true,” Dumbledore said steadily. “You are very important to us, and to the future of our world.”

“To the future,” Harry said, folding his arms as he leaned back in the chair. He kicked a heel against the rungs on the bottom of the chair, too, but they were dark wood, and just swallowed the sound. It wasn’t satisfying. “But not to you.”

“I believe I have just told you that you are.” Dumbledore’s eyes had a steely glint in them. Harry wondered if he would have seen it in the eyes of his Dumbledore, too, if he’d lived.

“But not to you personally,” Harry said. “Not as a person. As a weapon. That’s basically what you told me when I first arrived. You didn’t even research some other spell that you could use on me or the others, one that would make us able to return home. You just snatched us. Did they go along with all this, by the way?”

Dumbledore took his glasses off, deposited them on the desk, and rubbed slowly and painfully at his forehead, as if it ached. Harry smiled despite his own uneasiness over potentially antagonizing Dumbledore. A headache was only a tenth part of the panic and pain that he knew he would feel if he let himself think about this too seriously.

So he didn’t let himself think about this too seriously. Or he got angry instead. Anger was a good substitute.

“I do not know what you want from me,” Dumbledore said, his voice deeper and more formal than before. “I cannot care personally for you as your Albus may have. I am a general, not only a Headmaster. And a general can’t see some people as more important than the others. He must treat them all the same.”

“Bollocks,” Harry said, more for his enjoyment of the expression on Dumbledore’s face than for his general enjoyment of the word. “You see the people who’re gathered around you, your bloody Order, as more important than the rest of the world, because you let them in on the secret of the first Harry Potter’s death. And you see them as more important than me. Which doesn’t really make sense, because you need me to fight the war. So maybe you should start thinking that that I’m important, too, and answer my questions.”

Dumbledore leaned forwards. “That sounded remarkably like a statement that you would not fight for us, Harry.”

Harry sneered and flipped a hand at him. “That’s a sign that you do see your Order as more important than everyone else. I could still fight for your world and ignore you. But no, not fighting for you and you personally is the important thing.”

Dumbledore shook his head, and then leaned forwards and pressed his brow against his clasped hands. Harry watched him. He thought he might still get the answers he wanted, as long as he waited.

“You are trying to personally antagonize me,” Dumbledore said at last, when enough minutes of quiet had passed that Harry could hear the whir from the strange silver machines that lined the shelves. Evidently, this Harry hadn’t smashed them, Harry thought. But why would he? His Sirius was still alive. “I don’t understand why. We have to work together to fight this war. And I could—I wish that I could do something to make up to you for the necessity. I would never have done such a thing, pulling someone fresh from victory into another war, if not for our dire need.”

“Could you use a different spell?” Harry demanded. “Tell me that.”

Dumbledore hesitated, and it was for long enough that Harry noticed. He laughed, cutting off Dumbledore’s response. “You could have,” he said.

“None of the others were as safe,” Dumbledore said repressively. “Most of them stood a strong chance of pulling apart the boy we were trying to summon between worlds.”

“It might be better than the fate the other two suffered,” Harry said. “I asked you whether they went along with you.”

Dumbledore leaned back in his seat and studied him with weary eyes. “They were both Slytherins,” he said. “Used to thinking through their first impressions, understanding that even someone who had hated their fathers might be a good man beneath the cloak he was required to wear. They were also more used to obeying authority than I think you were.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “I like how everyone wants to blame this on me being Gryffindor,” he muttered, climbing to his feet. “Well, I’ll go talk to Snape and Malfoy, since you won’t tell me anything about the other Harry.”

Dumbledore let Harry get all the way to the office door before he spoke. His voice sounded hollow, the way the beat of Harry’s own heart had to him earlier.

“He was a young man of extraordinary strength and sweetness, both.” Dumbledore’s words were spaced evenly enough apart that Harry counted twenty heartbeats during that simple sentence. “Growing up with Sirius had taught him the Gryffindor side of life, the recklessness and pranks and the joy of bravery and of friends. But he was wise enough to realize that he wanted something more for himself. Distinction, not always to be in the shadow of a man who is still childish in some ways and not always to be in the shadow of the House of Black, which he could not belong to by virtue of blood.” Harry frowned and started to ask why his Sirius had managed to leave him the Black house and the Black money, then, but Dumbledore’s words rolled on. “He chose Slytherin, although I believe it was the only choice the Hat offered him. He embraced the necessity of thinking through the impression Sirius had given him of people like the Malfoys, who grew close to him. He had a relationship of mutual respect with Severus, though never as easy as I think Severus would have had with a normal Slytherin student. He was intelligent; he easily made high marks in all his classes. He had a natural talent for Defense, for Quidditch, for Potions—”

That’s the real bloody difference between us, right there, Harry thought. And has to be the reason Snape likes him.

“And for Transfiguration. I am afraid that we got into quite a few arguments over his future and what we each thought he should pursue.” Dumbledore’s tone now had a trace of an amused smile in it. “And he made friends from other Houses, something that he argued with young Malfoy over, but which never ruptured their relationship. He would have united them, I think, had the war come to Hogwarts. He was diplomatic for one so young, I believe because he had been taught by Remus Lupin.” Harry opened his mouth to ask where Lupin was, and still Dumbledore rolled on. “He was ferociously curious. That made it a task to keep him out of trouble at times, but it also meant that he knew more of the world and of life than any ten children his age.” Dumbledore’s voice sank into a whisper. “It came near killing me, when we lost him.”

No wonder, Harry thought, his hand still on the knob, wishing now that he hadn’t asked Dumbledore to tell him about the other Harry. Someone else could have done the same thing, and still made him sound less intimidating. I’m not like him at all. Well, the talents for Defense and Quidditch and being born to oppose Voldemort, maybe, but not anything else. And this is the boy they expect me to replace, the one who should have been here, the one who Draco was in love with and who Ron and Hermione were friends with and who Snape respected. And even Dumbledore, from the sound of it.

I’m just Harry, compared to him.

But the next moment, Harry shook his head and started fighting his way back up from that little depression. Well, if he was “just Harry,” he was still the one who hadn’t committed suicide in despair over Voldemort, or whatever had really happened. He would have to do this Harry’s work, but in a different way.

“Thanks for telling me, sir,” he said brightly, noting that Dumbledore still hadn’t said anything about the way he’d trained that Harry, and slipped out of the room. He would ask someone else where Remus was, and whether this Harry might have been able to inherit the Black fortune from Sirius even though he wasn’t related to him by blood.

And he thought he knew the perfect candidate.

*

“Harry! What did you want to know?”

It was not truly coincidence and not truly conspiracy that had Severus pausing outside the room where Black and—the fourth Potter—sat. He had been following in the boy’s footsteps, but he had not known that he would go here. He leaned against the wall and murmured a Disillusionment Charm, and it fell over him in cold draperies. Severus was not interested in either the row that would follow if Black leaned out and saw him or the conversations that he might be subjected to if other members of the Order of the Phoenix found him.

“What he was really like.”

Severus closed his eyes so that he could concentrate better on the sound of the conversation. He couldn’t see much as it was, leaning against the side of the wall with the door only ajar a few inches. And it was not in looks that the fourth Potter differed from the Harry he had known.

It was in the voice. His voice proclaimed different emotions, went up and down the scale in different ways, if one listened for it. Severus was determined to find out the source of that difference and go to Dumbledore if he could. It was Albus’s notion that the best way to defeat the Dark Lord was to summon different versions of Harry from other worlds. Severus did not believe it would work now, any more than it had worked the other times.

And he would prefer to survive.

“Harry. My godson.” Black sighed, beginning melodramatically as he always did. “I may not be the best person to ask. He said that I didn’t always judge him strictly enough, because I saw too much of his parents in him.”

“What was it like for him to grow up with you?” This Potter’s voice had a plaintive quiver at the back of it that Severus had never heard in his Harry’s voice. But he didn’t yet know what it meant, so he placed it in the center of a silver web in his mind and waited for the other threads to grow.

“Well, I can only tell you what it was like for me.” Black chuckled. “And the answer is: wonderful. He played pranks on me, and I played pranks on him. We had a house-elf for the cleaning and the cooking, which I’m glad of. I was never good at those sorts of things, and I knew that Harry didn’t want to be.”

Severus rolled his eyes. Much as he mourned the lost potential of Harry’s life, he could testify that it would have been better if the boy had learned a bit of the humility that daily chores would have taught him.

“Oh,” Potter said. Severus cocked his head. Harmonics in that word that he could not figure out, and he could not tell if it came in response to the notion of chores or pranks or endless leisure. He placed the gem in his mind—this one he envisioned as purple, where the first had been bright red—and the first web came into being, binding them.

“It was different when he went to Hogwarts, of course,” Black continued. “I didn’t see him every day then, although I could come and visit whenever I wanted. I was part of the Order, and Dumbledore wanted to talk to us from time to time. Everyone who knew anything knew that Ol’ Tom wasn’t dead.”

Severus sneered. It was not the use of the Dark Lord’s name itself that he minded from Black; it was that Black used it without having the power that would enable him to survive his disrespect, as Albus did. If the Dark Lord killed him, then the Order would lose another member.

“But I heard about him all the time,” Black said. “How well he did in his classes, and how he made even people who weren’t in his House respect him.” He paused, and then added, as if perhaps it still troubled him, “I was surprised when he was Sorted into Slytherin, but I made the best of it in the end, because he didn’t let the House confine him. He was more than that.”

Severus, who remembered it rather differently, laughed in silence to himself. Yes, Black had let the boy alone in the end, but not until after numerous Howlers, private and painful conversations, and a few rows with Severus that he didn’t care to think about in detail. That was the real reason the Headmaster had allowed Black to visit so often, rather than his association with the Order; he had demanded it, because he wanted to be sure that his precious godson wasn’t being corrupted.

“How did he make friends with Ron and Hermione?” Potter asked. His voice was subdued. Severus listened intently again, but could tell nothing from those particular words or the tone in which they were spoken, and so let it pass rather than putting it in his web.

“They fought a mountain troll together,” Black said, his voice thick with longing and awe. Severus had long since known that Black was envious of Harry in some ways, and believed that he had achieved more as a first-year, at least in numbers of rules broken, than Black had as a near-adult. “Harry had made friends with Ron on the train, and he wasn’t going to let Houses get in the way, so he kept trying to talk to him. And then they noticed together that Hermione was missing, and…that happened.”

“Oh,” Potter said, in much the same tone as before, but not so suggestive this time. Severus wondered if the boy was beginning to realize how others would view his words, or whether Severus himself had simply sucked the sound dry of the deep meanings. “Were they still friends when he started dating Malfoy?”

“Yes,” Black said, and his voice deepened into a growl. “After I spoke with them and told them the way it was going to be.”

Severus arched his eyebrows. He had never known that, but it made sense. The way he remembered it, Weasley and Granger had come down to breakfast one morning more sullen than ever but willing to speak to Harry again, which was more than they had been for a fortnight. He had hoped that they had grown more adult on their own, or spoken with their parents. This was another debt that he did not want to owe Black.

Why did he start dating Malfoy, Sirius?” Coils of emotion twisted into Potter’s voice that Severus did not like and did not understand. Did the boy hate Malfoy in his own world? That would perhaps make sense because he had been a Gryffindor—although Severus did not believe a world where Harry Potter was in Gryffindor made sense on the face of it—but why hate him more than any other Slytherin?

“Because they were friends, and Malfoy fell in love, and Harry considered it and fell in love back,” Black said. “I was a little disappointed, I’m not going to lie to you. I always hoped that Harry would marry someone like his mum and have lots of children I could spoil. But it looked like he and Malfoy were going to last.”

“Then that’s what I don’t understand, most of all,” Potter burst out, and the position of his voice changed as he rose to his feet and paced back and forth. “Why would he kill himself when he had all his friends and a lover and you raising him? Why?”

Severus felt his nostrils flare. That was the question he had asked, as well, but at least he had the right to ask it.

“I don’t know.” Black’s voice was gentle, and a shuffling announced that he had risen to his feet and embraced Potter the way that he had embraced the last two summoned from their own worlds. They had accepted it without struggle, because they had been raised by Black as well, but from the sound, Potter had stiffened briefly before he burrowed into Black’s embrace. Interesting, Severus thought, and added another jewel to the web, though as yet he didn’t know how it related to the others.

“Did anyone ever try to find out?” Potter persisted. “Why he went to the lake? Why he didn’t tell anyone else?”

Severus felt the prick of his fingernails on his own skin. Had they summoned an imbecile? He did not tell us because he knew that we would have tried to stop him, and he wished to succeed.

“Malfoy has a few theories, I think.” Black’s voice sank. “But there’s nothing I can think of, and nothing I want to think of. I wanted to be alone with my grief.”

Of course you did, Severus thought, and prepared to step back. He thought the conversation over, or at least devoid of interesting material. Now Black and Potter would weep on each other’s shoulders rather than conversing in such a way that Severus could determine Potter’s character.

Instead, though, Potter said something quiet, and came out of the classroom an instant later. He paused in the middle of the corridor, his eyes shut and his arms tense and straight at his sides. Severus watched him closely, but didn’t see his lips moving in hopeless prayer, the way he had rather thought he might.

Then he turned and drew his wand. Severus went still when he saw it. He had glimpsed Potter’s wand before, and he knew it was of holly, the way that the wand of every Potter they had summoned was. But this was elder.

Hominem resero,” Potter intoned.

Severus did not move as the spell found him; he ought not to have been such a fool as to stay there once Potter came out of the room, and this was his punishment. Potter stared hard at him rather than yelling for Black right away, and so Severus dropped the Disillusionment Charm and waited, bored, for the outraged reaction. He had already known that Potter did not like him, probably because of his much-vaunted resemblance to James and his position in Gryffindor House.

Potter’s eyes hardened, but he didn’t yell. Instead, he asked, “Did you listen to the whole thing?”

Severus deplored the non-specificity of Potter’s vocabulary, but he nodded. Once again, there was no point in lying, and he was curious as to what this direct interrogation would tell him about the boy.

“How much of that was true?”

Severus stared at him in silence this time not because he didn’t want to speak, but because he could not. It had never occurred to Harry to distrust what his godfather told him, except for a few times as he grew older and Black said something against the Malfoys or Severus that Harry knew not to be true from direct observation. But this…the second and third Potter had accepted Black’s version of events.

“Well?” Potter asked. “Did the other Harry really kill himself with no indication that he would? Did he have real and deep and uncomplicated friendships with Ron and Hermione? Was he just such a paragon as he’d been made to sound?”

Severus found a comprehensible motive in the tone of those last words. “It does not behoove us to be jealous of the dead, Potter,” he said, a lesson he had learned long and bitter years ago.

Potter shook his head slightly. “If everyone counted on him to save them because he was intelligent and knew a lot, then I can’t do the same thing. I’m not as smart as that.”

Severus wondered what Potter thought to gain by denying his own nature. The native intelligence should be there, though Severus could accept that it would not be as well-trained in someone who had not been Slytherin. And the native arrogance must be, for a scion of James Potter’s House. He waited, therefore, instead of answering, while Potter tapped his wand in his hand and frowned at him.

“That’s too much to ask, isn’t it?” Potter muttered, but now he sounded as if he were talking to himself. “Dumbledore tried to warn me, and I reckon he was right. You’re grieving too much to talk to me.” He nodded at Severus, said, “Fine,” and turned to walk away.

But Severus did not know what he had meant about Albus, and that made him reluctant to allow the boy to leave. He circled in front of Potter instead, and waited. Potter halted, folding his arms close, as if he was reluctant to touch Severus.

“Explain yourself,” Severus said. He had thought about making his voice gentle instead of brusque, but no one else was in the corridor, which meant that no one else was around to watch how he treated the boy. Not that they would be surprised. I thought bringing him—bringing them all—here was a mistake in the first place.

“I asked Dumbledore if I should talk to you because you knew the other Harry best,” Potter said simply. “He said that you would still be grieving and would resent if it I asked you questions. I reckon so, because otherwise, why would you refuse to answer them?” He turned to the side and started edging past Severus.

Severus nearly put out a hand to stop him in any case, so great was his shock. “That is not true,” he said, “and Albus would have known it.”

Potter paused, then shrugged. “Because you talked to the others you kidnapped?” A sharp undercurrent of bitterness there, one Severus had not imagined could exist in someone who shared at least some of Harry’s traits. Severus had been more bitter for the others than they had been for themselves. “Well, no one ever knows how grief works unless they’re in someone’s mind, I think, and I’m no different.”

“Albus can read minds, you idiot boy,” Severus snapped. “He was trying to keep you from seeking me out.”

Potter shook his head. “I don’t think so. Maybe he didn’t want to read yours. You’re an Occlumens, aren’t you, like the one in my world? You could have kept him out. Anyway, if you won’t answer my questions, then you won’t answer my questions.” He was past Severus already, proceeding down the corridors at a steady trot. He was making for the Gryffindor Tower, Severus thought.

“I never said,” Severus murmured, “that I would not answer them.”

Potter paused again, then turned towards him and scrutinized him carefully. Severus looked blandly back. Let the brat believe what he wanted; he had already handed Severus enough food to make several thousand thoughts. A further conversation with him would be enlightening, but was not truly necessary.

“All right,” Potter said finally. “Then can we talk here, or should we go somewhere else?”

“Another place would be acceptable,” Severus said, fully aware that Black might come out and see them here soon enough, or Albus might descend the stairs. He had been preternaturally good in the past about knowing when someone might say something that would dent the morale of his young warriors. “Follow me to my quarters.”

Potter backed away a step, then visibly forced himself to relax. “All right,” he said. “I suppose you wouldn’t want to kill me, anyway, even if you don’t want me here.”

“What was the source of your animosity with my analogue?” Severus asked, as if idly, but his ears had never been pricked so during Potter’s and Black’s conversation.

“I never knew until after he was dead,” Potter said. “I just knew he hated my dad and that he picked on me. But now I know he—you, I s’pose—loved my mum, and that changes things.” He was quiet for a moment, then added, “I still wish he wouldn’t have picked on me during class, though. Especially when I didn’t know anything about the wizarding world the first day, and he should have known that.”

Severus continued to walk, although the walls of his mind were now resonating with questions. Questions he wanted to ask the boy and hear answered, in the same childish voice if necessary.

Nothing about the wizarding world. Nothing at all?

Nothing about his parents. There should have been someone to tell him what great friends Severus and Lily were. McGonagall had told Harry, their Harry, about it long before Severus would have been comfortable enough to raise the subject.

Potter had been in Gryffindor, Severus reminded himself yet again. That was bound to produce changes—in character, in history, in timeline. Perhaps they should be glad that they had managed to bring him across at all; the spell was apt to work with more difficulty between worlds that were more different. If Albus had known about this Potter’s House, Severus doubted he would have targeted him.

But this different?

Severus was not used to that wariness in those bright green eyes. Not anymore. There was Harry, and there were the other two, who had trusted him to speak the truth and guide them in their spells and their battle tactics.

A great weariness descended on him as he realized the track his thoughts were taking. Once again, it would be up to him to correct the mistakes of others.

But this time, his curiosity was enough to subdue, and quiet, the disgust with his inevitable role. He opened his door, and Potter preceded him into his quarters.

Severus discovered, rather to his distant surprise, that he was looking forward to the coming conversation.

Chapter Text


Harry glanced doubtfully around the room that Snape led him into. It was made of stone, of course, and all the furniture was green and silver. He’d expected that, and the bookshelves, too, which were so filled with books that Harry thought Hermione would have started drooling the moment she came in here.

Well, my Hermione would have, anyway.

Harry closed his eyes and tried to will away the pain that was nipping at him. He didn’t have time for it right now. He opened his eyes and made himself concentrate on the room, because at least it wasn’t something that ought to take his mind back to his own world. He’d never been inside Snape’s private quarters there.

So the colors and the bookshelves and the walls were the same as he'd expected, but not everything else. There was no bubbling cauldron in a corner; pride of place went to a fireplace with a large marble mantle with sharp corners that made Harry wince, remembering the similarly sharp corners of Dursley furniture he had nearly banged his head on too many times to count. The chairs had stools in front of them, as though Snape regularly had tired feet. A stack of Potions journals had tilted and slid against the far wall. The first thing Snape did when he noticed Harry looking was to swish his wand and straighten them, but he didn’t say anything snide or defensive.

He was just watching Harry instead, and Harry wondered if he thought he’d learn as much from Harry as Harry expected to learn from him. Harry had to shrug, mentally, when he thought that. He couldn’t give Snape everything he wanted, especially since he didn’t know some of the secrets from his world that Snape would probably expect him to know.

“Tea?” Snape asked.

Harry was so surprised that he nearly tripped over his own feet. He stared at Snape, who stared back. Then Harry shrugged physically. He reckoned that maybe this Snape was used to drinking tea with his own version of Harry, and that would be why he’d offered. Harry should probably drink some before Snape remembered who he really was and changed his mind.

“Sure.”

Snape brought the tea with a tap of his wand on the fireplace mantle, which opened a Floo connection to the kitchens. Harry hovered uncertainly near a deep green armchair until Snape caught his eye and nodded. Harry still cast a subtle charm that would warn him about everything from traps to poking springs, and didn’t sit down until the chair had failed to glow, meaning everything was fine.

He looked around Snape’s rooms again after he sat, but there was nothing else to see, except two closed doors. That reassured Harry, a bit. He had thought for a minute that Snape had no secrets, but all it meant was that he probably didn’t keep them in the main room.

“Potter.”

Snape drew his attention with the single word, said so neutrally that Harry had to look. The Snape he knew could never have kept the hatred out of his voice no matter how he tried. No matter how awful Snape felt about having someone around who replaced the boy he’d known—and maybe liked—at least it was better than hatred.

“I wish to know why you did not believe all that Black was saying.” Snape had his arms folded and hadn’t sat down yet, instead leaning on the mantle. Harry wondered idly why he wasn’t worried about slipping and tearing his sleeve on the sharp corner nearest him. “There is no reason for you to think of him as anything other than your beloved godfather. Even in your world, that must be true. You recognized him at once when you appeared in the cell and saw us.”

“Because I don’t trust anything about this world,” Harry said. “You putting me in a bloody cell when I came to is only one of the reasons.”

Snape’s eyes narrowed. “I would ask that you not use such language around me, but I have more important matters to worry about, and you are not in any real sense a student of this school.” Harry opened his mouth, but could think of nothing to say, because Snape was continuing without a pause. “Still, you should trust Black more than anyone else here. More than Albus. More than me.”

Harry shook his head. “I didn’t know the Sirius in my world very well before he—died.” It was harder to talk about than he’d thought, but then, he’d just seen a version of the man he knew standing in front of him, real and alive and breathing. He had to look away and rub a hand over his eyes for a moment. “I trusted my friends the most. Ron and Hermione,” he added, when Snape looked blandly inquiring.

“And you were not raised by him?” Snape said the words as cautiously as he might touch a loose tooth.

“Right,” Harry said. “Muggles raised me. My aunt and uncle.”

Snape leaned forwards and stared at him from closer. Harry scowled at him and waved a hand between their faces. “Could you not do that? There’s such a thing as personal space.”

Snape frowned at him, but leaned back again and shook his head. “Why would your—why would Dumbledore allow such a thing to happen?”

Harry shrugged. “There wasn’t anyone else. Everyone in my world thought that Sirius had betrayed my parents and wanted to kill me, at least until he actually showed up during my third year at Hogwarts. And I didn’t even know about Lupin.”

“A werewolf is no fit guardian of a child.” Snape said it as though it was just a fact, like the sky being blue, his eyes fixed on the fireplace. A spark there grew into a silver tea service, and he bent down and gathered it before a drop could spill.

“But he would have raised me in the magical world,” Harry said. “Then maybe I could have been—I don’t know. More like your Harry.”

Snape’s gaze snapped back to him. “You are not as different from him as you think,” he said. “You are both touched by the Dark Lord, both apparently destined to die in battle against him.”

Harry snorted. “Yeah, and a big load of good that’s going to do me,” he muttered. “Anyway. You said that you would answer my questions about whether Ron and Hermione were really my—his friends or not, and where Lupin is, and—”

“Hush, child.” Snape placed the teatray on the mantle and began to pour the tea, looking irritated. “You have more questions than the Forest has butterflies in June.”

Harry stared at him. Snape noticed it and looked at him sideways, for a moment with his fingers twitching as if he would pick up his wand. “What is it?”

“Oh, nothing,” Harry said, startled again as he realized exactly why he was staring. “The Snape I knew would have killed himself before he talked that way to me, that’s all.”

Snape said nothing as he prepared the tea. Harry watched closely, but as far as he could tell, Snape didn’t pour any poisons or potions into the tea he settled into the cups. When he turned around again, Harry nodded minutely at him and accepted his cup. It smelled good, and his mouth watered, but he still watched Snape drink before he followed suit.

“I am not the man you knew,” Snape said at last. He still hadn’t sat down. That increased Harry’s worries about all the seats in the room being traps somehow, but he tried to sit there and look as calm and unconcerned as he could. “And I am trying to reconcile myself to knowing that you are not the boy I knew, either. We shall both do better with a few more solid answers to questions.” He leaned forwards. “To answer the first you asked, my version of Potter did have solid friendships with those of other Houses, yes.”

Harry blinked. “And you allowed it?”

“Nothing could tame that child once he had made friends with Draco Malfoy and overcome his awe of the Headmaster,” said Snape dryly. “But yes, I would have discouraged it if I had thought I could get away with it.”

“Why?” Harry shook his head, remembering the Sorting Hat’s song from fifth year. “Isn’t that what we need? Unity between the Houses? People with friends from different Houses would be the right way to start that.”

Snape looked at him as if he had grown a second head that talked in a new and interesting language. “There must have been more bitterness between Slytherins and Gryffindors in your old school,” he said. “While the Headmaster did say many times that the children should make friends from other Houses, it was not judged a first priority. After all, with the exception of Potter, the children wouldn’t be fighting.”

Harry frowned and leaned back in the chair to try and think about that, sipping the tea. But no matter how hard he thought, he could only come to two conclusions.

First, he was still mad as fucking hell that these people had kidnapped him. At least they could have contacted him through a—a dream or something, and asked him if he wanted to come over. Kidnapping him and putting him in a situation that he might not be able to leave was stupid.

Second, other than the fact that his parents had still died and Voldemort was smarter, this universe sounded better in every way than his own. He’d been raised by Sirius, and he’d had friends from all the Houses, and he’d been smart and talented, and Lupin was still alive, and people had trained him, and…

Harry let his thoughts trail off when he realized how intently Snape was studying him, and added a third conclusion to the first two.

This Snape was really weird.

*

Severus had assumed he would understand the boy better once they had exchanged a few words. It was his usual experience of conversation, though he did not engage in much on his own behalf, considering the emotional cost and threadbare gain of such things. And this conversation was primarily a trading of information, coupled, perhaps, with the chance for him to settle his feelings about this particular summoned Potter.

So far, it had not worked. The boy revealed the strangest things and was guarded about others that Severus would have considered public knowledge. He watched Severus as if he were going to poison him, and then went ahead and drank the tea with no more hesitation than that. Someone had never told him about Potions masters being immune to most of their own concoctions, then, or being able to prepare and bottle antidotes.

Someone should have.

Well. Severus could settle that later. He had other questions to ask, and answer, for now.

“You did not have a wizarding education as a young child,” he said. “I assume that someone attended it to later in your life.”

Potter gave him the kind of defiant look that Severus remembered from Harry’s first year, when the child had decided to see how much he could disorder Severus's mind without making him change into the odious beast his guardian Black had warned him against. “Well, yeah. Since I went to Hogwarts.”

“That is not what I meant,” Severus said sharply, and then took a moment to stand still and contemplate the scent of his tea. He would not allow Potter to force him into losing control. There was little that was more humiliating. When he thought that he had spent long enough in silence, he looked up and focused on Potter. “I want to know what you learned about your own background, wizarding cultural traditions, the things that children usually learn. The things that you think you would have learned, if you had spent your childhood in the wizarding world.”

“Nothing.”

Severus did not gape, but only because he had iron control of his jaw muscles. “Why not?”

“Because no one said that I had to know, and I didn’t ask.”

Severus surveyed him again, carefully. That did not resemble the hungry curiosity of the Harry he remembered, which pointed the way to one certain conclusion.

Someone taught him not to ask.

Yet again, Severus had to remind himself that he could not leap to conclusions. Perhaps the boy had been taught, yes, but whether such training had taken was a different question. From the battles that Miss Granger and Albus had seen the boy involved in in his own world, he must sometimes have probed into mysteries educated children would have left alone.

“Anyway,” Potter put in, pushing past manners with an arrogance that reminded Severus forcibly of James for the first time in several minutes, “so we’ve established that I didn’t grow up in a house with a guardian who cared for me like Sirius would have. Your turn to answer a question. Where is Lupin? Is he part of the Order of the Phoenix?”

Severus shook his head, not sure whether he was irritated by the question or by the way that the child focused on Lupin rather than more important factors. “Yes, he is. He is out gathering information at the moment. The Headmaster believes that many werewolves are not loyal to the Dark Lord and are only following him out of fear of some of their more powerful who are joined with him. If Lupin can stir rebellion, the Headmaster thinks he should have the chance of doing so.”

Potter sighed with what sounded like relief—not the reaction Severus would have expected on being told the danger the werewolf was in. It was another jewel to string into the web. Before Severus could add a question of his own, Potter leaned forwards and fixed his gaze on him. It made him look more like Harry than he had yet.

“And Tonks? What about her?”

“Tonks?” Severus frowned, searching his memory. It was a finely-honed instrument, but even he took a moment to recall names he didn’t often get a chance to sharpen it upon.

Memory supplied the image of a painfully clumsy woman a few moments later, and Severus shuddered. “She is an Auror trainee, I believe. Part of the lower circle of the Order of the Phoenix. She believes, with many others, that you have been only one Potter all along, the original one, and that you simply retreated into hiding to heal after your unsuccessful confrontations with the Dark Lord.”

Potter paused. Severus watched him in reluctant fascination, wondering where his mind would fly next. He had nearly forgotten this magpie-like quality to the boy, the darting after one and then another shiny thought. He had trained it out of his own Harry early on, at least when the boy spent time around him and the potions that one must pay attention to if one didn’t wish to end up short a limb.

“What about the rest of the Weasleys?” Potter asked then. “They weren’t here to know that I came from another world, so does that mean that they expect me to act like I was the original Harry all along?” He was staring at the far wall, his hand clenched on his cup as if he had forgotten it existed.

Severus resisted the urge to rescue the cup, and said only, “They are not as trusted as the Weasley that our Harry chose to befriend, no, though they have fought for us and hosted Order meetings. So they will believe the same thing that Trainee Tonks believes.”

Potter’s face struggled with the unknown threat or emotion for a long moment, before he shook his head. “But aside from the fact that I’m lying to them, and that’s wrong,” he said, with the conviction of the childish, “how am I supposed to convince them that I’m who I appear to be? It’s—I’m not good at lying.”

Severus had to muffle a snort, remembering some of the deceptions that Harry had come up with in his time. Of course, perhaps it was true, as Severus had sometimes suspected, that Draco had a hand in the majority of those lies. “The others had no trouble,” he assured Potter. “You can do the same thing.”

Potter scowled at him. “You said they were also in Slytherin,” he said. “Did they trust you the same way? Were they raised by Sirius?”

Exhausting, that was the term that Severus had once associated with the dart and motion of Harry’s thoughts and had forgotten when he managed to urge Harry to tame a few of them. He swallowed his exasperation, both at the question and because he did not see the point the boy was driving at, and then inclined his head. “Yes. We did not talk as—personally as I have talked with you, but those large facts are correct.”

“Then they had practically the same life as him, only the timing of their battles was different.” Potter made a flinging motion. “But I’m from a different world and I have different memories. They’ll want me to—they’ll want me to do certain things and I won’t know how to do them.” He craned his neck around to see Severus again. “Does Dumbledore want me to fuck things up? Was he going to tell me this before he called everyone in and let them stare at me, or what?”

Severus was glad that he stood beside the mantle and had it to brace him, because the urge to take a step back would have been overwhelming otherwise. The child had brought up a point that he had not thought of, and that Severus should have anticipated the moment he grasped the facts of the boy’s different House and upbringing.

He should not have been able to do that, if he were as unintelligent as Severus had thought him.

Things had changed.

*

Harry watched Snape warily, because he almost looked as though he was about to have a breakdown, and Harry wasn't sure what would happen if he did. Perhaps that was something this Snape did all the time, and he had a special potion he had to take or something. Harry knew who would get blamed if he missed a dose.

But Snape recovered a moment later and nodded coolly at Harry. "An excellent question, Mr. Potter."

"Which means that you don't know the answer," Harry translated, unsurprised. He didn't think anyone had ever asked Dumbledore questions here. They just did what he said, or they stared and sulked and then did what he said, the way Snape had after he objected to Harry being here at that first meeting yesterday. "But I don't see why it would matter. I'm here to kill Voldemort, not do anything else. He can just keep me away from the rest of the Weasleys, I reckon."

Snape's stare became very flat after he flinched at Voldemort's name. Harry didn't know why, but then again, he never knew the "why" of anything Snape did, and this man was still that one, even if he didn't have as much reason to hate Harry.

"And you will let him do that?" Snape asked softly.

"Keep me away from the Weasleys? Well, yeah." Harry glanced down at the cup of tea and then set it on the table next to the chair. He might have to move fast, the way Snape was uncoiling. "Unless they have to do some research for the spell that can send me home. Fred and George can help with that, if they're as smart here as they are back in my universe."

Snape moved away from the mantle. Harry kept a sharp eye on him. He had seen people move like that before, and one of them was Uncle Vernon and all the rest were Death Eaters. Snape was stepping high, his shoulders tensed, his wand not raised but dangling there where he could reach it in a second. Harry figured the conversation was over and he should leave before Snape blasted him, as usual.

He stood up, and Snape aimed his wand at him. Harry froze in place, the spells that Evelina had given him to memorize running through his head. What would she say was the best strategy? The door was behind him, and that was probably his first mistake, sitting with his back to the door--

And then Snape shook his head and lowered his wand. That was the first impossible thing. The second was that he said, "Your pardon. I held out my dominant hand to stop you and forgot that you would see it as a threat."

"Well, yeah," Harry said, and glared.

Snape moved a careful step away and kept the wand down. "You have the instincts of a warrior," he murmured. "That was one thing that we never managed to train into Harry. He was clever, but--it was a trickster's cleverness."

"He was smart, I understand, you don't have to keep rubbing it in." Harry edged a step back, feeling better about aiming for the door now that Snape was further away. "But anyway, you've answered some of my questions, and I still have to find a knife for the training that Evelina and I are going tomorrow, so I'll be going now."

"But our conversation is not finished." Snape moved towards him in the edge of his vision, and Harry spun around and raised a Protego before he even thought about it. Snape paused, his head lowered, and seemed to think about it before he murmured, "That is the other part I forgot about the warrior's instincts. The inconvenient one."

"Look, sorry," Harry snapped, and managed to hold down the temptation to expand the Shield Charm and keep expanding it until it had backed Snape into a corner. "Don't sneak up on me like that."

Snape watched him for a minute or so, then shook his head. "These instincts," he said. "Your endurance. Your fearlessness, to name the Dark Lord and keep naming him even after you understand what he did to three other versions of you--"

"I thought you said your Harry killed himself--"

"Killed him by proxy, by his fear." Snape shook his head again. "All that, and paired with this--this ignorance of what may happen if Albus is not open with you. Why do you not care more? Why do you not plan revenge on him? You seem to have accepted the fact that he tried to keep you from talking to me."

Harry sighed. "Because all my anger is focused on being brought here in the first place and expected to win an impossible war. If Dumbledore lies to me about something that could get me killed, that's one thing. But he probably didn't tell me about what the Weasleys expected because he didn't think I would ever meet them. Fine. I can accept that. I'll avoid them if they try to come see me and get the job done, and then I'll go home." Hell, he would have been glad to see his old Snape at that moment, or even receive a detention from Umbridge--well, maybe. As long as there were no blood quills and the promise that he would get to sleep in Gryffindor Tower later.

"These are areas of ignorance that could kill you," Snape said, his voice deepening, Oh, outrage, Harry thought. That's dependable. "You need someone to watch your back."

Harry shrugged. "I don't think Dumbledore will outright try to kill me or get me killed until I defeat Voldemort." That little flinch again. Snape controlled it better than he had the first time, though, Harry would give him credit for that. "And no one here can look at me without seeing the hero who should have saved them the first time around."

"I can."

Harry stared at him, then snorted. "Right. So much so that all you can do is talk about my lack of intelligence in comparison to him." He flipped his hand, and the shield between them disappeared, although he kept one eye on Snape as he headed towards the door. "Use the time you would have spent following me around to think up a more convincing lie."

Snape locked the door before he got there. Harry stood still, then rolled his eyes and turned around again.

"Look," he said. "I'm going to have enough trouble fighting Voldemort. Will you please not make me have to fight you, too?" He tried for anger, but as he'd told Snape, all his anger seemed tied up in his fury at the people who'd brought him here. He didn't have time for splutters of rage at every little thing.

Especially when Snape stared at him searchingly, the way the Snape from his world had looked at the last moment, as though there were answers in the color of Harry's eyes. Harry just waited, keeping his wand at the ready but becoming surer that Snape hadn't locked the door so he could attack him with every moment that passed.

"You said that you needed a knife," Snape said, breaking the silence at last. "I can help you find one."

"I don't need to dice Potions ingredients," Harry explained patiently. "I need to kill people."

Snape frowned. "She is training you in hand-to-hand combat?"

"No, I'm going to use it on myself," Harry said, and then frowned back as he watched Snape flinch, this strange, whole-body movement like he was a shaken rug. "Sorry," he added, because he could spare that much for someone who'd answered some of his questions. "But yeah, of course. She said that I should use magic as much as I could, but if someone came close or took my wand away, I'd have to have some way of defending myself."

Snape nodded, his eyes falling shut. Harry turned to look at the door again. "I've answered more questions for you than you've answered for me," he said. "So could you let me out now?"

"You have not seriously considered my offer yet." Snape loomed behind him, and Harry took a casual step away. At least, he hoped it was casual, but with war and the Dursleys and everything else that this Harry had never had to go through, he feared it wasn't. Still, maybe Snape couldn't read him that well as long as he was looking for the Harry he knew. "Why is that?"

"Because you're one of the people who brought me here," Harry said. "And you like to present yourself as subtle and cunning, but you don't understand that yet. No offense, but why would I benefit from having an ally like you?"

Snape made an aborted gesture with one hand. Harry would have thought it was the beginning of a spell, but his wand was in his other hand. A moment later, he sighed through his teeth and said, "I did not agree with Albus. And I will do what I can to help you survive now that you are here, unless you persist in rejecting all of my help, in which case, to be consistent, you should also reject Evelina's."

"I don't care about being consistent," Harry explained. "I care about surviving and about going home."

Snape took what sounded like a difficult breath. "And I can help you do those things."

"Yeah," Harry said. "But at this point, why would you want to?"

Snape gave him another look Harry was overly familiar with, the you-are-stupid look. Harry relaxed a bit. Having Snape talk to him about being allies and plans to survive was strange, probably dangerous. If Snape acted like he was an inch away from murdering him, well, Harry knew how to dodge that if necessary.

"Because I wish to survive the Dark Lord," Snape said. "Do you think he would spare me for associating with Albus? The time when I might be able to convince him that I was a spy is long since past."

"That's not the only reason," Harry pointed out. "You could stay out of the way and still try to survive instead of training me."

"With my training, you have a stronger chance of surviving, which means that I do."

Harry shook his head. "I don't think that's true, or you would have offered to train me from the first. You didn't. You acted like you would follow me around and spy on my conversations and nothing else, which means that you do think Evelina is competent to train me on her own. So. Why?"

Snape stood there with his fingers twitching. Harry tried a nonverbal locking charm on the door in the meantime, but nothing happened. He sighed. It probably would be a good idea if he could learn from Snape, but he had thought the same thing back in his own world, and it had never happened except by accident, with the Half-Blood Prince's book.

Why should it be different this time? Our worlds are similar in that much.

*

Severus could feel the smooth stretch of anger under his skin. But for the first time in months, he was angry at himself. The last time had been when he thought he should have seen the warning signs of Harry's impending suicide.

This boy was intelligent. And Severus continued to forget that, continued to treat him either like a dunderheaded Gryffindor or exactly like the Harry he had known, expecting the subtle cues of his willingness to make the boy accept him.

His Harry would have smiled slightly at the offer of help and nodded. The other two might have required a bit more persuasion, but they had been hungry for any signs of familiarity and would have latched onto him. This one stared at him with distrustful eyes and forced him into open declarations.

Severus did not want to make those declarations. But he had known for at least three minutes now that one would be necessary, which meant that continuing to avoid them was his fault and his weakness, not Harry's.

And perhaps this Potter could be Harry. It would soothe some of his grief; Severus knew himself well enough to realize that he was no longer as rational as he had been, and that was the grief's fault. Closeness to Harry would suppress and compress some of his impulses, and that would, in turn, render him more effective for battle than he had been of late.

Albus claimed that it would not come down to battle, that Harry would simply defeat the Dark Lord and all would be well. But he had a distressing tendency to forget about the Death Eaters, and Severus had always known that.

"I did not want to train you," he told Harry, who watched him with one leg braced--a stance that could push him quickly into flight towards the door. Severus wondered when he had started his training, and knew it must have been more extensive than the boy had admitted, even if it was not organized as lessons. He had learned these gestures, the defensiveness, the wariness, young.

Shadows brushed Severus's mind, making the jewels of information he had collected glow more brightly. There were many places that Harry could have gathered such instincts. The suspicions massing in the corners of his thoughts had nothing as yet to solidify them.

"What changed your mind?"

It took Severus a moment to dredge up his statement that Harry's question had come in response to. He shook his head slightly. "Watching you. You are--other than I thought you were."

"Well, yeah. I tried to tell you that." The boy was all bristling defensiveness in an instant. Severus was sure that he had never seen his own Harry act so hedgehog-like, and that made the shadows grow thicker, the web stretch to accommodate another jewel. "Not like the Harry you knew, not a Slytherin, not someone who's going to tamely lie down and take orders. That doesn't answer my question."

"No, I suppose not," Severus murmured. "I changed my mind because I do think that you could last, could be stronger, with someone to back you up. Yes, Evelina will teach you well." Severus respected the woman even as he despised her because she did not have enough Potions talent to combine defensive potions with her defensive magic. "But there are spells she does not know, and there are landmines in the ground that she does not see, because she is not familiar with the Order. What?" he added, since Harry's eyes had widened as if the Dark Lord had Apparated in behind Severus.

"You know about landmines?"

Severus rolled his eyes. One trait that seemed constant in Harry across worlds was his tendency to focus on irrelevant tangents and lose control of the conversation. "Yes," he said. "I have spent enough time in the Muggle world to know about them."

"Oh." Harry continued staring at him. Severus held back the remark he wanted to make and continued. They had more important things to worry about than whether Harry picked up on any trace of his Muggle heritage.

"Someone who is familiar with the Order, and who is on your side, could help you immensely."

Harry watched him with one eye, then with the other. He kept brushing his fringe into place across his scar whenever it shifted. A defense against the Dark Lord after being on the run, Severus wondered idly, or a gesture originating from another time, another place?

"But I don't trust you to be on my side," Harry said at last. "No more than anyone else who stole me away to this bloody mental place, anyway."

"Language," Severus murmured, although it did not matter as much as what Harry had just said. "You believe the others want you to fail."

"What you've been saying about them isn't exactly filling me with confidence."

Severus shook his head. At times, distrust had to yield to practical sense. That had been one of the hardest lessons to teach both Draco and Harry, and he was not sure that Harry had learned it before--before the end. "But you cannot succeed alone."

"I have Evelina."

Severus resisted the urge to put his head in his hands. It seemed he would have to pull out more of the secrets coiled in the bottom of his belly. It would have hurt less to remove a portion of his lower intestine; he knew a potion that would allow one to remain calm even through that, which he carried constantly in anticipation of possible capture by the Dark Lord.

"But you would do better with someone who will teach you more than spells," he said.

"I don't have a talent for Potions."

Severus took a long, slow breath that he didn't allow to rattle in his lungs the way it wanted to. "I meant--cunning. Tactics. The history of the world that Albus has not, so far, given you. Relationships between people in the Order. How Harry affected them, whether they put trust in him or the prophecy or something else. How you can use potions brewed by someone else to affect battle--"

"Yeah, fine, I get it." Harry's foot thumped an irregular tattoo on the floor. "But it doesn't mean that I can just--accept it."

"Why not?" Severus asked reasonably. If Harry could see the need for these things, and trusted Severus to provide them, then it seemed strange that he would refuse.

Harry stared at him. Severus looked back. He knew that he did not need to fear Legilimency, and so he took the opportunity to look deeply, studying the color of Harry's gaze, watching the way the skin crinkled at the corners of his eyes, noting the multiple nervous tremors in his cheeks.

"You were my enemy in my own world," Harry whispered. "Until the very end. And now you're mourning someone else, someone who isn't me. I don't think you'd--betray me. Just that you wouldn't fight very hard to help me."

Severus did some more staring. The boy was working out of a logic he didn't know, experiences he couldn't see. He had no doubt that Harry's words made sense in that context. But if he persisted in treating this world like his own private universe, he would die.

And Severus wanted, with a passion that made him wary, not to see that happen.

"Assume that I can help you," he said. "Assume that I want to help you. What happens then? Can you afford to disdain this help?"

"Yes," Harry said. "When it would make the difference between living and dying."

"It would," Severus said, unable to help the growl that slipped into his voice, "but only if you did disdain it."

Harry shook his head slowly. "Sorry. I just can't get over the impression that you would sooner stab me in the back than help me."

Severus shook his head back. "Why did my counterpart hate you so much?"

"For getting him killed," Harry said smartly.

"You are lying," Severus said, and did his best to meet the boy's eyes fearlessly. He reminded himself again that Gryffindors respected courage, and that none of the versions of Harry he had met had shown a talent for Legilimency, except under his tutelage. "Why? This is not productive. Tell me why you cannot trust me."

Harry stood there, under so much tension that Severus could see it make him vibrate like a harpstring. He bit back a sigh. He had already known that he would have to have more patience than usual for this particular Harry, but he had not known that it would be this much.

"He hated me for being my father's son," Harry said. "For being my mother's son. For having to run around after me at school, defending me from threats that I suspected half the time were coming from him. For snapping back at him in Potions and refusing to be intimidated by him in detentions. Because I cost him things I didn't even know I cost him at the time. All those. You must hate me for at least the first two, along with hating me for not being your version. How in the world can I trust you?"

Severus took a deep, steady breath and held it. He was thinking, though he would not voice aloud, that it said a very great deal about Harry Potter that he assumed the first response by anyone to him would be hatred.

Of course, perhaps the Dark Lord had given him that example, and taught him to apply it to other things in his life. Severus would not be surprised if that was the case, along with whatever he had learned from being raised in the Muggle world instead of in the wizarding one, where he belonged.

"You can trust me," Severus said, "because I do not have the reasons in the middle of your list for hating you, you are the fourth Harry I have known in the past six months and so any hatred I felt because of that is long since exhausted, and I overcame my hatred for your parents in the first two years of knowing Harry."

Harry said nothing. He had one hand on his wand, and the other angled towards the door. Severus wondered if he noticed or understood half his defensive instincts.

He wouldn't earn Harry's friendship right now by pointing them out, however. He remained still, his hands clasped in front of him, which surely not even Harry could mistake for a threatening gesture.

"Let's say I believe you," Harry said. "Let's say that you can teach me things that Evelina can't. What's going to happen with the Order? If Dumbledore didn't want me to talk to you, I can't imagine he'll be happy when you back me up like this."

Severus let his eyelids fall half-shut so Harry wouldn't see how pleased he was by the consideration for him. Of course, it probably helped that Harry already thought of most of the rest of the Order as enemies.

"More than anything else, Albus wants the Dark Lord dead," he answered easily. "He will not like that I am training you, no. On the other hand, he is also likely to see it as a continuation of the relationships that I managed to maintain with--the other versions of you. He will then think of you as the same as the others, perhaps more obedient than they were. You should do all you can to strengthen that impression," he added, as Harry looked mulish. "And if that results in the Dark Lord dying, then he will have nothing to complain about."

"Are you going to help research the spell that will get me home?"

Severus inclined his head slowly. "Of course. I consider it a condition of our alliance."

He saw Harry relax the moment he said the word. He seemed better off if he could think of this as something less personal.

In some ways, Severus decided, he has his own Slytherin traits, despite the Gryffindor that runs so strong in him.

"All right," Harry said finally. "I'm willing to try. I--don't know if it'll work." His eyes flashed distrust at Severus again. "But I'll try."

"As will I," Severus said, and made a silent vow to himself, as strong as any chains that Albus had tried to use to bind him.

This time, I will not let him die.

Chapter Text


"This should suit you admirably."

Harry controlled the impulse to duck when he saw Snape coming at him with a knife. He was just holding it, not acting as if he would stab Harry or cut bits of him off for Potions ingredients. And it was a nice knife, Harry had to admit, with a solid black hilt and a long iron blade. He didn't know if it was exactly the kind of knife that Evelina had told him to get for killing practice, but it didn't look as if it had been made for dicing flobberworms and nothing else.

"Er," he said, and took the knife from Snape, wincing as it dragged at his wrist. It was much heavier than it had looked. "Thank you, sir."

"You're welcome." Snape stepped back from him, his eyes opaque as he watched Harry. Harry wondered if he was reconsidering his offer of alliance. Harry could see why he might want to. Snape, even this Snape, wasn't someone who gave things away for free, and Harry didn't have much to offer him in return. Ridding the world of Voldemort was something he might or might not be able to do. Snape didn't seem like a person to bet on anything but a sure thing, especially since the other versions of Harry had failed.

But Harry could do nothing except watch for betrayal and act on it if he saw it. He just needed the help, and especially the history of the world that Snape had promised him, too much.

He tucked the knife awkwardly down at his side--the wand felt a lot more natural, and couldn't cut him, besides--and nodded at Snape. "What are the most important things I need to know?"

"The way you acted in Slytherin," Snape said softly. "You managed to make friends in other Houses. Unusual for a Slytherin, but on the other hand, you had fame and the hope of victory on your side."

"Could you stop calling me by his name?" Harry demanded. "Call him the other Harry, or call him Harry and me Potter."

"I did not call you by his name." Snape's eyes were more opaque than ever now. If he leaned close enough, Harry thought, he might see his own reflection in them, as if they were made of ice.

"You acted as though I was the one who was here and fighting Voldemort at the time," Harry said. "At least use the word he."

For a moment, the silence between them paused and lengthened, and Harry was sure that Snape would refuse, simply to test him further. But Snape nodded at last and said, "Yes, I can see your reasons for requesting such a thing."

"Are you going to do it?" Harry demanded.

"Such a small thing? Of course." Snape shrugged and continued before Harry could ask whether he was being sarcastic or not. Perhaps he thought Harry should be able to tell he was being sarcastic. "He made friends in Gryffindor who wanted to follow his fame or thought the significance of the war enough to overcome their prejudices against Slytherins. He made friends among the Ravenclaws because he did have academic interests in certain subjects. His Hufflepuff friends followed him because he was kind to them."

"What about his own House?" Harry asked. "I mean, I know Draco was his--boyfriend." That was still weird to think about. "But how many of them really were his friends, and how many followed him because it was convenient, and how many of them were his enemies?"

"I cannot answer that question," Snape said. "Or I would have sought among them first for answers to his death. But Draco knew nothing, and many of the rest of his yearmates remained on friendly but wary terms with him. Terms of mutual benefit, much like the ones we have forged."

Harry nodded. He reckoned he shouldn't have expected more of Snape than that. "You couldn't investigate them closely because you were their teacher?"

"Among other reasons," Snape said. "You should know also that we have fought several inconclusive battles with the Dark Lord."

Harry took a long, slow breath. It was strange to think about that, because the Voldemort in his world had favored attacks on Muggles and taking over institutions and casting Imperius on people, and there'd been few big attacks until the final battle at Hogwarts. Well, after all the differences that he'd had to get used to, this one shouldn't be that hard. "What was the most recent one?"

"He flung several Death Eaters disguised as children at the wards," Snape said calmly. "He thought that we would think of them as Hogwarts students in danger, and come to investigate. He did not count enough on the professors' familiarity with those they have taught. We know students not only by their performance in the classroom, but by facial expression and magical signature. We did not open the wards. One of the Death Eaters damaged them enough to wear a hole through--that was Lalla Parkinson, Pansy Parkinson's aunt--but we killed her."

Harry licked his lips. He would have to get used to fighting people who looked like children, then. This Voldemort was more cruel than the one in his world as well as smarter and less insane. On the other hand, maybe that Voldemort had relied more on turning children already in Hogwarts into Death Eaters.

"Who killed her?" he asked. If it was one of the Harrys, then he would have to pretend to know about it.

"I did."

Harry blinked. That hadn't been at all apparent when Snape was talking about it, but then again--

Then again, Harry thought, his anger at being kidnapped stirring to life again, that could be a good thing. If he had someone at his back who was dark and ruthless and didn't much care what he had to do to the enemy, that meant Snape could train him better. And it was better than the rest of the Order of the Phoenix, who didn't much care what they had to do to him.

That's another reason I want to succeed here. So they can stop dragging different versions of me out of their own universes, where they should have been happy.

"Okay," he said. "What about the battle before that?"

*

Can he bear the details?

But even as he asked the question of himself, Severus knew the answer. He had wondered if hearing details about the battles was one reason the Harry he knew had committed suicide, spilled his blood in echo of the spilled blood he had heard about. The other two had learned less than they should have, and been unprepared for some of the Dark Lord's tricks when they went up against him.

This one would learn, and listen, and demand more. Severus consciously expanded his mental web in a new direction--he did not know whether the boy's willingness to listen came from his desire to survive, his longing to protect others, or a taste for strategy, and he would need to--and continued answering Harry's questions.

"The battle before that, he confronted us on open ground," he said, "and cast a wide-ranging Cruciatus."

Harry frowned. "He cast it on more than one person at once?"

Severus nodded. "In a manner of speaking. When he cast it on Professor McGonagall, others around her began to suffer the same bursts of pain and convulsions that came in time with hers. Then on Lucius Malfoy, and the same thing happened. And then again on Ron Weasley." He saw a shadow drift across Harry's face, and suspected that it had to do with Weasley fighting and suffering that. But he had not suffered anything that he had not survived, so Severus continued speaking. "We found out that he was using the wand cores. There are undoubtedly advantages for Ollivander in using only three elements for cores, but the Dark Lord has learned the power of sympathetic magic. The unicorn hair in one wand can be made to resonate with the unicorn hairs in others, and likewise with phoenix feathers and dragon heartstring." Severus felt himself smile, though he doubted that many people would have recognized the expression. He wondered if Harry did. He didn't try to flee, at least, so that might be a good sign. "As most of the adult and adolescent wizards in Britain have wands made by Ollivander, there were few of them left out of his spell."

"But you were."

Perhaps I shall have to give more credit to his observational ability than I have so far. Severus studied the boy, holding a neutral expression in place like a mask. "What makes you say so?"

"Because you don't sound as though you include yourself in the group of victims." Harry hunched forwards on the couch. Among the other lessons must come ones in posture. "And you look--contemptuous when talking about their wands. You wouldn't sound that way if you were caught up in the trick. You would be more impressed with him for thinking of it."

Perhaps not observational ability in general, but I must not forget that this boy knew someone like me, and has a commitment to understanding everything that relates to the war. "You are correct. I escaped, and I was the one to learn the counter to the spell and release most of them from it. I could not release the three primaries used as triggers for the others, but Albus managed that much."

Harry sneered. Judging from the tone of his voice, he wasn't aware of the gesture. "What did you do?"

"I had altered the dragon heartstring in my wand long ago, strengthening it so that it might stand a chance of holding my wand halves together if they cracked." Severus held his wand out towards the boy, making sure that the deadly end pointed towards himself. "You may touch it," he added, when Harry hesitated. It was perhaps caution rather than instinctive good manners, but Severus appreciated it nonetheless. He had had so little to appreciate lately.

Harry let his hand rest on the wand and snatched it back almost at once, frowning. "It feels weird."

Severus paused, and then converted the pause into a smooth pulling back of the wand to rest against his side. "That is the first time that anyone has said so," he murmured in a calm voice that was meant to encourage the boy, instead of sending him scurrying back behind his barriers the way disapproval would make him do. "What do you mean?"

"It felt like there was energy that shouldn't be there," the boy said, and tried to scrub his hand on his jumper without Severus noticing. He noticed him noticing, of course, and lifted his chin defiantly. Focused observational ability for me only. This may make it harder to convince him that I am not my counterpart. "It was like I was touching a live wire." He paused, studying Severus.

Severus nodded. "I know what you refer to."

Reassured, the boy continued. "And--I've never felt energy like that when I was touching someone else's wand. I don't think it's supposed to be there."

"Hmm," Severus said, and wondered whether he should voice his conclusions. He decided in the end that he would. Silence had only encouraged Harry in his distrustful behavior. "I have heard of such things from those who have split their loyalty between two different wands, when their original wands were restored to them after an accident or after they were lost for a time."

There was no reason for those words to make Harry's face drain of color, but they did. He swallowed and shook his head. "I--did that," he said. "I was using Draco Malfoy's wand, his wand in my world, to battle Voldemort for a while, because my holly wand was snapped." He let his hand rest defensively on the holly wand as he spoke.

Severus noted the way his eyes darted to the right and his skin flushed lightly near the base of the neck. A lie.

But pressing now would gain him less than nothing, so he kept his voice to a conversational mildness as he said, "Indeed. Well, we cannot count on that to keep you safe from the Dark Lord if he tries the wand trick a second time. What is your core?"

"Phoenix feather," Harry said. "I wonder--I don't know, will it be useless against him? Mine was in my world because his wand had a phoenix feather core from the same bird. And they locked against each other."

"Priori Incantatem," Severus finished with the loudest hiss he would permit himself at the moment. "I do not know. The Harry from this world never entered direct wand-to-wand battle against him. It did not happen with the others, but that could be due to a difference in wands, in worlds, or in cores."

"Or in something else," Harry finished, looking both gloomy and unsurprised. "Maybe he killed them in indirect ways."

Severus nodded. He had seen the body of the Harry who was tortured to death. That was not something he would tell this Harry, not because he didn't need to know it for the war, but because no one needed to know it. "Exactly. That is why it is important that you absorb this information and use it to survive."

"And protect." Harry stiffened and shot him a haughty look, as if he thought Severus had changed his allegiance sometime in the last five minutes. "I know that, you don't need to rub it in."

"I did not seek to rub it in, as you said," Severus said. "If I had, you would know it."

It took long minutes, but Harry relaxed enough to give him a cautious smile, at last. Severus inclined his head back and turned to attend to the teacups they had left sitting out, giving Harry a minute to realize that not everyone who spoke to him was his enemy.

Though he will have few enough who are not, in this world. Even Black did not do all he could have to save the others when he realized that they were not the boy who left.

"You haven't finished telling me everything yet."

Harry's voice was strong again. Severus checked that all traces of tea had vanished from the mantle, and then nodded and turned around again. "I cannot tell you everything even if I wished to. I was not there for some of it, and I would not trust the words of those who are as biased as the Order sometimes are. But this is what I know..."

*

Harry leaned on the stone wall outside Snape's quarters and sighed. What Snape had told him was a lot to take in. And every detail he revealed made Voldemort seem more powerful and cleverer than he already was.

Harry had almost opened his mouth several times during the conversation and said that he was rejecting Snape's offer to train him, that he was going to reject everything but a spell that would take him home. If anyone could make such a spell work on his own, and do the necessary research without help, it was Snape. He might even be able to trick Hermione into helping.

But then Snape would say something about the other Hogwarts students, or the people in Diagon Alley who had been surprised and horrified by the sudden appearance of the Death Eaters in the middle of them who had started using spells that turned people to stone. And Harry shut his mouth each time.

He wasn't doing this for the Order. He was doing it for himself, and for the people whose lives would suck if Voldemort won. Dumbledore would use those innocent victims against him if he wasn't careful, Harry knew that. But it didn't change the fact that they existed, and in all their humbleness and ignorance, needed someone to depend on for protection.

Because the Order sure as fuck wasn't going to provide it.

"Harry!"

Harry looked up, blinking. Ron and Hermione had run around the corner, and now halted not far from him, standing cautiously together as if they assumed that he would strike out at unfamiliar noises and sounds. Well, Harry had probably given them that impression so far, so it was fair.

And just when Harry might have smiled at them and welcomed them simply because they looked so much like the friends he missed, Snape's words rang in his head. They will use you if they can. To them, you are a tool. They learned to see every other Potter who came to this world that way, because they would not be able to live with themselves otherwise. To them, the only real Harry is the first one who died.

So Harry contented himself with a cool little nod and a faint smile. "You lot," he said. "What's going on?"

"We wanted to speak to you alone." Hermione stepped closer to him, her eyes darting around in that familiar motion Harry knew so well, to check for eavesdroppers. For a moment, he was glad she had that scar on her cheek, so he wouldn't be tempted to fall at her feet and ask for help.

"That sounds sufficiently ominous."

Ron scowled at him, but it was a moderate scowl. This Ron had better control over his temper than the one he knew, Harry thought. "We don't mean to hurt you."

"Stuffing me in a cell and yanking me away from my world doesn't count?" Harry knew his voice was rising, and he couldn't help it. In fact, that was a good thing. Blow off some of the anger, as Snape would say, release it where it couldn't cause any damage. Ron and Hermione might be part of the Order and helping to research the spell that would send him home, but Harry doubted that they would play a huge part in that. And they were his age. They weren't as full of the subtlety and cleverness and strange differences that Sirius and Dumbledore and even Snape seemed to be. They couldn't be.

"You know why we did that." Hermione's eyes were steady and grim. Behind her, Ron cast spells that ought to silence their conversation from anyone else who wanted to listen in. "But now that you've agreed to help us, it's a different story."

"Did the other people you killed not agree to help you fast enough?" Harry folded his arms. "Or did they just never insist on returning to their worlds, so you didn't feel obligated to help them?"

"It's not like that," Hermione said, and pushed her hair out of her eyes with a gesture that Harry didn't remember. That probably meant it was native to her in this world instead of his. "Harry, it's like--it's as if you knew that the only way you could escape a hostile room was to shoot someone dead. You don't want to do it, because that person has never done anything to you personally, but they've been left as a guard by your enemies, and that means they'll try to prevent you from escaping."

"Nice analogy," Harry said. "Except for one thing. None of us had done anything to you. You just snatched us from other universes and insisted that we serve you."

"None of the others protested this much," Ron murmured. Harry couldn't be sure whether he'd meant for Harry to hear, but on the other hand, he didn't much care if Ron had or not; he responded anyway.

"Of course not. Why would they? Their worlds were more similar to yours, and they probably didn't ask as many questions. And they didn't have people acting like their being in a different House was wrong, because they were in the same House as the Harry you knew."

"We're interested in what caused the universes to diverge," Hermione said, apparently deciding that she should play peacemaker. "That doesn't mean that we feel that you're a lesser champion."

"Then why the looks of contempt and doubt?" Harry countered. "If anyone has the right to doubt someone around here, it's me. I never asked for this. But you became part of the Order and entered the war of your own free will."

"It was about free will for us," Hermione said, and there was a confident shine to her eyes that Harry knew meant he'd stumbled across an argument that she already had a counterargument for. "But for you, it was always about fate and destiny. You were brought into this by the prophecy, and that's the case with all the other universes that we looked at, including the ones where you lost or did something even worse."

"Like died, you mean," Harry drawled. He wondered if he should conceal his fury that they thought death was something horrible the other Harrys had done, instead of suffered, and then decided, why the hell should he?

Hermione took a cautious step back from him. "I mean...in some of them you joined Voldemort," she said. "The man who killed your parents. We could never tell what you were thinking."

Harry smiled grimly at her. "Maybe they had friends like the ones that you're proving yourself to me."

"That's unfair," Ron said in a shocked and grieved tone, as though the original Harry had never done anything like that to them. "We're only trying to save your life, and with you, send you home."

Harry shook his head. He could already taste ashes in his mouth, and he'd barely spoken with them five minutes. "Do you know how stupid and ridiculous all this sounds to me?" he asked. "You've proved that other universes than the one I know exist, but you sound as though you think yours is the only real one. You're so special and wonderful that you can kidnap other worlds' champions and sacrifice them without thinking about it. And you get all indignant when someone questions your right to do that. You remind me of my cousin Dudley."

"Who?"

The look on Ron's face made Harry pull up sharply. These friends of "his" didn't know who the Dursleys were, he reminded himself, but they might search through the available clues and come up with something not so far from the truth if he told them too much. He snorted. "Muggle I met a few times. He mostly impressed me with his selfishness and his conviction that the sun orbited his head."

"We're not like that," Ron protested. Predictably. Harry was beginning to wonder how his other self had put up with these idiots. Maybe they'd been different around him. The only real alternative was to think that the other Harry was an idiot.

"But you act like that," Harry said. "If you talk like you're stupid and act like you're stupid and make claims that are stupid, then I'm going to treat you as if you're stupid, even though you might not really be. All I have is what you show me."

Ron started to say something, but Hermione put up a hand and laid it on his arm. Her eyes were wise and steady as she looked at Harry.

"Maybe he's right, Ron," she said. "He doesn't have any reason to trust us, and he has no one to cling to here, like the others clung to Snape and Draco."

If you only knew, Harry thought, while he worked to put a revolted expression on his face, the way they would expect a true Gryffindor to react to mentions of Snape and Malfoy. "Ugh. Really?"

"Of course. They were familiar with them from their own worlds." Hermione looked him over slowly, in a sideways manner, starting with his shoes and then working up and across his shirt and arms to his face. "So we need to find someone you're comfortable with and would know from your world, someone you can trust."

Harry rolled his eyes. "Good luck, since you two aren't actually fitting the role."

"What was it like, for you to be in Gryffindor?" Ron's face was wistful. "I sometimes wished our Harry was, but then that seemed disloyal, because he was perfect just the way he was."

Harry fought back a shudder. That's another reason to avoid an early death. They'll martyr you if they can, and you'll be a bother to anyone sensible who comes after you.

"We were best friends," he said. "But we fought a lot, too."

Ron snorted. "It was hard to fight with Harry. He'd give you this pleading look, or this sly look, or this joke, and he'd make you laugh. And then the fight was forgotten as though it had never happened."

"Right, right," Harry said. "I think I'm starting to understand how Snape felt in my world, hearing all about the wonders of Saint Potter." Anything he could say to throw them off the suspicion that he was working with Snape should be said, he decided. It was a little sad that he had to plot against people who looked so much like his best friends, but then, they weren't, just like he wasn't theirs. "If he had so much to praise, why did he kill himself, then?"

Ron started to take a step forwards, fists clenched, but Hermione leaned back against him as though he was a wall and stopped him. "Because he feared," she said coolly. "It was understandable, when he had to face an enemy so strong."

"And yet, it isn't logical for the ones you kidnap to be afraid?" Harry shook his head. "I don't understand you. Or rather, I do, but it's just like I said. You have that impression that the universes revolve around you going on."

"Fear all you like." Hermione seemed as if she would be immovable now, standing in front of him with no expression and her arms folded. "Just fight for us."

"I already said that I would," Harry muttered. He looked up and down the corridor, hoping someone would come along to interrupt, but no one appeared. He wondered how many people were actually in Hogwarts at the moment. If it was only the Order, he was amazed that he had seen as many of them as he had. "As long as you work on the ritual, or spell, or potion, that's going to send me home."

"You don't even know which one it should be," Hermione said in contempt. "And yet you're sure that it exists?"

"I'm sure that you should make every effort to make it exist," Harry said. "What happened to your face?"

Hermione blinked. Harry was glad to see a small crack in the facade of her immobility. "I don't know what you mean," she said. "I'm sure that I look the same as my counterpart in your world."

"That enormous, disfiguring scar," Harry said helpfully. He knew he should probably be more polite to someone who was going to help send him home, but with all her lectures and her holier-than-thou responses, he didn't know how much she would help. "My Hermione didn't have that."

She just had courage, and intelligence, and all the other things you need to fight a war. Harry swallowed. I wish she was here. She would organize the shit out of this war effort and show that there's no reason for people to despair of getting us back to our own world.

"It was Nagini," Ron cut in, before Hermione could say anything. Then again, given the way she'd turned away and bowed her head, Harry reckoned that she wouldn't have. "She bit Hermione. And Hermione was responsible for the spell that killed her. You could be a little more respectful."

Harry shrugged. "In my world, Neville cut Nagini's head off with the Sword of Gryffindor. I'm a little surprised that it didn't happen here."

"Neville?" Ron gaped at him. "Neville Longbottom?"

Harry nodded, enjoying Ron's surprise. Maybe he should find Neville and ask him if he wanted to be allies against all the people who didn't know how strong they could be. "I think he probably only did it because he was the leader of the resistance here at Hogwarts during our seventh year, when the war really hit," he said. "But he got braver and stronger, and he was the one who did that. He pulled the Sword out of the Sorting Hat, the same way that I did in second year, because he's a true Gryffindor."

"You didn't pull the Sword out of the Sorting Hat!" Hermione objected, whipping around. Apparently she couldn't resist the lure of a factual mistake, Harry thought dryly, or what she thought was one. "You used a spell that turned the basilisk fang into a sword, and killed the basilisk that way."

Harry blinked, then shrugged. "You mean, the Harry you know did that," he said. "Not me. Since it's so important that we be separated."

Hermione looked at him, unimpressed. "You should know the things you did in the past if you want to fool people who'll think of you as the original Harry," she said.

"I can find someone else to explain them to me, thanks all the same," Harry said, thinking of Snape. They hadn't discussed the ways that the other Harry had saved Hogwarts in the past, because the immediate details of the war and Voldemort's actions were more important, but he thought the man wouldn't mind explaining them to him.

For whatever weird reason.

"What are you lot doing here?"

Harry turned his head sharply. Someone had managed to sneak up on him without his noticing. He didn't like that. He hoped that it wouldn't become a habit not to notice.

Malfoy stood a few steps away, frowning at them. He looked stronger than he had when Harry had first seen him through the bars of the cell, though that might have been because he'd had some time to get used to the appearance of another Harry. He held his wand nervously between both hands, and after a single glance at Harry, he turned his head away and stepped menacingly towards Ron and Hermione.

"What are you doing to him?" he demanded. "We're all supposed to meet up in the Sunshine Room for a strategy discussion."

"Dumbledore didn't tell us that," Hermione retorted. Any trace of vulnerability was hidden away again. Harry reckoned she might make a pretty good warrior, at that. He just wished it was a good warrior who hadn't snatched him away from his fucking universe. "And he would have told us before he told you."

"Unless I was the one he saw first." Malfoy gave her a smile that Harry recognized. The one in his world did it all the time, too, in a way that seemed to squirm under Harry's best defenses and aim straight for his heart. He managed to keep his teeth from grinding, but it was an effort. "You know that our esteemed leader is more for the practicalities than the morals." His eyes darted sideways to Harry for the briefest instant, and Harry decided that his own paranoia since he got here could be a good thing. It meant that he noticed things like Malfoy wanting him to notice that particular statement.

Hermione was too involved in her own passionate argument to notice anything else at the moment, Harry thought. She bent forwards as if into a wind to hiss at Malfoy, although she also left a good six feet of space between them. "Harry would be ashamed of you."

Malfoy went pale, but said, with an elaborate shrug, "Which one? The one we all mourn? The other two we stole? The one standing here, who's our current champion and our only real hope of getting out of this mess?" He gestured grandly at Harry.

All right, I get it, Harry thought. You want an alliance with me. He wasn't entirely sure that Malfoy would want him to go back to his own universe, though, which meant the alliance was an uneasy one at best.

So what do you want in return for helping me out a little?

Hermione started to speak again, but Ron touched her on the shoulder and whispered something into her ear. Her lips tightened, she nodded, and she stomped past them, on her way to the Sunshine Room, wherever that was. Ron followed, though with a lingering, graver glance at Malfoy and Harry that made Harry think he suspected something.

Well, he's just fitting in with the rest of us, then.

Malfoy leaned on the wall until Ron and Hermione disappeared around the corner. Harry glanced sideways. "Did you make up the meeting?" he asked.

Malfoy's face flashed with a sudden grin. "No, but that would have been brilliant, wouldn't it?" he asked wistfully. He sighed, then said, "I want your help investigating Harry's murder. I really think he was killed, he didn't commit suicide, and that there's a traitor in the Order."

"Oh," Harry said, faintly, a minute later, when he thought he could pick up the scrambled pieces of his brain. "So you're not always subtle."

"I can't be." Malfoy's eyes were fervent with brightness that reminded Harry of the way the eyes of the dragon in Gringotts had looked. "The more time passes since he died, the worse it gets. And the less likely we are to find any clues. I think we need--I need--I need your help, Potter." He glanced down at the floor and swallowed.

"And what do I get in return?" Harry asked.

"A second, private research effort," Malfoy said. "There are some old books my mother owned, and that I have now. You could look into them and learn more about ways to return to your universe. It'd be something you could control."

Harry hesitated a second. He really didn't think that he should trust anyone here other than Snape--

And that's a sentence you never thought you would speak, isn't it?

But on the other hand, this didn't sound like anything that would interfere with Snape's training. And he could use Snape and Malfoy as a check on each other. If one of them told him something about the past, he could bring it up in conversation and see if the other one agreed with it.

Harry grimaced as he thought about that. I hate acting so much like a Slytherin.

But since he was in a world where he had been, or someone like him had been, and Voldemort was sane, he knew that he'd probably have to if he was going to survive. He'd watch for something better to come along, though. He might have to act a little like he was a Slytherin, but on the other hand, that was how his enemies here expected him to act. His House affiliation with Gryffindor had disturbed and confused them, so he should use it as a weapon.

And that's more of me doing the same thing.

"I agree," he said. "Come on, so we're not late, and you tell me why you think it was a murder."

Malfoy's hungry smile was a little less disturbing than the way his eyes had shone the minute before. "I promise you won't regret it," he said.

Then his eyes got disturbing again, and Harry did have to look away.

*

Severus stood in the door of the version of the Room of Requirement that Albus had insisted on naming the Sunshine Room, and let those who wanted to think him a creature of darkness intimidated by the light in front of him be damned. He wanted to see where others sat, how they stood and how they gestured, before he stepped into a landscape sure to be volatile.

The room was filled with skylights that let in enchanted light appearing from above, mirrors that bounced and amplified the light, magical lamps that mimicked sunshine, the soft glow of torches enchanted to resemble stars, and the mosaic of a waxing and waning moon. Severus usually chose a corner where the shade of the enormous mirrors would somewhat protect his eyes. Albus had tried to design a room where there would be no shadows left, but as usual, he had failed.

As he did with banishing them from our world.

The eight chairs arrayed in a half-circle before the ninth made it clear what Albus thought the relative status of the meeting's participants should be. The Weasley boy and the Granger girl had already chosen their usual places, at either end of the row, as if to keep watch on those in between. Black was talking earnestly with Albus in front of the row, gesturing up and down with his hands. Severus snorted. That would be the outline of another extravagant plan to prank the Dark Lord.

Black does not understand that the war has grown far beyond the precious Marauders' tricks that he once thought so valuable.

Lucius stood behind the row, a small smile on his face, speaking with Minerva. Well, speaking at her, in reality. She grunted to him on occasion, but she watched the door more often, and Severus could read the truth in the faint pinch of her mouth. She had considered herself responsible for Harry in the past in the same way that she would be for any student, but the revelation that this one was Gryffindor would have struck her hard. Severus hoped that their future plans did not have to evolve around the old cat's maternal instincts.

Draco and Harry were not yet present, but Severus felt the subtle presence of familiar magic at his back just then, and smoothly stepped aside from the door. Draco ducked in, giving him a single shining grin before he scampered to a random chair in the row. Harry came in more slowly.

"What has changed between you?" Severus said in a low tone, the bored expression on his face so practiced that he doubted most would notice the movement of his lips. Albus, the truly dangerous one who might, could not see past Black's waving arms. "Draco does not look as he does by accident."

"He offered to give me information and I'm going to help him investigate the death," Harry said, in a soft rush, and pushed past Severus, with a sneer that stirred memories Severus had not accessed in a long time.

Severus half-shook his head and held down the memories on their short chains. Ironic, if I allowed a hatred of James's appearance in the boy to grow now.

He drifted after Harry in the direction of the chairs, making sure to keep his nose turned up and his steps slow, as though reluctant to close the distance between him and the boy. Albus was watching now. Severus raised an eyebrow at him and studied Draco again, who had settled down and was sitting demurely with his hands clasped in front of him, but still smiled too widely at Harry.

To have this kind of relationship between them...I do not like it. There is too much chance that Draco will take it the wrong way.

Of course, Severus was not immediately worried that others would notice. The tentative alliance Granger and Weasley had built with Draco was falling apart now that they did not have their Harry to bind them together. Black and Minerva had never seen a reason to pay too much attention to Draco. Lucius would likely be pleased that his son was getting close to this version of Harry as well; Severus knew from certain hints Lucius had dropped that he looked forward to one of the versions of Harry surviving and electing to stay in their world and take the other one's place in all important ways. Reasonable, from a certain point of view. Until Harry, this time, had demanded that they research a way for him to return home, no one had thought such a thing possible.

Albus was the dangerous one, and Severus fully intended to distract him.

"Headmaster," he murmured when he saw that Albus was looking expectantly at him. Black straightened up and glared, which Severus ignored. There were more interesting things afoot than another squabble with the mutt. "I must speak to you about strengthening the wards. The Dark Lord made another test of them this morning."

Albus's eyes briefly flared. He was formidable still, Severus thought, and he did not intend to underestimate him. Another thing I will have to teach Harry not to do. "I did not feel him."

And that means that it cannot have happened, correct? As abuse you do not see does not happen. Severus chained and collared that old bitterness, too, and inclined his head. "I saw the signs this morning. The scorch marks on the grass, the cracks in the outer walls, the--"

"How can you be sure that those are not from the assault by the Death Eaters?" Albus demanded.

"I cast a potion on those marks that made them begin to green again," Severus said. "These are fresh, and black."

"I do not know what purpose a sustained assault on the wards now will serve," Albus said.

"Perhaps," Severus said, "he senses that we now have Harry."

"So soon." Albus's face looked like the battlefield where one of the previous Potters had died for a moment. Then he shut his eyes, and his nostrils flared, and he drew from that well of boundless strength deep within himself that Severus knew existed but could not identify the source of. "Very well. We will incorporate this information into our plans, as well as the fact that he was evidently able to disguise the attack on the wards from my senses." He raised his voice. "Sit down, please."

In fact, Black was the only one still standing, and he slunk away to his seat as Albus spoke, flashing his teeth at Severus like the cur he was. Severus smiled back at him with steel politeness--nothing more irritated a dog than a refusal to bite back--and took the last empty seat, between Lucius and Minerva.

"I have just received information that Voldemort made an assault on the wards this morning," Albus said. "He tests our strength more and more, and I fear that we will soon be forced to fight whether we will or not. We must take the offensive. It is our best chance of surviving, and that means the world's only chance."

Albus had straightened, and his voice came out like low, rolling thunder off a snowcapped mountain. If he had as much strength in his determination to spare others as in his determination to cast them forth into battle, Severus thought, he would have been the best leader the wizarding world had ever seen.

"But does that mean that we have no training time for Harry?" Granger, leaning forwards, passionate about something that a different person could have been passionate about, as usual. "I thought he needed as much time as possible before he faced Voldemort, since he's so different from the one he knows."

"So did I," Harry said, and Severus arched his eyebrows. If part of the boy's strategy was to convince them that he was impulsive and emotional and nothing else, then he should not use that quiet, firm tone. It was the tone of one who did not intend to yield to the control and guidance that the other deception would inevitably provoke from the members of the Order. "But I always knew that I wouldn't get it." He turned to Albus. "There's one thing I don't understand, though, sir. Why coordinate an assault like that when he must know that it would warn you?"

"We would not have known the signs were there if not for Severus's clever idea of tracking the prior marks made by attacking Death Eaters," Albus said, and inclined his head to Severus. "He must have assumed that he could hide this attack in those signs."

"But he's clever, you said," Harry persisted. "Why would he risk it?"

Albus hesitated only a moment, but Severus saw it and curled up his lip in what no one else alive would recognize as a soundless laugh. He was not supposed to stymie you, was he?

"Because he thought the risk that we would become aware worth the chance that otherwise you would be able to grow into a threat to him," said Albus quietly. "As I said, it was a very stealthy attack, and he might have gained a great prize. Voldemort is clever, yes, but he is more than just that. You always should remember that, Harry."

"I will," Harry said, his eyes glittering like the light before a storm, and Severus wondered how many people the boy meant to include in his words. At least one more than Albus thinks is there, I would wager. "It still doesn't make much sense, though. Why not wait until I came out?"

"As the esteemed Headmaster suggested," Lucius Malfoy murmured, "the Dark Lord knows the truths of the Order's numerous deceptions. He knows that you are a different Potter than the one born to oppose him. He might want to seize you and test your strength before facing you in a battle situation. You could be weaker, but you might also be stronger. He is never one to leave such matters up to chance if he can manipulate them in his favor instead."

Harry nodded with some thoughtfulness on his face, and Severus had to control his wish to intervene, to tell the boy to never trust Lucius Malfoy. The man might still deliver true information in the context of serving himself, while never telling the truth in general. "All right. Does that mean--"

Albus coughed. Not subtle, but it drew their attention.

"I do have a plan to enable you to take the offensive, Harry," he said genially, when Harry turned his head, "as well as you give you a sense of what our enemy's strength is like. A scouting mission, if you will. There are spells that can infuse one's Patronus with the ability to hunt, to observe, and to use some of the wizard's magic, while largely keeping them from harm or open combat unless Dementors enter the scene. I would like you to send yours, in company with one or two of our members', to investigate Voldemort's latest camp and see what you can learn. If you have the chance to cause damage, of course, that would be welcomed."

Harry frowned at him. "D'you mean Voldemort doesn't have the counter to anything like this?"

"He is not able to make a Patronus himself," Albus said, smiling in contentment. He enjoys the universe when it works out according to his moral expectations. "That rather means that he cannot raise the wards against them."

"But someone who follows him could have the ability," Harry said. "How safe are you sure this is, sir?"

"As safe as one can be," Albus said, spreading his hands as though to defend himself from attack--or explanation. "You will not be physically present. You can look through the Patronus's eyes, but an assault on them will not harm you, though it may destroy that particular Patronus. In essence, it is like having an invulnerable familiar to send into battle."

"Hmm." Harry leaned his head to the side and frowned hard, meanwhile swinging his legs against the chair. Severus wondered if he knew how oddly they combined, the adult expression on his face and the childish gestures of his body. "Does that change if I have a corporeal Patronus?"

Severus felt his face change. Luckily, the others had done far more altering of their expressions, and Albus was not looking at anyone but Harry. Harry looked around in the intense silence and gave a faint smile before shrugging. "What? The other Harry couldn't do it?"

"He could not," Albus said, finding his voice. "Understand, Harry, I am not doubting your word--"

Of course you are, old man.

"But I would like to see this demonstrated."

"Sure." Harry rose to his feet and drew his holly wand with a gesture that made Draco look away. "Expecto Patronum!"

The air coalesced in front of him, turning silvery--and, yes, solid. What flowed into being could be compared to the stag Patronus that Harry, the Harry Severus had known from his childhood, could cast only in the same way that a horse could be compared to a unicorn. It tossed shining antlers and turned its head to regally regard all of them, one hoof scraping slowly at sheer air. Then it galloped around the room at Harry's flick of a commanding wrist, coming to a stop in front of him and kneeling before it vanished like a parting cloud.

So the boy does have a sense of showmanship. Severus watched as Harry lowered his wand, and wondered if he was the only one who thought the smile a smirk. That will serve him well.

"That was brilliant," Weasley said, with what sounded like respect in his voice.

"Yes, it was," Granger agreed.

"Impressive, Mr. Potter," Minerva complimented.

