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A Brother to Basilisks

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Harry turned over in his bed and once again kicked his covers off sullenly. It was too hot, he thought. He was too tired. He wanted to sleep, and he couldn’t. His brain was charging along like the Hogwarts Express.

Why did Lupin not let him fight the boggart?

No matter how much Harry tried to think of other things, it kept coming back to that. Lupin thought he was weak because Harry had fainted on the train. Or he had listened to that git Snape and what he was always saying about Harry even though he hadn’t listened to what Snape said about Neville. Or he just thought Harry might be disastrous at it because he’d listened to stories Professor McGonagall told him.

It’s not like I mean to run into trouble. It’s not like I have a choice!

But something hard struck Harry’s ears before he could start another round of questioning himself and trying to remember every part of Lupin’s expression for an answer. He heard someone calling him. It sounded like Help, help, help, a steady sound that was far away but near enough that Harry sat up and stared wildly around. He wondered why no one else had heard it.

They hadn’t, though. They were all asleep. Ron was snoring, and so was Neville, who didn’t sleep well all that often.

For once, Harry hesitated, the image of Lupin and the way he’d stood in front of the boggart so Harry couldn’t fight in his mind. They all think that I’m some sort of troublemaker. I’d probably be proving them right if I went and got involved in this, right? I should just stay in bed and pull the curtains around me and pretend that none of this is happening.

But the voice went on calling, and it was so strange, not saying his name, but just repeating the call for help again and again. Harry argued with himself as he slid out of bed and put on his glasses and made sure he had his wand. If it was a trap for him, specifically for him, then it would be saying his name, right? It would be trying to lure him to it. Instead, it was just sitting there and calling, and anyone could have heard it.

He had the feeling that Lupin wouldn’t be impressed with that argument if he heard it, but Harry wasn’t very impressed with him right now.

He did take his Invisibility Cloak and drape it over himself. There, that would keep Sirius Black away.

*

Following the call was frustrating.

No matter how many steps or corridors or corners Harry walked, it was always ahead of him, and then to the side, and it never sounded like it was louder or further away. It just called, the same word over and over. Harry was starting to wonder if one of the ghosts needed help. It didn’t sound like a human voice.

Or maybe Sirius Black fell into a trap that Dumbledore set, and now he’s calling me, and I’m the only one who can hear him.

Harry clutched his wand. He didn’t know exactly how that could happen, but there were lots of things he didn’t understand in the wizarding world that people kept telling him were possible. Like Tom Riddle’s diary existing, or Dementors being on the side of good, or Snape being a good teacher.

He finally came to a halt in the middle of a corridor and closed his eyes. He would just walk along until he found the voice, he decided. Maybe it would work better if he wasn’t looking and just let his ears guide him. He didn’t think he would run into Mrs. Norris or Filch. It was too late.

Help, help, help, help, help, help…

Harry finally walked into something square and waist-height, and opened his eyes with a little yelp. He was standing in a bathroom. He’d really fallen into a trance listening to the voice, he marveled; he would have noticed the cold tile under his feet and the sound of gurgling water otherwise. He’d walked into a sink.

Then he really realized where he was, and he didn’t bother to hold back a groan. This was Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom.

He looked around suspiciously. Maybe Myrtle was in trouble, but it was just as likely she was playing a prank. And now she would probably report him to a professor or something.

But then he realized the voice, which he could hear a lot better now and which seemed like a hot voice for some reason, was coming from in front of him. He turned around and peered at the sink. 

He recognized the snake carving on the top of the sink a moment later.

“Oh, no,” Harry said aloud. And he probably said it in Parseltongue, since he was looking directly at the snake.

But the voice went on calling, and there was no doubt now. It was coming from the Chamber of Secrets.

Harry backed away from the sink while he thought furiously. How could someone get down there? Wouldn’t Dumbledore have told him if he hadn’t destroyed Tom Riddle’s diary completely? Or he would have gone around possessing someone else, and Harry thought he knew how to look for the signs of possession now. There didn’t seem to be any way that someone could get into the Chamber unless they were a Parselmouth or possessed by the ghost of Voldemort.

But that made Harry wonder who was down there, helpless, just like Ginny. Maybe someone had managed to get free of the possession and call for help. Either way, Harry didn’t think it was a trick. He thought he knew why he was the only one hearing the call, now. It was in Parseltongue.

His mind made up, he leaned forwards and hissed at the snake carving on the sink. “Open.”

For long moments, the sink remained still, and Harry wondered if he had somehow lost the talent—although the voice he heard calling in the distance would suggest otherwise. Then he saw the sink fall down into the floor, and the tunnel that he had slid down once before was in front of him. 

Harry bit his lip. This time, he had no phoenix to fly him out, and while he wanted to go and help the person calling him, he really didn’t want to get trapped down there and have to wait until the adults came looking for him. Once again, they would scold him and say that he was taking risks.

Show me a way to get down,” he hissed at the sink, not sure that it would actually do anything.

The tunnel itself was what responded, flowing and humping up like a snake’s back. Harry stared at the gleaming things, as slick as the scales of the basilisk. They were purple-black and looked difficult to walk on, but he also knew that he was probably luck to get this much. 

“Okay,” he said, not sure it was in Parseltongue, and then stepped forwards and onto the first stair.

It wasn’t bad, he found, as long as he kept his wand lit with the brightest Lumos Charm he could muster and didn’t look down. Well, it was hard to look down, anyway. The darkness was too deep next to the steps. He could mostly only see the one he was standing on, the one in front of him, and a little bit of the spiral of the tunnel.

He finally halted at what seemed to be the bottom, teetering a little. He could smell something powerful and dark, and he coughed, then froze. He hoped that there wasn’t anyone down here, like another Tom Riddle, who would be warned that he was coming.

Silence, though. The darkness did nothing but wait. Harry swallowed and edged cautiously forwards, in the direction of the call.

*

He didn’t actually get as far as the Chamber of Secrets. He got around one corner, not far from the doors, and suddenly the call was so clear that Harry gasped and turned around to point his wand at the wall.

He couldn’t see anything at first, and then he made something else out, a tiny round carving that was maybe supposed to be a snake coiled up, although it didn’t have a head or eyes. “Open?” Harry asked it.

The snake lifted and rippled along the stone; it was like watching a part of the wall animating itself, or a bug crawling. It was kind of creepy to watch, really. Harry moved back uneasily, clutching his wand and never taking his eyes from the small carved snake as it crept downwards to a thin line on the wall.

When the carving touched the line, it flowed into it, and suddenly the line was big and a crack. The edge of a door! Harry thought, with a little flare of excitement that he felt a bit guilty about—because Hermione, if not Ron, would disapprove of him being here—and he reached out and caught the edge, lifting it open.

The grating noise it made was impossibly loud, stone dragging across stone, and made Harry flinch again. But in seconds it was still, and Harry was peering down a sloping chute that looked as if he could sort of crawl along it instead of fall, the way he had fallen down the winding one last year.

The voice was much clearer now, calling Help, help, help, so steadily that Harry shook his head. He really was surprised that no one had heard it, even if they only heard hissing and not the voice that was so clear to Harry’s senses.

His wand still lit and lifted high, he inched his way along the chute. Unlike the tunnel that he’d been walking, this one was free of rat bones or slime or anything else that Harry tended to associate with the Chamber of Secrets. It was dusty, in fact, as though no one had been here for a long time, and Harry sneezed several times as he made his way towards the voice.

That voice that never altered. Harry was beginning to wonder who could call so steadily even if they could speak Parseltongue because of Tom Riddle. You’d think they’d still have to take a breath at some point.

The chute ended abruptly, on a broad lip that made Harry have to hop down onto the floor. He grimaced. He was still one of the shortest kids in his year, and he hated being reminded of it.

He turned around slowly, considering the bare room the chute had brought him to. It wasn’t even dusty. It was simply dry. There was nothing here. No water. No pipes that he could see leading out. Harry shook his head, bewildered. Where were the cries coming from? They actually sounded more muffled now that he was closer to the source.

