Thank you again for all the reviews!
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.
"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—"
"—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.