"Most," Lucius murmured, and left it up to everyone else to interpret what that meant.

Draco watched Harry with his heart in his eyes.

That left Black, who was frowning, and Albus. Severus could guess the source of Black's discontent easily enough. He would not like to see his own dead godson and ward outshone by a boy from a different world, however necessary that boy might be to the defense of their own.

Albus smiled blandly a moment later and tossed out some compliment that made Harry smile, although he never took his eyes off Albus. But Severus had seen a hint of disquiet, a slight questioning, about the Headmaster's mouth.

Not hatred. Not fear. Severus did not think Albus had ever truly believed that any Harry might betray them and join the Dark Lord, as some members of the Order had once whispered.

But a realization. The same that touched Severus now, although he did not intend to allow himself to be discomfited by it.

Things may be different this time.

Chapter Text


"What do you think of this?" Harry gingerly held out the knife Snape had given him, not at all sure what Evelina would think of it. The more he looked at it, the more he thought that it wasn't the kind of knife she had told him to get. And it was true that he hadn't been out of the castle yet, but he had no doubt that a member of the Order would have taken him to Diagon Alley if he asked, properly disguised under a glamour.

Evelina leaned back on the chair that she'd hurled at his head with a spell a minute before and studied the knife. She tossed it into the air and caught it. Harry relaxed from the flinch he'd spun into a second ago. He had to remind himself that she'd been an Auror. She probably knew how to catch knives without getting her fingers all scratched up.

Of course, assumptions kept getting him into trouble in this world. Maybe he shouldn't make any more of them.

"Hmmm," Evelina said, and then nodded. "Yes. The balance could be better, but there are spells we can cast to lighten the load, as it were." She handed the blade back to him and then leaned forwards, her eyes fastened on his face. "You realize that I'm going to teach you how to kill."

Harry took a deep breath. "I'm not going to get out of here without killing Voldemort."

"Lots of people think they can nerve themselves up to do it, and find out that they can't only at the last minute," Evelina said, a warning in her voice. "We saw loads of them in Auror training. And if they managed to last through that and we didn't learn the truth until it was too late, they stood a chance of killing other people along with themselves. I don't want that to happen here."

Harry nodded. "I know. The world is depending on me now."

"I wish they hadn't encouraged you to think of it like that." Evelina tapped her fingers against the side of the chair and frowned at him, then shook her head. "Well. You are probably used to it because of the way that your original world taught you to think."

Harry nodded again.

"Very well." Evelina flowed to her feet. "Now. I want you to practice gripping the knife. You can't stab someone until you're comfortable with the weapon. Hold it away from your body at first, draw it in close, and show me--no, not like that, you're likely to cut yourself in the side if you try it like that. Come here, let me show you..."

*

"They've got all the signs scrubbed away, of course," Malfoy said over his shoulder, speaking in bright, nervous tones as he led Harry to the side of the lake. "But I still remember exactly where he was lying." He paused and shivered, hunching his shoulders as though he felt the wind that Harry thought had blown that day cutting him. "I'll never forget," he added, and then began to run again.

Harry watched him in pity as he followed him. He felt for this Malfoy as he had for the Malfoy in his world when he saw him sitting in the Great Hall with his parents. He'd been through something that broke him and changed his perspective of the world. Harry didn't know if that made him a good person, but it made him less than an enemy.

He thought his only real enemy in this world was Voldemort, but then he saw some of the Order watching him from the corners of their eyes, and heard whispered discussions that stopped when he came into the room, and had to remind himself to be careful and watchful.

"Here!"

Harry looked around at the lake before he stepped up beside Malfoy. They were on a curve in the shore that he remembered vaguely from his own world. A tree grew not far away, bending down as if it wanted to drink the water with its branches instead of its roots. The grass gave way beneath his feet to sand. Harry glanced back and nodded. He thought it probably would be hard to see this part of the lake from the castle, which made it a good place for a murder.

Or a suicide where no one would find the body for a while. I have to remember that I don't know it was a murder. I know I wouldn't have done it unless I had to, but he wasn't me.

"Will you hurry up, Harry?"

Harry shook his head to get rid of the thoughts that probably meant nothing, and did so. Malfoy was hopping up and down with impatience where the sand led into the water. He pointed with a trembling finger at a patch of sand that didn't look any different from the rest to Harry, but he reckoned that it probably was to Malfoy. You'd remember the place where your boyfriend's body was lying.

Was he really Malfoy's boyfriend? But Snape seems to think so, and I have to trust someone here, or I might as well give up and decide that nothing here is real.

Harry knelt down and pretended to examine the sand more closely for lack of anything else to do. "What clues did you find?" he asked, picking up a handful of sand to pour through his fingers. Of course now, six months later, the whole place had probably changed, and if there was anything as obvious as footprints in blood or something like that, someone else would have discovered it.

"His eyes," Malfoy said. His voice had gone thick suddenly, choked, and Harry looked up, about to tell him that he didn't need to talk about this, but Malfoy's eyes were fixed on the distance, and so Harry reckoned he needed to. "They--they didn't look right."

Harry frowned. "What do you mean?"

Malfoy turned to him, and his eyes looked pretty odd to Harry, too. His hands were clenched in front of him as though trying to hold someone by the back of his shirt who was about to plunge off a cliff.

And wasn't that an unfortunate metaphor? Harry winced and hoped that Malfoy wouldn't question him about why.

"They were the same shade of green as yours," Malfoy whispered. "They looked the same in that much, even though the light and shadows that you have in them are completely different."

"Sorry to disappoint you," Harry said coolly.

"I didn't say that it was a disappointment," Malfoy murmured, shaking his head as if to clear it. "In fact, it might help me in keeping you separate in my mind, which I clearly need to do."

Harry blinked, so astonished at the apology that for a second he couldn't direct the conversation back where it needed to go. "So," he said. "His eyes."

Malfoy nodded. "The pupil was too big, and his eyes didn't look anything like the way they did in life." His voice sank on the last words, as if he assumed that someone would overhear him and be displeased about the description.

Harry winced a little. "Malfoy," he said gently. "People's eyes are going to look different when they die. They don't have the intelligence, the life, behind them anymore. Take it from someone who's seen a lot of people die," he added, when Malfoy looked inclined to argue.

"I can't explain it," Malfoy said. "His eyes were darker than they should have been. That's all."

Harry sighed and decided to focus on the one thing that sounded like a concrete clue. "All right. His pupils. Is there any drug or potion that could have made them look like that? Did anyone comment on it?"

Malfoy laughed harshly. "They were all screaming about how he was dead and how could they stand it, or talking about how the world was doomed now, or trying to drag me away from the body." That would be his father, Harry surmised silently. "No one else except me was paying attention. I tried talking to Snape about it later, but he said that I must have been mistaken and refused to discuss it again."

"He didn't mention it to me," Harry muttered.

"Why would he?"

Harry sighed. He had forgotten that Malfoy wouldn't know anything about the alliance he and Snape had forged. He shook his head. "The one I knew in my universe enjoyed tormenting me, and this one doesn't seem to like my company. It's the sort of thing I can imagine him telling me because he wants to freak me out."

Malfoy snorted so hard that Harry thought he would fall over. "I think he knows that you've seen more suffering than that, more Dark and deadly things. He wouldn't believe that a single reported detail--one that only I saw, and that all of the others doubt--was important."

"And yet, the first day I was here, you claimed that my eyes showed I hadn't seen as much suffering as the Harry you knew," Harry murmured.

Malfoy winced and looked down at the ground. "That was stupid of me," he said. "I was reaching for any excuse to deny what you looked like, and I was trying to distance myself, too. The others died trying to be him, and they were a lot more similar. I think I hoped that I wouldn't get attached to you if I could despise you and exaggerate the differences."

Harry raised an eyebrow. That was more insightful than he would have expected, especially when Malfoy was suffering so much from grief and odd notions about the size of pupils.

"You don't need to get attached to me," he said. "I'm not the boy you--loved." It was hard for him to say that, because he couldn't comprehend a universe where some version of himself loved some version of the cowardly boy who had done so much to save his parents and never cared about anything else until he saw what Voldemort was really like. "You're not the Malfoy I knew, either," he had to add.

Malfoy looked at him with hungry eyes. "If you're more similar to him than I thought, maybe I can be more similar to your Draco than you thought."

It was Harry's turn to snort. "Malfoy, I didn't call him by his first name."

"That's ridiculous," Malfoy said. "I can't imagine that you didn't know each other well enough for that, even if you were in different Houses. And had some rivalry between you?" he added uncertainly, as if basing the words on the expression on Harry's face. Harry was sure he made a picture.

"We were enemies," Harry said. "I saved his life during the last year, and he saved me, but that was only because of extreme circumstances. I'm not going to leave anyone to die in Fiendfyre, and he wouldn't identify me when Voldemort's soldiers seized me, but--that's a long way from being friends. Or boyfriends, the way you were."

"No wonder you looked like you wanted to faint when you saw me," Malfoy commented thoughtfully.

"I did not look like that," Harry snapped. "I just finished saving your life and returning your wand to you, why would it scare me to see you?"

"There can be other reasons that you might want to faint besides fear." Malfoy cast him a glance, hesitated, then admitted in a low voice, "I felt the same way when I saw you."

"But you ought to be used to seeing me appear by now," Harry said. He wondered if Malfoy would actually offer him an honest perspective on the way that people in this world saw the endless succession of Harry Potters they had summoned so far. "I mean, since I've come here and died twice. Three times, if you count the one you knew and loved."

Malfoy shook his head. "I never get used to the shock," he said softly, and then dragged himself back to the present with a visible effort. "Anyway. The change in his pupil size is the biggest clue I have to go on."

"You told me that you discovered the body," Harry said, and then wondered if he should have. It seemed odd to leave an uncomfortable subject only to be making Malfoy discuss something else even more uncomfortable.

But Malfoy only exhaled and nodded. "Yes. I summoned the others at once, and I was--upset, so I don't think I was thinking clearly. But I would have noticed footprints around him, or any message in the blood, or any of the other clues that you think about when you hear someone's been murdered."

"I don't think someone who could make it look like suicide would have been that careless," Harry said. He hesitated, then decided to go ahead. Malfoy had already been more forthcoming about the other members of the Order than Harry would have thought. "Could the person who killed him have been part of the Order?"

Malfoy closed his eyes. "I've been thinking about that," he admitted. "It would explain why he died so quickly. He wouldn't have fought if someone he knew approached him."

"And it would explain why they're so eager to consider it suicide," Harry said, "if the others suspected that someone they trusted and liked was the one who'd killed him." He reminded himself not to go too far, that he had no evidence yet that this was a murder and not a suicide.

But it felt like one. He still couldn't get used to the idea that any version of him, no matter how fearful, would have done such a thing.

On the other hand, he also couldn't get used to the idea that any version of him would date Draco Malfoy, and be apparently happy and content in the relationship. Harry entertained a brief, nasty idea that his other self might have committed suicide to get away from the git, then shook his head and stood up. That was worse than he wanted to be, even in the privacy of his own head.

Malfoy was nodding. "Yes, yes, it all fits," he said. "And that lessens the number of people we ought to consider as suspects. I think that we need to look at Snape specifically. He'd had an argument with Harry a few hours before he died."

Harry started and looked closely at Malfoy. "You're sure? How do you know?" That was something important, something he would have expected Snape to mention when they were forming their alliance, and yet--

Distrust washed over him again. How much do I really know about him? I think he told me the truth about the battles, he'd want someone to save him as much as anyone else in this world, but that doesn't guarantee that he told me the truth about anything else.

Then Harry scowled. His logic contradicted itself. If Snape wanted someone to save him, then killing the original Harry would have served no purpose at all. He couldn't know, then, what the Order's solution to the problem would be. No, Harry should posit that Snape was on Voldemort's side and had played subtle parts in the deaths of the other Harrys if he wanted to think that.

Unaware of Harry's doubts, Malfoy happily prattled on. "Harry came to me about it, because he was so upset. Most of the time, their disagreements weren't serious. There were things that Professor Snape wanted Harry to improve on, and times that he felt Harry got away without doing as much work as he should have. But it was hard for anyone who watched to call that an argument."

"Really," Harry said. He could think of times his own world's version of Snape had yelled at him about not living up to his full potential, and he would never have called it anything less than an argument.

Malfoy nodded. "You could tell that Snape cared about the way Harry performed in the classroom." He hesitated, then added, "I loved Harry, but--I can admit that he didn't always do well. He was smart, but he was so naturally talented at everything that he thought he didn't need to worry. And that lack of caring bothered Snape sometimes."

"Realize what you're saying," Harry cautioned him. "You're saying that Snape murdered someone you also say that he didn't argue with and whose marks he cared about. I can't imagine a stronger motive for Snape to keep someone alive." Even more than saving his own life, really. I think he might value a good student more than a savior.

"What other good suspect do I have?" Malfoy's voice broke in the middle. He turned away and controlled himself for a minute, bending over to breathe. Harry tried to stand behind him and make himself invisible. He could feel his chest aching, and he bit his lips so that he wouldn't reach out and put his hand on Malfoy's shoulder. He was sorry for him, yes, but he wasn't attracted to him, and pretending that he could be just what that Harry had been was silly.

"What was the argument about?" he asked, when he realized that Malfoy wasn't going to continue on his own.

Malfoy sounded as though he had to breathe in twice before he answered. "About-about the war. Professor Snape wanted Harry to study harder and pick up some extra training in Defense. The kind of training they're having that woman give you now, I think." Harry decided that was another thing to think about, what exactly the connection Evelina had to the Order was, and whether someone might dislike her enough to say bad things about her and about Harry for training with her. "Harry laughed. He said that enough of his life was about the war already. And Snape got angry, and he told Harry that he was essentially wasting himself, when he should be thinking about how to defend the world and nothing else. Harry got angry in return. That was the kind of thing Snape never said to him. So he stomped out, and came and told me. And th-then he left, and that was the last time I ever saw him."

Harry frowned, thinking. It really didn't sound like either the Snape who had talked to him or the Snape Malfoy had described. "If Snape wanted him to care about his marks, then he wouldn't just want him to care about the war, would he?"

"I don't know," Malfoy said, his back arching up like an angry cat's. "The only thing I can tell you is what I heard."

"Right," Harry said, as soothingly as he could. "But what I meant was, it sounds like either Snape was in a really strange mood that day, or your Harry was exaggerating--"

"He never did that!"

Harry raised an eyebrow. Malfoy had the grace to look down and flush.

"Look," Harry said again, "things don't add up. That doesn't make Snape the murderer, and it suggests that--what? He got frustrated and killed your Harry because he wasn't listening to him?"

"He could." Malfoy gave an arrogant little toss of his head. "You don't know what Professor Snape's like when he thinks someone is defying him on purpose. He actually gets less impatient with people who don't have the talent for Potions than he does with people who do and won't listen to him."

Harry blinked. That made certain things about the Snape he had known stand out in a new light.

But he's dead, and anyway, I'm in a different world now. I have to remember that I'm not dealing with the same people.

"Fine," he said. "But we have other suspects, too. Dumbledore's said a number of strange things to me since I've been here. Was there ever a sign that he got impatient with Harry the way you said Snape did?"

Malfoy hesitated, then shook his head. "No," he said at last. "Sometimes he was sad and resigned, too. I think he was trying to work out some way to help Harry, because he knew that being locked into fighting him by a prophecy didn't mean he was going to survive. But everything he tried came to nothing."

Harry nodded silently. That would at least explain the odd way Dumbledore had looked at him when he cast his Patronus, and maybe why Dumbledore had said that they would need a few days to adjust the spell that would let the Patronuses act as spies. He had probably given up hope on Harry, too, because he couldn't help, and then he had seen that something was different this time. Harry knew from experience that having hope come back could be just as painful as feeling it die.

And that Dumbledore might have gone on summoning versions of Harry even when he expected them all to die because he would still want to save his world, no matter what happened.

"Do you think he killed Harry so he could bring other Potters here?" Malfoy asked suddenly, his voice so soft that Harry wouldn't have heard it if he was standing a foot further away. "I mean, maybe he thought Harry wasn't good enough and that our only hope of having a real champion was to kill him..." His words trailed off. He looked sick at the thought, and Harry really couldn't blame him.

"I don't know," Harry said, as gently as he could. Again he started to reach for Malfoy, and again he pulled his hand back. No, he still couldn't tell how Malfoy would take that. "It's a possibility, and one we'll have to look at." He glanced up and saw that the sky was clouding over. "We should get back inside before someone comes hunting for us." He turned to face Hogwarts.

"Wait!"

Malfoy evidently didn't have the same shyness about touching him, because his hand locked down on Harry's arm. Harry tried not to jump or draw his wand, and succeeded at the second one. "What?" he asked, looking warily at Malfoy. He had a brightness in his eyes that Harry didn't know meant anything good.

"Would you go flying with me?" Malfoy asked.

Harry bit his lip as a surge of longing passed through him. He hadn't been flying for pleasure in such a long time. Clinging desperately to a dragon's back as you escaped Gringotts didn't really count. "Why?" he asked, trying to sound adult and stern, because Malfoy didn't.

"It's something I didn't get the chance to do, that last day with Harry," Malfoy said. "We planned to, and then he...went. And neither of the others got a chance to come with me, either. They vanished into training and battle plans, and then they died." He was leaning close, his eyes so bright that Harry was increasingly sure this was a bad idea. "Please?"

Harry shook his head. "Malfoy," he said. "I'm not him."

Malfoy took another of those deep, twice-held breaths, and then nodded. "I know that," he said. "No, really, I do." Harry must have looked even more skeptical than he realized. "But--please? I just want to do it again, to try it again."

Harry hesitated. "As long as you realize that I'm not your boyfriend and I'm not going to kiss you or hold your hand," he said, looking down at Malfoy's hand on his arm.

Malfoy dropped him as if burned and held his hands up placatingly. "That's fine, that's fine," he said. "But can you really say that you don't miss flying? Can you say that you couldn't use something to relax you?"

Harry thought about it. Yes, he did need it, or at least something else to relax him after the constant rows and suspicion with the people who looked like his friends and weren't, who looked like dead people and weren't, who acted as though they wanted to support him--or someone like him--and then didn't.

"Do you suggest we do it now?" he asked. "If the adults have some meeting they want to hold--"

Malfoy laughed strangely. Harry looked at him with one eyebrow raised, and he choked and stopped himself, shaking his head. "That's something he never would have said," Malfoy murmured. "My Harry. He would have said 'the rest of the Order.' We were encouraged to think of ourselves as adults from the time we learned about the Order, when we were twelve."

Harry couldn't help a brief spasm of envy then. His life would have been a lot easier if Dumbledore and the others had trusted him more.

But he shook off the feelings. They would mean nothing to anyone in this world. "Fine," he said, and led the way to the Quidditch pitch. Malfoy caught up with him quickly, walking by his side and giving him small hopeful looks from time to time.

Harry said nothing, because he didn't want to encourage him. He hoped that he could have a somewhat normal, casual, civil relationship with Malfoy instead of the fraught one that it looked like it was turning into.

But he wouldn't count on it.

*

Flying really did help relax Harry, and he was smiling by the time that he won his third race with Malfoy. Malfoy had insisted that Harry call him Draco, but Harry had decided to ignore that, too. Malfoy got the point after the fourth time Harry refused, so he was smiling as they pulled up, and shook his head.

"I don't think Harry was ever that fast," he said.

Harry shrugged. "I might have done things differently in some of my matches, or something," he said, and hung upside-down, swaying gently back and forth on his broom as he stared at the branches of the Forbidden Forest. The clouds had gathered across the sun just enough to stop it from being unpleasantly hot, and if it was going to rain, then Harry couldn't feel it in the breeze around them. He didn't really want to hear about Harry Potter the Wonderful at the moment, even if the comparison was going to be favorable to him.

His eyes fixed idly on a bird soaring above the Forbidden Forest. No, he realized a minute later. Not soaring. Flying. Hurtling. Streaking towards the Quidditch pitch as though it was on a mission.

Harry swung upright on the broom. "Would someone send us an owl that flies like that?" he asked, gesturing to the bird.

Malfoy turned around, frowning. "I don't recognize it," he said. "But Father sometimes buys new birds and sends them on a test of how fast they can fly at first. It's probably coming to me." He held up his hand.

The bird was aiming straight at Harry, or so Harry thought. And he didn't believe it was an owl anymore. He shook his wand into his hand, his eyes narrowing.

The bird abruptly rose, as though it knew they'd spotted it, and swung in a circle, aiming back towards the Forest. Harry tried to see everything he could about it in the short time before it left, but the sun was behind it, and mostly he got an impression of ragged grey feathers and wide wings.

Then the bird turned, faster than he knew any normal bird ought to have been able to go, and swirled back down towards Harry. Now he could see the talons, spread wide, and the parted beak, and the way that the wings flapped despite the edge of one looking as though it had been half-severed.

"That's not an owl, and I don't think it's a bird," Harry said to Malfoy, and slid forwards to meet it, trying to make sure that his broom was between Malfoy and the attacker. It really was coming horribly fast. Harry tried to remember some of the spells that Evelina had taught him while also controlling the broom and trying to estimate the thing's speed.

Then the thing was close enough, and Harry could see that he had been wrong. It was a bird, feathers bristling from the edges of its wings, either a falcon or a hawk (Harry didn't know how to tell the difference between them). The body was chunks of flesh clinging to raw bone, with the gleam of worms here and there. Blood smeared the feathers, which were stuck on backwards in some cases, and the beak that opened and screeched hungrily had been smashed.

It was dead.

Harry felt his mind blank of Evelina's spells, and he returned to the ones that he knew best. "Protego!" he spat, and the shield formed in the air right before the speeding thing.

The bird slammed into it, and lost a few bones from the left leg and feathers from the tail. But the talons still hung in place, and it lifted them and began to rend through the shield. Harry watched in disbelief as shreds of his magic drifted away like the feathers had, then shook his head and circled to the side. The bird turned its head to track him. It had green eyes, he saw, green eyes that turned red as he watched.

"Greetings, Harry Potter," said a low, smooth voice from the beak. It could have been the voice of Voldemort from his world, if he had spoken more like a normal human being and less like a screaming child. "I am not impressed with your strength so far." The bird flexed its talons one more time, the shield tore, and the corpse flew at him.

But Harry had had a little time to recover, and to remember some of the spells that Evelina had insisted he memorize. A lot of them wouldn't work, he thought, because he didn't have a living brain to reverse inner balance for. But there were still some that would, and one was particularly useful right now.

"Accio venti!" he yelled, flipping his wand over in his hand and having to dive after it when it nearly fell. He hoped fervently that that wouldn't affect the performance of the spell.

It didn't seem to. The calm air around them turned abruptly furious, the howl building until Harry had to drop lower to get out of the sudden battle of cross-currents. The winds he'd called rose and hurled themselves at the bird, coming from six different direction and possibly more, ripping at the feathers and the wings, the beak and the talons, tossing it up and pressing it down at the same time.

The bird struggled to reach him, but even if it was dead and raised by necromancy, it still had the body of a bird. It couldn't fly when the wind was like this. Harry smiled sweetly at it as the corpse started to fall to pieces, and hoped that Voldemort would remember this.

"Not so powerful, am I?" he muttered.

Then the falcon abruptly whirled and retreated. It still had enough bones to hold together the basic structure of its wings and head, and the crumpled beak still clung to it. Harry wondered if Voldemort was summoning it home so that he could repair it.

No, he realized a minute later. Voldemort was still enough like the one he had known to throw damaged servants away. Instead of leaving, the dead falcon, only clinging together from the waist up now, hurtled at Malfoy. Malfoy panicked and began to dodge, but the bird seemed to anticipate which way he was going, and the beak chopped off the top third of his broom.

"Oh no you don't," Harry said, too softly for Voldemort to hear him even if he was listening, and swept the wand sideways. "Aestuo medullam!"

The bird's head swiveled to stare at him, and Harry thought he saw the red eyes widen. It could have been surprise, or shock, or anger. He didn't know.

Because then his spell took hold, and the marrow in the bones that held the falcon together began to boil.

The bird screeched and flailed its wings, but they were burning, swirling with odd, greasy yellow flames, and the bird was falling apart in much the same way that the winds Harry had summoned had begun to destroy it. The beak parted company with the face, the feathers dropped to earth like blazing meteors, and the bones cracked and sagged. Harry punched one fist into the air and whooped.

That particular spell was one he had noticed on Evelina's list, marked under spells that he should never use on humans unless he had no choice because it was so painful. But the bird wasn't human, and was dead. Harry had thought it would be a damn good spell to fight necromancy with, if Voldemort used it.

He did, and it was. Harry watched in contentment as the bird fell apart, then shook his head and jerked himself back to the time and place around him.

As far as he knew, Voldemort shouldn't have been able to attack through the wards. That meant they had to get back inside the school and warn the Order what had happened. Harry didn't like them much, but he didn't want them torn apart by dead wild pigs or something.

He turned around, opening his mouth to suggest to Malfoy that they fly down to the ground, only to find such an adoring expression on Malfoy's face that he blinked and said nothing.

"You saved my life," Malfoy whispered.

Uh-oh. Harry tried to adopt a polite smile and hope that Malfoy read nothing more into it than politeness. Hell, the way he was looking now, he might think that an offer to help him off the broom was a marriage proposal. "Yeah, and mine," Harry said. "He was trying to attack us both."

"Not even Harry did that for me." The worshipful look didn't leave Malfoy's face. "Not so openly. I know that he would have fought for me, and he stood by me when my father betrayed the Dark Lord and some of my friends turned away, but--that wasn't the same thing."

"He probably didn't have the time," Harry said. "I think he died before he fought in any major battles, didn't he? Whereas I'm more used to it."

"But you did it." Malfoy had apparently decided that he and blind adoration were now best friends. He reached out as if he would catch Harry's hand. Harry casually turned away on his broom as if he were scanning the skies and looked for pieces of the bird on the ground.

He was not going to start a romance with Malfoy, however sorry he felt for him. That would only lead to rationalizations on Malfoy's part and either uneasy giving in on his when he felt no attraction--and he was still going to go home, where he had people waiting for him--or pushing Malfoy away later, which would hurt him more. There were all sorts of reasons that this was the right decision.

He wished that he could explain that to the calfish look Malfoy was giving him.

"Come on," he said, and swooped lower, in hopes that one of the bird's bones hadn't been boiled entirely away.

*

At the meeting of the Order that night where they had come to discuss the modifications to the Patronus spell, Severus heard for the first time of what had nearly happened to Harry and Draco that afternoon.

He sat and listened in silence as Harry described the attack of the necromantic falcon and what he had done to defeat it. Severus noted in one corner of his mind that Black was beaming, probably because he thought this was something "his" Harry would have done, and that Lucius looked smug the boy had achieved such a thing in protecting his son.

As for Draco, the boy could not have looked more impressed with Harry had Harry been anointed with light and a crown from above.

The other corner of Severus's mind was filled with a rage quite amazing, and a fear that surprised him.

Albus declared exultantly that Harry had "proven his prowess," and that he "now had no fears about sending them into battle." Severus suspected that most of the Order, save perhaps the younger Gryffindors, knew that for a lie, but Minerva and Black nodded and beamed as foolishly as the rest of them. Albus admitted he had one more modification to make to the spell that would allow Harry to send his corporeal Patronus as a spy, but said it would be done the next evening.

Severus took up a position by the door and caught Harry's eye pointedly when the boy lingered behind to talk with Draco and Lucius. Harry accordingly lingered more, and at last Lucius swept Draco away, with firm admonishments that he could not always rely on someone to save him and he should learn more about necromancy. Lucius looked at Severus on the way out and smirked.

Severus gave him a single, finely judged expression, one of contempt. That made Lucius check his step for a moment, and if Severus knew him, he would spend the rest of the evening obsessively revisiting his own conversation and actions, trying to figure out what might make Severus despise him. He would be, with any luck, too occupied with the sting to his own pride to think that his initial suspicion of Severus remaining behind to visit Harry was the correct one.

"Why did you not come to me at once and tell me?" Severus asked, in his most serene voice, when he and Harry were the only ones in the room.

"During the battle?" Harry shook his head. "I didn't have time." He was quiet but tense, his eyes fastened on Severus's face. Severus had to admit, though, that that might come from his inability to figure out what Severus was upset about as much as anything else. "Afterwards, I thought...everyone should find out at the meeting. If you knew already, then that might betray to someone else that we have an alliance."

Severus paused. "I did not expect that level of thinking from you," he admitted, when the boy's stare had grown expectant.

"No," Harry said. "Well, I don't expect anger from you about this when I killed the thing, so I think we're even."

Severus considered him. His hand hovered above his wand now, and there was another difference, another jewel to the add to the web concerning this Harry in his mind: he looked thinner and sharper than he should have, like a dagger polished until it was as likely to cut flesh as potions ingredients. The Harry Potter born in this world had never been that thin.

"Has it occurred to you that this was a test?" he asked. "That he sent the bird because he wanted to learn if you could defeat it or not, and that by revealing that you could, you have revealed something important about your strength?"

The boy snorted. "Sorry, sir, but I think if that was the case, he would have learned something no matter what. Maybe he'd have attacked sooner if I hadn't defeated it. Or Malfoy or I might have been dead."

"Draco," Severus said. "You would do well to stay far away from him."

"How far can I go, when only the Order is in Hogwarts?" Harry shook his head. "No. I know he's...trying to replace the Harry who died. And he has a lot of reason to think that I'm going to be that replacement, since I saved him today and I've been nice to him. But I didn't like him in my world, and I wouldn't go near him here even if I had. I'm going home."

Severus felt a twinge deep beneath his sternum at those words.

He remains fixated on that goal beyond all else, even battling the Dark Lord and surviving. What will happen if he cannot go back home, if the research that Granger promised to turn up remains elusive?

Severus shook his head and told himself that that was still only a remote possibility. They had battle after battle to get through first, and the defeat of the Dark Lord, and the training that he had promised Harry which might help him to survive where the others had not.

"As long as you know that any attention or awareness of him is liable to be interpreted by Draco as encouragement," he cautioned Harry.

"The only other choice was to let the falcon kill him, since it attacked him," Harry said. "And that's not a choice."

Severus half-closed his eyes, because he doubted that Harry would want to see his exasperation right now. At best, he would judge it to mean something it did not mean; at worst, he would get angry and possibly turn his back on Severus. "You know that the Dark Lord might decide your protection means that you can be manipulated by threats to Draco. And thus that might increase the danger Draco is in."

Harry rolled his eyes. "If Voldemort is that smart and sane, then anything I can do could be interpreted that way," he said. "Not a whole lot I can do about it. There'll always be a reason to reject a course of action or take it, and there'll always be the fear that he could find out what I'm doing and do something to counter it. I won't sit in a corner and do nothing, since he could use that, too. So. There are things I need to know. Why didn't you tell me that you had an argument with Harry--the original Harry, the one you knew--right before he died?"

Severus paused. "Draco told you this?" he asked, while his mind echoed, softly, as if someone was calling his name down long corridors.

Harry gave him a smile that had too much bitterness in it for one who had survived his war. "Did you think I wouldn't find out? Yes, he told me. He said that Harry had come to him and been upset about it, which he never was after arguments with you, shortly before he died. And Malfoy was the one who found the body, so it can't have been that long after the argument took place."

"It did not."

"You have some knowledge about when exactly he committed suicide?" Harry stared at him.

"I did not say," Severus said, sparing an annoyed thought for the primary school teachers who did not instruct their students to focus on the subtleties of English verbs, "that it was not. I said it did not. The argument did not take place. I did not speak to Harry that day after a reminder to him in the morning that he should straighten his school tie."

Harry tipped his head to the side. "Malfoy is strange in a lot of ways, but I think he probably loved Harry too much to be mistaken about him. I want to know what you talked about. Even something that was casual to you, or didn't mean anything, could have been taken strangely by Harry if he was in a strange mood. That sometimes happens with me," he added graciously.

"He is mistaken," Severus said. "Did you think that I murdered him?"

Harry had not yet learned how to hide his emotions as well as he should have; his eyes flickered in different directions, and a faint flush worked its way up his face. He cleared his throat. "I admit the evidence is scanty," he said, "but like I said, Malfoy wouldn't be mistaken about something that upset his boyfriend. He is, was, scarily devoted to him. He can remember too much about him."

"I did not argue with Harry," Severus said. "The correction to him about his tie was not harshly worded. I had my mind on a potion that morning, and was not much concerned about the foibles of students."

"Don't you wish you had been?" Harry asked, sounding fascinated for some reason. "I mean, because of what happened next?"

Severus half-curled his lip. "I do not think in such a manner," he said. "I did not cause Harry's suicide, and he must have kept his emotions far more carefully concealed from me than he did from Draco, because I did not sense the fear that moved the knife. If I had, I would have done something about it. I did not, so I did not."

Harry stared at him. "I wish I could think like that," he said at last. "I'm always thinking of other possibilities, of things I could have done instead..."

"Do not," Severus said briskly. "It will kill you."

"I can't exactly stop just because you tell me to." There was a sharp tone in Harry's voice that Severus thought more precisely aimed at the version of himself who had taught--or failed to teach--Harry.

"Then I will teach you," Severus said. "If you trust me enough to learn from me after your talk with Draco."

That got him a long, thoughtful stare, and Harry scratched his head a few times as if the answers were hiding in his hair and could be jarred loose that way. Then he nodded.

"I need your training to survive," he said. "But if you had something to do with Harry's death, then I'll find out."

"You could also use training in being subtle around your enemies," Severus murmured, but let it go. As he had told Harry, he did not think in terms of missed chances when he knew they were irrevocably gone. His Muggle grandmother had called it not crying over spilt milk. The metaphor worked with potions, too.

He would move ahead, and do what he could to ensure that this Harry, the one living right now, survived.

Chapter Text


Harry sighed and rolled his eyes up at the canopy of the other Harry's bed, then rolled over and punched the pillow. He hated sleeping here, and in the morning he was going to tell Malfoy that and move somewhere else. But so far, no one else had seemed to think that where he slept was important, and both Snape and Evelina had taught him several spells that he could wrap around his bed to prevent anyone else from bothering him.

And Malfoy had looked so bloody relieved when he realized that Harry wasn't going to leave him alone here...

Harry punched the pillow again.

Malfoy was a problem, and the chance that Snape might be lying was a problem, and Voldemort was a problem, and the very high chance that he might never be able to go home again, no matter how much research the Order did, was a problem. And so was the lack of sleep, and Harry really wanted to get some so that he could be sure he would be alert enough for the training sessions tomorrow, never mind the moment when they sent the Patronuses to Voldemort's camp to hunt him down.

Harry closed his eyes and tried counting backwards from one hundred. Then he tried counting forwards. Both times, he lost count somewhere in the sixties, and ended up more tense and unhappy than before, because surely he ought to be able to keep track of fucking numbers.

He rolled over again, and decided that he would try sleeping on his left side. He hadn't tried that since, oh, two hours ago. He flopped over and stuck both hands beneath the pillow this time, for the sake of something new and exciting to do.

His left hand hit something, fingers and knuckles colliding hard enough that Harry winced and sat up. He pulled back the pillow and realized that it was one of the decorations on the headboard, a solid knob of ugly gold. Harry shook his head. Everyone liked to talk about how the other Harry had traits of the other Houses and was so important and smart and talented, but one deficiency they so far hadn't mentioned was his utter lack of taste.

The knob seemed to quiver as he pushed against it, which Harry had to admit was strange. He paused and pressed his hand more firmly inwards, watching with no great surprise as the knob clicked and retreated. Well, so there was a secret compartment in the other Harry's bed. Probably expected by everyone, since he'd been a Slytherin.

Harry thought he'd find private things in there, the sort of personal artifacts that he would have hidden if the Gryffindor beds had containers like this. Photographs. Private presents from Sirius, or other people who mattered to him. Maybe even love letters from Malfoy, though admittedly they wouldn't have much to write to each other about, since they slept right beside each other.

He didn't expect to find a diary.

Harry pulled out the slim book and stared at it, glad that he'd cast the charms Snape had told him about on the bed so that the Lumos charm he raised wouldn't disturb Malfoy. The book had a black leather cover with a silver symbol embossed on it. If Harry squinted, the symbol looked like two snakes entwined.

About to open the diary, he hesitated. How sure was he that this wasn't this world's version of Tom Riddle's diary, rescued from the Chamber of Secrets instead of destroyed? He knew that it wasn't very likely, especially since most people seemed sure of what had happened there, but he still cast a bunch of spells to test for Dark magic before he flipped it open to the first page.

The writing there was instantly recognizable, because it was his own, if a little neater. This Harry had probably learned to write with a quill at a younger age. But he couldn't read it. It seemed to be some kind of code, random letters interspersed with numbers here and there. Harry let out a long, frustrated hiss.

Who knew this was here? It was sad that that was his first thought, instead of what the diary contained, but the Order was keeping too many secrets, and they were too ruthless. If the other Harry had hidden this from everyone, even his mentor and his godfather and his boyfriend, Harry wouldn't be a bit surprised.

He squinted at the code and began flipping through the pages, hoping for a bit that was written in legible English, or perhaps one that contained a key to deciphering the code. But nothing appeared. Harry traced one word, l1avg4frq5, and sighed. Of course, the other Harry seemed pretty comfortable with this code, and he hadn't intended anyone else to see this. Why would he want to write down a key?

Harry decided that he would keep the diary a secret for now, and the compartment as well. This might be something Snape could help him translate, but on the other hand...

On the other hand, he hadn't mentioned it so far, and it might be something the other Harry hadn't wanted him to see. Harry knew all about keeping the secrets of the dead, and respecting their privacy.

He put the diary back in the compartment and pressed on the knot of gold, sliding it closed again. This time, he watched closely and noted the faint shimmer around the metal when he touched it. He smiled thinly. That would be the reason that no one else had found it, although they had to have searched the other Harry's room after his death. Harry strongly suspected that no one but Harry Potter could open this particular compartment, and whatever base he had used for the spell--blood or magical signature or something else--it happened to have translated from world to world.

Harry curled up on the bed and closed his eyes. I'll find out what you were talking about and decide how best to use it, I promise.

*

"Now. You're ready, Harry, my boy?"

Severus tightened his shoulders to keep from responding. He wondered why Harry couldn't see how patronizing Albus was, how the twinkle in his eye still hadn't recovered from the surprise of yesterday when the boy talked about defeating the necromantic falcon. But Harry only nodded as though the twinkle wasn't dimmed or didn't matter to him, and then lifted his wand and began to quietly intone the spell that Albus had told them to use.

The air shivered around them. Granger and Weasley were calling forth their Patronuses as well, the otter and the terrier, but Severus had seen them many times when they were sending messages to other Order members or fighting in a desperate battle. He watched intently as the silvery mist flowed out of Harry's wand instead.

It coalesced into the shining stag, not such a surprise now that Severus knew what to expect. The stag tossed its antlers and turned its head from side to side as though evaluating the people its master stood among. Severus started as its eyes passed over him; he had thought, for a moment, that it flipped its ears at him and bobbed its antlers slightly.

Stupid. Impossible. But it seemed that way, anyway, and Severus had to shake his head to convince himself it was not so.

At last the Patronuses were fully formed, and there was an extra heft and solidity to Granger's and Weasley's that they didn't usually have. Harry's looked the same as before. Albus looked at them all gravely and lifted his wand, drawing a circle in the air that flared with white light. Through it, Severus could make out a tumbledown house of the sort that the Dark Lord often favored as his lairs.

"This is as close as I can come to his wards," Albus said quietly. "Your Patronuses can travel in ways that would kill any human who tried to cross through them. Go, now. Send them."

Severus narrowed his eyes, but said nothing. It was true that he had seen Albus cast the spell that created a circle of white fire before, although he had used it then to send flying daggers, not Patronuses. Until the point where Severus saw it used to injure Harry, however, he would hold his peace and hope that Albus knew what he was doing as much as he sometimes seemed to.

The terrier and the otter went through first, running along familiarly in each other's company. The stag stepped after them, moving so delicately that Severus wasn't sure its hooves touched the ground. Albus nodded and closed the circle, then reached out. Because they were once again meeting in the Sunshine Room, a version of the Room of Requirement, the room provided what he needed, and there was suddenly a large clay jug of water there that hadn't been present before. Albus enlarged it with a few taps of his wand and then called them forwards.

"We can watch the confrontation between the Death Eaters and the Patronuses in this," he said. "And you can direct them, Ron, Hermione..." There was the slightest pause before he said, "Harry."

If Harry was wise, he would notice it, Severus thought. And the adoring way that Draco's eyes fixed on him, and the way Lucius smiled, and the uneasy glances that Black sometimes gave him.

But perhaps Harry had enough to worry about with simply directing his Patronus right now, because he didn't turn away from the jug of water to notice any of those things. He was watching, instead, as the three animals leaped into the midst of the Death Eater headquarters. Severus caught a glimpse of dark walls flashing past, lit only by the faint radiance that the Patronuses carried with them.

He did see, with absent pride, that Harry's stag was brighter than all the rest.

And then the water flared with much brighter light, and the battle began.

*

Harry had never done anything like this. He could see his Patronus racing through the dark corridors in Dumbledore's scrying jug, but at the same time, he could feel it, a distant connection that sang through him. Now and then he shook his head, trying to dissipate the ringing in his ears, but then the first Death Eaters showed up, and he realized that he wanted to pay attention to them, rather than the side-effects of the spell.

The Death Eaters skidded to a stop and stared at the three animals. Harry wondered if they didn't recognize them as Patronuses, or just didn't know how to deal with them. Given what Dumbledore had said in the meeting where he explained this tactic, Harry thought it was the latter.

Then one of the Death Eaters tried to raise a ward, but the stag had already leaped past them, and Hermione's and Ron's animals were quick to follow. Harry exchanged a glance with his friends--

Not your friends, remember that they're part of this world and the part of this Order that you don't dare trust--

And found them smiling at him, exhilarated. He'd never hunted with them like this before, but it already seemed familiar, the movements coming back to him as if he'd practiced them all his life.

Dumbledore had said that the spell he'd cast would imbue the Patronuses with some measure of protection and the ability to use a wizard's own magic. Harry smiled more widely as he remembered some of the spells that Evelina had taught him, and closed his eyes.

Could he reach out through his Patronus across this distance and recognize some of the things like the falcon that Voldemort might have serving him?

Maybe. It was worth a try, at least.

"Mortem sentio," he whispered, and the magic crackled through him and leaped into the scrying jug, leaving him breathless. He felt Ron grab one arm and Hermione the other, and a swift, slight pressure on the small of his back was Malfoy's hand. Harry staggered upright, gasping, and ignoring questions as he peered into the water again.

The stag had begun to glow as though a comet was blazing through its body. It turned its head from side to side, and Harry felt the connection between them flicker and shine, and grow stronger. He was seeing through its eyes now, more than he was looking at the Patronus in the scrying jug. He whooped with excitement, though he was so tired it came out nearly breathless, and watched the stag leap down a side corridor.

The otter and the terrier followed, and Hermione asked beside him, just as breathless, "What are you doing? Where are we going?"

Harry didn't answer, partially because he thought he needed to save his strength for more magic and partially because the answer to Hermione's question appeared in front of them just then. It was a rotting body that Harry thought might have been a horse at one point, or possibly a thestral. The grey tendons creaked as the body turned to face them, and although the connection between him and his Patronus wasn't strong enough to allow him to smell anything, Harry could imagine the stink that came from the rags of flesh clinging to the bones.

The horse screamed, stamped, and charged. Harry watched the dark flickers of power washing over it and knew it could probably hurt his Patronus even if the stag wasn't entirely there.

"Elanguesco!" he called, hardly planned, his mind working down the list of Evelina's spells, and the stag reared up on its hind legs and bowed its antlers at the same time, shooting the dark silver bolt of power at the horse.

The skeletal jaws parted, and the horse swallowed the power. For a moment, Harry feared nothing would happen. Ron and Hermione's Patronuses had scampered up the walls, and his stag had to jump as the horse continued to whirl forwards, broken hooves scraping out, marking the floor and tracing shallow grooves there.

Then the horse came to a stop, shuddering. Harry watched the tendons relax and elongate, the glittering magical connections between the bones grow looser, and the hold of the necromantic power on its body slowly give up. That was what was supposed to happen with this spell, but he hadn't been entirely sure it would.

The horse turned its head and stared at him, or rather, at his stag. Harry saw the glitter of its grey eyes, and reckoned that it was wearing a betrayed expression. It was supposed to be fighting something insubstantial in his Patronus, those eyes said, not something that could destroy it.

Then the bones collapsed in a long wave that started with the spine, and the horse wasn't barring their way anymore. Harry sent the stag forwards with a single gesture, and once again the otter and the terrier followed.

"I didn't know you could do that," Ron whispered, in what sounded like a pause between steps.

Harry said nothing. He needed his concentration, at the moment, more for the battles that he could sense coming up. But he noted silently that Ron also seemed to be forgetting he wasn't actually the Harry who had been born native to this world.

That could cause all sorts of problems, later.

The three Patronuses blasted through several more rooms, stunning Death Eaters and ruining some crates of food and Potions ingredients. The spell Dumbledore had cast meant they were solid enough for that. Ron's terrier dragged the food out, shaking his head so that it flew in all directions. Hermione's otter dived into the floor and then came up chewing delicate leaves. Harry's stag stamped and shattered with his hooves, and then caught up the remains on his antlers and threw it against the wall. They were always off again, running, when they heard Death Eaters coming.

Harry knew the run had to end sometime. Either the Patronuses would fade because their strength was fading, or they would run up against something powerful enough to destroy them.

But he didn't anticipate the man they would see waiting for them when they rounded a corner and came to a dead end before a locked door.

He was thin, tall, with dark hair streaked with grey and a long, thin nose that would probably disappear when he turned sideways. Around him coiled a shimmering, silvery miniature dragon, his own Patronus. At his feet rose a spitting, swaying nest of cobras. Harry still might not have recognized him if not for the red eyes. This man looked very different from the Voldemort of his world.

Voldemort smiled at the stag and inclined his head as if they were acquaintances meeting at a party. "Harry Potter," he said. "Again. Excuse me for greeting you so violently; I find it bad policy to do otherwise."

He held up his hand and snapped his fingers. The air above him swirled with what looked like heavy, glittering smoke, and a cloud formed there with three separate lightning bolts. The lightning slammed into the dragon Patronus, which lifted its swelling neck.

Harry's stag jumped in front of the other two Patronuses, instinctively trying to protect them. But Harry could already feel the heavy, electric discharge of magic in the air, and knew it would be useless. Their run had come to an end.

"Release your hold on the Patronuses!" Dumbledore shouted. "He'll try to destroy you through them!"

The lightning bolts were already flying from the dragon's mouth, though. Harry heard Ron and Hermione shriek as they slammed into the otter and terrier. He thought he would feel the same thing when the third bolt struck the neck of his stag.

He didn't.

Instead, there was a terrifying moment of darkness and disorientation, a sensation that he was in a cage that had turned upside-down...

And then there was rough stone beneath his feet, and he was standing in front of Voldemort in the place of his stag, forcibly Apparated to him.

*

Severus surged to his feet with an oath that he bit back as he watched Harry disappear. Both Weasley and Granger were sprawled on the floor, their breathing shallow and their faces pale. Minerva bent over them, chanting grim words. Her strain and effort was visible in the way she swept her wand continually over their chests.

Severus was not interested. He thought it likely that the two Gryffindors would survive. They had enough magical strength to send their Patronuses a long distance; the backlash from the destruction of the Patronuses would put them in the hospital wing, but not destroy them. He moved swiftly towards Albus, who was standing still and staring into the water. Severus had never seen his face look the way it did now.

"How do we retrieve him?" Severus kept his voice down with an effort. Shrieking would be demeaning, and would not help to get Harry back.

"I don't know," Albus said. His words trailed off and drifted, tattered and lost. "I...did not expect this. I never thought Tom capable..." He bent over the water and spoke a single, clear word in a language Severus didn't recognize, which made his head ring like a bell.

The water writhed, and a brief light glowed within it, which took on the form of a human figure for a moment. Severus held his breath, hoping that the boy would rise from the water as abruptly as he had dropped within it.

But then the light faded, and when it went, the water was ordinary water again. They had lost sight of both Harry and the Dark Lord. Albus tapped his wand against the jug and said something else in the same language. It remained stubbornly dark.

Severus took a step back and held out a hand. They still stood within the Room of Requirement, after all, never mind that Albus had created a particular version of it for their meeting. "I require a way to see Harry Potter," he said harshly, and the Room shimmered and made a hand mirror appear next to him on the nearest chair.

Severus stared into it, and then frowned. It showed nothing but a flat piece of wood, and darkness other than that.

Understanding was not long in coming, and when it came, he cast the mirror from him and watched in a cold rage as it shattered to pieces on the floor. Albus took a step towards him, and Minerva briefly glanced up from her soothing of the Wonder Twins. Draco looked as if he wanted to edge closer, but his father put a hand on his shoulder and shook his head.

"What are you doing, Snape?" Black, as was typical for him, looked like he wanted to leap at Severus's throat because he understood nothing. "That could have been our best link to Harry, and you--"

"It showed the inside of Harry's coffin," Severus said, and watched Black flinch with more satisfaction than usual. "The coffin of the boy who was born and died in our world. I do not think the Room can connect our wishes with the one who has come to us later. It is notoriously unable to reach between universes."

He turned back to Albus, ignoring both the slow grinding of despair in the back of his mind and his desire to torture Black further. He would find a solution. He would do it because, though he was more capable and battle-ready than Severus had assumed, Harry was not yet ready to face the Dark Lord on his own. They would steal him back somehow and continue educating him.

Although not until Severus asked him what he had meant, leaping unprepared into a situation like this without finding a way out.

"Well, Albus?" he asked, and kept his tone milder than he might have, which only made Albus narrow his eyes. They had no twinkle now. He knew the nuances of Severus's voice, knew that his very restraint was cutting. "How do we retrieve the only hope of ridding our world of the Dark Lord's presence?"

"I would certainly hope the boy is more than that to all of us, Severus," Albus murmured, in the delicately chiding tone he sometimes used to lecture Severus in front of the Order. Severus was unmoved. No one else would care about the power play between him and the Headmaster at the moment, not when they had the fear of dying to focus on. "Particularly to you."

Severus returned him a stare of flat incredulity. Power plays be damned, but he would do what he must to keep Harry safe by throwing Albus off the track as far as their alliance went. "He is not the boy I knew," he said. "But he is someone I want to retrieve. What is your plan?"

"Yes, we must have one," Albus murmured, and turned away as if he would think. Severus watched his back and waited. There were spells he could use, but they would necessitate leaving the Order's presence. Save Lucius and perhaps Draco, they would all object at his using Dark magic to find Harry.

Severus braced himself for the next thought. If it is not already too late. If he has not died.

If that was the case...

He could do nothing for Harry, but he could do something for the next version of him summoned. He knew the preparations that the Order needed to make for such a delicate spell as pulling someone between universes. He would interrupt them at the proper moment to disrupt the spell, and the backlash would leave the Order useless for months.

If we cannot save ourselves, perhaps we deserve to be destroyed.

*

"Dumbledore said that you couldn't make a Patronus," Harry said, because he had to say something, and thinking about the silvery dragon resting on Voldemort's shoulders was better than thinking about how utterly fucked he was.

The stone floor under his feet burned cold against them. The jagged walls made him wonder what would happen if he tried to run. Voldemort would catch him, of course, but running might be better than standing still and waiting for death. And what did he care if Voldemort thought he was a coward?

Voldemort said nothing, but stood there, a genuine smile on his lips. The dragon hissed at Harry, and the snakes coiled at his feet watched him. Harry reckoned they expressed the bastard's real emotions and kept an eye on them so that he would know when he had to move.

"I like to keep surprises in reserve for my enemies," Voldemort said finally, after a pause long and leisurely enough to examine Harry from top to toes. "And that most definitely includes the only man to still call me by my Muggle name."

"I can do that for you if you want," Harry said. "Tom's certainly shorter."

Voldemort only looked at him more keenly instead of flying into a rage. "You're more focused on survival than the rest of them were," he said at last. "Less confident. They had been told they could defeat me. You don't believe that, do you? You only believe that you must, so you can achieve whatever existence would be most preferable for you afterwards."

That was so accurate that Harry's mouth dried out. But giving in was still out of the question, so he aimed his wand at Voldemort and barked, "Expelliarmus!"

Voldemort moved his hand slightly, and the spell simply vanished as it left Harry's vicinity. Harry stared at the air until his eyes watered, but made out no sign of a Shield Charm. If Voldemort had used normal magic to defend himself against the Disarming spell, then it had no sound, sight, or taste.

"Yes, I thought you might try that one," Voldemort said softly. He shook his head. "Extraordinary, that so many of you should be so like each other! Then again, if Albus had hunted in different universes, he wouldn't have found so many of you dedicated to fighting me. You would have been someone different, a boy I did not care about or someone who fought on my side." He smiled again, more widely, and this time Harry saw the first sign that he wasn't human, the two long, slender fangs that had replaced his front teeth. They didn't look like vampire canines, but like the fangs of a viper. "Would you have liked that, Harry?"

Harry didn't see the point in responding. If Voldemort engaged him in banter, either he would kill Harry while he was distracted or it would give him time to summon the Death Eaters. He pointed his wand at the dragon Patronus this time and snapped, "Finite!"

There was a searing blowback of hot air against his face, and Voldemort staggered back a step. For the first time, he lost his smile. The smoke billowed up from his shoulders where the dragon had been coiled, leaving nothing behind. Voldemort let his eyes track the smoke for a moment, and then turned back to Harry, shaking his head slightly.

"That," he said quietly, "will cost you in terms you cannot imagine, Harry Potter."

Harry didn't see the snakes move. Suddenly the corridor was full of surging cobras, and some of them were spitting venom at his eyes. Others only lunged at his ankles, but given how potent their venom probably was, there was no "only" about any of it.

Harry wrapped his arm around his eyes, leaped the first strikes of the fangs at his legs, and shouted one of the spells that Evelina had made him memorize. "Aegis ignis!"

The corridor once again filled with smoke and steam as the Fire Shield Charm took effect, and Harry heard the thin, faint screams in his ears as the cobras caught fire and died. He hopped further back just in case the rotating, shimmering wheel of flames in front of him had missed some of the cobras and started to speak another spell, this time one that would hopefully blast Voldemort back down the corridor.

Voldemort's voice overrode him, speaking in the same cold, calm tones that Harry imagined he would use to command the Death Eaters. "Perversus."

A distant ringing invaded Harry's ears. He staggered. Had one of the snakes bitten him? There was no other reason he could think of for why he should he be so unsteady on his feet...

He didn't know why he was holding his wand. He dropped it and blinked at his own hand. Then he looked up.

Voldemort smiled at him again. Harry remembered who he was and what he'd done. His memories hadn't changed, but his emotions had. Was it that he didn't care? No. But he could see why someone would strike to protect himself from the only person who might have a chance to defeat him. It didn't matter that the person was a child at the time. After all, better to get rid of him when he was small than when he grew up to become a potentially dangerous nuisance.

Better?

More practical.


Harry nodded slowly. Yes, that was a new perspective, but one that made a lot of sense when one thought about it. It was the same thing that Voldemort had said to him in his own world, the time during first year when Harry had rescued the Stone. Harry hadn't been inclined to listen to it because, well, it was Voldemort, but it was possible for Voldemort to have a good idea once in a while, too.

There was only power. Harry could see, standing between them as he was right now, on the fulcrum point where he should have been all along, that good and evil were choices, not compelling moral restrictions as he'd always considered them, and not opposites, except that the paths one could take after those choices ran in different directions. And even the people who said that there was always one right thing to do and you would always know what it was were confused. Was killing someone in self-defense justifiable or not? Was taking revenge on someone who hurt you wrong or not? Was controlling someone's mind all right if you did it so that they wouldn't commit suicide? Was ripping someone away from his own universe all right, as long as you did it to protect your own life?

"You see," Voldemort said. Harry looked up at him, and saw that the lips had pulled back from those long viper fangs again. The cobras had retreated until they were coiled up by his feet again, and they were hissing softly, but they didn't try to attack. They wouldn't, Harry thought, not unless they were sure he was their enemy. Snakes lived by the practical rules that Voldemort was trying to introduce most of all. It was silly to say that they didn't. They hunted when they were hungry, they slept when they were tired, they shifted position depending on whether they were hot or cold. Humans should have a life that simple and pure. "You see what life can be like."

Harry nodded absently. He was thinking of Dumbledore. The problem was, if he wanted to live that way, then he couldn't react with anger to the other people who did. Dumbledore hadn't cared about the lives he was disrupting when he ripped the other Harry Potters, and Harry, out of their universes because he wanted to protect his own time and people so badly. That just made sense. That was just practical.

If I don't care about what I do to other people, then I can't complain that he doesn't care.

And that was wrong. Harry wanted to complain, wanted to hold Dumbledore to account, wanted to see his eyes dim and fall. He would understand what he had done wrong, before the end.

Which meant there had to be a wrong for him to appreciate and Harry to point out.

Which meant that he couldn't simply assume the world worked the way Voldemort and the snakes said it did.

With a wrench, Harry felt the spell break. He was standing in the middle of the corridor, still, facing Voldemort and the cobras, but he might as well had been a world away. He shook his head at Voldemort, who had narrowed his eyes. "Sorry, but I can't buy what you're selling."

Voldemort didn't bother waiting before he answered. The spell that lashed out wasn't an incantation, just a solid wall of force that bowed Harry's neck, clamping down on it like a yoke. He felt himself slam into the floor before he knew he was falling. He tried to raise his head, but felt his cheek crumple instead, as the gravity--it had to be gravity, there was nothing else that could do this--pressed his face insistently into the stones.

He was on the eye-level of the snakes, who hissed softly and began to slither forwards. Voldemort's voice was a distant wind blowing behind them; Harry couldn't hear him well with one ear pressed into the floor and the other bending with the incredible push of Voldemort's magic. "I cannot take chances. That is too bad, Harry Potter. If you had been more like the others I killed, then we might have come to terms. But perhaps Albus has finally reached too far, and found a world that produced one of you too like me."

Harry never knew how, but he managed to reach for his wand in front of him and try to recite a spell in his head. One of the approaching snakes coiled forwards in a looping motion and seized the wand; two others piled on top of it and exerted pressure in exactly the right direction. The wand broke.

Harry felt the flare of pain, the shout of light, in his own soul, and he screamed. Or he tried. He didn't know if he could make any sound, not when his lungs were smashed as flat as everything else.

"So sad," Voldemort was continuing, his voice a drone. "I did think there would be more opposition than this, especially after the way you tore my falcon apart."

There was something Harry had to remember. It was important that he remember it. It was like a voice shouting in the back of his head, a voice shouting in a darkened room for him to turn on the light.

He could feel bones starting to shudder under the pressure of Voldemort's spell. Somehow, though, he was still sure that it would hurt more when one of the cobras spat venom into his eyes. One kind of pain didn't cancel out another, as he had learned when he was living with the Dursleys.

He had to remember.

The wand, broken...

His fingers twitched, and one of them managed to move enough to touch his robe pocket. He had carried it with him because he didn't trust any of the Order enough to leave it in their custody, or even reveal that he had it. And then it was beneath his fingers, and throbbed there like a heartbeat, and he found himself staggering to his feet, gasping as the magic holding him down broke like a soap bubble.

He raised the Elder Wand, and saw Voldemort's eyes widen.

Harry didn't waste time trying to kill him. This Voldemort was tougher than he had expected, more powerful than he had expected, and impossible to deal with until he had some time and training behind him. Instead, he turned the Elder Wand on the wards around the manor, especially the ones that would prevent him from Apparating out of here, and said fiercely, "Frango!"

They snapped, they broke, rupturing around him with hisses and shouts like the shout of the broken wand in his mind. Harry could feel the wand's joy, shaking up his arm like a laugh. It loved destroying things, and that made it happy enough to consent when Harry used it to Apparate out of the manor, even though it was purely defensive magic.

Because he happened to be looking in the right direction when he vanished, Harry saw Voldemort's eyes.

There was hatred in those eyes, and death.

But not right now, Harry thought, and closed his eyes as he was whirled away to land, with a bump, on the edge of the lake at Hogwarts.

Chapter Text


Minerva stepped back, panting, from the spell she had just cast, visible as a rotating mirror in the air with glimpses of blue sky and cloudy sky, rather like a smaller version of the Great Hall's ceiling. Severus kept his arms folded, his hands tucked down at his sides, his face calm and bored. He would not show how badly he wanted this spell, which could supposedly spy out someone from any distance, to succeed.

The spell flickered twice, and flared up, reaching out long tendrils of light and color to the far sides of the Sunshine Room. Then it faded. Minerva spoke several sharp words, incantations even Severus did not know, her sleeves trailing her arms as she swished her wand, but nothing happened. The light crackled sullenly, like passing thunder, and then vanished.

"Goddamn it," Black said without inflection.

Severus would have said something about the honorable descendant of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black picking up Muggle oaths, but he was too weary for that. He leaned back on the wall and closed his eyes, wondering what scrying spells he could suggest that the others would accept. Weasley had already suggested sending for Trelawney, and been roundly rejected. The others had done spell after spell, ones that were supposed to pierce wards and the veils of air and earth and time. If they could not find Harry where he was at the moment, they might still see whether he would be alive a week from now.

All of them had failed. Severus knew why--the boy was beyond the Dark Lord's powerful defenses now, and he would know how to keep him there--but he had not said the words. The Order was in the mood to despair, not support opposition.

Severus could also have suggested several Dark spells, but he knew they would not be accepted, either. It seemed there was nothing to do but stand, and wait, and see if Albus would come up with a solution.

Albus had not tried since his scrying jug went dark. He had a thoughtful frown on his face, and nodded now and then as if conducting a conversation with himself. But Severus knew the old fool well enough to believe that Albus would do such things whether or not he had any true idea of how to retrieve Harry, simply to comfort the Order and maintain his leadership without challenge. It was one reason Albus had been the one to devise the solution to find other Harrys, watch them through the Dream Mirror, and then summon them. He thought of his own world first and foremost, and not whether the boys they ripped from theirs would be safe.

Severus stirred restlessly, listening to Lucius and Minerva trade barbs--exquisitely polite in Lucius's case, sharp in Minerva's--as to why her spell had failed, and wondered if he should offer the Dark spells after all. Some were obscure enough that only Albus and Lucius would know their origin for certain. And if they could find Harry, bring him back to safety and secure a way for him to return home...

Surely that was worth the price of increased suspicion. Most of the Order already did not trust or love him.

Severus glanced to the side. Draco sat in the center of the circle of chairs, his head in his hands. He hadn't moved or made a sound since the last of Black's attempts to locate Harry had failed.

Severus frowned. I must teach the child to be more independent. But that will not happen if another of the boys so like the one he loved dies now.

Weasley and Granger were still exhausted, still sleeping. They could not have helped even if they had wanted to, and their stumbling words and uncertain pauses had been less than helpful when they were still awake. Severus had gazed into their minds with Legilimency and seen little more than had been visible for all in the scrying jug. They had not been there when the Dark Lord snatched Harry; they had been reeling from the spells that banished their Patronuses, and their mental map of the Death Eater camp would be useful only if they managed to breach the protections.

If we could send Patronuses again…

But Severus ended up shaking his head as he thought about it. The Dark Lord would be ready for that trick, should they try it again so soon after they had tried it once. And the reason Albus had chosen Weasley and Granger for this strike relied mostly on the strength of their Patronuses. Albus could have sent his, but the Dark Lord’s defenses would have recognized his magical signature and tightened defensively, probably not letting the silver phoenix pass them. And it was difficult, in the past few months, for the other members of the Order to produce one.

Weasley and Granger are the ones among us with the most faith left in this fight.

That was a sobering realization, and Severus was still trying to come to terms with what it said about him, if nothing else, when the noise of a great bell rolled through the room. Severus jerked his head up. That alarm was one he recognized, but it had not been used since—

Draco sat up, and his mouth was twitching with the force of his hope. “That means Harry’s returned,” he breathed, and he lurched to his feet.

“It may not mean that,” Lucius said, taking a step forwards, his hand reaching out to rest on his son’s shoulder. “That alarm last sounded when the Dark Lord sent a golem of Potter at the wards, if you’ll remember—”

“A golem with some of the last Harry’s blood and hair, I know,” Draco said impatiently, brushing aside his father’s effort to restrain him. He was transformed, Severus thought, his faith so bright it was hard to look at his face. Did I look like that when I was with Lily? “But this time, it means Harry is back.”

“Or there is another golem,” Albus said. He was pale. Severus knew why. Either Harry was dead, in which case the Order would need to perform the draining spell a fourth time, after finding another universe in which that Harry Potter had defeated his version of the Dark Lord—

Or Harry had escaped on his own, without the help of the experienced Order fighters behind him. Something the previous summoned versions of him had never managed, once they vanished into the Dark Lord’s hands, and something their first Harry had never had to endure.

Do you see now? Severus asked Albus in silence. Do you see the ways in which he is different, the ways he will not listen to you?

Actually, Severus had to admit, Albus seeing that could be the worst thing for all of them. It would increase his fear of Harry, his attempts to get him under control instead of help him. But Severus couldn’t help wanting to see the doubt on Albus’s face spread and crack his calmness like melting ice anyway.

This is not productive. Severus shook his head and turned away. He would wait for the golem to emerge so that he could destroy it, or he would wait for Harry to come in that he might congratulate him and run interference between him and Albus as necessary.

Yes, he wanted to see the Headmaster humiliated. But his goals had to focus on seeing Harry safe and free to return to his own world first, which might mean maintaining the alliances in the Order long past the point where he would like to rupture them.

*

Harry paused to listen to the bell-like sound dying away. He didn’t know if that meant the Order now knew he was here or what, but at least the wards had let him pass through, so it couldn’t mean an enemy was approaching.

Not that he would have set up a ward like that anyway if an enemy was approaching. It would be a stupid thing to let them know they’d been seen, or heard, or sensed however that particular ward perceived them.

He shook a few drops of water out of his hair. He’d washed his face in the lake, and then slipped a bit, so more of him got wet than he’d meant to. He’d thought about casting a drying charm, but he didn’t know if it was a good idea to use the Elder Wand for such simple magic until he’d figured out more about how it worked.

He could feel it even now, the power thrumming through it like a current, the way that that power seemed to shimmer beneath the surface as if thinking to itself. Harry smiled wryly and rubbed his fingers over the shining elder wood. He suspected that he’d have to negotiate with it whenever he didn’t want to cast destructive magic. It gave off a strong sense of a personality that was only happy when it got to break something or be used in battle.

Well, we’ll have to talk about that. He hadn’t been able to bring the pieces of his broken wand back with him. All he had cared about was getting away before Voldemort killed him, and he knew that he wouldn’t have vanished through the wards as quickly if he had taken a moment to search.

So. He’d have to cope with what was in front of him and stop wishing that things were different, or at least not allow that wish to distract him into a life of wishing.

Harry walked up through the entrance hall, not finding anyone there. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been gone, but the sun hadn’t set, and he thought it was probably the same day. His main problem was that his time under Voldemort’s mental spell that literally changed his mind could have lasted longer than it seemed.

He licked his lips and began walking up the steps towards the Room of Requirement. Well. Maybe that spell had lingering effects, too. Another thing he would have to deal with later.

The door of the Room opened long before he got there. A small shape flew out, a whirlwind. Harry raised the Elder Wand before he thought about it and felt its magic nip his fingers, the same way Hedwig used to nip his ear.

Then the shape grabbed him and swung him around and laughed in his ear, and Harry realized it was Malfoy. He sighed and lowered the wand, wrapping his arm around Malfoy’s shoulders. That ought to be high enough not to go anywhere dangerous.

“I thought you were dead,” Malfoy said in his ear, and his arms grew so tight around Harry that he gasped for breath before he thought about what was happening. Malfoy moved back at once, biting his lip. “I thought you had to be.” His hands remained on Harry’s shoulders, and he looked into Harry’s eyes as if he could discover there the secret to how he’d survived. “All the others left me. All the others died.”

Harry gave him a smile. He hoped it was polite and nothing else, but then again, Malfoy could probably take a polite smile and still get hope for the future out of it, so Harry wouldn’t worry too much. “I’m sorry. But I’m here now, and I got away from Voldemort.”

The name made Malfoy drop his hands from Harry to wrap his arms around himself, apparently suffering from a slight chill. His gaze remained bright and pinned to Harry’s face, though. “How did you get away?”

“We’d all like to know the answer to that question.”

Harry looked up swiftly. The members of the Order were crowding the door, staring at him. Sirius had his mouth open as if he would laugh, but his eyes shone in a way that made Harry have to glance away and clear his throat. Ron and Hermione were wiping sleep out of their eyes and staring at him. Lucius started to applaud slowly, and McGonagall clutched her wand to herself as if it were a security blanket against the apparition that she must think Harry was.

Dumbledore had a face like the cheese that Aunt Petunia had sometimes made. Harry had always been better at that than she was.

And then there was Snape.

Snape stepped out in front of everyone else and nodded to Harry as if he was nodding at a colleague. His tone was smooth and business-like. “You’ve returned. Good. Tell us how you did it and what the Dark Lord knows about you.”

Thank you, Harry wanted to say, but saying it or even mouthing it could be suicidal in front of an audience as hostile as this one, he knew. Snape had deliberately tried to give the impression that they weren’t in alliance. He stood upright and said, “Voldemort pulled me there and tried to poison me with his snakes. Then he cast a spell that was meant to make me think his side was the right one and join it. I didn’t.”

“What was the incantation for this spell?” Dumbledore had stepped to the side as though there was something in the Room of Requirement that he wanted to defend from Harry. Harry thought that was mildly funny, but he found it hard to care at this point. He needed all his strength to stay on his feet and think out his strategy.

Perversus.

“He wanted to have you join him, then.” Lucius sounded interested. “What was your response to the invitation?”

“That I couldn’t buy what he was selling,” Harry said, and then Ron and Hermione broke free of the tangle at the door and raced over to him, throwing their arms around him. Harry accepted that with a slight grimace. They weren’t his friends, he had to remember that, but he reckoned they were allowed to be happy that the latest Harry Potter they summoned hadn’t become evil.

“That was surely not the end of it,” Dumbledore said, and Harry rolled his eyes at the heavy sadness in the arsehole’s voice. Did he think that Harry should feel sorry for Voldemort, of all people? He was going to be waiting a long time, if that was what he was waiting for.

“No,” Harry said. “He—” He hesitated, disguising it as a swallow. Let them think that Voldemort had tortured him to the point that he didn’t want to talk about it.

He wasn’t sure that he should tell them about the Elder Wand.

It probably wouldn’t make any practical difference. Voldemort hadn’t gone after the Hallows in the same way in this world, or he would have had an Elder Wand of his own to match Harry’s. They could look at his wand and not notice the difference. How would they realize that the power he wielded now came partially from his wand and not just what he’d always had inside him? They thought that he had some mysterious gift to bring Voldemort down, anyway. They’d probably attribute it to that.

Snape would notice the difference in the wand, but he wouldn’t bring it up in front of anyone else. Dumbledore would, but Harry was done doing things that would oblige him.

He braced himself against the hold of Ron and Hermione’s arms for a moment, and nodded to Dumbledore. “He would have killed me when he realized that he couldn’t corrupt me. I broke his wards and Apparated away.”

Dumbledore recoiled a step.

It was better than Harry ever could have hoped for, seeing that. He handed Dumbledore a poisonous smile and turned to answer the theoretical questions from Hermione. He had to be vague and impressive and nothing else. And if the questions got really pressing and he couldn’t answer them, then he would start yawning. They would remember that he’d just barely escaped death and feel bad for keeping him away from bed and a refreshing meal.

He hated that he had to keep things from people. Lying had never been his strong suit.

But sometimes you could tell lies by omission, and sometimes you had to lie to your enemies. Harry thought both those conditions applied here.

*

The boy has been touched by power.

Severus stood passively back and let them all question Harry, all those who pretended more interest in his fate than they actually had—Granger, Weasley, Black, Minerva. Draco asked sincere questions, of course, but he would be of little help to Harry, Severus feared, as long as he was still weakened by his grief. And so far, Draco had shown no inclination to overcome that grief. Of course, the rapid deaths of the boys who looked like the one he had been in love with hadn’t helped.

Albus did not join the interrogation session.

He remained in the background, and his lips looked pinched and blue, as if with cold. His hands sometimes rubbed themselves in front of his chest, apparently confirming that hypothesis. His gaze when it crossed Harry was dark and brooding, and he shook himself each time it did.

He fears him.

Severus did not know exactly why that should be the case. Albus had never feared the Harry born to this world, who had displayed such talents but also an independent streak that meant he didn’t do exactly as Albus expected of him, from the time he was Sorted into Slytherin. Albus had been exasperated with that Harry at times, but not afraid. He was still the stronger, and Harry had no ambitions to take the position of Headmaster, which seemed to be the only one that Albus valued.

This time, there was the fear.

Severus turned back to Harry. Perhaps that power lingering on him was something Albus recognized better than Severus did, and so might have a reason to fear. But even that was a stretch. If the boy had a link to the Dark Lord in his mind, or something worse, then Albus would not have hesitated to speak and make sure the boy was caged or Stunned.

“Do you think that the Dark Lord will seek to take revenge for what you did to him?” Severus asked Harry, and did not have to raise his voice to earn the silence he needed. Weasley and Granger fell silent the moment he began speaking. Black didn’t, and in fact took a step forwards as if he had forgotten where they were, but then fell back with a scowl when Harry responded.

“Yeah. But I don’t think it’ll be directly. He’s already tested himself against me a few times, and lost both times.” Harry yawned, and the yawn made it seem as if he intended to put his tonsils on display. Severus knew that was unlikely, however, and waited patiently until Harry could focus again. “He won’t want the Death Eaters to see him humiliated like that.”

“Then we have some time,” Severus said. “And that means that we can accomplish the training that might eventually keep you safe from him.”

“For Merlin’s sake, Snape,” Black said, the snap of a chained dog in his voice. “Can’t you let the boy have one day of rest? And since when did you start believing what he says about Old Snake-Face, anyway?” He rested a possessive hand on Harry’s shoulder that irritated Severus more than he had thought he could be irritated. “Live up to your reputation now and let Harry stay with the people who appreciate him.”

“You mean, the people who dragged me to another world?”

Harry’s voice was vicious, and sweet. Severus took a moment to appreciate the contradiction, and longer to appreciate the stunned looks that had come over Minerva’s and Black’s faces. Weasley and Granger backed away from him. Draco was the only one who looked distressed and ashamed at the accusation, instead of simply shocked. Severus did not turn his head to check on Albus’s reaction, because that would have made him obvious.

“Harry?” Draco reached out as if he would touch Harry on the shoulder. Severus thought he had allowed Draco to embrace him before, but now he only turned his head and studied Draco with remote eyes. Draco looked down and swished his feet through the dust on the floor in front of him for a moment. “I just—I thought that you were becoming a little more comfortable here,” he muttered, and looked up at Harry through his fringe. “Understanding me better.”

“I can understand why you did what you did.” Severus would have made a warning noise under his breath, or cleared his throat, or objected in some other way, but Harry’s voice had a flat undertone that told him the boy wasn’t truly excusing what these idiots had done, so he stayed silent. “I can even think that it’s laudable, in some ways, because you’re trying to protect people who won’t thank you for it.

“But I can understand it, and still hate it. You had no right to snatch me away from my life. You had no right to take the others away from their lives.” Harry took a deep breath that made Severus think the calm tone was costing the boy more than he thought it was. “Besides, it’s a stupid way to fight a war.”

“But it’s the only way we can.” That was Granger, as usual, trying to defend the stupid actions of the Order in any way she could.

“Really? You use the exact same spell and the exact same tactics, or lack of them, over and over?” Harry shook his head, his lip curling. “That sounds to me like people who refuse to learn from their mistakes, not people who are learning from them.”

“We have to take only certain kinds of you, those who have defeated Voldemort,” Granger said, and she had adopted her lecturing tone. Severus watched the expression on Harry’s face and tried to determine which way he should move. By his count, there were three people in the room who might need protection in the next few moments: Granger, himself, and Harry. “That means that we need to use similar methods to find you, and that spell’s the only one that works—”

“Kinds of me,” Harry said quietly. “As if we were a dangerous species. Or an endangered one. The Harrys. All of us. All of us just means to an end for you. Tools. Something to be wielded.

“Harry, no!” Granger finally seemed to have realized that she might have said something wrong, a rarity in Severus’s experience. She took a step forwards, hand stretching out in what looked like appeal. She snatched it back again when Harry gave her a glare hot enough to scorch. “I only meant—I used the wrong words, but you’re different from everyone else because of the prophecy.”

Harry nodded without expression. “It’s what I thought was going on. Only the first Harry, the one who was born and died here, was a real person to you. The rest of us are just—casualties. You don’t take time to mourn for them. You just find and summon another one. You’ll do it if I die.”

I will not let them, Severus thought, but he saw no way to communicate that to Harry at the moment.

“And if I live? What then?” Harry’s eyes were as hard as rubies. “You’ll expect me to fit in exactly where I left off? Your friend, and Malfoy’s boyfriend, and the Savior of the Wizarding World?”

“My godson?” As always, Black made a bad situation worse, stepping in with a confident smile that was sickly at the edges. “Harry, you said that I didn’t raise you in your world. Or, I mean, the version of me there didn’t,” he hastily corrected himself, as Harry gave Black another of those glances full of fire. “Isn’t it worth staying here for, to have a loving parent?”

Harry’s eyes were vulnerable for a moment before he answered. Severus saw that, and hissed under his breath as another piece of the puzzle clicked into place.

That is it. That is the truth. He does want a family, and that lure might be strong enough for him to overcome his focus on survival—the extensive nature of which could harm him in turn.

The problem was, as yet Severus did not know how he would use that longing to better protect Harry.

“I don’t know you,” Harry said. “Not any of you. Not really.” His eyes passed over Severus, to lock on Albus.

Albus had to respond to such a direct challenge, Severus knew, and so he was not surprised when the man stepped forwards and gave Harry a little bow. “I am not the same man who tried his best to protect and train you, I’m sure,” he said, adding a bit of emotional manipulation to the false sorrow that Severus already suspected him of throwing at Harry. His smile was so gentle and deep that someone else would probably have been fooled by it, and especially someone like Harry, who might have been ready to trust one version of this person.

Not Harry. He waited, his hands clasped casually behind his back now, his posture so tense that Severus saw Albus’s jaw clench in annoyance.

A moment later, Albus had recovered and was continuing in the same gentle, flowing voice. “Very well, Harry. Imagine that everything you have said is true, and we are the selfish demons you have decided we are.”

“Albus!” That was Minerva.

“Dumbledore!” Black moved in a step, as outraged as a dog who had had a juicy bone snatched from its jaws. “You know that’s not true—”

“You’ve done so much!” Granger said, and looked as if she would have conjured flowers to present Albus with if she thought it would do any good. “The world would have fallen into darkness ages ago if you weren’t here!”

It couldn’t have gone better if they’d trained for it, Severus thought. Because of course he understood what Albus was doing. He would provoke those responses on purpose, and make himself look more sincere and sympathetic to Harry by comparison.

Severus did not know if Harry would be stupid enough, or desperate enough, to fall for it. He could only stand by his with his arms folded and look bored, and hope silently that was enough of a clue for Harry.

If it was, it seemed that Harry had learned to interpret clues from the corner of his eye, without looking at or for them. He spoke to Albus with a small, grim smile that Severus thought he was correctly interpreting as bad news for Albus. “You haven’t the least idea what kind of relationship my Dumbledore and I had in our world. Things have gone so differently here. No Horcruxes, no murder.” He did look at Severus then, for a single moment, but his eyes jerked away so suddenly that Severus could not tell what he thought, or whether he thought of him as more than the version of Severus he had known. “No people who thought that I was the one who would save them.”

“What do we need to do to show you that you’re the one?” Granger sounded frustrated. “Professor Dumbledore already explained the prophecy to you and why none of us can kill Voldemort.”

Lucius, who had watched everything so far with the tranquility of a winter lake, couldn’t conceal his flinch at the name. Draco seemed to think that was his cue to press forwards, so insistent and wide-eyed that Severus couldn’t help mentally comparing him to a puppy.

“Harry, you just got here,” he whispered. “We don’t know if you’ll live here. But I promise, I think you’re important anyway.”

Seveurs watched the way Albus watched Harry watch Draco. If there was a trace of sentiment or weakness there concerning Draco, Severus knew, Albus would find some way to twist that into a bridle or a weapon.

But instead, Harry just shook his head and said, “I’m sorry for what happened. But I want to be considered real by the whole set of people I’m risking my arse to save.” His eyes shone like the lightning bolt on his forehead as he glared at the Order again. “Why did you snatch so many of us and then discard us like toys? Answer me that.”

“Desperation,” Albus said, voice smooth and soft and sad. It would bury all Harry’s sharp, pointed anger under a blanket like snowfall and soften the edges if it could, Severus thought. And with the other versions of Harry, it would have succeeded long since. They had been—not less desperate, but more willing to trust, more willing to make friends so that they would not be alone than focused on going home. From some of the things they had said, Severus thought they might even have welcomed the chance to try their strength against a new version of the Dark Lord. Troubles at home, perhaps, the kind of childish teenage quarrels with their friends or lovers that made them sure running to another world was the perfect way to get away from it all.

This Harry didn’t think so. He had already fought too hard and long for those quarrels to mean that much to him.

“We want to save our world, and we know that nothing else would suffice—”

“I can think of half a dozen things that would suffice,” Harry cut in impatiently. “Time travel. Working some kind of powerful spell that would mean you could break the prophecy apart. Offering Voldemort a bribe of some kind. Getting allies to fight for you if you promise that the Ministry is going to treat them better. Lots of things. I want to know why you haven’t actually managed any of them.”

Albus paused, and narrowed his eyes. It was a slight motion, but Severus was sure that Harry saw it, from the way his spine stiffened.

“There is nothing known that can shatter the boundary a prophecy draws around two people,” Albus said, his voice unavoidably a bit brisker. “We could waste time searching for another solution and watch Tom damage our world and slaughter more of us, or we could try this.”

This isn’t working, is it?” Harry snorted. “You didn’t train the other Harrys well, either. You didn’t give them the information about Voldemort that would have meant they could defeat him. You just tossed them out in the field and expected them to work you a miracle.” He shook his head, and his eyes shone in a way that made Severus’s heartbeat quicken. This was a formidable fighter, a warrior someone could follow. A leader. “And as for damaging the world, I think Voldemort has already done that. The school’s closed down. You’re the only ones here. The Ministry won’t give you any help. You’ve lost. I think you might already have lost before the first Harry who was born here died, unless Voldemort has done everything in the last six months. You have to do something else to win, not just cower in the ruins of Hogwarts and wait for him like—like mice who see the owl overhead.”

“We aren’t doing any such thing!” It made sense that it was Black who protested, and in a way that rendered his voice almost a yelp. His beloved godson was saying this to him, and not reacting in a way that rendered Black into an idol, instead, Severus thought. Worship is so hard to go without after you’ve become used to receiving it. That is an advantage that I do not need to overcome, at least, in dealing with Harry. “We’ve done the best we can, against impossible odds—”

“And if it weren’t for the fact that other people are suffering for your stupidity, then I would say that I should just leave you to your misery,” Harry snapped. “But I know that others will suffer. People who have children and don’t have the strength to refuse Voldemort when he comes calling. People who have to feed themselves and work. People who will be encouraged to do stupid and evil things because the Death Eaters are telling them it’s okay.” He glared around at them all, his eyes so wide that Severus wondered what he was seeing with them. Not the chastened Order, he was fairly certain. “All the people you failed.”

“We didn’t fail them!” Granger, strident. “We got you so that you could go on fighting for them, and we wouldn’t lose the war!”

Harry snorted. “And in the meantime, you make it as difficult for me to succeed as possible. Evelina is the only one you’ve got training me. No one has made an attempt to sit me down and tell me an unbiased history of the war instead of the scraps that you keep hiding. You’re more interested in protesting that I’m selfish instead.”