Unless this was just a trap from Voldemort in the first place, and I was stupid to come here.

Well, Hermione would probably think he was stupid, anyway. That made Harry more perversely determined to prove her wrong. He lifted his wand until it really did fill the room with a fierce glow of concentrated light, and edged towards the far wall, where the voice still sounded relatively clear.

There was another carved snake there, this one rearing up and more recognizable, and a small projection sticking out of the wall where the mouth was. Harry was pretty sure it represented fangs. He hesitated, listening to the voice. 

Open?” he suggested again in Parseltongue.

This time, the wall did nothing. But the pace of the cries increased, as though whoever it was had heard someone there and realized that there might be a way to get out.

Harry said something that Aunt Petunia would have washed his mouth out with soap for, and then leaned forwards and did what seemed like the obvious thing at the time (although when he was trying to explain it later, somehow both the obviousness and why it was reasonable had gone away). He lifted a finger and gashed it against the fang.

The snake flushed red with his blood, and opened its carved eyes to look at him. Harry expected to see that the eyes were little jewels or something, but they were only blank holes in the stone. For a second, the snake’s tail wavered back and forth, agitating the stone of the wall, and Harry warily stepped backwards and lifted his wand. The last thing he needed was an attack from something he had fed his blood to.

But instead of attacking him, the snake turned and slithered into the wall. The wall promptly collapsed, the stone tunneling, and Harry skipped back out of the way of the dust and the falling chunks of rock. They just dropped to the ground, though, instead of flying at him.

Harry thought that was the first thing that had really gone his way since he came here. Well, maybe that and the stairs that had made it so he didn’t have to fall into the Chamber of Secrets.

“Hello?” he called, into the dark tunnel.

Help! Please help!

The word “please” galvanized him. Harry scrambled into the tunnel, brightening his Lumos when he needed to so he wouldn’t keep stumbling along the floor. Then he rounded a corner, and there was the light he had been missing: the light of a great fire, floating above the floor in a ball that was two times bigger than Harry. Harry gaped at it, tilting his head back so he could make out the source. Was it a chandelier? 

But it didn’t seem to have any source. It was just fire, hovering in the air and making the room so warm that Harry already wanted to pull his robes off. But he couldn’t do that until he knew there was nothing dangerous, so he looked cautiously around instead.

A short distance away from him lay what looked like several large stones at first. They were red and grey. Then one of them moved, and the Help! call came from it, and Harry thought he understood.

They were eggs.

Harry stared for a second, then shook his head and crept closer. It seemed that the one who had been calling him for help was a snake.

That was so strange that he didn’t really know what to feel. He stopped in front of the egg and stood staring down at it, even when it rocked and called Help! again.

What kind of snake was it? It would probably be something dangerous if Slytherin had left it down here. Harry took another glance up at the huge fire. Maybe that thing hadn’t been here since Slytherin’s time, but he sort of doubted it.

Now was when he really wished he’d had Hermione come along. She at least would have been able to tell him whether this was in Hogwarts, A History.

And if it isn’t, genius? What would you do then?

The egg rocked yet again. Harry knelt down in front of it and stared at it. This close, he could make out what looked like a shadow curled up inside it, dark against the translucent shell. It looked a lot like the carved snake he had found in the original tunnel that led towards the Chamber, and now he thought he knew why. That had been an illustration of a snake getting ready to hatch, although for some reason whoever made it hadn’t carved the egg.

What kind of snake? Harry would have guessed Ashwinders, but he knew they didn’t live very long, and--well, that was all he knew about them, really. He shifted his weight and did some more staring.

But all along, he knew what he was going to do. It was stupid to come this far and then be too scared to do anything else.

In the end, he reached out and laid his wand against the egg and whispered, “Diffindo.”

The egg shimmered for a second, as though lit from the inside. Then the shell cracked with his Severing Charm, and a whole bunch of stuff came pouring out of it. Harry leaped back, his nose wrinkling. He supposed it was egg yolk, but it was even worse than the slime in the tunnel leading to the Chamber his first year. It got on his boots and on his sleeve, and it was a reddish-yellow sort of like the fire, and it smelled. It smelled like rotten eggs.

That makes sense. But it didn’t make it any less disgusting.

Harry stared at the crack in the egg when he was done, aware that the calls for help in Parseltongue had stopped. There was silence for a long, long second. Harry bit his lip. He hoped he hadn’t cut the side of the snake that was trying to call for help with his Severing Charm.

But then there was movement, and the snake came slithering out of the egg and slowly unfolded itself, with a long, shuddering stretch that reminded Harry of how he himself would wake up after a nap.

Harry stared at its dark green scales and caught a glimpse of its yellow eyes and immediately rolled back, yelping. 

About sixteen things went through his head in one second--that’s a baby basilisk!, I thought you didn’t get basilisk eggs and they just hatched under a toad, why aren’t I dead right now?, what’s it doing down here?, why am I still alive?

The thoughts stormed through his head until the last one became the most important one. Harry stood up and stared at the floor, trying to watch the basilisk out of the corner of his eye.

But something else was happening. Something was sort of popping up at the corner of his mind, rippling along with his thoughts, almost tickling him.

Harry shook his head, and then shook his head again. He had to keep an eye on the basilisk, and he had to get out of there, and he had to figure out what was going on in his head, and he didn’t know how to do all of those at once.

But then the basilisk stirred again, while keeping its head aimed carefully away from him, and Harry heard a delighted voice in his head. 

Mine? Mine!

Harry stared with his mouth open. The basilisk turned its head slowly towards him, thick clear eyelids pressed into place over the eyes. Harry realized that he could still see a dim yellow glow from beneath those eyelids, but not the actual killing stare, and the basilisk could apparently see him, too.

My bond, said the basilisk. It was about five feet long. No, he was five feet long, Harry understood abruptly. There was a slick red line down the center of the basilisk’s head that might have been a crushed plume still held flat by the yolk slime. The basilisk wriggled energetically towards Harry and twined around his legs. Mine! You helped me. So you’re mine.

Harry just stared some more, and then said helplessly, “You just hatched. How can you know anything about that? What’s your name?”

Your name’s Harry! This is mine.

For a second, Harry thought he was once again talking about whatever mysterious thing he had already mentioned, but then images began to pour through his head, and he understood them in the same way that he had understood the basilisk was male. The images featured running four-legged things, and flying things, and scurrying spiders, and running humans, and a basilisk following behind them all as fast as this young one. Dignity was for older snakes. Other snakes, maybe.

Your name is—Run? Harry hazarded slowly. But that didn’t seem right. The basilisk sent another image of himself curling around and flowing back like living water over himself, and Harry caught it better this time.

Your name is Dash?

The basilisk sounded as delighted as before. That is the right human word! I like your name. And your language. I wish I could speak it. But at least you can speak to me aloud, too, in my language. And we can think to each other!

That had to be what the tickle and the voice in Harry’s head was, this thinking to each other. But Harry still shook his head and didn’t understand. I’m not the Heir of Slytherin. How can I command you?

No one commands anybody! Dash sent through the bond like a flick of his tail against Harry’s back. He was twining slowly up Harry’s body now, incredibly heavy, although he kept shifting his coils so that he could balance better and Harry could bear the weight better. Maybe being in Harry’s head let him know how he should do that. You’re my human. I’m your basilisk. We are bonded. That’s how it is.

Harry still didn’t know what was going on, how he had landed here, or how there could be a basilisk egg here—or a row of them—without someone to hatch a chicken egg beneath a toad and bring the basilisk to life. But he did understand one thing.

I am in so much fucking trouble.

Then just bring me to them, and I’ll bite them, Dash offered at once. Then I can eat them. I’m hungry. Where’s breakfast?