“And you seem to be more interested in blaming us than fighting,” said Weasley bitterly. “How can you—”

“Fight when no one will give me the information I need?” Harry broke in smoothly. “I don’t know. I have to find a way. But I do know that it won’t be thanks to you.” His eyes briefly passed across Severus, but he was intelligent enough to realize that betraying their alliance in front of everyone else would be stupid. “And I’ll go and do it now, thanks.”

He turned and stomped away from them. There was a heavy silence in the corridor when he was gone.

It was broken by Granger’s sniffle and whimper. “We aren’t like that,” she whispered. “Voldemort is too strong, that’s all, and Harry is the only one who can kill him. That’s just the way it is.”

Her boyfriend moved closer to comfort her, and the rest of the Order turned inwards, too, turning their backs on what they would have had to believe to acknowledge that Harry was telling the truth.

Except Lucius, Severus noted, who had a pleased smile on his face. And except Draco, who had a desperate faith in Harry that no one could quash. But Severus would trust neither of them to offer the kind of unqualified help that Harry was asking for.

“Severus.”

Severus turned. It was Albus at his side. Of course it was. He raised a hand and motioned, and Severus obediently followed him back into the Room of Requirement. The rest of the Order didn’t make a move to come after them. They were all too accustomed to knowing when their leader wanted to be alone, and he didn’t even need to say it aloud.

Severus concealed a snort. He knew that the kind of leadership Harry would exercise, should he ever get the chance to do so, would not be like that. He would expect challenges and loud explosions, and yell about everything until he was sure that the people around him were being honest, with both their objections and their support.

Albus’s leadership, in his days of glory, was something else, something bright and shining and magnificent. Subtle, even, the way that the light of his phoenix Animagus could be until it flew into the room and made you notice it. It was the reason Severus had gone to him for protection. It meant that he could shelter in that radiance and no one would notice him, not as another shadow.

Then Severus paused, startled.

That’s not the reason.

He had never thought about it before, not since he became deeply involved in the Order, but…no, that was not exactly it. He had gone to Albus because there was no other shelter. No one else powerful enough to protect him from the Dark Lord. It didn’t matter that he distrusted the man. Going to him was the only way that Severus might stay alive long enough to see more life, or revenge.

His debt to the man was less than he had thought it, if that was true.

Albus turned to face him. His face was older and sadder than Severus had ever seen it. However, since that age and sadness were in general convenient protections, Severus put himself on guard.

“We need someone who can reach Harry,” Albus said. “You know it as well as I do. Someone who can work with him, who can offer him some of the things he asks for. It’s true. He should have received better training and support.”

Severus knew what Albus would ask him, then, and for a moment joy leaped up in him like a shout, like a flame.

He had to conceal it, of course, had to raise his eyebrows and shake his head. “You have your reasons for keeping it from him, Albus. If you wish to give it to him, then of course you might, but—”

“He needs a mentor,” Albus interrupted harshly. “At the same time, he is not the Harry we trained and loved and supported. He is Gryffindor, too rash and too inclined to rely on brute force and think he can save everyone.”

Severus bit his lip to keep from laughing. In a way, it was sweet, sweet revenge to listen to Albus abusing his own House, but he knew what Albus meant with it. Thinking of what that attitude could mean for Harry was enough to blow the amusement away like a winter gale.

“So you want me to be that mentor,” he said. “Because he distrusts you too much to accept it from you.” He paused. “What makes you think that he won’t distrust me just as much, and push me away?”

“Because you were the only one not showing either horror when Harry was protesting, or dark amusement,” Albus said.

Severus felt his breathing catch. Dangerous. I must never forget how dangerous this man is, how ruthless.

“I think he is right,” he said, telling part of the truth to conceal the greater lie, and caught Albus’s eye. Albus had never been able to pass through his Occlumency shields. Severus would have to trust that the same thing was true now. “I think we should have been honest with him from the beginning. But I am part of the Order that hasn’t been. If I come to him now and offer him training, I doubt he would believe me, no matter how skillfully I lie. Besides, as you made the point a moment ago, he is Gryffindor. He has no reason to trust a Slytherin.”

Albus’s lips twitched once. “If you come to him not as a friend, but as a reluctant ally, agreeing with him, turning against me in secret…”

The way that I already am? Severus would have to spend some time in his rooms that evening, puzzling out all the layers of deception here and laughing at the irony. Now was not a time for laughter.

“Very well,” he said. “But I warn you now that it may not work. He is bitterly set against the Order, against our world. This could be the beginning of a large mistake, if I go to him now.”

Albus reached out and rested his hand on Severus’s arm. “I have faith in you, Severus.”

It is a good thing that irony does not inspire an allergic reaction in me.

*

Harry walked through the Slytherin common room, all the while staring at the empty couches. This had been the place where students came to rest and relax, and now they were gone.

He could almost hear what Dumbledore would have said to him if he complained about that. “Of course they’re gone, Harry. We couldn’t keep them in the way of such a dangerous war.”

Harry snorted bitterly and slammed open the door of the bedroom that he’d been sharing with Draco. Hogwarts was silent and shut-up; the Aurors weren’t working, or wouldn’t come and help during the biggest fights with Voldemort unless they were rogue Aurors. Life in Diagon Alley, in Hogsmeade, in Ottery St. Catchpole and all the other little towns and villages where wizards huddled couldn’t be normal.

That seemed a problem more worthy of solving to Harry than the notion of exactly how to yank other Harrys from their worlds and set them to fighting Voldemort. Of course, Dumbledore would probably say that one of the Harrys killing Voldemort would have the effect of changing everything else, but Harry probably would have cast a spell to throw the Headmaster down the stairs and make him bounce on the way if he heard that, so he banished the thought and jabbed the knob on the first Harry’s bed that concealed the secret journal.

It tumbled into his hand. Harry studied it and shook his head. He didn’t know if he could break the code without help, but he would try. He didn’t want to betray the secrets here to anyone else unless he had no choice.

He started to hit the gold knob that would close up the hole, then hesitated and reached inside again. He wouldn’t be returning—he would find somewhere else to sleep tonight—and it would be stupid to leave something hidden here that he just didn’t have the patience to pick up.

There was only a book, or what felt like a book, small and fat and covered with cracked leather. Harry pulled it out and opened it, half-expecting another coded diary.

It was crowded with pictures of the other Harry instead.

Harry leaning on Malfoy’s shoulder, his arm around the other boy’s shoulders while he waved madly at the camera, such a contented expression on his face that Harry had to close his eyes before he could turn the page.

Harry, looking maybe five or six years old, with Sirius, laughing at him as Sirius raced around in his huge black dog form and leaped and snapped at the bubbles that Harry was blowing. In the background behind them was a house that rambled comfortably around in walls of stone and wood. Harry reached out as if he could let his fingers soak in the warmth of that wonderful spring day where they played, preserved forever.

Another page, another photograph. Harry riding a broom with a Snitch in his hand and his hair whipped crazily behind him by the wind. The smile that curved his lips had an edge of perfect contentment in it that Harry couldn’t stop looking at.

Harry with Ron and Hermione, looking up from a couch in the Slytherin common room to stick his tongue out at the photographer. Harry with a few boys Harry didn’t know, but they all wore Slytherin ties, so they were presumably his friends. And Malfoy again, lounging against a tree and smirking at the camera with the arrogant confidence that Harry was used to from his own world. It took a few more pictures to let Harry see the way his eyes softened when he was looking at his boyfriend.

Softened, but never with the crazy softness that ruled them now. Harry shivered and shook his head. Only now was he understanding how much Malfoy had lost when the other Harry died.

He closed the book and dropped it carefully into the satchel he was going to use to carry the journal. He would keep them safe. He wished he had mementoes of the other two Harrys who had died here, but he thought that maybe they’d had journals and photo albums of their own, and so carrying both these books was like carrying the remains of all the dead.

He stood up. The wistfulness in his eyes that had made them tear up was dry. He had flung his challenge, his gauntlet, at the Order. It remained to be seen whether there was anyone who would take him up on it.

When he left the common room, Snape was waiting for him in the mouth of the corridor that twisted towards his quarters. Harry paused and stared up at him.

“Albus wishes me to act as a mentor to you,” Snape said quietly. “A mentor who will really be loyal to the Order, but who can give you sympathy and the kind of training that you claim to need.”

“But not really,” Harry summed up. He felt tired when he thought of the Order, but pushed the weariness away. He wouldn’t spend a lot of time thinking about them, then. He would concentrate on the people who would be able to help him, Snape and Evelina. “What is his motive for keeping so much of the history and the knowledge I need away from me?”

Snape gave him a thin-lipped smile. “You are the most different version of his beloved boy that we’ve ever summoned. He doesn’t trust you.”

Harry shrugged. He should have expected that answer. “Fine. What exactly are you going to tell me? Do you know every detail of the other two who came here?” There was the possibility that Snape had lied about the argument he had with the original Harry before his death, and Harry would keep that in mind, but he had to get information from someone, and Snape seemed the most willing to help.

“I don’t know everything,” Snape said. He had a calm strength in him, or what Harry thought he could take to be a calm strength. It had never seemed that way, before. “I know enough to help you, and deceive Albus.”

Harry let out a hard, wavering breath. “Fine. Let’s do this.”

Chapter Text


“It is only right that you learn necromancy.”

Harry didn’t bother glancing up from the book Severus had given him yesterday, on the properties of various plants that might be used as poisons or healing herbs on the battlefield. He had the book braced on his knees, his hand resting on the arm of the chair, above the piece of parchment spread there. He made almost continual notes, and Severus wondered if he had unusually flexible wrists or a high tolerance for pain, not to mind the odd position. He said only, “No.”

Severus paused, and listened to the sounds of Harry’s breathing. He had gasped when Severus first brought him into the lab, as if unused to the high concentration of smells in the air, but now his breathing was ordinary, deep, and steady. He hadn’t glanced up. He hadn’t changed the hunch of his shoulders, uncomfortable as it was. He had simply refused.

“I see,” Severus said. “And why is that? The Dark Lord uses necromancy, you know that. And your other tutor has taught you spells that enable you to identify and destroy his creatures, which have more than a touch of the Dead Art in them themselves.”

Harry looked up at him. Severus still had to brace himself for the shock that sometimes occurred when their gazes met. He had once, foolishly, believed that seeing so many versions of Harry summoned and dying would inure him to the color of those eyes.

But it would not. It had been Lily’s color, and that of the Harry he had unexpectedly found in his House, and now this one. He would probably die fighting for someone whose eyes looked like that, he thought, and not count it a bad loss.

“I know about his use of necromancy,” Harry said. “That’s why I don’t want to use it. Some of the other books you gave me yesterday mentioned it, and they said that using it corrupted your soul.”

Severus relaxed with a sigh. Well, I should have expected that even an unusually clear-headed Gryffindor would believe some of the rubbish writers like that tend to spout. “They say that about any number of spells, including some that the Ministry has never bothered to classify as the Dark Arts. The Dead Art had advantages, and careful use of it is rather like the use of poisons.”

Harry shrugged, a gesture Severus could stand to see less of. “Well, I think there’s a difference between corrupting your soul because you’re willing to poison people and do things no one else wants to do—” A twist of his lips reminded Severus that this young man would be very used to dealing with that particular burden. “And corrupting your soul because you get more interested in the dead than the living and think nothing of grave-robbing.”

Severus spent a moment shifting his weight in place. Then he said, “It is the grave-robbing, then, that bothers you?”

Harry’s gaze grew sharp enough to pierce. Then he said, “Caring more about the dead than the living. It’s tempting, you know? To only think about the poor dead mes, the ones they summoned from their worlds, and decide that because I care about them I can’t care about anyone else. The Order’s obnoxious, Vol—sorry, Fleshless-Face should die, and I haven’t met any of the people I’m actually fighting to save.”

“Even Draco?” Severus asked. He had been trying to ascertain Harry’s feelings about Draco for the last few days as he gave him books and told him basic truths about this world, his world, and Harry showed murky flashes of a dozen different emotions.

Harry paused, and his mouth twisted as yet another of those emotions stained his eyes like crushed camellias staining a Daybirth Potion. “I don’t know. Sometimes I think I want to hit him and sometimes I want him to go away and not say anything, but I reckon I don’t actually hate him. Still.” He aimed his stare at Severus again. “I have enough trouble thinking about the living as it is, instead of the people I want to see again, the ones in my world. Necromancy would take me further away still. I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

Severus nodded. He had not anticipated an objection, the way Harry had torn into the other books and started studying. Of course, he understood that ferocious study as well, and it had nothing to do with some Granger-like, inherent love of knowledge. Nor was Harry a Ravenclaw. In his universe, he had managed to conquer the Dark Lord without a great deal of book-study. Here, that did not seem to be the truth, with a powerful, sane enemy, so he took to books because they were the means of survival.

“What? Was I sensible or something?”

“Your pardon,” Severus said. “I was thinking of something else.” Thinking that you may have more of a chance to survive than they think you do, and that they might rue the way they have treated you, even before I have the chance to make them.

“You looked at me as if you couldn’t believe I would say that.” Harry lifted his shoulders and let them fall again, in a movement Severus had to admit looked a little different from the shrug that had irritated him so much. “Well. Sometimes I’m smart. Sometimes not. But I’m still alive, and still fighting, and that’s more than I can say for most of the people here.” He started to turn back to his book, then added over his shoulder, “But anyway. That’s why I won’t learn necromancy.”

He went back to reading, and Severus studied him for a moment more before he returned to his own project: separating the books Harry could use from the ones he could not. Thanks to this latest information, the books on necromancy and the use of dead flesh in potions and rituals were cast aside.

Thinking about it, Severus was less displeased than he would have thought he would be at Harry’s decision. Yes, one should grasp every advantage and wield it, without concern for morals, if one’s life was at stake.

If one was a Slytherin.

That Harry was a Gryffindor, he forgot at times. But it did seem that Harry would be more than happy to remind the world on any occasion it happened.

*

There was so much.

Sometimes, it hurt Harry to think of how much he didn’t know, and how much he needed to know, and how much he was going to have to learn if he wanted to go back to his world. Because he thought he would probably need to do the research, in the end. The Order wouldn’t want to do it, because they wished he would die and go away—

Well. Not all of them. The way he saw Malfoy’s eyes shining on the rare days that he deigned to come out of Snape’s dungeons said that. But Malfoy was just as troublesome in his own way as Hermione and Ron, following Harry around, wanting to be with him, to touch him, in ways Harry just wasn’t comfortable with (because he wasn’t the Harry Malfoy thought he was and needed him to be), and whispering and hinting dark secrets about Snape that he refused to just come out and say.

Harry gave up, more or less in frustration, and went back to studying as soon as he could, although Snape did kick him out so he could brew in peace or so Harry could go to sleep.

Harry hadn’t wanted to stay in the Slytherin common room for several reasons, and although Snape had offered his personal quarters, Harry had seen the slight green cast to his face and refused. He didn’t think Snape was offended, really, about having him in the same rooms, or he wouldn’t spend so much time in his lab and library with Harry each day. It was just that he wanted to have somewhere to go that was private.

After the thrill he’d felt when the Dursleys gave him Dudley’s second bedroom, Harry understood that too well to question it, and ignored Malfoy’s darker hints. He could watch out for Snape and not trust him completely while not distrusting everything about him, the way Malfoy wanted him to.

So Harry slept in one of the abandoned classrooms no one had used for years on end, if the amount of dust he found in it was any indication. Banishing that was actually rather fun; he got to use one of the spells Evelina had taught him that displaced air in huge whumps, creating the illusion that an invisible giant was walking towards you. Dust whirled around and came floating back down, where he could burn and Vanish it.

Sure, he could have Vanished the dust in the first place just by flicking his wand, and there was only a slight chance that the furniture would have gone with it. But why not have fun where he could?

Fun was in short supply everywhere else.

He Transfigured a desk into a bed, and another one into a table where he could put his glasses and his books and a candle and a cup of water if he wanted one. Transfiguration was a lot easier than he’d ever found it. But when he thought about it, he mostly remembered McGonagall teaching them to turn objects into animals or animals into other animals. Converting one object into another one had been too useful, or something.

Harry sighed the night he thought that and went to sleep early. He didn’t like thinking that way about his own world, when there were so many things to hate about this one.

But he hated it a little less now. Not because he wanted to live in it, or because the Order was nicer, but because Snape helped him, and Evelina helped him, and the Order was staying out of the way.

If he never got to go home…

But Harry put that thought out of his head when it came to him. Maybe he’d have to face it someday, but not now. Think about it too much and he would become too depressed to go on. It was silly of him, maybe, but it was true.

So he didn’t think about the depressing things, and for almost a week he studied with Snape and Evelina and learned about battle Herbology and killing strikes and the different kinds of things he might be able to command a summoned snake to do, and was all right for the first time since he’d arrived.

Then Hermione had to show up with the damn spell.

*

“Harry? Can I talk to you?”

Harry stiffened. Of course he just had to be walking from his room to Snape’s lab early in the morning, and there she would be. It would probably only have taken him another minute to get down the stairs and safe, but she was behind him, trotting and puffing a bit, and she would get upset if he ignored her.

Besides, he was tired of running.

He turned around and leaned his shoulder against the wall. “Two questions,” he said. “Yes, you can talk to me if you have anything useful to say. No, you can’t call me Harry.”

Hermione came to a stop and blinked at him, one hand rising as if to touch the Nagini-scar on her face, and then falling back at the last instant. Harry focused on the scar. Not nice, from the way she was flushing as he stared at it, but it kept her separated from his Hermione, and that was all he needed right now.

“What am I supposed to call you?” she demanded, much more bossy than Harry’s Hermione ever got, unless you were asking to copy her essay five minutes before it was due. “Potter?”

“Why not call me what you think of me?” Harry asked. “‘Sacrificial victim’ would do.”

“That’s not the way I think of you!” She tossed her head up as she glared at him. Her eyes were bright in the way that said they would turn full of tears in a minute if he spoke the wrong words. Harry just stared back, unimpressed. He knew his Hermione had used that trick a few times when she didn’t want her professors to ask too many questions. It was a bit rich to expect him to accept it without question, though. Surely her Harry hadn’t?

I still don’t know much about him. Not what he was really like. If I can crack the code on that book he left, then maybe I’ll really know him.

“Then why do you persist in talking to me as though I’m stupid?” Harry asked. “A few minutes’ careful thought ought to tell you that I’m not the Harry that you’re used to seeing or any of the ones you’ve summoned since then. But you act as though I should know everything you’re talking about already.”

Hermione paused, then said, “I think you’ve been spending too much time with Professor Snape. You’re talking like him.”

Harry gave her a smile that he knew probably hurt, at least if the way she held her book up in front of her was any indication. “Better than some of the people I could be imitating.”

Hermione bowed her head. “Meaning me and Ron, I suppose,” she whispered. Harry said nothing; he thought she was the stupid one, if things weren’t real to her until she said them aloud like that. “Harry—”

“What did I tell you not to call me?”

Hermione shivered. Harry wondered for a moment if he scared her that badly, when she had faced Nagini, and then snorted. Nagini wouldn’t tell Hermione about all the times when she had summoned other versions of Nagini from different universes, and remind her of her mistakes. He didn’t know if Hermione had come to him because she listened more deeply to his points than any other members of the Order, or because she hated the idea that she had done something wrong, and wanted to set it right.

No. I don’t think she’s scared at all, just stubborn, he decided, as he watched the way she lifted her face towards him.

“You don’t understand,” she whispered. “I see him every time I look at you, see him in the way you gesture and the way you smile and the way you yell. He wasn’t as angry as you all the time, but he had his moments when he didn’t want anyone else touching him or being near him. Even Malfoy came in for his share of Harry’s temper sometimes.”

“Yeah,” Harry said. “But that’s what I object to. You searching so hard for the similarities. You trying to make me into him, when I know that I’m not him. You see why it might be a tiny bit insulting to me?”

“No,” Hermione said, and now her eyes were on fire. “I don’t. Not when he was so much more talented and intelligent and kind to his friends than you’ll ever be.”

“You’re right,” Harry said, in such a bright, false tone that she should have known what was coming, but evidently she didn’t. “He was so intelligent and talented and kind that he managed to kill his own Voldemort.” Then he paused and clapped a hand to his forehead. “No, wait, that was himself! My bad.”

“He was kinder,” Hermione whispered, trembling fiercely. “Kinder than to remind someone’s friends about that person’s suicide all the time.”

“Yeah, but sometimes being kind isn’t what you need.” Harry reached out and rapped his knuckles against her forehead, making her jerk back and stare at him. “And why should I be nice and kind when you kept telling me that I was nothing compared to him, that I was a horrible person, that I needed to be the savior of your world but I didn’t deserve the information I needed to do it? What are you all hiding so hard?”

Hermione jerked back again, but this time so fast that Harry staggered after her; he was still half-leaning on her, after all. She shook her head and tried to talk, but her face was marble-colored and her lips looked as if they might have been made of marble, too.

“Well?” Harry asked, and prodded a little harder than he needed to, because he was finding the expression on her face hard to deal with. It was truth. “Why did you come and talk to me in the first place just now? Were you expressing a different reception?”

“I found a spell,” Hermione said, and now the tears were there, and Harry didn’t think she was trying to use them to manipulate him. “Here.” She thrust the huge book she was holding into his hands and ran away. He heard her sobbing break out pretty much the minute she got around the corner.

Harry bit his lip. He didn’t enjoy being the kind of bloke who made girls cry.

But on the other hand, he didn’t enjoy being the kind of bloke they thought they could make a fool of where it concerned getting home to his own universe. He tucked the book under his arm and went to Snape’s quarters.

*

The spell that Granger had found interested Severus, but he had never experienced interest without wariness since he began learning the intricate rules of potions-making, and wariness was justified here. The Order would not give Harry gifts, and where Granger’s heart had once beat was now a book filled with the Order’s rules.

This book was not a gift. This book was such a bewildering mess of rules and plaints and theories and diagrams that it was a miracle Granger had located a spell that might return Harry to his universe in the middle of it. Severus sat back and pondered the spell, while Harry practiced some healing incantations he had learned from the books he read yesterday. Luckily, he was now experienced enough at creating harmless but shallow cuts on his arms that Severus no longer felt the need to monitor him every second.

The book said…

The book said many things, but Severus had read the first chapter, something Granger tended not to do if she believed the most interesting material to be in the middle or at the end, and he could see the tangle of complexities waiting to leap out on them like a nest of snakes. The book said that there were many worlds where different paths might have been taken, where different things might have happened, exactly as Albus had told Harry. In some worlds, the Dark Lord would never have arisen; in some worlds, Harry would have died no matter what happened; in some, he would have won; in some, Albus would have been the Dark Lord.

Severus paused and caressed the book’s pages when he thought about that. In some ways, I would say that that has already happened—but he is Dark Lord for the Order of the Phoenix alone, their controller and commander, and not for the whole of the world.

But the book also said that these paths of events fell out in predictable orders, and that it was easier to reach out to a similar universe than to reach one that was desperately different. Ones where Albus was the Dark Lord would have a hard time communicating with realities where the Dark Lord had always been known as Tom Riddle and had won.

Severus closed the book and traced his fingers over the cover. On the front, it bore the infinity symbol in silver, in the center of a golden nest of joined snakes. Fairly potent symbols, Severus thought, and appropriate ones for the tangle he now faced.

The universe we stole Harry from is different from ours in several important respects. Harry was in Gryffindor, he had a different life, I died there and Albus died there instead of Harry, and he defeated the Dark Lord.

Given that, how in the world did Albus reach it with the same spell that has so far brought us Slytherin Harrys? And why would he want to reach out to a universe so far from ours in the first place?


Severus had lent his strength to the spell. He had known—he had thought he had known—that it was the best chance the Order and the world had to survive the Dark Lord. And he had believed, until Harry came to this world, that he would share much of the same traits the others did. Slytherin House and being raised by Black.

And is that all that matters? If I have succeeded in seeing this Harry as something more than the sum of what he may be able to do for us, have I done the same thing for the others?

That, he realized now, was why he had instinctively been putting off speaking to Harry about the last two versions of him they had summoned, the ones who had died facing the Dark Lord. He had not seen them in the right way. He had not been sympathetic enough.

The thought of sympathy scraped and pulled at him, but if he could acknowledge that he had been wrong about the need to defend his world, wrong in the part he played in the Order’s pulling other boys out of their worlds, he could acknowledge that feeling sympathy was not the worst thing that could happen to him. He laid the book down and glanced up.

Harry had finished healing the last cut in his arm. He sat down in front of Severus now, in the chair he usually used to study, and stared at him. Severus stared back. He wanted to lash out, he wanted to flee, he wanted to stand and stretch and declare that they needed tea before they could go on.

Anything but admit he had not known the other Harrys that well, and he could not tell this one, the one who was human to him, everything he needed to know.

“At least you’re admitting that what you did was wrong. I don’t think most of the Order can do that as yet.”

Severus started and glanced up. Harry was staring at him, and if he was not a natural Legilimens, that only cooled Severus’s blood the more, because he had known only one man that skilled as a reader of body language and minute facial expressions. That man was Albus.

“How did you know?” he whispered.

“Not such a surprise.” Harry gave him a grim smile and shook his arms out, resting them across his knees. “I asked you to tell me about the other Harrys who were here, and you didn’t want to. You had me ask everything else first. Not a stretch to figure out that there was something there you didn’t want to talk about, which means it’s something you had to wrestle with.” He firmed his lips and lifted his head. “But I want to hear about them. Now.”

Severus nodded. He would speak the words, then, and leave the content of them up to Harry’s judgment. “You know that the first one died in battle against the Dark Lord, I think, and that the second one died at his hand as well, but during torture.”

Harry grimaced and nodded. “But I don’t understand how that last one happened. Did he get captured? After the first one—maybe we could call him the second one, because of the original Harry you knew—they would have been a little more cautious with sending him out to face Old Shrivel-Snake alone, wouldn’t they?”

Severus sighed and closed his eyes. He could remember the Order’s discussion of how they had to carry the offensive battle to the Dark Lord, because he had participated in it. Without the Harry of that time, he remembered now, the one summoned directly before the boy who sat across from him now. Because Albus had thought it would distress him too much to hear the discussion about his probable death, and he was busy with Weasley and Granger and Draco anyway.

Perhaps it is a good thing that Harry—this one—does not find Draco a distraction.

“They decided it was useless to have him face the Dark Lord in direct battle,” Severus said. He could see the problem with these decisions looking back on them. What bothered him most of all was that he had not seen them at the time. Yes, hindsight was clearer than sight in the present, but he prided himself on keener eyes than most. What he prided himself on should be true, to have value. “He was to take him by surprise.”

Silence, and he could feel Harry blinking as if he looked at him. “That doesn’t sound like such a bad idea,” he ventured at last.

Severus snorted and opened his eyes. “It would not have been, could they have taken him by surprise. But they forgot to reckon with the Dark Lord’s ability to sense Harry’s movements. He was waiting for them at the ambush point, and took Harry away from them. From us,” he added, although he had not gone with Albus on that doomed mission and now considered himself separate from the Order of the Phoenix. He had not considered himself separate at the time.

“Ability to sense my movements,” Harry repeated, and frowned. His eyes were focused past Severus, with a hawk-like glare Severus had to admire. This was the kind of glare that the Savior of the World needed, perhaps, if he was to win. All of the other Harrys had been—not gentle, but not as intense. Severus wondered why, and placed that question along with the others on the shelf in his mind. He was used to thinking of Slytherins as more intense than Gryffindors, if only because they were more focused.

“He couldn’t,” Harry said. “I mean, yes, he felt we were there when we entered the Death Eaters’ stronghold, and he sent the falcon after me, but he can’t feel where I am.” He stared at Severus. “Can he?”

Severus paused. “Albus did not tell you this?” He could not prevent the softness in his voice, or the way his hand shook for a moment before he rested it on his wand.

“No, he bloody well fucking didn’t,” Harry said, and his voice was the thing that shook, but Severus understood how stupid the wizard would have been who took that for fear. He stood up and stared through the wall as though he could pierce them with his gaze and find Albus hiding behind them. “I thought, since Old Red-Eye didn’t make Horcruxes in this world, or not for long, and I’m not from this world, anyway, that he couldn’t sense my scar.”

“It has nothing to do with that,” Severus said slowly. No, Albus did not tell him. “The two members of a prophecy can sense one another, at least if they have access to the spells and power the Dark Lord carries at his disposal. It takes time, and training, and skill. I doubt the Dark Lord knew you were here immediately after you emerged from your world, because he knew the Order would bring another across but not when, and he has better things to do than wait with his eyes closed every hour of the day. But he can find you.”

Harry gave a bitter laugh and sat back down. “No, Dumbledore never said anything about this. But if he knew it, why did they think the other Harry—the third Harry, whatever, the one who died by fucking torture—why did they think he could sneak up on Voldemort in the first place?”

Severus grimaced at the name, but responded. There were greater things at stake now. “Because Albus did not know about it at the time, not until he had researched further after that Harry died and settled on that as the explanation.”

“So, even now, he doesn’t know.”

Severus shifted. He had no reason to think the look in Harry’s eyes was directed at him, and still, he did not like it.

“No, he does not know,” Severus said quietly. “Not for certain. It is merely the most reasonable explanation for how the Dark Lord foiled our ambush.”

Harry stared into the distance some more, then turned around and focused on Severus in a way that would have been appropriate had Severus been trying to kill him. “Did Dumbledore trust the other Harrys?”

“I believe he did, yes,” Severus said. “They did not resist him. He did not try to conquer them.”

Harry snorted. “When he invited me up to his office for that little talk, I hadn’t tried to resist him, either. What had I done? Said I would accept training from Evelina, complained about being dragged out of my world, and had one meal and slept a little. That was all.”

“I would not pretend to understand Albus,” Severus said. “He grows more distant from me every day. But I can tell you what Granger’s book said, and what I believe has happened.”

Again the distant look that made Severus shiver. He wondered, for a moment, about worlds where the Dark Lord was not Albus or the Dark Lord they knew, but the Potter of them. The vision of such worlds crystalized more and more in his mind the more he watched Harry.

And if I have seen it, what may have Albus seen, or persuaded himself was there to see? Perhaps there is another answer to the problem of why he mistrusts Harry so much.

“Tell me,” Harry said, leaning back and hooking one leg over the other, focusing on Severus as though he had brought him news Harry needed to plan a battle strategy.

Severus explained the concept of ranked worlds as far as he understood them, which was not enough for some of the questions Harry asked them. Of course, Harry didn’t necessarily know the words of the proper magical theory, either, so the questioning mainly showed them where enlightenment was necessary rather than gave it to them.

But in the end, Harry leaned forwards and half-shut his eyes. “So this is what probably happened,” he said. “For some reason, Dumbledore reached out to other worlds, ones further away from this one. Maybe he did it because he thought all those versions of Harry—all my siblings—were too similar to the one who was born here, and he needed someone different to cope with this Voldemort.”

Severus flinched at the name, but nodded. “That sounds reasonable to me.”

“Well, then.” Harry shook his head. “He gets me, but he doesn’t like or trust me. I’m not Slytherin, I’m someone who might actually be closer to him in some ways but farther away in others, and I’m not someone who had the kind of relationship with him that he had with the other Harrys. They looked up to him as a mentor?”

“They certainly did not come to me,” said Severus, with a dryness that he thought should leave his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth.

Harry opened his eyes and grinned at him for that. “All right. Anyway. So. He got someone different because he thought that was the kind of weapon he needed—”

Severus held up a hand. “We do not yet know if this is true. It seems a dangerous thing to state as fact.”

“Do you have any better ideas?”

Severus scowled and shook his head.

“Well, then. For the moment, let’s act as if it was true and see how it explains Dumbledore’s behavior.” Harry leaned back, almost squirming into the chair. “So. The thing I don’t understand is, what then? Why would he be unnerved by my differences instead of comforted by them? He summoned me for that reason, after all. Did he think I would be as easy to control as someone he had a bond of trust and training with?”

“He was the one who proposed the spell to the Order, and the one of us who knew the most about it,” Severus murmured.

Harry waited, and then prompted, “And?”

“And—I wonder if he had seen other worlds where a threat arose,” Severus had to say. “Not a threat from the Dark Lord, or himself, which I think increasingly likely the more I study other universes. A threat from you.”

Harry closed his eyes and seemed to listen to a song playing in the silence of his head. Severus sat still and waited. He wondered when fear had entered the equation, and if he was right to fear as long as Harry was in this world with him, rather than home in a place that could contain him.

*

Well, that makes sense, doesn’t it?

The sourness in the back of Harry’s throat surprised him. He swallowed several times, and still he couldn’t do away with it. He would have thought he had anticipated something like this, given all the talk of alternate universes and Snape’s just confirming that Dumbledore knew more about them than anyone else.

But he didn’t. He still had to deal with the fact that someone thought he could be a Dark Lord, and this time, it wasn’t random people who read the Daily Prophet and believed whatever it printed. This was someone who had pulled him into this world and might still control his fate here.

The rising of strength within himself at that thought made him gasp, because it was so strong, and so unexpected.

No. I will not let him.

Harry let himself adjust for a moment to that changed thought, then nodded carefully to himself. All right. That was settled, then. No matter what happened, he wouldn’t let Dumbledore have final say over him.

But that still left him in doubt about what to do. He pushed aside the thoughts that wanted to spill out his mouth and said, “Hermione—Granger—said something about that spell being the one I wanted?”

“The spell is one that might work,” Snape said, with the quietude he seemed interested in using around Harry lately. Harry wondered if he should ask why, and decided not to, not when he might hate the answer. “But I would be reluctant to trust a body to it. You could still be ripped apart in the space between universes, which Albus calls dangerous.”

“And you trust him enough to think it is?” Harry demanded, opening his eyes and staring at Snape.

Snape didn’t smile. “I would not risk a trial merely to show that he is wrong.”

Harry nodded. That sounded like good sense, now that he had to think about it. “All right. Then can we send information through? Establish a contact with the world I came from, and talk to someone from there?”

Snape’s eyebrows raised, and his hand rose as if to adjust the collar around his throat. Harry smiled a little. He had watched the man long enough by now to realize that that was the equivalent of standing up and shouting.

“We can but try,” Snape said at last.

Harry nodded. “Then let’s. I could use more than one ally I could trust.”

Don’t trust him, Malfoy’s voice whispered in the back of his head, while Snape looked briefly away, as if trying to hide how pleased he was. Of course, he could be pleased by what Harry said and still be against him. He might want Harry to trust him if he was planning to betray him, too.

I’ll watch him, Harry thought. But I need a better reason than paranoia to think he’ll turn against me.

Chapter Text


This is beauty.

It was a weird thought to have in the middle of a ritual that might or might not let them establish contact with his friends for the first time in what felt like centuries, but Harry had it anyway. He looked around at the torches floating next to them, and the spiral of chalk and dried dragon’s blood that Snape had sketched on the floor, and the dim flash of silver from the cauldrons and mirrors that had to be positioned to, as it were, bounce the radio signal they were trying to send out, and a deep sense of satisfaction moved through his bones.

It was beautiful, to have rituals like this and do them and have them do what you wanted. For the first time, Harry thought he could see why some people liked Potions, and why Hermione—his Hermione—had always liked Arithmancy. You did something complex, and you came out with a beautiful, ordered result.

Order out of chaos. Harry usually did it the other way around, but the Order here had put so much chaos into his life that it was nice to take a break from it for once.

Perhaps he could remember this feeling, when he got back home, and do something about it. He was starting to think that he would never want to be an Auror now, after fighting not one but two Voldemorts.

They stood inside the center of the spiral, with Snape chanting the incantation this world’s Hermione had found, and flicking his wand back and forth, so that sometimes the end pointed at one of the floating torches and sometimes one of the mirrors. The torches floated in a bigger spiral around the one on the floor, and the mirrors and cauldrons formed a third spiral that hinged with that one. Harry wasn’t sure what was so special about spirals, or why he couldn’t say the words of the incantation, but this was the way things had to be, if he wanted to talk to his friends.

And he wanted to talk to his friends only slightly less than he wanted to go home.

The air in front of them suddenly darkened. Harry took a deep breath, and felt Snape’s hand grip his shoulder. Harry shrugged a little, irritated. He wasn’t so stupid as to go running into the darkness, not after all Snape’s warnings, and Snape didn’t have to treat him like he was.

But the hand stayed in place anyway as the spiral turned in and inwards, and the darkness acquired pinpricks of light, like stars, that flew apart from each other. Harry had the impression they were speeding down a dizzy tunnel between them, and swallowed.

Then he heard noise. And one of the noises was Hermione’s voice, the real one. Harry closed his eyes and listened with all his heart.

“What’s that? No, Ron, stand back, don’t go near it, we don’t know that it isn’t the same thing that took Harry—”

“Did they see anything when I got taken?” Harry whispered, looking back at Snape. “I thought they wouldn’t, since you stole me in my sleep.”

Snape frowned, and Harry remembered that he probably didn’t want to be counted as part of that Order anymore. Harry would have apologized, but Snape nodded rather urgently towards the spiral in front of them, and Harry faced it and cleared his throat. They had practiced this, they had agreed how it would be, and it was still hard for Harry to speak the words.

“Um—hullo? Hermione? Can you hear me?”

There was silence so dead that it made the darkness in front of Harry seem lively. Then Hermione breathed out, “Harry.”

Harry felt stupid tears prickling at the corners of his eyes and grinned an equally stupid grin. He tried to move forwards, but Snape’s hand tightened warningly on his shoulder, and Harry understood, then. Snape wasn’t worried so much about him galloping into the darkness at first, thinking it was a portal, but doing something idiotic here and now, when he had the first contact with home.

“Yeah,” Harry said, and had to clear his throat, because otherwise Hermione and Ron would think he was crying, and that wasn’t on. “Hermione? I’m in another universe, a place where I never defeated Voldemort because I died here.” Snape had told him he should tell the essential information first, because they didn’t know how long the spell would last or how dangerous it might be to prolong contact. “They keep bringing versions of me through to defeat him, it’s horrible, I’m the fourth one, all the others died—”

“That’s horrible,” Hermione said, and it didn’t sound like she was merely repeating what he’d said. “Harry, we have to get you out of there right away. You don’t owe anything to anyone. You’ve paid your debts.”

Harry let out a breath so deep he was surprised he was still standing at the end of it, and closed his eyes. He had known Hermione would agree with him, he told himself, he hadn’t really thought she would insist that he stay here and fight this Voldemort because it was his duty. But it was so overwhelming to hear someone—besides Snape—tell him he could leave if he wanted to.

And Snape, as nice as he was being, still didn’t know everything about the war in Harry’s world, and everything he’d had to go through.

You could tell him, you know, came the suggestion from the deepest part of his brain, which had been getting a workout since he’d been here, but Harry brushed it aside. He had to tell Hermione more.

“They used a spell called the Dream Mirror to study me.” He could hear a dusty, scratching sound that puzzled him for a moment, and then he smiled. Hermione writing down what he was saying, of course. “And then they used one that would bring a version of me across who had already defeated Voldemort. But they didn’t get the one they expected this time. All the others were Slytherins who got raised by Sirius. They didn’t expect me.”

“Why do you think that is?” Hermione, in research mode. Again Harry stepped towards the dark spiral in spite of himself, and again Snape restrained him. He flicked back a short glance and nod of thanks, and opened his mouth, but Ron interrupted.

“Harry? That’s really you, mate?”

“It’s me,” Harry said, and had to close his eyes as he thought about the contrast between his Wheezy, as Dobby would have said, and the git upstairs. “And I’m all right, Ron, but I think Dumbledore hates me. The Dumbledore here, I mean.” Fuck, it was going to be confusing dealing with the denizens of two worlds and mentioning them to each other. “Or thinks I could become the next Voldemort, or something.” He paused, alerted by something in the silence from beyond the spiral. “Did you just flinch at his name again, Ron?”

There was a sound like someone reaching up to hit a taller person on the back of the head, and then Hermione’s voice said briskly, “Yes, he did. And suffered the appropriate punishment for it. All right, Harry. What kind of danger are you in? Can we help you from here?”

“I hope so,” Harry said. “The Voldemort here is sane, and either he never made Horcruxes or he gathered them all back together again.” He wasn’t sure that he should trust Dumbledore on that point. “Snape’s helping me, but I don’t have any other allies here. If you could look up stuff on alternate universes and the spells that someone could use? Dumbledore claims that he can’t send me back because it’s a one-way trip, and no one else can defeat Voldemort because we’re bound to each other in a prophecy. Can you look that up?”

“Of course,” Hermione said, sounding faintly offended, as if he had suggested that she couldn’t put her shirt on the right way.

Harry closed his eyes and let the enormous relief pour over him again. “Thank you.”

Snape shifted behind him and cleared his throat. Harry understood. The strain of holding the spell that communicated between universes was getting to be too much for him, and he needed Harry to finish up his greetings or at least make it clear that he’d told Ron and Hermione the most important bits.

“I think I have to end this spell soon, you lot,” he said, and tried to pretend that the tightness in his voice came from embarrassment at having to talk about the situation in front of Snape. He thought it worked, but not very well. “I—can you please contact me when you have something? Do you think you can cast a spell that will let you find this universe and make contact with me again, Hermione?”

“Let me see,” Hermione said, so brisk that Harry smiled in spite of himself. He heard something that sounded like her fumbling through several pieces of parchment, and then she said, “Yes. I remember reading Horace Galatier’s Contacting Alternate Universes, it says something about drawing the shape—”

“Tell her to hurry,” Snape said through his teeth, and Harry glanced over his shoulder to find him swaying like a candle in a gust of wind.

“I have to go soon, Hermione,” Harry said hastily. “I’m not in any danger right now, but this spell is hard to hold. Be—be careful, all right? If you contact someone who isn’t me, even if you hear your own voice, you have to back out right away. I don’t trust the Order here at all.”

“Really?” Hermione sounded painfully fascinated. “Why? I mean, they might be prats, but they can’t all be prats—”

“Promise me, Hermione,” Harry hissed, and leaned backwards so that he could support Snape. “Please?”

“Yes,” she said, and Harry heard the murmur of Ron and what sounded like other voices behind his. He wondered if some of the real Order was there, too, or his other friends, and smiled in spite of the way that Snape was trembling. “Of course, Harry. You know that we’ll take whatever it needs to bring you home. Stay safe. I’ve already finished drawing the way the spiral appears in the air here and all the little dots around it, so I think we’ll be able to open up a way to contact you soon.”

Harry opened his mouth to ask her what she meant by little dots and the spiral, but the spell collapsed then, the spiral in front of them turning red and sparking and falling into pieces. Harry reached out a hand, thinking he might need to support Snape, but the man had fallen to one knee already and knelt there with his surprisingly long hair hanging around his face, gasping.

“Sir?” Harry followed him down. He thought about trying to get him back on his feet, but he wasn’t sure that would be a good idea right now, so he just waited, hand out, in case Snape decided that he wanted Harry’s help.

*

It was no wonder that Granger’s book had spoken of spells like that being dangerous, Severus thought, his head still feeling as if the spiral were inside it, thoughts rising and falling in essentially random patterns. His chest was tight. His magical core, if one could feel that, was tender and shaky. He didn’t know how he had managed to survive so far.

He lifted his head and blinked at Potter. Potter blinked back, crouching with one hand still reaching out to him.

Then Severus remembered the voices, and how familiar they had sounded and yet how strange, unlike the voices of the Weasley and Granger he knew, and a vicious chuckle spilled from his lips.

“Sir?” Harry pulled his hand back, his expression wary. He didn’t quite rest his palm on his wand, but Severus’s expression must somehow have been alarming, from the reaction he did have.

“If they knew,” Severus murmured, his head half-bowed as he concentrated on breathing and recovering his strength. “If they had the slightest idea, the Order here, that we had made contact with another universe and that you prefer the people there to the ones here…”

“Except for you, sir,” Harry said, and half-smiled at him. “Of course, it wouldn’t matter even if I did prefer the version of you there, since he’s dead.”

Severus nodded, and tried to ignore the strangeness of that. He had never met a Harry from a world where he had died; all of them had left behind their Severus Snapes alive and well, profitable Potions masters and excellent Heads of Slytherin House. Severus wondered now if that should have been a signal, a warning, when he didn’t feel close to those boys, or the desire to be part of their lives, the way he did with Harry.

Really?

That was what he felt, yes, and he could admit the thoughts no matter how uncomfortable they grew. He hardly thought Harry would press him to speak them aloud before he was ready.

“Granger did not give you the book intending for you to do that, you know,” he said, when he had breathed in and out for several minutes and Harry looked as if he had grown resigned to waiting. “She thought you would discover the spell was too hard for you and come looking for help, or thank her, and that would be her chance to discover a way into your confidence.”

“Oh, of course she did,” Harry said, casually enough that one would miss the fire in his eyes unless one was looking closely, the way Severus was. “But that doesn’t mean it would happen. I don’t think the Hermione—the Granger here is used to plotting very far ahead, sir, is she?”

Severus shook his head, and stood up. His legs remained firm beneath him, and he nodded. For all that Harry had seen his weakness, Severus would remain more comfortable and confident in himself if he didn’t have to ask for help, and they badly needed confidence. “She took part in the childish adventures that the Harry I knew involved himself in, and I think little side-adventures, given her partnership with Weasley,” he said, and made his way back over to his chair. Harry went, without being asked, for a cup of tea, and hesitated before he cast a Warming Charm. Severus noted the hesitation, but kept the knowledge to himself for now. “When she fought, it was always as you have seen with the Patronus Charm, under the guidance of someone else. She is not a warrior like you.”

Harry looked up, blinking, in the moments before he carried the tea over and deposited the cup in Severus’s hand. Severus sipped, and yes, it was ordinarily warm, the usual kind of heat that a charm would produce. “But I don’t think I’m a warrior, sir. I fought—the Dark Lord a handful of times, and once since I’ve come here, but I didn’t kill him like a warrior would in my own world.”

“You think a warrior someone who kills.” Severus kept his voice lulling, and Harry took the chair opposite him, watching him as if he thought the lull might be a symptom of a coming collapse.

“Yes,” Harry said. “It’s there in the name, isn’t it, sir? War. You’re not someone who just goes around living a normal life and then picks up your wand to cast curses when you need to. You’re someone who goes out and fights. And kills.”

Severus was silent, sipping tea. The irony of what he was about to say was so thick on his tongue that it tasted metallic. He considered not saying it, nodding in response to Harry’s words and letting the moment slip past.

But he could not. In the end, Harry might need these words as armor against Albus. For the moment, the Headmaster had decided to step back and let Severus handle Harry, but he could change his mind at any time, especially if he realized that he wasn’t seeing the destruction of Harry’s self-confidence and anger that Severus had promised.

“A warrior is someone who fights,” Severus said at last. “Someone who can make the war his life. I do not believe that anything in the definition says he must. Someone who fights for a living—that is a soldier, Harry. Or a mercenary. But a warrior can be someone who defends a noble cause, and someone who thinks he lives for one. And there are many, many kinds of wars beyond simply the ones that involve wands and curses.”

Harry stared at him with wide eyes. Then he let his breath go in a little snort. “You’re a Slytherin, sir, and talking about warriors and noble causes? What would Dumbledore say?”

It was the kind of wording that would have made Severus rise to the bait not long before. Now, because it echoed thoughts he had had himself, he could remain still and simply incline his head. “Yes,” he murmured. “They are the kinds of things that he would be surprised to hear me talk about. What would he say?”

Harry’s eyes narrowed, bright as fireworks. “Sometimes I think it wouldn’t make a bad life lesson to find out everything this Dumbledore is in favor of and do the exact opposite,” he muttered.

Severus nodded. “And I will use my knowledge of him to deceive him as necessary. But we must avoid falling into our own traps. We think, on our own, that our Houses define us all our lives, and limit what we can and cannot talk about and do. I do not believe that the Dark Lord has any such belief. He acts cruelly because it suits him to do so, but he would pretend to be a Gryffindor if that would work. Keep your eye on the goal, Harry, and not on what you are at the moment.”

Harry opened his mouth, and then snorted. He tried to cover his mouth with one hand and muffle the sounds leaking out of it, but Severus had already heard them and knew what they must be. He sat up and stared at Harry. He had tried to help the brat, he had spoken of things that made him wince to speak of, and Harry took it with laughter?

“Sorry!” Harry gasped, perhaps because he had seen the expression on Severus’s face. “I was just—trying to picture—what my version of you would have said about me taking advice from you. About time, probably, and then he would have heard the advice and gone back to his grave in disgust with both of us.”

Severus sipped his tea again to spare himself from having to respond for a few minutes. But yes, perhaps another version of himself from a world where he had always hated a Gryffindor, Muggle-raised Potter would say those things. Severus found that he could picture the sneer that that Severus would use, and hear the low tone of his words.

And hear the hatred in those words, so little different from the hatred that Severus himself felt for Black.

Severus sighed, and shook his head. “I can see that,” he said, stopping another fit of laughter from Harry as it was about to start. “But I cannot sympathize with him, or stay in charity with him long.”

Harry blinked at him. “But why, sir? He was more bitter than you are, but you’re closer to each other than the Hermione and Ron here are to the Hermione and Ron I knew. And a whole hell of a lot closer than Malfoy and the other me are.”

“Because,” Severus said, and leaned forwards to emphasize his point, “he could not look at you and see what you are. The hidden places in you, the potential, your nature and ability to defeat even a sane Dark Lord.”

Harry paused, still staring at him. Severus wondered how little praise he must have received in his life, even from his friends and the Dumbledore of the other universe, if a relatively mild compliment surprised him like this.

Another jewel for the web, another fact for the collection. What had happened to this Harry Potter during his childhood, and perhaps during his school years, to make him into a Gryffindor? The fighter they needed, but someone so little at home in himself that he would react like this to praise?

Then Harry took a deep breath and lifted his head as though to fend off any attacks that might come with the words. “Thank you, sir,” he said, calmly. “And we should decide what kind of report you’re going to make to Dumbledore now. You’ve been down in the dungeons with me long enough, he’ll think. He’ll expect some kind of results, and want you to deliver them to him.”

“He can wait,” Severus said, and couldn’t help the vicious snarl that broke out from his control. Harry, though, waited, and in a moment Severus had reminded himself that he was not the Gryffindor and that, as confining as thinking of themselves by their Houses could sometimes be, there was something to be said for its usefulness, too. “Yes, you are right,” he said, and sipped the cup of tea again. He feared he would need to introduce a Strengthening Draft into it before he went to face the Headmaster. “And it would be best if I could present him with some tangible sign of progress.”

Harry paused. “More than a lie, then?”

Severus nodded, and tried not to think of the disappointed expression that would cross Albus’s face if he could hear this conversation, the words he would speak about the few merits of deceit compared to the strength of truth when facing off against a common foe. Severus had no patience for the argument that would come of that. “Yes. I will not ask you to come with me; he would not trust you enough for the risk to be worth the possible gain. But if I could report certain words, give him a memory to look at…”

“And a memory could be altered, but it could also be staged,” Harry said, and his grin made Severus think of worlds where Albus’s fear about a Gryffindor Harry becoming a Dark Lord had proven true. “Well. What are we waiting for?”

*

“Headmaster. Thank you for meeting with me.”

Harry hid a smile. Snape had started out well, he thought, acting as if it was his choice to meet with Dumbledore. Well, he was the one who had sent the message, but Harry knew he never would have gone if Dumbledore hadn’t compelled him to.

He was watching their meeting through what looked like a crystal on a long, grey string. Harry didn’t know exactly what it was, and the long, slow look Snape had given him when he exclaimed over it told him not to ask further. It could be a shrunken crystal ball, one that actually worked, for all Harry knew; the important thing was that it worked.

Snape and Dumbledore were sitting in the middle of the Headmaster’s office, the Headmaster’s hands folded on the desk in front of him. Snape sat in a chair with his arms folded, staring over Dumbledore’s head. Harry knew that was probably just caution, so Dumbledore couldn’t read his thoughts, but it made him look like Dudley when something had taken over one of his programs. Harry smiled openly this time. Snape was doing well.

And would you have even noticed something like that before he started training you? He’s making you more Slytherin.

Harry shrugged away the thought. He knew he had to do this, and this wasn’t his world. If he had to act a little more Slytherin to survive here, that didn’t mean he would always have to. He could go back to normal when he went home.

More than anything, he was determined not to allow this other world to change him. Dumbledore wouldn’t get the Slytherin Harry he demanded, and Malfoy wouldn’t get his lover, and Voldemort wouldn’t get the easy opponent he was expecting. Harry was just going to walk around being himself, as many difficulties as that would cause for people.

In fact, he thought, as he watched the way Dumbledore watched Snape, the more difficulties, the better.

“So,” Dumbledore said, and he was trying to keep his voice serene and his smile calm, but Harry could see enough even from this slightly distant vantage to know it wasn’t working, “what did you have for me?”

“I have seen the way Potter fights, Headmaster.” Snape could keep his voice in the dead calm waters that the Headmaster only wished for, and Harry admired him for that. He knew he would have been tempted to go up and punch Dumbledore in the nose by now. Snape blinked once, twice, as if slightly bored—or strengthening his Occlumency shields. “He will make a fine warrior on the battlefield, under guidance, but he has no discipline. The best way is to point him at a target and stand back.”

Harry grinned. Snape was the one who had suggested that particular deception as the one Dumbledore was most likely to believe, but Harry was the one who had made the memory real. And he thought he could see the shudders running down Snape’s spine even now.

Again, his voice echoed in Harry’s head, as it had yesterday after they put together their little faked scene to become a memory Snape could place in the Pensieve. I cannot bite my nails for fear of swallowing Potions ingredients. But I am tempted to begin.

“That’s bad news, Severus,” Dumbledore said. Everything in the room seemed to droop along with him, Harry thought, even watching it through the crystal. That was a way Dumbledore had with him; he could make everyone else happy or sad no matter what he was feeling. What he wanted them to feel was the point. “We have need of another fighter, one who can make some of his own decisions in the heat of battle.”

Snape lifted his head and blinked faster this time. “But I thought you were worried about Potter’s independence of mind, Headmaster,” he said, his voice thick with wonder. “This at least shows that it does not extend to all his actions.”

“True independence of mind,” Dumbledore intoned, “consists of listening to other people when you must, and making the right decision regardless of the circumstances.”

And that right decision is always listening to you, is it? Not bloody likely!

The vision in the crystal wavered as though it was water Harry had breathed across. He pulled his face away from it and closed his eyes for a second, counting backwards from ten the way Snape had told him to. The crystal was a pretty powerful tool, but it was a delicate magical artifact, too, and it would react to unexpected emotions from a strong wizard like Harry by stopping the vision.

Do you realize how much like Snape you sound?

Harry rolled his eyes. That was the other danger; he might not become a Slytherin, but he might become a little Snape-clone, and trust the man too much. As Draco would say, or at least claim. Harry focused on the crystal again, and decided he must have missed part of the conversation, because Dumbledore had a grave expression on his face and Snape’s hands clutched the arms of his chair.

“The virtues you mention are incompatible,” Snape said, and it sounded as if it weren’t the first time he’d repeated this. “Thinking for oneself essentially means that one cannot exercise perfect obedience.”

“I disagree, Severus.” Dumbledore’s face had gone so calm that he looked as if he were standing in a pretty garden staring at the Fountain of Contemplation or some shit like that. Harry clutched the Elder Wand and focused on the warmth running through it to give himself a distraction. “One can think through his positions and realize that obedience is in one’s own best interests. My concern is that Harry does not take the long view. He seems to think that he will and can fight on his own, without realizing the wealth of experience and talent that he has to draw on in the Order.”

Snape massaged his forehead and sighed. “Can you blame him? We did not tell him the truth at first, and he must constantly compare us to the very different people he knows in his own world and find us falling short. Well, not me, perhaps,” he added, with a slight twist of his mouth. “He appears to trust me most because I am so very different from the Severus Snape that fought beside him. But Black did not raise him, and you are dead in his world, Headmaster. What else can we do but try to win his trust, and offer him truth?”

“I said that we needed a warrior,” Dumbledore said, and in his voice was the sound of strained patience that often made Harry want to hit something. He was impressed that Snape kept his hands off his wand. “One like Harry, but not like him. One with different traits.”

Snape made a thick noise. “If you will allow me time to work with him, I think I can train this version of Potter to respect other people and stop thinking he can save the whole world by himself. But, Headmaster, it will need time. And you said yourself that bringing other people into this war is useless, because Potter is the only one who can defeat the Dark Lord.”

“Yes, of course,” Dumbledore said, and sat there, his twinkle going on in his eyes as though he’d lit a Muggle lamp, and waited.

Snape stared at him. Harry wished that it was real acting, but he had the feeling it wasn’t, that Snape was staring because he was simply bewildered by what Dumbledore was hinting at or had done. Harry felt the same cluelessness, and also a sparking fury deep in his stomach. If Dumbledore had done something to someone else, coerced Ron and Hermione into pretending they were his friends, or if he planned to cast the Imperius Curse on Harry…

Come on, then, you fucker. I can resist it, how about that?

“Severus, Severus,” Dumbledore sighed at last, and sounded exactly the way McGonagall did when she was clucking over a favorite pupil, like Hermione, not knowing the answer to a question in class. “We must have Harry for the prophecy to work, but a Harry with different traits. The obvious solution is to summon a Slytherin Harry who has defeated his Voldemort from a different world.”

The vision in the crystal blew apart as Harry felt strength and momentum gathering in his stomach, enough to shatter the whole entire world, and a real snarl broke past his lips, and the Elder Wand leaped gladly into his hand.

No! No, you fucker! Not someone else whose life you’re going to tear up, not another one who’ll never have the chance to see his world again!

Harry clutched the Elder Wand with one hand, his temple with the other, and tried to fight down the pounding headache and nausea that wanted to take him over. He had to save the other Harry, yes, but he couldn’t do that if he didn’t know what Dumbledore intended. And to know what Dumbledore intended, he had to watch the rest of this meeting.

He had to calm down.

He opened his eyes, and the vision in the crystal was back in front of him. Harry blinked, then smiled, a smile that made him feel as if his teeth were about to cut his lip open.

Of course. Of course. He wanted to watch what Dumbledore was doing and stop him more than he wanted anything else. He was capable of being calm when he wanted to; he just didn’t want to often.

Harry smiled another smile that made him feel as if his mouth was filled with razors, and wondered how soon Dumbledore would learn that he was armed, now, that he knew he could resist being manipulated if he wanted to. It was just a matter of wanting to long enough.

“I did not think we could do that, Headmaster,” Snape was saying, and his voice was poised, Harry thought, like one of those stupid cauldrons he had shown Harry the other day, when he was still fixated on teaching him Potions theory that was obviously not going to work. “I thought that once we had a version of Potter in this world, that one had to stay until he died, and only then were we free to summon another one.”

Harry swallowed. Snape’s act was perfect; he had many emotions humming under the surface of his voice, but none of them were positive. He heard Malfoy’s laughter in the back of his head, this broken Malfoy’s laughter, and the murmur of, He was a spy and the prime actor in Dumbledore’s service for years. So sure you can trust him?

“The obvious solution is to send Harry—this Harry—home,” Dumbledore said, and the twinkle was back in full force. “As he wants, and as I believe young Miss Granger is close to discovering a way to do.”

Harry caught his breath. That sliced at his throat like razors, too. He swallowed the razors, and then thought, You clever, clever bastard. You had to know this would be the perfect temptation.

He closed his eyes and thought of Hermione and Ron. He had heard their voices just yesterday, but the thought of being able to see them, feel Hermione hugging him and Ron punching him on the shoulder…

Of being home, and able to sleep in his own bed, and resume his interrupted life. That was the most wonderful thought he’d had in weeks.

Then his hand slipped into his pocket, and touched the coded diary that he’d found hidden in the bed in the original Harry’s room.

And how could he do that? He couldn’t. Not when leaving would mean some other poor Harry dragged into the middle of this, and perhaps dying, and then another one, and another one, without end, until they finally found someone who could win. And then they would probably never bother getting him back home, just think that he should be happy to stay here with the people who “loved” him.

And there were the mysteries that Harry hadn’t found the answer to yet, like why the original Harry had died.

And who knew if he would ever master the Elder Wand or get it to work for him?

Harry swallowed, and hoped that Snape could feel his head shaking, his beliefs turning utterly against this shitty compromise that Dumbledore offered. He rejected it. If Snape accepted for him, unless it was part of an act, then Harry would part from him, too, and fight on alone.

I will not be used like this, as bait in a trap to bring someone else in. Fight your own war, Headmaster.

“I…will need to consider whether he would be willing to go home, at this point,” Snape said finally. “He might think it his duty to stay until the Dark Lord is dead.”

“Explain the point to him,” Dumbledore said, with a soft smile. “Harry is reasonable. I am sure he will understand.”

You mean “easily manipulated.” You mean that you think I’ll give everything up the minute you find me a way home because that was what I wanted in the first place. And maybe I would have. I’m not perfect, I would have taken the first portal someone offered me before I understood everything.

But now I do. And I’m not fighting for
you, Headmaster. That’s the part you don’t get.

Chapter Text


“And you think this a reasonable plan.”

Harry didn’t look around at Severus. He stood with his arms folded in front of the window that Severus had placed into his lab as a useful spying device, when he wished to exert the effort, and as a convenient soothing scene when he did not wish to use it against his enemies. At the moment, it showed a harsh blue lake seen from the height of a sheer cliff, with the rocks spilling purple and gleaming into the water. Harry didn’t seem to breathe as he stared out and down at it.

Severus did not speak again. Harry had confessed his “reasonable” plan in a flat voice that had nothing of apology or admission about it. Severus responded with silence to such things until the person who had come up with them took the time to explain them adequately. He would do the same now.

He glanced at the potion in front of him again, and frowned as it changed from black to gold. Though he was not sure exactly how the final product would look—no Potions master ever did when inventing an experimental draught—he knew the gold color was a regression. He noted in the book lying beside him that adding poppy seeds was not an improvement and reached for the next ingredient he wished to try, a harpy feather.

“Dumbledore can’t be trusted, and he won’t tell me anything. I’ll have to pretend to agree to his plans so that he doesn’t get too suspicious about what else we’re up to. So yeah, I have to steal a march on him somehow.”

Severus sighed and put the feather down, using a Stasis Spell to hold the potion in place. The silence had worked better than expected. “And using your own scar to establish a link to the Dark Lord and read his mind that way is your stealing of a march,” he said. “Nothing more. Not a plan born of pain and frustration.”

Harry turned around and snarled at him. Severus felt something in himself relax. That, at least, was a reaction the original Harry might have had, and something he could deal with.

Then his muscles seemed to tense as he wondered whether something that would have been characteristic of the Harry he had known for seven years was worrying when it came from this Harry.

“This is the only way I can think of to get knowledge that we have to have,” Harry said, and his voice had a calm that reminded Severus of the crushed ice that Minerva liked to put in her glasses at the Christmas parties, so thick and so pushed down was it. “No one in his ranks can spy for us. Dumbledore won’t tell me. You can give me more information than you have so far—”

“And will do so, gladly,” Severus interrupted, with his own and more real calm. It would not do to let Harry forget that he had allies.

Harry paused, and his eyes flickered for a moment before he smiled. The smile was there and gone too visibly for Severus’s comfort, but it had happened.

“I know,” Harry said. “Thanks. But you can’t tell me what’s going through the Dark Lord’s mind right this second.”

“No one can,” Severus said. “Dumbledore could not do it if he was gazing into his eyes this moment. I would not say that he was as practiced at Occlumency as I am, but the Dark Lord is a master Legilimens, and that in some ways is worse. Venturing into his mind, you would be on his ground, and vulnerable to a number of tricks and traps that could render you a mindless husk. Or, worse, take you and make you into his servant and slave, or read all the information out of you.”

Harry grinned for some reason, explained when he said, “Nice to know that you don’t think me being a mindless husk is the worst fate I could suffer.”

“I have been his servant,” Severus said, before he could stop himself. “I know what that fate feels like.”

Harry lost his smile and nodded. “But this is still the best plan for all the reasons I named,” he said. “Dumbledore’s plan can’t be allowed to happen. No matter what he said, I couldn’t trust it, for fear that he was keeping something back, and that he wants to control me more than he wants to keep Tom from winning. So. I have to do this.”

Severus relaxed once more. “Ah,” he said. “So this determination comes from the knowledge of Albus’s plan to summon another of you.”

Harry blinked. “Did you expect me not to do anything when I heard about it?”

“I expected you to spend more time considering your options,” Severus said, and folded his arms in turn. That made Harry face him and frown, perhaps because he had seen his version of Severus stand often in such a pose before a scolding. Severus did not mind, as long as he had Harry focused on him. “Not run in panic because of what might happen and leap onto an untenable plot because you must be doing something.”

Harry half-lowered his head and narrowed his eyes. “That’s not the reason I’m doing this,” he said.

“Yes, it is,” Severus said, and heard the noise of Harry’s teeth grinding. Good. “You take risks. I can understand that, because it has worked out for you in the past. You feel most yourself in the heat of battle, and that is how you were able to survive your confrontations so far with the Dark Lord. But that is no excuse for taking a stupid risk, simply because you feel helpless waiting for Albus to reveal his hand.”

“I’ll do anything rather than see him drag another version of me into this fucked-up world,” Harry said, and clenched his hands.

“Then commit an ‘anything’ that is productive and will not get you killed,” Severus replied, his voice smooth and cold. That voice had occasionally worked good results with Draco, in the days before Draco decided that he cared only about his dead boyfriend. “That should be simple.”

Harry pushed his hair out of his eyes, revealing the scar in a way he usually did not, and glared at Severus. “You think so? Then why haven’t I been able to come up with anything?” He turned and lashed out at the wall, his knuckles scraping the stone.

Severus murmured the Summoning Charm to fetch a healing balm from a cupboard nearby and tossed it to Harry. He would not hold the boy’s hand and put it on himself unless Harry was determined to act more stupid than Severus thought he was. Sure enough, after a moment when Harry held the jar of ointment and too clearly considered not using it out of spite, he grunted and began to smear it on.

“You have not asked for help,” Severus said. “Acting alone would lead you to such doomed plans, yes. Ask me, and we will come up with something that will prevent Albus’s plan and also gain you some traction in the war.”

Harry hesitated. Then he said, “I don’t—I don’t want you to do something that will put you at risk, or make Dumbledore suspect you.”

“But you can, and it doesn’t matter?” Severus folded his arms again, this time not as a gesture of manipulation.

“I didn’t say that,” Harry said carefully. He capped the healing ointment again and set it down on a nearby table, watching Severus. “He already distrusts me. Nothing except going back to my world or turning into his mindless servant will ever make him stop suspecting me.”

“So far,” Severus said quietly, “you have acted sensibly. Perhaps more openly and with more foul language than I would approve for my Slytherins, but Dumbledore has not daunted you, even when he revealed that a way back to your universe might be impossible. You have retreated as necessary, and found ways to fight. This is different. Why?”

*

Harry wondered how the hell he was supposed to explain, why he felt as though something was clawing him beneath his skin and shrieking in his ear.

He couldn’t let something like this happen to anyone else. He couldn’t. He would murder Dumbledore before he would let that happen, and the idea of killing someone like that and splitting his soul made him feel weak and sick. He would come up with some insane idea to kill Voldemort, something that couldn’t possibly work and might destroy all their chances for surviving here—

The way he just had.

Harry shut his eyes and began squeezing his fingers into his palms, regularly, rhythmically, an exercise that one of his primary school teachers had mentioned once. Sometimes Harry had used it when he was in his cupboard and frustrated because he was hungry or listening to Dudley break a toy he would have loved to play with. He hadn’t needed it that often since he came to the wizarding world. It seemed that most of the time, there was something happening, something to do. Even when he’d walked to his death, still the hardest thing he’d ever done, there had been his feet to force to move and the Resurrection Stone to turn.

“That is better,” Snape said, his voice so still that Harry wondered how he would get Ron and Hermione to believe him when he was home, that Snape could sound like that. “Now. Tell me why.”

Harry forced his eyes open. Keeping them shut for too long didn’t feel like a good idea, and he stopped moving his fingers when he saw the way Snape was looking at them. Snape looked up and at his face, and that didn’t feel like a good idea, either. Harry glanced away.

“I don’t know,” he said, and that was the truth. He didn’t know why this was so different from anything else that had happened since he was here. He’d been able to wait and accept Snape’s training and what he was learning from the books he studied without insisting on joining battle with Voldemort, why was this different? “It’s just—I hate feeling helpless, and I think I am. So I came up with this.”

Snape was silent. Then he said, “Very well. I will accept that answer for now, though in truth there are many things about you that I would give much to understand better.”

Harry snapped his head around and stared at him. “All the important ones can be explained by you knowing that I wasn’t raised by Sirius and I’m a Gryffindor and I was pulled here against my will,” he snapped, wondering what in the world Snape was talking about. So far, he hadn’t got very personal. What happened to talking about training and ways to take down Voldemort, and why had they switched to talking about emotions? “There isn’t anything else that you really need to know.”

“More about how you were raised would indeed help.”

Harry stiffened, and then realized he shouldn’t have, because if he’d snorted and treated this as an obvious thing, like his House identity, then Snape wouldn’t have thought he had anything to hide. As it was, Snape was gazing at him so intently that Harry felt as though he was back in detention.

He ground his teeth. Well, fine. He would look at this the best way, that he still wasn’t really acting like a Slytherin if he couldn’t plan ahead, and meanwhile deal with the obstruction in true Gryffindor fashion. “That has nothing to do with this,” he said. “And you know it, too. My mum’s sister raised me, my Aunt Petunia, and her husband. I don’t know if you ever met them here, but it doesn’t matter.”

“Then it should not matter that I would like to know more about them.”

Harry rolled his eyes. No, Snape wasn’t going to get around him with that one. “Assuming that we win the war and I stay here for a few minutes instead of fleeing back to my universe as fast as possible, I’ll tell you about them then. Now, can we please concentrate on how we’re going to figure out what Scaly-and-Flaky is going to do next?”

Snape remained quiet for so long that Harry thought he was going to linger on this discussion. He couldn’t figure out why Snape would want to, but asking him about it would only cement the moment in his mind as worthy of yet more discussion and laying the words out and thinking about them and—and things.

Finally, just when Harry had thought that he might need to pick up a book on Occlumency to make Snape focus on what they should be thinking about, Snape nodded and said, “I was thinking of learning more about the prophecy bond that connects the two of you and using that to locate the Dark Lord and find out what you can from him.”

Harry blinked. “Even though we know almost nothing about it or how it works?”

“Yes,” Snape said, and he had eased back to the level of intensity that Harry was comfortable with, coming from him, where he wanted someone to think on the subjects he presented but did not care what time they spent on subjects that were unrelated. “It is, at the moment, a weapon for the Dark Lord alone, and Dumbledore does not understand it well, and has likely no time to research it, not if he plans to use the Order to bring someone across from another world soon. If you could use it…”

“I’d have advantages against both of them.” Harry shook his head. “But last time we mentioned it, you said it was only the Dark Lord’s magic and training that allowed him to use it. I don’t have access to that.”

“You have a great strength of will,” Snape said. “In some circumstances, that can substitute for knowledge.”

“That’s not what the other version of you used to say whenever I tried to work on a potion,” Harry muttered.

Snape paused, and for a moment, Harry thought he would ask more about the other version of himself, and Harry would have to lie or tell a lot of truths that might break the trust they had in each other. Harry set his shoulders and scowled, but he knew the scowl was really meant for himself, and hoped Snape would think much the same thing. If he didn’t want to get into awkward situations like this, then he shouldn’t keep bringing them up, the same way he never should have said those things about the Dursleys if he didn’t want Snape prying into them.

“Nevertheless, in some cases it is true,” Snape said, and it was evident that he had decided not to ask questions, just answer them, from the way he focused on the bookshelves next to him. He frowned, and reached out to push several of the larger volumes aside, before his hand fell on something that looked like the kind of pamphlet religious organizations sometimes tried to give Aunt Petunia. He tossed it to Harry. Harry caught it out of the air, and hid a grin at Snape’s blink.

Don’t toss things to a Seeker if you don’t want them caught.

He looked carefully at the front of the pamphlet, but all it had was some lettering he couldn’t read. It might have been Russian. Harry rolled his eyes. “You realize that I can only read English, right?”

“And Parseltongue,” Snape said calmly. “The book is in English, Harry. What matters is that you read it and understand the magical theory on how to channel your will. I will be available if you have questions, but I believe this is something that needs to be mastered as much by oneself as possible.”

Harry subdued the impulse to ask why the fuck the book had a cover that looked like Russian if it was in English, and opened it. Snape nodded and turned away. Harry sighed when he saw the dense paragraphs coating the pages in front of him, with lots and lots of mentions of “will.” He was probably going to get sick of that word long before he finished reading it.

But at least the clawing feeling under his skin had gone away. So conversation with Snape could do that much.

It was nice to know.

*

Severus returned to his potion, noting that harpy feathers, Augurey feathers, and pegasus down did not work, either, before he decided to abandon the use of light, drifting material for a time and turn to its opposite. He opened the drawer that contained chunks of onyx, sapphire, and other dense and difficult stones, glancing at Harry out of the corner of one eye as he did so. Harry’s mouth was set in a grim line as he read.

The thought of the Dark Lord never truly leaves him. Perhaps that is less surprising for a young man reared in another universe where he was the only hope against him, however.

Severus did not think the boy was paying attention to Severus himself, and certainly not enough to read the faint flickers of expressions traveling and leaping through his mind. Which meant he had the time and the freedom to make his decision.

Did he want to know the truth about Harry’s past to aid the war effort and keep him from doing something stupid—understand him in order to help him—or was it only his natural curiosity about what events in their world had made Harry, ultimately, so different from the first one he knew?

Looked at like that, the answer was simple. It was both, not either. He wanted to help Harry; he wanted to know the truth as much as he had ever wanted to know what the Dark Lord’s next move would be.

Which meant he could move on to the next question: How much should he push? How far was it permissible to indulge his curiosity?

As far as would help the war. That, at least, he knew. Choosing how much he needed to know for that was the difficult part, and the part that Harry would likely fight him on regardless of whether it benefited Harry himself or not.

“Stop staring at me.”

Severus blinked. He hadn’t realized that he had turned away from the jewels and was studying Harry on his couch instead. Harry’s hands had tightened on the book, and he didn’t raise his head, but Severus could see a flush making its way down the back of his neck.

That is the problem. If I try to hold back and probe subtly, he will likely notice, and shut me out with more determination than before. If I ask him outright, he may not answer, but at least he will know that I am being—honest with him. And the reasons that I do not state, he may guess for himself. He already knows that I am interested in his past.

“I am sorry,” Severus said, taking a chair near the desk and once again casting a Stasis Spell on the potion. “But I find myself curious why it matters so much that you grew up with Muggles, how that alone could have introduced such a profound change in your character.”

Harry’s knuckles whitened as though he was becoming a ghost, but he never looked away from the words. “I didn’t know about the wizarding world, living with them,” he said. “So I never knew about Hogwarts, or the Houses, or the history that the other Harry must have known, or my parents. That’s the obvious reason. Of course, when I came to school in my world, I was going to pick Gryffindor instead of Slytherin.”

“The House difference is not the most important one,” Severus said quietly. “It is a mask, a distraction, for those like Dumbledore, who are inclined to pin your strangeness—to them—on such a thing because it is obvious. And simple. Suitable for the minds of Gryffindors.”

Harry gave him a faint smile. “Like me.”

Severus smiled back, but did not allow the tangent to lead him away from the main trail. “I am still curious how growing up with Muggles changed you otherwise.”

“It didn’t,” Harry said. “Except for what I just told you.”

“Not even the second Harry, who seemed to have been raised more honest than the rest of them, was as bad a liar as you are,” Severus said softly.

Harry ground his teeth so hard that Severus thought of warning him about chipped enamel, and in the end did not because it would sound as if he were seeking some way out of this conversation himself. Then Harry put down the book and leaned forwards, and Severus understood that he was going to get the intense focus he had desired.

He might, however, not like what Harry did with it.

*

“It doesn’t matter, except that you keep insisting it does,” Harry began. The clawing feeling under his skin was back—though not as bad this time, because instead of thinking about another Harry in danger of being dragged into this world, he only had to fear Snape dragging his secrets out of him.

He can’t. Not if you keep a watch out and know how to defeat him.

That didn’t lessen the fear, however, any more than knowing his plan to invade Voldemort’s mind had been crazy had diminished his desire to do it. He locked his hands on his knees and met Snape’s eyes without fear of Legilimency, because he thought he would feel it going in and he trusted Snape not to enter his mind without permission.

You trust him that much, but not enough to tell him about the Dursleys?

Harry ignored that thought, though. He hadn’t told Ron and Hermione about the Dursleys, not in any detail. There were some things that you just didn’t talk about, and it had nothing to do with whether you trusted the person or not.

“I wish to understand the source of your differences,” Snape said. He sounded untroubled, even though Harry was fixing him with the kind of burning gaze that seemed to have unsettled Dumbledore. “Not because I fear them, but because knowing you means I can help you plan how to survive and get back home.”

Harry paused. That was a new idea, but chimed so much with his own thoughts that it seemed weird to just throw it away and not listen to it. “But you don’t need to have that knowledge to help me,” he said at last, because it was the only thing he could think of. “Helping me depends on potions and battle spells and—and things like the prophecy bond. It doesn’t depend on my personality.”

“You think not?” Snape dropped his voice, and proved his stares could be just as piercing when he wasn’t using Legilimency as they were with it. “When your resistance separates you from every other Harry who has come through the gate so far, when it is your stubbornness that frightens Albus, when it is your courage that has permitted you to survive so far? What are those but facets of your personality?”

Snape was right, damn him, Harry had to concede. But grudgingly. “You already know everything you need to know, then. You even knew that I was thinking of something dangerous and how to persuade me out of it. That’s not something even my friends can do most of the time. Why do you need to know about my relatives?” The words burned his throat.

Snape settled back in his chair. “Some part of it is personal curiosity, I must admit,” he said. “But I have found that many of your reactions do not make sense, or seem inconsistent, even for someone shaped by the different forces operating in your universe. I wish to—see beneath the surface. And you defend those secrets so fiercely, while being open on others. If I did not know better, I would say that they told you something disparaging about magic that you still believe. Perhaps it even damages your power.”

Harry snorted. “That’s not likely. I defeated Tom back in my world, and I can assure you that no one there really knew anything about my family. My friends guessed some of it, I think, from seeing—”

He stopped. Snape simply folded his hands in front of him. He didn’t say that Harry had as good as confessed that he was hiding something important, because he didn’t have to.

Harry glared at the wall, and thought. On the one hand, he didn’t want to talk about this because it was embarrassing, and Snape would probably think of him as a victim or something for the rest of Harry’s life. On the other hand, Snape might not leave this alone once he had latched onto it, and that meant he would always be munching away at it, nibbling it, when Harry wanted him to think of other things.

“I’ll tell you because I don’t want you distracted,” he said at last. “For myself, I’ve learned to live with it, and it really doesn’t matter.”

Snape simply nodded. Harry faced him, because if he was going to convince Snape that it was no big deal—just the truth—he had to, and started explaining.

*

Severus listened to the words of the explanation, and the silences that underlay them and played over them. He could be less sure of what the silences concealed than the words, of course, but a good listener should be able to pick out both.

What Harry said was,

“My relatives never liked magic much. I think—I know my aunt was jealous of my mum and hated that she went off to be a witch and Aunt Petunia didn’t get to. So they took me in, but only because Dumbledore threatened them, I think. I grew up thinking my parents were drunks, not knowing there was such a thing as magic, and not really knowing anything except that I wasn’t normal somehow and it was my fault. Or my parents’ fault. They had me do a lot of chores. I think that was their way of making sure I was absolutely normal or something. Even now I still don’t know how much they knew about the Boy-Who-Lived stuff, but if they realized, I’m sure they thought the hard work was an even better idea. They were saving money and time and getting me so exhausted I could only think about what I was doing and not start fancying myself a hero or something else stupid.”

What Severus heard was,

I grew up without any connection to magic. I didn’t know who I was until I was eleven years old, and then I plunged headfirst into a world where people adored me as much as my relatives hated me. There was no one there I could trust except the people who seemed to be my friends for honest reasons, and they were all my age. I was used to hard work, but also pointless work, the kind you have to start all over again the next morning. And it was work for other people, not myself. No one taught me to work towards a goal, or that I might want to. No one taught me that I was supposed to want things, to be things.

Severus was sure that those were not the only crimes that could be laid at the Muggles’ feet, but they were the most prominent ones, and the only ones he knew about right now. He continued to listen.

What Harry said was,

“They didn’t want to waste time or space on me, so they had me sleep in a cupboard under the stairs. There was a bedroom, but they just used it to store all of Dudley’s old toys—Dudley’s my cousin—and didn’t let me have it until I went to Hogwarts. Then they started getting scared, because they thought I might do magic to them. There was a lot to do and never enough time to do it in, and never enough to eat. I s’pose they thought, if I was weak enough, that would also make it hard to do magic.” Harry lifted his head, and his eyes were as dark as jewels. “But they never hit me or beat me up. Well, not my aunt and uncle. My cousin did, but that was all.”

What Severus heard was,

They didn’t feed me. They kept me in a cupboard, like an animal or a thing they were ashamed of. They never wanted to waste a moment’s thought on me, and they nearly taught me never to waste a moment’s thought on myself. And they let their son bully me. But for all that, I don’t want you to pity me. I’ll lash out if I think you do.

They abused me, and they taught me to look away from it, because I never had hopes of changing it, even when the wizarding world found out about me and I about it. Only of escaping it.

Severus remained still in his chair for long moments when Harry was done speaking, and let his hands and his face and even his breathing stay in the exact same position. Harry stared at him for some time, drumming his fingers on the table next to him, but didn’t speak, perhaps because he was afraid of what would happen when they broke the silence. Instead, he finally turned away and busied himself with the book Severus had given him on will magic once more. At last, he began to relax, and he even fell into the natural rhythm of turning pages, instead of flicking wildly through them the way he had done before.

Severus looked at him, and thought.

He could see the marks of abuse, now that he looked, though before he had had too few pieces of Harry’s past to make them connect that way. He saw the slenderness, the flinch-and-react reflexes that perhaps had played into Harry’s talent with defensive magic but had done him no good in other areas of his life. He saw the wariness in the back of his eyes, the way he kept himself from engaging with others in the way that so many other children, like Weasley and Granger and even Draco, automatically expected to. Severus had thought it all came from being snatched into a different world and shoved at a different Order whom he could not trust. And perhaps some of it did, but it ran deeper.

Harry had not broken. He had grown and survived.

But in a different form than he would have, had wizards taken him in. Severus despised Sirius Black, but he had raised a boy who did not have half the reflexes or the distrust that Harry did, who was more successful at making people like him, who understood more of the signals they gave and who had established a relationship of sorts even with Severus.

One who had survived and thrived in Slytherin. And so had the other boys that had come from much the same background, the versions of Harry Severus had known too briefly for his comfort or their survival.

It was no wonder that Harry, this Harry, the one living and breathing in front of him, the one he was trying so hard to aid, had chosen Gryffindor. It would have been madness for him to be in Slytherin, which would reinforce all his battle-bred traits and his abuse and surround him with people he could not trust. He had needed an escape of some kind, and all the more when he began to understand the fight that awaited him.

I can only hope that I can convince him to trust me enough to survive this particular fight.

Harry raised his head from his book at last and blinked at Severus. “Sorry, sir, I didn’t mean to let so much time go by,” he said in a very normal voice. “I didn’t know that I’d got so caught up in the book. Did you say something?”

“I did not say something,” Severus said, and added one more thought to the ones he had gathered so far. If Harry could trust Severus enough to cooperate in the plans they would make to hunt down the Dark Lord, then Severus would not push him to talk further, or act further, on the abuse. There were certain things that were more important than others. Now he understood Harry’s behavior, and it seemed that Harry had managed to live in spite of it. It would be out of place to insist that he must deal with it further simply because Severus would be most comfortable if he did so.

He will do it if it becomes necessary, as I think he will do everything else. And listen to me, counseling the son of James Potter and Lily Evans.

Even if a different pair than the ones I knew.

“I think that you have adequate strength of will for most of the spells described in that book,” he said. “Do you see why I wanted you to read it?”