Chapter Text

“You could stay here, and I could go get you something to eat,” Harry suggested, as he struggled to climb back through the tiny tunnel he’d used to get into the hatching room. Dash was wrapped around him, his head dangling next to Harry’s on the other side of his neck and his tail sweeping around his waist.

No. I don’t want to. What would happen if someone ambushed you on the way back down and I never got my breakfast? And then I would have to wander through the tunnels in search of vengeance, and that could take a long time.

Harry paused with one hand on the wall, even though Dash was whining at him to get moving. “How do you know about ambushes and vengeance? And weren’t your words a lot simpler a few minutes ago?” He was sure they had been, although he didn’t know exactly how to classify the difference.

I learn what you learn. I know what you know. You know about ambushes and vengeance, so I do, too. There was a pause, and Harry had the distinct sense that Dash was doing something to his memories. There was a sensation like a pack of cards flipping in his head. And Dark Lords. Why does he want to kill you so badly?

“You pick up on everything else, and you can’t pick up on that?” Harry muttered, starting to climb again. He tried to imagine the expressions on everyone’s faces when he came out of the tunnel with a basilisk. It didn’t look pretty in his head. He wondered if people would start calling him the Heir of Slytherin again. It would be for the best if Dash stayed down here.

No, it wouldn’t. How could I defend you if I was down here? And stupid people can’t get away with saying things like that if they’re insults. Harry had the distinct impression that Dash didn’t think being called something associated with snakes was an insult. And I can’t tell about the Dark Lord because it has to do with mammal things. I understand revenge. Revenge is a reptile thing. But war is a mammal thing.

Harry shook his head, and Dash nudged at his ear. Harry wondered if he would have nipped him like Hedwig did if not for those incredibly sharp and poisonous fangs in his mouth. “He wanted to kill my parents. I don’t really know why. They fought him, I reckon. But he tried to curse me with the same spell he used to kill my parents, and it bounced back and hit him.”

He is the Heir of Slytherin? Dash sounded thoughtful. Harry hoped he wasn’t about to decide that he would be better off helping Voldemort.

“Yeah.” Harry halted, puffing and blowing, at the entrance back into the main tunnel that ran up to the Chamber. “You’re heavy. You’re sure that you can’t climb down and slither on your own?”

You could talk to me in your head, and then you wouldn’t need to talk aloud and waste your breath like that. But Dash did slide to the floor, with immense dignity and tickling Harry all the way, and begin to move down the tunnel ahead of him. So you don’t really know why he tried to kill you.

Harry shrugged a little. "I know that he's trying to kill me now because he's tried and failed to kill me in the past."

Dash paused and swung his head back in Harry's direction, and Harry tensed instinctively. But the eyelids were still firmly clamped into place over Dash's eyes. The hiss he gave sounded delighted, and in was in Parseltongue, like the first calls for help he had given Harry, instead of mental. "You resisted him? Yes, you resisted him. And he's powerful, but you still managed to fight him."

"Of course I fought him," Harry snapped, a little irritated, brushing past Dash and taking up the lead. He was the one who had been down this tunnel before. He was the one who would know the way.

I told you, I know what you know, at least if I can understand it.

"Well, you were just born."

You think that I was only alive when I broke the shell? How like a mammal.

Harry sighed and gave up that portion of the conversation. He had the feeling that that was a skill he'd have to learn. "But I fought him because he wanted to kill me. It's not because I really wanted to be a hero or anything like that."

What is a hero?

"Someone who fights to save other people," Harry said, and then paused, unsure. He didn't really know. It wasn't a question he had ever asked himself. He only knew that he wasn't one, that he was a normal boy, or would be if Voldemort would leave him alone. "Someone who dies to save other people." He gave Dash an image of his parents as he imagined their deaths, although the only thing he had to base that on was his mum's voice screaming when Voldemort killed her.

Parents should fight for their young, said Dash, sounding approving. He wriggled up beside Harry and wrapped a coil of his body around Harry's legs in what felt oddly like a hug. So, a cat that fights for her kittens is a hero. I understand now.

Harry groaned a little. Then he decided that he shouldn't worry about it, because no one else could talk to Dash and learn his odd definition of a hero, anyway. Harry was the only one who would have to live with it. "Sort of. Anyway, I want to know more about the eggs. Did you have brothers and sisters?"

How should I know? Dash unwrapped from Harry's legs and slithered ahead of Harry, his shadow a long, graceful curve on the walls in the light of Harry's Lumos. I was the first to hatch. You didn't see any other egg bits, did you? I didn't have anyone come to me and tell me what to do. I only knew that I had to break the egg, and I had to have help. Then you came along and helped me.

Harry shifted uncomfortably when Dash's voice flicked into his mind this time. It was sort of adoring. It was sort of the way that Aunt Petunia spoke to Dudley, and Harry didn't know if that was a good thing.

But he also thought it was another thing he couldn't help, so he said aloud, "But you said that you were alive before you hatched from the egg. I thought you would know--all sorts of things. About the Chamber and the eggs and how you hatched as a basilisk when you must have hatched from a chicken egg under a toad."

I am not a chicken or a toad. For a moment, Harry felt that licking sensation again, but this time he knew Dash was licking away layers of memories, searching for images of a chicken or a toad. They are things I would eat.

"But that's the way basilisks hatch."

No, it isn't. I am the proof.

Harry shook his head, oddly disappointed. It wasn't like he cared all that much about the Chamber of Secrets and snakes and basilisks and how the basilisk eggs had come to be there, anyway, he told himself. He wasn't a bloody Slytherin.

But it would still have been nice to know why he'd suddenly found himself saddled with a huge snake that was going to be more trouble than it was worth, especially when it grew up.

You do not like me?

Harry stooped down quickly and rested his hands on Dash's head and back. He knew that voice. It was the sort of voice he used to use himself when he looked through the cracks in the cupboard door and watched the Dursleys playing with Dudley or spoiling him. Why didn't they like him? It didn't make sense.

And it didn't make sense to Dash, either, with the way he felt about Harry.

"It's not that I don't like you," Harry muttered, and ducked his head further so he could rub his forehead against Dash's back. His scales were oddly soft and smooth, shiny against Harry's skin as though someone had already been rubbing them for a long time. "It's just--I don't understand how this happened. I know there aren't a lot of other Parselmouths, but I never heard of any of them being bonded to a basilisk."

Of course not, said Dash, and his tail wrapped slyly around Harry's ankle, in a way that Harry knew could trip him if Dash tugged. Sharing a mind with a basilisk made it rather hard for that basilisk to play tricks on him, though. I'm special, and you're special. It makes sense that I would be the first one to choose a Parselmouth, and that I would choose the most special one.

Harry gave a restrained chuckle and stood up, guiding Dash forwards with a hand on the back of his neck. Are you hungry? he asked, giving in to the inevitable and speaking down the bond, in his head. He would have to do it anyway when they were around other people, unless he wanted to alarm them with Parseltongue or random blurts of information all the time.

Around other people? But yes, they would have to be. Harry didn't think Dash would agree to stay out of sight inside the Chamber of Secrets or his bedroom all the time, and given how nosy people were about him, it was only a matter of time before someone discovered Dash anyway.

I told you that already when I asked you where breakfast was. Dash stayed in contact with Harry's ankle and hand for a second, and then wriggled away from him, winding over the broken stone with a grace Harry admired. And I want something living, so I can kill it with my eyes.

Harry stopped still for a second, then began to breathe. At least he thought he might know how to get that. "All right. We'll have to go outside, though." He was a little worried about the Dementors, but not about Sirius Black. Not any longer, when he had a basilisk with him.

Come to that, he might not have to worry about the Dursleys, either...

A small, vicious grin on his face, Harry followed Dash back up the steps and out of the tunnels, back towards what was going to be his normal life.

*

Harry nudged Dash's side with his foot. Ever since they had come up into the darkness outside the castle, Dash wouldn't stop staring at the moon. He was weaving his neck back and forth, his rapt gaze pointing up. Come on. We don't have that much time before someone starts wondering where I am.