Harry nodded and ran his fingers absently over the letters on the cover. They glowed briefly, and Severus would have smiled if he had not been sure that Harry would misunderstand the expression. The book had certain spells on it that would lock it down completely if it judged the readers unworthy. It had bonded with Harry, however, and Severus’s handwritten notes would become visible to him in that case. “But I don’t see how I can access the prophecy bond itself without a lot of training. And even if Vol—sorry, Tom can feel all of us, all the versions of me across the universes, does that mean that I can feel him? There’s no saying that it would work both ways.”

Severus inclined his head, impressed that Harry had thought of the objection. “There is a potion that will clarify and relax your mind, and by focusing your will in that state, I believe you can identify the bond—”

He paused, and then leaned forwards. Harry had closed his eyes and sat still, his cheeks flushing, his hands tightening on the book. Severus had seen that expression before, but only after interrupting Harry with Draco.

“Harry,” he said, and waited.

“I think—he’s here,” Harry said.

It was the only warning Severus had before the scar on Harry’s forehead, half-visible given the way his fringe was hanging, burst open. Red blood poured forth, but also something different, blacker. Severus surged to his feet as the dark liquid formed itself into a hand and groped at the air for a moment before it withdrew and turned into an eye.

His Lord’s eyes had never been black, but the one on Harry’s forehead had the same cool anger, the same desire for power. Severus stared at it and noted Harry’s body hanging slack and limp beneath it, as though the Dark Lord could manipulate him like a puppet.

“You have missed me, Severus.” The hissing voice issued from Harry’s lips, but it didn’t seem to bother with such small things as tongue or teeth to move. “You will be content to come with me when I take over this body? There are things I could use for you, even now. All will be forgiven if you—”

Harry’s mouth gaped open, and his tongue appeared for a moment. Severus could hear him gasping, struggling, and knew the boy was engaged in a battle of body and mind, trying to reclaim both from the Dark Lord.

Severus gave what aid he could. Meeting the black eye, he said, without flinching, “Legilimens,” and passed into the grip of that arctic mind.

Chapter Text


Harry didn’t know how Voldemort had made a connection with him when there was no Horcrux here and no bond tying them together, but he knew what he needed: time to figure it out.

So, although he still wasn’t good at Occlumency, he had a defense, and he unleashed it, flinging chaos at Voldemort, images and memories and sensations and the feeling of love that had driven out the Voldemort in his world when he’d possessed him before, lighting up the darkness in his head with the flashes of silver fireworks.

Voldemort hissed, and Harry could make out the spell-words in Parseltongue that he was using to keep himself here. It was a weird experience, like hearing Latin in English, knowing that he didn’t know the words but he knew what they were meant to do—

Shit. That’s it. Of course. We still have a resemblance, even though we’re from different words and he never cast the curse that marked me. We’re both Parselmouths. There has to be a spell out there that exploits similarities like that, especially if all the people yelling at me in second year were right and Parseltongue usually belongs to Dark wizards. That’s how he’s doing it.

Harry closed his eyes and summoned forth the image that would fight for him, building it out of memory and stubbornness and the sound of his friends’ voices through the bridge they had built that connected the worlds and his hatred of the Order in this world and his bond to the Elder Wand and his commitment to saving other people’s lives. He built it, and he called, he yelled into the depths of his mind, and the magic came out of the bottomless well of his will to fill the image and animate it.

Slytherin’s basilisk coiled in circles and hissed at Voldemort, and then struck, its great fangs flashing.

Voldemort tried to speak to it, to command it, and Harry flew down on the other side of the basilisk, laughing madly. Voldemort would do that, of course, he would try to command the snake in the language he was using to link to Harry’s mind, and he wouldn’t realize that Harry had made the snake unanswerable in Parseltongue. It was only Harry’s voice that it would listen to, no matter which language he was speaking.

Something came in from the side then, another foreign presence, and Harry whirled towards it, wondering if another Death Eater had accompanied Voldemort on his mental flight.

But it was familiar, if foreign in the context of his mind, and he felt it brushing and scraping against the side of his skull and his defenses, touching him, reassuring him—

Snape.

Harry threw another burst of bright chaos up behind the basilisk to keep distracting Voldemort, and dived, twisting, so that he could open up a path for Snape. He didn’t know for certain if Snape would be able to do anything to help him hold off Voldemort, but he did know that he didn’t want to be in the way of the combat they might have. And he trusted Snape enough not to try and baffle him.

He thought he felt an acknowledgment from the mind treading through his own, and then a thin, sharp strike that was probably Snape’s Legilimency, hitting Voldemort from the side and forcing him to defend. At the same moment, the basilisk hit him from the other side, and gave Voldemort two fronts for his war.

And there was a third side, after all, with Harry’s consciousness still unengaged in the battle and free to attack from behind.

Or…beneath.

Harry grinned in delight and descended into the part of his mind where the magic that fueled the basilisk had come from, and began to gather what was left around him, winding it tighter and tighter, like thread around a spool. The magic gleamed and, when Harry spoke a soft word in Parseltongue of his own, began to burn.

*

Severus had forgotten.

He had not often clashed with the Dark Lord before, and never like this. Defending his own mind against the Dark Lord’s Legilimency, while pretending that he was doing no such thing by hiding the existence of his Occlumency shields, was one thing, and he had learned to bear the pain. But this was another mind with the Dark Lord whirling in tight circles around Severus, and Harry winding tight circles beneath both of them, and a basilisk made of light and magic closing in from the other side. Severus had to simultaneously maintain his distance from all of them, choose his weapons, and counter the Dark Lord’s increasingly desperate, sharp-edged throws.

The pain that thundered through him with each successful strike was, he reminded himself, surely not as great as the pain that Harry and the rest of them would feel if he failed.

He reached for a trick he did not like to use this early in the battle, since he had concealed its existence for years, but he doubted that he would have a chance to use it later. The Dark Lord pressed him hard and close, laughing in his ear and scratching against his shields until Severus shook and wanted to vomit. And he was sparing his strength right now, not committing fully to the battle as Severus had thought he might. It could not be long before he would grow bored with that, and strike harder.

Severus could not let that happen.

He constructed what would look like another of his Occlumency shields, a thin, flexible covering that bent like a net and hurled the attacker back—if all went well, and they were not as strong as the Dark Lord—when they tried to cut through. Behind it he placed a certain memory, and then swung his magic away to see what Harry was doing.

Gathering his strength, it seemed. Severus braced his power and waited. If the Dark Lord spent too long in Harry’s mind, then he would damage it permanently, but Severus was sure Harry knew that and didn’t need Severus yelling in his ears to be aware of it.

The Dark Lord approached the Occlumency shield with more than his customary caution, and Severus grimaced in acknowledgment of his expertise here. To be able to tell how long an action took here, where time was subjective and not the same as the concept of time in the world outside, took long practice and a degree of native skill that not every Occlumens Severus had met would have.

For a moment, the Dark Lord tested the flexibility and fragility of the barrier. Then he seemed to lose patience and tried to chop straight through.

That was a mistake—for him, and perhaps for other people, as well. Severus was not sure, at the moment, that his memory would not have consequences in Harry’s mind. But the Dark Lord’s consequences would be worse, and what was most important at the moment was buying Harry time and space to act.

There was a muffled thump, and then the Dark Lord screamed, a thin, high keening here that seemed to cut straight through all the barriers that Severus might have raised against it. The memory-trap had sprung, and Severus had to push himself quickly out of the way, or he would be caught in the undertow and tugged in after the Dark Lord.

From a distance, the trapped memory would seem like a common one, an image of his father. Severus carried many of those in his head, in all sorts of different combinations. But few were like this, so crazed with emotion that merely stepping into one could make the taste of his own blood well in Severus’s mouth again and send him scrambling and flailing for the walls in a flashback.

This was the one the Dark Lord had stepped into, and the full force of the flashback had turned on him. He would suffer the pain now, and he did not, unlike Severus, have a tradition of exits from this memory, or know the techniques that would force himself to stop reacting no matter what else might be happening to him at the moment.

Severus looked quickly beneath him, knowing the Dark Lord might defuse the memory soon and wondering if he had bought enough time.

It seemed so. The abyss beneath him, which he had seen as dark at first, boiled now with silver lightning.

And in the middle of it, rising so fast that Severus would have been blinded were he not now used, a bit, to the conformity of Harry’s mind, was Harry.

*

The strength he’d drawn around himself frightened Harry, in some ways. Dumbledore had always said that the power the Dark Lord knew not was love, and this had its origin in rage. If he threw it at Voldemort, then Harry might only find himself adding to Voldemort’s power instead of defeating him.

Or however that worked. Part of him whispered that he couldn’t fight Voldemort according to the prophecy because, here, the prophecy didn’t work, they weren’t the original bound pair, and who knew what was going on in the Parselmouth bond that Voldemort had used to tie them together?

But he had to believe that he could fight Voldemort if Voldemort could fight him. And just because he had to use unusual methods didn’t mean he would lose. So far, he had resisted Voldemort’s necromancy and his attempt to warp Harry’s mind. He was going to use this weapon, now, and hope it was enough.

And if it’s not, I’ll find something else.

Harry smiled. Hope was what this Order of the Phoenix had forgotten, and what he was going to use to change the contest.

He rose on the outflowing wave of rage and hope and contempt, channeling it all straight at Voldemort, letting him have it in the center of the chest. He took everything he was—the survivor, and the hero, and the friend, and the son of dead parents, and the godson of a dead man, and the friend of a werewolf, and the Gryffindor who might have been a Slytherin—and aimed it at Voldemort.

He was more than a twisted necromancer could understand. He was more than Voldemort could comprehend. He was the Dark Lord that Dumbledore had feared he might become, and the avenger of the dead Harrys, and the possessor of the Elder Wand.

All that, he took. All that, he flung.

Voldemort screamed as it hit him, harder and louder than he had screamed when Snape’s trap, whatever it had been, had snapped shut around him. Harry felt him fighting to free himself, and wondered if they should try to close in and kill him here.

He felt Snape’s thoughts close beside him when he thought about that, and knew in an instant what would happen if they tried it, as Snape fed him images from past conflicts similar to this one that he had participated in.

No. They would destroy Harry’s mind by using it as a battleground, and they could confront Voldemort better later, when he was not fighting for his life. They wanted him to be overconfident, so that he didn’t use some of the desperate tricks that Snape had personally seen him use in the past.

Harry nodded and launched another blast, this time tearing loose the hold that the basilisk had finally managed to achieve on Voldemort. He could feel the Parseltongue bond linking them, and he snapped it. Voldemort writhed and danced, and the fragile protection he had had from Harry’s mind faded. The mind promptly tried to crush him, to reject him, as it would any foreign influence that it felt in itself.

And he was gone.

Harry shivered in the wake of that vanishing. He became aware that he could feel cold and weariness, which meant he was back in his body, and opened his eyes. Snape crouched in front of him, staring into his face, one hand braced on Harry’s chair for balance. His wand was aimed at Harry, too. Harry shook his head and reminded himself it was necessary for the Legilimency a moment before he would have gone for his own wand.

“He is gone?” Snape watched him with his hand tightening on the wand, as though he was used to lunging forwards and blasting another spell if the target wasn’t quite dead. Harry found himself smiling for no reason, and reaching out to touch Snape’s hand. Well, he reckoned that was all right with someone who had just saved his life after a really intense battle.

“Yeah. He is. I don’t think he could take knowing about me all at once.”

Snape stood up, and withdrew, pacing back and forth for a moment with his arms folded. Harry took the time to breathe, and check on how he felt. Well, his bones were shuddering in his skin as though someone had shaken them in a sack, and he felt ill and dizzy and sick to his stomach, and his head split the way it had during Occlumency lessons with Snape in his fifth year, but those were all so much better than what could have happened that he didn’t think he was going to complain.

“How could he get in without the connection that he forged to the version of you born in this world?” Snape asked quietly, without facing him.

“We’re both Parselmouths,” Harry said. “He used that.” He managed to laugh in spite of himself. “He’s probably had nothing to do for years but think up spells to torture people. Or find them. I know that Parselmouths were mostly supposed to be Dark wizards, after all.”

“Then that obviates the solution I was about to suggest.” Snape reached the far side of the room and turned about, his hands clasped behind his back and a deep frown on his face. “Occlumency lessons to block the mental bond,” he added, when Harry raised an eyebrow at him. “But we cannot make you stop being a Parselmouth. You may even need the gift in the future.”

Harry sighed and nodded, leaning back in his chair. “Considering what I had to do to kill him in my world, I’d say that this is a lot harder,” he muttered. “There, I just had to make sure that I destroyed a certain number of objects, and—bang! He was as vulnerable as anyone else. But he was mad, too, so that made it easier.”

Snape stopped and stood staring at the wall with a faraway expression on his face. Harry wondered if he was thinking about his counterpart who had died in Harry’s world. Merlin knew that Harry spent more than enough time thinking about his counterparts who had died here.

“Objects,” Snape repeated.

Harry hesitated. He couldn’t remember how much Snape knew about the Horcruxes, but he also couldn’t see what difference it made if Snape knew how Voldemort had used them in Harry’s world. He was hardly about to cross the abyss between worlds and go about taking Voldemort’s place. “Horcruxes,” he said. “His snake, Founders’ artifacts, me. He placed all his dependence on them, and that meant we could kill him once we destroyed them.”

Snape placed a hand over his forehead, as if massaging an invisible lightning scar of his own. Then he said, “I must think, but there is a book in my library that will help me,” and raced for the bookshelves.

Harry blinked after him, then shut his eyes and leaned back. He would listen to Snape’s crazy ideas later, but for now, he only wanted to rest and hopefully get rid of the headache that was plaguing him.

Fucking Voldemort.

*

It had been years since Severus had looked at the book, a present from Slughorn the one term he had got a higher mark in Potions than Lily Evans had. It was a rambling book on the Dark Arts, and it contained nothing that Severus could not find in a clearer and more reliable tome elsewhere. He had always thought that Slughorn had given it to him to encourage him to be a magical theorist instead of a Potions master. He already had several Potions masters among his former students; it would be something new to him to take credit for launching a magical theorist in the world.

But now Severus remembered a reference that might help them, and he picked up the book and flicked through the pages, letting vague memories guide him, until he saw the illustration he recalled. It was a simple ink sketch of a wizard holding a stone, his wand poised above it, while whirling concentric rings of magic expanded from it to surround the stone. The caption said the name of the artist; Severus skipped over that impatiently and moved on to the text on the opposite page.

Many wizards have attempted to lengthen their lives by binding part of their souls to an object. These objects are often known as Horcruxes…

Severus growled and skipped to the next page. What he remembered was not the Horcruxes, and he had no interest in either creating one or learning how the Dark Lord had done so. What he wanted was…

Yes.

He touched the line of text, smiled viciously, and stepped back into the main room where Harry rested with his eyes shut. Of course, they could not use a simple version of this trick, because the Dark Lord would certainly have protected himself against it. But they might be able to use the Parselmouth bond he had exploited in Harry to sneak around such protections. And it was not an attack he would have defended himself against that strongly. He might think they would use the Parselmouth similarity, but why this? No, he would think they were using necromancy, or guardian serpents, or the torture spells that he specialized in.

The Dark Lord’s greatest fault, Severus well knew, was that he expected his enemies to be exactly like him, and their priorities and preferences and thoughts exactly like his, if flipped to concentrate on things they thought of as “good” instead of “evil.” It was why he had struck at Harry through his mind. The better he knew him from the shape of his thoughts, the better the chance he had to destroy him.

But this…

He may have revealed how they could destroy him.

Harry opened his eyes and glanced up at Severus as he reached his chair. Severus extended the book.

“Read this,” he said, tapping the line that had told him what the solution might be.

Harry looked at it, and then shook his head. “I don’t know what half the words in that mean,” he said.

Severus drew in his breath in time to keep himself from barking a reprimand. As long as his students were honest about the knowledge they didn’t have, and showed themselves willing to learn, then he could be patient.

And Harry was hardly an ordinary student.

“The Dark Lord had his Horcruxes, which he destroyed,” he said. “But this is a Horcrux in reverse. It may be possible for others to bind his life force to an object, and then to destroy him in destroying it.”

From the way that Harry’s eyes blazed a moment later, Severus knew he had been right in deciding to share this method.
*

The news hit Harry like the taste of mint on his tongue, and he turned back to the book that Snape held out, this time trying to find something that he could understand.

Yes, there were a few things. There were some paragraphs that talked about how Horcruxes were usually valued and important objects, and how the opposite of that would have to be something small and common—though still with an important connection to the enemy that one intended to destroy. Harry couldn’t think of any such thing immediately, but he understood it, and that made his breath catch in his chest and his fists clench.

“We’re going to fucking kill him,” he murmured.

Snape caught his eye, and the smile he gave Harry was dark and twisted, the edge of the sort of smile Harry had always seen when the other one assigned him detention. Now, Harry thought he might have the experience of knowing what it was like to have Snape on his side. “Yes, we are.”

Harry surged to his feet. He still had the headache, but the other pains from his encounter with Voldemort were fading, as he had known they would, and he felt as if he could break stone walls with his bare hands at the moment. “Where should we start the search? And what are you doing?” he asked, because for some reason Snape was laying the book calmly on the shelf next to him.

“We have the method to destroy him,” Snape said. “We will have to do more research.”

“Yeah, I knew that,” Harry said, eyeing him. Snape had gone back to watching him as if—as if he would fall apart at any instant. It had been the look he used when Harry was telling him about the Dursleys. Harry blew air through his teeth. This is why I hate talking about them. Because then people always decide that I’m a child and weak, and I don’t want to have them think that. “But we could get started, right? I can go and start looking for other books on this in the library, and you can—I don’t know, make a potion that would tell us the right object to use or something. Or what the object looks like when we’ve successfully got him tangled up with it.”

Snape paused, then murmured, “That is in fact a useful notion. I will look into it.” He went on before Harry could rejoice too much in his triumph, however. “There are other things I think we must do. We will need allies outside the Order.”

“Since we can’t trust them not to bite us in the arse,” Harry muttered.

Snape raised his eyebrows and said, “Your language leaves something to be desired in the realm of elegance, but yes. I was thinking of your meeting the rest of the Weasleys.”

Harry sat back down in the chair, and for a moment listened to the roaring in his ears. It had other sources, but most of it came from the thought of seeing Fred—alive—and Ginny. And Mrs. Weasley. A Mrs. Weasley who had never fought Bellatrix, in this universe. A Ginny who didn’t have any memory of how they had dated a year ago.

“I don’t think I can fool them,” he said at last.

Snape shook his head. “I was thinking of telling them the truth. We cannot fool them for long, no, and they are accustomed to depend on Albus’s leadership even as he exiles them outside the main body of the Order. You will need dependable allies, however.” His eyes glittered for a moment. “Molly Weasley looks for the defenseless by instinct. You will appeal to her instincts. I foresee little difficulty in getting her to turn against Albus once she understands how you were stolen from your world, and how you were not the first.”

Harry swallowed again. “But her son is part of the Order, and the Weasleys—I mean, they’re special to me in my own world, but they’re always loyal to family first. Why would you think that she would pay any more attention to me than to Ron?”

Snape laughed. Harry stared at him, because this really sounded like honest amusement, not mockery at the expense of someone else.

“Parents listen to their children, yes,” Snape said, when the laughter seemed to have shaken him like a limp rag and left him needing the shelf for support. “But not always. And the more secrecy surrounding these summonings—of which there is a great deal—the more likely Mrs. Weasley is to believe that her son has been involved in something wrong by her standards and needs opposition.”

Harry paused. He hadn’t thought about it that way before. The Dursleys had never cared what he did, one way or the other.

And you can stop thinking about them any time, you know.

Harry grimaced and took the useful part of that thought, cracking it like a nut for the meat. “All right,” he said. “So where should we invite them to meet us? It’s not like they could come here to Hogwarts without Dumbledore finding out about it and trying to stop us.”

*

Severus paused and considered the boy in front of him. Once again, he had to evaluate the thrust-out jaw and the brilliant depths of the green eyes, and wonder how much of that came from true bravery, perhaps even Gryffindor bravery, and how much of it was simple bravado or resignation. Yielding to what he could not help.

And then Severus snorted. Does this version of Harry yield often? Does he seem likely to?

“I have a place that might suit,” Severus said casually. “I maintained one house that both the Dark Lord and Dumbledore are aware of, so that they might be sure they had me under observation at all times. But there is another, one that I acquired thanks to an...accident.”

Harry eyed him, perhaps wondering if it was an accident that Severus had caused, but said only, “Where is it?”

“I do not wish to name the location even here,” Severus said. He knew that he had warded his quarters from Dumbledore’s observation as well as he might, but even the loss of the secret about how he had been training Harry would matter little next to the loss of the secret of this, his last safe bolthole. “I will take you there this evening, and I can owl Apparition coordinates to Mrs. Weasley that will give her a clear picture of the meadow next to it.”

“And you aren’t worried about the Weasleys finding their way back from there?” Harry asked, with a prickly sound to his voice that Severus could not figure out, unless the boy was preparing to fight for him. In such a case, he might well sound like that. “I mean—if they know where to Apparate to, they might not know how to get past your wards, but they could show someone else. Like Dumbledore.”

Severus shook his head. “There are defenses,” he said, and chose to say no more for now. He could not explain the defenses until Harry saw them in action, and mentioning them in detail now might be enough material—if Dumbledore had found a way to invade his quarters—to enable someone who knew the history of pure-blood families to find the house. “Can you name a reason we should wait?”

Harry hesitated, then said, “Not unless you need to think up a reason to tell Dumbledore we’re going. Or a way to get us out of here.”

“I have both already in mind,” Severus said, and stood. “Keep well back from the fire when I call Dumbledore. He must not have any notion that you are listening.”

Harry cocked his head at Severus. “The safest thing would be for you to tell me to go into another room.”

“Yes?” Severus asked, not understanding. “If you make no noise and do not reveal yourself, then it will be the same as if you were not here.”

Harry shook his head. “But you’re going to let me stay and listen. There are a lot of people who wouldn’t do that.”

Severus gave him a thin smile. “You are an adult, and a warrior,” he said. “I think you can make the decision for yourself, and unless there is a chance of you breaking out in rage and alerting Albus, I prefer to let you make it.”

“Thank you,” Harry said, calm and precise, and then cast a Disillusionment Charm over himself and took up his station near the wall.

Severus turned back to the fireplace, and then had to wait some moments after all to contact Albus. If he spoke to him smiling like this, Albus would wonder what had happened to put him in such a good mood.

*

Harry felt the hard edge of the bookshelf poking into his back, and grunted for a moment with the pain. Then he realized that the pain mostly came from his face, where he had his teeth clenched shut tightly enough to break some of them. He took a long, careful breath and opened his mouth to release it.

He’s your enemy, but that’s all the more reason that you can’t let him know you’re here.

Harry nodded to himself, and then the hearth flared to life. Dumbledore’s face floated in the middle of the green flames and beamed at Snape. Snape, squatting before the hearth in a position Harry would have thought he’d refuse to take because it was so uncomfortable, merely grunted.

“Have you secured Harry’s consent to return to his own world, Severus, my boy?” Dumbledore asked. “I thought you might. You are the only one of us who appears able to do anything with him.”

If you only knew, Harry thought, and decided that Dumbledore probably couldn’t hear a sneer.

“I have come up with a solution to the problem, Headmaster,” Snape said in his usual expressionless voice. Harry had never heard his own version of Snape report a Death Eater meeting to Dumbledore, but he imagined he might have sounded like this. “I intend to persuade Potter to accompany me to Spinner’s End.”

“Why, Severus?” Dumbledore blinked and gave Snape more attention than ever. Harry wondered if it was his imagination that the Headmaster’s eyes rested on the place in the room where he stood for a moment.

It has to be. Or we’re in more trouble than I knew.

“You did know that this Potter was not raised by—Black—in his own world?” Snape asked, with a fine cough of disgust that Harry wished he had come up with to use on Malfoy. Either Malfoy, really. “That he was raised by Lily’s Muggle relatives and thus had no one to tell him of his parents?”

Harry clenched his teeth again, and only relaxed when it was that or reveal to Dumbledore where he was by the way he breathed. Trust Snape. You have to.

“I had picked up on hints of that, yes.” Dumbledore studied Snape. “And that makes the profound divergence his universe has undertaken from ours all the more curious, since we know that the events in both were the same up until the time that Voldemort killed his parents—”

“Yes,” Snape said sharply. “The same. Which means that someone who can tell him the truth about his parents here will be telling him the same truth he might have received in his own universe, had the boy the courage to have asked there.”

Harry reached down and put his hand on the Elder Wand in spite of himself. The wand all but leaped into his hand, and Harry thought he could feel a question, an eager growl, in the back of his head. It wanted to be wielded.

Not yet, Harry thought back to it, and listened. Snape should have a bloody good reason for this.

“I see,” Dumbledore said. “And you will offer to tell him the truth about his parents? Will that be enough, Severus?”

“I also have photographs that Lily Evans gifted me with,” Snape said, and his voice had descended to a soft, nasty tone that made Harry’s skin prickle. “Of herself, and some of herself with James. I intended to destroy them, but—I could not quite bring myself to do so.”

“Why, Severus,” Dumbledore said, and his smile grew wider. “There is the heart that you spend so much time denying you have.”

No, Harry thought, his own heart bounding up and knocking against his ribs. That’s the heart that he can convince you he has, because you want to believe in it so badly.

Snape made a gesture to dismiss Dumbledore’s praise—or accusation—his eyes still intently locked on the older man. “So you agree to my plan?”

“I may, as soon as I understand what it is.” Dumbledore twinkled some more. “So you intend to—” He paused inquiringly.

Snape let his teeth grind. Well, on listening to the sound, Harry was less sure than he had been at first that it was voluntary. “Ask him to come to my house to look at the photographs,” he said. “And offer to trade him the information I can tell him, for the promise of more, if he will cooperate with us. That way, we need not summon another version of him, which each time leaves me too exhausted for the next day to concentrate much on my potions.”

“We need not secure his willing cooperation, you know,” Dumbledore said, as if he was the one making the bargain.

Harry saw the way Snape’s shoulders and spine went stiff. He made a mental note to ask him about it later.

But then Snape proved that Harry didn’t have to, and that he could probably trust the great git after all, because he murmured, “You intend to use that spell, Headmaster? The one from which there is no coming back? I must protest.”

“I do not intend to use it,” Dumbledore said, and gave such a drawn-out sigh that anyone would have thought he was the victim in this scenario. “I fear that I must, if Harry does not cooperate with us, but I do not want to.”

What spell? Harry thought, and tried to project his thoughts telepathically at Snape. Make him mention which one.

But Snape must have decided that the risk was too great to ask Dumbledore about the spell when he was supposed to already know about it. So he made a few more evil plans, took a few more compliments with grumbles and snarls, and then shut the Floo connection. Then he turned around and looked evenly at Harry.

“What was the spell?” Harry asked. “The Imperius Curse?”

Snape pursed his lips the way the other version of him sometimes had when Harry asked him a question in Potions, but replied, his voice neutral. “Worse. One can resist the Imperius Curse, with a strong enough will. This spell—this spell takes the body of the person summoned to our universe as a vessel. It fills that body with the desire to obey the commands of the summoners. Your personality, your identity, would be extinguished.”

Harry said nothing, because it was difficult to know what to say.

Snape glanced slightly at him, and nodded. “I will write an owl to the Weasleys this afternoon.” And he quietly left the room.

Harry sat down in the chair and buried his head in his hands. So, along with defeating Voldemort and convincing the Weasleys that he needed their help and finding out what had happened to the original Harry here—

He had to find out what had happened to Dumbledore. Because the one Harry knew would never have made such a decision.

Would he have? He set me up to die.

Harry sat there for a moment, sorting through older memories and more recent ones, and finally the only answer he could come up with was, I don’t know.

But I’m going to make sure this one never gets hold of me, and there’s only one way to do that. Once I get out of Hogwarts, I’m not coming back.

Harry raised his head and took a deep breath. That would take a lot more planning than just going to this secret house of Snape’s. He would need to know more about the literal lay of the land, and find more allies, and learn even more about the spells that were necessary to defeat Voldemort. They would have to find an object to bind his life-force to, if they were going to take that path, as soon as possible.

Harry smiled grimly and lifted his head higher.

Let’s get started.

Chapter Text


The letter that Severus had crafted to the Weasleys was a masterpiece of indirection and insinuation, but then, he had had much practice at that as a teacher who had to keep his complaints about students less vitriolic than the words that first came to mind. He was confident it would keep Molly Weasley’s interest and hint that her son had participated in something she would consider morally wrong—which was certainly true—while also convincing her not to respond to Dumbledore’s invitations or reveal the information to him.

He went to the Owlery, not to post that particular letter, but to post one he had written as a cover for Dumbledore to intercept. His real letter would travel by other means.

And it was on his way back from the Owlery that Draco found him. Severus stepped around a corner to find the boy standing there with arms folded, staring at him in a way that made it perfectly obvious he was being accused of something. Severus came to a stop and slightly bowed his head, a courteous gesture that also allowed him to scan the corridor up and down looking for ambushers. If Draco had not brought them, someone might well have followed him; the boy was too emotionally distraught to notice.

“Good evening, Draco,” Severus said. “Was there something you wanted?”

“I want to know why you’re keeping Harry caged up.” Draco faced him with trembling fists and his head tilted back as if he thought it only bravery to offer Severus a chance at his jugular.

“I am not,” Severus said quietly. “Would you like to come with me and ask if he wishes to talk to you? If he does not, then I will not force him.”

Draco’s mouth snapped shut, and he stared at Severus as if he had never expected that response. Well, of course he had not, if it was listening to Albus’s nonsense that had filled his brain with such froth, Severus thought tolerantly. This was most likely another of Albus’s attempts to either distract Harry or lure him into staying in this world, as Albus might think he would if he could form a romance with Draco.

Severus had never seen a more unlikely pair than the grief-stricken boy in front of him and the madly determined one staying in his quarters, but he need only interfere if the Imperius Curse or something else was used. And he thought Harry able to resist that well enough.

“I—you’ve probably fed him a potion that will make him say he doesn’t want to talk to me,” Draco said, fast sinking back into the depths of rebellious bravado.

“You know spells that will reveal the presence of such a potion in the bloodstream,” Severus pointed out, with iron control holding him back from a sigh. Merlin save me from melodramatic teenagers. He knew that he had not been much better himself at that age, with all his pining over Lily, but he did not dig up the memories and rejoice in them. That was something to be suppressed if at all possible. “Come with me, and speak to him. If he will.”

Draco stood there as if trying to think of more objections, but in the end he followed Severus down the corridor towards his quarters. Severus rapped his knuckles on the door and waited until he heard the stir of movement within. He smiled when Harry said, in a completely neutral tone, “What is it?” He knew Severus would have no reason to knock if he had come back alone, the way he had set out.

“Mr. Malfoy would like to make your acquaintance, if you are willing,” Severus said, examining the pattern of the stitching on his sleeve. “And make sure that I haven’t chopped you up for Potions ingredients.”

Harry snorted and opened the door. “The only thing of value that he’d get out of me is probably my blood. I know I have more than enough of that, after years of seeing it spilled everywhere.”

Draco went still and looked back and forth between Severus and Harry. Severus looked back at him, and said nothing, playing with the edge of his sleeve as if he were bored. Draco might draw his own conclusions, especially if he would report them to Albus later; Severus was more interested in not giving him anything that would destroy the story he had spun for Albus.

“What do you want, then?” Harry asked Malfoy, folding his arms and leaning against the door. “I haven’t got all day.”

Draco licked his lips, hesitated once more, and then tipped off some invisible lip of his own courage. “I want to know that you’re all right,” he said. “I want to know that you haven’t been hurt.” He turned and stared at Severus in a way that made Severus note that there was actual suspicion there, not only hurt that Severus had been keeping Harry “for himself.” “I want—I want to know if you’ll come flying with me, the way you did when the falcon attacked.”

“I would, if you just wanted to practice flying,” Harry said. “But you want to convince me to be your boyfriend. And I can’t. Malfoy, I’m not him.”

Draco shook his head. “You’re him from another world. And I think that counts.”

“I don’t,” Harry said very flatly, stepping forwards and looking as if he might rush Draco and headbutt him. Severus moved a single smooth step nearer to guard Draco in case that happened. Draco was the one he needed to worry about in this confrontation. “Don’t I get an opinion?”

Draco swallowed. “Of course. But you haven’t given it a chance, Harry. You’ve just gone down here and studied with Professor Snape, or whatever it is you’re really doing.” Severus checked a sigh at the title; leaving it off would have been a good reason to punish Draco for his insolence. “You might like it if—”

“Draco, this isn’t home.”

The single word made Draco fall silent and stare at Harry as if trying to learn. Harry had taken a weary step forwards, and now he moved his arm in a half-circle sweep that Severus knew was meant to encompass all of Hogwarts and the world beyond that, not merely Severus’s quarters and not merely this corridor.

“I don’t want to stay here because of that,” Harry went on, his voice lowering. “I want the people I grew up with. I want my friends, who fought the same war I did and know what it’s like to live with those scars. I want even the dead—Sirius is dead there, Draco, and I still think it’s better than staying here where he’s alive.” For a moment, his eyes flickered to Severus, and Severus held himself still, in curiosity where Harry would also differentiate between the living and the dead where he was concerned.

But Harry simply turned away and faced Draco. “You might be a fine boyfriend for another one of me from some other world. But I have too many bad memories of you, and even if I didn’t—this isn’t home. That’s what I want, to go home. Sure, I can fight Voldemort and so on while I’m here, but I want my friends and my home most of all. The people whose memories match with mine.”

In the silence that followed, Draco blinked and reached up to tug the collar of his robe away from his neck. Severus considered the words Harry had spoken and was not displeased. No matter what Draco reported to Albus—if he did—there was a way to make those words fit in with the story Severus and Harry were weaving for the old man.

“You don’t want to stay here with me and make new memories,” Draco whispered.

Harry shook his head. Severus saw his jaw clench for a moment as though he wanted to say more, but was restraining himself. Severus understood the impulse. Draco was beyond trying when he was like this. Severus would have liked the grief to clear so that Draco could again by the more than half-arrogant boy he knew, one who had more than offer than tears and whimpered pleas.

Among other things, a truly prodigious Potions talent.

“You don’t want to tell me about your home?” Now Draco was lifting his head, a ghost of a smile on his face. “You could tell me, and that way I could share your memories, and it would be like being with…”

He let his voice trail off, and abruptly turned his back, although he didn’t leave. This time, it was Draco’s gesture Severus understood. The pity on Harry’s face was also hard to take, in some measure.

“I don’t want you,” Harry said. “I’m just tired to death of being here, already, and I want to concentrate on ways to get home. Professor Snape can help me do that. I just want—go away, Malfoy. Grow up. I’m sorry he’s dead. I know how horrible it is to lose someone like that, suddenly, and too young. And I promised you I could help with that, and I still have that intention. But not the way you’d like me to help. I’m not him. I’m still alive. And you’re not the Malfoy back in my world. He did horrible things during the war that you didn’t. You can still make something of yourself, something better than he ever will, because he’ll have to live with the memories of his cowardice. So do it.

Draco fell back a step, his eyes wide as he stared at Harry. He looked at Severus, but whatever his face appeared like to Draco—and Severus didn’t think that it was very sympathetic—he didn’t find support there, either. He eventually turned around and began to walk back towards the stairs. Severus watched him go, shifting his body so he could screen Harry from a sudden hex.

“You don’t need to do that,” Harry hissed at him. “I’m perfectly able to take care of myself.”

“Against a hex that you do not see coming?” Severus turned back towards Harry and shook his head. “I think that you should save your strength for the battles you wish to fight. Like the one that you just fought with Mr. Malfoy, most impressively.”

Harry blinked at him, then snorted and turned away. “Whatever,” he muttered, but Severus could see that his lips had twitched for a moment as though suppressing a smile. Then he shook his head in turn and returned to the young man Severus was more familiar with. “What do you think the odds are that he was a spy?”

“A witting one? Not high. But if Albus drew him out to talk about his problems, there is no reason why he would not. The boy loves attention.” Severus shut the door carefully behind himself and nodded at Harry. “Stand still. I wish to create a glamour of you that I can send to Spinner’s End in case the Headmaster should check up on us, and it must be more complex than most, since it will need to be able to move about and speak.”

Harry extended his arms and posed, stiffly, like a model. Severus snorted. “No. Let your arms fall to your sides. It is easier to begin from a relaxed posture and work outwards from there.”

“Fine,” Harry said, but there were deep frown lines around his mouth as he watched Severus work. Of course there would be, Severus thought, concealing any amusement he could feel trembling in the depths of his being, for he knew how Harry would react to it. Of course Harry would not like someone else pointing a wand at him when he did not have his own drawn.

Finally the spell was complete, and Severus cast the complementary one on himself quickly; he had done it before. Two images appeared before him, a glassy-eyed boy and a man who was more open than Severus knew himself to be, and they tottered towards the fireplace and disappeared upon command. Should the Headmaster check, he would find that there had indeed been a Floo connection with Spinner’s End that morning.

“Now,” Harry said, and looked at Severus with slightly narrowed eyes. “You’re ready to show me this special house that you don’t want Dumbledore to find out about?”

Severus nodded, and extended his hand. Harry stepped forwards to clasp it, and then Severus touched the top button of his robes and closed his eyes. In the right hands, a spell to change something into an undetectable Portkey was a good thing.

He felt the pull begin, softer and weaker than the pull of a traditional Portkey; what drew him was not the destination so much as the wards on that destination, which were linked to the house’s owner. Then they whirled through space, once, a single sharp spin that Severus found much less undignified than the way one traveled by Floo. He stepped away from the boy and nodded to him; Harry had his eyes closed, his brow furrowed.

“Welcome,” Severus said, “to Shaldon’s Garden.”

*

Harry opened his eyes—sometimes he thought that stupid Portkey phobia would never leave him—and looked around. From Snape’s words, he had pictured a garden like the Dursleys’, absurdly, and already he wondered if he would meet the house-elves who probably kept it in line.

There were no house-elves, but around him, greenery flowed and stretched. There were low bushes that Snape probably used for Potions ingredients, trailing tendrils, and saplings with vine-encircled trunks. Everything in sight, even the tree leaves, was an oddly fragile green, as if it were the beginning of spring here.

Paths led here and there through the garden, paths with rounded curves and blurred edges, as if instead of being trimmed back the plants had simply agreed to grow so far and then no further. Harry couldn’t really see pots or beds; what he saw instead were glimpses of dirt, here and there, under the leaves, and some rocks that shone like quartz.

In the middle of the garden was a fountain, vine-draped like the trees, and splashing with water that hit the stones on the bottom of the basin with a light ringing sound. Next to it was the back of what might be a chair sunken in the ground, and a few bright herbs or flowers, the only things in the garden that weren’t green. Harry took a deep breath of the scented air and then let it out again.

“This would be a good place to relax,” he muttered.

Snape nodded and turned, leading him down one of the paths that meandered away from the fountain as though it had nowhere in particular to go. Harry watched for signs of more civilization as they walked, including a house, but could see nothing. He did notice that a few of the vines on the trees twitched towards them as they walked, and each time the leaves fell back with a sighing sound.

“What’s that?” he asked Snape, nodding to the vines.

Snape’s lips twitched as he looked at them, in the way Harry thought they might if he was ever actually pleased about something. “That is part of the garden’s defenses,” he said quietly. “The second line, beyond the wards. They reach for the presence of the owner, and judge his state of mind. If he is here because of anything besides his own free will, then no one with him will ever reach the house.”

“So it doesn’t matter if you’re under the Imperius Curse, or someone is forcing you to do this with a threat?” Harry eyed the plants. He wondered if he could get Neville back in his own world—or even in this one—to look into this and create plants that would tell him if someone tried to manipulate him mentally.

“No,” Severus said. “And they will sense the slightest unwillingness. Thus, one cannot betray the house to someone—say, a friend or member of the Order of the Phoenix—that one wishes to trust, but cannot completely.” He laid his hand on what appeared to be empty air and glanced back at Harry. “I am trusting you by bringing you here, Harry.”

Harry inclined his head solemnly. If he had a sanctuary like this, he didn’t know that he would ever bring anyone but Ron and Hermione into it.

“How did you get this place, anyway?” he asked, as Snape tilted his hand forwards, and a thin crack appeared in the air, pivoting on its hinges like a door to show a glimpse of light beyond.

Snape gave him a thin smile over his shoulder and said, “I killed a man in such a way that his ancestral house gave itself to me. This place can be conquered and possessed, its affections seduced from its original owner, in much the same way that one can steal the loyalty of another wizard’s wand. It was bloodline-linked, but he had no relatives when he lost to me.”

Harry just nodded. He wanted to ask a little more about the circumstances of the duel, but he didn’t see that he could. Snape had told him as much as he probably wanted him to know.

Snape stepped towards the crack, and Harry followed him. He felt a brief, sickening jolt that made him grit his teeth and reach down to the Elder Wand in his pocket. Of course, he recognized it as an Apparition from place to place, but that still made it irritating.

But Snape didn’t look back to see if he was following. He was walking along the grass of a different garden, this one small and with dusty paths laid in the middle of flowerbeds and vegetable beds, towards a cottage. Harry followed, squinting at this garden. Of course it wasn’t the same as the other one, but it seemed familiar anyway.

He got it when he realized that the dusty paths in the grass curved the same way. “This is like another—layer of that other place, isn’t it?” he asked quietly as Snape moved his hand in a vague pass in front of the cottage and then opened the front door.

Snape glanced back at him with no expression on his face. “Very good, Mr. Potter. It is indeed. One layer of reality beyond the wards, where one can walk through the location of Shaldon’s Garden and feel nothing. A second reality beyond that, in the shape of the garden from which the place takes its names. And another here, a separate place again, but still following the general shape of the first garden. The cottage is a fourth layer, much larger inside than outside.” He moved another step forwards, added, “It has to do with folded wizardspace,” and vanished.

Harry followed, on the theory that nothing had hurt him during the first two transitions, and found himself standing in what was probably the nicest house that he’d ever seen. He didn’t really count Malfoy Manor, since they’d barely spent any time there and were running for their lives or captive when they did.

The walls were wooden, and looked like someone had scraped and smoothed and polished them until they forgot the trees they came from—they were all pale with large, welling golden spots in them, and silky when Harry touched them. On two walls of the enormous room he’d stepped into blazed equally enormous fireplaces; Harry thought he saw the flames in the nearest one swallowing a whole log. Iron dogs stood on either side of the granite hearths. Harry wondered if they could come to life to attack intruders, and then snorted. Of course they could. Why was that a question?

High up on the walls, shining where the light from huge windows struck them, were tapestries that rivaled in color and beauty any of the ones Harry had ever seen at Hogwarts. He could make out green and red and blue threads, and duel scenes between wizards, and what looked like a map of both gardens they’d come through. The smaller one, with the dusty paths, looked a lot more complex in those maps than it had seemed when they were walking through it, which surprised Harry not at all.

Arched doorways led out of the hall at either end, and in the middle was a long skinny table, like the tables in the Great Hall but without the benches, made of more of the silky white-gold wood. Harry could see a stack of glittering cauldrons at one end, and plates of food at the other. The plates had whole stuffed birds on them, and pies, and wedges of yellow and white cheese, and strawberries that looked like they were just picked. Harry blinked and shook his head.

“Do you have house-elves here?” he asked, turning to Snape, who had gone over to the cauldrons and was inspecting them critically. “Did you tell them you were coming?”

Snape looked at him as if he were mad. “Dumbledore has a great camaraderie with house-elves,” he said, shaking his head. “No, the house itself remembers what meals I liked last time, stores the food, and has it prepared when I arrive.”

Harry could only shake his head back. “But—why don’t you spend all your time here, then? It’s wonderful.”

Snape snorted and cast off his cloak, whirling it towards the ceiling. Invisible fingers of air grabbed it and took it to a peg high up on the wall near a tapestry. Harry did the same thing with his own cloak, cautiously, and thought he felt a breeze against his back as it was taken to hang next to Snape’s. “I could hardly do so. I would betray the secret, if only in the existence of extensive new potions and my contentment when I came back. And it is too important a refuge to be betrayed like that.”

Harry studied him, his head on one side. Snape had gone through three cauldrons and made notes about them on a stack of waiting parchment before he noticed. Then he gave Harry a single impatient glance over that beaky nose, eyebrows rising.

“Yet you’ll volunteer this place for a meeting with the Weasleys,” Harry muttered. He felt dizzy.

“Yes,” Snape said. “The wards will ensure that they cannot tell anyone about it. And the folded layers—well.” He shifted his shoulders up, then brought them down. “I have seen no evidence that even Albus knows spells that powerful. They were made for an old pure-blood family, using techniques that few people know or study anymore. Albus may have studied them, yes. But there are other defenses in place.”

“That you shouldn’t tell me about in case he captures me,” Harry murmured, nodding. “But still…”

Snape sighed and glanced back at the cauldrons as if they were going to occupy him all afternoon and he longed to be back at work. “Was there something else?”

“You trusted me enough to volunteer this for me, but you don’t trust yourself enough not to betray that you’re living here,” Harry said. “If you do.” He hoped that sentence made sense.

From the way that Snape’s face stiffened for a moment before he turned to look back at Harry, it probably did.

*

Harry was impossible sometimes.

Severus had thought out this decision, and if Harry had been unsure about whether he had, he should have asked him before this. Severus did not know what these hemming and hawing and hesitations meant. Harry appeared struck by the gesture of trust, but did he not know that Severus had his own reasons to distrust the Order?

Shaldon’s Garden could never have helped him get revenge before this. Revenge and freedom both at once, if they managed to defeat the Dark Lord. For that dual purpose, Severus saw no reason not to volunteer his secret home.

Harry still looked at him now, steadily, as though anticipating a reverse that would not happen. Severus decided quickly that the best way to treat matters was simply to act as if there was nothing important to the decision at all, and he nodded. “I trust you enough,” he said, and then turned his head to the side. The Garden could communicate with its owner in various ways, and at the moment, he was hearing a warning that rang through the wards on multiple levels. “Ah,” he murmured. “I think the Weasleys have arrived.”

It was a fortunate coincidence that they had done so, none of his planning, but it was Severus’s ability to take advantage of such coincidences that had—in part—allowed him to continue living. This one thoroughly distracted Harry. He turned pale, and then nodded and reached up to touch his forehead, as though the curse scar had become a good luck charm. “All right. Where are we meeting them?”

“A smaller, in-folded layer,” Severus said, and walked towards the arched doorway that stood nearer his end of the table. “One that many people think is the heart of the house, but which is only a part that can be sealed off, if it turns out that those coming into it are threats.”

Harry exhaled slowly, his eyes locked on the arched doorway as though he assumed threats would come through it. “All right,” he said, and followed Severus. “I mean, it’s best to be paranoid around this until we know we can trust them.”

“And even after,” Severus added. It sounded as though Harry was headed towards a fundamental misconception about the way that Severus intended to function around the Weasleys, and Severus would not allow it to persist.

Harry glanced at him, then blinked and said, “Of course. You won’t let the Weasleys know much more about this place even if you think we can trust them.”

Severus tilted his head in acknowledgment.

“Is there anyone you trust completely?” Harry asked.

“I have revealed the most to you.”

Harry stared at him again. Severus sighed. “It is not because I want to make you dependent on me,” he said. “It is because Albus will take over your existence or kill you otherwise, and you are the best chance I have for escaping from the Dark Lord’s domination, and the Order of the Phoenix, and this endless war.” And the summoning of more versions of Harry Potter, to boot, but that was a more distant goal.

“The last thing I would think,” Harry said, his voice lowered and emphatic for some reason, “if someone told me important secrets, was that they were trying to make me dependent on them.”

“Ah, so that is the reason you were not Sorted into Slytherin,” Severus said, and turned with more determination towards the archway. Seeing the Weasleys, whom this Harry appeared to have been closer to than the one born in this world, was likely to affect Harry more than he realized at the moment. One of them must maintain his mental distance and not think about irrelevant things with the passing of every second.

*

The worst shock as Harry stepped into the large drawing room where the Weasleys waited, as Harry had known it would be, was seeing Fred, standing against the wall with his brother and talking in a low, earnest voice, as if he had never died.

And he didn’t. Not here.

Harry felt a savage longing, for the first time, for some aspects of this universe. If the war hadn’t been as bad here, if not as many people had died—

Not as many people that I know. And I think that’s really the only difference.

“Severus.” Mrs. Weasley had stood up when they came into the room, while Mr. Weasley stayed sitting in the bright blue chair beside her, looking back and forth from Snape to Harry. “What is this about?” Her eyes had more steely determination than the version of her Harry knew back home, and he changed his mind a little. Maybe the war had been worse here, at least in some ways, if she could look like that.

Snape raised his eyebrows and looked at Mrs. Weasley like she was the only one in the room—which made everyone else lean forwards and listen. Harry had seen him use the same trick in Potions classes, and while he thought it was kind of a dirty trick, he had to admit that it worked really well. “Were you aware that your son was participating in a Dark ritual that involved summoning versions of Harry Potter from other universes, to replace the one that died here?” Snape asked.

There was a moment of silence that hurt Harry’s ears, it pressed against them so long, and then almost everyone started talking at once. Ginny had bounced up on her feet and was looking back and forth between Snape and Harry, still stunned quiet, but Fred and George were trying to say something about a joke, and Mr. Weasley was saying, “Let’s be reasonable,” and Percy and Charlie talked in loud disbelieving voices, and Bill had wide eyes and a flapping tongue, and Mrs. Weasley—

Mrs. Weasley cast Silencing Charms on everyone else with a sweeping motion of her arm that made Harry snicker in shock; it looked as though she had practiced it often. Then she turned back to Snape and Harry and said, “What?”

“It’s true,” Harry said quietly. “I’m from a world where I was Sorted into Gryffindor, and things went a lot differently. I was best friends with Ron, Mrs. Weasley. I visited your house. I was—best friends with Hermione, too.” He took a deep breath and fisted his hands in his sleeves. He hadn’t seen how hard this would be, to say as well as to make them believe. “And I killed Voldemort then, too.”

Mrs. Weasley put a hand over her heart, but her hard gaze didn’t waver. “What did you say, young man?” she demanded.

“Voldemort’s name,” Harry said. “I’m not afraid of it. I’m not afraid of him. The one here is tougher, because I killed him in a different way back home, and that one was insane. But this one, I think I can kill, too. But I need your help against him, and I need to make sure that Dumbledore doesn’t summon any more of me here.”

Mrs. Weasley stared some more at him, and then turned and looked at Snape. “Are you a Potions master or not?” she snapped, hard enough to make Harry want to laugh, although he bit down on his lips to make sure that wouldn’t happen. “Get some Veritaserum, and then let us see him take it.”

Snape glanced at Harry. Harry nodded. He had already reckoned that this would be necessary, and if it hurt, well, that was the price of having allies. He would certainly rather convince the Weasleys this way than not have them with him.

Snape frowned at him, as though their not having discussed this much was a reason Mrs. Weasley shouldn’t ask for it, but took the vial of potion out of his robe pocket—it surprised Harry not at all that this version of Snape would carry Veritaserum around—and handed it to Harry. Harry uncorked it and made sure that everyone could see that he was shaking three drops onto his tongue by holding his head back and the vial above his mouth. Mrs. Weasley craned her neck from the back, biting her lip. Harry smiled to her reassuringly, or as reassuringly as he could, before the dazed feeling of the potion overcame him.

He was glad that there was a chair behind him, so he could sit. And he must have an impressive or at least not completely stupid expression on his face, because people blinked at him but didn’t laugh.

Mrs. Weasley hesitated, then said, “Are you really Harry Potter from another universe?”

“Yes,” Harry said, feeling the answers simply float out of him as though someone was calling them up with a Wingardium Leviosa charm. “A universe where I was Sorted Gryffindor and killed Voldemort.”

“Who summoned you?” Charlie, who must have canceled the Silencing Charm on himself, demanded, taking a step forwards. “How did you get here?”

“The Order of the Phoenix pulled me through time and space,” Harry said, and measured himself against the potion for a moment. It wouldn’t be easy, but he could choose what to keep back when it was an indirect question like this. He didn’t have to say that he wasn’t the first Harry who had come between the universes. “They used a ritual to look at my past, and then they pulled me out.”

“Is there a way back for you?” Ginny had been waving her wand at her throat, and she shrank back as she spoke, unlike Charlie, but her voice didn’t shake.

“Dumbledore said there wasn’t one, that I was stuck here until I defeated him,” Harry said. “Or died. But I made them promise they would work on a way back, and there are a few signs that they are.”

This time, when he expected someone else to ask a question, everyone was silent. Harry finally looked where they were looking, towards Mrs. Weasley, who was making a low rumbling noise like a spacecraft about to take off.

“They did what to you?” she demanded. “How could they force someone—a—a hero to come here and tell him he would have to do it all over again?”

“They used the spell,” Harry said, and then grimaced a little. The Veritaserum had taken it literally when Mrs. Weasley asked him how they had forced him to come here. He shook his head and met her eyes, making his thoughts keep on track by sheer concentration. “They didn’t give me a choice. I just went to sleep in my own world, right after the battle where I killed him, and then I woke up and I was here.”

Mrs. Weasley had a fanatic gleam in her eyes now, enough that Harry could guess her next question before she spoke. “And my son was a part of this Order?”

“Yes, he was,” Harry said. “And he still is. He seems to think that just because he was friends with the Harry who used to be here, that means that I’m his friend, too.”

There came a collective gasp from the other Weasley siblings, and Mr. Weasley shook his head. Mrs. Weasley looked at Harry and said in a very gentle voice, “You don’t need to be afraid, Harry, dear. We won’t hurt you.” She hesitated, then went on, “And the Harry Potter who belongs to this world is dead? Really and truly?”

“Yes, he is,” Harry said. “He apparently committed suicide. Dumbledore thinks he did it out of fear of Voldemort.”

Mrs. Weasley still flinched from the name, but absent-mindedly. Harry thought her mind was probably on Ron and his crime. “And—forgive me, but are you the first one that they brought through the gate?”

“The third,” Harry said. “So the fourth Harry that they wanted to fight Voldemort.”

Mrs. Weasley went still. And so did Bill and Charlie and Mr. Weasley, Harry saw from the corner of his eye. Fred and George had grim expressions on their faces. Percy was looking uncertainly from face to face as if he still wanted to disbelieve Harry but knew that he would find no support around him for that now.

Ginny said, “We’ve got to help him win and get free, Mum.”

Mrs. Weasley nodded, once, never taking her eyes from Harry’s face. “You will have no objection to that, Harry?”

And Harry could smile and answer with the perfect force of his own glee as well as the Veritaserum, “Not at all.”

Chapter Text


“I just don’t see that we can trust him, Mum.”

Severus, who had reached out to lay his hand on the door of the room where the Weasleys had gathered after their initial resolution to help Harry, paused. It was Percy Weasley’s voice. Severus ought to know. No one else in that family had that perfect combination of whinging and pleading when he tried to force Severus to change his marks.

“He spoke the truth under Veritaserum,” Molly replied. Moving his head to the side, Severus could see through the gap between the edge of the door and the wall, and this revealed Molly shaking out a set of robes briskly so that they snapped in the air and dust flew away from them. Severus didn’t think a house-elf could have done it better. “I don’t know what you think we ought to trust, Percy, if not that.”

“It’s not that,” Percy said. Severus stepped back and angled his head again, and yes, there was the boy, standing in front of his mother and staring at the floor. His mouth was set in an unhappy line, but also a stubborn one. Severus made a mental note that he would probably continue his opposition no matter what his family said. Percy had always worshipped authority, and Dumbledore maintained that aura of unquestionable grandeur even for students who had left the school.

“Then what is it?” Molly turned around and gave the boy an impatient glance. “Unless you are going to insist that all of us should distrust anyone who questions Albus Dumbledore no matter what, I think this is a serious charge that we need to think about carefully.”

Carefully, exactly!” Percy said, snapping his head up and down. “That’s just it, Mum! Someone appears out of nowhere and claims that the Order is summoning every single Harry Potter in all the universes and making them fight You-Know-Who? And this one just happens to be different? I think You-Know-Who is playing a trick on us, Mum! I think he’s trying to turn the Order of the Phoenix against each other.”

Severus smothered a snort. He had not realized that the outer ring of Weasleys might think of themselves as part of the Order. In truth, Albus had trusted only those whose devotion to him was unquestioned, such as Black and Minerva, or those he had some sort of hold over, like Lucius and Severus, who would probably perish without his protection.

“And what about the Veritaserum, then?” Molly was considering her son the way she might, Severus thought, when he told a lie about eating all his vegetables. “Are you going to say it was only water?”

“Well, no,” Percy admitted. “That Harry, whoever he is, reacted like someone who was under it. But Snape brewed it, Mum. Or at least gave it to him. And Snape is the one who supports his story. Isn’t it a little suspicious that he’s the only Order member here? Where are all the others who would be horrified by something like this and turn against Dumbledore because of it? There has to be at least one, right?”

Severus smiled in spite of himself. Had it not been about something as serious as potentially depriving Harry of the support he needed, he might have been proud of the boy. At last, someone who listened when I cautioned them to question, to criticize what was happening around them, rather than simply accepting whatever happened.

Molly pursed her lips, or at least she was doing that when Severus again altered his line of sight. “That’s a good question,” she said. “But consider what’s been happening to Ron in the past several years.”

Percy blinked several times. Severus shook his head. His brother’s actions and fate had been the furthest things from Percy’s mind, then. They usually were, from what Severus had been able to tell. Percy was one of the few students he had known who cared almost nothing for his House’s reputation, if he had to choose between caring about that and about his own marks. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that he’s become more obsessed with the war and with obeying the Headmaster,” Molly said. “I think the Headmaster is a good man in many ways, Percy, but you know that we’ve always encouraged you children to come to us first with your problems.”

Percy looked as though he didn’t relish being reminded that he was a child, but he nodded jerkily.

“Ron got into debt when he had to buy a new cauldron after he blew his first one up,” Molly said. Severus nodded; he remembered that incident. There was a stain on one of the tables in his classroom that was never going to fade, or, most likely, stop smelling of molten metal. “If he had come to me or your father, we could have settled things easily enough. But no, instead he went to the Headmaster for a loan of the necessary Galleons.”

“Well, uh,” Percy said, and then blinked again. “That’s not really a bad thing, is it, Mum? You always encouraged us to trust Professor Dumbledore.”

“It does argue that he trusts someone else more than he trusts his family,” Molly said firmly. “And there were other times, times when something happened to Ron and we were the last ones to hear about it instead of the first.” She frowned at the far wall, and something made the light in her eyes colder than Severus had ever seen. “No. Maybe not everything about Harry’s story is true, but there’s a score I’ve been meaning to settle with Albus Dumbledore for a while.”

Severus gave another smile. This was not something they could have planned, but once again, he and Harry could take advantage of it. Albus truly had cared for nothing in the last six months but the inner circle of the Order and battling the Dark Lord; he would not have noticed that some of his other followers’ loyalty was beginning to slip.

“You’re talking about fighting him?” Percy sounded as though he could not decide whether his mother was more mad or more courageous.

“Yes, I am,” Molly said, and turned to face her son. The angle was not perfect for Severus to catch a glimpse of her face, but apparently, it was enough to make Percy gulp and try to press himself backwards into the carvings on the wall. “Not in the way that you’re thinking of, but with words and information. That, I can certainly do.”

Severus raised his eyebrows and wondered which member of her family had been questioning Molly’s ability to do as much. It would seem foolish for any to do so, in truth, but they were not beyond acting foolishly; they were Gryffindors.

“I just don’t understand, that’s all,” Percy whispered, shaking his head. “The Headmaster always seemed so—beyond reproach.”

His mother walked past him and tapped him sharply on the back of the head as she did, making his hand fly up to the spot. “It’s time that you learned no one is, Percy,” she said. “Now, I’m going to go and find Harry. If you want to make yourself useful, cast some Housekeeping Charms in here. We’ll be staying for a while.”

Severus stepped back from the room and walked several steps down the corridor. Molly might still suspect that he had eavesdropped, but she would not have proof, and that should be enough to convince her that she need not strike him.

When the door opened, Molly turned and glanced straight at him, and nodded. “Good, you’re here,” she said. “Where is Harry staying?”

If she had no courtesy to spare for a Slytherin, at least her directness and lack of nonsense made her a guest after Severus’s own heart. He nodded up the stairs and began to lead her, wondering as he went whether Harry had stopped gaping at the space in his new room. Not unexpected, for a boy who had spent time in the cramped circumstances of his relatives’ home, but amusing to watch.

*

Harry took another walk around his room, and kept his arms stretched out as he went, thinking all the while that the distance between the walls had to be an illusion, and that he would bump into them at some point.

But nothing like that happened. The room remained exactly as it had from the time that Snape had brought him up here, wide, and spacious, and so vast that Harry half-suspected this was another folded wizardspace inside Shaldon’s Garden.

The walls were the same polished wood as the great room downstairs, but of a slightly paler color, and the wall that Harry thought faced south was nothing but a window, with bright sun pouring through the glass. Here and there were crystal ornaments, and mirrors, and small glass lamps that bounced the light and reflected it. Harry wasn’t sure if it was the angle they were set up at or enchantments or just pure luck that no glare ever seemed to strike his eyes, but they made the room bright, that was for sure. It was as if Snape had wanted to make sure that Harry had no dimness here to remind him of Dudley’s second bedroom in Privet Drive.

Harry scowled and turned sharply away from the window as he thought that. That couldn’t happen, because Snape didn’t know enough details about that place. And he never would.

The room was crowded along the walls with small tables, and shelves, and cabinets, and lacquered wooden boxes, although the floor was so wide and bare that Harry didn’t have any fear of tripping over anything. And when he opened a red box with golden dragons sporting on the sides, he found out fast enough that this wasn’t a room full of broken toys and discarded games like Dudley’s.

Not at all.

Inside the box was a huge rock, black on the outside, and glittering purple out of the core, which was split so Harry could see it. Harry just knelt there, staring at it. That was the purest purple he had ever seen, and he wondered if it was made of amethyst.

Then he shut the lid of the box and turned and started opening the others.

There were steel figurines of dragons inside, and iron sphinxes, and more rocks—Harry decided tentatively that they were geodes, and not huge jewels—and cuttings of plants that waved towards him when he opened the lids as though they were more of the mind-reading plants from the garden, and shining vases that had flowers carved on the sides, and books that Harry couldn’t read when he looked inside them, and golden cups, and chains of silver, and brass manacles that were so small Harry thought they might have been made to hold fairies. It was wondrous, and it was never-ending. And then Harry started pulling out the drawers in the little tables, and there were more things there: lockpicks, and smaller chains, and necklaces, and collars, and earrings, and tuning forks, and spoons, and tweezers, and leaf-thin mirrors that Harry hesitated to pick up in case he broke them, and golden coins.

He wondered if this wealth came with the house or if Snape had brought it back here and stored it. He probably could live here if he wanted, Harry thought in a daze, sitting back and staring at the latest drawer he had opened, which had a book that looked like it was made of silk, with glittering sheets for pages and a scarlet cover. And he could use all this money to buy his Potions ingredients and stronger wards in case Dumbledore came after him.

Why doesn’t he stay here? Does he really distrust himself that much?

But it seemed he had to. It was what he’d said, and Harry hadn’t seen any other reason so far that would make sense.

Someone knocked on his door. Harry stood up hastily, shut the drawer in front of him, and then flicked his wand so that all the other drawers and box lids slammed shut. “Come in!” he called, his voice a small noise after the much bigger one.

Snape stepped into the room and gave Harry a measuring glance, then flicked his eyes over his shoulder. Harry understood. Snape hadn’t come alone. Harry nodded back and leaned around Snape to see who it was.

Mrs. Weasley gave him a faint smile and waited outside the room’s door for a minute. It took Harry forever to realize what she was waiting for, and he flushed as he said, “Of course you can come in, Mrs. Weasley.”

“Thank you,” she said quietly, stepping in and still staying near the door as if she didn’t want to crowd him. “I didn’t want to presume.”

“Sometimes I think you have to,” Harry said. He sat down in one of the chairs near the center of the room, because if he stood up, he would just fidget around and he knew that wouldn’t present a good picture of a confident leader. “I want you to fight for me and turn against people you’ve known all your life.”

“I think I know them less well than I thought I did,” Mrs. Weasley said simply, and moved towards one of the chairs, glancing at Harry. Harry nodded, and she sat down. He caught a glimpse of Snape raising his eyebrows behind her. Well, he could do that. If Harry chose to invite her in, then she could come.

“Like Ron?” Harry asked.

Mrs. Weasley compressed her lips. “He’s turned to Dumbledore when he should have turned to me,” she said. Her face was flushing, but there was a weariness in her eyes that made Harry wonder if she was more angry or tired. “I can understand him feeling confused or overwhelmed the first time that they wanted him to help in the summoning of someone like you from another universe. It’s the sort of thing that could be presented as compelling. Saving the world.” She shut her eyes and touched her forehead as if remembering something. “Ron always wanted to be different from his brothers. I’m sure Dumbledore knew that and pointed out that this was a way to be different from any of them.

“But he should have had the good sense and the strength to refuse, and to come and talk to me about it if he was confused. I thought he did.” She shook her head and opened her eyes. “So. There were some questions I wanted to ask, and I’m sure you have some.” She smiled at him, and she looked like the Mrs. Weasley he had left behind, enough so to make Harry swallow the lump in his throat.

“Yeah,” Harry said. “I don’t know anything about the world outside Hogwarts, really, except Voldemort’s headquarters.” Both Mrs. Weasley and Snape flinched a little, and Harry reminded himself to be careful with the name. “What’s the Ministry doing? What does the wizarding world think they’re doing?”

“The Ministry has essentially collapsed,” Mrs. Weasley said, and wove her fingers into a clenching knot on her lap. “Most of the workers don’t bother to show up on a daily basis now; they’re making do only with the ones they absolutely have to have. And even then, the Aurors and the Hit Wizards are protecting the Ministry officials more than anyone else.”

Harry grimaced. “What do they do when Snake-Face kills someone?”

Mrs. Weasley blinked, then smiled. It was a faint little smile, but, well, Harry could understand that. “They get the Prophet and the wireless to announce how sorry they are, and go back to doing nothing.”

Harry stood up and paced back and forth, because he thought he might explode if he sat still, and he didn’t want to do that right in front of Mrs. Weasley. “That’s disgusting,” he said. “I understand why they do it, because they’re afraid, but that’s no excuse.”

“It certainly is not.”

Harry turned around and grinned at Mrs. Weasley. He was sure that she had been part of Gryffindor in this world, even if everything else about her was different. She practically sat on the edge of her seat now, vibrating with indignation, her hands clasped in front of her and her eyes shining.

“What does the public think about this?” he asked. “Are people still traveling? Is there anyone who’s criticizing the Ministry or trying to get them to change?”

“Very few,” Mrs. Weasley said, shaking her head. “Especially because Snake-Face—I do like that—targets them first, and even fewer of them can outrun the Death Eaters. Fewer and fewer try.” Her eyes had a military brightness. “People will still Apparate, but they fear the Floo and Portkeys, which the Death Eaters have largely hijacked.”

Harry nodded, thinking. “What about traitors? Are there a lot of Death Eater spies among ordinary people?”

Mrs. Weasley frowned. “I would say there aren’t many in Ottery St. Catchpole, but it’s hard to tell. You should talk to Bill and Charlie about that, and perhaps Percy.” She said his name so reluctantly that Harry was immediately sure that Percy wouldn’t want to talk to him. He looked briefly at Snape while Mrs. Weasley had her head bowed, thinking, and Snape gave him a minute nod.

Well. Harry would just have to live with that. He had lived with the Order of the Phoenix being a much bigger hindrance to him, after all.

“I think,” Mrs. Weasley said, when she’d spent a few more minutes thinking, “that there are people there who want to fight. But the fearful ones persuade them not to, because You-Know-Who doesn’t kill only them. He kills their families and friends. He’s burned whole Muggle villages to the ground to get at a single wizarding house.”

“What do the Muggles think is going on?” Harry asked eagerly. He didn’t think he would actually get any help from that direction, but if he knew what they thought, then he might know how hard it would be to move around among them.

Mrs. Weasley gave him a sad smile. “Terrorists, mostly, Arthur says. Anyone who walks around in London now—outside the wizarding parts, of course—needs identification papers, and is watched constantly.”

Harry nodded. He should have expected that. “How many people still do things like go to Diagon Alley?”

“Oh, some,” said Mrs. Weasley. “People still need to eat. But You-Know-Who makes random strikes there, too, and there are people who will turn to their own gardens or the markets in their villages instead of daring to leave.”

“What does he want, then?” Harry asked, surprised. This Voldemort had seemed so much saner and smarter than the one Harry knew that he wouldn’t have thought he would do stupid things like that. “He can’t want to starve them out, can he? When he wouldn’t let them flee or go to the Death Eaters anyway?”

“Those who want to join, he does take,” said Mrs. Weasley firmly, and her eyes burned. “Traitors. Of course, if they’re not at least half-bloods, they’re killed when they reveal their existence to him. All the Muggleborns I know are being very, very cautious.”

Harry nodded. He saw Snape shift behind Mrs. Weasley’s chair, and raised his eyes to him.

*

Severus did not like the new feeling in his veins, as if his blood was on fire and charging through them. He distrusted it. It was the way he had once felt when he was younger, listening to the Dark Lord speak.

It felt as though there was some hope of changing the world when he listened to Harry.

And he distrusted that. Harry, for all that he was strong and sure of himself and a better leader than Severus would have thought even one of them who had won his own war could be, was still a teenager, and one inexperienced in the ways of this universe. The Dark Lord was much older in terms of experience and strength and cunning. They would not win so easily.

But he could try to make his contributions in terms of realism that might help Harry and the Weasleys understand that. So he merely nodded in acknowledgment of Harry’s glance and then said, “You should understand what he wants, from having fought him. The complete and unconditional surrender of everyone’s hearts and minds, from their souls outwards. He will tolerate no defiance.”

“Fancy hearing you speak of souls, Severus,” Molly murmured, not turning around.

Severus smiled at her even though she couldn’t see, and it might look more as if he wanted to eat her than anything else. She was reminding him of reality, grounding him when he tried to soar. That was a valuable thing right now.

“I speak of the way the Dark Lord thinks,” he murmured, meeting Harry’s eyes. “He believes in the soul. Believes in it absolutely. He believes in it as something to corrupt, to break down, to destroy. Beware what allegiance you give his ideas, Mr. Potter—” he thought it better to use a slightly formal title for Harry in front of someone else, if he was supposed to be their war leader “—but understand them, at the same time.”

“Well, it seems weird that if he feels that way, he’s been in a holding pattern,” Harry said bluntly. “He hasn’t destroyed the Order yet, and they defy him. He hasn’t been working day and night on a way to destroy me, and I did it.”

Severus felt his lips pull back from his teeth in absolute contempt, though not of Harry’s reasoning abilities, as he once would have believed if anyone had asked him about Harry Potter being in Gryffindor. “Do you not see?” he asked softly. “Do you not understand?”

“Understand what?” Harry looked at him warily.

“The Dark Lord,” Severus said, making sure that he enunciated precisely, “thinks the Order one of the greatest allies he could have. I am not speaking of the fact that he may have a spy among them—though I am all but sure he does—but that he believes they will destroy themselves with their spells that summon Harry Potters, their combination of fear and hope. He need not move against them as long as he has other enemies elsewhere, which he does, and as long as they are in their own holding pattern. The delay costs him nothing. And just in case it is a ruse, which of course, as eternally distrustful as he is, he must consider, he will have extra time to study the spells Dumbledore may know and defeat him if it comes to open battle.”

Harry scowled. The expression charged all the lines of his face, and made his green eyes blaze. Severus felt that stupid hope waking up in him again. Here might be someone he could follow into battle—

Severus crushed that hope with a ruthless grasp. He did not yet know whether his role was as adviser, or as companion fighter beside Harry, or as something else. So he waited. So he must wait.

“Yeah, he’d think that way,” Harry muttered in what sounded like disgust. Severus felt a laugh pulling the corners of his mouth inside. The Dark Lord would be unable to comprehend that his enemy despised him, along with feared him. “Fine. So why do you think he’s holding back on me?”

Severus stepped around Molly’s chair and knelt in front of Harry’s, staring at him on an equal level. He was aware of Molly’s wondering eyes, and felt a small squirming of satisfaction. He would put on a show for her. The better he managed to convince her that Harry was someone worth following, the more easily he could convince others.

And the more she would act as a forerunner for them, telling them that Harry was someone who could make the haughty Severus Snape treat him as an equal.

“Because you have three times surprised him,” Severus said softly. “With the hawk, with the confrontation in his headquarters, with the mental battle. He has no need of moving too fast and potentially exposing weakness, he will think. He will study you, and act only when he is sure that he can destroy you.”

“So the next strike is the heavy one,” Harry muttered, staring at Severus.

Severus nodded. “That is my belief.”

“What will happen if I have allies?” Harry asked, his voice detached, almost as if he was voicing the question to himself rather than Severus. “Is he likely to move faster? Strike at them? Hold back again? Try to find a way to isolate me from them and then strike?”

“I think,” Severus said, “that it will depend on the strength, and presence, and number, of those allies. Keep them hidden for a time in one or more of those aspects, and he is likely to remain preparing slowly and cautiously.”

Harry smiled, and then turned around and looked over Severus’s shoulder at Molly. “What do you think?” he asked. “Do you think you could spread the word about this and recruit more people without alerting anyone who would tell the truth to the Death Eaters?”

When Molly Weasley smiled, it made her whole face swell and shine with some of the confidence and power that Severus had seen in Harry’s.

And that is also not a thought I should be having, lest it tempt me to the extremes of hope, Severus told himself sternly, and stood, moving out of the way so that Molly and Harry could more comfortably converse. His point was made.

“Yes, I think so,” said Molly judiciously. “It would, of course, depend on where I started, and what I should tell them.” She watched Harry expectantly.

Harry blinked, but then sat up. “I want everyone who’s willing to fight,” he said firmly. “Who has the courage. It doesn’t really matter if they’re powerful wizards or not. They can still teach and learn and hide people and help us with spying if they’re not. But we need to spread the word quietly, underground.”

“And then spies would be the worst things we had to fear.” Molly nodded thoughtfully, tugging at her hair for a moment, and then seeming to remember who she was with and dropping her hand back into the lap. “As I said, I should speak to my sons about that, since they travel more often than anyone else in the family.”

“The worst thing we have to fear is always the Dark Lord,” Severus said sharply. “We will lose the war if you forget that.”

Molly gave him a look that was far more merely tolerant than Severus would have expected. Then again, he reckoned that might be what he deserved, when he had deliberately given up his dignity to show her how much he trusted Harry to lead them. “Of course, Severus. You will be our voice of fear, I’m sure, when we’re about to forget.”

Severus put a hand on his arm, thinking he might have to show her the Dark Mark to remind her of what the Dark Lord could do, but Harry stood up and walked towards the center of the room, shaking his head.

“I think we need to be afraid of him,” he said. “Professor Snape’s right. We have to be cautious, or we’ll lose the war.”

Mrs. Weasley turned and studied him curiously. “You don’t think Dumbledore is losing the war by being too cautious?”

“No, he’s losing the war because he’s being stupid,” Harry said confidently. Severus choked, wishing that Harry could have said that to Albus’s face and that he could have been there to see Albus’s expression—contradicted on his authority by a mere teenager!—but Harry was going on, not having noticed Severus’s reaction. “He thinks I’m the only one who can defeat You-Know-Who, so he wants to summon another version of me. And then I’m supposed to just do it miraculously, I suppose, without any kind of training whatsoever.”

Molly shook her head. “That is madness to do to a child.”

“Oh, I agree,” Harry said, with a faint, sinister smile that made Severus want to applaud. “But it’s going to keep him from interfering, and it’s also going to keep him from winning the war. We have to go a little slowly, enough to keep him from catching on, but not as slowly as Dumbledore did.

“And that means that we need something else. A distraction, something that will convince Vol—him that we’re doing something other than what we are, gathering allies and support.”

“What’s that?” Molly seemed at least willing to listen. Severus had to wonder at that. He didn’t remember her treating even Dumbledore that respectfully, when she had been part of the Order of the Phoenix and Albus had been a leader worth following.

Harry smiled. “I was thinking of using Dumbledore as bait.”

*

Harry kind of liked the way they both stared at him. It was nice, to be respected, for once, as someone with neat and interesting ideas instead of the pawn that the Order here had tried to treat him as.

And even when he was on the Horcrux hunt with his friends, he had sometimes felt like baggage, dragged along mainly because he was the one that Dumbledore (his version) had entrusted with the knowledge. Hermione came up with helpful spells. Ron rescued him from the pond when the locket had started to choke him and figured out ways to destroy other Horcruxes. He could come up with plans separate from his friends, though.

That didn’t diminish his longing to go home as soon as possible. But it did remind him that he wasn’t entirely alone here, and he didn’t have to give up and crumble to the ground because Hermione wasn’t at his elbow with history or Ron with strategy.

“You will explain what you mean by that.”

Harry glanced over at Snape, smothering a grin. Yeah, he looked somewhere between shocked and angry. He didn’t like being surprised. Harry would have to remember that when they started planning battle strategy, and try to include Snape in everything from the beginning. He didn’t want to make an enemy of probably his most powerful ally.

“Yes, please do.”

Mrs. Weasley sounded interested. Harry faced her and decided that he would rather explain his plan directly to her, anyway. That would give Snape a chance to recover his dignity without feeling like Harry was staring at him.

“Vold—sorry, Snake-Face is already worried about Dumbledore. What if we used Polyjuice to make him think that Dumbledore had left Hogwarts and was traveling around working on other rituals to summon different versions of me? Multiple ones, this time. We could spread the rumor that Dumbledore had given up on controlling me and wanted to try several Harrys at once, from different universes.”

Mrs. Weasley opened her mouth, and then paused and blinked. “It certainly sounds interesting,” she said at last, in the tone she had used back in his world when the twins asked her to serve some of their sweets for dinner one night. “But surely it would place innocent people in danger? Wherever the fake Dumbledore went?”

Harry shook his head. “We’d have him, or me, or whoever plays him—”

“Not you.”

Snape’s voice said that he would argue if Harry tried to contradict him. Harry decided not to for now—not because he was giving up on the thought of playing Dumbledore, but because it simply wasn’t worth the argument. He just nodded and went on. “We should have them keep away from villages. Just pretend that he’s looking at likely ritual sites.”

“How do you know what a good one would look like?” Harry knew even before he checked over his shoulder that Snape would have his arms folded. Yeah, he did.

“That part, I leave up to the research of other people,” Harry said, and then focused on Mrs. Weasley. “What do you think?”

Mrs. Weasley smiled. “I think that Fred and George would be delighted to be involved in this. And they will certainly have their own ideas.”

“Yeah, they do.”

Harry started as the door of his bedroom opened and Fred and George stood there, grins all over their faces. Snape glared at them, but they didn’t look sorry for having been caught listening. Then again, as far as Harry could remember, they never did. They held up Extendable Ears.

Harry laughed, and tried to keep from staring too hard at the sight of the twins together, both alive. “What are some of the ideas you have, then?” he asked.

The twin on the left—Harry thought it was George—grinned and looked at the one on the right. Fred nodded and said, “We reckoned that the people who really deserve You-Know-Who’s attention are the Death Eaters. Now, it just so happens that we have these little toys.” He reached into his robe pocket and produced a green wooden box that he held up and opened.

Harry squinted. Even though he was standing closer to the door than he had been a few minutes ago, it was still kind of hard to see what Fred held. After a few seconds, he could identify it as a silver ball, shaped like a Snitch.

“What does it do?” he asked, leaning forwards. As far as he could remember, the Fred and George in his world had never come up with anything like this.

“Shall we, brother mine?” Fred asked George, and then cast the silver ball at him. It grew wings as it flew, just like a Snitch, but also changed color and shape, so that in the end it only looked like a fat bug hovering around George. George blinked and looked around vaguely, although Harry didn’t know if that was a real part of the thing’s effect or only part of the performance they were giving.

“Who was the one who broke into Mum’s bedroom last week and changed all the sheets to mauve?” Fred asked.

“I was,” George said dreamily.

Mrs. Weasley rose to her feet like a mountain standing up. “I didn’t find any mauve sheets,” she started to say.

Fred gave her an appealing look, and Mrs. Weasley stopped talking, but folded her arms and gave him a look that Harry could translate, too. Explain this or you will be in big trouble.

Fred continued hurriedly. “Did you break into Mum’s bedroom just now and turn the sheets yellow?”

“Yes,” George said in the same tone. “That was me, all right.”

Fred snapped his fingers, and the silver thing zoomed back to him and into the box, which he shut. George shivered and rubbed his ears. “Brrr,” he said. “That’s bloody creepy, that’s what it is.”

“It makes people confess to false crimes?” Harry asked, fascinated.

“It makes people confess to whatever they’re asked,” said Fred, smugly. “Took us forever to get the formula right.”

“And that means,” George added, with an awful grin, “that You-Know-Who is going to think he’s surrounded by traitors. He’s paranoid. He looks for them anyway. He’ll figure out what’s going on eventually, but by then, he won’t know who to trust and not to trust. And he’ll waste an awful lot of time on torture and Veritaserum.”

“And by then,” Fred added, with a firm nod, “we’ll have come up with something else.”

“Do you think it’ll work?” Harry asked, turning instinctively to look at Snape, even though Mrs. Weasley had a complex expression on her face and he supposed he could have asked her first.

*

Severus wanted to announce that no, it would not. He wanted to announce that the Dark Lord would catch on too quickly and that made the risk not worth the taking.

But he paused, remembering some of the things the Weasley twins had got away with at Hogwarts, tricks that not even Albus had been able to fathom, and under the eyes of watchful portraits and professors like Minerva, who had seen generations of students who thought they were clever. The Weasley twins truly were.

If they had allies, they had to permit those allies to help them, or they were useless.

And as he thought about it, more plans began to occur to him, new wrinkles and twists that he could add to what Harry and the Weasley twins had come up with.

So he met Harry’s eyes, and then the eyes of their new allies, one by one, and said firmly, “Yes, it very well may.”

He did not feel the return of hope again at Harry’s fierce, predatory grin. He did not. He was in better control of himself than that.

But perhaps it was worth remembering that one could not always be in control of the future.

Chapter Text


“You have no idea if this is going to work.”

Harry ignored Snape’s mutter behind him as he went on casting the charms that would darken his clothes and spread a thin but even layer of magical obscurity across his face so his glasses would be less likely to catch the light and flash. Snape had already said that, or something similar to it, four times. But Harry knew the answer, the real one. He was just saving it until Snape was done wasting his breath.

“Untested, untried, undone,” Snape said then, and paced up and down behind Harry. Harry could see him in the mirror on the wall if he looked up, but at the moment, he was more interested in using his reflection to estimate the effect of his spells. Pretty good, so far, but it could be better. Harry cast another Obscuring Charm. “You cannot seriously think I would allow this.”

Harry grinned and turned around to cock his head at Snape. “The very thing I was going to say, and you beat me to it,” he said.

“What?” Snape’s snarl said his temper was getting sharp and he might as well blunt it on Harry as on anyone else.

“You wouldn’t allow me to do this if there was a real chance of my getting hurt,” Harry said calmly. “But so far, you’ve just complained and added some spells that will make things safer. You haven’t actually tried to stop me. So that must mean that you know at bottom that it’s going to work, because you know his paranoia.” He turned back to the mirror and added one more spell, and the outlines of his glasses vanished completely to sight from outside, while still being clear enough to see through. “You’re just worried.”

Snape took several steps closer to him, from the sound. Harry could estimate when an adult was creeping up on him to punish him, though, after Vernon, and this wasn’t one of those times. He turned back and met Snape’s eyes with his own mild gaze.

“I. Am not. Worried,” Snape said, and finished off the words with a rattling hiss that might have done Voldemort proud.

“Of course not,” Harry said. “Then you’re just prowling up and down and fretting for no good reason, since I know you would have done something more by now if you were going to interfere. Sir.”

Snape stood there, his hands clenched in his sleeves, and then whirled around and disappeared out the door of Harry’s room. Harry snorted and began to check that the weapons up his sleeves were where he had put them. In this particular case, he wasn’t so much going to use them as flourish them around, but it was still easier to bring the objects with him instead of Transfiguring something at the scene.