But it's a light. In the sky. Like the fire in my cavern, but so much prettier. Dash finally started crawling after Harry, but it was a good thing he was a snake and could writhe his body around things, because he still refused to look away from the moon. Who put it there?

Harry rolled his eyes. You don't know who put the fire there, I don't know who put the moon there. But come on. Just make sure you're looking away from me when you open your eyes to kill something.

He jumped a second later as something wet and smooth touched the back of his leg. Then he realized it was Dash's tongue, and snorted and brushed his hand down Dash's neck.

I would never hurt you. Not on purpose.

Harry rolled his eyes and stopped near the edge of the Forbidden Forest. Hagrid had said something last week about rabbits playing around here, and Harry was hoping that he would find some and Dash could kill them. Otherwise, he would have to take him over to the lake and hope they could catch a fish. Do you smell anything?

No--wait. Harry heard a faint, odd sound, and looked down to see Dash pulling his tongue in and out of his mouth in a rapid way that he reckoned helped him smell better. I can smell something small and warm. That's good to eat?

I suppose, Harry said. If it smells good. I don't know what's good to eat for snakes. Other than Muggleborns, the way that Slytherin's basilisk had done, and no matter how much Harry liked Dash, he wasn't about to set him loose on students at the school.

Even though it would have been kind of fun to set him loose on the Slytherins. Or Snape.

I told you, I can eat whoever you want me to eat, said Dash absently, but he had tensed, coiling up so that the first two-thirds of his body were off the ground, and Harry knew he wasn't really paying attention to the conversation. Something small and warm is coming this way!

Harry prudently stepped behind the basilisk. He wasn't about to get in the way of that gaze. Given how careful Dash was to keep his eyelids over his eyes, he thought the basilisk's gaze could probably still harm him, bonded Parselmouth or not.

Dash slide a short way forwards, and then abruptly his eyelids slid up; Harry could actually see that from where he was standing, like window shutters rising. A faint golden glow shone in the darkness of the night for a second.

There was a confused, small sound, and Harry saw a shadow he hadn't realized was there shift, falling over. It was a rabbit, he realized, when Dash shielded his eyes again and slithered forwards, and then wrapped the top part of his body around it.

Well done, said Harry, a little shakily, feeling he ought to say something.

Dash yawned in agreement. And went on yawning. As Harry stared, he completely flexed his jaw open until it hung like a broken door, and then he bent down and scooped the rabbit into his mouth, and then he swallowed. Harry could see the broken shape tumbling further and further down his throat.

It was kind of great, and kind of scary. Harry only had to think about that happening to Voldemort, and then it was kind of funny, too.

That was good, said Dash. But I'm still hungry. It's a lot of energy, you know, moving around and talking to you. And he crawled in front of Harry, aiming his gaze into the Forest.

Harry took a few cautious steps behind him, saying, Be careful. There are things--well, creatures, like centaurs--that live in the Forest, and I don't want you killing any of them.

What's a centaur? Dash asked, and once again licked away a few layers of Harry's mind until he found the answer. Oh. Well, I wouldn't want to eat one of them anyway. They're too big for me right now.

Harry swallowed. That "right now" was worrying him a bit.

*

But eventually they did find another rabbit and some mice, and Dash wrapped himself sleepily around Harry and allowed Harry to carry him back to Hogwarts. His body felt strange, lumpy. Harry knew it was from all the animals he'd killed, but he couldn't keep from rubbing the lumps sometimes where Dash wrapped around his stomach and shoulders, until Dash shifted and mumbled a protest.

Sorry, Harry said, and stopped. He wouldn't want someone else rubbing his stomach after a full meal, either. Especially since he so rarely got to eat a full meal with the Dursleys involved.

Who are they? You mentioned them before.

Harry was silent. But it wasn't like he needed to speak aloud, not when Dash could crawl through his head and find out who they were. And he understood what had happened to Harry in his own way.

They wouldn't let you eat, and they kept you in a tiny little cage. Dash flicked his tongue out so it brushed Harry's earlobe, and Harry jumped the way he had when Dash licked the back of his leg. It would take him a while to get used to that. They're going to die. The biggest one should feed me for a week.

Harry sighed. "I don't want you killing humans!" He spoke it aloud, in English, to make sure that Dash understood how serious he was.

What does that have to do with anything? Dash sounded baffled. I would be getting revenge for you. So that's the way it needs to work.

"You can't kill humans!"

"How emphatic you are, Mr. Potter. Unfortunate that you were not equally emphatic in avoiding danger when you know that Black is roaming around trying to kill you."

Harry halted and jerked his head up. Professor Snape was stalking towards him, his robes snapping behind him like a flag. Dash stirred beside him and started to lift his head, but Harry reached down and clamped a hand over his eyes. "No killing humans, I told you!"

Snape came to a halt. Harry stared at him. He seemed to have come closer under the impression that Harry was talking to himself or something, because he was looking at Dash in a way that made it clear he hadn't noticed him before.

Normally, Harry wouldn't think a lot about what Snape did or didn't notice. But this time, he did, and even Dash shoving at his hand, whining, All right, all right, I'll keep my eyelids down, let me go, didn't take his attention from Snape's pale face.

"What have you found?" Snape breathed it with the least hostile tone in his voice Harry had ever heard from him. Harry assumed it would come back in a minute, though. He was just shocked. So he didn't bother being calm or diplomatic when he answered.

"A baby basilisk. I heard a voice calling from the Chamber of Secrets, and it was him."

Tell him my name, and that we're bonded, said Dash, and his tail did a little drumbeat on Harry's ribs. I want everyone to know. I don't want any filthy cat or owl thinking that it can steal you from me.

"I have an owl. You have to get along with her," Harry hissed at Dash in agitation. He hadn't even considered that. It seemed he kept thinking of all the things about his life that Dash was going to change after Dash brought them up. He had to stop doing that.

I'll get along with something that belongs to you. But any random cat or owl had better watch out. Dash put his head on Harry's shoulder and touched Harry's earlobe with his tongue, making him jump again. And this one. This one had better not think he can lock you in a cage or not feed you.

"He's never done that," said Harry in weary Parseltongue, keeping an eye on Snape. The man hadn't moved and just stood there staring, as though that would make Dash dissolve or turn into something else that wasn't a basilisk, and thus wasn't as much of a problem. "He hates me, but he gives me detentions." He shared what those were with Dash in a quick, strobing flash when Dash stirred discontentedly beside him. "It's just, I don't know exactly why he hates me, and I've never wanted to find out."

You should always find out why someone hates you. It's the first step to defeating them.

Harry narrowed his eyes, because that didn't sound like a thought a young snake should have or one that had ever passed through his own head, but he didn't have the chance to follow it up, because Snape spoke again. "We are to proceed directly to the Headmaster's office."

I don't like him, said Dash. If you won't let me kill him with my gaze, let me bite him. My poison would inflict a slower death. You wouldn't have to watch it.

Stop being bloodthirsty, Harry said down the bond, glad that he'd decided to practice with that, and just followed Snape. He wanted to ask Snape if Dumbledore had sent him to find Harry, but he didn't think Snape would answer. And maybe Snape had just decided that they had to go see Dumbledore because now Harry had a dangerous pet that wasn't allowed in the school.

What am I going to do if they want to send Dash away?

Fight for me, said Dash, in utter surprise. Of course you'll fight for me. I would fight for you. And I can teach you how to be more dangerous.

Harry paused. That thought was actually kind of interesting.

"The Headmaster does not have all night, Potter."

Harry stiffened his back, looped his arm under Dash to keep his tail from dragging on the ground, and kept walking. He didn't want to let that statement go without a retort, but he also didn't want to encourage Dash to imitate his glare, and Dash was more important than Snape.

They could have a silent conversation Snape would never notice while they were walking, anyway.

*

Severus kept an eye on Potter, the habit of years now, but his attention was at least as much on the snake as on the boy. He could see the small red plume on the snake's head standing up, letting him know that the boy was right, that this was a basilisk, if a young one, and a male at that.

The portraits had woken Severus with their excited chatter about "Slytherin returned." Severus had expected to find one of the children of his House playing a prank. One of the younger ones, of course, because none of the older ones would be so stupid as to rouse Severus's wrath in the middle of the night.

But instead he had come out and found--this. A basilisk who was crowded close to the boy and seemed able to keep his eyes shut on the boy's command, at that.

Severus was not blind. While he could not understand the Parseltongue the boy hissed at the snake, he noticed the long pauses and the way the boy's attention stayed away from Severus and on the basilisk. This spoke of a bond closer than even the ones Severus had seen the Dark Lord share with some of his snakes.

As they stepped off the revolving staircase into the Headmaster's office, Severus deliberately fell back a step, so he could watch Albus's face, and the moment the twinkle disappeared from his eye.

Severus found a thin smile of his own materializing, but luckily, neither Albus nor Potter were looking at him at the moment.

Things had just grown substantially more interesting, it seemed.

Chapter Text

Harry thought he heard Snape close the office door behind him. He didn’t really care, though. His attention was on Dumbledore, and the hard way he looked at Dash, and then the way he looked up at Harry again.

He was calm, and he was grave. Harry had seen him like that before, of course, but he thought this was the most serious Dumbledore had ever been with him. “I suppose you know what you have there, Harry?” he asked gently.

The gentleness made it worse. Harry’s heart was pounding, and he jumped when Dash stuck his tongue out again and glided it slowly over Harry’s earlobe and down the side of his neck. You don’t need to run. I’m here.

Harry steadied himself with thinking about that, and with the hand he put on the back of Dash’s head, and went on. “I know he’s a basilisk, sir. He told me that himself.” Harry touched Dash’s face, and after an irritated snapping of his tongue, Dash let him. “He even covers his eyes so that he can’t kill someone with his eyes. I suggested that. He does it. He’s safe to be around.”

“Safe for you to be around, perhaps,” said Dumbledore, with slow and stern emphasis. “But safe for the other students in the school? Safe for people who walk past him in the street?” He shook his head. “I’m afraid you will have to give him up.”

Harry said nothing, but wrapped himself around Dash in return, grasping Dash’s middle coils with his arms. Dash leaned harder against Harry, and hissed softly. Harry wasn’t sure if he understood every English word that someone else spoke, but he definitely understood the thoughts that were racing through Harry’s head.

If he tries to take you away from me, I’ll bite him. He deserves an agonizing death.

That was another time Harry was desperately glad that there was no chance of someone eavesdropping on what Dash said to him. “I’m not just—I can’t control him because I’m the Heir of Slytherin or anything like that, sir,” he told Dumbledore. “Or because I’m a Parselmouth.” Dumbledore had started to speak, but now he waited and eyed Harry meditatively. “He’s bonded to me.”

“What?” Dumbledore opened one hand as though to cup Dash’s egg in it, but Harry thought that was shock, not important. He was staring at Harry, and glanced back to Snape as though Snape would somehow have the answer.

Harry looked at Snape, but his face was bland and empty. Well, good. Harry had to be the one to tell this part, anyway. “He hatched from an egg in the Chamber of Secrets. I heard his voice calling to me, and he came out of the egg when I slit the side to help him.” He paused, painfully certain that Snape would pounce on him and yell at him for breaking curfew, but nothing happened except silence. So Harry went on. “And then he looked away with his eyes covered, and he started speaking into my head, and he told me what his name was, and he knew mine. And he doesn’t want to go anywhere, sir.”

“Slytherin,” Snape murmured.

Harry wanted to ask him what he meant, but Dumbledore gave Snape a pretty sharp glance, and he shut up. “I’m sorry, Harry, but the matter of safety still remains,” Dumbledore continued, turning back to Harry. “What would happen if your basilisk murdered someone accidentally? You might be very sorry for it afterwards, but it would still have happened.”

Dash seemed to take a moment to translate Harry’s worry from his thoughts this time, but he gave another agitated hiss. Tell him that it won’t happen unless you tell me to. I want to kill small warm things. Humans are no fun unless they hurt you. I’d have to stretch my jaw too wide to swallow them.

“He says that he’ll be careful, sir,” said Harry, and his hand trembled on Dash’s scales. He had been upset and afraid at first when he found out he was bonded with a basilisk, but now all he could think of was the way that Dudley got all the presents when he was a kid and Harry got none. He didn’t want someone to take Dash away, too.

I’ll bite them if they try.

“You cannot keep him,” said Dumbledore. “Perhaps if you were out of school and not going back to live in the Muggle world every summer…but even then it would be dangerous. You will have to be separated.”

“Headmaster?” Snape murmured. “Should you or I take a look and estimate the strength of this bond?”

Take a look? How can they do that? 

I suppose they would look into your mind and see our bond that way. Dash had already calmed down again. He sounded interested instead of angry. And you can stop thinking that I’ll allow them to separate us. I won’t. I know that you’re worried about it, but I just won’t, that’s all. His tail shot out and gave Harry a swift tap on the side of the head opposite from where Dash’s neck was hovering. You need to relax and trust me.

Harry wasn’t much more comfortable with the notion that somebody could read his mind. Especially if Snape and Dumbledore had been doing it all along. He looked nervously back and forth between the two men, and saw Dumbledore raise a hand as though he was going to press something heavy to the desk.

“An opportune suggestion, Severus,” he said, and then turned to Harry. “Will you allow me to see into your mind, Harry, and look at your bond with Dash? It may be weak. In that case, I cannot allow you to keep the basilisk. You could lose control of him and he could go on a rampage at any time.”

I wish people would learn that basilisks have more important things to do than rampage through schools, Dash complained. I can already see that looking after you and punishing all the people who hurt you is going to be a full-time job.

Harry just gulped and blinked. He wasn’t sure what was going on, only that it was bad, and he waited a long time before he realized that Dumbledore was waiting for permission. Well, it was probably going to happen, and better Dumbledore than Snape.

“Yes, sir. You can look.” Some instinct of caution, or maybe Dash’s tail thumping into the side of his head again, made Harry add, “As long as you just look at the bond and nothing else.”

Dumbledore paused in drawing his wand, and gave Harry a look of deep sadness. “Of course, my boy. I would never violate your mental privacy by looking at anything else.”

Harry thought he heard Snape snort at that, but he couldn’t be sure, and he was already nervous enough. He wondered if having his mind read would hurt. It probably wouldn’t, if they’d been doing it all along and he hadn’t noticed it, but then, there were things in his life that caused him unexpected pain all the time.

“What do I have to do?” he asked.

Dumbledore gave him a kinder smile at that, and Harry found himself relaxing. He wanted to trust Dumbledore. He didn’t want to be some paranoid idiot or act like he was doing something Dark and wrong, because he wasn’t. “Just hold still and meet my eyes. I’ll cast the spell aloud, so you can hear it, and you’ll know when it begins. All right?”

Harry nodded, a little more reassured. Dumbledore whispered something that sounded like, “Legilimens,” and Harry felt a strange sensation, as though his mind was a pool of water someone had dived into. Harry wriggled. It felt uncomfortable, but not painful, and that was better than a lot of things.

*

Severus watched with emotions and thoughts kept strictly to himself as Dumbledore ransacked Potter’s mind. Or trod through it gently and looked around in hopes that the obvious truth wasn’t the truth, whatever interpretation one preferred.

He knew the Headmaster, better perhaps when he acted in extreme circumstances than at other times. And he knew what Albus’s keen glances and little sighs and the way he gripped his wand meant. He was hoping desperately that something was not true that he knew was perfectly true. 

In this case, the boy’s bond to his serpent.

Severus contained his derisive smile without effort. He had smiled more often like that inwardly than outwardly.