I don’t see what Snape’s so worried about, anyway. It’s going to be fine. I did more dangerous things than this during the war—my war, I mean. And he’s put too much time and effort into me to just let me walk away and get myself killed. He wants to be free of Voldemort, too.

“Ready to go, then?”

Harry paused and looked up. Percy was standing in the doorway of his room, his head twitching as though he simultaneously wanted to gape around at all the things in it and keep an eye on Harry. Harry smiled. He hadn’t had much of a chance to talk to Percy directly, just in front of his family, and this was a good time to test a theory he’d been forming.

“Sure,” Harry said casually. “But there are times I think we should all give it up and go back to Dumbledore, you know?”

Percy almost leaped out of his boots. Then he stared at Harry and shook his head. “Really?” he croaked.

“Oh, sure,” Harry said, and strove for a serious expression. He wanted to get Percy’s honest opinion, not scare him off by making him think Harry was joking. “Oh, yes. He has the most battle experience, and he has the Order, and he could really make people rally to his side if he would do a couple charismatic speeches.” He let out a long, slowly dwindling sigh, stood there with his head bowed, and waited for Percy to ask the obvious questions.

Percy leaned forwards and spent a few minutes looking at Harry instead of asking them, though. Harry stared back at him. Perhaps he’d underestimated Percy’s eagerness to get everything settled, or at least his eagerness to defy his family.

“Why don’t you, then?” Percy whispered at last, his head moving in nervous little jerks as he looked over his shoulder for a second and then refocused his attention on Harry.

“Because I don’t know if he would do the speeches,” Harry said, and tried to make his face look pale and tormented. Did he succeed? He didn’t know. The times that he looked most upset were the times that he wasn’t thinking about his expression, or so Hermione had told him more than once. “Because I don’t know if he would help me. What if he just tried to get me under his control again?”

Percy hesitated again, and then spoke kindly. “Do you know that you’re the third Harry Potter they’ve summoned? I mean, think about it. It sounds like a mad thing to do, and in the middle of a war, when they need to save their strength. Did Professor Dumbledore tell you that, or is that just something you supposed?”

Harry blinked. Then he said, “I can’t really—remember. It’s been so tense, you know? I reckon I could remember if I thought about it, and Snape was there, so he could probably put the memories in a Pensieve, but—”

“I don’t think you should trust Snape,” Percy said at once, shaking his head. “That potion he gave you to drink? Are you sure it was Veritaserum?”

“It felt like Veritaserum,” Harry said doubtfully. “I mean, the way that people have always told me being under it is like.”

“But you don’t know if it was,” Percy said, and a little smile broke out on his face. Harry wondered for a moment whether he was happier that Harry might have a reason to trust Dumbledore again—as Percy thought of it—or at being proved right. With Percy in his world, it might have been either. “Just think about this. Just think about the reasons that Snape might have to be against Dumbledore.”

“Well, Dumbledore betrayed him,” Harry began.

“That’s the way my mum feels, too,” Percy said, with a vigorous nod of his head. “But he hasn’t actually done anything but what’s best for people and the war, has he? Think about it,” he urged again, when Harry opened his mouth. “He hasn’t said that he’d kill you, or control you, the way Snape seems to think he will. All you have is Snape’s word for it.”

Harry bit his lip, while sighing inside. He didn’t think Percy was some kind of malicious traitor, anxious to make their plans fail because he hated them. He just didn’t believe Harry, and he respected Dumbledore. Those were the two keystones of his character.

“Well, I suppose not,” Harry conceded at last. “But some of the things he’s said frighten me. And the way he looks at me—I know I frighten him. And he did yank me away from my world, even if he never summoned any others, and told me that they probably wouldn’t be able to get me back home.”

“But he yielded easily when you pressed him?” Percy said, and patted his arm before Harry could even answer. “He said that there was a way to get you back? Of course he did. Of course. Dumbledore would never just yank someone away from their home like that, and demand that they fight his war. He probably just wanted you to think there wasn’t a way back so you would realize how desperate our need was.”

Harry held back a snort, and also the desire to point out how Percy had contradicted himself, and just stared at Percy doubtfully. “But then why would Snape want to control me? Why would he want to go against Dumbledore, if he has the best plan? I know that Snape wants You-Know-Who dead, too.”

Percy smiled, as if Harry not saying Voldemort’s name was some reassurance that he was on Dumbledore and Percy’s side. “You don’t know as much about Professor Snape as I do, Harry,” he said. “A brilliant teacher, of course he is, but he’s a bitter and angry man, too. He could be doing all this to get back at Dumbledore for some slight the man paid him, once upon a time. I wouldn’t be surprised.”

“Oh,” Harry said, and nodded as if that was convincing. “Well, I’ll think about it. But I do still need to fight him, whatever happens with Dumbledore.”

“But pretending to be the Headmaster is just going to get the Headmaster on the wrong side of you,” Percy said earnestly. “Don’t you see that? Of course you do,” he continued, overriding whatever response Harry would have made. “So it’s better to wait, and maybe Floo Dumbledore if you can find a fireplace in here that isn’t watched, and then see what he says.”

“I can’t,” Harry said with mock sadness. “The plan is going to go ahead today, and I’d have a lot of things to explain if people thought I was stalling on purpose!”

“Oh,” Percy said, as if that honestly hadn’t occurred to him. And it might not have; Harry knew lots of smart people who nevertheless didn’t think through all the consequences, like the Dumbledore and Hermione of this universe. “Can you—I don’t know, feign sick or something? I think the twins have some products you could take that would make you seem sick. Skiving Snackboxes, I think they call them.” Percy sounded more than vaguely disgusted. Of course, he’d probably never played sick in his whole life, at least to get out of going to class, Harry thought, hiding a grin behind his hand.

“Not this close to it,” Harry said, and sighed dolorously. “Snape’s a Potions master, like you said, and a bloody good one.” Percy looked as if he was on the verge of scolding him for language, which only showed, Harry thought cynically, that he’d never left the Hogwarts prefect very far behind him. “He’d know something was wrong and investigate, and then everyone would want to know why I’d pretended.”

“You could tell them that you were nervous,” Percy said, his words rushing past each other until it was hard to distinguish the vowel sounds from the rest. “That you didn’t want to be in battle against You-Know-Who, not really. Then they’d have to drop it.”

Harry looked at Percy, and a moment later, Percy flushed and lowered his eyes. “No, that wouldn’t really work, would it?” Percy whispered, almost to himself. “I mean, not really.”

“Especially not when I’ve been making a big deal of my bravery up until now, and how I have to fight,” Harry said gently. “No. I’ll carry through with this plan, and then—we’ll see. Thanks for telling me the way you feel, Percy,” he added, and he at least meant that with all his heart. It was easier knowing who his enemies were, or misguided supporters.

Percy beamed at him. “You’re welcome, Harry. I just hate seeing teenagers forced into this war. It’s all right for us adults, we chose to fight it.” His chest puffed out, and he tapped himself on it, right, Harry couldn’t help noticing, where the prefect’s badge would have rested when he was in Hogwarts. “But no one should have made you do this.”

Harry skipped over lots of things in his mind, such as that Dumbledore had been the one who pulled him here and forced him to take part in a war that wasn’t his own, and that Percy was only a few years older than Harry himself, and in the end only nodded. Percy turned and hastily retreated back towards the stairs. Harry put his head in his hands for a moment and shook it.

“You are well?”

Harry started. He’d been so involved in his conversation with Percy that he hadn’t noticed Snape coming up the stairs, back to the room—

“Or, no, wait,” he said slowly. “If you’d been on the stairs, Percy would have passed you. You’ve been here, under a Disillusionment Charm?”

Snape inclined his head with that weird slowness he had sometimes, never taking his eyes from Harry’s face.

“Checking on my loyalty to the cause?” Harry couldn’t help needling him. “That I could handle the big bad temptation of breaking free of the war all by myself?” Maybe he shouldn’t talk to Snape like that, but God damn it, it was irritating not to be trusted.

*

Severus watched Harry for a few seconds, while Harry continued to stare at him with his fists clenched. He wondered how long he should allow Harry to remain in the dark, or if he should allow it.

Well. Harry had waited almost a full minute now, and longer if Severus counted the minutes when he had spoken to Percy without knowing that Severus was there. Perhaps it was time that Severus told him.

“I wanted to see how you would act in front of a hostile audience,” he said quietly, sitting down across from Harry on one of the sturdy trunks that lined the walls. “Mrs. Weasley does not count as one, not when she was so eager to spring to our side.”

Harry still watched him with his eyes shimmering with emotion. “And what do you think?”

“A plausible lie,” Severus said. “I would not, however, try it with someone who sees you as you are.”

“As I am,” Harry said slowly, and moved a step closer, still glaring. Severus wondered why he did not find such an expression childish. Perhaps simply because of who it was, because of his knowledge of what lay behind the glare. “Do you mean—what? A Gryffindor? Percy was a Gryffindor, too, at least in my world.”

“As an adult,” Severus said, picking the words carefully, but not out of any intent to deceive or impress. “Not a child.”

Harry blinked, and most of the glare went from his eyes. “Um,” he said, backing a step away and cocking his head to the side so that he was studying Severus from beneath his fringe. “Do you mean that?”

Severus nodded. “Two days ago, I would not have, but I have seen the way you matured since then. Handling Percy Weasley’s suspicions is not something I would have thought you could do.”

There. A tribute, plain and unadorned. The only kind, Severus thought, that Harry was likely to accept anyway.

Harry spent another moment or so studying him, then straightened his shoulders and nodded. “Thank you,” he said. “Good. So. We’re ready to move then?”

Severus flowed smoothly to his feet. “We are.”

*

“But you’re sure this is the right place.”

It was bloody weird, hearing Snape’s smooth voice coming from his own lips. Harry grimaced and resisted the urge to rub his mouth with the back of his hand. It was out of character for Snape to show that much emotion. Hell, it was probably out of character for Snape to use contractions. He would have to watch for that in the future.

“Oh, yes, Severus. I’m absolutely sure.”

Snape, on the other hand, made a magnificent Dumbledore. Harry watched his eyes twinkle, and wondered how long Snape had studied to get that right. Or was it something that happened naturally once you got into the Polyjuice disguise? Harry tried to analyze if he was scowling more easily now that he was Snape, but had to give it up when he realized that he didn’t know the way he normally scowled, either.

“Then let me test it,” Harry said, and crouched down in the grass to take the first knife—in reality, a dull blade for chopping up roots that had been polished with glamours to make it look magical—out of his cloak.

They spoke in whispers, and they had those darkening charms on their faces to make it harder for anyone spying from the forest that surrounded the clearing to see them. But Harry knew it didn’t matter. They’d Apparated here with a great deal of magic, and Snape had made sure to touch his Dark Mark in a certain way beforehand, which would somehow call the Death Eaters. And make them think he was a traitor, too.

If Harry pulled up the sleeve of his robe, then he knew he would see the Mark—Snape’s usually, his for now—there. He hadn’t looked at it so far, though, and wouldn’t unless he needed to in order to make their charade of choosing a ritual site make sense. The mere feel of it clinging, rough and black, to his skin made him want to vomit.

“Do chop the grass faster, dear boy,” Snape said, and Harry restrained the urge to kick him in his finely-robed arse. He was sure Snape knew exactly how much Harry hated that friendly tone right now, and was exaggerating on purpose.

Harry made a great show of cutting grass blades and holding them up to the faint light of the moon. “Hmm,” he said.

“Hmm, what?” Snape-Dumbledore turned back around, and Harry thought someone who knew to look for it, like him, would see an incongruity in the way those twinkling eyes fastened on him. Dumbledore could look at people sharply like that, but he usually tried to pretend he hadn’t done it once someone caught him at it.

“The grass has exactly the right measure of salt,” said Harry, which was totally made up, of course, and then spread his fingers wide so that the blades could fall back into the clearing. “If you’re sure that you mean to continue with this mad idea, Headmaster.” He wasn’t sure which was harder, remembering to keep his voice in the right drawl or remembering to address Snape by Dumbledore’s title. Because this version of Snape had no reason to rebel and run away, of course.

Harry wondered for a moment if he wanted to know why Snape had some of Dumbledore’s hair on hand when they wanted to do this disguise, and then decided that he didn’t. If he was really curious, he could always ask later.

“Of course I do, my boy.” Snape lowered his voice to a mysterious whisper that Harry could imagine making the Death Eater audience they hoped was there crane forwards and prick up their ears. “You know that this is our only chance.”

“Potter may come around.” Harry straightened up and folded his arms sulkily in front of him, staring straight ahead. He didn’t want to look at Snape right now, since he knew he would get a nonverbal critique of his performance. “You don’t know everything, Albus.”

“I know enough,” Snape said, and this time let his voice deepen to something close to its normal tones. Harry reckoned that was probably the way he would sound when trying to impress a reluctant follower. “And I know that, although you say this site is correct and secure, we should find more than one. If we intend to summon more than one Harry Potter, that is.”

Harry let himself spin around as if he’d only just now found that out, and then stop and struggle with himself, the way he was sure Snape would after expressing any such emotion. “Albus,” he hissed at last. “We can barely control one of them. What makes you think that we could control a multitude?”

“A multitude? No, Severus. Several.” Snape held up the wand that was enchanted to look like Dumbledore’s and smoothed his fingers down the shaft. Harry felt the Elder Wand vibrate a little in his robes, as though it was responding to the implied threat. “There is every difference between a multitude and several. For example…” And he leaned nearer and lowered his voice as if whispering into Harry’s ear.

He did actually whisper into Harry’s ear, and what he said was, “Two Death Eaters under that tree with the three twisted branches. One of them is Macnair.”

Harry didn’t whip his head around, but he had to admit that was partially because Snape was right there and he’d have had to bang his head into him to do it. It wasn’t because he was particularly smart about it. He just stiffened his back, and then managed to relax it and sighed. “How can you tell?” he whispered back, hoping the way he stood would show an arrogant attitude.

“Because there is no way that Macnair can keep his footsteps quiet, and he is the only one that clumsy among the Dark Lord’s inner circle,” Snape mumbled back. Then he pulled his head away from Harry and sniffed the air. Harry reckoned he was being careful, in case someone used eavesdropping charms and realized they weren’t saying the things to each other that they were supposed to be saying. “What is that?” he demanded in Dumbledore’s strong voice, and turned towards the tree he’d said the Death Eaters were hiding behind.

Harry promptly took a vial out of Snape’s black robes and heaved it in the tree’s direction. At least two Death Eaters meant they would try to capture one of them, but let the other escape to spread tales about “Dumbledore” and what he was up to.

The potion exploded well short of the tree, but it didn’t matter, not with the red fumes that writhed out and into the forest. Harry could see the dark shapes now, holding still in hopes that the fumes wouldn’t reach them.

They were out of luck, and broke cursing from the shade once they realized it. The other one ran back into the trees; Macnair headed towards them.

Harry smiled and drew his wand. The Elder Wand sang in his hand under the enchantments that made it look like Snape’s wand, alight, eager with the impulse of destruction.

Harry pointed it at the earth in front of the running Macnair’s feet—Snape was standing back and letting Harry protect him the way that Dumbledore would certainly trust in someone else’s skills—and didn’t speak, or even think the spell through nonverbally. The wand picked up on the impulses charging down his muscles, and that was enough.

The ground exploded in front of Macnair, regular, strong bursts that made earth fly up into the air and checked his pounding run. Macnair started to duck and dodge and raise Shield Charms in front of himself. It was all too obvious that he didn’t understand what had happened, whether it was spells aimed at the ground or a curse aimed at him.

Harry’s lips curled in a hungry smile. He didn’t know whether it was an expression that would have belonged on Snape’s face, and at the moment, he didn’t care. Their enemy was distracted anyway.

His heart sang along with the Elder Wand. He aimed it at Macnair this time, and thought and whispered at the same moment a spell he’d read about yesterday in a book Snape had lent him. “Excito ventrem.

Macnair tried to dodge again, but this curse simply reached out for him, without causing any visible ray or flare of light. He missed his dodge, and ran right into it. Harry lowered his hand and licked his lips, aware of Snape staring at him, aware that he couldn’t wait to find out whether the curse would work as advertised.

Macnair ground to a stop suddenly, and folded his arms above his abdomen. His moan of pain was low and pronounced. Harry bit the inside of his cheek to keep from saying something savage. The Elder Wand thrumming in his hand was probably the thing that was prompting him towards this. He closed his eyes and opened them again.

Yes. The curse had worked.

Macnair was writhing, his head tilted back, his feet rising so that he stood only on the tips of his toes. A large, invisible meat hook, as Harry knew from the description of the spell, would have caught him through the intestines and be hauling him up like that. As Harry watched, Macnair threw back his head and screamed.

This man wasn’t the same one who had almost executed Buckbeak, but watching him, Harry felt as though he were.

Snape’s hand snaked out and fell on his wrist. “Enough, Severus,” he said. “That spell can cause someone to die from the pain if used long enough, which is not our plan.”

Harry found that he couldn’t look at him. He waved his wand and dismissed the spell. The Elder Wand did it willingly enough. It had been used for some purposes of destruction now, and it thrummed in satisfaction. Harry had to shake his hand to get rid of it; his fingers wanted to cling.

Macnair fell to the ground. The other Death Eater had long since fled. Harry stepped forwards and lifted him in the air with Levicorpus, then spun and shook him. A few long-bladed knives dropped out of his robes, followed by a hook that resembled the invisible sensation the spell had conjured. Then came his wand, falling from his limp hand. Harry had to admit that he could have Summoned it or Disarmed Macnair, but this way was so much more—

More. The words disappeared into the dark abyss that seemed to have opened up in the middle of him.

He let Macnair flop back to the ground when he was done, and glanced at Snape. He wasn’t the leader here, after all. And by now, Snape looked calculating enough that Harry didn’t have any problem seeing the real person past Dumbledore’s long white beard and friendly eyes.

“What do we do now, sir?” he asked.

*

So. Harry could be Darker on occasion than he had thought, and not solely when facing the Dark Lord.

Severus did not allow his thoughts to escape his mouth, either his thoughts on Harry or his thoughts on the wand. He merely nodded, and then said, “Bring him with us, as we planned. Pick him up.”

Harry did it with Mobilicorpus, the mask he had assumed through Polyjuice as smooth and calm now as Severus had seen it in the mirror after a night of taking out his vengeance on student essays. The other look—the spasms of fearful excitement, the way his eyes had shone as he watched Macnair struggle and surge with pain—might never have existed.

And it was not that Severus objected to them on moral grounds, he thought, as they prepared to Apparate back to the outside of Shaldon’s Garden. It was simply that such impulses, unchecked, could get in the way.

The Dark Arts were useful. Sometimes necessary, in that there were spells the Ministry classified as Dark that would act as no other spells could. Preparations for potions as well as important in and of themselves. A subject that Severus had long deplored not being taught at Hogwarts. How could students properly learn Defense without learning what they were defending against?

But it was not a complete lie, as some of the Ministry’s propaganda was, the caveat about the Dark Arts being addictive. Precisely because many other wizards feared them and would run away from a wizard who had mastered them rather than trying to achieve their effect through legal spells, they had their power. And becoming absorbed in them, trying to study more and more of them for their sake, was as debilitating to the man with a properly balanced mind as an obsession with revenge or with morality could be.

Harry would not fall victim to that. Severus would kill him before that happened.

But already the glee had faded from Harry’s eyes and he looked normal, or as normal as Severus was used to seeing himself look before a mirror. He decided that he would not show concern over it unless it turned out to be well-founded concern, which in this case seemed unlikely.

*

“But what are you going to do with him?”

Harry glanced up. The Polyjuice had worn off, and Snape had taken a strand of Macnair’s hair and gone into his lab to work with more. For the moment, Macnair was unconscious on a table in yet another folded section of wizardspace, a room Snape had said, briefly, that the first owner of the house had used as a dungeon.

He hadn’t said what he himself used it for. Harry was getting better at spotting the little breaks in his speech like that, the little lies of omission, although he didn’t know what this one could be concealing. The room still looked like a dungeon, with bare stone walls and spots for chains on them, but the chains in this case were looped around Macnair’s ankles and wrists and pulled so tight to the sides of the table that Harry doubted he could move.

Right now, he had to deal with Ginny, who had come to the door of the wizarspace and stood right on the threshold, the place where it changed from one space to another. Harry bit his lip on the impulse to say that he didn’t know what they were going to do, beyond Snape’s plan to make Macnair show up all over the place, and she shouldn’t care anyway, and motioned her inside.

Ginny hesitated, then walked in. This close, Harry couldn’t see much difference from the girl he knew, but then, when had he ever known her well? Ginny looked at Macnair, and then walked around him and bent down to stare at the chains on his ankles.

“Don’t worry,” Harry said. “He’s secure. I checked.”

Ginny started up and said, “I wasn’t worrying. I just wondered.” She chewed the inside of her cheek for a second, looking at him, and then said, “Percy thinks you’re going to contact Dumbledore again.”

“Did he tell you that?” Harry thought it would be pretty stupid of Percy to talk to the rest of his family about it when he had to know that Mrs. Weasley and the twins wanted to help Harry, but then, after his conversation with him last evening, he thought Percy might be a little too eager to be discreet.

“I picked up on the hints. He went and talked to you frowning, and he came down the stairs again smiling.” Ginny folded her arms and stared at him. “Are you going to let him get away with that?”

“Hinting? I can’t prevent what he thinks.” Harry didn’t know which side Ginny was on, so he thought he had to play cool for now. Not to mention that, if he did tell the truth, then Ginny might not want to keep it a secret from her brother.

“Going back to Dumbledore.” Ginny narrowed her eyes. “I think—I think it would be horrible of you to do that, when we’re taking risks for you.”

“I can’t promise anything,” Harry said, deciding that it was better to be blunt than having her tear off to Mrs. Weasley. “But I can promise that I don’t abandon my allies. Except when someone pulls me to another universe and forces me to,” he added, belatedly, because otherwise it was the sort of exception that Percy would point out.

Ginny started to answer, but the air in front of Harry rippled and darkened. He spun around, his hand already on his wand, his mouth open to call Snape from the lab. Something strong enough to reach through the wards of Shaldon’s Garden might kill him without effort, but Harry still didn’t intend to go down without a fight.

Then he recognized the stars that gleamed in the depths of the tunnel. His hand fell from his wand, and he laughed.

“What is that?” Ginny’s voice was a little shrill. When Harry looked at her, though, she’d drawn her own wand, and it seemed that she didn’t intend to run.

“The tunnel from another world,” Harry said, and cleared his throat, hoping his voice wouldn’t shake in front of Ginny when he spoke. That would be all he needed, sounding like a scared little boy. “Hermione? Is that you?”

“Harry?” His Hermione’s voice was rich and deep and warm, and maybe Harry was grinning like an idiot, but he couldn’t help it. “Oh, finally. It was a lot harder than I thought it would be, reaching across all the universes to find the one that you’re in. It’s a long distance, and something like a barrier of glass kept getting in the way.”

Harry froze when he heard that, but he didn’t think it was the right time to worry her by talking about it, so he just nodded and said, “God, Hermione, I’m glad that you’re here now. Have you had time to find out whether I can come back to you lot at all, or was this the one-way trip Dumbledore claims it was?”

“There’s a way you can come home,” Hermione said. Harry closed his eyes for a second, and hoped Ginny wasn’t watching his face too closely. “But it’s difficult and dangerous. We can help you from this side, but do you have someone there that you would trust to help you?”

Harry opened his eyes and turned his head. Snape had come to the door of his lab, perhaps because he had felt the magic of the tunnel opening between the worlds, and he cocked his head slightly. His eyes were fastened on Harry’s.

“Yeah,” Harry said, and faced the tunnel again. “I do. What do we have to do, Hermione?”

“You need to find a place that feels safe to you,” Hermione said instantly, “and we need to go to the same place in our world. Or we’ll find one and you try to reach it. It doesn’t matter who chooses it, which is very interesting, actually. I assumed that you would to pick the place that you wanted to travel to, but—”

“He doesn’t care about that part of it, Hermione,” Ron’s voice said irritably. “Anyway. The place. Good to talk to you, mate. After you find this place and we’re in it, then you have to channel a whole lot of magic into an object that you’re carrying with you, something you brought from our universe to that one, and that you’ll be happy to leave behind. It substitutes for you, somehow—it stays there, and it convinces the magic of the first spell that Order used that you’re staying. Do you have something like that?”

Harry nodded, thinking first of the clothes he’d worn on his involuntary journey, and then some of the small things stuffed in the pockets. He’d willingly give up anything that had come with him from his world, except the Elder Wand. He hated to think of what someone would do with that if they found it here, and super-charged with magic. “All right. Then what do we do?”

“That’s the part where we come in,” Hermione said, and there was a sharp rustle. Harry grinned, deciding that she must have taken the parchment with her notes on it back from Ron. “We start the ritual that’s going to open the way between the universes, and hold it open for several minutes, long enough for you to come through. You’ll have to run. I don’t think the bridge we’ll create is particularly safe.”

“Ask Miss Granger why you need the help of someone else,” Snape murmured, barely moving his lips.

“Why do I need someone’s help from here?” Harry asked aloud. “It sounds like we can do it on our own, as long as we know where we are in the ritual.”

“Someone else has to anchor the opposite end of the bridge,” Hermione said. “That’s the only way it can stay long enough. Otherwise, it’ll crumble behind you as you run, and the crumbling will catch up with you long before you can make it.”

“Even if I fly?”

“You can’t fly,” Hermione said tensely. “Riding on a broom uses magic, and you can’t use magic on that bridge. It’s pure power, very delicately balanced. Adding any more power to the balance would upset it. Harry, you have to promise me that you won’t cast a spell while you’re running on the bridge, no matter what you see—”

“I promise, Hermione,” Harry said soothingly, and looked at Snape. He didn’t know what he was looking for, but whatever it was, he found it in Snape’s mild nod. “I think we can do that. Do you have to go?” he added, seeing the way that the mouth of the tunnel expanded and rippled back and forth now.

“Yes,” Hermione whispered. “I’m sorry, Harry. But now that we’ve reached you once, I think we can do it again, barrier or no barrier.”

Snape straightened, frowning, but Harry ignored him for the moment. “Thank you, Hermione, Ron. Contact me again when you can. And I’ll be home as soon as I can.”

“We’re waiting for you, mate,” Ron’s voice said gruffly, and then the tunnel collapsed in on itself and became a whirling black speck that danced into the corner of the room and was gone.

Harry turned to face Snape. He wouldn’t have chosen to have this conversation in front of Ginny, but at least she hadn’t interrupted, and she didn’t look like she would do it soon, either, as open-mouthed as she was. “What do you think? Can we do this?”

*

I think that if I secure the other side of the bridge, that means that you can pass freely, and I will be left here alone to face Albus and anyone else of the Order who is still alive and can bring their wrath against me.

But Severus did not say that, because it was not fair. Harry had not asked to be brought here. He would not be leaving Severus behind on purpose, either. And if Severus needed repayment for helping Harry, then seeing Albus confounded and the Dark Lord defeated would be repayment enough.

For now, he nodded and passed on to the bit of information that concerned him more. “Miss Granger said that there was a barrier when she tried to reach across the void between universes? How did she describe it?”

“Glass,” Harry said, and then frowned, head tilting, as if it only now had occurred to him that he might have questioned his friend more closely. “I reckon that means that she could sense us through it, maybe even see how to open the tunnel, but she couldn’t break it.”

Severus smiled. “And so now it only remains to find out whether it was Albus or the Dark Lord causing it,” he said.

Harry’s eyes flashed, and he nodded. “It’s going to be bad news for either of them, no matter which one it was,” he said casually, and his hand fell to his wand.

Severus reminded himself that he wanted to get a look at that wand, but later, and turned to face the young Weasley who was watching them. “Miss Weasley,” he said. “Do you have somewhere else to be?”

She jumped and then nodded a minute later. “I think I do,” she said. “And I have things to say to a certain brother of mine. That was real enough for me.” She looked at the place in the air where the hole between universes had been, then nodded to both of them and swept out of the room, her head lifted to the point that Severus thought she would have trouble seeing past her nose.

“Percy?” Severus asked.

Harry grinned. “I think so. That’s another ally we have convinced, then.” He glanced at Severus. “And now we just have to keep the deception going with Dumbledore apparently visiting ritual sites, and defeat him, and use Macnair’s hair, and make sure that the rest of the Weasleys stay on our side.”

“And prepare for the moment when you will be transported back to your own world,” Severus said quietly. “You do realize that we are on a time limit, now? Either Albus or the Dark Lord would have felt his barrier break, and they will realize that that means you are now in communication with your allies. I do not think either would want you to escape him, though I will give Albus the credit of noting that their reasons would be different.”

Harry’s teeth snapped once. “I realize that,” he said. “And we’ll do it.”

The confidence shining in his eyes, in his face, made Severus smile in spite of himself, and forget a few of the bitter thoughts. I wonder if his world realizes that they will have a leader to reckon with, when he returns?

Chapter Text


“I do not see what you could leave here as an anchor for the bridge, when most of your possessions are back in Hogwarts.”

Snape’s voice was as smooth and calm as ever, and Harry didn’t open his eyes and glare only because he was trying to practice the discipline that might let him lift stronger Occlumency barriers if Voldemort ever attacked his mind again. He breathed out instead, and imagined the irritation leaving him in a long, smooth stream, mingling with the rest of the air in the room, thinning out and vanishing until he no longer felt anything—

Then he snorted helplessly and shook his head. Oh, what the hell, he might as well admit to himself that he couldn’t do this right now.

Harry opened his eyes and turned his head to face Snape. Snape was seated on the other side of the long table in what he called the “working room,” still another fold of wizardspace inside the walls of Shaldon’s Garden. He was holding a potions vial to his face, and frowning at it. Harry had no idea why. He could see a brown patch floating on the surface of the purple potion, but for all he knew, that was what it was supposed to look like.

“I brought the clothes I’m wearing from that world,” he answered. “You’ve given me others. I can wear some of them when I’m running across the bridge.”

Snape paused, and his eyes flickered as he looked at Harry. Maybe it was only because Harry had disturbed his contemplation of the potion, but Harry really didn’t think so. Of course, every time he thought he’d learned to read Snape, the man would throw another obscure expression his way. So Harry sat there and kept his face bland and didn’t really make a guess. At last Snape set the vial down on the table and leaned forwards.

“I was under the impression that you had used different clothing found at Hogwarts,” he said.

Harry shrugged a little. “I did. But I always wore at least one piece of clothing from home because I thought it might make opening a gate back there easier. I used Cleaning Charms on them, don’t look so disgusted,” he added, though he could really only tell by the way that the lines around Snape’s mouth firmed that he was disgusted instead of amused or angry.

Snape shook his head and picked up the potions vial again. “You are more cautious than I thought you were,” he said. Harry looked that over for compliments or criticism, then let it go. Snape—either version of him—had never been shy about letting him know when Harry did something he disapproved of, after all.

“Anyway,” Harry said. “You volunteered to anchor the bridge, so that’s one problem solved. But we have the time limit, and we have the original Harry’s murder to solve, and we have Dumbledore and Voldemort to deal with.”

“You make it sound so simple,” Snape said, dry as burned toast, still staring intently into the potions vial.

Harry sighed, spent a minute regarding Snape, and then said, “What does the potion you’re looking at have to do with it? It doesn’t look like Polyjuice.” He had assumed that he and Snape would immediately go out on another mission, disguised as Dumbledore and Snape himself, to make the Death Eaters think Dumbledore was going to summon more Harrys, but Snape had said nothing about it.

“It is not,” Snape said, and tilted the vial so that the potion flowed into a decanter. Then he proceeded to stare at the decanter the same way.

Harry waited, and waited some more, and finally rolled his eyes and said, “So what is it?”

Snape put the vial down on the table and faced him. Harry read the tension in his shoulders and his hands, but he had no idea what Snape would say before he said it. Probably because there was no way to predict that Snape would suddenly have gone completely mental.

“A mind control potion to bring Dumbledore under our influence and end the problem that he presents.”

*

Harry went still, staring at him. Severus wondered if he was about to be subjected to a sudden flurry of Gryffindor conscience-clearing, but he doubted it. Harry knew what Albus had wanted to do to him, and what he had the potential to do, and how he had pulled him here in the first place. There was little room in a hatred like that for compassion.

Instead, Harry said, talking so quietly that Severus wondered if that tone of voice was the last thing the Dark Lord in his world had heard, “How are you going to get close enough to feed it to him?”

“I am going back to Hogwarts,” Severus said, and waited.

Harry curled his hands into claws, and then got up and walked towards the door of the room. Severus realized that he was bracing himself for Harry to walk out and announce that Severus had gone mad to the Weasleys, and curled his lip in self-contempt. That should not be the kind of thing that he needed to brace for.

Instead, Harry shut the door of the working room and then turned around, leaning against it. His hand had gone to the wand that, more and more, Severus thought of as the source of his darkness, the elder wood wand that had not been the one he arrived in this world with, or one like the other Harrys had wielded. Harry’s voice was low and reasonable and gentle. “You can’t do that. Why would you think you could do that?”

“I was under the impression that we were equal partners in this endeavor,” Severus said, and locked eyes with him, “not master and slave.”

That shot made Harry flinch, as Severus had intended. But all he did was come back at it from a different angle. “You know that Dumbledore would find some way to hang onto you and prevent you from coming back to Shaldon’s Garden.”

“Do I.” Severus spoke lazily, the tone that had most used to anger the Harry born here when he refused to give him credit for a quick but messy workaround in Potions, and saw anger kindle deep in the green eyes.

“He’s too powerful to face directly,” Harry said. “Not until we’re ready. I think that we should come up with some way to take him and Vol—sorry, Snake-Man down at the same time, or we’ll have one rushing in to fill the space that the other one leaves behind.”

“That is a clever thought,” Severus said, meaning it. He would not have expected Harry to be so sensitive to power dynamics. “But I do not think that we can take them down with the same tactic, no matter the same timing. Their strategies are ultimately different. And their power is very nearly equal. While handling one, that would leave the other space to creep closer and strike at our backs.”

Harry opened his mouth. His eyes flamed deeper now, with a green color that Severus could not remember seeing from any of the others. Of course, this Harry was not like any of the others, and the color of his tie was only the start of it.

Severus waited for the unexpected burst of emotions to fade like the fireworks they resembled, and said, “Hear me out.”

He could not remember when the last time was that Albus had granted that plea. But it made Harry hesitate, then fold his arms and nod in a grudging fashion that conveyed it had better be good.

“One of us will need to return to Hogwarts soon,” Severus said gently. “We need certain things there, and we need to allay certain suspicions, before the plans that we are using against the Dark Lord unfurl to the point that there is truly no way back. Perhaps we may have only one visit. That is entirely possible, if there is a spy in the Order as I fear there is. But from a distance, it is hard to conduct an investigation into the murder, or use the potions that we have in our labs. I am making this venture more for my books and potions than in the hopes of controlling Albus. That is a secondary goal.”

“You didn’t make it sound like that,” Harry said, and looked at the decanter.

Severus paused. The other Harrys had shown little skill at telling when he lied, although the Harry born to this world had been a good liar himself. Perhaps it was best not to lie, after all. This Harry had been through enough, from his original battles to his trials and tribulations in this universe.

“The goals are of equal importance, then, let us say,” he admitted, inclining his head. “I do need some of my books, some of my notes, and some of my already-prepared potions. We would not be able to afford the time that it would take me to find the ingredients and brew them here. And I do want to deter Albus if at all possible. And I was thinking that we might bring Draco here, if he would agree to refrain from bothering you. He could give us more insight into the murder.”

“Even though he blames you?” Harry leaned close, and if he had the quills of a hedgehog, Severus thought, they would have bristled. “He does. He thinks that you had an argument with that Harry right before he died that makes you a prime suspect, or pushed him into doing it if it really was suicide.”

Severus stared at him, and said nothing.

“I didn’t reveal that before because I wasn’t sure how much I trusted you,” Harry said, quick and blunt as the push of an adder’s nose. “But I think that there’s—I mean, I trust you enough when you say that you’re going to go back and risk your life to give this potion to Dumbledore. I don’t want to lose your support as an ally. And I don’t want you to risk your life for nothing.”

“It is not nothing,” Severus said, but through numb lips. “What do you think happened to Harry, if not for me killing him?”

*

Harry hesitated, and then made the commitment. He’d already taken one leap today, after all, and he didn’t really have any reason to think that Snape wasn’t loyal. If he had only been playing, he could have taken Harry straight to Voldemort when they Apparated to Shaldon’s Garden, instead of revealing a place so valuable to Harry.

“I don’t know yet,” he said. “I discovered a diary hidden behind one of the lumps on Harry’s bed in the Slytherin boys’ rooms, but it’s in code. And I haven’t had the time to look closely at it or translate it.”

Snape continued to look at him. Then he nodded. “I also wanted to bring Draco here because I think that he will never get over his boyfriend’s murder until he sees you at closer hand and learns that you are not him,” he said. “And because he could help me with the brewing. Do you agree?”

“I agree,” Harry said. “But I don’t know that you should go alone, and I don’t know that taking Draco and your potions out of Hogwarts is worth the risk.”

“This is something you should trust me on, as you trusted me with the knowledge that you just revealed,” Snape said, with his face looking the way the one in Harry’s world did when he’d used Sectumsempra on Malfoy. “I need the potions that are there, including Polyjuice that we will not have to wait a month to brew. We need the books. I think Draco would be better away from the Order, and with us, for the reasons that I have stated. And my potion will work, if I can administer it to Dumbledore.” He hefted the decanter again. “The benefit of taking him down is worth the risk of losing me.”

Harry hesitated, but he had to admit that the time limit they were under until either Dumbledore or Voldemort—whoever had placed the barrier between his world and this one—learned what was going on and acted made things desperate. Snape seemed reasonably calm and confident. And a strategy like this would take a lot less time and be a lot more likely to work than anything Harry had been able to come up with.

“Why a decanter?” Harry had to ask. “Why not a vial?”

Snape pursed his lips and tilted his head the slightest bit to the side, and that was what he did when Harry had impressed him. The gesture was only familiar to Harry from this world; his Snape had never done anything like that. “Because this is a two-part potion,” he said. “A potion of the dividere class. I will drink half, and Albus will drink half, and that will forge the bond between our minds.”

Harry rubbed his forehead, and grinned a bit. “If you expect me to understand anything about Potions, then you should think again.”

“I know that you are perfectly capable of understanding anything you put your mind to. It is the effort of putting your mind to it that you do not often exert.”

Harry stared at Snape, who he thought had complimented him, but had done it in such a flat tone that Harry found it hard to tell. Snape busied himself with wrapping up some of the ingredients on the table for a moment, and then faced Harry.

“While I am gone, it would be well if you worked on investing the object you will leave to anchor the bridge with magical power,” he said briskly. “And there are other things you can do, as well.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Really? I never thought of that.”

Snape didn’t smile. “You should handle the Weasleys,” he said. “I placed a charm on Miss Weasley that will erase her memory of what she saw and heard if she attempts to speak about it in a damaging way. But I noticed that you did not anticipate the need for such a thing.”

Harry shook his head, grimacing. Only later had he realized that Ginny might see his communication with Ron and Hermione in the light of something other than proof that he was from a different universe. “My perceptions getting in the way again, I reckon. The one I know in my universe would never betray me.”

“This one might.”

“I know that now,” Harry snapped.

Snape studied him for a few moments more, then nodded. “My mission to Hogwarts should take no more than a day,” he said. “If I do not come back after that, consider me lost. Shaldon’s Garden must have a master who is clear in mind, enough that the plants in the garden would recognize him as able to make the free-willed choice to enter. If Albus does not leave me enough control of my mind to do that, the house passes to you.”

Harry stared at him again. “When did you have time to think about things like that?” he asked helplessly. It was only yesterday that Ginny had found them with Macnair, and Harry had concentrated on Occlumency and the time limit and what object he should invest with magic since then, and thought he was doing well. But apparently Snape had made Harry his heir, put the spell on Ginny, brewed a whole new mind-control potion, and laid future plans in the same amount of time.

Snape nodded to him, and still did not smile. “When I am under a time limit, I know how to arrange things,” he said. “It is a skill you will have to learn if I do not return.”

“I’ll learn it even if you don’t,” Harry said fiercely. He hadn’t liked the impression, during their conversation, that Snape was far ahead of him and speaking to him like an adult to a child. Maybe that wasn’t how he’d meant to come across, but it was how Harry had felt. “I want to learn it.”

Snape smiled at last, then, and the smile calmed Harry more than he could say. “Good. Then I will expect to see evidence when I get back.” And he swept out of the room and was gone with those words.

Harry sat where he was for a moment, taking deep breaths. Then he reached out and laid his fingers on the edge of his shirt. Of all the clothes he had brought with him, it would be the easiest to leave behind, and he had intense memories to invest it with: memories from this universe and the battle against Voldemort that he had worn it in.

He was not going to lag behind, he thought as he drew the Elder Wand and focused on thinking about these spells as destructive ones, so that it would cooperate with him. He was going to show Snape that he could work just as well when he was faced with a time limit.

*

Severus closed his eyes when he stood outside Shaldon’s Garden and spent a moment letting himself think that he would never see it again, that he might lose Harry to Albus or the Dark Lord, or lose control of his own mind.

Those thoughts would do him no good for being repressed, and in some ways he enjoyed the taste of them, the thickness and the pain. So he let them have their day, possessing his mind and disordering his emotions, and potentially his actions.

Then he began to build his Occlumency barriers.

These went higher and further than he had ever raised them before, even when he was still spying in the Dark Lord’s ranks. The Dark Lord was not easy to fool, but he had wanted to believe, at a fundamental level, that no one would ever betray him because he was too glorious to betray, too compelling and dangerous. Albus, on the other hand, had a wider imagination, and that included the idea that people could disagree with him and turn their backs on him.

Even if he could not understand why anyone would disagree with his wonderful, genius plans of summoning continual Harrys from another universe…

Severus let the emotion pass through him and fade in the distance. It was not of any use in building the barriers.

He started with a soft, flexible shield on his outer memories, made of emotional rubber. Albus would expect to feel some resistance when he began to probe. Not much, not anything that would keep him from getting through if he pressed, but something. The most suspicious thing Severus could do was step into Albus’s office with a completely open mind, full of the desire to please.

Behind that barrier, he raised another that would not seem a barrier, this one made of false memories, false images, of Harry yielding to him and learning to agree that the Order had done the best possible thing they could by summoning him. For the base, Severus used memories of punishing the original Harry born to this world, and twisted them to change their backgrounds and surroundings. The walls of his office blurred and wavered, and became the walls of an imaginary house, resembling the one he had used at Spinner’s End enough to confuse Albus. Not fool him, not forever; Severus did not believe he could do so.

This was, instead, about layers of deception, about soothing Albus to the point that he would stop looking.

Behind that barrier of memories came a thicker wall, of steel, such as Severus had often used against the Dark Lord. And more false memories behind that one, and another steel barrier, and more false memories.

Sometimes Severus thought that even he would lose the memory of what was false and what was real, and fade into the shadows of madness. He only knew that it had not happened so far, and that if only he knew which ones were real, he had only to take the barriers down the moment he came out of danger. It was why he had never failed to drop his Occlumency shields and think of something else when he came out of a meeting with the Dark Lord.

And in the center of his mind, the real memories lay behind the softest and most deceptive barrier, the one that was darkness, and pure power. If Albus pierced that far, Severus would be in trouble, but he would also be in the home ground of Severus’s mind, the ground that the Dark Lord had stepped onto when he attacked Harry through the Parseltongue bond. They would battle there.

Severus did not think he would win. But he did think that Albus would not return to his own skull, and the defeat of one great enemy was a price he was prepared to pay.

Thus armed, thus shielded, thus defended, he went forth to battle.

*

“We need to bring in more allies.”

Harry was pleased that his voice was steady and calm. Cracking would have been bad, but so would have sounding too hopeful, he thought. He wanted the Weasleys to accept what he was saying as a fact, not something that would stand or fall depending on their approval, even though it was.

And now I’m thinking like Snape.

He looked into face after face. Mrs. Weasley was already nodding. Ginny smiled at him. Percy just stood back with a little frown on his face and his arms folded. He could go either way, Harry thought. He might think that Harry was defying Dumbledore too much, or he might think that Harry was just going along with Snape for the moment to fool him, and would come back to Dumbledore in the end.

Percy was a problem, but hardly the biggest one, so Harry focused on George instead, since he was the one speaking. “How many people do you think will actually believe that you’re from another universe and all the rest of it?” George asked, cocking his head. “Let alone that you can defeat You-Know-Who?”

Harry smiled at him. “That was where I was hoping you could help me.” George stiffened a little, and Harry felt something Snape-like in him wake up and sniff. Ah. “I can’t believe that everyone’s just given up and huddling around waiting for Vold—him to fall on them or the Order to win. The world’s in a bad state, fine, but not everyone gives up. You’re in contact with some of the resistance groups, aren’t you?”

Fred and George exchanged glances, and Harry couldn’t follow the silent argument that went on. But he thought it was a good sign that Fred turned back to him and said shortly, “Yeah. But they won’t want to come out of hiding for anything less than a sure means of defeating You-Know-Who. How can you offer that?”

Harry considered him for a moment. He and Snape hadn’t discussed this far. What was sure?

Well, if he couldn’t offer something sure, he still might be able to offer something impressive. He held his wand out in front of him and said, “Serpensortia.

The Elder Wand was eager enough to perform that spell, because it might lead to the serpent biting someone. When it hit the floor, Harry wove a much longer and shadowier serpent than he remembered Malfoy’s spell creating in second year. The snake stretched across the floor in looping grey coils; when it opened its mouth to hiss, the inside of its mouth was black. Harry could see the fangs, and knew instinctively that it was dangerous.

Down,” Harry hissed to the snake, and when it turned to face him, tongue flicking madly, he said, “I said, down.”

The serpent struggled with him a moment more, because Harry’s Parseltongue was rusty and the spell really was more powerful when cast with the Elder Wand. Then it laid its head down and its eyes turned blank in the way that had happened to the snake during second year, when Harry commanded it not to attack Justin.

Harry looked up and smiled at the stunned faces of the Weasleys. “I can speak Parseltongue,” he said. “Just like the original Harry here did, I imagine. I can take down some of his guards and traps. It’s not something Dumbledore can do. You can tell them that.” He had thought, briefly, of revealing that his wand was the Elder Wand, but aside from the problem that he didn’t have any proof, there was the fact that someone might then try to take it from him.

Percy was staring at him as if he would have tried. Harry turned away with his eyebrow raised and focused on Fred and George.

Once again, they exchanged glances in silent conversation, and then they both faced Harry and nodded at the same moment. He smiled, glad that it wasn’t going to be a problem, and dismissed the serpent with a simple Finite. He did that nonverbally, something he wouldn’t have tried in front of an audience when he came here, and Percy started and stepped backwards when he did.

“Make contact with all the allies you can,” Harry said, looking from face to face. “I think that we need an army to fight against You-Know-Who. It’s our best chance to show people that there’s hope, which they might not believe anymore.”

“I’m not sure that I believe it,” Percy muttered.

His mother glared at him, and then faced Harry and nodded. “I know some people who would fight if there was a real chance,” she murmured. “I can offer them my testimony, but would you be willing to meet them somewhere neutral so that they can see your face and your magic for themselves?”

Harry’s fingers tightened around his wand for a moment, but he ended up blowing out his breath and nodding. “As long as you don’t make any bargains for me without asking me first,” he said. “Some of the areas they might choose could be too dangerous or too exposed to Death Eater attack.” He was proud of himself for thinking of that, and he thought Snape might be proud of him, too.

As long as I don’t try to actually leave Shaldon’s Garden without clearing the destination with him first.

Mrs. Weasley nodded to him again—for a second, Harry thought she would salute—and then turned around with the clear intention of organizing her family. Harry slipped quietly out of the room and disappeared into another folded wizardspace that contained the library. There were books of Dark Arts spells that Snape had told him he should study. Well, not just Dark Arts spells, of course; Harry hadn’t missed the way Snape sometimes looked at him, and he was probably worried about Harry turning too Dark. But there were spells there like the ones Evelina had tried to teach him.

Evelina.

Another possible ally. Harry wrote her name down on a parchment he was always carrying with him now, and opened the first of the stack of books that Snape had left on the table in the center of the library. It was a handsome room with dusky gold walls and firelight falling on the tables. Harry tried to think of that, of the serene atmosphere around him and the way that the rows of books looked like protecting walls and not the danger that Snape might be in.

There’s nothing that I can do right now, anyway. I could never fool Dumbledore into thinking I was obedient without a lot more practice in lying, and Dumbledore wouldn’t leave me alone long enough to persuade Malfoy. And I couldn’t have kept Snape here without battling him. I have to trust him at some point.

Even telling himself that didn’t help much. Harry grimaced and plunged into the study of the spells that might.

*

Severus paused outside the gates of the school and forced himself to regard it with a critical eye, the way that Harry might. Any information he could bring back on the Order was valuable.

And if he was putting off the moment when he would have to face Albus, well. A wise man knew his own weaknesses and took measures to combat them while not indulging them. Go in to Albus too soon, and Severus would be riding his own nervous energy. He would do what he must to win, and not what he must to prove himself to an audience that did not exist.

Hogwarts had once loomed to his perceptions. It crouched now, and the hum of wards around it was audible. The Dark Lord had cast it into this gloom with a relatively small group of followers, and, Severus had to admit, great personal power.

But what had happened had happened, most of all, because Albus had got it into his head that only Harry stood a chance of defeating the Dark Lord. He had said that he had researched it and found no other answer. Severus, in the core of his being, did not believe that. Albus had stumbled on a likely solution and followed the path, because it was the path that promised hope and support to the people around him while not costing him much.

And now that he was seeing the real cost, the effect on the Harrys and his own followers of summoning Harry after Harry from another universe, Albus still saw admitting the cost and the waste as the greater problem. Say he was wrong, and it meant lives sacrificed uselessly. It might mean the doom of the world, as despair overcame the Order’s loyalty.

So Albus would persist in being wrong, because it was unimaginable to him that he could be wrong forever, and more unimaginable still to admit this.

A grim smile on his face, Severus strode forwards. The wards spat at him, and then formed a solid, silent amber block around him. Severus arched his eyebrows and looked up at the tower that had once been Gryffindor’s, pitching his voice to carry.

“Am I so distrusted?”

Silence inside and outside the block for long moments. Then Minerva stepped out of the school and proceeded towards him.

Severus had only studied her for a moment when he knew something was wrong. Either Minerva had suffered a great shock and grief, and Severus did not believe that even hidden in Shaldon’s Garden they would not have heard of such a thing, or someone had her under the Imperius Curse. She walked too stiffly, and her face wavered between an expression he could believe of her and one he had never seen in her features.

Or…

This is not Minerva.

He had left Polyjuice Potion behind in his stores, and of course it was not beyond Albus’s skill to brew or his foresight to have a batch constantly on the simmer, eliminating the necessity of preparing it for a month. Severus decided that he would act on the suspicion that it was not her, and not show that suspicion.

He nodded to her as she came up to the edge of the ward block. “Minerva.” He paused, then let a sneer slip into his voice. “Am I no longer trusted? Do you wish me to show you the Dark Mark?” He reached for the edge of his left sleeve.

He was watching, and his senses were on the alert far more than they would have been otherwise, as alert as they had been when he was in the clearing with Harry pretending to be Dumbledore. Minerva’s mouth twitched, but no expression of repulsion overcame her such as she had exhibited in the past when she looked upon his Dark Mark. No, this was the flicker of someone who had seen it in the past and who had more important things to command Severus to do at the moment.

This is Albus.

That relaxed some of his muscles even as it tensed others. So the worst had happened, and Severus knew himself so suspected that he would probably not get to try his potion. What he had told Harry still remained true. They needed to eliminate one of their enemies immediately, and Albus was the easier one to reach.

“It’s not that, Severus,” Albus said in cadences that imitated but could not reach Minerva’s. Albus had never been as good with tone and inflections as he had been with ideas. Of course, once he bound an Order member closely to him, his thoughts were their own, Severus thought. Albus held out one hand, and waved a replica of Minerva’s wand to conjure a globe of white light above his palm. “We have had multiple attacks while you were gone, some of them wearing the guise of trusted friends. We simply wish to make sure that we hold you until Polyjuice would have worn off.”

Severus admired the bright edge of the irony, of the two ironies: Albus’s words about Polyjuice and that this was not a spell Minerva had ever been able to master. Obediently, however, he leaned forwards to view the past in the globe.

The attack was indeed vicious, wave after wave of dead animals flung against the wards of Hogwarts. Most of them burned up, but the weight was more than the wards could handle in certain specific points, and the Dark Lord had been a student here; he would know which points to attack. Rotting hawks fell on the towers and began to squirm on maggot-ridden wings towards the stairs, until Albus stepped out of hiding and blasted them to pieces.

The globe swirled and showed another attack. Severus blinked in shock as he saw the face of Remus Lupin on a man who came to the gate and requested entrance. Only the wards that would have detected a Dark Mark revealed the deception.

They have Lupin, then. Or the ability to brew Polyjuice from him.

And a third attack, this time with enormous snakes, serpents of shadow perhaps fifty feet long, squirming out of the lake and crawling up the walls. They flowed past the wards, which could not stop the immaterial substance they were made of, and settled crushingly on the gates. The gates trembled and fell, and then the rest of the attack vanished in a rush of blinding light as Albus, Severus guessed, destroyed the creatures. A clever man, to have reckoned that animals of shadow would fall before a light that cast no shadows.

But he had never denied Albus cleverness, only other things.

He leaned back and looked into Minerva’s face, and found the calm, clever eyes looking steadily back at him. Albus knew that Severus knew.

Severus’s heart beat faster in dread, but in some ways, this made things far easier. He nodded in acknowledgment of what the globe had showed him and in acknowledgment of the trap that had closed around him.

“What will you do now?” he asked, a question that had its own barbs.

Albus gave him a sad smile, no longer pretending to mimic the way that Minerva’s face naturally bent. “You are only a pawn,” he said gently. “As am I. As are we all, when the great forces of destiny fight.”

Severus said nothing, because there was no sense to oppose to such nonsense.

“But some pawns are more important than others,” Albus said, and waved his wand to make Severus’s makeshift prison rise and float into the castle. “And you, my dear boy, will draw in a king.”

Harry will not be so foolish as to attack to save me. The Weasleys will not let him be so foolish. Severus folded his hands in his sleeves, and said nothing. He feared what might happen to him, but he feared what could happen to Harry more. He would remain still for now, and see what did happen, and wait for an opportunity to strike.

It will come. That, I must believe.

Chapter Text


Severus sat with his eyes shut, his breathing deep and untroubled, and explored with spread hands all the limitations of his new environment.

Albus had paraded him before the rest of the Order, of course, telling them that he was no longer trustworthy, that he had come to believe Harry’s lies, and that he cared more about the rights of one boy to return home than he did about the safety of his own world. Severus had said nothing whatsoever about that. He had sat in his cage and let them peer at him, fascinated or angry or self-satisfied, and taunt him and believe what they wanted. He intended to rescue Draco if he could, but he had counted on no help from any member of the Order, and in so doing had protected himself from surprise and disappointment.

Now he sat in the same cage—large, steel bars connecting rectangular steel ceiling and floor, interwound with wards and stronger magic—in a set of rooms that tradition reserved for the Headmaster of Hogwarts. Severus knew that Albus rarely used them. They were some distance, both horizontally and vertically, from his office, and he preferred the comfortable bedroom immediately behind it instead. Still, Severus knew his location, and he recognized the deep mahogany wood of the chairs and bookshelves, the sharp edge of the desk behind which Headmaster Dippet had sat in Pensieve memories from other Death Eaters.

No valuable books in here. No convenient corners on which to tip the cage over and hope that the bars would shatter. And of course his wand had been taken from him. Nothing that Albus believed would help him.

Severus knew otherwise. These rooms were lower in the building of Hogwarts than many others, and that was already an advantage.

So he breathed, and he waited. And he waited. And he waited.

The soft sound when the voice began to speak was like a revelation.

“So. One of mine. He imprisoned one of mine, did he? And he thinks that he can go on doing that. That there’s no one left who can stop him. That Gryffindors rule the world. That this is the end, the end, the end…”

Severus didn’t turn his head in the direction of the voice, but he did open his eyes. The babbling words tumbled out from a faint square on the wall, behind one of the huge bookcases. Severus watched with narrowed eyes, and at last caught a flash of green, idling back and forth in the square like a nervous butterfly.

The square meant nothing to someone, like Albus, who didn’t spend a great deal of time in these rooms. It would have meant nothing to most Gryffindors, Severus thought, or even most Slytherins who weren’t used to examining the castle from top to bottom in search of advantages, secrets, wisdom to pass on. It had been Ravenclaws who learned this secret most often in the last hundred years, simply because they cared for finding out everything, whether or not it would ever matter to them.

The square of the tarnished portrait at last had a faint, filmy edge of a face visible, and Severus bowed his head in respect to the painted form of Salazar Slytherin.

For long moments, Slytherin lingered there, staring at him. Severus waited. He knew that this portrait had been driven mad, due to extreme age or spells from Gryffindors or a curse placed on the castle by Gryffindor himself; those were the likeliest theories and the ones with the most evidence in the records that he had been able to find or copy or steal. But the portrait still existed, and in some rooms of the castle, revealed itself.

The deeper the one went, the greater the chance became, first that there were undisturbed frames that the portrait could creep into, and the second that there were dungeon rooms where a Slytherin might call for help, and Slytherin himself might hear.

“Who is it?” Slytherin whispered finally. “Who calls?”

“My name is Severus Snape,” Severus said, keeping his voice calm and neutral, the way that he would talk to a Muggleborn Sorted into his House. “I am the current Head of Slytherin. The Headmaster is a Gryffindor, and he has imprisoned me for trying to help a student.” He saw no need to trouble what was left of the portrait’s mind with details about Harry himself being a Gryffindor, or the war being against someone who had shared his House. Slytherin, this shadow of him, understood rivalries confined to Hogwarts best, and simple black-and-white oppositions. Severus spoke the words and then waited, his heartbeat a bit faster now. He had other options if this did not work, but he could admit that he would like it to.

The portrait considered him for so long with its head on the side that Severus thought it would wander off soon. But then Slytherin said, “I cannot help. I cannot touch you.”

That was more sanity than Severus had thought he would win for so little effort. Keeping his voice low, his head bowed, he said, “But, Founder, you can speak Parseltongue. You might not be able to touch the cage that holds me, but you could call snakes who can.”

The portrait’s tongue shot out and licked up and down its lips. Severus had never been sure whether it was forked or that was only a momentary impression. “That is true,” he said at last. “But no snakes have come to my call since my basilisk died.”

His Harry’s second year, Severus thought. He held back his impatience and said, “Founder, you are still one of the greatest wizards in the world, with one of the greatest minds. If you think, you may find the solution.”

Slytherin trembled, eying the door that Albus had brought Severus’s cage through. Then he said, “I must think. I must go.” And he faded out and to the side, into the part of the portrait that Severus had never seen.

For now, the promise had to be enough. Severus leaned back against the side of the cage—the wards wouldn’t sting him as long as he didn’t actually try to get through the bars—and shut his eyes. He was weary, and he might as well use the moments to soothe his weariness, since escape was as yet impossible.

*

“I don’t find you impressive.”

Harry blinked, then smiled. “It’s refreshing to be told that right from the beginning,” he said, and held out his hand. “Harry Potter, but from another world, one where I was Sorted into Gryffindor instead of Slytherin. Nice to meet you.”

Lucy Golden, leader of one of the rebel groups that Fred and George had contacted and convinced to meet him, shook his hand without smiling. She stood tall and aggressive, legs braced, the way she had from the moment Harry walked into the abandoned manor. She had long, orange hair, which probably indicated distant Weasley blood, that tangled around her face, and a sharp jutting chin, and a scar that burst through her left eyelid and continued up that side of her face. Harry thought he recognized the mark of Nagini’s fangs.

Golden jerked her hand back from his and sat down as soon as possible, arms folded. Harry noticed the weird way the cloth wrinkled over her hip when she did that, and thought it possible that she was carrying a long knife. Evelina had taught him to recognize that much, although he wondered why most wizards would bother with blades when their spells could strike from a greater distance.

Then he eyed the scar on Golden’s face again, and admitted to himself that there were probably some wizards who didn’t mind getting in close.

“Tell us what proof you have,” Golden said, voice flat and uninterested, although she leaned back in the dusty chair that her group had dragged out from somewhere in the manor and never took her eyes from Harry. “The last I knew, the Savior was all cuddled up somewhere in Hogwarts, under the personal protection of Dumbledore.”

“Dumbledore says a lot of things that aren’t true,” Harry said quietly, and spread his arms. “As for the proof, there’s no evidence better than the truth. Put me under Veritaserum, and I’ll answer a careful list of questions.”

Golden actually bounced up in her seat, staring at him. Harry arched his eyebrows, and waited. He didn’t know exactly what had stunned her, and he was learning not to give his reactions away until he did.

“I find it easier to believe that you’re a Gryffindor than I did,” Golden said, a moment later. “No Slytherin would offer that much.”

Harry shook his head. “I think the House stereotypes are less than useful, sometimes, but here you’re probably right.”

“I know I would never offer this.”

Harry blinked, then nodded, understanding what she was telling him. She had been in Slytherin herself. “I don’t want a lot of other people in the room with us,” he warned. “A few of my allies, a few of yours.” At the moment, they were alone in the actual room itself, though Molly and George were watching his back and some of Golden’s rebels lounged outside the door behind her. “If you can’t manage that, then I don’t think we can deal.”

Golden watched him in silence, her fingers scratching at the sides of the chair. “I can manage that,” she said, lips barely parting to let the words out. “I think you may be the one who has trouble.”

“I’m the one making the offer,” Harry pointed out, and leaned forwards. He wasn’t that intimidating, but from the way Golden blinked and shifted away from him, she didn’t agree. “Are you going to be stupid and refuse it, or not?”

Golden laughed, then, and if her laugh was raspy and she caressed her knife when it was done, at least she had made the bloody sound. “Two of my allies,” she said. “And two of yours.”

Snape. But in Snape’s absence, Harry had to pause and think a bit about who he trusted most. “Molly Weasley and Ginny Weasley for me,” he said. Ginny was under the charm Snape had cast that would prevent her from talking about what she had seen when Ron and Hermione had contacted him, but Harry was still inclined to trust her. She knew some secrets. Might as well bring her into the rest.

“Mine are a witch named Heron and a wizard named Aristides Golden.”

Aristides was probably some sort of cousin, Harry thought. “Just Heron?” he asked about the other one.

A small smile that rearranged the scar on her face a little. “Just Heron.”

Harry nodded. If she wanted to be mysterious, then he would indulge her, and maybe that way, she would see that he actually took this seriously. “Fine. Then you might as well call them in, and start preparing your list of questions. One of your allies and one of mine will have to work on the Veritaserum.”

Golden didn’t take advantage of the invitation right away. Instead, she just sat there, studying his face, and shook her head when Harry stared at her. “You’re being very accommodating,” she murmured. “Someone might wonder what you have to gain.”

“Allies,” Harry said. “If you believe me.”

“If you’re under Veritaserum, how can I refuse?” Golden rose to her feet, stood looking at him with one fist cocked on her hip, and then bowed to him. “Consider well who you want to brew,” she added, turning her back on him and walking to the edge of the folded wizardspace that led into this meeting room. “I plan to choose a Potions expert.”

Snape.

But Snape was gone, and that left Harry to handle the politics by himself and hope that he didn’t fuck up too badly. He nodded to Golden and said, “I’ll be ready.” Then he turned away to find Fred and George.

Come back quickly, Snape.

*

“You have disappointed me, Severus.”

Albus spoke with a gentle, mild emphasis in his voice that made Severus want to thrust his head through a brick wall. As that was not an option, he remained sitting still, his reinforced Occlumency barriers shimmering behind his eyes, and watched Albus. His cage had been moved to Albus’s office now, the same place where Albus had made plans to trick and summon and control and murder so many versions of Harry.

“You ought to have known that milder human loyalties do not matter next to the greater cause we serve,” Albus said, and paced back and forth with his eyes locked on the floor for a moment, before he lifted his head and turned back to Severus. “Or perhaps I should not have exposed you to a temptation that would prove too much for your knowledge of that fact, by making you Harry’s exclusive mentor.”

Severus once again chose silence. Only the suspicion of an advantage would tempt him to break it, and as yet, he had seen nothing like that here.

Albus sighed and took his seat behind his desk. His face collapsed into a mask of age that Severus had seen for the first time when they had attacked the Dark Lord, in desperation, after the first Harry—the one born in this world—had died, and found themselves beaten back. But it was a mask as much as any other expression that Albus wore was. Severus watched him motionlessly, attentively.

“Do you not understand that no one life can be allowed to trump the fate of the world?” Albus asked, staring into Severus’s eyes. “That Harry was brought here to serve the purpose expected of him, and if he dies, then he has died in fulfillment of his destiny?”

Severus considered whether he ought to speak, but again saw nothing that would change because of it. He shifted a little to ease the cramps in his legs that the cage was causing.

“Yes, you might say that we did not ask him before we brought him here.” Albus made a dismissive motion with one arm. “But the prophecy did not ask if he wanted to be in the middle of a fated situation with Tom before he was born, either. Nothing about this is his choice, or mine, either. We are both simply doing the best we can in the middle of dark circumstances.”

Oh, well done, Severus thought. If he had the slightest shred of loyalty left to Albus, that little speech might have touched it.

As it was, while Harry was indeed doing the best he could in horrible circumstances, his method of doing so entirely opposed Dumbledore’s. So there was really no reason to change allegiances, either. And Severus knew that mere lies would not suffice to fool the Headmaster, not now. He remained still and relaxed.

Albus paused, and took off his glasses to clean them on his robes. When he put them back on, he asked, “Should you like to see the owl I will send to Harry?”

Severus didn’t twitch a muscle because he had practice. Once again, he experienced a distant pity for Albus. The man had been training Severus for years not to pay attention to what he said, but rather to think what the consequence would be if he did what Albus asked him to do.

That had led Severus into cooperating with him more than once, notably lending his strength to the spell that had summoned more than one version of Harry Potter from his universe. He had wanted to survive. He had wanted some kind of repayment for the fact that he had pinned his hopes on the Harry he’d known and the boy had died and left him vulnerable to death. Nothing else he could do would ever touch or affect those other universes in any way, so he had called it a necessary sacrifice.

Now, he saw. He was not the one making that sacrifice, and while he did not need to participate in it, neither did he need to hasten Harry’s steps to the end. He would help this Harry he had come to know better than any other to survive, and that meant planning out his reactions in advance of Albus’s manipulations.

Albus leaned towards him and dropped the façade of gentle old Headmaster, the way he had only ever done with Severus. “You know that I will use you to lure Harry to me,” he said quietly. “That we must have him to continue the war.”

Severus raised one eyebrow, and said nothing. That would anger Albus more than anything else. And even people as powerful as Albus made mistakes when angry.

“Do you doubt the validity of this war, now?” Albus’s voice descended, became the gentle one a general would use to talk to a soldier who had tried to desert. “I must admit, my work would be much easier with you by my side. I have new strategies now, ones that do not depend on controlling Harry in the ways that I mentioned to you. If you convince Harry to come back to me, not only he but the innocent people he is fighting to save may have more chances to survive.”

Do you think I forget so easily? Severus remembered the grim determination that had filled Albus’s tone when he spoke of controlling Harry to make sure that “everyone” could survive the coming war. No, Severus did not think Albus had changed his mind.

“I think that linking my mind and Harry’s could change the course of the war,” Albus continued. “If he could use my power, but strike at Tom inside the prophecy barriers, it would be the same as if I could fight him myself. Then we all might survive, and Harry might go home.”

Severus blinked, the only concession he would allow himself. It was indeed an interesting suggestion, but the main thing he wondered was why Albus had not made it before now. He had always been obsessed with figuring out a way to fight inside the prophecy, because they had tested the Dark Lord’s protections so many times and learned, to their sorrow, that no one but the one destined to do so—Harry—could kill him.

“Do you think he would agree to that?” Albus had been watching him, Severus knew, and would not have missed the blink. “I knew he would not agree if I proposed it, but if you did so…if you explained to him that this is the only way we can win the war…”

“Why is it, Headmaster?” Severus knew that the lack of emotion in his voice, the lack of reverence and involvement, would hurt Albus worse than any insults he could have flung. Insults would have let Albus feel martyred, and Severus wanted to avoid that. “Before, sending the Patronuses against the Dark Lord was the only way. Before that, summoning multiple versions of Harry Potter. If this works so well, why not offer it before now?”

Albus was silent, his gaze at Severus as mild and steady as ever. But Severus knew the quality of that silence. He was planning, thinking, on how to come up with a response. If he already had one, or believed what he said he believed, he would have answered by now.

“I did not think,” Albus began at last, his voice sounding as if he was trying to convince a tiger not to attack him, “of this before now. And of course it’s very difficult to suggest to a young boy that he yield his mind to his Headmaster.”

“You know that his position and yours are not ordinary,” Severus said. He let a little more emotion into his voice, mainly to hold Albus’s attention. There might be a way around the impossible position he had placed himself in after all, again by angering Albus, or perhaps forcing Albus to kill him. “Even if they were, a moment ago you spoke of linking your minds. Now you speak of him yielding his mind. Why?”

Albus shook his head, slowly. Severus watched him. Albus stood up and once again paced out from behind his desk, ending up at one end of Severus’s cage, where he reached up and caressed the bars. Severus felt a hum rise and surround him, a hum like the power that gathered before a storm.

“I did not expect you to understand the subtleties of what we do here,” Albus said, his head turned so that Severus was excluded from his field of vision. “But I did think that you would understand why I must control Harry’s mind after we have linked. He does not have the war experience I do. He would not make the right decisions. I am the one who has understanding of the psychology of this version of Tom, and the one who can best guide him in acting with our allies.”

Severus hesitated. But he did not think there was much worthwhile in stretching this game out with Albus. Albus either needed to kill him, which would loosen the hold he could have over Harry, or to send Severus back to the room where he’d been keeping him, where the portrait of Salazar would feel free to come near as he did not in the Headmaster’s office. Enough game-playing.

“I know that you know Harry won his own war,” Severus said. “And that the only allies you speak of are the Order of the Phoenix, who he doesn’t like and doesn’t trust.”

“With an exception for you,” Albus said, staring at him full-on now.

Severus shook his head. “We still argue,” he said, and knew that Albus would hear the ring of truth in his voice. With any luck, he would not look under it and note the shadows in it, especially because Severus proceeded with his plan to make Albus angry. “And he cannot help comparing me to the Severus Snape he knew in his own world, who angered him and provoked his hatred.

“Meanwhile, Headmaster, what do you think you have to teach him? If this plan would work, you would have proposed it before now. This is another tiresome attempt to gain control of Harry, and of me. I would wonder why you bother, but even more than someone acting independently of you, you hate the fact that someone around you could have independence of thought. Thus your pitiful attempt to capture my loyalty. Thus your even more pitiful attempt to make me think that you would spare Harry’s mind once you had control of it. No, this is a plan that is risky in some way, or you would have proposed it before. You care more about defeating Harry than you do the Dark Lord.”

Albus stood up straight, his hands clasped in front of him and his bearing taking on a decidedly more magisterial presence. It would take someone who knew him as well as Severus did to see the slight tremble under his robes, in his clasped hands.

“That is not true,” Albus said, softly. “We are all in this together. Sirius wants Tom’s defeat, and I do, and young Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger.”

He names only the Gryffindors, Severus thought, and looked into Albus’s eyes without fearing the probing behind his Occlumency barriers. Albus was not even trying that at the moment. Does he not think the Slytherins want the same thing? Or is it his prejudices showing through, even as he attempts to convince me?

Truly, Severus did not know that Albus’s attempts to persuade him had always been this transparent. Rather, he thought that he knew them for what they were now because his primary loyalty was no longer to Albus. He had followed him because he had to, because the Order of the Phoenix was the only way to survive the war, the only group still fighting.

Now…

Now my primary loyalty is to Harry. And if he thinks he can sway me from that because I abandoned my loyalty to him, he does not understand me at all.

But how far did he ever understand Slytherins? Or Gryffindors whom he has not managed to influence from childhood?

Albus faced him again, and he was silent and intense as he met Severus’s eyes, his hands loosely held in front of him as if in prayer. He could look at someone like that and make them feel they were the center of the world, Severus thought. It was one reason so many people had stayed loyal to him even when they lost someone they valued and loved, as Black and his friends and Draco had lost the original Harry. Albus made them feel that he cared for them individually, that he always turned to them with his mind full of what they had lost and that sympathy would make that loss into his own.

Severus could not remember the last time he had believed that for himself. Perhaps seven years ago, when Harry Potter had been Sorted into Slytherin and Albus had guessed at some of the torment Severus would feel, having the son of his old enemy and his old friend, the heir of his still-living enemy, in his House. He had come to Severus’s office and they had talked for a long time.

That man was no longer here. Fear had eaten him alive.

“When the war is done,” Albus said, “we must not begin another one immediately.”

“It sounds like that is what would happen,” Severus said, “if only in Potter’s mind, if you tried to enslave him.”

“It is what will happen if I am not in control,” Albus said, his voice rising a little. Severus had noticed, though again someone who did not know Albus would not have, the way he flinched at the word “enslave.” “Because with his renown and his skills and his lack of care for this world, Harry could become a Dark Lord.”

“If you send him home,” Severus said, in a voice that not even he had known was going to be that dry, “then you obviate the problem.”

“There is no way to do so,” Albus said. “I knew that when I urged the rest of you to perform the spell, and it is a cost that I should have considered more closely. I should have suggested that we use some other spell. But Harry is here, now, and for my mistakes, I am at last claiming responsibility. I am stepping up and doing what I should have done.”

“Which is destroy a boy’s mind?” Severus asked in interest.

“Which is fix them.”

Severus nodded as though he cared. At least this convinced him that there was no possibility of negotiating with Albus, not if he wanted to destroy Harry’s mind and personality in order to “fix” him. A pity that no one else might ever know that, because Severus did not know of a way to get the information beyond the castle.

“Then you will have to do it without me, Headmaster,” he said. “I have chosen my side.”

“Which is with a boy so careless that he could destroy our whole world?” Albus spoke sadly now, the twinkle in his eyes dimmed to a mere ember. “I am surprised at you, Severus, knowing how you value care and mindfulness.”

“If I had valued them properly,” Severus said harshly, letting his own anger out in a carefully controlled way, “I never would have participated in this spell in the first place, nor blamed a boy for my own errors, the way you do, sir. I would not have participated in this meaningless summoning of boy after boy, this mindless sacrifice—”

Albus jerked, and his face turned pale. Severus cut himself off, staring. A moment later, he wondered if he should have kept going, pretending not to notice the reaction, but the damage was done. Albus had stepped back from him and given him a politely false smile.

“I think the best course of action, if we cannot agree, is to return you to the dungeons,” he said, and waved his wand. Severus’s cage rose and floated through the door. Severus leaned back against the bars, not the most comfortable pillow but one that would keep his head in roughly the same position and allow him to think better.

Long after Albus had returned him to the dungeon room where he had started, he was sitting there, thinking on that, meditating on it. Even with Albus’s willful blindness to what they had done in the past, Severus could not believe that this was the first time someone would have suggested the concept of sacrifice to Albus. It could not be. Albus was intelligent as well as powerful. He had come so far in stupidity because he could not bear to think he was wrong and wanted to ignore the consequences of his actions, not because he could not possibly imagine different words for those consequences.

So. What did it mean, then? Why was the concept of summoning Harry Potter as a sacrifice so shocking to Albus?

Severus did not know, but at least it gave him something to occupy his mind with during the long hours as he waited for something else to happen.

*

“You have agreed to the list of questions under Veritaserum, and everyone else in this room has agreed to bear witness.” Golden’s voice was stiff and formal.

Harry nodded. They had chosen the huge room where he had confronted the Weasleys for this negotiation of the terms of the alliance. Golden sat in a simple wooden chair facing him, flanked by her chosen witnesses, a big wizard who looked a lot like her without the scar and a still, silent witch with long black hair. The symbol of a heron circled around both her eyes, making a flying body and long, trailing legs.

Harry had got no answer to his question about why she was called Heron, but he hadn’t expected one.

Molly and Ginny both stood with Harry, and Molly kept reaching out and squeezing his shoulder. Everyone else was out of the room, and the loudest sound at the moment, as Golden stood up to bring the Veritaserum over, was the flickering of the fire.

“Now,” she said, and handed the vial to him.

Harry took out the stopper and tilted the vial back, allowing three drops, and no more than three drops, to fall onto his tongue. It stung and shivered, and then the world became distant and drifting and clear. Harry handed the vial back, and Golden retreated to her chair, conjuring a small hourglass in front of her. They all watched and waited in silence as the sand measured out five minutes. Golden insisted that was the length of time they needed to be sure that the Veritaserum was really working.

Then Golden nodded, looked at the parchment, and asked, “What is your name?”

“Harry James Potter.” Harry’s voice sounded like an echo to his own ears. He felt Ginny’s hand clasp his, and he nodded a little to her in thanks.

“Were you born in this world?”

“No.” The Veritaserum would have been content to have that be the answer to the question, but Harry pushed himself further, because he knew it would work best to convince Golden. “I was born in another world that Dumbledore and the Order of the Phoenix snatched me from.”

Golden frowned. Harry knew he was probably forcing her to skip a question on the list, although he couldn’t remember which one. “Why did they bring you here?”

“Because the first Harry Potter is dead,” Harry said. “He committed suicide by changing his wand into a knife and slitting his throat. And they needed a Harry Potter in order to defeat Voldemort and combat the prophecy.”

The woman called Heron straightened up at that, and exchanged a sharp look with the wizard behind Golden. But either Golden didn’t notice that or she didn’t care, because she asked the next question. “Why didn’t you stay with Dumbledore and the Order of the Phoenix?”

“I don’t think they can win the war,” Harry said. “And they kept summoning versions of me and letting them die. I don’t trust them to get me home.”

Golden bit her lip for a second. Probably because she couldn’t ask any questions except the ones already on the list, but she’d thought of something else, Harry decided, with a detachment that he doubted he would have had except for the Veritaserum. Well, maybe he could give her a chance to ask them later, when she trusted him more.

“Do you want to kill You-Know-Who?” Golden was clutching the parchment list now, bending forwards.

Harry nodded. “I want to kill him with everything in me.”

“Why do you want to kill him?”

“Because he killed other versions of me, and because he’s killing other innocent people,” Harry said. “The Order of the Phoenix wanted to use me against him, but they failed. But I can’t just give up. There are other people like the Weasleys out there who don’t deserve to suffer just because the Order is stupid.”

Golden turned to the witch named Heron and whispered a question. Heron bent down towards her and listened, but gave a slight shake of her head. Harry couldn’t hear what Golden whispered, and he doubted it mattered, anyway.

Golden turned back. “Do you want to help us?”

“If you’re fighting against Voldemort, and if you don’t want to give me to Dumbledore,” Harry said. “I’ll fight if you turn against me in any way.”

Golden gave a thin, approving smile that made the scar on her face writhe. “Are you going to betray us?”

“Only if you betray me.”

That made the wizard behind her move and Molly’s hand tighten on his shoulder, but Golden kept right on going. “Could you take orders?”

“If they were orders that someone explained and I thought they made sense,” Harry said, and again added a little more, because Golden had started to watch him as if he stunk a little. “I’ve had enough of people trying to use me and not explain to me why I can’t just do certain things. You have to treat me like an adult and not a teenager.”

“Can you work with people who use Dark magic?” Golden went on to the next question in the list.

“Yes,” Harry said. He thought about adding that he had used Dark magic himself, but then he would have to explain about the Elder Wand, and anyway, that hadn’t been part of the question.

“Can you work with people who weren’t Gryffindors?”

Harry had thought that was a stupid question when they put it in, but he supposed they had to ask, since all of the Weasleys were Gryffindors, and those were the only ones of his allies Golden had met so far. “Yes. I’ve worked with Professor Severus Snape, and he was a Slytherin.”

“The Head of Slytherin House,” Harry thought he heard someone mutter, but he ignored it. It was obvious information, and if they had to say it aloud to comfort themselves, that was all right.

“Very well, then.” Golden’s shoulders tensed as she leaned forwards. “And finally, can you fight beside people who may dislike you?”

“Yes. As long as they don’t betray me or try to control me.”

Golden nodded slowly. That was the end of the questions on the list, Harry thought. He did tense a little, because the Weasleys, minus Fred and George, had thought Golden would ask more questions and betray the agreement.

But Golden stood up instead, her hand on the blade that Harry had seen hanging under her robe, and bowed to him. “Welcome to our ranks, Harry Potter. We are proud to have you.”

“And I, you.” Harry was glad that he was still under Veritaserum at the moment, so she would know he was sincere.

That’s one hurdle passed, and some allies gained. Not that I think it’ll be enough on its own, but it’ll help.

You know what would really help, Snape? You coming back from your little trip as soon as possible.

*

“Severus Snape?”

Severus lifted his head. He had seen a flicker of motion in the portrait already, but hadn’t looked around, because he didn’t want to scare the mad figure away. He nodded. “Salazar?” he asked, when he still saw only the corner of a head poking around the tarnished frame.

“Yes. There are a snake and a person. They’re going to help you.” Salazar beamed and ducked back behind the frame, maybe out of the painting altogether. Due to its position and the way Albus had placed the cage when he brought Severus back down here, it was more difficult than it had been at first for Severus to see him.

Severus frowned and started to speak, but a door scraped open behind him. He turned, hoping that Salazar had not gone far enough into insanity to think that it was a good idea to alert Albus.

But Draco stepped inside instead, stared at him for a second, swallowed, and called over his shoulder, “Yeah, he’s here. And in a cage, like the portrait said.”

Severus drew his breath to tell Draco how dangerous it was to bring anyone else into this, given that the rest of the Order was loyal to Albus, but an entirely unexpected voice said, “Good. I have had quite enough of this, especially when this one is a Gryffindor. It’s time that I chose my side.”

Minerva McGonagall stepped into the room behind Draco and began blasting away at the wards on Severus’s cage, a look of grim determination on her face.

Severus sat back slowly, keeping his pleased smile from showing with an effort. It must have taken, truly, the courage of the mad, for Salazar to go to Minerva as well as Draco.

And even more courage for her to break with Dumbledore.

We may win this war yet.

Chapter Text


“We will have to be quick, and we will have to be silent.”

Severus simply nodded, wondering why Minerva was telling both him and Draco what they already knew. Then he spied the way the boy was almost hopping with excitement beside them, and stifled his snort. So perhaps they did not both know it.

Or perhaps she hopes to soothe her own nerves, Severus thought, as he watched Minerva consider the corridor that led to the dungeon room where Severus had been imprisoned. This was a big step for any member of the Order, even those like Black who had sometimes challenged Dumbledore’s rules and those like Lucius who until recently had not lived by them. Albus had a hold over the minds and hearts of those who followed him.

And when they have participated in the spell that summoned the various versions of Harry Potter, and had to watch them die due to their own actions…

Yes, that had been a genius move on Albus’s part, Severus had to admit. If he bound the Order as conspirators, he at once made them part of his victory if they did win and implicated them in the guilt if it failed. No wonder people like Weasley and Granger, who cared about doing right, had not wanted to help Harry more than they did. Their consciences were too tender for them to think that they might have made a mistake.

Valuing your own survival more than your own conscience is more intelligent than many know.

“Why did you come back, Severus?” Minerva asked, still studying the corridor ahead. Remembering the times that Albus had planted portraits in obscure corners that would warn him of movements in the dungeons, Severus did not blame her caution.

“I wanted to retrieve the books and potions and some ingredients I had in storage,” he said, watching Draco. Draco’s cheeks were flushed and his eyes bright, but he really hadn’t said much since they rescued Severus from the cage. Severus wondered what thoughts filtered behind those eyes, and resolved to find out soon. “And take Draco with me if I could.”

Immediately, Draco pulled himself away from whatever inner world he’d been contemplating and looked up, straight at Severus. “Did he ask for me?” he whispered.

“No,” Severus had to say. “I was the one who thought that you should not be left to the mercy of the Order.”

Draco closed his eyes and bowed his head.

“Then we should retrieve what we can,” Minerva interrupted, before Severus could decide whether or not words were required. “We’re going to pass right by your rooms. It would be criminal not to take what we can carry.”

Severus frowned. He would not have thought of that word, and he had to admit it sounded like too great a risk for him to take. Perhaps Minerva’s courage had overpowered her common sense.

On the other hand, if it had not, would she have taken this risk?

“Very well,” Severus said, and stepped up beside her. They had spent long enough scanning this corridor to spot most traps that Albus would have left, he was sure. “Come.” He strode towards the wall where the door to his rooms lay.

Perhaps it was the shape of the shadows that warned him. Perhaps a change in the atmosphere about him, that hinted to him a stranger was there, someone who didn’t know how to breathe in rhythm with the dampness in the walls.

Either way, Severus spun with his back to the walls, one hand snapping out to Draco’s shoulder to hold him back, while his mouth opened to shout a warning to Minerva. But she had already dodged to the opposite side of the corridor and let the curse go past. Severus recognized the bright orange light of the Vomiting Curse and grimaced. It was a much more potent spell than the similar hex that would upset an enemy’s stomach.

“Almost got you, Snivellus.” The voice was ragged. Black pushed himself away from an alcove that Severus had forgotten was there—it was a dip in the stone, so shallow that one couldn’t even put a shelf in it—and stalked towards them. “If I couldn’t prevent you from taking my godson, I’ll at least prevent you from going back to him.”

“This Harry is not your godson,” Severus said, tightening his hold on Draco when he would have tried to step in. He could see Minerva from the corner of his eye, too sensible to interfere, but most of his attention had to remain on Black. “You helped to pull him from his world and subjected him to Dumbledore’s control and attempted manipulation of his fate. That you accuse me of holding him hostage is rich.”

“You participated in that spell, too, Snivellus.” Black’s voice descended to something close to a growl. Considering his Animagus form, Severus was not surprised. “And no one knows what you’ve done with him. Albus told me that. You were supposed to train him, not dispose of him. Which is what you did, isn’t it?”

“If I were to tell you that Albus told me, to my face, that he wished to summon another Harry from another world to take the place of this one, because he was proving too stubborn to control?” Severus asked. “What would you do?”

Black stopped and stared at him. Severus could hear the way Minerva had gasped, but she, at least, knew a little of what was going on, and did not attempt to interrupt, instead watching intently.

“I would say you were lying,” Black said. “Everyone knows that you would have a grudge against a Gryffindor Harry, someone you didn’t manage to influence in your House.”

Severus rolled his eyes. “And your own grudge overpowers your good sense,” he said. “Did I truly influence and break your hold over the godson you raised? Do you think he loved you the less for being a Slytherin?” He had come up with a plan, and only needed to keep Black distracted for a few more seconds while he intoned, mentally, the nonverbal incantation.

“You have no idea what I felt when Harry died.” Black pressed in towards him, and his hand was twitching as though he would drop his wand and transform into a dog. Severus sneered as he considered that. Let him. It will make everything so much easier. “You have no idea what I felt when any of them died—”

“Please let us go, Sirius,” Draco interrupted, unexpectedly, taking a long stride forwards. “It would mean so much to Harry. You don’t know. Professor Snape is telling the truth. He isn’t like the others. He has to be free.”

Black stared at Draco with his mouth twitching, and so didn’t notice, until too late, that Severus’s wand was moving down at his side in a circle.

The curse Severus had chosen leaped from his wand (returned to him by Minerva) and towards the alcove that Black had emerged from. Black twirled around and tried to deflect it, too late. It bounced off the corner of stone Severus had chosen, a corner perfectly placed to reflect whatever someone threw at it, and hit Black’s hip. A cluster of dark specks rose into the air and spun like a cloud of gnats before they entered Black’s nose and mouth. Black spasmed and dropped to the floor.

“Must you, Severus?” Minerva curled her tongue around the words, but didn’t offer to move away.

“What did you do to him?” Draco was looking back and forth between Severus and Black, his eyes wide.

“I made sure that he can’t talk about this to Albus,” Severus said calmly, stepping forwards and bending over Black. Yes, he was still breathing, and his pulse was normal; sometimes, although rarely, the spell had side-effects. “Surer than a Memory Charm. He’ll keep what he saw to himself, and perhaps think over your words, Draco, and mine.”

He didn’t mention the other effects of the charm, because they didn’t need to know them. Draco would insist on explanations and Minerva on morals.

Minerva was the first of them to recover, pursing her lips and shaking her head. “I can’t say I like it, but I don’t like any of this,” she said, and turned towards the door of his office. “Choose the books and the ingredients that you want quickly, Severus. I used a distraction to keep Albus from noticing I was gone, but he’s suspicious enough to start looking past that soon.”

“What kind of distraction?” Draco was asking as Severus passed his hand across his door, observed that nothing had changed, and unlocked it with a simple spell. Minerva had handed his wand to him the instant he was released from the cage, and he wasn’t yet interested enough to ask her where she had got it.

“You should hear it any moment,” Minerva said, with the sort of soft placidity that Severus distrusted.

Severus rolled his eyes. Minerva was as fond of pranks sometimes as any other Gryffindor. He preferred to let her have her little secret for now. He didn’t think she would have come up with something that could hurt them.

It was easy enough to sweep the shelves, to gather up the important books and shrink them and tuck them in his pockets. The ingredients were more difficult, as some of them would be affected by shrinking; he employed an old trunk from under his bed and Draco’s pockets to carry the chosen ones.

And the rest…

The cauldrons, the pictures on the walls of his bedroom, the fireplace mantle that he had arranged just the way he liked it, the completed potions that waited in their vials on the wooden rack…

Severus ended up shaking his head and turning his back. He couldn’t do anything with them right now, and he didn’t dare delay too long.

He had one foot out of his rooms, back in the corridor, when an enormous roar shook the castle from overhead. Severus caught himself against the wall and stared upwards, though of course it was foolish to think he could see anything through the meters of stone. His first thought was that the Dark Lord had commandeered a dragon to attack the school with.

Then he saw the faint smile on Minerva’s face, and nodded at her. “You Transfigured something into a lion, didn’t you?” he asked, as he edged out of the room and they started making their way up the corridor towards the stairs that would lead them out of the dungeons.

“A rather large lion,” Minerva said, and her smile grew more pleasant and full. Severus still wouldn’t have wanted to be the one who was making her smile like that. “Sometimes, Albus needs to be reminded what his House symbol is.”

Severus didn’t fully understand until they were in the entrance hall of Hogwarts and he saw a giant leg move past the doors. He whispered a spell that would let him see through the wards on the outside—necessary, at times, to see what was happening beyond the walls without exposing himself to attack by the Death Eaters or other forces the Dark Lord had brought up—and grasped what was going on with a single look, but still found himself frozen in place with surprise.

The giant leg he had glimpsed was only one of four, and led up to a lion that must have been Transfigured from a tree. Its coat glowed a dark, brassy brown, and its teeth were all many-branched, splitting off into points like twigs. It reared nearly as high as the Gryffindor Tower, and it roared again and again as it ripped at the stones. All stones that weren’t part of the wards, Severus noticed, but it would take someone viewing it from this angle, and someone who had been intimately involved in wrapping wards around the school, to notice that. Minerva was keeping the rest of the Order safe, but with the maximum amount of noise and fuss to distract them from that.

“You can do some impressive Transfigurations when you want to, Minerva,” he murmured without taking his gaze from the lion. “Will it harm us should we attempt to run across the grass to the Apparition point?”

Even as he contemplated that, the lion turned its head and stared at them, the great mane rustling to a stop around its head. Then one of the staring golden eyes, the size of a small pond, closed in a wink.

“I believe the answer is ‘no,’” Minerva said smugly from behind him.

Severus nodded and began to run. The lion courteously lifted one of its paws out of the way, and then brought its leg down in a scything motion that caused two of the windows that overlooked the path they would have to take to be blocked. Draco followed, with a cautious swallow and a glance up at the lion’s underbelly, and Minerva absently patted the nearest curl of fur as she brought up the rear.

Severus marshaled his thoughts as he ran. He had not managed to feed the mind-control potion to Albus, but the spell on Black would serve some of the same purposes, and was almost as good. He had the books and ingredients he had come for. He had Draco. He had a new ally.

And he had the news he had learned when he was first captured, what had happened at the school since he and Harry left. Besides the news of the Dark Lord’s attacks and the forces he commanded, there was the news that the Death Eaters had captured Remus Lupin, since one of their own had approached the gates in Polyjuice disguise as him.

Severus nodded once. I believe Harry will find what I have to say sufficiently interesting.

*

Harry hesitated before he opened the trunk in the corner of his bedroom. There was no one to tell him that the things he had found there when he came to Shaldon’s Garden weren’t his, after all. Snape hadn’t acted as though he cared one way or another what Harry did with them, and since Snape had won the house and maybe all its contents in a duel, he might not even know they were there.

But Harry still stared for a long time after he had opened the lid, and picked up the purple stone that had lain there with a heavy hand.

It was the black stone that was split down the center so Harry could see the glitter of the purple crystals instead. He had thought it was an amethyst at first, but the longer he looked at it, the more certain he became that he had been wrong. This was what was called a geode.

Harry caressed the rough outside of the stone, then reached into the middle and let his fingers trail over the purple crystals.

He didn’t know why yet. It was a tiny plan, the gasp of an intuition, nothing more. But he thought that this rock would be a good candidate for the reverse Horcrux they had once planned to make, the object to which they would bind Voldemort’s life-force, and then they would destroy him by destroying it.

Scritch-scratch.

Harry whirled around, his heart in his throat, even though knew any of the Weasleys—and any of the rebels staying at the house, for that matter—would have knocked roundly on the door and demanded to see him, not scratched at the window. And it wasn’t a person outside the glass. It was the long tendril of a climbing rose, nodding at him with what looked like a glimmering globe clutched at the end of its vine.

Harry blinked and crossed the room to the window. He would have been warier, but he had remembered both the extensive protections that Snape said were beyond Shaldon’s Garden and the plants that filled the garden as the second line of those protections. He had seen this rose before, rambling around the outside of the fence.

He held out his hand as he opened the window, and the rose rolled the globe down its stem into his palm. Harry held it up. It looked like it was made of crystal, but with colors swimming inside it, like an opal, or a marble.

As Harry watched, the colors expanded, and the marble seemed to become bigger. Now Harry could clearly tell that he was watching a scene on the outside of Shaldon’s Garden. An owl flew back and forth there, carrying a letter with a red and gold seal, screeching at the wards. It seemed extremely frustrated that it couldn’t come inside.

Harry smiled a little. This had to be an owl that wasn’t from a friend; Snape would have left a path open for letters that came from people he trusted, or ones he was sending himself.

The rose wavered back and forth, and the scene grew bigger, until Harry could see the seal in its entirety. It bore four intertwined heads, one a bird’s, one a snake’s, one a lion’s, and a fourth that was probably a badger’s. The seal of Hogwarts, Harry thought.

He swallowed. It was probably from Dumbledore, and the owl had come as far as it could before being baffled by the wards.

Harry was tempted to let it come in, but not with the bird itself. There was too much chance that the owl was a spy that could look at everything and report back to the Headmaster that Harry wasn’t in the house he thought Snape had taken Harry to.

On the other hand, there was the huge chance that the letter was about Snape.

Harry took a deep breath and looked at the rose. “Can you take the letter and bring it to me?” he asked. “But leave the owl outside?”

He felt stupid talking to a plant, but it wasn’t like he had much choice. Snape had left him no way to communicate with the defenses of Shaldon’s Garden.

The rose bobbed back to him, like a nod, and then withdrew and rippled away towards what Harry assumed was the gate. It was hard to tell, with all the folds of wizardspace around them.

Harry shut the window and turned to consider the geode, then the plans laid on the table nearby. He should be working on both of them, really. The plan was what would allow them to strike back at Voldemort, but he didn’t think there was any way of getting rid of him forever except the reverse Horcrux plan.

Then Harry shook his head. He couldn’t concentrate on the reverse Horcrux without Snape, the only one that he trusted enough to talk to about it. So he turned back to the plan that he and the rebels had put together, snorting only slightly under his breath when he realized what his thoughts had just said.

I trust Snape.

But he did, more than the rest of them put together. Mrs. Weasley was strong and supportive, and he trusted Ginny—but more because of the charm that Snape had put on her to ensure she couldn’t talk than anything else. Maybe that was bad, but they weren’t the people they had been in his old world, and he had already been bitterly disappointed by Ron and Hermione here.

I’m not the same person I was, either.

Harry had to wonder what they would think, when they got him back, his friends. Would he have changed a lot? Would they still think he was their friend?

Harry nodded firmly. He wasn’t going to worry about that, because of course they would still want him back. And if he wasn’t exactly the same as he had been, they would still welcome him and make a place for him.

That, he had to believe.

*

Severus halted once they were outside the Hogwarts grounds, and glanced back. There was no one coming after them. That didn’t mean that someone wouldn’t, once they had recovered from the attack and Albus had managed to Transfigure the lion back into a tree. Severus remembered only too well what Albus used to teach.

“Where to now?” Minerva asked it, her cheeks flushed and her hand still holding her wand. It trembled a little when Severus looked at her, but she stilled it soon enough, and gave Severus a thin smile.

“Yes, where to?” Draco was looking back and forth between both of them, and Severus didn’t miss the tone of uncertainty that had crept into his voice. Without Harry here, he probably doubted his choices.

Severus grimaced and drew his wand. “I am going to take you to the sanctuary where I have Harry,” he said, and tried to ignore the way that Draco’s eyes brightened with fervor out of all proportion to the words. “But I need you to swear an Unbreakable Vow first that neither of you will betray his location.”

Draco knelt down hesitantly. Minerva followed him more firmly, her mouth a thin slash in her face. “I understand it,” she said. “You were used to thinking of me as an enemy only a few hours ago.”

“But why do I have to swear it?” Draco burst out. “You know that I would never hurt Harry, no matter where he’s from.”

Severus glanced at him. “Yes. But Dumbledore might pluck the location from your mind with Legilimency if you’re captured. If we phrase this Vow the right way, then he can’t do that.”

“Oh.” Draco relaxed and held out his hand. Severus caught it and nodded at Minerva, who still had her wand out, to act as their Bonder. Draco would have to do it when Minerva swore the Vow.

She, unlike Draco, knew how the Vow prevented someone from plucking a location from another person’s mind. The Vow would kill the one who had made it before that could happen.

Severus gazed back at her, daring her to say that, and Minerva lowered her head and shook it in a complex gesture. Then she turned back to their joined hands as Severus said, “Do you, Draco Malfoy, swear that you will never reveal the location of Harry Potter, the third we have brought to this world, by spoken word, written word, or gesture?”

“I so swear.” Draco’s voice was breathless with excitement, making Severus want to wince again. But he held his hand steady, and the first tongue of flame curled around their wrists. A glittering, pretty thing, to hold so much power to destroy, Severus thought.

“Do you, Draco Malfoy, swear that you will never reveal the location of Harry Potter, the third we have brought to this world, by letting the information pass from your mind to an enemy’s?” Severus had added the last word on the off chance that Draco ever had information Severus didn’t about Harry’s location and had to let Severus read it from his thoughts with Legilimency.

Draco repeated this vow. His voice had sunk a little, as though he was finally beginning to realize how serious the matter was. Good. Severus did not have time to specifically educate the boy on growing past his grief, but it needed to be done, and an Unbreakable Vow was as good as any other method.

“Do you, Draco Malfoy, swear that you will never reveal the location of Harry Potter, the third we have brought to this world, without prior permission from me, Severus Snape?” And the final vow, the strictest that Severus could come up with. It might be theoretically possible for Albus to dress up as Severus with Polyjuice, tell Draco he could talk about it, and then read Harry’s location from his mind—but Draco had felt Severus’s Legilimency before, and knew what it was like. The minute he felt an enemy’s touch on his thoughts, then the second part of the Vow would go into action.

Draco whispered the words this time, and the three tongues of flame bound their joined hands. Severus nodded once at the sight before the Vow vanished and he directed Draco to draw his own wand, turning to clasp hands with Minerva.

Minerva held his eyes while Draco fumbled for his wand, huffing with importance, and said, too softly and quickly to be heard by Draco, “You know as well as I do that this Vow might kill him.”

Severus looked back at her, and his eyes were indifferent because they were, naturally, not because he had willed them so. Yes, he knew that. But he had decided that the important thing was to keep Harry safe, and with a possible traitor in the Order and so many of them dedicated to doing Albus’s will rather than what was right, he would no longer take chances.

You could ask Albus, he thought, as he took Minerva’s thin, wiry hand in his own. When I give my loyalty, I give it whole. I did whatever he asked of me for years, because I thought it was the right thing to do. And now I will do what I must in a different way.

Perhaps Minerva understood that, because she nodded to him in the moment before Severus opened his mouth to speak the first Vow.

*

It seemed to take forever for the rose to bring the letter to his window, but Harry knew that wasn’t so. It was simply that he’d got involved in the plan the rebels proposed, and when that happened, he tended to lose track of time.

This time, the scratch on the window didn’t scare the shit out of him. He turned around, nodded to the waving rose, and accepted the letter, which had one torn corner, as though the rose had had to fight to get it out of the envelope. He also thought he saw a single feather in the corner of the climbing tendrils, and smirked a little. He was less than sympathetic for any losses that Dumbledore might suffer.

The letter, under the torn corner, started out with a whole confusion of titles. Dumbledore’s titles, Harry realized, blinking at them, Headmaster of Hogwarts and—presumably because this was a private letter—Head of the Order of the Phoenix. Did Dumbledore think that would impress him?

Maybe not. Maybe he’d done it to make himself feel better.

Then Harry leaned back against the table, and prepared to read Dumbledore’s latest attempt to manipulate him.

Dear Harry,

Please do not be disgusted that I address you by the name under which I knew you best. I know that you are not the same as the beloved boy who is gone, his throat slit under the worst of circumstances, but you bear his name and likeness, and it is easiest for me to call you this.

Harry shook his head. Was the Headmaster getting desperate, or was it just that Harry was so disgusted with him? Either way, the words seemed utterly transparent and grasping, not tempting at all.

You must understand that you are the best opportunity that everyone in our world has for surviving Voldemort’s attempts to kill us. You are angry with the Order, perhaps rightfully so.

Harry rolled his eyes. It seemed that, even when he was trying to act like he was seeing things from Harry’s point of view and tempt him back into joining the Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore had to put that “perhaps” in there. He cared more about absolute control than making an alliance.

But then, Harry had already known that. If Dumbledore had just kept to the alliance Harry had asked for in the first place, researching a way to send Harry home while Harry worked with them to kill Voldemort, then they wouldn’t have had this problem at all.

If you are angry with us, please remember the rest of them, the innocent people who will have no chance if you abandon us. The people who shop in Diagon Alley each morning. The people who hope to raise their children in a world without violence. The people who feel lost without the Ministry to guide them. The Weasleys.

Harry snorted. No mention made of the rebel groups. Did the old man not know about them? Or did he just consider that they couldn’t win and didn’t matter because they weren’t willing to make the “sacrifice” of summoning the same person from different worlds over and over again?

Will you come back to me? You may come armed, and set the meeting at any place you like, as long as it is within a reasonable distance of Hogwarts’s walls. We have been under attack by Tom, and it would be dangerous for us to venture far outside them. I will come with any members of the Order you specify, and I will yield Severus to you there.

“And what if I specified ‘no members of the Order’?” Harry asked aloud, shaking his head.

This is a plea from the heart of one who has done wrong. Perhaps I was never meant to stand as the savior of the world, when that is your job. I know that I cannot interfere in the prophecy and kill Tom, much as I have tried and wished to.

Harry narrowed his eyes and rapped his fingers along the side of the letter. At the moment, the one thing he wished he had asked Dumbledore more about was his attempts to kill Voldemort, before or after the Harry native to this world died. Would he be deflected by his curses just not hitting? Did Voldemort really know as much about the prophecy as Dumbledore assumed he did? How did it work?

But, for good or evil, you are the only one who can save our world and prevent Tom from making it over in his own dark image—the only one who can prevent the death of two sets of parents, yours and the Lily and James Potter of this world, from being in vain.

Please write back to me. Please come and stand at my right hand. I will lend you all the strength you need.

Albus Dumbledore.

Harry rolled his eyes again and tossed the letter aside. He had to resist the urge to crumple it; he thought it was possible that Snape would want to see it.

Assuming that Snape could escape and would come back to Harry. Assuming Dumbledore had control of him after all, although Harry had to assume that since he’d mentioned it in the letter and Snape hadn’t come back. It had really been a small part of the whole letter, Harry thought. As though Dumbledore couldn’t comprehend that Snape might be important to Harry.

Or, as though the most important thing was controlling me, and that overrode even the appeal he could have made to me through my emotions about Snape.

Harry sighed and turned back to the rebel plan. He had to take some hours to think about how he would respond to Dumbledore’s letter, especially since he didn’t want to lead the Order back to Shaldon’s Garden accidentally or something with an owl he sent out. And if he left the defenses without Snape by his side, could he even get back in? It ought to be possible, but that was something he’d have to study.

Except it won’t matter, because Snape is going to come back.

Harry gritted his teeth. Yes, he still wanted to believe that, but he couldn’t let the hope consume him. As Snape would say—

“I never thought I would manage to get this far inside the defenses, even of my own home, without you sensing me.”

Harry turned around with a sharp cry springing from his throat, though he repressed it and reached for his wand. This could be some imposter, someone who had brewed Polyjuice to appear as Snape.

Except that Snape had told him the defenses of Shaldon’s Garden wouldn’t allow that, that they could read their master’s mind and only allow him in if he wasn’t being coerced somehow. And if they could do that, they could certainly tell if this was their real master or someone using Polyjuice.

This was Snape. Standing leaning wearily against the doorframe of Harry’s bedroom, meeting Harry’s eyes and shaking his head a little as though he couldn’t believe Harry stood rooted to one spot instead of attacking him.

“You are becoming careless,” he said. “Perhaps you would be best pleased to yield yourself up to Dumbledore now and be surrounded by people as careless as yourself.”

“Well, you don’t need to worry about changing,” Harry said, when he could get his breath back. “You’re still the same hateful gift as you ever were.” He hesitated once more, not because he feared this wasn’t Snape but because he expected more of a scolding for not noticing the way Snape had come through the defenses. Never mind that Snape owned Shaldon’s Garden and could have ordered it to conceal him from Harry if he wanted to.

Then Harry made the decision, and flung himself forwards, wrapping his arms around Snape before either of them could decide it was a bad idea. “I’m so glad you’re back,” Harry muttered into Snape’s robe. “And not just because—” He choked. He had been about to say something about “Not just because it’ll foil Dumbledore,” but he found that his throat was thick, and so were his eyes.

So he shut them and just silently clung.

*

Severus held Harry in silence. He had let his arms come to rest on top of the boy’s shoulders the second he thought Harry was too involved in hanging onto Severus to notice.

He—

This was unexpected.

Of course he had realized he was important to Harry, so important that he had feared Harry would come after him while he was in Hogwarts and risk getting himself captured by Dumbledore again. But he had not realized he was important enough that Harry might hold back, trusting in Severus to rescue himself, and yet still react like this when Severus reappeared.

Severus bit his tongue on the desire to scold, the longing to tell Harry to be cautious, not to trust or depend on anyone so much. Because then Harry might not know what to do, or do the wrong thing, if Severus died or was captured again. He did not want to be a pawn used against Harry, as Albus had told Severus he intended. Severus wanted to be a source of strength and a weapon, no more.

As they stood there, Severus’s resolve blurred, shifted, solidified again like a Calming Draught spilled on a table at the second stage.

If I would make him unacceptably vulnerable by parting from him, then I must simply stay with him.

Not be captured. Not accept a compromise that would part him from Harry’s side, especially as he trusted neither Albus nor the Dark Lord to keep any promise they made. Not die.

The last was the hardest.

But he knew, now, what he would ask in return, if Harry asked Severus to hold one side of the bridge of power that would span the gap between dimensions. Severus would ask to come with him instead. Because that was the way it would be, because anything else was unacceptable.

Not to be parted.

I can manage that.

Harry pulled back at last, and grinned up at Severus. “We have a plan to attack the Death Eaters, and I think I know how to make a reverse Horcrux and bind Tom,” he said.

Severus blinked once. Then he nodded, said, “You have been busy while I was gone,” and unfolded himself to stride over to the table that looked to be spread with battle plans. “I hope you find the gifts I brought you acceptable in return.”

“What are those?” Harry bounced up beside him and stared at him inquiringly.

Severus gave him a faint smile back. “I did not manage to slip the mind control potion to Dumbledore. He caught me before I could. But I brought the books and the ingredients I went for, and Draco. And I have someone else who will serve as our spy and servant, since Dumbledore cannot.” He paused.

“There’s something else?” Harry was staring at him with most gratifyingly wide eyes.

“There is,” said Minerva’s voice behind Severus, and she stepped into the room.

Irritated though Severus was that he had not got to make the announcement himself, the way Harry swung on her, gaped, and then grinned—a grin as fierce as the Killing Curse—made up for it.

No. Parting is not acceptable.

There will be a way around it, because I will that there must be, and Harry wills it as well. And what cannot we accomplish, willing together?

Chapter Text


“Why did you think the geode would be appropriate for a reverse Horcrux?”

Harry brushed a hand through his hair and coughed. He had been a bit awkward with Snape ever since yesterday when he had hugged him and McGonagall had come up the stairs and seen them. Harry supposed it was all right that she had seen them, or Snape would have already Obliviated her. But it made him want to defend all his conclusions with long explanations, even the ones that had nothing to do with McGonagall.

Snape tapped a finger in the center of the table, making Harry leap and look up. Snape was leaning forwards, and his scowl was ferocious enough to make Harry want to pay attention, although he doubted that he would make much sense.

“I thought—since it’s cracked,” Harry said, “that we could damage it in the future. And it’s smooth on the outside and jagged on the inside. With all those crystals, I mean. And I thought I suppose I thought that his soul could catch on the crystals and be caught and held by them.” It sounded worse the more he tried to explain it.

Snape’s face had gone blank, but not the horrid sort of blank he had whenever he was trying to keep from telling Harry what an idiot he was. He reached out and picked up the geode that lay in the center of the table beside the place where his finger had tapped, turning it back and forth.

“How much do you know about the theory of Horcruxes?” Snape asked.

Harry grimaced. “Everything.” Essential though it had been to defeating Voldemort, he would far rather not have learned everything he had to about them and how they were made.

That got him a narrowing of Snape’s eyes. Then those eyes went towards the pocket where Harry kept the Elder Wand. Harry put a protective hand on it. It wasn’t his fault that Voldemort was insane and actually strong in this universe, and had managed to crack his holly wand.

“Where did you learn it?” Snape asked.

“Taught by Dumbledore in my own world,” Harry said, and rolled his eyes when he saw the way that Snape looked at him. “Oh, don’t be like that. I’m not going to argue that my Dumbledore was perfect, but he did have a good reason for teaching me about Horcruxes. There were six of them—seven. I think I already told you that. I had to know about them in order to hunt them down and destroy them.”

“Then you should know,” Snape said, his voice tight, “that destroying a Horcrux is going to be hard.”

Harry nodded. “Yes, but I know of at least three ways to do it. Well, maybe two,” he had to add. “Depending on whether the Sword of Gryffindor got soaked with basilisk venom in this world.”

“Those words tell me more about how interesting your life has been then you might want me to know,” Snape said, his voice soft and odd. “What are the ways?”

“Basilisk venom and Fiendfyre,” Harry said. “And, well, Dumbledore destroyed the Gaunt ring somehow, but I was never sure exactly how, and it left him with a decaying hand that was going to kill him if he hadn’t died in another way. So I don’t think that we want to try it.”

Snape ran his hand through his hair. “Where did the Sword of Gryffindor come in?”

“I used it to fight the basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets in my second year,” Harry said. “It got soaked with basilisk venom, and that meant we could use it later to destroy a few of the Horcruxes. But I don’t know if that happened here.”

“I would not wish to risk it,” Snape said, after only a closing of his eyes and a shake of his head that told Harry how lightly he’d got off. “So. Basilisk venom and Fiendfyre. You realize that we will have to destroy this reverse Horcrux after we create it and link the Dark Lord’s life force to it?”

Harry nodded, looking sideways at Snape. “Of course. I wouldn’t have proposed this if I didn’t know how to destroy one.”

“I was not entirely sure,” Snape said, with a voice too dry for Harry to even take offense at. “Basilisk venom would be the less dangerous.”

“Really?” Harry asked doubtfully. “Even though we would have to break back into Hogwarts to get a fang?”

Snape closed his eyes for a moment. Then he opened them and said, “I am satisfied that we will need to come up with some plan to lure Albus out of his stronghold, rather than attempting to attack him there. He is simply too strong with both the wards of Hogwarts and the members of the Order surrounding him.”

Harry nodded. “From what you told me about him, I have an idea on that, too.”

“Oh, really?” Snape’s voice was odd.

Harry sat up and frowned at him. “If you think my plans are stupid or something, just say so. You know that rebel plan isn’t meant to defeat Dumbledore and Tom. Just prick them in the side and prove that we can be a thorn.”

*

I am somewhat overwhelmed by the dedication that you can bring to a task like this, and the intelligence. Not to mention that you will probably need to kill someone who, in your other world, was your mentor.

But Severus could not say that, not at this stage in their relationship. Instead, he leaned forwards and said softly, “Dumbledore has one point of great weakness. That great conviction that he must always be right and everyone else is wrong. He cannot face it if he is wrong. Is that the point of weakness that you intend to attack?”

Harry grinned. “Of course it is. And what do you think he would most hate to be wrong about?”

Severus frowned a little. “The decisions he made regarding you, of course. But we know what he intends to do about that. Get rid of you, and summon another Harry Potter. I do not see how we can use it to lure him out of Hogwarts.”

Harry’s grin widened. “That’s because you’re not me.” He stood up and paced back and forth across his bedroom, the spring in his step more like a snap. Severus found his eyes following Harry, and he had to shake his head. He had given his loyalty and would not take it back, but it was always good to see that Harry deserved his loyalty.

“I think we should find out more about how the first Harry, the one you taught, died,” Harry said, and spun to face him.

Severus restrained a grimace. “Then you still think it was murder, and not suicide?”

Harry nodded. “Draco said something interesting to me that I want you to listen to. And there’s a rebel, a woman named Heron, who jumped when I said something about his death. I want them to talk to me, and to you.”

“Draco thinks I caused his lover’s death,” Severus pointed out. “I don’t think he would willingly consent to speak to me about the matter. Indeed, I suspect that one of the reasons he came with me is to keep an eye on me and make sure that I do not kill you, or persuade you to commit suicide, in turn.”

Harry’s smile was sad. “He’ll speak to you if I ask him to.”

Severus sat up. “You know that we should be working to wean him from his dependence on you, not encouraging it.”

Harry grimaced and nodded. “But there’s nothing else we can do right now, nothing that will heal him. I can’t—I don’t want to take the mental strength that we’re putting into these plans to defeat Dumbledore and Tom and try to use it to heal Draco instead.”

Severus snarled softly. “Yes, but we can keep from exacerbating his disease further.”

Harry rolled his eyes at him. “If we help him to find out that Harry’s suicide was really a murder, but that you had nothing to do with it, and uncover the real culprit, you don’t think he would thank us for that?”

Severus thought about it, but ended up scowling. “I think he would thank us for it, but it would not be enough. Draco will not be satisfied until he has a replacement for the boy he loved.” He looked pointedly at Harry.

“I can’t be that for him.” Harry folded his arms. “I have another world waiting for me, and I can’t pretend to be in love with someone else here. I won’t. I’ll offer Draco the chance to help solve his Harry’s murder. If he isn’t satisfied with that, then I’ll use a Pensieve memory of his words to tell you.”

“Why not do that from the beginning?” Severus had to ask. “If you could let me watch what he said to you?”

“Because I think he should be involved if it was a murder,” Harry said firmly. “I can’t offer him love, but I can offer him vengeance. That’s all. That’s as far as I can go. But I did still want to offer it.”

Severus shut his eyes, thinking about that. He could…appreciate it. Harry was showing what care he could for someone who was not important to him, even in his own world, in the way that he had been important to the original Harry of this one.

And Severus was thinking again about his conversation with Albus in the Headmaster’s office, the way he had flinched at the word “sacrifice.” Perhaps one could argue that the original Harry born to this world was Albus’s first sacrifice. He had not done a good enough job of protecting him, but had expected him to take on the Dark Lord with insufficient training. He had not accepted any excuse that could be offered to him as sufficient reason for the boy not doing it. He had said that the prophecy prevented anyone else from engaging the Dark Lord or mortally wounding him, but as far as Severus knew, Albus had never tested that theory until after the boy’s death.

Severus opened his eyes and nodded. “Give me time to approach Draco. First, I think you should question this woman Heron that you mentioned.”

*

Harry was a little surprised at how easy it was, now, working with Snape.

He seemed to have come back from his very short time with Dumbledore with more willingness to listen. He didn’t frown at Harry as often, although he still eyed the Elder Wand mistrustfully. And he had accepted, without much questioning, that Harry was right about the first Harry’s death being a murder and not a suicide, while he had never believed enough in that theory to investigate it before now.

It’s as though it makes a difference to him because it’s me.

Harry paused and blinked. He was behind Snape on the stairs that led down from his room to the large one where they would meet with the rebels. Snape, of course, immediately noticed that Harry wasn’t following him, and turned around with a frown.

“You are coming?” He looked back and forth as though he could spot something on the stairs that would indicate the reasons why Harry had changed his mind.

“I’m coming,” Harry said, and shook his head, following Snape. “I did think of something else,” he added to Snape’s back, and thought he didn’t imagine the faint snort that the man gave out. “Dumbledore wrote to me saying that he held you captive and suggesting we meet. Obviously he doesn’t believe that now, and he probably knows that you would have come back to me as soon as you could. But what should I write in return?”

“Save the chance,” Snape said, his voice thick and his smirk blinding when he turned his head to look at Harry. “We will use your return letter as part of the plan to trap him.”

Harry smiled. He supposed that he didn’t have to reply at all, since Snape had escaped so soon, but he had badly wanted to write something, if only to taunt Dumbledore. This was a better idea, though.

They entered the folded wizardspace, and Golden and Heron stood up to receive them. Heron was frowning at Harry as though there was no reason she could imagine being summoned specifically. Harry thought that was pretty rich, when Golden had brought the woman with her to witness the Veritaserum interview with Harry and she had the unusual name and the heron tattoos around her eyes. She was special, and she had to know it.

“What did you want to know?” It was Golden who spoke, and she looked at Snape with a frown, but didn’t challenge his presence here with Harry.

“I noticed the way you jumped when I responded to that question about the original Harry Potter from this world being dead,” Harry told Heron. “Why?”

“I would not characterize what I did as jumping,” Heron said, half-shutting her eyes.

Harry kept from rolling his own eyes with difficulty. “Fine. You stood up. Why? Why was what I said so surprising to you?”

Heron hesitated once, but Golden caught her gaze and jerked her own head down. Her hand was stroking the knife she kept by her side, Harry saw. She noticed Harry watching her do it and smiled a little at him, but didn’t stop doing it.

“Because someone cannot commit suicide by turning their own wand into a knife and slitting their throat,” Heron said.

Harry blinked. “I don’t see why not.” That seemed a detail that Dumbledore and the rest of the Order of the Phoenix would have known, and if they were lying about Harry’s death being a suicide, they wouldn’t have included it.

“Because,” Heron said grimly, “wands are bonded to their owners at a level that involves survival, at least if they have been with their owners for more than a few years and have never been conquered or won by someone else. I assume that was the case with the—original Mr. Potter’s wand?”

Harry glanced at Snape, who had taken up a surprisingly unobtrusive position with his arms folded by the doorframe. Snape inclined his head in a slow nod. Harry turned back. “Yes, that was the case.”

Heron nodded back. “A wand wants to preserve its owner. It will not become a knife if the intention is to use it for harming the owner. A former owner, yes. If someone had won Mr. Potter’s wand in a duel, they could have changed it into a blade and given it to him to cut his throat with. But the wand would simply refuse to make the transformation in the case you were talking about.” She let her eyes pass back and forth between Harry’s face and Snape’s. “It made me wonder for a moment if you were lying, but speaking about it under Veritaserum proved that you believed it, at least.”

“Thank you,” Harry said dryly, his head spinning. Was it really that simple, then? Or had someone dueled the original Harry, taken his wand, and then turned it into a knife to cut his throat?

Well, if they had, it would still be murder. If Harry had really wanted to commit suicide, he would have found some other way.

“It is an obvious weakness in the story,” Snape said, echoing what Harry had been thinking. Harry looked at him in time to see him pull his hair back from his throat and frown at Heron and Golden. “Why would they create a story like this, one of suicide, with this weakness in the middle of it?”

“I don’t know,” Heron snapped, and the bird around her eyes seemed to flicker and fly as her expression changed. “I didn’t know that Harry Potter—I suppose you could call him our Harry Potter—was dead until you told me. I had never heard this story before. Perhaps no one who did knew enough to spot the inconsistencies.”

Snape exchanged a glance with Harry. Harry nodded in silence. He knew one person who would have; they both did. Surely Dumbledore had enough magical knowledge for that.

“Thank you, Miss Heron,” Snape said aloud. “You have been most helpful, and I hope that you find the attack plans we have come up with, to give your rebels a chance to do something against the Dark Lord, everything that Harry promised they would be.”

Heron gave them both a faint smile. “I’m the expert in esoteric magical knowledge that my Lady Golden brought with her,” she said simply. “I’m not the one you should be worried about if every aspect of the attack doesn’t go as planned.” She nodded sharply and spun, turning her back on them to walk away. Golden followed, with a smile so pleasant it was hard to look at the hand on her knife.

Harry waited until she was out of the room to turn and stare at Snape. “So what do you think?” he demanded. “That it was murder?”

Snape’s eyes were shadowed, and one hand played with his right sleeve, so slowly that Harry didn’t think he knew he was doing it. “Perhaps,” he said, softly enough that Harry stepped closer to hear him. “But I would like to hear Draco’s evidence, first.” He turned to Harry. “Shall I go to fetch him, or will you?”

Harry grimaced. “I’d better go,” he muttered. “I’m the one who’s asking him a big favor, and if you come up and ask him something about that, then he might panic and run the other direction, because he still thinks that you were involved somehow in the original Harry’s death.” He hesitated, and then turned and looked up at Snape. “You think we can use the truth behind this to lure Dumbledore out?”

Snape’s eyes had deeper shadows than ever, but at Harry’s question, his mouth compressed into a slashing line, and he nodded. “There is no way that Dumbledore was not involved, even if he did not commit the murder,” he said quietly. “He would have known what Heron said, and if a different murderer claimed it was suicide and gave that as the reason, he would have had to shield them.”

“If Heron’s telling the truth,” Harry remembered.

Snape shook his head. “She has less motive to lie than Dumbledore did. I will do some independent research this evening to confirm what she said, but as she reminded us, she has never heard that story before, and did not know what response we were anticipating.”

Harry nodded. “All right. I’ll go and get Draco, then.” He let himself out of the room before Snape could say anything and trotted down the corridor that led to the rooms Snape had given Draco and McGonagall—both in an isolated fold of wizardspace, so if they lost their nerve or tried to send a message to Dumbledore, they wouldn’t be able to leave or get any kind of communication out.

It disgusted Harry to think he had to distrust even people who had escaped with Snape. But McGonagall might not have really changed sides, and Draco, Harry thought, would do anything and believe anyone who told him they could get his Harry back. That meant he was as likely to listen to Dumbledore if he came up with a plausible theory as he was to Harry and Snape.

I wish I’d never been brought here, Harry thought, and waited for a moment as the wooden carvings around the “door” that actually led from Draco’s isolated room to the next fold of wizardspace flashed at him. They turned purple from their blue light a moment later, confirming that the house recognized Harry as someone authorized by Snape to be there. I wish the original Harry had never died. I wish the others hadn’t, either.

But they had, and Harry was here now, and at least he had the beginnings of a plan that would lure Dumbledore out and bring him into conflict with Voldemort at the same time.

When he knocked at Draco’s door, it flew open at once. Draco looked at him hopefully, his cheeks flushed and his eyes so bright that Harry flinched a little.

“I knew it was you,” Draco breathed.

“How?” Harry asked, taking one careful glance around. If Draco had set up observation charms or something, Snape would have Harry’s head if he didn’t report back about them.

Draco blinked. “Because I recognize the way you walk and knock and hesitate, of course,” he said. “Why wouldn’t I know that about someone I love?”

Harry grimaced. He wanted to cure Draco of that infatuation, but he also needed to use it to persuade Draco to trust him, to manipulate Draco until he was willing to listen to what Harry wanted of him and tell the truth to Snape. The thought was like a knife going through his lungs.

I would never have made a good Slytherin.

“Listen, Draco,” Harry began, and Draco reached out to take his hand. Harry moved it just a little so that they looked more like they were shaking hands instead of holding them. “I need you to come and tell Snape everything you remember about the way you found Harry’s body on the lakeshore, okay? We’re finding evidence that it’s murder after all, and if Snape knows everything, then he can help us put it together.”

Draco stared at him and drew back as though he would pull Harry into his room. “But…you know that he argued with my Harry right before he died,” he whispered, inadvertently cheering Harry up a little. He could still recognize the Harry born to his world and Harry himself as different people, then. “I think he caused the death somehow. Why would you trust him?”

“Because I’m not your Harry,” Harry said. If he could be as simple and brutal as possible, then maybe Draco would listen to him. “Because I think that I would know by now if he caused the death. He’d have said something or betrayed something that would make me think that. And besides, why in the world would he want to do it?”

“If he’s really a Death Eater,” Draco whispered, his eyes huge and drowning. “If he remained loyal to the Dark Lord all this time, and only pretended that he was going to join the Order of the Phoenix.”

Harry checked an impatient sigh. Alienating Draco, or showing Draco how bored and impatient with all this he was, all these theories that didn’t take account of reality, wouldn’t work right now. “Do you think it’s impossible for a Death Eater to change allegiances?” he asked instead.

Draco drew back, giving him a confused look. “Well, no. My father did it.”

I wonder how much he really did, Harry thought, but he remembered that everyone had said Lucius Malfoy rescued the original Harry in the graveyard. He thought it was more likely that Lucius was playing both sides, trying to see who would win, and if he was betraying information to Voldemort right now, he’d probably only started after the original Harry died. “Exactly. So why would Snape go years and years without doing anything, and then suddenly start killing all the Harry Potters that came along?”

Draco’s face settled in stubborn lines that Harry recognized, although usually he only saw them on the other side of a broom while both of them were chasing the Snitch. “I don’t know what the Dark Lord could have offered him. But it was probably something. Why would my Harry come and tell me that he’d been arguing with Snape if he really didn’t?”

Harry licked his lips and hoped that he wasn’t making the wrong bloody decision, or betraying the original Harry’s privacy. “Look. Your Harry had a diary that was in code. If we could read the code, maybe we could find out whether he’d had lots of arguments with Snape before, or whether this was new.”

Draco’s open mouth and wide eyes were almost comical. “Harry had a diary? Why did I never know about it?”

“Because it was a diary, and it was private?” Harry suggested before he could stop himself. “It doesn’t sound like the first Harry who was born here got a lot of privacy. Maybe this was his way of having what secrets he could.”

“But he didn’t have anything to keep secret from me,” Draco whispered. He looked like he was about to cry.

Harry put his hands on Draco’s shoulders. Draco’s face warmed and brightened, and he looked up at Harry with hope.

He probably didn’t expect Harry to shake him, because his head flopped back and forth when that happened, and his mouth opened in a little O. Harry bent towards him and spoke as sternly as he could. “Listen! Everyone has secrets, even when they’re in love. The problem is that the diary is in Hogwarts right now, and Snape and you didn’t have the chance to get it when you escaped. I think going back is out of the question for everybody. But I trust Snape, and I don’t think he would have betrayed the secret of this hiding place to me if he planned to kill me, no matter what Tom offered him.”

“Tom?” Draco repeated for a second. “You mean the Dark Lord?” His eyes were sharpening again, and so was the stubborn look, to Harry’s disgust. “But how do you know?”

Harry leaned forwards and stared into Draco’s face until Draco squirmed again and looked away.

“I choose to trust that he’s telling the truth,” Harry said quietly. “I know it doesn’t make much sense, but I choose to trust him the same way I choose to trust you. I don’t know you that well, after all. I don’t know that you’re telling the truth about what your Harry said, about the argument with Snape, about the way you found him. But I choose to accept it, because I don’t think you would have much motivation to lie, and if I decide that everyone around me is lying all the time, then I can’t find out the truth.

“I don’t think Snape has any motivation to lie, either. He values this house the way that you valued your Harry. It makes sense that you want to solve this murder, and it makes sense that Snape really is on my side. If you can put up with that, fine. If you can’t, then you can hide in your room. I’ll show Snape the Pensieve memory of what you told me instead.”

“You can’t just do that.

“Yes, I can.” Harry took a step back, eyes never moving from Draco’s face. “I wanted Snape to bring you out of Hogwarts because I think you’re different from the rest of the Order and you could help us. But I’m not in love with you. And if you won’t help us, then you might as well sit in your room and pout.”

Draco was a little pale. He swallowed and said, “But you won’t make me go back to the Order.”

“No.”

Why? If you don’t love me and I’m not of value to you?” Draco scrubbed some tears away from his face with the back of his hand. “I don’t understand.”

“No, I reckon you don’t,” Harry said coolly. “But listen. There’s still part of me that wants to see someone who’s not going along with Dumbledore’s plans safe. You wouldn’t be safe, if you stayed there. But you’re also not someone I can invest more emotional time in if you won’t help.”

“I could show you,” Draco said, and now he was pressing forwards and his eyes were soft in a strange way and Harry had to lock his legs so he wouldn’t retreat. “I could show you the reasons why my Harry fell in love with me.”

Harry gave him a little shove, and Draco squeaked and rocked backwards against the wall.

“I don’t care about that,” Harry told him. “I don’t think I owe you anything except basic human safety and decency. I’m not in love with you, I won’t cooperate with you in trying to seduce me, and I’m not him. I’m just Harry.”

Draco’s mouth hung open, and he stared at Harry.

“He’s gone, no matter what,” Harry continued, trying to pound the words in like nails. Maybe it was cruel, but he was sick and tired of Draco continually doing this. “Even if we solve his murder, then you just have the satisfaction of knowing what happened to him, you don’t have him back. Can you grow beyond that? Can you learn to define yourself by something other than being his lover? I don’t know, but if you can’t, then you’ll be awfully tiresome to live with.”

Draco shut his mouth and swallowed slowly, never taking his eyes from Harry. “What will you do if I’m tiresome?” he whispered.

“Not exile you, if that’s what you’re hinting at.” Harry was already tired of this conversation, but he had started it, and it was true that he did want Draco to get over this stupid fantasy of his already, instead of continuing along confirmed in it. “I’ll just ignore you.”

Draco’s lip twitched. “That would be worse than anything.”

“Then listen to me, and learn to define yourself by someone else,” Harry snapped. “A rebel against the Order of the Phoenix, or someone who helps us with potions, or someone who’s going to survive the war. I don’t care. But I’m not him, and you can’t force me to be, and if you try, then I’ll fight you with everything I have in me.”

Draco took a step back from him, but because it seemed to involve watching Harry from a critical distance instead of striking at him, Harry allowed it. Draco’s eyes were at least more alive than he had seen them so far, and that was different enough to be interesting.

“My Harry would never have said anything like that to me,” Draco said quietly. “He was too careful of me, and he wanted me to be happy more than he wanted me to change.”

“Then you have at least one thing to brace yourself against when it comes to separating us,” Harry said. “Is it going to hold?”

Draco nodded. His eyes were still intense and critical, hard to meet, but Harry had a difficult time giving a fuck about that. It seemed he’d woken Draco up from his daze at last, and Snape was waiting for them.

“Come on,” he repeated, and turned to walk down the corridor. “Unless separating me from your Harry means that you still aren’t going to trust Snape.”

“I want to see the way he treats you,” Draco responded, following him. “To see if it’s different or the same from the way he treated my Harry.”

Harry half-rolled his eyes, but said nothing. It was better than tiresomely brooding over everything all the time. He just had to tell himself that when it came to Draco, and maybe Draco would stop giving him cause to roll his eyes soon, too.

*

Severus sat up when he saw the boys walk into his drawing room—well, perhaps he should say one boy and one young man.

Something has changed.

And it had, in more than the way Draco watched Harry, although that was the change Severus first noted. He raked Harry’s back with his eyes now, as though testing the strength of Harry’s spine with his gaze alone, or looking for an unguarded place that he could plunge a knife into.

As long as he did not actually do it, then Severus cautiously approved this new attitude. He settled back against the wall with his arms folded and his cloak draped artistically about him, and waited until Draco looked at him.

There was less tightness to his face when he did so. Perhaps Harry had succeeded in lessening his distrust of Severus, then, although Severus was not actually sure how he had managed that. But he had come to accept that this Harry could work miracles when he wanted to.

“All right,” Severus said. “What did you notice about the body, Draco? Harry seemed to think that you had vital information you should tell me, and that simply viewing his Pensieve memory of what you said would not be sufficient for me to make a determination.”

As Severus had hoped, the sharp way he spoke, and the words he used, soothed Draco a little, and he relaxed and nodded. “I saw his eyes,” he said. “I know that everyone else would probably say it was normal for someone who committed suicide, but I know what I saw.” His voice sharpened as he spoke, and he took a step forwards until he was out from behind Harry, staring at Severus. “I didn’t confess it to you before because I thought you had something to do with his death.”

Severus shrugged slightly. If Draco still believed that, there was nothing Severus could say that would convince him otherwise. Severus knew only how to work problems, not miracles. “I did not,” he said.

After what felt like one of the longest moments of Severus’s life while Draco examined him, Draco finally nodded. “Well, I reckon even this Harry wants to solve my Harry’s murder and wouldn’t work with you if he really thought you had something to do with it,” he muttered, glancing sideways at Harry. “What I saw was that his pupils were bigger than normal. They made his eyes darker. It was like they’d leaked and spread out over the surface of his eyes.”

Severus had opened his mouth to explain that many people’s eyes did look different when they died, even the eyes of wizards, who liked to think that they were unique and separate from Muggles in all ways. But the last words went through him like a flame, and he found himself standing up and taking a step away from the wall.

Draco flinched. Severus managed to hold himself back at the last moment, and turn the step into a thoughtful stretch and flex of his hands. “You are sure that you would describe it that way?” he asked, when his mind was calm and clear. “That the pupils had leaked and spread out over the surface of his eyes.”

Draco nodded firmly. “There was almost no white left. I don’t know why no one else noticed.”

“Because the potions that could cause such an effect would have faded from his system after twenty-four hours, and most of us did not see the body until after that,” Severus said softly, his mind speeding back to those dark days. “Dumbledore took charge of it and planned the funeral. But you found the body.”

“Potions?” Draco started to lift a trembling finger, but Harry spoke before he could get the accusation out.

“What kind of potions are they?”

Severus shook his head a little, and then paused. Draco did deserve to hear the answer as soon as anyone else among the rebels, probably sooner than Minerva, who had not been Harry’s Head of House or particularly close to him when he was alive.

“Potions that would cloud his reactions and make him soft and slow and agreeable,” Severus said quietly. “Potions that resemble a liquid Imperius Curse.”

“They could convince him to cut his throat once someone took his wand from him?” Harry was hopping from one foot to the other, eyes alight.

Severus nodded. “But they were not often used for such a thing,” he said. “There are simpler potions and spells that would mimic the effect. These also numb the limbs and make reactions slow, and someone would notice that. Besides, he would not make a good slave if he was ordered to react quickly under these potions. His motions would be floating and dream-like, and so would his responses. His death would have been much messier if he had cut his own throat, too messy to resemble a suicide.”

“Then what were they used for?” Harry demanded, pressing forwards.

“Their traditional use, in the days when they were still common, was to keep someone calm as a traumatic time approached,” Severus said. He had to force the words out, watching the two bright pairs of eyes trained on him. “To help them get through grief at a long-expected death. Or—or to convince someone to hold still as that person was being prepared for bleeding on an altar.”

He saw the flame come to life in Harry’s eyes, and he said, quietly, “His throat was cut with his own wand, Transfigured into a knife. He was sacrificed, wasn’t he?”

Severus nodded, thinking of the way Dumbledore had flinched when Severus said the word “sacrifice.”

Albus, if you have done what I think you have…

Chapter Text


“But would he really do something like that?” Harry whispered. He felt as if he were drowning in air. He knew he was breathing, he could even hear it in his ears, but none of it seemed to get into his lungs.

With a gasp, he tore himself away from the sensation and whirled around to face Snape. “Would he really do something like that?” he repeated. “Kill the original Harry here just because he didn’t think he could defeat Tom and wanted to bring someone from another world?”

Snape’s eyes darted away from him to Draco, and Harry winced and turned back to see Draco pale and green at the same time. Harry had seen the same look on Dudley’s face when he ate too many sweets. He mumbled an apology. So maybe that was what Snape was hinting Dumbledore had done, but Harry didn’t need to blurt it out like that in the face of someone who had loved the original Harry.

“If that’s the truth, that’s the truth,” Draco whispered, and folded his arms over his stomach, and looked up with a grim little smile. “You didn’t promise me a comforting answer. How can we prove it, though?”

“I do not think he intended to slaughter Harry to bring in versions of you from other worlds.”

Harry turned back to Snape, glad that he had someone to look at besides Draco right now. “But what else would he have wanted to sacrifice Harry for? Or convince him to sacrifice himself for?” He wondered if he would have to consider the issue of Horcruxes after all, if maybe Dumbledore had thought the original Harry was the only Horcrux and they could kill Voldemort if they just killed him.

There was still something horrible about forcing potions down Harry’s throat to make him agree to it. And slicing his throat with his own wand.

Harry’s churning sickness had changed form, though. He was angry enough to feel as though he’d swallowed the big geode they were talking about making into a reverse Horcrux for Voldemort, and now it was squatting in his stomach.

I’ll get justice for you even if no one else wants to. Even if no one else can.

*

Severus watched the flame spring to life in Harry’s eyes, and the subtler ways he had thought of phrasing it died. No, Harry would not accept the small platitudes Severus had wanted to try.

The gentleness was partially for Draco’s sake—he had heard enough harshness this morning—but still more for Harry’s. Dumbledore had been far more to him in his own world than he was here. If Severus could keep Harry from suffering a last twinge of betrayal, he thought the effort would be worthwhile.

But this flame didn’t demand coddling. This flame demanded answers. And Severus bowed his head and gave the answers he had to give.

Or the ones he thought he did. Behind his surface thoughts whispered the bottom ones that said he could be, he might always be, wrong.

“I heard nothing about the spell to summon another version of you from other worlds until the first Harry was dead,” Severus said. “And it requires enormous time and effort, and the help of other people, the whole Order. I do not think Albus would have turned to that if he had any choice whatsoever—in his own mind. That means it was a second best choice.”

Harry grunted and folded his arms so tight that he looked as if he would start to spin like an enraged house-elf. “Fine. But what purpose does the sacrifice serve, then?”

“He adored the original Harry,” Severus said bluntly, and then felt his lips twitch despite himself as he saw the way Draco lifted his head. “No, not the way you did, Draco. But he was almost proud of him for being Slytherin, and still someone he could admire. His genius and talents for making friends, all the things that did not endear him to you when you first heard about him, Harry, were traits that Dumbledore ever cultivated or coveted.”

Harry kept his eyes fixed on Severus’s face, and mouthed the words instead of speaking them. Get to the point.

Severus nodded, but continued at his own pace. Just as someone needed to know all the ways that Potions ingredients might or might not interact in order to comprehend why a brewing would succeed or fail, Harry would not understand what Severus feared Albus had done if he did not understand the original Harry’s relationship to Albus. “He thought, however, that that very brilliance made him unfit to face the Dark Lord. He talked about it often. How challenges didn’t seem to touch Harry deeply enough, that he floated above everything and achieved it too easily.” He broke off when he saw an expression in Harry’s eyes that had to be addressed. “What?”

Harry shook his head. “Nothing. I just realized something about the Dumbledore from my world that I didn’t want to think about.”

“What?” Severus took a step forwards.

“I said, I don’t want to think about it,” Harry said, and glared at him.

Severus paused, then nodded shortly. He would not let the notion go forever, only until Harry did feel like talking about it, but he respected that not enough people had listened to Harry when he asked them to back off. “Fine. Albus did not think Harry hardened enough. But he also believed in the prophecy, and believed that Harry was the only one who could face the Dark Lord.”

“I still don’t see how a sacrifice was a solution to that problem,” Harry said, barely moving his lips this time.

Severus grimaced. “I think that he believed, if someone could kill the original Harry in—such a way—then that original person might be able to take his place in the prophecy. Take on the original Harry’s importance, as it were. Absorb the sacrifice’s power, which is an ancient motive for such acts. He would be the one to face the Dark Lord, that way, and Harry would not have to.”

Harry said nothing. Draco was the one who began to laugh, the jagged sounds like glass shards poking out of his throat.

“He loved him,” he gasped, scrubbing at his face, although Severus could see no tears there. It was more as though he wanted to scrub his old beliefs in the righteousness of Albus Dumbledore out of existence, and thought doing that would help. “So he killed him to make sure that he didn’t have to face the Dark Lord? Death was kinder than—than death, or even battle with a chance that he’d survive?”

“I believe that is what happened, based on the admittedly scanty evidence we have,” Severus said. He reached over and clasped Draco’s shoulder once, hard, before he let go. Draco gasped and shook and got his composure back with a stiffening of his neck so hard that Severus worried about his vertebrae. He studied Draco as he spoke to Harry. “It is what Albus did to spare himself, rather than Harry, though he would have rationalized it to himself the other way. It was after the boy’s death that he tried to launch mortal spells at the Dark Lord.”

“He said he’d tried,” Harry whispered. Where Draco’s voice was jagged, Harry’s was dry, and he stepped close to Severus with burning eyes, surveying him as if he wanted to choke someone and Severus might do in a pinch. “Tried to kill Tom, and found that mortal spells were deflected every time. And he seemed pretty sure about what someone could and couldn’t do if they were part of the prophecy.”

Severus inclined his head. “The prophecy has always been the greatest stumbling block to Albus’s perception of the world, I believe. He worried over it to me and Minerva, many times, when he saw how Harry acted and believed that he might not be hard enough to defeat the Dark Lord. He told us that he wished he could take Harry’s place, but the prophecy itself would not permit it. I know that they can warp the world, people’s decisions, actions, in pursuit of coming true, and often come true in unexpected ways. Albus apparently believed that it could not be defeated, but could be bent. If someone else stepped into Harry’s place, then the Dark Lord might truly die.”

“Harry would have killed him,” Draco muttered rebelliously, head bent low. Then he looked around the room as though someone had scolded him and added, “My Harry.”

“Maybe,” Harry said, and turned back to Severus. “But instead, what happened is that Dumbledore couldn’t do anything, and he started to think that no one except a real Harry Potter could defeat Volde—Tom. So he started summoning other mes from other worlds.”

Severus spread his hands. “I know the course of action, and yes, after he had tried to kill the Dark Lord himself is when he told us that we needed to use the Dream Mirror and the summoning spell. Whether I have pinpointed his train of thought successfully, I do not know.”

“It sounds reasonable to me.” Harry said.

Severus didn’t miss the way that Harry’s hand fell briefly to rest on the pocket where he kept his wand. The wand that was so much more powerful than it should be, that was so adept at casting Dark magic.

But now was not the best time to confront Harry about it, and Severus had to wonder, the more he saw about Harry, what would be gained by doing so. If he remained close to Harry, he could change things if Harry became unacceptably Dark. If he protested the ways Harry chose to defend himself, he was more likely to find himself exiled from Harry’s company, and the chance to help or observe him.

“But I have no idea how to spin it into a trap for Albus,” Severus said, bringing the conversation back to the topic they had been discussing, long ago, back before Harry decided to bring in the evidence that it had been murder.

“I think I may.”

And he does, too, Severus thought, watching the way Harry lifted his head, his green eyes gone clear instead of dark, once more. Here was the leader he could follow, because he didn’t ask for followers but offered something—confidence, a plan, courage—that would attract people in spite of themselves.

Draco stood against the wall, his arms folded. Severus did not think he need worry about him for the moment; Draco did not seem as if he would run out and do something foolish, and that had been Severus’s immediate concern. He probably needed time to absorb the revelations about the man he had followed and the boy he had loved.

So Severus was free to do what he really wanted, turn to Harry and ask, “And what is this plan?”

*

Harry hesitated a moment, wondering if he should ask Snape to make Draco leave the room, and then shook his head. At the moment, they had probably bound Draco closer to their side than anyone else. He wouldn’t betray them if he thought there was a chance for vengeance on Dumbledore.

“We threaten to expose his secret,” he said.

Snape waited, and then leaned towards Harry and gave him an unimpressed look. Harry had to grin. That look would have infuriated him if he saw it on the face of the Snape back in his world, but it didn’t here.

“Yes, but that is not a plan,” Snape said. “It does not tell us how or where.”

“How is pretty simple, I think,” Harry murmured, spinning the shaft of the Elder Wand between his fingers. “I send him an owl telling him that I know the truth, with just enough mentions of the word ‘sacrifice’ to make him panic. And then I send him another one, perhaps after giving him a chance to reply to me, taunting him with the fact that you’ve escaped and now he has no lever to use against me, telling him I despise him as much as I do Volde—Tom, and that I plan to announce the truth to the Order. I thought about having you write to him, but he would never believe that you’d be that impetuous.”

“He would not believe that, no,” Snape murmured, and for some reason raised a hand to his mouth to conceal his lips.

Harry watched him, but since Snape didn’t burst out laughing, Harry felt free to continue. “So, then I send out owls to the Order, making it seem as if I’m really going to announce that, although I won’t tell them anything clear enough to let them guess the truth. The letters will just get them really, really confused and excited.”

“Why wouldn’t you tell them the truth?” Draco demanded, leaning in from the side as though he was going to pounce on Harry and strangle him with his bare hands. Harry had to look at him with approval, though. At least it wasn’t slumping against Harry and moaning that he would never love anyone again. “They deserve to know it. They’ve followed him.”

Harry nodded. “And except for you and McGonagall, who took the chance and came with Snape, I don’t know who followed him out of fear and feels guilty about it now, and who really supports him. Not to mention that there could be a traitor in the Order who’s telling everything to Grey-Skin. I’ll make the announcement. But it’s not going to be in those letters.”

“You want to lure Dumbledore out to a certain specific place,” Snape murmured. “Because more than anything, he would want to prevent exposure of that secret, and whether he intercepts the owls you send to the Order or not, he will have to go.”

Harry nodded. “He might not catch all of the owls. And he would worry that I had some other way to reach them, especially since two of them have abandoned his cause to come with you.”

Snape smiled, a vicious expression that Harry didn’t think he should have to keep covered. “You do have another way to reach them, should you want it.”

“That spell you told me about casting on Sirius?” Harry asked.

Snape nodded. “It enables me to control his actions from a distance. But the courses of action suggested will come to him as dreams—not in his actual dreams, which could be watched, but with the same feeling—and he will believe that he has only had nightmares about them, not done them. He could get word to anyone you are willing to take a chance on.”

Harry chewed his lip. He felt he should balk, really. That spell sounded fairly horrible.

But this wasn’t his Sirius, and he had attacked Snape as they were leaving Hogwarts, and even if everything about it was a misunderstanding, Harry couldn’t take a chance on Sirius any more than he could on the rest of them.

“All right,” Harry said. “We’ll have Sirius reach them, then. And we’ll lure Dumbledore into the trap. Even if the rest of the Order comes with him and they all fight on his side, it won’t matter,” he added, stealing the objection that he saw Snape opening his mouth to make.

“Why not?” Snape asked the question as though Harry was the one at fault for not making the answer obvious.

Harry smiled. “Because Tom is going to be there, too.”

*

Arrogant. But less Dark than I feared.

Perhaps, Severus thought a second later, he should be fearing for the sanity and stability of his own brain, that that was his first reaction to what Harry proposed, instead of immediate rejection.

“You cannot lure him the same way you would Dumbledore,” he said. “His attacks on Hogwarts show that he wants the Order dead, but he may not know that you have left. He still wants to kill you as well. And he will have no guarantee that you are at a particular place at any moment in time.”

Harry nodded calmly. “Yeah, but I’m not going to give him a choice.”

Severus didn’t close his eyes and rub his forehead, but only because Draco was in the room, and Severus had no intention of looking that weak before him, temporary ally or not. “All right. Explain to me why.”

Harry tapped his scar. “We know that he can connect with me along this—or by the prophecy, or something,” he added, when Severus narrowed his eyes at him. “I’m going to go along the bond and enrage him. Make him want to kill me right then and there. Even though he’s sane, I don’t think that’ll be very difficult to do.”

“What is to keep him from destroying you in the grounds of his own mind?” Severus asked, suspecting that he would regret this answer even more.

Harry beamed at him. “I rather thought you could do that.”

*

Snape was pale enough that Harry wanted him to sit down. But he wouldn’t do it in front of Draco—caught speechless and staring with his mouth open—and Harry understood that. So he continued plowing ahead, laying out the whole plan. He might as well. Snape wasn’t going to react any better to any of the rest of it.

“So we enrage him, and let it slip—as if we didn’t want him to know, but it got out anyway—that we think Dumbledore is the real threat, and we’re going to meet him at such and such a time and place. So both Tom and Dumbledore will show up at the same time, and I think Tom is capable of destroying Dumbledore. And we know the method that we’re going to use to destroy Tom.”

Snape shook his head slightly. “Albus knows that none of his fatal spells can touch the Dark Lord. That fact has of late been central to his whole existence, if my theory of why he had the Harry born to this world sacrificed is correct. What is to keep him from Apparating away the instant he realizes who is there?”

Harry winced. He hated to say this, but he didn’t really have any choice about the place to confront Dumbledore and Voldemort, either. “Because the will of the master of Shaldon’s Garden will keep him from doing it.”

Snape looked at him long enough that Harry wondered if he was simply going to explode. Then he turned to Draco and pointed at the door.

Draco backed up a few steps, swallowed, and bolted out the door. Snape waved his wand, and the door locked itself after him. Then he looked at Harry, and Harry understood why Draco had walked away without making a fuss, even though he obviously wanted to know as much about their plans to get vengeance for his Harry as possible.

“I told you what this place means to me,” Snape said softly. “What it could mean. The reasons that I gave you access. None of that has changed.”

“I know,” Harry said quietly. “But you’ve also given access to the Weasleys and the rebels and other people who could potentially betray you, not just me.” Snape sneered at Harry when he mentioned the rebels, but even if he had never precisely given Golden and the rest permission to come, he hadn’t revoked Harry’s permission. “And believe me, everyone who would have an incentive to betray your secrets is either going to be dead or Obliviated in the end. Including any Order members who come with Dumbledore.”

Snape blinked. “You want to kill them?”

“Yes, I thought I would just leave Tom alive behind me when I’m trying to return to my own world,” Harry snapped. “That sounds like a wonderful plan!”

“That’s not what I meant,” Snape said slowly. “You are willing to see the death of Albus, when you saw it once already? When he was your mentor and someone at least important to you, if not all-important, in your old world? You are willing to condemn these versions of your godfather and your friends to death?”

“They aren’t my godfather, and they aren’t my friends,” Harry said bitterly. “I learned that by experience, thanks.”

Snape remained still. Harry hadn’t answered his question, and they both knew it.

Harry sighed and rubbed his face. “I don’t know who will come with Dumbledore, if anyone does, so it’s hard to be sure. But you could command Sirius to stay behind, and even to delay Ron and Hermione. And I’m hoping that they could just be Obliviated about the location of Shaldon’s Garden and what really happened, not killed.” He looked up and held Snape’s eyes. “But if they come, they risk dying in battle. The same risk all the rebels and the Weasleys and McGonagall and Draco and the two of us take, too.”

“I want something.”

Harry blinked. He had expected—well, something else, he thought. More arguments, maybe. Certainly sneers and demands to know how Harry could ask Snape to betray the one secret he had kept for years, even from Dumbledore. But not this quiet tone, not this intense look.

“What can I give you?” he asked, and hoped that he didn’t sound as desperate and hopeless as he felt. “If you kick me out, if you stop helping me, then I’m not going to win. I don’t even know how to make the reverse Horcrux that we need to defeat Tom.”

*

Severus felt a bleak smile pulling at his mouth, one that he could not give way to, because it would probably confuse Harry, or at least convince him that Severus was losing hope or going mad.

But what Severus wanted to say was, Even bereft of my help, you would find some way.

For the moment, he could best the impulse to smile simply by thinking of what Harry was asking him to sacrifice. If he revealed Shaldon’s Garden, then he would lose it. Either way. He did not really believe that they could defeat Albus and the Dark Lord both at once, or that both would attack each other instead of Harry, if all three of them were in the same place. But on the other hand, there were different levels, different folds of wizardspace, in the garden. It might be that he could enfold the winner in a level that would allow him no way out.

Perhaps. Severus had never made that kind of demand on the house’s wards, had never wanted to. It was always meant to be his secret bolthole, the one paradise that he could flee to should the demands of one master, and then the other, become intolerable.

On the other hand, perhaps he had lost it the moment he revealed its existence as a place to house Harry.

He did not try to explain everything he thought. Chances were that Harry had already anticipated most of it, and he was going to ask anyway. The way he looked at Severus said as much.

“If I allow them into my home,” Severus said, his voice low, precise, “if I let them into this place and they have the chance of destroying it, then I will lose everything here. And that may be true even if I survive and we manage to Obliviate the survivors. Memory Charms are not always strong enough to survive a determined assault, and members of the Order have good reason to be paranoid about a chunk of missing time that they cannot quite remember. They would not welcome me back.”

Harry nodded. “But what do you want?”

Harry was not a Slytherin—no Slytherin would have come up with the plan he had, without already having a bargaining piece in hand to offer another Slytherin—but he had cut to the heart of the matter like one. Severus paid him the compliment of speaking of it like a Gryffindor. “To come with you, back to your world.”

Harry’s eyes were wide. Severus was doubly glad that he had not allowed Draco to remain. He knew Draco, he understood Draco, in some ways he esteemed Draco, but the boy was too critical of Harry right now for it to be a good idea to see Harry stunned.

“You—you mean, that you really don’t want to stay here and hold the bridge and make sure that I get back home safely?” Harry finally asked.

Of course he would see it that way. Because what about his life has so far trained him not to expect the worst? “I want to go with you because I do not want to be in a different place than you,” Severus said. “Because there is nothing for me here, with all my former friends either dead, Death Eaters, or devoted to Dumbledore. Because I know that there is a place for me in your world, that I did not survive there, and thus can drop into the gap. Because I want the future, and not to stay and brood on the past, which is what the Order will do even if Dumbledore survives and the Dark Lord dies.” He grimaced. Speaking like a Gryffindor was exhausting. No wonder that Harry had the vast reserves of energy that he did. “Does that answer your question?”

*

Harry licked his lips. Because, yes, it did, and he had been wrong to assume that Snape feared holding the bridge, or hated Harry, or anything else that his mind had automatically jumped to.

But still, he had no idea who would hold the bridge and even make their escape possible if Snape came with him.

Perhaps Draco, though. Perhaps McGonagall. McGonagall had sat in on the rebel plan to sting Voldemort in the side, but she had looked desolate, since the plan was too far advanced for her to add any special Transfiguration skills to the mix. Perhaps she would accept this, as something she could do that would contribute to both Snape and Harry escaping and living happy, successful lives in another world.

“I—you really want to come with me?” Harry asked, and then bit his lip, hard, because it was a childish thing to say.

Snape just nodded, in a way that suggested he was relieved, after all, that Harry had asked the question. “I do.”

Harry licked his lips again. “Then—you didn’t have to ask for it as a bargain, you know. You just could.”

Snape’s face tightened. “And you did not have to ask for the use of Shaldon’s Garden, either, when you know what this place is to me.”

“I had to,” Harry said, tapping his foot. He hated it when Snape was unreasonable, especially because this version of the bastard was intelligent most of the time. “You know it’s the only place where we could have a chance of them meeting and not being able to Apparate away or fight their way out immediately. You know.”

“I need to ask for what I am asking exactly as much as you needed to ask for Shaldon’s Garden.”

Harry gave up on getting that to make sense. It probably wouldn’t, no matter how much he questioned Snape, and at the moment, he wasn’t really looking forward to doing so. He switched tactics instead. “Say that I agree to let you come with me. Are you sure that we can get someone to hold the other end of the bridge, and even make this possible? And do you even have an object that you can leave behind as an anchor, the way Hermione said you had to?”

“I do not know.” Snape looked so unruffled that Harry had to stare at him. This was the man who had looked as if he was going to strike like a cobra not five minutes ago. “I assume that we will need to contact your friend again and ask her questions.”

Harry nodded. “And in the meantime, we need to go through with the rebel plan, I need to write back to Dumbledore and get the second letter ready to send, we need to start figuring out how you can protect me with Occlumency when I talk to Tom and what I’m going to say to him, you need to figure out what portions of Shaldon’s Garden you’re going to put Dumbledore and then Tom in when they arrive…”

“If we go through with your mad plan,” Snape said sharply. “You did not ask whether I had managed to come up with something better.”

Harry paused and looked at him inquiringly. “Did you?” He had to admit that, while he felt like his plan was the only one that would work, Snape knew both Dumbledore and Voldemort better than Harry did and might have come up with something else.

“No,” Snape said. “But you could have asked.”

Harry smiled in spite of himself. “I could have, right. I’m sorry. And in the meantime, you have your bargain. If you let me use your home to trap them, then you can come with me back to my own world.” Let me phrase it like that if it’ll please that crazy Slytherin brain of his.

Snape nodded once, fast, as though to conceal the expression on his face, but nothing could exactly hide the pleased narrowing of his eyes, and Harry grinned.

*

“What do you think? Is that a masterpiece or what?”

Severus picked up the letter that Harry had written to Albus and scanned it carefully. He did not think it would have worked if coming from any of the other Harrys, the Slytherin ones; it did not suit them, and Albus was very careful of nuance like that. But Harry, a Gryffindor, he knew less well than any of the others.

And this…this might serve.

Dear Albus Dumbledore, the letter began, after enough crumpling and shadows of ink that it made it seem as if Harry had tried to come up with some more insulting name to call him by,

You should know by now that Snape escaped from you, you arrogant bastard. So you have nothing left to bargain with. I know that you never intended to send me back to my world. That was just a story that you made up while you either searched for a way to bring another Harry Potter through, or a way to control me completely and destroy my mind. Snape is completely on my side now, and he told me everything that you said to him.

I don’t have any reason to like or trust you. All you’ve done is destroy my life since you brought me here, and now you’re trying to destroy me, too. I don’t have any reason to come back to you. All I really want is revenge on you. And if you’re going to try and kill me, then I need to take my revenge before then.

I found out something, though. Something that’s going to make up for all the things you tried to do to me, and the things that you did to the original Harry and the other Harrys that you summoned from their worlds to come here.

Does the word ‘sacrifice’ mean anything to you?

I don’t know, but it might mean something to a whole bunch of other people.

Harry Potter.

Severus lowered the letter and looked at Harry, who was striding up and down the room with his body practically vibrating with energy. “Well, really,” he said. “I thought you were to leave mention of my escape until the next letter.”

Harry turned around and grinned at him. “Well, yeah, I did think about that. I mean, I thought I was going to do that when I first came up with the plan. But I decided that it’s been too long, and either you would have come back to me by now or you would still be wandering and I wouldn’t have any idea what happened to you. Either way, it would make sense for me to brag that I have you back.”

Severus smiled faintly. “I can see traces of the traits that would have put you into Slytherin, perhaps,” he said.

Harry shrugged and plowed ahead with what Severus knew was the more important part of the plan. “Do you think we should send it out the way it is? Or can you suggest changes?”

“Any changes I could suggest would be to make it more subtle and nuanced,” Severus said dryly, putting the letter down beside him. “And that’s the last thing you want.”

Harry laughed at him. Severus was glad that he had come this far, able to see a sincere laugh. “What do you think is most important to do now?” Harry asked, picking up the letter. “After we find one of the rebels’ owls, of course. Start work on the reverse Horcrux, or the Occlumency protection, or should we go ahead with that attack the rebels have already planned on Tom?”

“The work on the reverse Horcrux cannot be done quickly,” Severus cautioned him. Harry turned around fully to give him a long, slow look, and Severus nodded and said, “I know you know that. What I mean is that it is better broken into discrete steps than done all at once, in a rush.”

“In a rush and quickly are the same things,” Harry muttered, but he turned around and walked over to the trunk that he’d put the geode in before he and Severus descended the stairs to talk with Heron and Draco. “Fine. What kinds of spells do we need to do to bind his life-force to this?” He looked expectantly at Severus.

Severus waved his wand over the geode before he responded. The stone glowed and sparked in response to the first spell, and did nothing when he cast the second. Severus stepped back, nodding. Despite the crack in the stone that showed the purple crystals, it was “whole” according to the spells, unbroken, without a flaw that would mean the magic would simply leak out again or refuse to take hold.

“We need to do what is called a soul-tugging spell,” Severus said, and glanced at Harry, only to see him regarding Severus with a bright, solemn, owl-like glance. “That does not disgust you?”

Harry only shrugged. “I know something about creating Horcruxes. I suppose it’s no more disgusting than murdering someone to split your soul and then attaching the soul piece to the Horcrux. How do we do it, though?”

I should remember that he does not balk Gryffindorily at everything, either, even if he uses those traits to his advantage in deceiving Albus. “We must establish a connection to the Dark Lord’s soul,” Severus said, and pulled back the sleeve on his left arm.

Harry closed his mouth and raised his eyes to Severus’s face, as if he had seen the Dark Mark so many times that he didn’t need to study it. Maybe he didn’t, at that, Severus had to admit. “I thought we would use my scar,” Harry said.

“You share a connection of sorts, through Parseltongue,” Severus said, gesturing at him. “But you do not have the same connection that the Harry born to this world did, remember? And I am not sure that a connection between minds or magic is the same as a connection between soul and body.”

“But how are you going to make the Dark Mark link to his soul, anyway?” Harry asked, eyeing it with distaste.

Severus grimaced before he answered. He knew people who would have judged him for knowing this, though he supposed Harry was not one of them. “Because this Mark was important to him, formed out of his ambition and his desire for immortality and his lust for power and his passion for snakes and all the other things that make him up,” he said. “To begin the soul-tugging spell, I need only have an object of importance to him. It need not be one that is already connected to his soul.”

Harry took a deep breath and stood up. “Then let me find an owl and send this letter off, and we’ll try.” He paused and stared at Severus. “Do you think he’ll notice when we start tugging on his soul?”

Severus let his left sleeve fall back and stood up. “I suspect we will find out soon.”

“Now who’s the Gryffindor?” Harry muttered, but he turned around and leaned out the door, yelling down the stairs for an owl.

It was as well, Severus thought. He probably would not have understood the twitching smile, the lack of an insulted expression, on Severus’s face.

Chapter Text


“It cannot be done quickly.”

Snape had first said the words hours ago, but they echoed in Harry’s ears now as he stood in front of the ritual circle he and Snape had built for the purposes of constructing the reverse Horcrux. It was in yet another fold of wizardspace, another room in Shaldon’s Garden where Snape didn’t go often. Harry had to wonder if there was an end to them, or maybe not even Snape knew how many of them there were, how many separate, private spaces.

Although they might learn when both Dumbledore and Tom were here at the same time.

Snape had used his wand to sear the ritual circle into the wood of the floor, and now he sat off to one side, perhaps five feet away, his legs folded beneath him and his arms crossed as though he was trying to hold his breath inside. His eyes were closed, his face so still that Harry winced to look at him. Inside the circle was the geode, and opposite it on the other side was Harry.

At the moment, there was nothing Harry could do. Snape had to find out whether he could link the Dark Lord’s soul to his own Dark Mark, and only then could the ritual proceed. So Harry stood as still as he could and practiced over and over again, in his mind, the spells Snape had told him to be ready to cast when Snape emerged from his trance.

If this worked, if they could do it without Voldemort sensing it, they would have the ultimate weapon against one of the two people Harry hated most in this world.

If they couldn’t…

Well, Snape had told him how to tell that it wasn’t working, too. So Harry stood there, with the Elder Wand humming and singing under his hand, and watched the motionless form of Snape sitting across from him, and waited, and hoped.

*

So still.

The thought slid along the surface of Severus’s mind and then passed beneath it. Severus continued to breathe, continued to sit, and the thought came back and circled around him, curious and fearless as a tropical fish seeing a human for the first time.

This was the mental state that Severus had wanted to achieve, and didn’t know if he could, particularly with Harry in the room, the Dark power of his wand like a torch to Severus’s side, and the knowledge of what he was doing beyond that, like a hedge of thorns.

The water wavered. The thoughts near him almost darted away. Severus focused his patience, concentrated on it, and the water rose back into being and the images of torch and thorns receded.

He would learn nothing by becoming agitated. He needed to find the right way to locate the Dark Lord’s soul. So he sat there, and willed it into being, and gradually the water wavered around him and turned silver and crystal.

There was a path there.

Severus followed the path, without moving, not allowing anything except his breathing to increase as he trotted down it. Now and then something flickered a silver or crystal fin off to the side, as though it wanted to attract his attention. Severus ignored it with supreme ease. He was going somewhere, and he had an appointment to be there, and not here, gaping at strange fish in the water of his mind.

The path grew thicker and firmer as it arrived at its destination. Severus concentrated, and it was silver and sapphire cobblestones. If he thought of it that way, instead of as a descent into darkness, then he would have the nerve to go forwards.

The path shimmered out at last, in front of a barrier. Severus studied the barrier. It was a wall made of basalt and black marble and shiny dark purple stones that he had never seen before. In the center was a single shape, a carved shape, a snake and a skull.

Severus held up his arm. It was the first time he had been conscious of his arm as a limb all during the long walk down this path.

He knew the Dark Mark intimately, and it no longer dismayed him. He had spent sixteen years on Dumbledore’s side. But that didn’t matter. What mattered was that he bore the key, and here was the lock.

Severus walked over and pressed his Dark Mark against the carved gap in the stone.

A rumble arose that shook the path that had led him here. Severus floated there, and let the concern that he would be trapped slide through him and out. It was one to him whether the path led him back or not. He had other means to construct other ways.

For a moment, the water around him, the clear water of his mind, spat silver and sapphire lightning. Severus floated, and waited. The sea coiled as if it would crush him, and that was of no importance, either.

Then the wall slid aside, and Severus stepped into the darkness that lay beyond.

He knew that he was smiling. The smile slid across the surface of his mind and vanished. From here, he would walk roads through tar and stone. He had little choice, since the Dark Lord had turned his soul into this crisscrossed thing. There were wounds here and there like canyons in the tar that Severus suspected came from creating Horcruxes and then taking them back.

He had no interest in that, no intent, not when he was in this form and this state of mind, and that kept the Dark Lord from sensing him. Severus drifted gently across the landscape and ended up in a little pocket that had a swaying, black tendril like seaweed. Severus reached out and touched the tendril. It wrapped around his wrist and coiled as if it would keep him there.

Severus watched it without interest. The tendril, used to defending against someone seeking to harm the Dark Lord’s soul, hesitated, and then withdrew.

Severus, though, did not leave. He let his hands drift above the tendril, and it yearned up like a young tree reaching for sunlight. His magic attracted it, Severus supposed. It could grow here only as the Dark Lord gave attention to it, this tiny thread of some plan long abandoned, and it sensed that old magic on Severus’s arm that made him like the Dark Lord.

He did not think as he held out his left arm, and felt the tendril wrap around it. It was with a strong, sickening sensation that it did so, his body swaying for a moment. He felt a shudder ran through him, distant, but he could ignore that without much effort. He reached out and stroked the tendril, admiring the oil-like sheen on it, and then lowered his arm so that it could wrap around him more effectively.