No, this was a bond that had nothing to do with Parseltongue—and Albus had once hinted to Severus that he knew the boy’s Parseltongue came from the Dark Lord and not from some throwback to a Potter who could speak it—or with the snake having possessed Potter. This was a true bond, and while not all the stories of Slytherin spoke of it in those terms, Severus had heard the ones that did. Slytherin had been bonded to snakes, not merely commanded them.

There were no tales that spoke of his being bonded to a basilisk, true, although Severus was starting to wonder if he should ask some of the chatty portraits about the possible truths there. But that could be attributed to no one having known that Slytherin’s monster was a basilisk. If more information had survived, this might not have come as such a surprise.

Such a nasty surprise, Severus was certain, based on the Headmaster’s reaction. And it was one that could not be turned aside, not if it was a true bond. The serpent would not leave Potter, and from the way Potter was holding the basilisk protectively close to him, he would also go to war to protect it. 

Severus owed Albus a good deal. He was the one who had extended his protection over Severus after the war and spared him Azkaban. He was the one who had given Severus a chance to redeem himself. He was the one who had listened and believed when Severus told him that he wanted to repudiate his Death Eater past, and not questioned his motives too deeply.

On the other hand, Severus had not forgotten Albus’s favoritism of the Marauders when he was a student. He had not forgiven Albus for hiring Remus Lupin, of all werewolves, for the position that should have been Severus’s. And there were other suspicions, not certainties, buried deep, that Severus did not allow himself to think of on a day-to-day basis, but which were there all the same.

Those things together made it a positive pleasure, on several levels, for Severus to see Albus’s world shaken in a way that had nothing to do with Severus’s own actions.

And if he could take some small, unnoticed action that would further those ripples, those tremors, he would take it without hesitation.

*

The Headmaster pulled back at last, with a shake of his head. Harry leaned his head against Dash’s, and sighed. It felt nice to be alone in his mind again.

You aren’t alone in your mind. I’m here.

I know, but you’re different, Harry thought to him, and he thought Dash was delighted at that, in the few seconds he had to think about it before Dumbledore softly cleared his throat.

“You have a true bond to your snake, Harry.” Dumbledore shook his head again, and stepped back behind his desk. He had a small silver, spinning instrument on it which he started to make spin faster with a tap of his finger. Harry watched it cautiously, but since it didn’t appear to be affecting Dash, he looked back at Dumbledore’s face. “It will be very hard to get rid of him or separate you.”

“That’s what I was saying, sir,” said Harry. Snape was probably rolling his eyes right now at Harry’s disrespect for the Headmaster. Well, all the more reason not to look at Snape. “That I don’t want to separate from him.”

“You understand my concerns, Harry?” Dumbledore asked it like it was the most important question he’d ever asked.

Harry looked at him slowly. “I do, sir,” he said. “But I don’t know if you understand that I can ask Dash not to bite people or kill him, and he won’t. That’s a choice, sir,” he added, because he knew that Dumbledore believed that. “And it’s our choices that makes us who we really are. Right?”

Dumbledore leaned slowly back in his chair. “But I wondered if you were recalling another choice and making it anew, differently this time,” he said.

Harry didn’t understand what he meant until Dumbledore caught his eye and led his gaze to the Sorting Hat, high on its shelf. Harry immediately shook his head. “No, sir. Just because I have a basilisk doesn’t mean I want to be in Slytherin.”

There was a little hiss, like a kettle. Harry was about to tell Dash off for scaring Dumbledore with his hissing, but a second later he realized it wasn’t Dash. It was Snape making that noise behind him. Harry turned around and stared.

“What do you mean by that?” Snape’s eyes were bulging a little, and he looked pale and sick to his stomach. Harry was kind of sorry that he didn’t even know what he had done to make him look that way. At least if he was going to upset Snape, it should be on purpose.

“The Hat first considered Harry for your House, Severus,” said Dumbledore, and he sounded more cheerful. Harry silently wondered if Dumbledore liked to upset Snape, too.

I like upsetting everyone, Dash contributed, not that helpfully. Harry rubbed his head to keep him quiet, and looked back and forth again between Snape and Dumbledore, entertained in spite of himself. 

“But Harry chose Gryffindor, and you’re right, Harry, it is our choices…” said Dumbledore, letting the sentence trail off as he looked at the way Harry was petting Dash. He sighed, and he sounded sad and old to Harry. “Perhaps if you spend some time with your snake, you will realize that you need to reconsider? At least before you go back to stay with your relatives again?”

Harry was extra sure that he would never consider facing the Dursleys without Dash when he could have his protection, but he knew that sometimes you had to lie to adults for their own good. “I’ll consider it, sir.”

“Excellent!” said Dumbledore, and rubbed his hands together. “Then the only thing that remains is for us to enact a few rudimentary protections for the safety of your fellow schoolmates.” He waved his wand and said something quiet, and a few of the silver instruments flew up from the shelves and orbited Harry’s head.

I don’t like them, said Dash, turning his head back and forth, and giving Harry a subdued glimpse of the yellow light of his eyes under his eyelids again. Make them go away.

Harry had his wand in his hand, ready to do that if he had to, but he did ask, “Sir? What are they supposed to do?”

“I’m glad you asked that, my boy,” Dumbledore said, and beamed as if he really was. “They’ll act as mirrors if your Dash opens his eyes, and allow his gaze to bounce back harmlessly. They’re gifted with enough intelligence to know when they’re needed, and they’ll dart in between your friend and the other students.” He reached into his drawer and drew out a big red vial Harry had never seen before. “And this will dilute his poison enough that it should be painful but harmless to anyone he bites. It wouldn’t work with a bigger basilisk, but fortunately, this is one of the uses of dragon’s blood.”

Harry looked at Dash, who coiled closer to him and whined, I’m not taking that. What happens if it dilutes my poison forever? What if I can’t kill the rabbits I need to eat? He touched his tongue to Harry’s neck again. What if I can’t bite someone to defend you?

“He’s worried about not being able to defend me if he takes that, sir,” said Harry, facing Dumbledore again and feeling a brief moment of incredulity that he was translating a basilisk’s words for the Headmaster.

This is the way life is, said Dash, and his tail moved slowly around Harry’s waist, shifting as if he wanted to learn its shape. Surprises, and food.

“I am afraid I must insist,” said Dumbledore.

Harry considered him one more time, and then reached out and took the vial. He held it up to Dash’s mouth. “Can you take this for me?” he asked aloud in Parseltongue, and he thought Snape probably jumped, although Dumbledore just continued to watch him calmly. “Please?”

Dash finally opened his jaws, ungraciously, and hissed at Dumbledore. Harry carefully poured the potion down his throat. Dash worked his jaw back and forth for a moment, making his fangs flash, and then said, It doesn’t taste too bad. More like blood than I expected.

Harry faced Dumbledore. “Can I go now, sir?” He wanted to get some sleep, and preferably before everyone else woke up and he would have to explain Dash to them.

“Just a moment, Harry.” Dumbledore leaned forwards with his hands on the desk and surveyed him gravely once more. “Do you think this is likely to happen again?”

“Bonding with a basilisk, sir?” Harry shook his head vigorously. “I really hope not.” 

It won’t, said Dash firmly into his head. You’re mine, and I refuse to let another basilisk anywhere near you. 

Harry smiled and reached up to touch the back of Dash’s neck. He noticed Dumbledore observing him gravely, and bristled a little. “You’ve made all the preparations you need to to keep other people safe, sir. Are you going to trust me or not?”

“That’s not what I meant, Harry,” said Dumbledore, and then said, “I meant, do you think that you’ll make another decision that’s as reckless as this, and disregards other people’s safety to such a persistent extent?”

Harry paused. He was waiting for something, he thought, but he wasn’t sure what.