It entwined him like a snake. Lost and yet intensely aware in the state of mind and magic he had created for himself, Severus felt no fear. He resembled the Dark Lord in his sublime indifference to the menace of the thing, and so it trusted him and came to him.

When he rose to his feet at last, there was only a small tug, and the tendril only pulled him back once before it loosened from its root. It had accepted him as a substitute for the Dark Lord.

Severus patted it into place around his Dark Mark, the form that his Dark Lord wore here. Then he began to swim back.

The tar sucked at his feet sometimes. Severus would pause then, and focus his attention on the tendril. Growing, thriving, with the evidence of how much it liked Severus and was liked by him all around it, it licked out and impatiently thrust itself into the maws of the canyons that confronted them. Each time, the Dark Lord’s soul believed it recognized a piece of itself—as it did, where the tendril was concerned—and let Severus go on his way.

He floated, and he drifted, and he wondered, for a moment, why it was this easy. He had expected more contest and struggle, if he was being honest. More of an attempt to stop him, more guards on the most precious and vulnerable part of the Dark Lord.

Only when he reached the end of the sapphire and silver path, and then the sapphire and silver sea, and let himself sink into his body again, did he realize how much he was sweating, how much his muscles ached. It was not easy, Severus discovered as he gasped, forcing air into starved lungs and letting it go again. Nothing like that ever was. He had simply passed into the kind of trance experience, like the kind induced by extreme fasting, that made it seem easy.

“You did it?”

Severus opened his eyes. Harry crouched in front of him, and he didn’t hesitate to reach out and put his hand on Severus’s Dark Mark.

Severus nodded. He could feel the extra weight, a slight pull, around his left arm. He could have flung his hand out and pointed straight to the stronghold of the Dark Lord at that particular moment. He was fairly sure that was a side-effect, but he didn’t care, provided that he had done what he came for.

From Harry’s wide-eyed glance, the careful way he walked beside Severus to the outside of the ritual circle while Severus cradled his left arm, he at least had no doubts.

Severus considered what to do with the alien sensation in the middle of his chest that came with the thought of someone else having faith in him, and finally decided that he need do nothing. He stooped when he came to the outside of the ritual circle and raised his arm in the air. The tendril wavered around his Mark, invisible here, outside the landscape of the Dark Lord’s soul, but Severus knew it was there.

“Now,” he said to Harry, over his shoulder without turning his head.

Harry audibly started, and then scurried around to the opposite side of the ritual circle and began the spells that Severus had told him to use. Severus did not snort or roll his eyes. It was understandable that Harry would forget, with a different kind of sight in front of him.

He did not turn his head or move until Harry completed the last chant, the one that charged the ritual circle with the power of the prophecy. The Latin words Harry had spoken said that he understood he was part of a prophecy and did not consent to surrender his part in it to someone else.

The opposite, Severus thought, of the kinds of spells that the sacrificed Harry might have been pushed to recite, once he had the potions in his system.

When Severus dared to look down, the ritual circle pulsed with pale fire, rising up and splashing down into the seared groove in the wood. Severus watched the fountains of flame, so thin that he knew he would feel nothing if he touched them.

Nothing, because that would be the last moment he existed, if he touched them at the wrong time.

Then it was right, and he knelt and thrust his arm into the fire. The Mark was there, the glittering Dark thing that suddenly had an extra glitter in it, an extra bone to the skull, an extra eye to the snake.

The Mark thrust itself outwards, and the tendril was there, floating from one landscape into another, the part of Severus’s arm that still imitated the Dark Lord’s magic into the fire of vision. This fire was like an externalized prophecy, as far as Severus understood the theory. It was human will, influencing and creating tools that might help the prophecy to come true.

Perhaps one could not fight fate, as Albus had found, but one might help it along in a direction of one’s choosing.

The tendril continued uncurling and moving forwards, now caught deep in the surroundings that would remind it where it had come from because the Dark Lord was also part of the prophecy. Severus managed to tear his eyes from the ripple of shadow in the pale flame and look at the geode in the center of the circle.

The purple gems down the deep crack in the rock’s surface reflected the leaping and dancing flames.

Severus raised his wand, and caught Harry’s eyes from the other side of the circle. This was a delicate moment, because what they needed to do required finesse, but also more power than Severus had on his own.

So they had decided Severus would cast the actual spells, but Harry would feed him his magic.

Severus wondered for a moment, so wild were Harry’s eyes, so wide was his mouth, if Harry would remember the proper incantations.

And then Harry closed his eyes and began to chant, and the first sweep of wild, sweet power, like a river in spate, leaped the distance between them.

*

Harry couldn’t believe that he felt as alive as he did.

A few days ago, he would have said that someone asking him to give them his magic was the worst thing that could happen. It sounded like something Dumbledore would ask, and Harry was opposed to that on principle.

But instead, it was something he had chosen to do, and he had to admit, the power was in his teeth like winter wind, in his blood like wine.

And it was no trouble at all to give it to someone he trusted, not when he knew it would be used for a goal they had in common.

Harry’s main problem was to make sure that he didn’t pitch head-first into the ritual circle in exhaustion. He opened his eyes and teetered back on his heels, watching Snape, to see if he could see his magic passing through the air. It was so powerful, like a transfusion of blood, that he thought he had to see something.

There was nothing in the air, though. Snape did have redder cheeks than before, and brighter eyes, and for a moment, Harry thought he saw sparks rise and fall and settle around him, as though they were blowing and billowing out from his hair. But then he lifted his wand, and his voice cut the air like a wolf’s howl.

Animum ligo!

The spell made Harry tremble. It fell on the geode, and Harry thought he saw it bring a shadow along with it, like a bird in flight. But only the shadow and not the bird was visible, Harry thought wildly, still wavering back and forth where he stood, and locking his legs a second later, so that he wouldn’t land on the geode. Not for Dumbledore’s and Voldemort’s deaths right now would he interrupt Snape’s spellcasting, which had come so far and was so thrilling to watch.

Snape turned on one heel, his cloak flowing behind him. Harry was reminded for a second of the way the robes of the Snape he’d known would billow as he strode into a classroom, or yelled at a student for being late.

But this Snape, as he came around, had a transcendent expression on his face that Harry had never seen before.

Saxum ligo!

Snape had explained that the spells just meant he was binding different things, first the soul and then the stone, but the words still exploded like fireworks, and Harry caught his breath. He wanted to cast like that, he thought, to be so strong and sure. Maybe this Snape hadn’t always known where he stood or who he owed allegiance to, but once he decided, then he would go straight ahead with whatever he had to do.

With all his heart.

Snape spun one more time. Harry thought he caught a glimpse of trailing black light from his Dark Mark, and opened his mouth. He didn’t know if that was supposed to be there, and it seemed better to interrupt than to let a wrong spell go ahead.

But Snape snapped his wand down, and then his whole body shone the same way, so he had a tail like a comet. Harry closed his mouth.

Fataliter ligo!

Harry mouthed the English equivalent of the words of the spell, compelled by a desire he didn’t understand to say them along with Snape, to join him in at least one part of his spellcasting. According to fate, I bind.

A long, desperate sizzling noise emerged from the geode, and it rocked on its base. The shadow that Harry had seen spinning over the circle before was back again, high and hard, passing back and forth as though the bird that cast it was searching for a place to land. Harry thought he felt something hard and harsh caress his skin, pulling tight, binding him in ropes that he nearly spread his arms to break.

But it was best to stand still for this part of the ritual to bind Voldemort’s soul to the stone, Snape had told him. Harry held onto his trust with both hands, and did that.

The pale flame abruptly all rushed from the circle in the wooden floor into the crack in the geode. Harry couldn’t take his eyes away from the stone because of the ropes of fate holding him in place, and he didn’t want to. It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, watching the fire get trapped in those purple crystals and make them glow, alive with flame.

The geode spun around once, and then the shadow swept into the crack after the fire, and the geode spun around again and flopped over on the ground as though it had gone partially liquid, hiding the crack and the crystals. Harry shivered. He wondered if the spell had somehow damaged it, made it useless for their purposes.

Then he felt a different kind of harshness brush his skin, not the ropes of fate, which had gone, but something icy and foul that he’d felt before.

The geode was now a Horcrux.

Harry stepped slowly back from the circle and looked at Snape. He was coming out of his last turn, or so it seemed. He had dropped, slowly, to one knee, and he bowed his head. He was gasping so hard that Harry worried for him, and almost took a step into the ritual circle before he remembered.

“Sir?” He worked his way around the outside of the circle instead, up to Snape. “You should get some rest.” He hesitated, then cast a Warming Charm on Snape’s arms and shoulders. His skin there was pale, streaked with sweat. “Do you want something to drink?”

“I want quiet.” Snape’s hand gestured sharply, and although it wasn’t that similar to the way he’d acted here , it was familiar enough from the other Snape that Harry relaxed. He stepped back and leaned against the wall, watching Snape as he buried his head between his knees and wrapped his arms around the tops of his ears. It looked strange, but Harry reckoned it served the purpose well enough.

And then he just had to wait and control his tongue, with the urge to question Snape welling up so fiercely in him that he was surprised he didn’t choke on it.

*

They had done it.

And the Dark Lord did not know.

Severus was sure that he would know, if the Dark Lord did, because the connection to the soul had been made through him, through a Mark that was still part of his body. The Dark Lord would start and turn and pluck the cord, and Severus would feel the result as a tingling vibration through the center of him. But so far it had not come, and his barriers and protections seemed to be holding.

Of course, the Dark Lord might notice at any time. But he had not, not now, and Severus was cautiously prepared to accept that it might not matter. They would dispose quickly of the reverse Horcrux. The Dark Lord would have only a few days, at the most, to notice the missing part of his soul.

Not even missing, Severus thought, lifting his head and blinking. Not destroyed. Still here, bound to him, if I think of the connection through the Mark as stretching to his soul.

Severus had to shudder, to think of it that way, but he had been worse things in his life, fouler things, than the anchor that would keep the Dark Lord from destroying the world. And the achievement still pulsed and pounded in his veins, prouder than anything he had done in years.

“Do you think you can talk to me about what exactly you did now?”

And there was still a Harry to deal with, one who had not been forced to exploit his own shaky connection with the Dark Lord in order to find answers. Severus had to admit, that was not the least of the factors behind his pride. He raised his head and sighed. “As though someone with your obscured background in Occlumency and Legilimency would understand the process.”

Harry looked so thoroughly unimpressed with that explanation that Severus’s lips twitched despite his decision to maintain a repressive façade with the brat. “I cast myself into a trance as I spoke to you about previously,” he said. “I made myself calm, and then used the Dark Mark as a key to unlock the Dark Lord’s soul. He neither sensed me entering nor sensed what I took, because as far as he was concerned, it was only a part of himself that was moving around inside his soul.”

There was a long silence, during which Severus could almost sense Harry’s mind stalking the words he’d spoken like a kitten stalking a bug. Then Harry shook his head and said, “I don’t understand that.”

Severus spread his hands. “And thus my predictions are fulfilled.”

Harry rolled his eyes and turned to the reverse Horcrux. “All right, so we got one step done. When are we going to do the next one?”

“When we have had enough rest to conduct our parts with some grace,” Severus said, forcing himself to his feet. “I require sleep before I attempt to reach out across the miles and influence Black. And I believe that you have a rebel plan to participate in.”

Harry started and looked at him. “I thought you were coming along for that.”

“I thought I was, too, until I exhausted myself on the very day that the plan is supposed to take place.”

Harry tugged at his hair. Severus wanted to tell him to stop that, and not just because it made him look more like James. He contented himself with glaring. Harry was as thoroughly unimpressed as before. “I could try to tell Golden and the rest of them to put it off to a different day,” Harry offered. “We need you there.”

Severus snorted. “Your fiction of desire is comforting, but unnecessary.”

“I mean it.” Harry stepped towards him as though he had forgotten the presence of the ritual circle and the plans that swirled back and forth in his mind like eels in mud, forgotten everything except Severus. “I want you with me. Because you’re a good fighter, but also because the last time we split up, you ended up getting captured by Dumbledore and I thought I might never see you again.”

Severus blinked, unable to speak for a long moment. Then he reached out and laid his hand on Harry’s hair. Harry leaned against his hand before stepping back and saying, “So, should I tell them to put it off?”

“We are inside my home,” Severus said quietly. “The home whose folds of wizardspace you are going to trust to hold the two most powerful wizards in Britain captive. I think that you need not fear for me.”

Harry squinted at him. “And that doesn’t answer my question.”

“You have had a hard enough time gaining the rebels’ trust already.” Severus turned away, and nearly staggered as he went towards the door. He caught the sides of the doorframe just in time. Fainting or stumbling in front of Harry would surely not reinforce his faltering faith that Severus could take care of himself. “There is no reason to hold back and think that you should delay things for me.”

Someone should do things for you.”

Severus heard that only as a mutter, and he was already arguably out of that particular fold of wizardspace anyway, which meant he could choose to ignore it. As he did.

*

“Then your mentor won’t be coming with us?” That was Golden, her hand on her knife as always, her eyes darting around the drawing room as though Snape would materialize from behind a door or tapestry if she looked hard enough.

Harry had to bite his lip, hard, at the thought of what Snape would do if he heard Golden refer to him that way. Then he shook his head. No, this one probably wouldn’t mind it, or at least he would say with that sharp drawl that it was preferable to what else a rebel might call someone who had been a Death Eater. But the original Snape from his world would have thrown something.

“No,” Harry said. “There’s another aspect of the war against—against our enemies that we had to pursue this afternoon.” He didn’t want to reveal too much of their plans against Dumbledore. The more people knew of that, the more chance there was of someone deciding that Dumbledore was “the good one” and getting it back to him. Someone like Percy Weasley, who still gave Harry disapproving looks when he passed him in the corridors. “It exhausted him.”

Golden sniffed at him. “More important than the war against You-Know-Who?”

“Another aspect of that war, as I said,” Harry snapped. Maybe it was because he hadn’t known most of Golden’s people in his own world, the way he had the Order, but it was easier to stand up to them. “I have more plans than just the ones that I worked with you on.” He saw the way Golden’s nostrils flared, and added, “That doesn’t mean that your plans have no importance. Just that they’re not the only ones that are important to me.”

Golden thought about that and decided to accept it. She turned to Heron, who was standing silently at her shoulder. “You have the targets?” she asked.

Harry turned to watch Heron curiously. Golden had seemed absolutely sure that Heron could get them accurate information about the Death Eater hiding places, and Harry had gone along with that because she was so sure. Harry, though, hadn’t been told how Heron was going to acquire that.

There was a long sheet of parchment in Heron’s hands, which she held up. “This location in Southern Wiltshire,” she said, tapping it. Finally, Harry saw that it was a map. “This location in the Forest of Dean. And this one on the outskirts of wizarding London.” She smiled sourly, which did weird things to the tattoos around her eyes. “What’s left of it.”

“How did you find them?” Harry asked, before they could think of something else to put him off. “How did you know that they were there?” Voldemort had taken over so much of Britain, or so many people had said that he had, that Harry thought almost anywhere could be a Death Eater stronghold.

Heron exchanged a glance with Golden, and received a nod Harry thought was impatient. Heron sighed and faced him again. “With these,” she said, and touched the tattoos around her eyes.

Harry rolled his eyes when he realized they weren’t going to go on. “Yes, but how does that help you see anything? The only way I ever heard of seeing through someone’s wards was with permission, and I don’t think the Death Eaters gave you permission to see through their wards.”

Heron laughed, although the sound died so quickly that Harry couldn’t take offense to it. “No. But these tattoos are in the shape of a heron for a reason. When I concentrate, I can conjure a heron at a distance. Only an insubstantial one,” she added, as if she thought Harry might demand to know why she hadn’t destroyed the Death Eaters’ strongholds already. “It can observe and transmit what it sees back to me, but it can’t touch anything.”

“Huh,” Harry said, blinking. He hadn’t heard of anything like that, but he’d hardly studied all the magic in the world, and for all he knew, Heron and Golden and the people they’d associated with didn’t exist in his world at all, so maybe this form of magic didn’t, either. “So you can be sure the Death Eaters really are hiding in these places?”

Heron nodded, her face so smug that it distorted the tattoos a little. “Yes. And I know what their defenses and traps are, too—at least from the last time I sent my heron. It doesn’t work if something changes between the last time it was there and the time we attack, of course.”

“Which is why I’m having her scout up until the last minute,” Golden added, and grinned like a wolf at Harry. “You see the reason why I wanted her with me when we spoke to you under Veritaserum?”

Harry smiled. “Sure.” His real thought was that Golden probably wanted to have Heron at her side and know what she was doing at all times so that she would be less dangerous. Harry made a mental note to ask Snape if he thought magic like Heron’s could spy through the wizardspace folds of Shaldon’s Garden.

Then there was a tumbling noise at the door, and Fred and George burst into the room, panting.

“Sorry we’re late,” Fred said, holding up the little device he cradled in one hand. It looked like an egg, a shiny silver egg with a small crack in the top. Harry eyed it. He had agreed that it was important to have a plan that would take the Death Eaters by surprise and annoy Voldemort as much as possible, but the look of it wasn’t impressive.

“It’s just—” George began, his eyes shining with excitement.

“That we were modifying a design that we’d used before, and—”

“It turned out to be a little trickier than we’d expected.” George grinned, and Harry made out dirt on his face, between the freckles.

“Is this going to be safe for my people?” Golden folded her hands at her waist, scowling back and forth between Fred and George. “My understanding was that you would make a weapon that would help them, not endanger them.”

Fred waved his hand loftily. “Merely—”

“Small problems,” George said. “It exploded once or twice, but since it’s—”

“Not designed to explode,” Fred picked up, nodding, “it’s not going to do it—”

“In the field,” George finished. “We merely had to sort out what kind of concussive force we were using, you understand. But it’s not going to explode,” he repeated, in a slightly louder voice, when he saw the way Golden was staring at him. Maybe he understood, finally, that that was the important part of the reassurance to repeat.

“If you are sure it is safe,” Golden said, and drew her knife, “then you could demonstrate it here.”

“Safe for the people who set it off,” Fred said, leveling one finger at Golden and ignoring the way that her knife pointed back at her in return. “Not for the ones who suffer from it. And somehow, I don’t think Professor Snape would appreciate us destroying his home. Somehow,” he added, glancing back at Harry.

Harry smiled. “You’re right. He wouldn’t. So long as it works safely, then we can go and start attacking the Death Eater places, right?” He turned to Golden.

Golden blinked at him, then set her mouth in a thin line. “I suppose you’ll be the one caught in the backlash if this doesn’t work,” she said. Harry bit his lip to keep from laughing. “You’re assigned to the attack on the London stronghold, Potter, along with Molly, Fred, George, and Arthur Weasley. Heron, Austringer, Linden, you’re coming with me to Wiltshire…”

Harry tuned out the rest. Just knowing that he was with the Weasleys instead of Golden’s people relaxed him a little. He turned and grinned at Fred. “Is Percy angry at being left behind?”

“Percy doesn’t get angry,” George said, shaking his head slowly. “How could you think so?”

“He gets tattling,” Fred said. “He’s already told Mum that he doesn’t think it’s safe for us youngsters to go on the raids.” He clapped his hand dramatically over his heart. “All that made Mum decide was that Gin had to stay behind, since she’s not of age yet. And you can imagine how popular Percy is with her now.”

“But he isn’t coming?” Harry asked, wanting this repetition for himself.

“No,” George said, and closed his left eye in a slow wink at Harry. “Mum didn’t want anyone preaching for Dumbledore at her back. And she told Percy that! Poor Prefect Percy.”

“Did it make him stop talking about Dumbledore?” Harry asked in interest.

Fred gave him a pitying look.

“Right,” Harry said, and listened to the Apparition coordinates that Heron provided for the place they’d land in London, then led Fred and George into the fold of wizardspace where their parents waited. Molly’s face was grim, and Arthur stood close to her.

“Ready?” Harry asked them softly. He knew they weren’t really part of the rebel groups, no matter how strongly they were supporting him, and they weren’t the people who had loved and sheltered him in his own world, either. Fatal to forget the difference, he repeated to himself.

“Yes, we are,” Molly said, and her face almost blazed with glee. “Now that we have the means to strike back at him, there’s no reason not to.”

Harry grinned, wondering what Dumbledore would say to that, and shared the Apparition coordinates with the others. Molly and Arthur would Apparate together, as would Fred and George, and Harry would go alone.

With the egg-like device that George slipped into his hand before he went outside to Apparate.

Harry eyed it for a moment. It felt heavy, but that was normal, given the weight of the magic packed into it. If it did what Fred and George claimed it did, then it should destroy most of the buildings and maybe the Death Eaters inside.

And even though Voldemort was insane, Harry knew that he couldn’t afford to ignore the insult. Maybe they wouldn’t even need to establish a Legilimency bond with his mind in order to enrage him.

Let’s go find out, Harry thought, and tossed the egg-like device in the air, once, for the fun of it, before he clasped it tight and ran after the others.

He was, after all, a Gryffindor.

Chapter Text


“It doesn’t look like much, does it?”

Harry shook his head. He was finding it hard to speak, and not just because Dark magic had made the air smoky and intense without clouding their view. He was starting to think that there were reasons not to practice Dark Arts quite apart from whether they made you evil or not. They made the area you were in stink.

The rubble of wizarding London included a few shops still standing, but for the most part, it all seemed to have been hit hard with spell after spell. Stones sprawled on the streets. Harry thought he recognized the Leaky Cauldron, but its doors were shut and crossed with a huge piece of wood that seemed to have fallen from nowhere. There were dark splotches on some of the walls that Harry thought were dried blood, and once a flash of something pale from the direction of what might be Knockturn Alley that Harry was sure was human bone.

“I thought people still shopped here,” he’d whispered to Fred as they went by that alley.

Fred’s mouth had tightened. “Sort of,” he murmured back. “There’s a few people who come every week and set up a market off these streets, or down one of the alleys. They keep it as fleeting as possible, and everything’s really bloody expensive. But I didn’t know it was this bad, either.” He glared around at the walls as though he knew who was personally responsible for it and wanted to make sure they suffered, then dropped back to talk to George. Harry thought that might be part of the plan of making them suffer.

Destroying Voldemort would be a good thing all around, Harry thought. There would still be Death Eaters, but fewer of them after today. And he doubted they would be as organized and powerful as they were now.

The Death Eaters’ stronghold was a building that might have been Flourish and Blotts or an equivalent, once. Harry thought he could make out the image of a book on the enormous glass window. But surrounding it were stones carved into the shape of snarling gargoyles, wards that made the glass window and stone walls waver, and lines of magic crisscrossing the low, hunched doorway.

Like George said, it didn’t look like much, but it was more than anyone else had in Diagon Alley or Knockturn Alley right now. People might wonder about it, but not many of them would come here, and those who did wouldn’t risk trying to break in.

“Right,” George said, leaning over his shoulder. “Let the egg go.”

Harry opened his hand, holding it flat. The twins had told him that the egg would “know” what to do, but Harry still wasn’t sure what that meant.

For a minute, it seemed the egg didn’t, either, since it just sat there. But then it leaped, and landed on the earth, lightly turning around while one end of it opened. Out came a great, gleaming steel claw, which began to scrape at the dirt.

Harry opened his mouth to ask how long it would take, but the egg buried itself faster than he would have thought possible. In seconds, it was beneath the surface of the soil, and kept digging further down while Harry watched, dust shifting and settling behind it.

“They have wards everywhere up here and above the building,” Fred murmured to him. “But they can’t extend them very far downwards. Not without getting into geomancy, which is the sort of specialized subject that no one studies anymore.”

“Except for you,” Harry whispered back, and got a smug smile as a reward.

“We’re all sorts of special,” George drawled, and then went off into a fit of coughing as his mother glared at him.

Harry waited, his spine tingling as he watched the wards and the other protections shining on along the building. Fred and George still hadn’t explained exactly what the device did, but Harry thought he could guess now, and waiting was a kind of pleasure in itself.

There was a distant, low noise, which reminded Harry of Fluffy waking up from a nap. Then he thought he felt something pass under him, like a big snake crawling towards a destination. He shot a hard look at the twins, and got two reassuring nods. That presumably meant that the device, whatever it did, wouldn’t affect them.

Presumably.

It started a few seconds later. The boulders carved into gargoyles began to shake. The wards wavered. The walls of the building shrieked and collapsed in on each other, so suddenly that Harry started despite himself. And in the earth under the stronghold came a strong, steady, tearing noise.

Fred and George popped into view on either side of him. “Localized—”

“Earthquake,” George said, and cupped his hand around his ear, as though he could hear screams, although so far Harry hadn’t heard anything. “It was hard to make—”

“The egg stop exploding because the earthquake wanted to shake it apart,” Fred said, nodding. “But we managed at last.”

And they had, Harry thought in wonder. Other than the first vibration, he hadn’t felt anything beneath his own feet; but the land was cracking and shaking apart now beneath the building.

The first of the Death Eaters came flying out. Harry couldn’t see the face beneath the black cloak, although he didn’t think this one had his mask on. It didn’t matter. They hadn’t come to spare the Death Eaters’ lives. They sure hadn’t been doing it for anyone from the rebel side or the Order they caught.

Harry raised the Elder Wand, but Fred got there first, tossing something like a little dark pinwheel at the Death Eater. It hit him in the face, and his head snapped back. His hands flailed out, and then he fell to the ground. Harry could hear him snoring.

“What happened to him?” he asked no one in particular.

“Coma,” said George, and started trotting forwards. Molly and Arthur had already passed around them, running across the littered ground, and Fred was right behind. Harry caught his breath and kept pace with George.

“Can he wake up?” Harry asked, staring into the Death Eater’s face as they passed him. He looked a little like a Lestrange, but Harry still couldn’t see fully, and they didn’t have the time to pull back the hood and look—if it was even important, which it wasn’t.

“Probably not,” George said. His grin this time was evil, and he dived ahead as other Death Eaters started to pour of the building, some of them limping, others bleeding, but a few seeming to be as unwounded as the one in the coma.

Harry raised the Elder Wand again. The magic poured at him through the wood, but this time, it was easier to restrain himself. Just the thought of the magic Harry had smelled when they first Apparated into Diagon Alley was enough to deter him.

No magic that smells like that, he told the Elder Wand sternly.

The humming didn’t diminish, but it did change tone. Harry grunted and cast a Stunner at the trio of Death Eaters rushing him. The Stunner was more orange than red, and it divided up into three forks to hit all three of the men, and their heads bounced off the ground with more force than Harry thought was strictly necessary, but he knew that he would get only limited cooperation from the Elder Wand if he didn’t do something like this, so he had to be content.

“Come on!” he shouted at the stronghold, because he thought there might still be people in there. “Come out and face me!”

There was a long stir of darkness at the door, like a shadow. Harry wondered if someone was coming out who had some sort of specialized magic. The Weasleys were shouting and dodging and wheeling around, but they didn’t seem wounded so far, and Harry found it hard to take his eyes from that shadow.

Then Voldemort materialized out of it.

Harry didn’t see Nagini, and he didn’t see any other way around it. He screamed and attacked, rushing so hard at Voldemort that it was a long moment before he remembered to cast a spell with the Elder Wand.

Voldemort parried his Cutting Curse lazily. He was looking only at Harry, with an interested little smile, ignoring the Weasleys. Harry kept his gaze straight, too. If Voldemort didn’t know that hurting the Weasleys would be the worst thing he could do to Harry, then Harry wasn’t about to tell him.

“We meet again,” Voldemort said, and bowed a little.

Okay, Harry told the Elder Wand. Remember that warning I gave you a little while ago? Disregard it. Do whatever you need to do.

The humming returned again, and for a second Voldemort was looking at Harry’s wand, his eyes narrowed. Which was stupid, since it gave Harry time to launch the first attack.

Conspiro!” Harry spoke the spell so fast that he felt as if the Elder Wand was the one moving his lips, and not him. The wand flowed in the same motion, fast as the word, turning and looping around itself, and the spell, one Harry hadn’t remembered he knew, crossed the space between him and Voldemort in one shining stream.

Voldemort staggered—for a moment. His breath stopped—for a moment. Then he stood tall, and his hand moved in a chopping motion, as if taking down a spiderweb. Harry felt his magic splinter and drift apart, echoed by a frustrated throb from the Elder Wand.

Voldemort clasped his hands together, the fingers moving like worms, and the same spell, the Breathtaking Hex, closed around Harry. He found himself on his knees with his hands clawing at his throat before he could think. He could also hear the shouts of the Weasleys, but Voldemort moved his hand again, and they might as well have been in another world.

“Stupid child.” Voldemort paced towards Harry, as slowly as though the hex wouldn’t kill him, although Harry could already see his vision darkening at the edges. Voldemort turned his hand over, and a little breath streamed into Harry’s lungs as they abruptly gaped open. Of course, he thought, with the small bitter corner of his mind that seemed in contact with the Elder Wand, Voldemort could do anything he wanted with his magic, including making Harry die by inches.

“Your prior performance led me to expect better from you.” Bizarrely, Voldemort sounded like one of his primary school teachers who had expected Harry to get better marks than Dudley. Harry would have laughed if he could have got the breath. “Instead, you cast a minor hex that I could easily defeat. Why did you do that?”

Harry opened his mouth and smacked his lips a few times. Voldemort rolled his eyes—a gesture Harry had never thought to see from him—and released a little more of the magic. Harry could breathe enough to speak.

Which meant he could breathe enough to cast spells, if he wanted. But Harry really didn’t think he needed to. He twitched his fingers enough that the Elder Wand was aiming more or less at Voldemort, and told it, Really. Do what you want. Draw on my magical core as you need to. Just stop him.

There was an answering pulse, something thick and dark from the center of him, and then the Dark magic rushed up the Elder Wand and launched at Voldemort, as true and fast as the Breathtaking Hex had been. Harry didn’t recognize this spell, though. He didn’t know if it was a spell, or just pure power and will. It looked like silver when it was near him, but became tarnished silver as it neared Voldemort. Voldemort stood there and watched it come, a critical, judging distance in his eyes.

That emotion changed as the tarnished silver thing touched him, but by then it was too late.

Harry didn’t know what it was, so he couldn’t say exactly what it was doing to Voldemort—only that Voldemort’s head tipped back and his mouth yearned open as if he was going to vomit. Then something black and thick came out of his lips, and Harry discovered that he was free from the Breathtaking Hex.

He scrambled to his feet and whirled around. There was a barrier between him and the Weasleys, one that looked like it was made of moving air. Harry tried to break through it with a Blasting Curse, and the next moment had to dodge as the curse reflected perfectly back at him.

Damn it.

Harry lifted the Elder Wand and thought at it, Do your worst.

The moving air froze and then began to crumble from the corners, as though disintegrating. Harry hurried back to the twins, who stopped dancing hysterically up and down when they saw him and leaned around him to peer at Voldemort instead.

“Did you just choke the Dark Lord?” Fred asked, seriously.

“I don’t know what I did,” Harry snapped, “but I know what I need to do. Did you bring any more of those eggs?”

George looked off to the side and acted as though he would whistle innocently while backing away. Fred was the one who took another silver egg out of his pocket and tossed it at Harry, nodding. “Be careful.”

Fred,” said George.

Fred looked over his shoulder, and there was some moment of intense communion that Harry didn’t really get to witness, because he could hear the growl behind him, and reckoned that Voldemort had beaten whatever Dark magic the Elder Wand had tossed at him. Harry whirled around, hand clutched around the egg.

Voldemort was coming slowly back to his feet. His hands were braced on the ground, and his eyes were radiant with hate. The black thing lay next to him, looking like a snake with its head chopped off. As Harry watched, it stirred and lifted towards him. He could almost feel the magic that Voldemort worked like puppet strings, pulling on it.

Harry hesitated. Should he use the egg on the snake-thing or on Voldemort?

Then he shook his head. He was being stupid. He couldn’t just throw the egg down someone’s throat the way he would a grenade and have done with it. He had to bury it in the earth. He chose a point about halfway between Voldemort and the snake, and launched it. The snake opened its jaws as if to snap, but Voldemort slammed its mouth closed.

The egg dug down. Voldemort paid no attention. Harry swallowed. That meant he might not know what the egg did, then, and that was the best chance that Harry would get away with it.

“You are less a stupid child than I thought you were,” Voldemort said, advancing one step, although not far enough to get off the area that Harry hoped the egg would affect. “More an annoying one.”

That was the last warning Harry had before something hit him in the mind.

It didn’t feel like the Legilimency Snape had used on him—well, the other Snape, back in his own world—because it wasn’t painful. It was so far beyond painful it just felt like a huge, muffled blow, like being hit with a pillow. Harry gasped as his Occlumency shields, the ones he had been trying to construct under this Snape’s tutelage, flew apart, and the snake, or Voldemort, delved into his mind.

Harry couldn’t remember, because his memories were flying in all directions like broken stone, what he had done the last time this happened. He did the first thing he could think of doing, instead.

He hit Voldemort with his memories of his own world, walking to his death in the Forbidden Forest and fighting the basilisk and beating the Voldemort in his own world with the Elder Wand’s allegiance and help. It was a whole life he had lived, somewhere else, with a Voldemort who didn’t look or act the same as this one, but was the same in a lot of other ways.

Voldemort hesitated, and the egg went off.

Harry knew that, later, although at the time what he heard was a roar, and the ground beneath him shook, and the probe in his mind broke as either Voldemort or the snake lost control of it and had to focus on keeping his balance instead. Harry rolled, dazed, on the ground, and felt someone pick him up. That would be Fred and George, and they were hustling him away from the battle as fast as they could go. Harry struggled weakly, muttering something that didn’t make sense even to himself.

“We were never supposed to destroy him, yeah?” Fred panted into his ear. “Only—”

“Make him frustrated a little bit,” George panted into the other one. “And it worked.”

Harry heard Molly and Arthur running after them, casting curses back at what might be Death Eaters. He hoped it was Death Eaters and not Voldemort, since that would imply he had recovered enough to chase them, and they probably wouldn’t survive.

He turned his head to the side as the twins hustled him rapidly back towards the Apparition point. The Elder Wand was there against his wrist, a reassuring buzz like angry hornets.

Cover our tracks, Harry said. Do whatever you have to do.

He heard a faint explosion like another egg going off beneath the air, and then they Apparated and landed back in the one part of Shaldon’s Garden cleared from the wards for the occasion. Harry fell down on the earth, and breathed.

“Did you see the sandstorm that rose behind us?” Fred asked George, pitching his voice so that Harry could hear even over his own labored breathing and the effort of assembling his mind into something like normal order.

“I did indeed, brother mine. A most effective tool.”

Harry, his hand on the Elder Wand and his head lolling on the ground, said, Thank you.

There was a long pause before the buzz resumed, and then it sounded subdued. Apparently, the Elder Wand didn’t know what it was like to be thanked, any more than a house-elf did.

*

Severus opened his eyes. He opened them to pain, and loneliness, and kept both locked inside him as he clasped his hand to his left arm. There were still people in the house, notably the Weasleys and other rebels who had not gone on the raids. The wards of Shaldon’s Garden had never failed Severus yet, but nonetheless, he did not want them to intrude.

The Dark Lord spat burning fury through the Dark Mark, distributing it like poison. Severus at last allowed himself a small hiss when it did not stop in a few minutes, and cast a Numbing Charm on it, while he went in search of a supply of the painkilling potion he hadn’t had to use in years.

Then again, the Dark Lord had not shed fury in years like this, either.

I assume that whatever Harry and the others did to anger him, it succeeded.

The potion down his throat, Severus turned his attention to the hovering spell at the back of his mind, as polite as a house-elf. He had felt it since he cast the compulsion curse on Black, but he had never needed it until now. There were advantages to being a skilled Occlumens that did not involve the ability to break into the minds of others. He wondered idly if he should insist on teaching Harry the art.

After the war, of course.

Which indicated that he thought they would both survive. It was more optimism than Severus had been willing to admit to for months.

Well. He would worry about that later. For now, he had to touch the leash that connected him to Black, first tugging gently and then harshly when Black began to wake up and fight. Of course, he only woke up so much, the spell brightening in the back of Severus’s mind, before he froze.

Severus smiled and closed his eyes. He would have cast this spell on Black long since, but for the fear that being so close to another Legilimens meant his interference would be sensed. Now he could do as he liked with it. Dumbledore might think Black’s actions strange, but he would not be able to sense the spell without a detailed investigation of his mind—which Severus intended to give him no reason to perform.

Now, he whispered to Black, sending the words in a blurred, rippling fashion so they would resemble even more closely the dream that his commands would come to Black as. Now is the time to go to the Order members and tell them what you remember about Harry’s body. The original Harry, your Harry, not the others. Remember how his eyes were bigger than they should be? The darkness of them, as if they had no pupil? You remember. And you can suggest hazy details of what kinds of potions might cause that darkness, as well.

The memory was a dream, of course, not something Black had known. But it was something he could suggest to the others—and something that was true enough to panic Albus, when he heard of it. Whether or not Black had ever known or suspected that something was wrong, now it would appear that he had, and even that the Order had always known the truth that Albus tried to keep from them.

Severus opened his eyes, and smiled.

The burning of the Dark Mark on his arm had subsided, he noted. The Dark Lord had mastered his rage, and was presumably trying to control it, to turn his mind to other methods. Severus considered ways to irritate him further and keep him focused on the rebels, but he could do little right now, with his magic still exhausted, and without Harry. He would wait until Harry returned.

Then he felt the sharp buzz of the wards, and lifted his head. His first thought was that Harry had returned—but in that case, he would have felt the wards welcoming someone Severus had linked to them—and then that some of the rebels were trying to sneak through the folds of wizardspace into places that he had not told them they could be—but in that case, the wards would have snapped taut.

No, he decided after a second, this particular buzz meant a letter. He would have felt it before this if his mind and soul were not still reeling from the great task he had performed that morning.

He moved towards the nearest window that looked over the garden, and whispered to the roses, “Bring the bird and the owl both to me. Bind the bird.”

The climbing roses that he had commanded half-bowed to him and sped off to do his bidding, slithering on their thorny stalks like snakes. Severus leaned on the wall near the window and speculated, idly and pleasingly, whether he liked roses so much because of their affinity to serpents. It had never occurred to him before, it would not have occurred to him now if his fatigue did not breathe through him, but his present state of mind was an appropriate state for such thoughts. At the least, they could not harm him or Harry.

It was a few minutes before the roses returned, one of them curled around the letter as demurely as a Kneazle carrying a mouse in its mouth, the rest of them binding the feet and the wings of the owl. The bird didn’t struggle, having received the message about what would happen to it if it did, but it glared at Severus with all the wild yellow passion its eyes were capable of.

Severus sneered mildly at it as he took the letter. Yes, it was from Albus, and Severus could still feel the distinctive tang of broken tracking spells dangling from the parchment, like cobwebs hit by a broom. Severus shook his head as he opened the letter. He supposed Albus had to try, but the inferior nature of his attempt disappointed Severus.

The letter had numberless tiny blobs of ink scattered throughout it. Perhaps it had been written in a great hurry, Severus thought, or perhaps Albus only wanted them to think so—wanted Harry to think so. Severus did not yet know whether Albus had anticipated that Severus or others would read it, as well.

Dear Harry,

I could try to answer you, but I do not know the words that would do it. Therefore, I will only give you the testimonials of people who would not be alive today if not for the way that the original Harry—as you would call him, the one born to our world, the one whose death I still grieve—had not existed, and defeated Voldemort at a young age.

Severus flinched himself at reading the Dark Lord’s name, and then shook his head with a mild snort. “A bad mistake, Albus,” he whispered. “You should have not reminded him that you still grieve that Harry’s death. It makes it too clear that you do not grieve for the others.”

He continued reading, however, both intent on analyzing the words before Harry saw them and curious to know what Albus meant by “testimonials.”

From Miss Hermione Granger, I gathered these words: “I wouldn’t be able to study at Hogwarts today if not for Harry. Voldemort would have ruled the wizarding world and I would have been killed as a Mudblood the instant he found my name down for Hogwarts. Maybe I would have died when I was a baby. Maybe my parents would have died, too. He saved all our lives by being there.”

Severus sighed. Knowing Miss Granger’s loyalty to Albus, he did not doubt those were her words in essence, though perhaps beautified by Albus for inclusion in his letter. And perhaps what Granger said was true, although Severus had his doubts. The Dark Lord was not insane; he had displayed erratic behavior only when truly enraged. Severus thought he would have found some way to cope with Muggleborns other than killing them if he had won, though that method might not be very much more comfortable for the Muggleborns involved.

But more than that, he wondered if Albus had some strategy that Severus had not yet divined, or if he was simply that bad at knowing the truth of what Harry was feeling at the moment. Yes, Albus had loved the original Potter. What did that matter to whether Harry defeated the Dark Lord now?

Then Severus began to laugh, and did so for so long that his roses rustled and the owl they held hooted indignantly.

Of course. Albus had picked up on the allusions to sacrifice in Harry’s letter, as Harry had intended him to, and guessed correctly what they meant. Now he was trying to prove that he had loved that Harry too much to sacrifice him.

Severus shook his head, and continued reading the “testimonials.” They included one from Black about how much he had enjoyed raising his godson, and one from Weasley about the friendships that cut across House lines, and one from Lucius that made Severus raise his eyebrows.

From Lucius Malfoy, who turned his back on Voldemort to become one of our most treasured allies, and did it by rescuing Harry from his clutches, Harry was “an inspiration. I believed that he might win the war, despite the fact that the Dark Lord is so much older and wiser. He had qualities that attracted and intrigued the Dark Lord, and there was no better way to win his attention. And he impressed me with his gracious thanks after I rescued him.”

Severus tapped the letter against his hand. Again, he reminded himself that he had no way of knowing if Albus had taken the words exactly as they sounded from the lips of the Order member offering them, or if he had changed some things around—perhaps the way they expressed them, perhaps uniting disparate sentences together. That meant he could not actually be sure that Lucius had really used the past tense when talking about Harry.

I believed that he might win the war.

Of course, the boy Lucius had been talking about could win no wars now, because he was dead. Severus told himself that was all it was.

Not that Lucius had once believed they might win the war, and had lost that belief before the original Harry died. Not that he had considered changing sides to the one that would win the war. Not that. And if it was, Severus would have no way of knowing unless he asked Lucius himself, given the wards on Hogwarts and the way that Albus could twist things.

Lucius might be the traitor. This was the best evidence that Severus had yet found for that contention, although if someone had asked him to name a traitor before this, he would have said Lucius simply because the man always looked out for his own interest and joined the Order late.

But he did not see that the revelation need change their immediate plans, even if it was true. If they all lived through the battle, they could question Lucius after it.

“Sorry I’m late.”

Severus started and turned. Harry was trotting into his bedroom, shaking his head a little and touching his forehead as though he wanted to smear dirt into his scar. There was dirt everywhere on him, Severus saw with a quick glance. On his palms, under his fingernails, around the cuffs of his sleeves, and probably on his feet, not that Severus could see it with his shoes on.

“What happened?” Severus thought all the demand for an explanation that he could possibly need was contained in those two words.

Harry didn’t seem to think so. He flopped down on the floor and closed his eyes. “Fred and George’s weapons caused an earthquake,” he muttered. “I had to use another of them to escape, so there was a second one. And I dueled Tom. He was there.”

“Why was he there?” Holding Albus’s letter, Severus stepped past Harry and sank down on the nearest chair, to study Harry more closely.

Harry’s eyes stayed closed for a second, as though he was summoning up the courage to speak in more depth. So Severus got to see more of his dirty eyelashes, and cheeks, and the hand that delved into one of his pockets, clutching at his wand. The buzz of Dark magic around it seemed more distant than it had been. Severus grimaced. So long as it was not actually destroying his home around him, he would accept it.

And if I am right about what I am thinking and we do both manage to survive, then it will not be my home much longer.

“I don’t know,” Harry said at last. “It could have been coincidence. Or just that we attacked the stronghold near Diagon Alley, you know, and Mrs. Weasley told me some people still go there.” He opened his eyes, which were soft and dazed-looking. “I suppose the Death Eaters still want to attack some of the people who come there, and they need to buy food, like anyone else.”

Severus grunted. He supposed, after going over several possible explanations in his mind, that the centrality of London was as good a reason as any. If the Dark Lord had felt the pull on his soul as they made the Horcrux and been able to read Severus’s thoughts enough to anticipate the attack, then he would have been able to ready protections against any weapons that the Weasleys came up with, which sounded as if it had not happened. And Severus himself had not known what raid Harry would be assigned to, so thinking the Dark Lord was in London because one of them had betrayed the secret despite himself was absurd.

“But I don’t think we need to worry about delving into his mind or writing him a letter or anything,” Harry murmured, without opening his eyes. “He’s plenty pissed now.”

“Yes, it does sound like it,” Severus said, and the dryness of his tone made Harry finally open an eye to regard him. “You are unhurt?”

“Yeah.” Harry rolled over and dug his elbows into the floor beneath him, pushing himself back to his feet. “So you don’t need to look at me as though I’m bleeding to death under my clothes.”

“I was unaware that I was looking at you like that,” Severus said, which was true and all he wished to say about the subject. “Here. This letter came while you were—occupied. You may wish to read it. I have also commanded Black to start telling the other Order members about the original Harry’s distended and murky eyes on death.” He held out the parchment, not surprised when Harry snatched it from him.

Harry read it all the way through, snorting at what Severus presumed were the ridiculous parts. Then he waved the letter at Severus. “Does he think I’m going to come back because of this? Why did he write it?”

“To try and convince you that he loved the Harry born to this world so much that he would never sacrifice him,” Severus said. “You did not grasp that?”

“Oh.” Harry read it through again, then tossed the letter down. “So I reckon that he’s running scared right now, and we won’t have to do much to convince him that he has to come to Shaldon’s Garden and stop the spreading rumors?”

Severus nodded. “And I believe that passing information about Shaldon’s Garden to the Order, hinting where it is so that Albus can come here and confront us, will mean that it is unnecessary to send information to the Dark Lord, too.”

Harry was quicker than Severus had given him credit for, or perhaps his mind was simply primed now that they were making plans and fighting instead of arguing against Albus for every inch of ground. He narrowed his eyes. “You’ve figured out who the traitor in the Order is?”

“I think it is Lucius,” Severus said quietly. “Not that I believe he had anything to do with the death of the Harry Potter he knew,” he added, when Harry swore and began to pace. “Because, rather, he wants to go with the side most likely to win. During the confrontation between the Potter he knew and the Dark Lord in the graveyard, he saw something that convinced him Potter would win the war, and he rescued him. But he wished to keep his options open, and so I also believe that he has been passing information to the Dark Lord. It would be consistent with his character, and he has the Dark Mark to let himself be borne to the Dark Lord’s side at any moment it is convenient for them both to do so.”

Harry stared at him with narrowed eyes. “But you don’t know for sure.”

Severus shook his head. “Call it a Death Eater’s understanding, not proof.”

Harry nodded briskly. “Well, then we need to start writing letters to the Order members, and hint around about Shaldon’s Garden in—what would convince Dumbledore we were trying to keep a secret but can’t really keep it?”

“Codes that the other Order members can crack,” Severus said at once. “If we were writing to him, he would be suspicious of anything unsubtle, but he knows what you and I both of think of most of the Order members’ intelligence.”

Harry grinned. “That’s it, then. We need to do that, and then we just need to decide what fold of wizardspace we want them to land in.”

“And get ready in other ways for the confrontation,” Severus added, wondering that Harry had forgotten that.

Harry rolled his eyes at him. “I didn’t forget that. I didn’t think I needed to say anything, it was so obvious.”

“Ah,” Severus said, and decided that his time would be better spent starting to compose letters than arguing with intuition.

Chapter Text


If they are frantic, that only means they are hiding something from you. What could it be? What could they have to hide from Harry’s godfather, who loved him so much?

Severus finished sending the last thought to Black and opened his eyes. He was once again in his bedroom, seated cross-legged, but this time, he felt as strong as he had yesterday before he ventured into the Dark Lord’s soul.

If some of that strength came from potions, Severus certainly did not intend to tell Harry. There were certain things that he needed to worry about and things that he didn’t, and this fell into the latter category.

Severus stood up and spent a moment gazing into the mirror that hung on the wall. It had once been enchanted, but he had long ago muted the voice and charmed it to inform him only if there was a hair out of place on his head or his robes were absurdly wrinkled.

The man who looked back at him was not the same one who had fled the Order so short a time ago, or the one who had seen this particular Harry arrive in the world. Stranger to accept was that he was no longer the man who had seen Lily Potter die, either—the one guilt Severus had thought would be with him forever. Seeing the Harry born to this world die had only increased that guilt. He had failed to protect her son.

But it was gone now. He had guarded one of her sons. Not the same one; Severus would not make the same mistake as Albus and think that it did not matter who they summoned to their world, not when all the different universes out there had a Harry Potter and they had grown up violently, peacefully, thankfully, ungratefully.

But if what came out of this ridiculous venture was some peace of mind for himself, then Severus would not reject it.

*

Harry sat back and stared at the letter he’d written, tapping his quill against his lips. Then he realized that was a Snape mannerism, and he didn’t really want to act like him, did he?

There are worse things.

Harry smiled a bit, lowered the quill, and deliberately didn’t think about what the Sirius from his own world would say if he could hear that. The Sirius from his world was dead, and so was that Snape. What mattered were the living ones.

He read the letter again, the basic template of the letter that they would copy out with slight variations and send to every Order member besides Dumbledore, and didn’t find too many changes he needed to make.

Dear

You should know that I fled because I can’t trust Dumbledore. Ask him why he wouldn’t let anyone closely examine the body of the Harry who died here, the one who was the reason for pulling me through time and space. Ask him why the body was so special, what was different about it. Mention the word “sacrifice” to him and see what he tells you.

If you want to talk about this personally, then I might be willing to listen to you. You’re not the same as Dumbledore. You might be able to understand what frightens me and make adjustments based on that, and maybe together we could work out a way that would still allow me to save the world.

If you’re interested in talking to me, then Apparate to these coordinates: a small grove of six hawthorn trees with two crooked ones in the front, next to a large Potions garden that has a green stone fence around it.

Those were the real Apparition coordinates of a part of Shaldon’s Garden, the one that Harry and Snape, after some debate last night, had chosen as the one most likely to hold both Dumbledore and Voldemort. They’d added wards around it and wrapped it inside two more folds of wizardspace—which meant, as far as Harry could understand the concept, encouraging some of the different folds already in the house to move so that they encircled it the way layers of an onion would more layers. Whatever happened there, as far as spells flying went, shouldn’t leak out into the rest of the house.

“You are done?”

Harry started a little, but only because he hadn’t heard Snape come up into his room. He no longer feared that something bad would come from Snape walking up to him.

Harry held up the letter. “I am,” he said simply. “What do you think?”

Snape read through it, nodding, and then laid the parchment flat on the table in front of Harry and took a capped vial from his pocket. “You asked me why I wanted to go to bed so early last night,” he said. “It was partially to finish adding some active ingredients to an inert base, so that I could produce this.”

Harry looked with interest at the potion, but it didn’t seem to be especially interesting. It was a flat green color, and even when Snape opened the vial, it didn’t fizz or bubble or hiss.

Then Snape tipped it onto Harry’s parchment.

Hey,” Harry began. He’d spent almost an hour working on that letter, but he didn’t know if he remembered enough of the wording to write it all over again, if Snape insisted on spoiling the only copy.

Snape held up a finger that was commanding enough that Harry bit his lip and went quiet. Then Snape gestured, and a swarm of parchment came flying in from somewhere else in the house and splayed itself on the table around the original, potion-soaked letter.

Snape waited, and the potion slowly trickled and spread out to the rest of the parchment. Then it began to hiss, and Harry stared as copies of his letter began to appear on the other parchments.

Well, almost-copies. He could already see that each one was addressed to a different person in the Order, and the wording was slightly different each time, as well.

“How did you do that?” Harry demanded, walking around the table to stare at the letters. The one to Lucius was more formal than the one he’d written, and the one to Hermione started out with a plea for her understanding from someone who wasn’t as smart as she was. “Those are the changes that I was only thinking about making!”

“Magic.”

Harry spun around and glared at Snape. “You know, what I like about you is that you don’t get as sarcastic as the Snape I knew in my world.”

“No,” Snape said gently, his eyes warming for a moment so brief that Harry could pretend he hadn’t seen it, but he didn’t particularly want to do that. “I suspect I have the same amount of sarcasm. Mine is tempered around you. That is not the same as saying that it does not exist.” His face cooled again, and he added, “And when you ask a question that has a simple answer, a simple answer is what you will receive.”

Harry shook his head and turned back to stare at the parchments again. All right, maybe not everything was framed exactly the way he would have framed it; the letter to Sirius referred to “all the great times we enjoyed together,” which Snape didn’t have any idea about from Harry’s real world and certainly hadn’t been the case with Harry and the Sirius here. “It’s still amazing. I never heard of a potion that could do that.”

Snape shrugged. “I collected hair from the members of the Order long ago, in case I ever needed to brew Polyjuice Potion and become them. I used it in the preparation of this potion. That is how the potion could interact with the parchment and know who to address it to. The rest of the reason that it worked is High Potions Theory. I think it would be beyond your reach even if I gave you a detailed explanation.”

Harry glared again, but he resented the condescension less than he would have if he had heard it from the Snape who’d died. “Okay. But…I have one more question.”

“Yes?” Snape looked down at him with eyes gone fathomless now.

“You supposedly argued with the other Harry right before his death,” Harry said quietly. “I accept that it wasn’t you, that it was someone Polyjuiced. But who was it? Lucius?”

*

Severus sighed. He had already given the answer to this question, hadn’t he? Or at least Harry should have been able to figure it out.

But he was looking at Severus with those steady eyes that needed an answer. And it wasn’t as though Severus didn’t have one to give.

“I suspect it was Dumbledore,” Severus said. “That the Harry born to this world was suffering one more crisis of conscience—or fear—and did not like the idea of dying as a sacrifice. Dumbledore in my shape could have argued him down. I would not ordinarily have supported the idea in any form, so if I did, that would probably have convinced that particular Harry to go through with it. He was inclined to trust his own judgment over many things, but not mine, not when I spoke seriously.”

“And Dumbledore would have spoken seriously.” Harry had his arms folded and a ferocious scowl on his face.

“Yes,” Severus said quietly. “That Harry’s trust in me was exploited as part of his game of sacrifice is one of the things angering me.” He rested his hand on Harry’s shoulder for a moment. “Of that, you may be sure.”

Harry sucked in a breath that seemed enough air to make him float off his feet, then opened his eyes and said, “Okay. You think that we have enough owls to see that all these letters are delivered?”

“Yes,” Severus said briefly. He did not mind borrowing owls from the rebels, not for this particular endeavor. It was not as though they need ever see what the letters contained.

Harry closed his eyes once more, then said, “Okay. Let’s do it.”

And they did.

*

Harry met Golden’s eyes. “Yes, I do have a plan to destroy the Dark Lord,” he said. “No, it doesn’t involve you.”

Golden wrapped her fingers around the knife on her belt, but this time, she didn’t draw it. She just watched Harry with a look hungry and savage enough that he wouldn’t have been surprised if she did draw it and attack him.

“I hope that you know we would make a number of sacrifices to bring him down,” Golden whispered.

Harry turned and slowly walked away from her to stand in front for the fire. They were in the large room where he and Snape had spoken with the Weasleys when they first invited them to Shaldon’s Garden. He could feel the simmer of Golden’s temper behind him, and Heron’s. Heron was the only other witness right now, which Harry was glad of. He didn’t want to shame Golden in front of any of her supporters.

“You’ve already made sacrifices to bring him down,” Harry told her. “You found the Death Eater strongholds, and I know that at least a few of your people died fighting at the others.” There had been no casualties among their people at the London site, amazing when Harry had actually faced Voldemort, but then, Harry thought Voldemort had been too focused on him to do much else.

“They made those sacrifices willingly,” Heron, seeming to think she might make more impact on Harry if she was the one who spoke. “For a cause that we deserve to fight for, a war that we deserve to see the end of.”

Harry turned around. “There is a way that you could help, actually. You yourself,” he added, when Golden stood up straighter and opened her mouth. “We need your heron magic to keep watch on some Apparition coordinates, and tell us when some people arrive.”

“I could do that,” Heron said, and seemed to stand twenty inches taller. Harry blinked at her. Is it really as simple as some people just wanting to help, whether or not they can do anything much? “If my lady agrees, of course,” Heron added, probably because she’d just caught Golden’s eye.

Golden looked between them for a moment, then grunted and waved her hand. “If it will help the war, then you can.”

Heron smiled and turned to Harry. “What do the Apparition coordinates look like?”

Harry described the same hawthorn trees and green stone wall to her that he had in the letters to the Order members. It was a part of Shaldon’s Garden that Snape had removed the anti-Apparition wards from, although it was hidden by so many other strong folds now that there was little chance of anyone else noticing that. Heron and Golden and the rest didn’t even need to know it was part of Shaldon’s Garden.

Harry would have trusted them with a little more information about that, but he could understand why Snape wouldn’t.

When Heron nodded and walked out of the room, already touching the tattoos around her eyes as if she was conjuring the bird, Harry saw Golden watching him. “What?” he added. He wasn’t sure what she wanted him to say.

Golden shrugged and touched her knife again. “You seem confident that you can handle this,” she said. “But we’ve been fighting the Dark Lord for years, and there’s no way to bring him down that I can see.”

“He hasn’t been defeated by anyone because he’s so powerful,” Harry said. “But I have an ally who’s powerful, too.”

Golden considered him for so long that Harry was sure she would ask questions. But maybe she decided that he was telling enough of the truth to be going on with, because she sighed and nodded. “Just make sure that he can actually do what’s needed,” she said, and turned away.

Harry gave a shaky sigh and rubbed his face with both hands. They’d given the Order members the information, and they hoped Lucius—or the traitor, if it was someone else—would pass the Apparition coordinates on to Voldemort. The big thing was that they had to keep Dumbledore and Voldemort from realizing the strength of the trap that contained them and leaving before the other one got there.

And then…

Harry had to wonder if Dumbledore was right about anyone else except Harry being unable to kill Voldemort. If Dumbledore really had tried to use fatal spells on him in the past and they’d bounced, then the prophecy was real and Harry had to be in it.

But that was why they had the geode upstairs. Harry just wanted Dumbledore to wear Voldemort down and keep him occupied while they used Fiendfyre to destroy the reverse Horcrux.

If the prophecy was so literal, then Harry didn’t think he needed to participate in every second of the battle against Voldemort. He just needed to be in at the death.

And Snape will be there, too, because he insisted.

Harry had to admit that made him feel better, to know he wouldn’t be alone.

*

Severus raised his wand and waited until he could feel the quivering energy around him, both wards and folds of wizardspace, align on him. Since he was the master of Shaldon’s Garden, he could change them at his pleasure, an advantage he had used more than once in the past.

His wand curved and rose and fell, and the world around him—the immediate world, the one enclosed by wards and walls—began to gracefully spin.

Harry might trust in the strength of the ancient wizardspace to hold the two most powerful wizards in Britain, and Severus had never known it to fail. But this was not an ordinary situation, nothing like what he had done in the past, and that meant he was not willing to trust to chance.

If he was going to give up his home after this, if he was going to leave and go to Harry’s world with him, then he had no reason not to change as much as he could.

Wizardspace folds opened around him like the edges of swords. Severus could watch them moving if he wished, but since that created a rather confusing mess of moving light and rings of magic, he kept his gaze fixed on the green stone wall instead. It was wavering and dancing now as though he saw it from underwater, and he found it hard not to reach out and try to steady it.

But this was the process as it had to happen. As long as he was steady himself, he saw no reason that the stones would fall.

The whole of Shaldon’s Garden twisted slightly back and to the left. No one else currently in the folds of wizardspace would feel anything, Severus knew. The most they might notice was that the proportion of a doorway was now off.

But the magic that had created Shaldon’s Garden was old and very powerful, and Severus could change it, if not duplicate it. Carefully, he aligned the folds and the petals and the edges, and then wrapped them together with a single sharp wring of his hand.

Now, they were no longer loosely wrapped around each other, with paths leading to the outside as long as Severus wanted to permit someone to access them. Now they were a labyrinth, and they led inexorably in to the center, to the garden protected by its green stones and marked by its hawthorn trees.

Severus took a step back and studied it. Then he nodded. It was perfect.

A bolthole and way of escape remained open, of course, because Severus was not stupid. But since it was in Harry’s bedroom, beneath the reverse Horcrux, Harry and Severus would be the only ones who had access to it. And no one but them who arrived in the garden would be able to leave it.

Severus swept the garden a bow and turned to pick his way back through the wrapped folds of wizardspace towards the new edge. He had done all he could, and now they had to play the waiting game.

*

Where are you, child?

The voice swept into Harry’s head and hovered there, dripping dew and softness. Harry lifted his head and opened his eyes.

In front of him stood his mother.

Harry caught his breath. She looked just the way she had when he walked through the Forbidden Forest, the same soft smile and wide green eyes. She looked at him with the same pride and hunger.

But she also reached towards him with one hand now, which she hadn’t done at first. Harry scrambled to his feet.

Still, caution kept him away. What if he wasn’t seeing his mum, but the one who had belonged to the boy who’d been killed here? Was it possible to start having dreams that really should have been in your other-world counterpart’s head?

No, Lily said, in the same soft voice. I remember you. The one who walked through the Forbidden Forest and used the Resurrection Stone and summoned me. I missed you terribly. After you used the Resurrection Stone, though, I could feel you. I had a connection to you that I’d never had while I was drifting in limbo.

But now I can’t feel you anymore. Fear and pain made her wince, and Harry did it at the same time. He’d had enough of hearing his mother scream in pain when Dementors were nearby. Where are you?

Harry opened his mouth, wondering what would come out, if it would be the same soft voice that emerged from Lily’s, but instead he sounded just the same as he always did. “I’m in another world. They took me to another world. They reached out and snatched me, because their Harry died.”

His mum blinked. But that’s terrible. How could they do that to you?

Harry smiled, glad that he could be in contact with someone who agreed with him without going to extremes to talk to Ron and Hermione, or waking Snape up. “I don’t know,” he said. “Desperation, I reckon. They wanted me to fight Voldemort because their Harry died before he could do it.”

It seemed to him his mum flinched at the name, but the next moment, her expression was just the same again, so it didn’t last long. And are you in a safe place there, too? A place where someone can take care of you and make sure that you don’t die?

“Yes,” Harry said, and he thought that maybe they were even standing in a corner of Shaldon’s Garden. He hadn’t paid much attention to the landscape around them before, but it seemed to shift and alter with his mind. “It’s a place that Snape picked me up and took me to. You wouldn’t believe how nice he is in this world, Mum, it’s like he never hated me at all.”

You knew that he never hated your mother.

Harry hesitated. Then he said, “That’s right,” and concentrated on the green stone wall and the hawthorn trees that he had given as Apparition coordinates to Shaldon’s Garden to the Order members. His heart was pounding hard, which was a strange thing to feel when he was in the midst of a dream.

But not so strange to feel if this is Legilimency instead of a dream. You know Legilimency has a stronger connection to a body.

It had just sounded, for a second, like his mother was referring to herself in the third person, as if she wasn’t the person Snape had liked. And maybe she was losing the distinction between the Snape in this world and the Snape in Harry’s world, the one who had been partially responsible for her death.

But Harry had blurred the distinction himself, hadn’t he? Maybe his dreams were just responding to the way his mind leaped and blurred.

And maybe you should stop being stupid. You know that isn’t what’s happening.

It hurt Harry, but he leaped ahead and pushed, as hard as he could, against the image he had of his mother, of the ghost he’d seen in the Forbidden Forest, and whose expression hadn’t changed as she spoke.

The image held for a moment, then broke. And in its place was a complicated snarl of snakes and red eyes and images of pain and horror.

Harry fought, dodging back and forth, going so fast and on such instinct that he wasn’t even sure he was making decisions; by the time he thought he should do something, he’d already done it. But he tried to keep the image of hawthorn trees and green stone walls away from Voldemort, tried to shield it, and Voldemort broke through the shields and took the image and floated away laughing.

Harry opened his eyes and gasped, sitting up. His head throbbed, but not specifically across his scar. That’s right, Harry thought dazedly, rubbing his forehead. Snape thought Voldemort was finding me through the Parseltongue gift, not because I’m connected to this one through my scar.

Snape burst into his room in the next second, his eyes narrowed and his wand aimed at Harry. Only the wild hair on his head threatened the picture. “Where is he?” he demanded. “I felt the Dark Lord here.”

Harry swallowed. “He invaded my mind,” he admitted. “I pushed my memories at him the last time we met, all the things that made me different, and that meant he could use an image of my mum to shield himself. But I showed him the Apparition coordinates and made him think they were a huge secret, and he laughed and went away.”

Snape watched him for the shortest of moments. Just as Harry was opening his mouth to insist that he was telling the truth and he hadn’t left anything out, Snape nodded and wheeled back towards Harry’s bedroom door. “Then we have very little time before he is here,” Snape said, and he was gone.

Harry sat there for a few seconds catching his breath, because he had to. Then he scrambled up and started tugging on more clothes.

Here it comes.

*

Severus could feel the Dark Lord’s magic moving through the world, building in ripples, heading for Shaldon’s Garden.

It did not come only through the Mark on his arm, although it was easy to feel as if it did so. Magic as strong as the Dark Lord’s caused ripples in the world, disturbances around him, echoes and shadows, if one listened or looked for them. Severus had grown immune to the way that Dumbledore’s magic disturbed the universe, because he had been so close to the man for so many years, and in the center of a building where adolescents had accidental magic and unexpected surges of power all the time.

But it was much easier to feel now. The Dark Lord, Severus thought, had always been slightly stronger than Dumbledore.

It remained to be seen whether he was stronger than the wards and the wizardspace on Shaldon’s Garden.

What Severus absolutely did not want was the Dark Lord arriving so far in advance of Albus that Severus and Harry would have to battle him first to keep him from ripping the wards apart.

So he reached out for Black as he headed through the curving labyrinth he had created towards the center. It was not that hard to navigate. Go through each room and around to the left, and when you emerged out the door, you would find yourself in the next fold of wizardspace that led closer.

Black!

He felt the confusion, the jerk and jolt back to consciousness that indicated Black had been sleeping himself. Severus snorted. The Order was woefully unprepared, most of the time, for any attack by night. Apparently it was “unfair” to be clever and alert and take naps during the day when you were a Light wizard.

Go to Dumbledore and ask about sacrifice, Severus told him rapidly, as he clattered out through another doorway and the burn on his left arm grew worse. Tell him that you know he sacrificed Harry. If he makes it clear that you should not know, say the information came to you in a dream. Tell him about the hawthorn trees and the green stone wall, if he does not know.

He felt the flicker of recognition in Black’s mind when he spoke, though, and nodded in satisfaction. Their letters had come through, and although of course Albus would have intercepted and read at least one, he seemed to have decided to let the rest take their course. They needed to stir up Albus now, to make him panic and arrive abruptly, and Black was their best chance. If necessary, Severus could summon him to Apparate here, which might make a nice distraction for the Dark Lord.

He heard footsteps behind him, and turned his head rapidly. If one of the Weasleys or the rebels was following—

But it was Harry, alone. Well, mostly alone. Stumbling behind him, in a robe that looked as if it had been pulled on with a sleeve over the head, was Percy Weasley.

“Where are you going?” Weasley tried to ask, and then got interrupted by a yawn. “We can’t—it’s the middle of the night—are you going somewhere?” To Severus’s regret, he was becoming more alert by the moment. “What’s happening?”

Severus spun his wand without answering and made one of the walls protrude a bit. Weasley slammed into it and sat down, cross-eyed. Harry Stunned him as they went by, and Weasley slumped to the floor.

“You will not be in good repute with the Weasleys once they learn of this,” Severus remarked, as they came through another doorway and emerged into one of the wide-flowing gardens that held only flowers instead of Potions ingredients. The flowers arched close, but parted into a tunnel instead once they recognized the master of Shaldon’s Garden and his designated heir. Severus ducked nonetheless as petals brushed his hair.

“Neither will you,” Harry said. He wasn’t gasping yet, which Severus took as a good sign. He would need all his breath for battle. “I’m pretty sure Percy will remember you pointing a wand at him.”

Severus grunted and ran on. They came out of that garden into a large dining room, complete with chair and tables in the middle that they had to dodge around, and then into another garden. Severus held up his hand. He recognized both this garden and the glittering edges of space around it, and knew they were close.

Harry pulled up, panting. He looked at Severus and waited, and if his eyes darted ahead to the waiting entrance, they returned almost at once to Severus, which made him smile.

“The Dark Lord is more powerful than you know,” Severus said softly. “Confusion and luck helped you in previous battles, but he will be at his strongest here. I want you to attack him and only him, do you understand? I will handle any Death Eaters he brought with him.”

Harry managed to laugh. “You say he’s the strongest, so I should attack him? Why is that?”

“Because, as Albus found out to his cost, the prophecy is relentlessly literal,” Severus said. “You are the only one who can strike the fatal blow.”

Harry grimaced. “I thought we were going to do that by burning the reverse Horcrux with Fiendfyre.”

Severus nodded. “But we also thought we would have Albus here to wear him down. Dodge around him while I investigate the wards and make sure they are strong enough. Stay as clear of him as you can. If necessary, I will weary him, or we will come back out and leave him trapped in there. Understand?”

Harry frowned and pushed his glasses up on his nose. “Why not just leave him trapped in there until Dumbledore arrives?”

“Because I am not sure that the wards and wizardspace can hold him,” Severus said, grimacing as he said it. He had never thought he would have to doubt either of them were, not in Shaldon’s Garden, but he had never thought the Dark Lord would come here, either. His plans for escape from both his masters had depended on staying safe and secret, and only retreating here if he had no other choice. “I will be checking that as we engage in the battle. If I cast a flood of green sparks into the air, I am satisfied with the wards and you are to make for the entrance, no matter what shape you are in or where I am. Understand?”

Harry looked at him long enough that Severus worried that, whether or not he understood, he would refuse to leave Severus there, and then he nodded. “All right,” he said quietly, and faced the arch that led into the garden from this point of view.

Severus nodded and walked in.

*

Harry stepped into the garden—

And Voldemort attacked.

Harry was surprised how fast it was, maybe because every other time Voldemort had shown at least a little interest in talking first. Here, he simply pushed his magic at Harry in an overwhelming wave, and Harry slammed onto his arse, choking, the Elder Wand buzzing frantically, but unable to do anything because of the Dark magic that was draped like moss over it, choking it, too.

Harry got his feet under him, somehow. He was remembering the way that Dudley used to beat him up and how no one ever did anything about it, and no one ever would except him. So he had to stand up, or he would die there.

He pointed the Elder Wand at Voldemort and asked, again, for magic, even more wordlessly this time than he had during the attack on the Death Eater stronghold. The Wand hissed, and a glittering wave of silver rose up in front of Harry. Harry lifted his head and blinked, managing to focus on it, finally.

It was a serpent, but one with fluttering fins on its sides instead of smooth scales. It dove at Voldemort, and he had to break off his attack on Harry to combat it instead—especially since his first spells drove through it with no success, while a sweep of the serpent’s head knocked him sprawling.

I’m not really an equal for him at just magic, Harry thought, as he got to his feet and retreated towards the hawthorns. But the Elder Wand is.

Then he caught sight of Snape. He had assumed that Snape had had to deal with Death Eaters and that was the reason he hadn’t been involved in the fight so far, but it seemed Voldemort had come alone, like the arrogant bastard he was. Snape was standing with his head bowed and his hands slightly parted. His wand hung between them and vibrated like a string.

What is he doing?

But Harry discovered the answer in the next moment, without asking the question aloud, and then felt a little silly for being so stupid. Testing the wards, of course. Snape would hardly be refraining from the attack for anything less.

Snape’s wand did a complicated spin, Harry’s silver serpent exploded in a cloud of sparks, Voldemort turned towards Harry again, and Snape lifted his head.

A flood of green sparks shot from his wand.

Harry flung himself in a dive to the ground, as though he was playing Quidditch without a broom. Voldemort’s fire spell caught the stone wall and melted some of it, but Harry had to trust what Snape had said with the sparks. The wards were going to hold. They could get out of here now, the only people who had passage through the labyrinth going back the other way, and wait for Dumbledore to show up. Or they could just burn the reverse Horcrux and destroy Voldemort that way.

But Voldemort had turned towards Snape, and his magic had settled to a sustained pulse-beat about him. There was death in his eyes, Harry saw. Snape might not know it, but Voldemort was going to do his best to kill him.

Snape opened his mouth to cast his first curse.

Then he fell to his knees, screaming. Harry knew from the way he clutched his left arm what the problem was. No doubt Voldemort could keep up the pain that flowed through the Dark Mark, and make it so intense that there was no way even a good wizard like Snape could concentrate on his spells.

Harry held up his wand in the moment Voldemort spent looking at Snape in satisfaction, and cast the Summoning Charm. If they couldn’t get out of here, then Harry would make the reverse Horcrux come to him.

Voldemort turned to face him, lazy and smiling. Again, he didn’t bother with words, only gestured with his wand. Harry countered with a Shield Charm that cracked and splintered a moment later, but meant that the spell Voldemort had probably intended to cut his throat only split a line of blood down his cheek.

Harry retreated again. Voldemort slowly turned to stalk him, his eyes wide and pleased, his wand tapping against his leg. He still didn’t say anything.

And yes, Harry might have been safe if he’d retreated the moment Snape shot the green sparks, but that would have meant leaving Snape here and sacrificing his life, and Harry wasn’t about to let that happen.

Shit. Horcrux, hurry up and get here.

Chapter Text


There was no pain like this pain.

Severus could feel it eating away at him, at his magical core and his will. He had never known how strong the Dark Mark was until he tried to break away from the Death Eaters, but the Dark Lord had never used the full strength of it against him. Severus suspected he hadn’t been close enough since Severus declared his allegiance to Dumbledore to do so.

But he was making up for it now, oh yes. Wherever Severus turned in his own mind, the pain was there; it blocked all the ways out, the paths back into his mind that Severus would have taken with most torture, his Occlumency shields. The Mark shredded Severus’s mind as effectively as his body, and Severus could feel more and more of himself curling up and dying. He wondered what would be left, in the end, whether the Dark Lord would leave a tiny shred alive so that Severus could see what had happened to him, and bitterly regret it.

And then he remembered a way that was still open to him, a way that remained because the Dark Lord did not know it existed.

He turned and glided through the black path that linked him to the piece of the Dark Lord’s soul, and the reverse Horcrux. The pain ceased and became transparent, like the state of mind that Severus had achieved when he used the Mark. He was inside, and everything else was outside. There would be a price to pay later, but for now, everything slid through him. He was not the fish, but the water.

He opened his eyes and stood up.

The Dark Lord had his wand aimed at Harry, who dodged and rolled even though nothing was coming at him yet. Severus knew the defense for the pathetic thing it was. The Dark Lord was only toying with Harry, letting him believe that he could escape. He would teach Harry better as soon as it suited him to do so.

Then Severus stepped forwards, and the Dark Lord turned his head and stared.

There was malice on his pale face, and hatred. But also surprise, and Severus answered the surprise by striking.

The spell he chose was a poisonous one, and he cast it on his own left arm, on the flaring Mark, instead of at the Dark Lord. For a moment, the black snake and skull glowed as though absorbing the venom. Then it sprang along the connection.

Severus had not truly understood, before yesterday, that he carried a piece of the Dark Lord with him at all times. The Mark wasn’t a corrupted patch of his own skin; it was a transplant, a replacement of his own skin with something else.

The Dark Lord had used that to his advantage today, as Severus had done yesterday. But the poison couldn’t harm Severus if he cast it on something that wasn’t part of his body. It spread out, and the Dark Lord’s breathing began to choke off.

He uttered a wordless scream, and struck back. Certainly he was powerful, and Severus did not truly expect to be able to defeat him this way. But he was vulnerable, and now Severus knew it. The Dark Lord could attempt to block the vulnerability, but he could not exorcise it, not without ripping the Mark from Severus’s arm. And what Severus had done in fetching the bit of soul and the Dark Lord had done in using the Mark against him would not permit that. They had entwined the Mark and Severus’s body more strongly, if anything.

Severus watched dispassionately as some of his spell leaked through and the Dark Lord began to have to cast defensive spells instead of offensive ones. Again the pain hammered through him, and again he ignored it, parted himself around it and let it slide through him. Yes, he would pay for this.

But he would die knowing he had seen the Dark Lord conquered, and that he had some part in that conquering.

And then two things arrived at once, whirling from opposite sides of the garden, so that it was hard for Severus to sort out what had happened until he thought about it. One was the geode that they had made into the reverse Horcrux, coming in through the entrance that no one but he and Harry could go back along, glinting purple as it slammed into Harry’s hand.

The other was Dumbledore, who wore purple robes nearly as bright as the geode’s crystals and strode into view from beside the green stone wall, from a near-instant Apparition. His wand was raised, and the magic that crackled from him was already forming into green lightning.

The Dark Lord turned to look at Dumbledore. Severus could feel the distant pulse of his amusement. The pain that Severus had been sliding through cut off abruptly, and the Dark Lord strode away to stand opposite Dumbledore. He shook his head, and Severus slid to the ground, calling Harry over to him with one beckoning hand. Harry edged towards him, clutching the geode. Severus wanted to hiss and ask why he had brought the thing here, near two powerful wizards who might be able to sense what it was, but the Dark Lord began to speak, and Severus’s attention reoriented on the conversation.

“Albus,” the Dark Lord said quietly.

“Tom,” said Dumbledore, and the lightning had become a complicated swirl of colors in front of him, darker than Severus would have expected given Dumbledore’s supposed Light nature. Then again, someone who had sacrificed the boy he claimed to love most in the world had to be Darker, more pragmatic, than he let on.

The Dark Lord lifted one hand. Severus saw the glint of an onyx ring from it, one that was surrounded by snakes’ heads, and wasn’t surprised when snakes began to emerge from the shadows at the edge of the garden. “I left that name behind long ago, along with what else I was,” he said with peculiar emphasis, still staring at Dumbledore. “You would be wise not to use it, lest it encourage you to underestimate me.”

“I would never underestimate you, Tom, after everything you have done in the last few years.” Dumbledore spread his hands, and the green lightning surged out from him and became human figures standing beside him. Severus had never heard of the spell, which looked immensely powerful. He urged Harry a little more towards the entrance into the garden, but Harry didn’t move. “You should know that.”

The Dark Lord sneered back wordlessly, and then they were dueling.

The garden was a whirl of color and chaos and light. Sometimes Severus could see a man made of lightning and a snake made of shadow struggling; sometimes he could see a shield like stained glass intercept a hammer of darkness; sometimes he could make out an ocean of blue-black foam breaking on a golden rock. But it was difficult to see more than that, to comprehend more than that. There was too much magic, everywhere, and he was too low on the scale of power compared to Dumbledore and the Dark Lord.

Someone tugged on his sleeve, and Severus turned his head away from what was probably a useless effort anyway to study Harry.

“We need to destroy it,” Harry whispered. “Can you cast the Fiendfyre? Or do I have to?” he added, and Severus could only imagine what his face must have looked like to make Harry say it.

Severus licked his lips and did his best to sit up, but ended up slumping back again. Someone had replaced his muscles with marmalade when he wasn’t looking. “You must do it, I think,” he said. The magic wasn’t loud, but it seemed hard to force the words up his throat anyway. “I wore myself out resisting the pain spell that the Dark Lord tried to inflict on me.”

Harry nodded, and turned to face the Horcrux, holding up his wand. Severus turned his head to watch the reflected lights of the duel shimmer in the geode’s crystals.

Everything was just as it should be, with the geode. Severus knew that. There was no shimmer to it that would have indicated the Dark Lord had done something to change it, and he could still feel the way it was changed, which indicated the bit of the Dark Lord’s soul was still there. Not only that, its entrance into the garden had coincided with Dumbledore’s entrance, which meant the Dark Lord hadn’t paid attention to it anyway.

So why did he feel that there was something they’d forgotten?

*

Okay. Okay. I can do this. We even talked about Fiendfyre and the best way to destroy the Horcrux. It’s not like I don’t know the incantation.

But his heart was hammering so hard that he felt as if he’d fall, and he had thought he would have Snape’s help.

So you won’t. Snape is just lying a few feet away. He could get you away before you did something wrong.

But maybe not, if he was so hurt. Harry swallowed, and knew it had to be now. Voldemort and Dumbledore were still fighting on a level so high that Harry couldn’t make out what they were doing half the time, but Voldemort might win at any moment and turn his attention on them. Harry thought he would probably recognize the Horcrux if he concentrated on it.

He whispered the incantation Snape had taught him, his eyes never leaving the geode. He felt the power building in him, pouring down the Elder Wand. The Elder Wand practically opened its core to the spell and laughed joyously in Harry’s head; Harry thought it was happy that Harry had chosen, purposefully, to use a Dark spell instead of just asking the wand for whatever power it could come up with.

The fire came out.

Harry held his wand steady, despite the tremendous heat and the backlash that felt like it would destroy his fingers. Snape had been strict about that; if he waved it around while he was still casting the spell, then it would create a separate flaming animal, one that Harry would have to deal with. Fiendfyre could turn on its caster as easily as it could destroy something he wanted destroyed.

The Elder Wand seemed to thrum in his grasp, although it didn’t affect the way the Fiendfyre poured out. The motion was comforting, telling Harry, without words, that the wand wouldn’t let the Fiendfyre destroy him.

Says you, Harry thought, and then the Fiendfyre surrounded the Horcrux, and a blazing chimera swallowed it.

There was a sound so loud that it didn’t really seem like a sound, just a quake under their feet. Harry found that he was stumbling, the only real things in the whole world the Elder Wand in his hand and Snape’s hand that gripped his shoulder. Snape was drawing Harry close to him, trying to shelter him, although Harry felt as though the blow that had knocked him down was coming from inside instead of out.

And then he heard the screaming.

Harry turned his head, and stared.

Voldemort was writhing on the ground, his hands over his face. The snakes that he had commanded were frozen in place, and he’d dropped his wand. The Fiendfyre stalked around him, and Harry could see the way that his face seemed to be melting, his clothes dripping. Dark mist poured up from the shattered geode, which was now lying on the ground, with no sign of the fire that had eaten it; the smoke stretched out to Voldemort, and Harry saw it sucking at him, pulling at him. Calling the rest of his soul, still in his body, to join the piece of it destroyed by the Fiendfyre, Harry thought hazily.

But Dumbledore was lying on the ground and shrieking, too.

Harry edged backwards, holding his wand at the ready, in case this was a lie like the ones that Dumbledore had told about the other Harry’s death. A hand grasped his ankle, and he nearly screamed himself. But Dumbledore didn’t stand up, and no one else from the Order had Apparated in when Harry whipped around with his wand at the ready.

“Harry,” Snape whispered, leaning up towards him. “Let us retreat into the house. We can—leave them here, and come back to deal with what is left when they stop screaming.”

Harry bristled instinctively when Snape suggested that, but he had to acknowledge, glancing over his shoulder, that he really didn’t want to stay around here any longer, even though the Fiendfyre seemed to have decided to eat only Voldemort and ignore everything else. “Do you know what’s happening?” he whispered, as Snape began to steer him up the garden towards the entrance that Harry could barely make out, a hole in the folds of wizardspace.

“Dumbledore attempted to take your—excuse me, the original Harry’s—place in the prophecy for this world,” Snape murmured, his voice low and ragged and right next to Harry’s ear. “And we bound the soul to the Horcrux and to the Dark Lord by making it part of the prophecy. I think—the interactions between the prophecy and the Dark Lord and whoever else is involved are more complex than—Dumbledore allowed for. He could not take the place of the Dark Lord’s prophesied destroyer. But he is tied into it now, and the destruction of one piece of the prophecy brings him in.”

Harry stared over his shoulder again. Now that he thought about it, Dumbledore was mimicking Voldemort’s gestures, his arms rising and falling at the same rate, but not as violently. He wasn’t screaming as loudly, either. “Do you think he’ll die?” he asked. “It wasn’t his soul that we put into the Horcrux.”