Then, when he thought about it, he knew. He was waiting for his stomach to drop with guilt and the horrible feeling of disappointing Dumbledore to creep over him. Dumbledore was the first adult he’d ever really wanted to impress. It was horrible to think he was doing something that upset him.

But he didn’t have that feeling. He eyed Dash suspiciously, sideways, and Dash promptly curled his tail up and tapped him in the side of the neck. I can tell you things and pick up on your thoughts. I can’t suppress your emotions.

“I don’t know, sir,” Harry said, and turned back to Dumbledore. “I don’t want to put people in danger, but I couldn’t leave someone who was calling me for help alone. Don’t you see that?” he added, because he thought if anyone knew why he would have to get out of bed in the middle of the night to save someone, it would be Dumbledore. “If I can do something to save them, then I have to.”

Dumbledore nodded, and the twinkle was back in his eyes. “I do understand, m’boy. Good night to you.”

Harry glanced instinctively at Snape, but he was staring at Dumbledore and didn’t seem inclined to escort Harry back to Gryffindor “to make sure he went to bed,” the way Harry had been certain he would do. He shrugged, said, “Good night, sir,” and walked out, adjusting Dash around his waist.

I’m starting to get sleepy from all the food I ate, said Dash, and his neck writhed around Harry’s and then he rested his chin on Harry’s nape, his heavy satisfaction leaning against Harry’s mind like a purring cat. Can we wait until tomorrow to meet your roommates? 

I think we have to, said Harry, and stroked his scales and the little plume that stood up on the top of his head, and made his way to Gryffindor Tower.

Each step was heavier than it had ever been, since before he hadn’t been carrying a giant snake. But each step was also more joyful. He knew there would be trouble, and the mirrors orbiting him made that plain, but there was another thing he knew.

He wasn’t going to be alone, ever again.

*

“I know what you’re going to say, Severus, and you can save your breath. I knew all about where the Sorting Hat wanted to place Harry, and he and I have already discussed it.”

Severus shook his head. There was a mixture of thoughts and emotions in his brain and chest that was making it very difficult for him to choose what to say. But at least the one Albus voiced hadn’t been in his top five.

“That is not the issue,” he finally chose. “I wish to know why you were so intent on depriving the boy of his snake, and then you relented and let him keep it.”

Depriving him?” Albus chuckled. “You may become a fan of Harry Potter yet, Severus, if you keep speaking like that.”

Severus forced himself to ignore the words that made him want to snap. He had more control of himself than that, and this was important. “What made you change your mind?”

“Because I looked and saw the true bond, as you rightly assumed that I would.” Albus still looked too amused. “And because I saw that Harry did want to protect Dash and himself, and that…certain things are not as I had thought.” Albus’s smile vanished this time. “Harry stands at a crossroads, and he could lose himself, Severus. I must admit that I am concerned about him.”

Severus nodded and said a few empty platitudes, mixed in with the sneers that Albus would expect. At the very least, when Albus waved farewell to him for the night, Severus thought he suspected nothing.

But Severus’s mind was racing, and he had come up with a few truths that he thought Albus would find unpalatable, at the very least. Or perhaps he would find it unpalatable that Severus was contemplating them.

Slytherin in fact had been a Parselmouth. Slytherin, at least in legend, had been bonded to several snakes. And while Severus would never be so rash as to believe in the reincarnation of his House’s founder in the form of a rather foolish Gryffindor, he did have to wonder about Albus’s contention that Potter had Parseltongue only from the Dark Lord.

Did he have his Slytherin nature and bond to a basilisk from the Dark Lord, too? Or was it more likely, as Severus was coming to believe, that the Dark Lord had nothing to do with it?

Because if so, that pointed to his misinterpretation of a few things Potter had done, and a dimension that he had been ignorant of to others.

He did want to think about this, but he intended to betray neither his curiosity nor his conclusions to Albus any time soon.

Based on Albus’s reaction to the mere thought of Harry Potter acting Slytherin, he imagined it as the worst fate that could befall the boy. And Severus did not think so.

Chapter Text

“Mate, don’t move.”

Ron’s voice was soft and hoarse. Harry blinked his eyes open, and blinked again when he saw Ron’s wand pointed straight at him. It took him a long, long second to realize why it was probably happening.

Then he rolled his eyes and deliberately moved an arm so he was stroking his hand along Dash’s shimmering scales. “Ron, it’s okay.”

Ron twitched, and said in a voice so quiet that Harry was surprised his stroking Dash didn’t cover it up, “Mate, you’ve got a bloody great snake on you. It’s going to kill you and eat you, I think. Unless I can curse it first.” He licked his lips. “I’ve never tried the Blasting Curse before, but I will, okay? Just hold still.”

“You are not using the Blasting Curse on me,” Harry said, and grabbed Dash’s head just in time as he started to whip towards Ron with his mouth open. “And you’re not cursing Dash. He’s my friend.”

Ron stared at him. “Are you mental?”

Perhaps you are, for having such friends. Dash moved so that more of his body emerged from under the covers, making Ron gasp. Harry doubted that Ron had realized how big Dash was until then. Let me bite him.

You know that that potion Dumbledore gave you will just dilute the venom, anyway, Harry pointed out, and tugged a little at the plume on top of Dash’s head.

From Dash’s agitated hiss, he really didn’t like that. Before Harry had a chance to stop him, he said, That is why I should bite him, and lashed towards Ron across the bed like an unfolding ball of string.

Harry snatched his tail just in time to hold him back. Ron had leaped back, too, and was yelling so loudly that Harry heard the others stirring and muttering and waking up.

Just the way I wanted them to meet Dash, Harry thought in disgust, and glared at Ron, shaking his head. “He’s the basilisk I’m bonded to,” he said. “I know that you think it’s a good idea to curse him, but it’s really, really not.”

By now, the others were up, and they focused on one word each.

Basilisk,” said Neville, and dived back into his bed, tugging the curtains shut behind him. Harry thought he heard the whisper of a terrified spell that was probably meant to continue holding them shut, too.

“Bonded?” Dean was staring around as if this was one of those strange wizarding world things and he wanted to know where Hermione was when he needed her.

“No, it’s a really good idea,” said Seamus, and started to lift his wand so that it was level with Ron’s—or level with where Ron’s would have been, Harry thought, if he could have got his hand to stop shaking.

“Stop it!” said Harry. He put a lot of force into the word, but didn’t yell. He thought he would get their attention better if he didn’t yell. And it made Dash turn around and consider him, too, then ripple back across the bed and wrap around his waist, levering most of his weight onto Harry’s shoulder. 

That is the way, he said, and rested his chin on top of Harry’s head. I knew you had it in you to do things like that.

Harry didn’t have the chance to ask what he meant, because Ron was demanding, “Where the hell did you get that thing, mate?”

I am not a thing, said Dash haughtily. That stick of wood in his hand is a thing. How would he like it if I broke that stick of wood? 

Harry had the feeling that he was going to be thanking his lucky stars a lot that no one else could overhear what Dash said to him down the privacy of the bond. “I heard him calling me in the night,” he said, and shifted Dash so that he was more comfortably settled around Harry. “He was in the Chamber of Secrets.”

Dean shook his head with a tragic expression on his face. “I can’t believe you went down there, Harry. It’s no place for a Gryffindor.”

“Why was he there?” Seamus was holding his fire for now, but he kept looking back and forth nervously between Dash and Harry. At least he seemed to have realized that Dash was doing something to dim his gaze, because he wasn’t yelling about falling over dead. “I thought you killed the basilisk in the Chamber!”

“These were eggs.” Harry said that bit reluctantly, because he thought he could predict what they would say next.

Sure enough. 

“Let’s smash them!” said Seamus. “And maybe we can put him back in the egg and smash him too, or something. Does Hagrid have new roosters? We can bring one in here and have it crow, and bang, there’s one dead basilisk and one free Harry!”