“I don’t know.” Snape tightened his hold on Harry’s shoulder. “And when I said that we could come back afterwards and finish up whoever survived, I did not—anticipate—remaining around this long.”

Harry went with the shove in the center of his back, not looking over his shoulder again. He could hear one set of screams dying, and he thought he knew which set that was. But he held firm to the idea that, even if Dumbledore survived the destruction of the Horcrux, he would be too weak to Apparate out of the garden right away. They could afford to rest.

He looked Snape over. He was limping, although as far as Harry could see, there was nothing physically wrong with his leg. His right hand was clasped over the Dark Mark. Harry winced and reached out, wondering if he could touch Snape’s Mark and heal it somehow. “Is there something I can do to help?” he asked softly.

Keep moving.

Harry almost jumped out of his skin, and did, mumbling something that he wasn’t even sure would resolve into words. Snape paid no attention to it, at least, lunging through the opening in the edged wizard-folds in a way that made Harry think he was glad to reach solid ground at last. He landed on the far side with a groan and a thump, and Harry followed him, stretching out on his back in this second, isolated garden.

“The wards are strong enough to hold Dumbledore if they’re strong enough to hold Voldemort, right?” Harry murmured, closing his eyes.

“How many times have I told you not to call him that?” Snape’s voice wasn’t as stern as the one he’d used to command Harry to move, though, which Harry decided meant he could safely ignore it. On the other hand, quite possibly Snape would never speak as sharply as that command to move again.

“He’s probably dead by now,” Harry pointed out. “Or close to it. You and I both know how the theory behind the reverse Horcrux works. If he’s not dead, we can go in and finish him off. I think I can speak of someone dying any way I like.”

Snape gave him a weak glare, and then turned and glanced back once more at the entrance to the potions garden. “We do not know if the wards will hold,” he whispered. “We do not know whether they are dying at the moment, or managed to escape. And I forbid you to go back and check,” he added, as Harry opened his mouth to say something.

“Well, someone has to,” Harry pointed out logically. “Unless we’re just supposed to take it for granted that they’re dead and celebrate before we’ve even seen the bodies.”

“You are not going to,” Snape said, voice as precise as if he was etching each word in stone. “And I am in no shape to do so.”

“I volunteer.”

Snape opened his mouth, and then seemed to realize at the same time as Harry that the voice originated from behind him, towards the house, rather than from Harry. He and Harry turned and looked.

Draco stood there, his face so grim and pale that Harry winced. He had his wand in one hand, spinning it around and around, as though he wanted to throw it away and hug it close to him at the same time. “I volunteer,” he repeated. “You promised me that I could be there when you got vengeance on Dumbledore. I haven’t seen anything yet. You arranged this whole thing to leave me out.” He turned his head and glared at Harry, as if he suspected that leaving him out was mostly Harry’s fault. “Let me go in and check.”

Snape was silent. Harry thought Snape was going to let him decide, and then glanced at him and saw the way his mouth was fixed.

“No,” Harry said quickly.

“So you were the one who thought I should stay behind like a child,” Draco said. Harry supposed it was progress that Draco was looking at him like he hated him now, not like he was confusing Harry with his dead boyfriend, but it was still unpleasant.

“No,” Harry snapped back again. “What I think is that Professor Snape wants to shove you in there because you don’t matter to him as much as I do and you could tell us whether they were alive or dead without a risk to me.”

Snape turned to look at him, face as tight and cool as the one in Harry’s world had looked when he was late to Potions. Harry glared back at him. “You know you were thinking that,” he said. “You care about Draco’s life, but less than you care about mine, or yours.”

“I understand why,” Draco said, in a strangled voice. “I haven’t been—rational or—helpful—since my Harry died.”

“That doesn’t mean he should just get to throw away your life on a whim!” Harry snapped, turning back to him. Honestly, did no one but him give a shit about Draco here? “You can’t just—”

“And I told you I volunteer,” Draco said. “So I’m taking the risk on myself, and if there’s any blame attaching to that, it’s not going to be to you. You can tell my father that, if he comes and confronts you. And he’s the only one who would,” he added softly. “Weasley and Granger were Harry’s friends, not mine.”

“Go,” Snape said.

Draco nodded, and, with his wand held in front of him, he ducked through the entrance to the garden.

“Why are you willing to take more risks with his life?” Harry demanded, turning back to Snape. “Even if—even if I what I said is true, there’s no reason to let him get hurt.”

“Draco knows more Dark magic than you think, and is more capable of defending himself.” Snape’s eyes were large and calm, and he didn’t look the way he had a minute ago. He looked like the man Harry had come to know and respect. “And we did promise him revenge. This is the only way he may get a chance at it.”

Harry just shook his head and turned around to stare at the entrance into the garden. Even if Draco was perfectly safe, he wondered if Draco liked being sent off casually like that, with no real choice on his part.

Snape gripped his shoulder for a second, as though he wanted to remind himself of what Harry’s bones felt like. “He will be fine,” he said. “You worry too much.”

Harry just stared at him, because Snape saying that to him was rich.

Snape didn’t attempt a defense. He closed his eyes and said, “Might I trouble you to go to my lab and fetch the vials that are bright red and corked with purple? They are strong pain potions. I fear I need them.”

Harry swallowed and reminded himself that Snape had been tortured, and Draco had volunteered. He nodded. “How do I get back through the maze? Turn right every time instead of left?”

Snape slitted one eye open and regarded him with mild contempt, which reassured Harry. A Snape who couldn’t even feel those emotions would be in real danger. “Turn right until you recognize the doorway of the lab. It is in one of the folds that I had to bend most strongly. You will come upon it. Then go through it.”

Harry nodded several times and ran away, forcing his legs to work as fast as he could. He had been so busy worrying over Draco that he had lost track of the fact that there was someone right in front of him to worry about.

*

When he was sure that Harry was out of sight and not likely to return for at least five minutes, Severus pulled the sleeve back from his left arm, and looked at the Dark Mark. He had wondered if he would have an arm left, and had been prepared to face the sight, but he had still wanted to do so alone.

The Dark Mark on his arm matched none of his expectations, seeing as it was neither unchanged nor a mass of bleeding flesh. Instead, it had bleached to a pale grey, and it was difficult to make out the place where the snake intertwined with the skull. Severus frowned. He had still been feeling pain, which made him fear that the Dark Lord was among the living, but now he wondered if it wasn’t residual pain, from having the connection between them exploited in a way it was never meant to be.

Gingerly, he reached out and poked at the Mark. There was a brief hiss and sizzle, and the snake collapsed into ash that drifted away from his arm. The skin beneath it did not look exactly healthy, being the rather ghastly color that Severus had seen when Lily broke her arm one summer and had to wear a Muggle cast instead of being healed by magic, but much better than he had thought.

And unmarked.

Severus closed his eyes, glad he was already sitting down.

When he thought he could look again, he opened his eyes and went on surveying it.

He had only the skull now, and the stare of its empty eye-sockets was no longer as threatening as it had been. Someone might look on this years hence, or now, and think only that it was an ugly tattoo.

Harry scrambled back through the doorway with the pain potions, and Severus let his sleeve fall back into place and picked up the first vial. The cork popped out smoothly, and he actually managed to swallow most of the potion before something began to pound frantically on the wall of solid air that blocked the entrance to the potions garden from the other side, for everyone but Severus and Harry.

Harry whirled around with his wand in his hand. Severus eyed it warily, but said nothing about the Dark power that buzzed through it. That wand had more than likely saved Harry’s life in the struggle with the Dark Lord.

On the other side of the barrier was Draco, pounding with his fists and screaming now. Severus surmised that he had not expected to be trapped behind the barrier like that, and that he wanted them to come get him, and said as much.

Harry gave him a dire look and moved straight towards the barrier. Severus swallowed the second pain potion, ignoring the way it tried to choke him, and stepped in front of Harry.

“Will you tell me what has you paranoid now?” Harry folded his arms and stared at him as if Severus was obstructing him for the fun of it.

“Certainly,” Severus said, so calmly that it took a moment for Harry to realize what he had actually said and scowl at him. “I need to make sure that that is Draco beyond the barrier, and not a clever glamour. Or for that matter, that Draco is doing it of his own free will and not because he is controlled by the Imperius Curse.”

Harry blinked at him, then gave a tiny, “Oh,” and stepped out of the way.

Severus nodded graciously at him and stepped up to the barrier. With a flick of his wand, it melted away, and Draco started to stumble forwards.

Severus caught his eye and sliced into his mind in a Legilimens so smooth and certain that he thought the Dark Lord could not have bettered it. A second later, he nodded to Harry. This was the shallow and frenetic mind he knew, and with no trace of anything controlling it except an absolutely overwhelming preoccupation with what he’d seen in the garden.

“Come on!” Draco was gasping. “The Dark Lord is dead, and I think—I think Dumbledore is dying. Something’s wrong with him, anyway. I don’t know what!”

Harry gave Severus a glance. He might not have meant for Severus to construe it as asking for permission, but Severus nodded gracious permission anyway. Harry scowled at him and ducked through the gate, aiming for the back of the garden, where Dumbledore and the Dark Lord had fallen, the last time they saw them.

However compelling the sight of Dumbledore might be, however strange the things that he was doing, Severus had to turn his head and gaze at the place where the Dark Lord’s corpse had fallen.

He saw what Draco had meant, despite the Dark Lord’s ferocity and supposed immortality. He had burned. His body was still recognizable, mostly because the fire had reached his face last, but it was nothing more than a brittle, delicate husk of black skin over hollowness. Except for the color of the ash—black rather than grey—he resembled the snake that had flecked off Severus’s skin.

Severus closed his eyes and did not sink to his knees mostly because he did not wish to demonstrate such weakness in front of either Draco or Harry.

But there was so much light in his soul.

Whatever came after this, whether it was traveling back with Harry to his world or parting from him, that light would be there.

*

Harry bent over Dumbledore and stared at him. Dumbledore’s face was completely red, his beard tossed aside and his hands grasping at his throat. Harry would have thought he was choking to death, but he was pretty sure Dumbledore would be dead by now if that was the case. He shook his head when Draco asked in an impatient, hissing voice what was wrong with him. Harry didn’t want to say and get it wrong.

But Dumbledore was still alive. The way his eyes moved to Harry and then bugged out told Harry that.

Harry grinned at him. “Feel like confessing?” he asked, although he had no idea if Dumbledore could talk right now. “How you killed the Harry who was born here, sacrificed him, and made him think it was his own idea? He had to think he was his own idea, unless you were controlling him with Imperius then, too. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have swallowed those potions.”

Draco drew a sharp breath beside him and stood trembling. Harry frowned and just kept himself from wincing. He kept doing that to Draco, forgetting that he had been in love with that Harry and that he had a prior relationship with everyone here. Maybe he had to say this, but he didn’t want the blow to go past Dumbledore and hit Draco instead.

Dumbledore’s face slowly rolled towards him. The sheen of red was fading from it, and his hands fell away from his throat. Harry took the moment to Disarm him. He didn’t really think Dumbledore could do him much damage right now, but on the other hand, he knew he’d been mistaken about that before, and he didn’t want to repeat his mistakes.

“I never killed Harry,” Dumbledore whispered. “I never murdered him. He died willingly.”

Harry had started to feel a bit worried in spite of himself, wondering if it was possible they could have been mistaken about the origin of Harry’s death, but by the end, he understood and snorted. “Right, because that makes it so much better,” he snapped. “Because you persuaded him that it would be best if he sacrificed himself and died, that means that you didn’t play a part in his death.” He gestured at the way Dumbledore lay on the ground. “I think this proves that you did, because why would the destruction of Voldemort affect you this way if you weren’t tied to the prophecy? Maybe it could only half-kill you, since you didn’t take the original Harry’s place even though you tried, but you were involved.”

Dumbledore had to labor several times before he had the breath to speak again. Draco was trembling beside him, Harry saw. He glanced once over his shoulder, looking for Snape, but he was standing back, waiting, and Harry snapped his eyes back to Dumbledore. He didn’t think looking away from him was a good idea.

“There is a difference,” Dumbledore said at last, his chest heaving mightily, “in fulfilling your destiny and dying without purpose.”

Harry laughed harshly. He saw Dumbledore shudder, probably the only kind of flinch he was capable of giving right now. “Right. There’s so much difference, and you appreciate it so much, that you told the whole Order about how Harry had really died. But you couldn’t, could you? You couldn’t admit that you killed him and it was for nothing, because it didn’t even make you the invincible Light Lord that it was supposed to. So you covered up the death and said it was a suicide. You left everyone to assume that he killed himself because he was too cowardly to face up to this so-called destiny. You made Draco grieve and obsess over his death. And you summoned other versions of me from other worlds, and made them die, too. All of that, rather than admit you made a mistake.” He leaned forwards until his nose hovered a few inches above Dumbledore’s. “That doesn’t sound like you helped someone die fulfilling a destiny. It sounds like what you did was futile, and you were perfectly willing to let other people die instead of letting them find out.”

Dumbledore made a sound of pain and closed his eyes. Harry didn’t know whether it was physical pain or mental pain. He just found himself watching Dumbledore and savoring every moment of it.

Hermione would probably say that was me being vindictive.

Harry shrugged. His Hermione would say that, yes. The only one who was real to him, the only one who mattered to him. But this Order had gone along with Dumbledore’s plans, even when they could see they didn’t work. They were less guilty than he was, but not by much.

“I had to do what I had to do,” Dumbledore whispered next. “There was no…way…that the boy could defeat Tom alone.”

“Have you heard of something called extra training?” Harry asked, widening his eyes. “I hear it does wonders. And leaves the victim alive, even!”

Draco choked beside him, with what might have been outrage or glee. Harry didn’t turn to check. He wasn’t sure that he could turn away from Dumbledore’s eyes right now, which blinked fretfully at him, as if Harry would stop making sense in a second.

“He could have lived,” Harry said, hammering in the words as hard as he could, doing his best to make Dumbledore understand, how much of a waste it was, what he’d done. “He could have changed the world, maybe. Maybe he would have done his part in the prophecy in a way that you didn’t foresee, and made it come true that way. The way I did when I burned a stone that we’d bound a bit of Tom’s soul to and destroyed him.”

Dumbledore stared at him, and then shut his eyes again.

Harry could see the way he breathed, though, and knew better than to think he’d died or gone unconscious. He took a step forwards and kept speaking. He knew that Draco deserved a chance, too, but Draco didn’t know about this, which made it Harry’s thing to say. “You kept saying that the prophecy had to be fulfilled, and that was the sole reason you summoned versions of me, of us, over and over again. But you never thought there was any flexibility. It had to be straightforward battle, and because I survived battling Tom but didn’t obey you, you were sure that I was the wrong one. You were going to give up and try to summon another version of me, or try to control my mind so that I would do things your way. Why didn’t you realize that interfering in fate and prophecy didn’t do anything except fuck things up? You idiot!

He was breathing hard now, himself, and raised a hand to touch his throat. Draco was eyeing him sideways and looked as though he thought Harry ought to be locked up for his own good. Harry gave him a quick smile and turned to face Dumbledore and deliver the death blow.

“You thought you knew everything,” he said softly. “You thought you were so grand, the chess master, the one who knew where everyone had to go and what they had to do for you to win. What makes you any different from Tom? He wanted to destroy the Harry born to this world, but you were the one who actually did it. And he wanted to manipulate people, but you did it, all of it, all the time. And not even to conquer the world. To cover up your own mistakes. Well, you failed at that, too. The whole Order will know soon.”

Dumbledore shivered and tried to curl in on himself. That was rather pitiful, Harry thought, a grown man in a fetal position.

But he didn’t know what else he could say to Dumbledore. Even now, he held back the information that he’d found a way to return to his world, just in case there was something Dumbledore could do to interfere with it.

He stepped back and nodded to Draco. “Your turn.”

Draco’s mouth fell open a little. Harry hid a smile. Had Draco thought Harry was so angry that he might kill Dumbledore right there?

Probably. Harry could feel the rage and fear still twisting through him. Maybe Draco had thought that was a strong enough emotion to make him kill Dumbledore, after all.

But Draco turned back to Dumbledore and said, “Transfero aegrimoniam.

Purple-grey tendrils slid out of his temples, like Dark versions of the memories that you put in a Pensieve. Harry watched in fascination, since he didn’t know what the spell did. Draco just watched.

The tendrils wrapped around Dumbledore and bound him, and he choked. Harry turned to Draco with raised eyebrows, wondering if Draco had meant to kill him after all.

Draco shook his head. “I gave him my grief for Harry,” he hissed, his eyes savage. “He’s feeling now what I felt, and I’m free of it.”

“You gave him all of it?” Harry blinked at him. “I would have thought…”

“Well, yes, we’ve already established that you don’t understand me very well,” Draco snapped back at him, and turned away. “You were the one who taught me that he wasn’t coming back and I needed to move on, though,” he added, over his shoulder, as he moved towards the entrance of the garden. “So I suppose I can thank you for that, and make you responsible for my decision, in a way.”

He did spin around once more and give Harry a smile so wicked that Harry blinked a little. Then Draco turned around and sauntered on.

I suspect that Draco’s going to be just fine, Harry thought, staring after Draco and shaking his head. He’s going to grow up to be a right bloody git, but he’ll probably like that.

“Let me out, please, Professor Snape.”

Harry looked around again. Snape was standing inside the entrance to the garden, and he dispelled the barrier with a flash of his wand. Draco left, not looking behind him even to see if they would come with him.

Then Snape came up and stood next to Harry, looking down at Dumbledore.

Harry thought of lots of things he could say, and all of them misplaced. He chose to be silent, instead, and look thoughtfully at Dumbledore, waiting for Snape to make up his mind to take vengeance, or not.

*

There were many things Severus would have liked to say, but he had been listening as Harry said them, and that meant he did not have to waste time or strength on them now.

Most of all he would have liked to tell Albus that they had found a way back to Harry’s world and both of them would be taking it, but he shared the same fear he suspected that Harry did: that Albus would try to block their departure if he could, for all the little good it would do him.

So they stood there, the three of them, or perhaps Severus should say that the two of them stood there and Albus lay there. Broken, ultimately pitiful.

But a vision of another boy filled Severus’s head, a boy Albus had tricked and punished and ultimately slaughtered, and he shook his head. No, he would not waste his pity on someone who did not deserve it. It would be reserved for those who did.

“Aren’t you going to say something?”

Severus looked down. Harry was peering up at him, his forehead wrinkled as though he had no idea why Severus would stand so still and silent.

“No,” Severus said, long, slow, judging. “He means nothing to me.”

Albus’s eyes flared open, and Severus saw the truth, looking into them. He could have found no sharper blade.

Harry just nodded as though that didn’t surprise him. “So what are we going to do with him? I know you don’t want him to stay here.”

Severus gave a vicious little smile. “And we must not Obliviate him, or we will destroy a great deal of good. I think, instead, we should bind him and Stupefy him—for now. In the morning, we can explain the whole to Minerva. She will listen, and she would watch our Pensieve memories and believe them.”

“And then what?” Harry cocked his head. “You think she can control him? Wouldn’t she just start listening to him again, once she spent enough time around him?”

Severus shook his head. “I think it is time for Albus to—retire,” he said. “And Minerva will be the means of providing that retirement.”

Albus’s horror was all he had imagined it would be.

And in the end, it was for the best after all, to let Harry do the binding and the Stunning. Severus had only to stand there, and then to walk back into his home, leaning on Harry’s arm.

On the way, they passed the Dark Lord’s corpse, and Severus’s robe hem brushed over his feet. One of his toes promptly disintegrated into ash.

It was—satisfactory.

Although Severus did not intend to keep that robe.

Chapter Text

There will be an epilogue to this story, posted some time in the next two weeks, but this is the last chapter proper of World in Pieces. I just couldn’t fit everything into it, so there will have to be an epilogue. But as for the main story, it really does stop here.

Chapter Twenty-Four—The Bridge

“Of course I will take charge of him.” Minerva looked shaken, her hand rising to her mouth as though she assumed that would cover her shock. “Are you sure—you are sure of all he has done?”

Severus wanted to close his eyes and sink back into his chair. He had thought it best to tell Minerva about Albus and the things he had done, as well as what they needed her to do now, early in the morning, but he should have foreseen the challenge of her doubt. She would not want to believe him, and he did not want to argue about it.

He hadn’t remembered that he had someone by his side who would challenge Minerva if she tried to get away with that.

“Of course he did all that.” Harry stepped forwards, his legs stiff when Severus opened his eyes to look at him. His face had a darker maturity than it had yesterday. Severus wondered idly how much that came from the battle, how much from destroying the Dark Lord, and how much from simple longing to go home and leave the complexities of this Order and his relationship with it far behind. “Why would we lie and tell you he did if he didn’t?”

Minerva turned a troubled gaze on Harry. “I do not—disbelieve you, precisely,” she faltered, and Severus held back a snort. Of course she did. “But I wish for some more proof than what you’ve offered me so far. It’s a serious accusation.”

“Remember the body of the Harry who committed suicide, we were told, on the banks of the lake?” Severus asked. He was done with this nonsense, and with the way that Harry glared at Minerva. It was Harry he mostly wished to protect from Minerva’s doubt, but he might also have to protect Minerva from Harry’s wand if this went on. “Do you remember how his pupils had swollen, which was an odd sight? And there is the small matter that one cannot commit suicide with one’s own wand. Someone else could have changed his wand into a blade and given it to him, but that would imply the presence of at least one other person who was aware of the deed.”

Minerva sat up, her gaze electric now. “I do remember reading about that,” she whispered. “I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before.”

“Albus’s words were an effective blind,” Severus said tiredly. He wondered if this was how it would be when they went back to the castle to deal with the Order. If it was one-tenth as hard, then he would yield to the broad hints Harry was already dropping and let Minerva deal with it. They could depart without seeing anyone except perhaps Black. Severus would remove the controlling spell from him, since they would have no further need of it. “He had only to hint that Harry was afraid to face the Dark Lord, and everyone else picked up on that. After all, we were afraid, too.”

Minerva nodded, although she looked at him as though she suspected he hadn’t been afraid. Severus restrained his snort with an effort he thought was probably visible. But as long as Minerva agreed and did as she was told, including helping to restrain Albus, then it really wouldn’t matter.

“I can believe more easily now that he was responsible for that Harry’s death,” Minerva began, her gaze darting to the Harry who stood at Severus’s side as if she still found them hard to separate.

But, Severus thought, knowing what came next.

“I still find it hard to believe that he kept it concealed from us for so long.” Minerva shifted uneasily in her seat again. “According to you, he believed he was right, that he had to sacrifice Harry to save the world. Why would he keep something like that secret? He never hesitated to tell us what had to be done, when he thought the Order had to summon other versions of the destined hero from their worlds.”

“He didn’t want to tell you because it didn’t work,” Harry said. Severus was glad that he had taken over. His flat voice and blunt words might convince Minerva more effectively, as would his outrage. “He couldn’t make himself part of the prophecy the way he thought he might be able to, and he sure couldn’t take it over and transform it so that he was the one destined to defeat Voldemort and not me. Us,” he added. Severus wondered if it was because of the way Minerva was staring at him or just because he remembered that he hadn’t been the only Harry Potter called on as a replacement. “He couldn’t admit to failure. He didn’t even want to admit that summoning other Harrys from other worlds was a failure. He just kept having you do it.”

Minerva nodded slowly. “Can you forgive us for that?” she asked Harry. “For bringing you here with no way for you to get home?”

Harry was silent for so long that Severus wondered what he was planning to say. Although the effort of moving still made his head hurt, he managed to turn and look at Harry.

Harry had his eyes half-closed and his fingers tapping on one hip. Then he opened his eyes and nodded. “I suppose I can,” he said, “since Professor Snape and I found a way to go home after all.”

Minerva seemed to go mostly boneless in her relief. “That’s wonderful,” she breathed, with only one glance at Severus to confirm it. “Then you can—you can forgive the rest of the Order, too.”

Harry shrugged. “I don’t plan to talk to them about it. If they talk to me, then I’m going to tell them exactly what I think of them. They didn’t desert to help me like you and Draco did,” he added, perhaps because he had seen Minerva’s wince.

“Yes,” Minerva said faintly. “Well. Perhaps it would be for the best if Mr. Black and Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger stayed out of your way.”

Harry smiled at her and turned to look at Severus. “Do you think we can trust her not to be corrupted by his words, then?” he asked.

Minerva sat up and glared at him. This time, it came sheerly from his insolence and not from any belief that Albus was more innocent than they had said he was, Severus judged.

He nodded once to Harry and turned back to Minerva. “We had to make sure of you,” he said. “And your initial reaction justified our caution.”

Minerva shut her mouth on what was probably a sharp snap, and then grimaced. “You’re right,” she said. “I’ll—follow you and take charge of him. I should take him back to Hogwarts right away, I suppose.” She hesitated and looked around the room they sat in, warm and blazing red, the room Severus had allotted to her, as if she didn’t know what to do next. “There’s no reason to stay here, now,” she said, in a little rising tone.

Severus nodded again. “And you might as well take Mr. Malfoy with you. He should go back to Hogwarts and see his father.”

His gaze crossed with Minerva’s. Minerva moved her lips soundlessly for a moment, then smiled. “Of course I will be there when they meet,” she said.

Severus inclined his head, well-pleased. When she was not blinded by her obnoxious faith in a man who had her in the palm of his hand, Minerva had good sense.

“We need to go back to Hogwarts, too,” Harry said suddenly. “There are some things I left there that I need, and you need your clothes and books and any Potions ingredients that you want to take with you.”

Minerva’s mouth fell open. “Take with you? Where are you going, Severus?”

Severus half-smiled. He could have wished that he was less tired or that Minerva was a more hostile audience, for the full effect of the words, but he would enjoy them as he could. “I am retiring,” he said mildly. “Going back with Harry to his world, and keeping him out of trouble while making a new life for myself, sounded like a good idea.”

“But you are dead there.”

“And I’m dead in this one,” Harry said sharply. “Didn’t prevent me from getting pulled here to save all your arses.”

“Language, Harry,” Severus said mildly. “But yes, Minerva, I am well aware of that. Based on the theory that Albus talked about with us—a theory I believe to be sound despite his general untrustworthiness—I would not be able to fit into Harry’s world if I was not. There would be no gap I could drop into. As it is, I am rather looking forward to it. A world with a different reputation and no Albus sounds like the world for me.”

He caught Harry’s gaze, the way his eyes had widened and he’d clamped one hand over his mouth, probably to keep from bursting out cackling. He did not seem to have thought that Albus’s death in his world might be one of its attractions for Severus.

An instant later, Harry grinned and turned to Minerva. “So when are we taking Dumbledore back to Hogwarts?”

*
“Caution.”

Harry didn’t really think he needed Snape’s hand on his shoulder, or the word Snape leaned down and hissed in his ear, to tell him that. Yes, all right, he was practically marching forwards in his eagerness to find the members of the Order and tell them what he thought of them. It didn’t matter much, though, he thought. Whatever he said, they wouldn’t change, and they couldn’t hurt him. He was leaving this world in a few days.

It didn’t mean that he was prepared when they rounded one corner in the dungeons, with McGonagall floating Dumbledore in front of them, and met Ron and Hermione.

Weasley and Granger, Harry told himself firmly. He had decided it was best for his sanity if he just separated them from his friends in his mind as much as he could.

“What are you doing with the Headmaster?” Granger asked, although her voice was faint and almost came out as a squeak. Weasley stood beside her, eyes darting around as though he wished he was somewhere else.

Well, I wish the same thing, Harry thought, and glared at them. “I know you got the letters I sent to you,” he said. “That should have explained most of it. And maybe Mr. Malfoy could explain the rest.” He thought Lucius was the likeliest of all them to have suspected something wrong about the first Harry’s body.

“I still don’t understand.” Granger looked at Professor McGonagall, and she shook her head. “What are you doing?” she whispered. “You know that Professor Dumbledore was only trying the hardest he could to—to make sure that we survived.”

“And he has done it, if you want to think of it that way, Miss Granger.” McGonagall looked as impassive as Harry had ever seen her. He decided it was probably because she had decided Granger wasn’t really to blame for everything Dumbledore had done. “The last Harry Potter he summoned has killed—Voldemort.”

Granger swayed on her feet, and Weasley looked like he might faint. No wonder, Harry thought. McGonagall had probably never said that name before.

“Really?” Granger whispered this time. “He’s dead?”

McGonagall nodded and looked almost kindly at her. Harry shrugged. She could give kindness, and that was fine, as long as she didn’t expect Harry to do the same thing. “Yes. I saw the body—what was left of it—myself. He burned.”

Weasley smiled for the first time. “Good,” he said. “That’s justice for the way he burned Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley.”

“It is indeed,” McGonagall said. “And I think you ought to thank Mr. Potter, who was instrumental in his destruction.”

Weasley turned to face him. Harry gave him a bored look, wondering if this was really necessary. But McGonagall was the one who had made Weasley apologize, so Harry supposed he could be gracious for however long this took.

“Thank you,” Weasley said, although his eyes were fixed on the floor at Harry’s feet instead of on his face. “You were—you were the one who could do the job, and we ought to have known that.”

“We did know that,” Granger said, although her voice was small, like she was still reasoning her way towards a conclusion. “That’s why we brought him across from his world to ours.”

And that, in the end, was what ignited Harry’s temper. He lifted his eyes and looked at Granger, and she stepped back so fast that she collided with the wall. Out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw McGonagall open her mouth as if to say something, then sigh and shut it.

“You didn’t know that,” Harry whispered. “The fuck are you talking about. You only brought me because your own Harry was dead—murdered by your fearless leader, by the way—and you were desperate to survive. You didn’t think about whether I wanted to or whether I would do any better than the two versions of me you already lost. You didn’t even pay close enough attention to realize I was in Gryffindor and not in Slytherin! It was only coincidence that I managed to save you. I sure as hell didn’t get any help from you—”

Snape put his hand on his shoulder. Harry choked back his fury. He knew that Snape wasn’t touching him that way because he thought Harry should keep the words to himself; he’d done it because Granger’s chin was rising, haughty as fire, and he knew that she wouldn’t listen to a thing they said.

“You still saved us,” Granger said. “And you were brave, so thank you.” The words might have broken her teeth, the way she said them. “And you probably found a way back to your own world thanks to the help you got, so it all worked out for the best.”

“Not help from you,” Harry whispered.

Weasley interrupted, looking back and forth between them uneasily as if he knew Harry was upset but not why. “Anyway, things are all right, now,” he said. “You found a way to go home?”

“No thanks to her,” Harry said, jerking a finger at Granger, “but yeah, I did.” He reminded himself again that the point was to get the first Harry’s diary and some of the things Snape had left here, and go home. He couldn’t make this Ron and Hermione understand the truth, because they wouldn’t, no matter what he said.

“Okay.” Weasley gave him one more cautious glance and laid a hand on Granger’s elbow when she would have said something. She rolled her eyes and said a derogatory word beneath her breath, but followed Weasley up the corridor without a farewell that would probably have set Harry off again.

“Now that that is done,” McGonagall said, in a bright, brittle voice. Harry thought she was a little shocked that other members of the Order had behaved exactly the way Harry and Snape had told her they would, and just barely managed to keep from shaking his head. What would it take to convince her? “May we go on? You said that you wanted to retrieve something specific from the Slytherin common room, Potter.”

“Yes,” Harry said, and glanced at Snape. He was unsure how strong he was after the battle with Voldemort. Sometimes he still limped or clutched his arm or looked as if he needed some extra support.

“I will manage,” said Snape, and made a shooing motion. Harry sighed and darted away down the corridor.

It took him a few moments to realize he still had a follower. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw Draco behind him, his mouth set.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Harry muttered, and stopped, turning to face him. “I’m not going to break anything or take anything that doesn’t belong to me, all right? You can let me go alone.”

“I don’t want to.”

Harry rolled his eyes and kept going. Draco paced him, his wand drawn. Harry watched him from the corner of his eye, but as long as Draco didn’t point the damn thing at him, then it was none of Harry’s business why he wanted extra protection.

They rounded the corner that would lead to the door of the Slytherin common room, and Lucius Malfoy was standing there.

Draco stepped in front of Harry. Harry shook his head and moved up beside him, instead. Did Draco think that his father would strike at Harry for being the one to cause Voldemort’s death? Maybe, but Harry had faced worse things now, throughout the month he’d been here, than Lucius bloody Malfoy.

Lucius didn’t look as though he wanted to strike, anyway. He glanced once at his son before fastening his eyes back on Harry. “You succeeded,” he whispered.

“No thanks to you, right?” Harry asked. “You might have been a spy for Voldemort for years, from what I can tell.”

Draco was the only one who flinched at the name. Lucius regarded him thoughtfully instead, then nodded. “Yes. I did send some information to him. Until you came and demonstrated that you could resist the Dark Lord’s magic, I had no hope in the replacements for the original Potter, and no faith in the prophecy.”

“Did you have anything to do with Harry’s death?” Draco’s voice was low and dangerous.

Lucius turned to him and smiled pleasantly. “Of course not. How could I? He’s standing right in front of you, still alive.”

“Don’t play with me.” Draco’s wand flicked once. “Did you help Dumbledore sacrifice him?”

Lucius shook his head. “Why would I? His was the side I chose. When he demonstrated his strength against the Dark Lord, he was the one I chose to honor and follow. But the others were unknown factors. I could not trust them, and I wanted to be sure that I was on the winning side.”

“That’s all you care about,” said Harry. He felt strange and weighty and wise, saying that. He felt as though he understood Lucius better than he understood the Weasley and Granger of this world. Of course, Lucius had been more honest, was being more honest right now, and if he wasn’t, then it wouldn’t affect Harry as much. “Being on the winning side.”

Lucius glanced at him and nodded. “It will not matter as much as I thought, given the way you defeated him,” he added, with a thoughtful blink. “He will not be able to punish me or favor me. Will Dumbledore?”

“I doubt it,” said Draco.

Lucius faced his son again and studied him. Then he smiled. “You have got over that death,” he said. “I am pleased.”

“I gave my grief to Dumbledore,” Draco said, his voice as steady as the castle walls. Harry wondered if Lucius knew him well enough to see the nervous way his eyelids fluttered.

Probably, but he didn’t make a mocking remark about that, the way Harry would have thought. Instead, Lucius bowed. “You have become the Malfoy I knew you could be,” he said.
“That was well-done, indeed.”

Draco beamed. Harry sighed. “Can you let me pass? I need to retrieve something from the Slytherin common room, and you’re blocking the way.”

“You must have found a way back home,” Lucius said, moving out of the way. “If you were staying here, you would try to be more conciliatory to me.”

Harry snorted and stepped past him. Perhaps Draco would explain to his father how little interest Harry had in placating anyone here.

Except Snape, perhaps, but already, Harry didn’t think of Snape as belonging to this world. He was, instead, just the ally who would come back with Harry, the person who deserved a real home instead of exile here.

The only person who does, Harry thought, as he slipped into the room and made his way to the bed that the first Harry had slept in, the one with the knobs of gold that he could push and touch. The others can stay here and rot for all I care.

He had to admit he didn’t really feel that way about the Weasleys—most of them—but this was still their world, and not his. He had left it up to Professor McGonagall to tell the Weasleys about the defeat of Voldemort. It wasn’t the kind of story Harry had the patience for anymore.

He held the diary in his hands soon enough, and cracked it open, hoping against hope it might have changed into English, or even Parseltongue, words since the last time he looked at it. No. It was still a mess of letters and numbers.

“What is that?”

Harry hesitated, but the first Harry was dead, and he had been avenged, and if there was anyone here who had loved him, Harry thought it was Draco. He held the diary out, and watched Draco frown at the code for a moment.

Then he snorted, and his face broke into a gentle smile. “That’s a code we used to write to each other in first year,” he said, shaking his head. “We thought we were so clever. If any professors found the notes, they wouldn’t be able to understand them. But all that happened was that they thought we were planning something more serious than we were, and they assigned us a worse detention than you usually get.”

“You can read it, then?” Harry asked, when he could speak.

“It’ll take me a second,” Draco said in distraction, picking up the diary gently. “It’s been years since I used it. You have to substitute letters for each other, see, and write the words backwards. The numbers are just distractions.” He fell silent, then Summoned a piece of parchment and an inkwell and started writing.

“Will Severus be returning?”

That was Lucius. Everyone seemed to think that he wanted to answer their questions today, Harry thought in irritation. But this one, there was no reason to keep silent on. Maybe Draco’s father would be humbled a little if he knew that he couldn’t lord it over Snape anymore. He turned around. “He’s in the castle.”

“I meant, will he be staying here, or going back with you?” Lucius stood with his arms folded, his gaze fixed on Harry as though he was trying to understand why he had been able to defeat Voldemort when none of the others had.

Because I had more help, and I knew about Horcruxes, and I was stubborn, Harry thought. He knew that no one would believe that answer, if he gave it. They would want something either more mystical or more—deadly. Harry wondered if people were already telling each other different stories about the way he had defeated Voldemort back in his own world, too. Using a Disarming Spell and the help of others and just happening to have the allegiance of the Elder Wand wasn’t special enough for some people.

“He’ll be going,” Harry said. “What does he have to stay here for?”

Lucius’s eyes narrowed a little. Harry wasn’t sure why that shot had gone home, but he was glad it had. He wasn’t going to judge Lucius for betraying Dumbledore; in a way, Snape had done the same, and if Lucius passing information on to Voldemort had resulted in some deaths, that was a matter for people here to work out and punish him for. But Lucius still wasn’t Snape, wasn’t an ally.

A friend, even.

“He might stay to see the one who hurt him punished,” Lucius murmured. “The Headmaster.”

“And other people?” Harry asked, and smiled nastily when Lucius flinched. “No, he won’t want to stay. He’s just not interested in that.”

Lucius looked at him with his lips parted. Then he shook his head and said, with irony that Harry knew he meant to be devastating, “It is more than clear that you do not know Severus. You would never say such a foolish thing if you did. The idea that he would give up revenge…” Lucius fell silent, smiling into a corner. “You cannot think that.”

“Why shouldn’t he?” Draco didn’t lift his head from the diary. “Professor Snape let Harry destroy the Dark Lord. And he let Harry yell at Dumbledore and say all the things that Professor Snape would say if he really didn’t want someone to take revenge for him.”

Lucius turned to his son. “You were not there, so you cannot say how it was,” he said, his voice sharp.

Harry raised his eyebrows. “And it’s more than clear that you don’t know Draco, if you thought he would let someone else take his revenge,” he muttered at Lucius. He didn’t really care if Lucius heard him. He just thought it was beyond stupid of him to act as if he knew everything.

Draco lifted his head and looked steadily back at his father. “I came into the garden where they defeated both of them after the Dark Lord had burned,” he said. “But I asked Professor Snape later if it was Harry who burned the Dark Lord, and he said it was. And I heard Harry dumping all his hatred on Dumbledore. I would offer you a Pensieve memory, except you don’t have a Pensieve here.” He flashed Lucius a nasty smile. “And you would probably come up with another way to deny what’s perfectly true. You enjoy doing that, don’t you, Father? You enjoy shoving away everything that would contradict your blatantly false notions about the world.”

And he turned back to the diary.

Harry had to grin. Draco wasn’t going to have any problems handling his father, not if he could say things like that that left Lucius staring at him, and Harry didn’t think he needed to worry about Draco being consumed by helpless grief any more, either.

“Harry.”

The voice came from the entrance of the Slytherin common room. Harry turned around.

Sirius stood there with his hair dangling into his eyes, so much like the escaped Azkaban inmate from his own world that Harry’s heart went out to him for a second. But then he drew a breath and reminded himself that the only Sirius who was real to him, the one from his world, was dead.

“What?” Harry asked, slowly standing and moving towards him. He didn’t want a confrontation with Sirius in front of Draco and Lucius, and that was the only reason he was moving. He didn’t owe this Sirius anything, either.

The man didn’t seem to think he did, to be fair. His eyes were resting on Harry, so yearning that Harry winced a little, and he held out his own hand. “Can you come talk to me? I need to say something to you.”

If it’s about Snape’s mind control spell, then I’m not listening, Harry thought, as he stepped out the door and nodded once to Draco, who had looked up at him. Draco nodded back and returned to translating the book. He would find Harry when he was done and let him see the translation, Harry was sure.

Sirius had wanted to talk, but he kept wandering down the corridors for long minutes. Harry finally sighed and said, “We probably won’t be here very long. What did you want to say to me? Or ask me?” The way Sirius hesitated all the time said it might be a question, instead of the declaration that Harry had been half-expecting.

“We?” Sirius turned towards him, mouth loose and eyes bright. “Who’s we?”

“Me and Professor Snape.” Harry had to admit that he’d probably added the title just to irritate Sirius, but, well, he could do that if he wanted. And Snape deserved some respect in front of the Order.

“You don’t belong with him!” Sirius jerked to a stop and faced Harry fully, his arms folded and his head tossed back. Harry sighed a little. At least it made him look less like the Sirius Harry had known and loved, except maybe in those moments when he was facing down Snape in the kitchen of Grimmauld Place. “You belong with me! I’m your godfather!”

“No,” Harry said slowly, already regretting that he’d agreed to the walk. Fuck it, he’d just got Draco over thinking that he was the Harry born to this world, and now Sirius had to be persuaded the same way? “You’re not. You were the godfather of a boy who was dead, and you raised him, and I know losing him hurts. But I’m not him.”

Sirius recoiled a step, staring at him. Harry stared back. He knew that Sirius hadn’t been in Azkaban in this world, so how could he still act so stubborn and insane and lost?

Unless some of those traits are just part of him, I suppose. They can be good, like the way he wanted to raise me after knowing me for a few minutes. Or they can be bad, like this.

“I’m not him,” Harry said, and this time, he tried to soften his voice a little, for Sirius’s sake. For the sake of what he had known, not so much for what someone in this world wanted. “I can’t be him. I would never be the same, and I don’t share his memories, and it isn’t fair for you or him, not really. You might think it is, but it’s not.”

“I loved him,” Sirius whispered. “And if what they’re saying is true, that Albus killed him…” He put his hands over his face. “I helped kill him.”

“How?” Harry asked. He was getting tired of being a confessor for everyone. “Unless you actually helped Albus pour the potions down his throat and convince him that he wasn’t good for anything but being a sacrifice, then you didn’t do anything to him.”

“That’s what he did?” Sirius let his hands fall down and stared at Harry, magic gathering around him, ancient and powerful. “You’re sure?”

Harry half-smiled. Maybe what Sirius really needed was someone else to fight, and since he didn’t have Snape now and didn’t even have Voldemort anymore, Dumbledore would do. “I don’t know how many steps there were, or how long he spent convincing him,” he said. “But yes, that’s what happened. He thought he could take Harry’s place in the prophecy, if he took on his power and his—destiny—through the sacrifice. Only later did he realize that he couldn’t, and by then it was too late. He kept calling other versions of me through the gate rather than admit that he was wrong.”

Sirius made a soft growling sound deep in his throat, and nodded. “Then I’m going to find him,” he said. “And remind him of that every day. And maybe I’ll wear him down so much in the end that he’ll just give up and die.” He marched away from Harry as though he’d forgotten him, his head up and his feet pumping.

Harry blinked after him, a little amused. Yes, Sirius needed someone to take revenge on. It would never be Wormtail in this universe, but it seemed Harry had found him someone else.

And Harry had to admit, he couldn’t think of someone in this universe who deserved to have Sirius after him more, now that Voldemort was dead.

“Harry?”

He turned around. Draco was behind him, holding out the parchment he’d covered with his neat handwriting. “It’s not the whole book, of course, but it’s the most recent pages,” he said quietly. “And from what I can see, the rest of the diary is a lot like this. It’s just—this is what was on his mind right before he died.”

Harry came forwards and took the page from Draco, aware that his hands were trembling and Lucius was watching critically. But what was Lucius going to do? He could hardly rip up the translation, and that was the thing Harry cared about most right now.

I don’t want to do my destiny. Dumbledore keeps saying I have to, and I know he’s right. Because without me, other people would die, and there’s no one who can answer as to why someone with a baby or a kid with two parents has to die, when it could be me.

Merlin, now I’m even sounding like him.

I don’t want to do this, though. Dumbledore keeps telling me that if I don’t want my destiny, it’s better to give it to someone else, and that way, the other person could fulfill it. But what if he’s right in what he’s hinting about, and the only what I can give my destiny to someone else is to die?

I don’t want to die.

Harry swallowed and skipped down the page a little. He wasn’t sure he could keep reading that diary entry, especially remembering the way that he had walked to his own death in the Forbidden Forest. He hadn’t wanted to die, either, but he had gone.

There’s no way to do this, except die. The Headmaster keeps telling me that I can’t fight Voldemort if I’m too afraid to even Apparate into the same place where he is, and I know that’s true. I know that’s why I’ve put off learning to Apparate. I don’t want to have to go after him, and other people would start asking me why I wasn’t doing it, if I knew how to jump anywhere I wanted.

I think all of them see me as the fulfillment of my destiny, except Draco and Sirius. They just want me to do something, something that will spare them having to do it. They don’t care about me, they care about what I can do.

I hate it, but throwing it all out the window and running away isn’t feasible, either. Voldemort would just come after me. And in the meantime, he’d kill people, and those people I love would be on the front lines, fighting, and they’d die, too.

So I have to do what I can to fulfill it, but I hate it.

Harry closed his eyes and shook his head a little. Poor Harry. The genius they all said he was, the Slytherin who could make friends with people in other Houses, the warrior and the boy who’d won Draco’s heart. He was as scared and conflicted as anyone else.

Harry was glad that he hadn’t got to the point where he really hated and envied the Harry born here. He’d had a death that no one deserved.

“Harry?”

Oh, of course. Harry opened his eyes and turned to Draco, page in hand. But for once, Draco didn’t look at the parchment the way Harry had expected. He had his eyes on Harry’s face again.

Merlin save me if this is another plea for me to stay and be his boyfriend. But Harry just braced himself for the question, ready to shoot it down if it was too maudlin.

“I know that Black wants revenge on Dumbledore,” Draco said quietly. “But I took mine already. What else can I do? What else do you think my Harry would want me to do?”

Harry shook his head. “You knew him better than I did. All I really know about him is what people here have told me and that diary.” He nodded at the translated page. “I can tell you that I think you should live, and keep doing things that Dumbledore and your father wouldn’t want you to do. But I don’t know what your Harry would say to you, because I’m not him.”

Draco, though, was smiling. “That sounds like something I can do,” he said, and caressed the diary a little. “Thank you.”

Harry smiled back, and turned the translated page over one time. He wanted to take the diary with him, at least a little, but in the end, it should belong to Draco. He was the only one who could translate the code and give this Harry a fitting memorial. He gently handed the page back to Draco.

Draco pushed it back to him, though, shaking his head. “You’re going to leave the book with me,” he said, impressing Harry with how much he could evidently read from Harry’s gestures. “That means that you can keep this. Please. You should have some memorial of him.”

Harry slipped the page into his pocket and nodded back towards the bed he’d pulled it out of. “There’s also a photo album in there. I think you should have some of the pictures, and maybe you’ll give some to Black, too. There are plenty of pictures of him and Harry that he’d probably want.”

Draco turned towards the bed with an old, old face. Maybe he’s upset that the original Harry didn’t tell him about what he was hiding, Harry thought. But thank Merlin, that was no longer his problem. He had brought Draco out of his grief and given him a shot at vengeance on his boyfriend’s real murderer. That would have to be enough.

“Harry.”

That was Snape, standing at the entrance to the Slytherin common room. Harry turned around with a relieved little breath. “Sir,” he said. “I think I’m done here.” He did take one more look around the room, and ended up Summoning the clothes that he’d originally worn through the spell, before they had given him some clean ones that had belonged to people from this world. He intended to use one of these pieces of clothing as the anchor for the bridge that Hermione had talked about, the thing that had come with him through the original gate and could stay here to “convince” the magic that he was staying, too. “Now I’m ready.”

When he faced Snape again, he could see the faint, approving smile on his face. Snape nodded once and lifted a small trunk that hung from a loop of rope over his arm. It didn’t look big enough to contain everything that he wanted, but then again, Harry knew shrinking and packing spells could do wonders. “Come.”

Harry turned around to Draco and his father one more time, shrugged, then waved. Draco waved back. Lucius gave him such a concentrated stare that Harry had to turn away to hide his snicker as he followed Snape.

They passed Professor McGonagall, without Dumbledore. McGonagall nodded to Harry with a faint frown on her face. “We owe you a debt that we can’t repay, Mr. Potter. Good luck in getting back to your own world.”

Harry nodded to her, too. He would have shaken her hand if she’d held it out to him, but she didn’t, so this was the best farewell he could hope for. “Thank you, Professor. I think that we’ll manage, somehow.”

McGonagall straightened her shoulders and bit her lip once. Then her face firmed. “I think we will, as well,” she said, and turned back into the school.

Snape was silent as they walked to the gates that led into Hogsmeade—or what had been Hogsmeade—and Harry glanced up at him. “Are you sorry to be leaving?” he asked.

“Not nearly as much as I anticipated, the last time I thought about leaving the school,” Snape murmured. “Of course, until we went to Shaldon’s Garden, I had never truly pictured leaving except at the end of a Death Eater’s wand. Or perhaps with my head on a pike.”

Harry shuddered and said, “They’re probably still out there, some of them, but we don’t have to worry about them now.”

Snape’s hand descended on his shoulder and squeezed, once. It felt like a crab’s pincer, but on the other hand, Harry could feel the affection behind it, which he doubted most people could. “Let’s go home.”

*

Severus looked around the clearing he and Harry had chosen. It was a good distance from Hogwarts, but still in the wild, warded part of Scotland where few Muggles would come. They had picked it partially for its isolation, and partially because it would easily correspond to a place that Harry’s friends could reach in his world, as was needed for the construction of a bridge that would reach between the universes.

Severus became aware that his breath was coming short and his skin was clammy.

He shook his head in irritation at himself and rose. He had done harder things than this, things less likely to succeed. Things like creating the reverse Horcrux, and killing the Dark Lord, and going back to Shaldon’s Garden for the last time yesterday to retrieve what he wanted to take.

He wondered briefly that this should seem hard, after that. In all three ventures, he had had help, and he would have more here.

“Ready?”

Severus turned to face Harry, and bowed slightly. “You trust Draco to anchor the bridge for us?” he inquired delicately. He would have thought to ask Minerva, himself, but it was true that Minerva had much to do with putting the school in order, spreading the word of the Dark Lord’s defeat, and preparing for Dumbledore’s trial—or whatever else they decided to do with the old manipulator. Severus had not asked. They were not his problems anymore.

Harry drew in his breath and nodded. He looked much as he had the day he had come to this world, Severus thought, with fast breathing, red cheeks, brilliant green eyes, and dark hair tumbled around his face. But wiser, Severus decided, and he did not think it was only his own biases that caused him to say that. Harry certainly held that Dark wand with more assurance and confidence than he had.

“Let me just send the Apparition coordinates to him,” Harry said, and whipped his wand back, his gaze focused on the distance as he whispered, “Expecto Patronum!

The stag that leaped from his wand was a darker silver than any other Severus had seen, and he couldn’t help thinking that came from the Dark magic of Harry’s wand. But it turned to Harry and pawed the ground, and Harry looked around the clearing once, then turned back and said, “Tell Draco Malfoy that we’re in a clearing north of Hogwarts with a broken tree on the right side of the clearing and a spring on the left.”

The stag bowed its head once, then sprang into the air and faded. Harry put his wand away, and only then seemed to notice Severus staring at him. “What?” he added.

“You surprise me continually,” Severus murmured. “You have learned more and more impressive magic in your wars than I knew.”

Harry shrugged with one shoulder and glanced away. “You’ve seen my Patronus before. I used it to attack Voldemort.”

Severus flinched before he could stop himself, and then swallowed. You know of at least four worlds where he no longer exists, given that Albus summoned two other versions of Harry Potter who had also won, he reminded himself. “Yes, but I had failed to appreciate how solid it was,” he murmured. “And how well it obeyed you.” He hesitated. “You are sure that you trust Draco to hold the bridge?”

Harry glanced at him and smiled a little. “You think that he might want me to stay here? I really am sure that he doesn’t, not anymore. He knows I’m not his boyfriend. I think finding the diary and the album really told him that. His boyfriend had a whole secret side that Draco didn’t know about, and that gives him something to explore.” Harry rubbed the corner of his jaw, thoughtfully. “According to the diary—Draco sent an owl to me yesterday—there was an argument that Harry had with what he thought was you. But it had to have been Dumbledore Polyjuiced as you. Harry started to talk to Draco about it, briefly, and then stopped. That was why Draco thought Harry had had an argument with you right before his death, and that you were somehow involved in it.”

Severus nodded. “But in reality, the conversation might have taken place a while before.”

Harry nodded back. “It was painful for him, Draco said,” he whispered. “Draco thought that maybe he could have stopped the sacrifice if he had encouraged Harry to talk about it more. But I think if Harry kept quiet about it, the way he kept quiet about being scared, then there’s no way he would have told Draco any more.”

Severus started to respond, and Draco Apparated into the clearing. He glanced back and forth between them, then nodded once, as though the way they were standing there had confirmed something for him. Severus scowled at him despite himself. Draco seemed to be adopting some of his father’s mannerisms, namely the ones that made him appear more wise and knowing than anyone else.

“Are you ready?” Draco asked, looking around as though he expected a bridge to simply spring into being.

“Not quite yet,” Harry said, and began the spell that would link him with his friends in his own world. Severus moved to add his strength to the spell, taking a moment to make sure that his trunk was securely tucked in his pocket. He could not perform magic on that bridge, and neither could Harry, and he would not be able to rescue the trunk if it tumbled out of his robes.

There was a spark of darkness that grew into a starry whirl, and the voice of Harry’s version of Granger came out of it. “Harry! Are you ready to come home? Are you in that clearing you told us about?”

Severus glanced at Harry. Harry had his eyes closed and a faint smile on his lips. When he blinked his eyes open, Severus suspected him of suppressing tears. But his voice was strong and steady. “Yes, Hermione. What do we need to charge these objects with magic?” He lifted a ratty shirt. Severus took up the book that lay at his feet, one that he was sure he could get another copy of in Harry’s world.

Granger said, strong and confident, “Just push some raw will into them. It’s more a process of making them magically significant, not a specific spell.”

Harry frowned down at the shirt he was holding, and then pushed his wand into the middle of it. Severus, more experienced with this from some times of having to do it with potions, charged his book easily, and then laid it on the ground at his feet. Harry’s shirt followed a moment later. Severus shied back from it. It was sparking hard enough that he thought it might burn the grass.

“Fine,” Granger said. “We’re going to start casting from our end. You have to start at the exact same time, Harry. It’s very important. Do you understand?”

“I do.” Harry’s head was high, confident, and he looked even more settled and sure than he had when they were confronting the Dark Lord. Well, of course he did, Severus thought a moment later. He was working with people he trusted more than he had trusted Severus himself, and for a purpose that would give him something he wanted more.

Severus half-rolled his eyes. The last thing he needed now was to feel jealous, and for such a petty reason.

“Good,” Granger said. “Fine. One. Two. Three.”

Harry began to chant at the same time as she did, and Severus’s voice glided smoothly forwards with his. There were not going to be two bridges, but since they would need one capable of lasting long enough to support two of them, it seemed counterproductive to hold back.

For a few long minutes, there was no sound but that of their voices and, behind them, Draco’s hoarse breathing.

Then the starry void ripped open further, and further, and began to spiral. Severus finished the chant, glad that they were the last words of the spell; his throat dried out as he watched the smoky arms of magic that braided their way into the pillars and post, flat piece and long, slender arch, of a bridge of pure power.

The bridge came down to rest at Harry’s feet, next to the shirt that was glowing with the power of his wand. Harry leaned his hands on the railings and glanced back at Draco. Draco nodded and drew his wand.

“You have to hold it,” Granger’s voice said, ragged, out of the split in the air. “You have to—you have to dedicate all your will and all your p-power to keeping it there. Understand?”

“I understand,” Draco said smoothly, and if Granger recognized and distrusted the source of the voice, she gave no sign of it.

Good,” she said, loudly enough that Severus started a little. “Remember that you can’t use any magic on the bridge. Come on.”

Harry smiled at Severus and launched himself onto the bridge, his wand tucked away into his waistband. Severus swallowed and glanced back once at Draco. Draco nodded to him, perhaps a farewell, perhaps a reassurance that he was equal to the task of holding the arch, as Granger and probably Weasley were on the other side.

Then Severus followed Harry onto the bridge.

*

Harry was running between stars. Under his feet was a solid-seeming, but slick and thin, arch of wood or metal. Beside him ran railings that looked like they could be made of wrought iron, like some of the fences on Privet Drive.

Ahead of him, the bridge rose up, and up, and the stars glowed all the brighter, distant yellow-white glows of light. They formed no constellation that he knew, but that didn’t matter. Harry could see them shining off the bridge, distorted reflections in the magic, and he knew where they were leading him. Home.

He came to the summit of the bridge, clutched the railings as he stood there, and glanced back to see where Snape was.

Following him, and coming more steadily on than Harry would have expected of someone that age. He nodded approvingly and continued running. He would have just slid down the other side, but Hermione had said that they had to cross the bridge, and he wasn’t sure sliding counted. He didn’t want to do anything right now that would jeopardize his chance of seeing his friends again.

Ahead, a soft grey glow waited, like the line of faint light Harry used to see underneath his cupboard door. He sped up. He was going to get there. He was going to reach it. He was going to see them again.

The bridge trembled under his feet abruptly, going soft. Harry slid, but the railings were firm beneath his hands, and he maintained his balance with only a little kick. He looked back again, and saw that Snape had done the same thing, although he was coming more cautiously now, a frown etched under his hooked nose.

“Come on, sir!” Harry shouted.

Snape lifted his head, probably to shout something back, and the bridge trembled and went misty under him, on the edge of collapsing.

Harry didn’t know who was at fault, his friends or Draco or just the sheer strain of the spell, and he didn’t care. All he cared about was that he would make it, and he would make it with Snape, not without him.

He ran back to Snape. Snape lifted his head as Harry came up to him and snarled at him. “You are to go on. They came here to rescue you—”

“You were an idiot for thinking that would work when you told me to leave you alone with Voldemort, and you’re an idiot for thinking it’ll work now,” Harry said calmly, and grabbed Snape’s arm, slinging it around his shoulders. He grinned at the look Snape sent him. “Sir.”

Snape tried to growl something else, but the railings were only mist now. Harry sat down and tugged Snape with him. Snape resisted a moment, muttering something about dignity, and Harry kicked off.

They slid down the arch of the bridge, Snape flailing beside him until he got his arse settled. But he never let go of Harry, and Harry laughed aloud as they plunged faster and faster, towards that grey glow that never faded like the rest of the bridge, but grew brighter and brighter.

And they went like the cart in Gringotts, the time that Harry had ridden with Hagrid, down and down and down and—

And together they came out in greenery and sunlight and a stabbing confusion of voices, and arms grabbed hold of him, and Hermione shrieked almost into his ear, “Harry!

And Ron’s voice was saying, “Bloody hell, he wasn’t kidding! It’s Snape!

Then he swarmed up to the side of Harry, too, and Harry had his arms full of his best friends, and they were hugging him, and he knew that they were never going to let go.

Chapter Text

This is the epilogue for World in Pieces. I hope that it satisfies. I may possibly do a sequel in the future, but for now, this is the ending.

Epilogue

“You look just like him.”

Severus made sure that he was standing still and that his hands were arranged just so among the glass beakers and cauldrons on the table. If he was holding something, as opposed to near it, when he turned around, he was sure that he would throw it.

“That is because I am him,” he said. “Or have you not gained appreciation of that fact?”

Ron Weasley only shook his head and looked him over with a frankness that Severus might have found charming if he were a different kind of man—or if he found any of the people in this world charming. He found them interesting and challenging, exasperating and sometimes in need of a rebuff. But charm was a rare quality, and outside of Lily and Harry, Severus was not sure that he had known anyone who possessed it, at least for him.

He reminded himself, again, that there were redeeming qualities in Harry’s friends. They had been willing to investigate the spells that would let Harry and him come to this world, come home, and they had held the bridge while Severus and Harry ran between the worlds. But since he came here, Granger had asked him constant questions, as though she had always been interested in the differences between versions of the same universe. Harry had assured him that that was just Granger’s way, that she was interested in things and would find an absorbing interest in anything she looked at. It still made Severus feel like one of his own potions given a voice and suddenly asked to explain itself.

Then again, that was better than the way Weasley looked at him. It was clear that, with him, it was a case of resurrection, and he kept looking as though Severus was a glamour or Polyjuice that would fade if he studied it long enough.

Severus had put up with it, for the sake of what they had done for him and for Harry’s sake, but it was becoming more than he was willing to tolerate.

Weasley rubbed his eyes as though he suspected some blurriness in them was the source of the problem, and straightened his neck. “You don’t hate Harry,” he muttered, apparently speaking to someone who had chosen not to appear in front of Severus. “You act as though you’re fond of him, in fact. I see the little smile that you look at him with when you think no one is watching,” he added.

Severus resolved to be less obvious with such smiles in the future. It was not as though Harry noticed them one way or the other. “You will tell me why this concerns you so much, when you know that I am not the dead man returned,” he said.

“Hermione has been telling me about some of the close links between alternate universes.” Weasley was still eyeing him cautiously. “About how they can influence each other.”

“That is ridiculous,” Severus said coolly. “That clusters of similarities occur would be foolish to deny. Thus there were a number of universes where fate committed Harry Potter to battle against the Dark Lord.” Weasley nodded once, although Severus could not see what he had said that was worth acknowledgment from a boy so completely besotted by the sound of his own voice. “But that does not mean that they influence each other. Otherwise, how would Harry end up a Gryffindor in this one, instead of a Slytherin as he did in several others? Why did the Dark Lord endure in our universe, when he was defeated in so many others?”

“I don’t know,” Weasley said. “I’m not a magical theory expert.” Severus concealed the smirk he wanted to give in response to that. One thing had not changed between universes: Weasley still followed Granger, and slavishly believed in her pronouncements. “But I know that you’re probably more like him than you think.”

“You refer to my counterpart from this universe?” Severus shrugged. He had watched some of Harry’s memories, and he had to admit the brusqueness, the harshness—if not the unique harshness towards Harry—and many elements of their pasts were similar. But he knew that he would not have reacted with as much bitterness in some of the same situations, because he had lived through them. It seemed to him as though his counterpart here had had a narrow and cramped life, and in large part, that was of his own making. Sad for him, but Severus did not intend to go around avenging that life, or living it. “I am here now, not him.”

“That I believe, though,” Weasley persisted, his eyes narrowing. “That you would be that cold to the death of—yourself.”

“He was my counterpart, not myself,” Severus said. Yes, he would have to speak with Harry. The need for this iron patience was becoming wearing. Other people had had some trouble accepting him, but no one’s had been as extreme as Weasley’s reaction. It did not make sense, Severus thought. His counterpart had not even tormented Weasley much in the classroom, from what Severus had seen, certainly not as much as Harry or this world’s Longbottom. “When you can see the difference, I will be happy to speak with you again.” He turned back to the potion he was trying to brew.

“It’s about Harry,” Weasley blurted.

Severus turned around, making sure that the motion was smooth and snake-like. He had noticed that Weasley seemed to turn green and leave more quickly when he did that. “If you wish me to believe that he gave you permission to come here and bother me, you will need to become a much better liar.”

“It’s because you’re close to him,” Weasley said, stubbornly, his gaze fixed on Severus’s chin. “I just want to make sure that you’re not going to start acting like he did. I think—it’s just so weird to see you close, you know?”

Severus rubbed the bridge of his nose. Yes, he should have guessed this. Weasley and Granger were devoted to Harry in this world, where they had been more like allies of the Slytherin Harry in his own. For Weasley to come and plague Severus, doing something so out of keeping with both Severus’s actions and his own character, had to have Harry at the bottom.

Severus had had ample time in the past few days to see that plenty of people here hated Harry and thought him a mad attention-seeker, but he had also been loved as few people had ever been loved.

And I would include myself in the number who do, if not aloud.

“I am not my counterpart,” he said. “I gave up the secret of my home in the other universe to Harry—a home I had won in a duel and could have kept secret forever if I wished.” Weasley’s shocked face showed that Harry hadn’t mentioned that to him. Severus chose to believe it was because Harry had decided that Shaldon’s Garden was Severus’s secret to keep and do with as he chose. “He asked me for favors, and the only one I asked in return was that I be allowed to come back to this world with him. In our passage across the bridge, it faltered—perhaps because of a want of concentration on your girlfriend’s part—”

Weasley glowered.

“—and Harry came back for me. You can ask him about these things. He will concede every one of them.” Severus leaned forwards and fixed his eyes on Weasley’s face, keeping them there, unmoving. He would endure a lot of things for the sake of Harry and Harry’s world, but a sustained interrogation was not one of them. “You will do better to accept that he wants me here than to interrogate me and try to force me from his side.”

“I didn’t say that we would force you away,” Weasley began, and then flushed when he caught sight of Severus’s gaze. “Oh, hell. Listen. I just can’t trust you right away, you know? And I know Hermione feels the same, but she can extend more of the benefit of the doubt to you aloud.”

“Then do the same,” Severus snapped. “If I find that Harry has been moping about because of you, I will do something long-lasting and not easily detected—and that not only because Harry is intolerable when he is moping.”

They had a staring contest for another few seconds, and Weasley shook his head as though he wondered what in creation’s name was going on. Then he said, “Hell,” again, and edged towards the door of Severus’s lab. “You’re a lot like him, but maybe you’re what he would have been like if he liked Harry.”

Severus watched him, waiting for some moment when things would reverse and Weasley would say something else stupid.

“And maybe that’s a good thing,” Weasley said, and ducked out of sight.

Severus faced his vials again. He found Weasley’s attitude exasperating, but not the love that inspired it.

And not the man who inspired it, either.

Call him that. He is not a boy any longer, if ever he was.

*

“Yes, he’s from another world. No, he can’t be tried for the crimes of the Severus Snape who lived here, because of that. No, I don’t care about your stupid arguments for trying him.”

Harry spoke all the answers calmly. He was at yet another press conference, or whatever you called a meeting with reporters when it happened on the grass outside the Hogwarts gates. Harry hadn’t left Hogwarts since he came back, except for funerals and to testify at some trials.

Those trials hadn’t included Severus’s. Harry had made it really bloody clear that Severus was from another world, and the Unspeakables had come and given him Veritaserum and pronounced themselves satisfied with his answers, and when a few people had owled Harry telling him that they owed him favors for fighting the war, Harry had promptly recruited them to make sure that any proposal of a trial got blocked in the Wizengamot.

He didn’t know if he had become harsher in that other world. Hermione said he had. But to him, it just felt like a refreshing lack of taste for bollocks any more. He just wouldn’t swallow them, and they couldn’t make him.

He had saved the bloody world. Twice. He had saved Severus on a bridge between worlds. He had exposed a murderer and turned against people who looked like his best friends. That had pretty much exhausted his ability to give a fuck about stupid requests from people in this world.

Smart requests, sure. And Hermione had told him that meeting with some reporters who had been excluded from the session of the Wizengamot where they’d voted down a trial for Severus would be a smart idea.

But he would do it his own way.

A couple of the men and women in front of him exchanged glances, and then Rita Skeeter delicately cleared her throat. Harry turned to hear, making sure to keep his movement slow and threatening. He had thought she’d retired to write biographies full-time, but he supposed she couldn’t resist the lure of one more interview with the Boy-Who-Lived.

“You don’t feel any of the same emotions that you did towards the original Severus Snape when you look at him?” Skeeter asked. “Despite the fact that he looks and sounds exactly like him?”

“He’s not a copy,” Harry snapped. “He was born in another world. That makes him just as original as the Severus Snape who died here.”

“My apologies,” said Skeeter. She had a calculating look on her face. She thought of him as an opponent, Harry knew, but at least she seemed to realize that she would need new tactics for handling him. “You don’t feel any hostility towards him?”

“I feel pride,” Harry said. “Admiration. Gratitude.” He smiled nastily at Skeeter. “You know, all those emotions I felt towards the Severus Snape born here when I realized what side he was really on.”

Skeeter coughed. She was probably remembering that she had been one of the people writing stories doubting the ones McGonagall had given about the Severus Snape born here and that he was really a spy. Those stories had been published while Harry was still in the other world, or they wouldn’t have been published.

Or maybe they would have been. Harry had to admit that his new courage probably came from remembering that world. If he could stare down people there, then he could do it here. And there were more people who needed and deserved his protection, here.

Foremost among them was Severus.

“Fine,” Skeeter said, as if calling a truce, and picked up the nearest cup of water on the table that stood between them. Harry sat behind it, and the other reporters in a half-circle of chairs spread beyond her. “So you admit that the Severus Snape born here is not someone you would have felt much comradeship for.”

“Does that matter considering what he did, and the way I’m prepared to honor his sacrifice now?” Harry shrugged. “And the one who was born here didn’t do for me what my friend Severus did. So I can honor both of them, the living and the dead, and that’s what I demand. That both of them have some honor. If I can never stop people from printing stories about him, then fine, but I won’t lie.”

Skeeter and all the other reporters stared at him. Harry snorted, and didn’t care if they heard it. Too many years covering politicians. They expect everyone to lie, and then it wrongfoots them when they don’t.

“You won’t,” said Skeeter.

Harry shook his head.

Skeeter took the time to pounce again. “Then perhaps you can tell us why you’ve been so reluctant to leave Hogwarts? Surely some trauma connected with the school and your experiences in it in the other world?” Her quill was poised to scribble, and her voice had become just a bit breathless. Harry kept from rolling his eyes, but it was a near thing. Yes, of course, Skeeter, tell everyone that you can stop being a reporter and that you don’t care anything for gossip now. That’s believable. “Some trauma connected with this new Severus Snape?”

Harry gave her a smile. He didn’t know what it was like, nice or nasty, but he meant it to shut her up, and it did.

“What he did for me,” Harry said, “was protect me, and help me to fight, and give up the secret of his home to me, a home he could have vanished into and spent the war inside. No one would have been able to fight him or find him. He could have waited until there was victory one way or the other and allied himself with the winners. His skills as a Potions master would have made him useful enough that they’d have been glad to have him.

“But instead, he risked his life, and more than that, to fight Voldemort and do what was right.” Even when he was talking about a Voldemort from another world, Harry noticed, they still flinched, and probably always would. “He even put his own body at risk. If Voldemort had realized that we were using the Dark Mark to fight him, he could have stopped it.” That was the story they had put about, that the connection between Severus and Voldemort had originated in the Dark Mark alone, and they’d pulled him down with it. No information about Horcruxes, in case that got people thinking about things closer to home. “I owe him every debt. I owe him my survival in my third war.”

“Third,” said someone else, who seemed to have meant to turn it into a question, except her breath withered and died under Harry’s steady stare.

“Third,” Harry said coldly. “I count the first war as the one that ended when I was a baby, and the second one as the one I ended by walking into the Forbidden Forest. In both cases, it took the sacrifice of a life to stop him.

“The third war was the one I fought in another dimension, and it’s the last one I’ll ever have to fight against Voldemort.” There was that flinch again. “I did it without costing anyone on my side their lives at all.” Harry stood up and smiled at them. “You might consider what that means.”

He turned for the school, counting down the seconds in his head.

He didn’t even reach three before someone asked, “What does it mean?”

Harry glanced over his shoulder and said mildly, “That I’m really good at fighting wars, and that I can end them without killing people. So if someone was to, say, make it their life’s work to hurt or humiliate me, I could strike back.” He looked at Skeeter. “Hard.”

She stared at him, and her quill dropped from her fingers to the table.

Harry smiled, and walked back to the school.

*

“What do you plan to do when the school year starts in the autumn?”

It was hard for Severus to see this battle-scarred Minerva and not compare her to the one from his universe. That one had had fewer scars, but seemed more tired. It was the grinding weight of the war with the Dark Lord that had borne her down, of course, as it had done to Severus before Harry came.

He leaned back in his seat, remembered which world he was in, and answered smoothly, “Stay here and make use of some of the stores from my counterpart’s supplies. I will not teach.”

Minerva blinked at him getting so straight to the subject. Severus had long since learned that his counterpart had not been as direct, wriggling in circles with his attention fixed on some distant point or object.

The more he learned, the more he resented what a waste that man’s life had been. And he was not sure if he resented that Severus Snape the most, or the Dark Lord of this universe, or this dead Dumbledore, or simply the circumstances of history.

Things can change. Things can be more favorable.

Why he had had the favorable existence, Severus knew he would never know.

“I see.” Minerva looked as though she would like to leave the room, or at least rearrange some of the silver instruments on the shelves around her. Severus could not blame her. The overall effect was more hideous than he remembered the one of Albus’s office being. “We had hoped…”

“That I would bind myself to a career I did not enjoy and took up because my movements and hopes were limited by the Dark Mark on my arm?”

Minerva looked a little shocked. “If you must put it that way,” she murmured at last.

“I must.” Severus studied her expression, and sighed. This would not be easy. “Minerva. I can call you that, although I am not the first one to call you that?”

Minerva understood what he meant by the words, and nodded to him, her mouth set a little more firmly. “Yes.”

“Harry told me that Professor Slughorn had become Potions master after my counterpart accepted the Defense Against the Dark Arts post,” Severus murmured. “Slughorn is a competent teacher.” He left unsaid that for him, competent was a term of condemnation. A Potions master should be more than that. “He was the one who was here during the last year for the students, while my counterpart ruled as Headmaster and deep-cover spy and terrified them. Let them have him back. I know Horace. He would have done what he could to comfort the children and hold little parties for them and smuggle sweets to them—small treasures in a difficult time. The more welcome because of their smallness, I would imagine. Let him come back. They will need him.”

“And will you terrify them the less, stalking around the corridors?” Minerva murmured, but she was looking at him with some respect.

“Yes,” Severus said. “I am not a good teacher. I know it. With a chosen apprentice, working one-on-one, as I was trained, perhaps. But not in a classroom. And I think I have earned my place here in another capacity. Besides,” and he smirked at her, and played his trump card in a somewhat unworthy way, “if I must leave, then Harry would come with me.”

“I don’t want him here just because of the prestige of having the Chosen One attend my school.” Minerva’s eyebrows had drawn together.

“I know,” Severus said. “But that’s part of it.”

Minerva continued frowning at him for a long, silent moment before she nodded her head, grudgingly. “Part of it,” she had to admit. “You speak a lot more baldly than the other—you did.”

Severus shrugged. “I do not have the relationship to you that he did,” he said, without apology. “But I want to stay here for a year, until I get my bearings and decide exactly on what I wish to do, other than brew.” And until Harry gets his bearings. That was unsaid both because Minerva might already know it, and because she did not deserve to know if she didn’t.

“It’s no great loss,” Minerva said. “If you were to, say, sometimes brew potions for the hospital wing—not because you had to, simply because you wanted to—no one would object.”

Severus smiled openly this time. She had not lost her touch for bargaining, and she had made one that was acceptable to him. “Including me.”

“Good.” Minerva studied him a moment more, then waved him away and picked up a book. “If you will excuse me, Severus, I have some ledgers to go over. Albus was a dear, but he never could add correctly.”

Severus stood and walked out the door, down the moving staircase, and turned at the bottom, in search of the set of rooms that a portrait had told him were near the Headmaster’s office. They had once belonged to a Slytherin Head of House, and were private and quiet and attached to a different potions lab than the one in the dungeons, which Horace would require when he came back.

Strange, to think that he would see the students when they came back, and recognize some of them. That some would see him alive in this world when he had seen them dead in the other.

But Severus was confident of his ability to navigate this world, or he would never have wanted to come here. And with Harry at his side—

As he will be. Nothing Minerva or the Ministry can do would take him away, and his friends will not try.

--there was no reason to go elsewhere. For now.

*

“You have not yet chosen another wand.”

Harry closed his eyes and sighed, a long-suffering breath that he expected to have exactly no effect on Severus at all. He did it for his own satisfaction. “No,” he said. “I’ve been a little busy trying to decide whether I want one.”

“You want one.”

Harry turned his head. Severus stood in Ollivander’s doorway, in shadow, his arms folded. He added magical shadows to his cloak to get that effect, Harry thought. He had to. “Why does it matter so much to you?” he asked. “You know that I probably won’t ever be as powerful with a wand that chose me late in life. And the pieces of my other one are completely irretrievable.” He slipped a hand into his pocket and felt the reassuring buzz of the Elder Wand against his palm. They had come to understand each other. Harry gave it exercise sometimes, and it didn’t destroy everything in sight.

“Because it does not love you.”

Harry felt as though the whole bottom of his face had fallen off, his jaw was sagging so much. “What?”

“It does not choose you,” Severus said. His eyes were as dark as beehives. “You forget what this wand is.” He did not speak the name aloud; Harry had to nod in approval of his caution. “It would find another master soon enough. Maybe, for right now, the destruction you’ve asked of it is enough for it, but it would goad you into duels to prove you were the better, and anyone who suspected you had it would hunt you.”

Harry grunted, sourly. “No one knows I have it except people I trust not to betray me.”

“There are already rumors,” Severus said smoothly, moving further into the shop. “That your Cloak is one of the Deathly Hallows, and that the Dark Lord—yours—had the Wand. You cannot duel him in front of a hall of people while talking about the Elder Wand and expect them not to wonder what happened to it.”

Harry sighed. “All right.” He did think, for a second, about bringing up Dumbledore’s example. Dumbledore had used the Elder Wand for more than fifty years, and it hadn’t betrayed him like Severus was suggesting, but he also hadn’t spent all his time dueling for power and to show off his skill.

Then he remembered how that story had ended, and grimaced. No, the Wand hadn’t betrayed Dumbledore right away. But it had wished to honor the conqueror, not the man who had been its master for all those years. Severus was right. It had no sense of loyalty.

“I’ll bury it, then,” he said. “And find another wand here.”

“That should not be difficult, Mr. Potter.”

Harry turned around. Rationally, of course, Ollivander had to be there, since the shop was open. But Harry hadn’t expected to see him like this, tall and thin and looking as though his stint in the Malfoys’ dungeons had never happened at all.

Ollivander crept forwards, his eyes on Harry. He halted when he was a few feet away and stood there, this time as though his eyes were the measuring tape, estimating the length of Harry’s wand arm and anything else that his eyes might be drawn to.

“You have remarkable strength,” he said. “To have a wand so powerful and think of giving it up.”

Harry shrugged. “I value other things more,” he said. “Like friendship.” He didn’t look at Severus, but felt him stir.

“Ah, yes. The Gryffindor values, not the Slytherin ones.” Ollivander smiled, thin-lipped, and then turned and reached up to a box on the shelf above Harry’s head. “It’s true that most of the time, a wizard must search through many of my wands,” he said, turning around with the long, slender box in his hands. “Or at least has to try several times before a wand chooses him. But I owed you—certain debts, Mr. Potter. I feel that this one, personally crafted, may suit you.”

Harry caught his breath and reached out. The box opened at his touch, with a hinged lid, and inside lay a spiral white wand shining softly blue.

“What’s that made of?” Severus asked, his voice a little sharp. “That is not wood.”

“Ah, no.” Ollivander smiled sideways at him. “It is unicorn horn.”

Severus drew his own wand. Ollivander eyed it in turn, and then clucked his tongue. “I am sorry to say that I did not have the honor of making that one.”

“Step back, Harry.” Severus’s voice was utterly calm. “If he has killed a unicorn for its horn, he can pass the curse on to you by giving you the wand.”

“Did I say ‘killed’?” Ollivander raised his eyebrows. “I am not such a barbarian. I found a unicorn dying, and helped it die, that is all. They need those around them who have known them all their lives, members of their herd, to sing the right songs, to make sure they pass on properly. This unicorn’s herd had been killed, but a spell I knew called up their memories and let the dying one hear their voices. In gratitude to me, it gave me this gift.”

Severus watched him as though he thought Ollivander would like nothing more than to threaten Harry, then put his wand away and gestured curtly. Taking that as permission, Harry grinned at him and picked up the wand.

It was light in his hands, far lighter than the size of it, almost fifteen inches long, suggested it should be. It didn’t feel like wood, but more like it than anything else—wood as smooth as ice, as polished as ivory. Harry turned it over and over in his hands, marveling. The blue glow didn’t diminish, but played along the faint spiral to the thing.

Harry looked up at Ollivander. “What is the core?”

“Powdered basilisk fang.” Ollivander leaned against the counter, and smiled. Harry thought he was content to have finally managed to pass the wand along. “A tricky material to work with, but I enjoyed the process of crafting, and the, ah, challenge of combining the tooth of the most venomous snake alive with the material most renowned at detecting and curing poisons.”

Harry shot him a sharp look. “How much is this going to cost?”

“Some of it is a gift,” Ollivander said comfortably. “The rest, well, you can pay me for my labor in getting the basilisk fang.” He nodded at the wand. “But you haven’t yet tried it. Make sure it’ll choose you, first.”

Harry could feel the warm song of it in his fist, and had no doubt. But he swung it anyway, and thought, Lumos.

The charm burst from the tip of the horn, of the wand, a soft shining light more silvery than yellow. Harry cast a few other charms, and they all seemed to work well, if a little differently than they had before. He didn’t feel less powerful.

The Elder Wand in his pocket buzzed suddenly, so suddenly that Harry felt tears start to life in his eyes and made a protective grab at his robe. And then a thrum of soft power traveled up his arm, and the Elder Wand fell silent.

Ollivander was smiling at him when Harry looked up again. “It’s good at curing poison, alicorn is,” he said simply. “All kinds of poisons.”

Harry swallowed and nodded to him. “Thank you.”

“You are most welcome, young Mr. Potter.” Ollivander bowed to him, and held the bow perhaps a moment longer than he should, before straightening up. “I would suggest burying your—former wand with its former master. That is the proper place for it, the place it would have had if someone had not snatched you away to another universe just as you were about to deposit it.” His eyes pierced Harry, who found himself wondering if Ollivander simply knew everything there was to know about wands.

He nodded mechanically. “Thank you,” he repeated. “I’ll make sure that I take good care of it. I promise.”

Ollivander finally turned away, and Harry stepped out into Diagon Alley with Severus. Severus still turned and cast a glance over his shoulder as if he were considering the front of Ollivander’s shop and wishing for one of the eggs that the Weasley twins had used to wreak trembling and earthquake.

Harry cleared his throat. It was softly, but enough for Severus to turn around and regard him.

“You don’t have to protect me that much,” Harry said quietly. “I mean, it’s nice, don’t get me wrong, and I wouldn’t have survived in your world without it. But you don’t have to do it here.”

*

Severus cocked his head. It seemed odd that Harry did not realize what Severus had already announced to Minerva and Weasley and everyone who had listened to him or questioned him.

But then, Harry was still not used to subtlety. He did best with guidance. Not direction, because both versions of Albus had tried that and Severus thought it a part of why neither of them had precisely survived—albeit their methods of not doing so were different. But guidance, the telling of truths Harry had overlooked and offering of bargains that he would not have thought to make for himself.

“I am not protecting you because I think that someone might leap out of the shadows and kill you any moment,” he said.

“No?” Harry stared at him. “Why, then?”

Severus shrugged a little. Harder to admit than it should have been, but they were without an audience for the moment, and Harry was the one who mattered. “Because I wish to.”

Harry’s mouth opened, then closed. Then he bowed his head and ran his hand through his hair. Severus waited, watching him, honestly curious to see what Harry would do with that revelation.

Harry ended up holding his head up and regarding Severus with serious, gentle, concentrated attention. “Thank you,” he said.

Simple words, as simple as Severus’s, but enough to burn the air between them, to sear the connection into both of them, because Severus knew they were not the same as the thanks Harry had offered to Ollivander.

“You are welcome,” Severus said, and nodded to the pocket that held the Elder Wand. “Now, shall we go and bury that thing properly?”

Harry’s smile flamed as they turned to make their way to the Apparition point. Severus studied him, and noted the confident way his shoulders moved, the straight line of his neck as he ignored the eyes now on him without seeming to ignore them.

Harry was growing. Had grown. Would grow, into a man that Severus was proud to have as his friend.

And Severus would be at his side, in this world or any other.

The End.