Harry felt the way he had that time Dudley had caught him at school and told Piers to hold a match to his feet. He shot out of the bed so fast it was like he had wings, and rushed at Seamus. Seamus barely had time for a startled yelp before he was staggering backwards, one hand on his cheek, staring at Harry like he was a stranger.

Harry didn’t even know why he had used his hands instead of his wand. He should have. He was that angry.

You’re so angry that you couldn’t think of a spell that would hurt him enough, said Dash. He sounded calm, even though he’d been left sprawled across Harry’s bed by the force of Harry’s leap. He crawled towards him now and entwined himself around Harry’s legs, lifting his head so that it was nudging at Harry’s dangling hand. You don’t know enough spells yet. We’ll fix that soon.

Harry shut his eyes and turned away, but he spoke in a low, vicious voice that he hoped they could all understand. Maybe he’d made a mistake by not yelling earlier after all. “I never want to hear you say that again. Dash is mine.”

And I’m yours, said Dash. Just in case anyone gets it into their head that they can have you.

Harry was glad that he didn’t have to translate that. It would come out the wrong way in English, the way it wouldn’t in mental-speak or even Parseltongue. Now that he thought about it, with Dash’s perspective pulsing in the back of his head, he knew that Parseltongue possessiveness could be about a nest and include a lot of defensiveness.

“Harry,” said Seamus. “You know what those things can do. You fought one last year.”

“That one belonged to Slytherin,” said Harry, his head still turned away. He’d torn himself away from Dudley and Piers when they’d tried to use the match. He’d run and run and run, and felt as if he had the strength and energy to run to the end of the world to get away from them. He could have spent a lot more time punching Seamus and hurting him, too. He was only glad that he hadn’t needed to. “It was going around petrifying people. There’s no way I could have talked to it and made it stop hurting people, because it belonged to Slytherin. But Dash is mine. He won’t hurt anyone.”

You have to start adding “and I’m his” to the end of your statements, said Dash resentfully. And remember that I’m not hurting people right now. It’s different when you tell me to.

Harry hunched his shoulders a little. He knew what Dash was suggesting, but he didn’t want Dash to bite Seamus. He didn’t want Seamus to hurt Dash, either. He was just—he just wanted to have the world be like it was before, but better, because Dash was with him.

Of course it will be. I make everything better.

“What are those, Harry?”

Neville was peering out of his curtains again, maybe because he knew now that no one was falling dead from Dash’s gaze or poison. Harry dully followed Neville’s pointing finger, and blinked. The silver objects that Dumbledore had enchanted were whizzing around his bed, dancing around each other as they circled towards Dash. Dash watched them tolerantly.

“Dumbledore put them there as mirrors in case Dash tried to look at someone,” Harry mumbled. “He gave him a potion that diluted his venom, too.”

Neville took a breath so deep that his face puffed up with the effort. “Then—does that mean that he can’t hurt people?”

Harry shrugged. “It would still hurt if he bit you.” He reached down and picked up Dash, settling him around his shoulders and waist, ignoring how heavy Dash was. “But it wouldn’t kill you.”

“Th-then I think we ought to accept Dash,” said Neville, and he glanced around as though he wanted to look the others in the eye, although he looked away again when Dean and Ron stared at him. “We know Harry isn’t evil. He just has a b-basilisk.”

“But people are going to say that you’re the Heir of Slytherin again, mate,” Ron tried, with the sound of desperation in his voice.

“I don’t care,” Harry said stubbornly. “Dash matters more.”

You matter more. That’s also something you should start thinking.

Harry rolled his eyes a little and would have retorted, but Ron said, “What if other people try to hurt him?”

“Then he can defend himself,” Harry said, and looked Ron dead in the eye. “Unless you don’t think he can because Dumbledore tried to restrain him a little.”

“No,” said Ron, and gave Dash another sidelong look. “But you have to admit this is pretty bloody strange, mate. I don’t know what Hermione’s going to say when she finds out.”

Dean and Seamus were going into the bathroom, giving Harry and Dash dark looks all the while. Neville scuttled around Harry with a handful of towels and a timid smile, but stopped when Harry smiled at him and said, “Thanks. I think I owe you one.”

“I know that y-you aren’t evil,” said Neville, and nodded at him. “And you wouldn’t let him bite me.”

Harry had to admit that was true. Even if Dash needed to defend himself, it wouldn’t be from Neville. “Thanks anyway,” he said. He thought that Neville’s acceptance was one reason Seamus and Dean had left instead of trying to press the issue.

Neville nodded again and ran off. Ron shook his head, long and slow. “You should go ahead and get ready for breakfast, mate. It’s probably going to take forever to get out of the common room once Hermione sees that.”

“Can you please stop talking about him like he’s a thing?” Harry snapped, and put a hand on the back of Dash’s neck when he tried to raise his head. “He doesn’t like it, and neither do I, and it’s hard listening to all the comments he can make to me every time you do it.”

Ron gaped at him for a second. “I didn’t hear him hissing. How is he talking to you?”

“In my mind,” Harry said. “I told you we were bonded. This is what it means. He can talk to me, and no one else can hear, but he understands what I hear, too. So he knows when someone is saying something uncomplimentary things about him in English.”

He expected Ron to either question his sanity or break and run, but instead, Ron’s face lit up like sunrise. “Brilliant. Do you think he could tell you all the answers during a Potions exam? And could you get me into the bond so I could hear?”

I will wither away of boredom if I have to listen to his thoughts, Dash announced, curling himself on Harry’s shoulder with solemn dignity, and flowing around his neck.

It’s impossible anyway, Harry reassured him. At least, he didn’t know any way to let Ron into the bond, and he didn’t think he would have wanted to even if he did know, whether Ron was his best friend or not. Dash was just his. He didn’t want someone to come in and share.

You have someone who can share everything, now, said Dash. And Harry hugged the warmth that produced to himself while he smiled and told Ron that Dash didn’t care about Potions exams and would probably spend all the time considering the Potions ingredients for things he could eat anyway.

*

“Harry!”

Hermione had come bounding across the room to hug him and had been saying something about Lupin, but she stopped in her tracks when she saw Dash. Harry petted Dash’s smooth scales on the back of his head and gave Hermione a sheepish smile.

“Where did you get a basilisk?” asked Hermione, and then began to shake a little. Harry remembered abruptly that she was one of the people who had been petrified and put in the hospital wing. “That’s a basilisk. Where did you get it? What happened?”

One of your friends cares about exams, and one is repetitive, said Dash. I knew that. But they seem to have mixed themselves up with each other.

Harry turned a snort into a cough, and gave Hermione a quick outline of the story, the cry for help he’d heard, and the Chamber of Secrets. By the time he did, Hermione had recovered some of her calm and asked something no one else had been brave enough to do. “Can I pet him?”

Why not? Dash turned his head slowly back and forth. I suppose I should learn all about this world that I’m living in, and your hands and clothes and bedsheets and the animals I eat are not enough textures. 

Harry rolled his eyes a little, and nodded. Hermione came up close to him, ignoring the way that Ron muttered and held back, and stroked the warm scales on Dash’s body where it wound around Harry’s waist. “He’s so soft,” she whispered.

Tell her to pet me when I am full of the bodies of animals, said Dash, and then flicked his tongue out and towards the staircases that led up to the girls’ rooms. What is up there? It smells good.

You are not eating Hermione’s Kneazle, Harry told him sternly, and smiled again at Hermione. “He is, kind of. And he says that you’re nice.”

I do not. 

Well, what are you going to do? Stare at me?

Harry thought Dash would have responded to that, but he always wanted Harry’s full attention when he did, and Hermione was talking and distracting Harry. “You know that everyone is going to stare at you and make fun of you, Harry?” she asked gravely, as if it was a fate worse than death.

Harry held himself back from snapping. He hadn’t ever told his friends many details about Dudley and other people bullying him in primary school, and he knew that Hermione had been outcast and bullied herself. So she probably couldn’t think of many worse fates that didn’t involve death. “I know. But I have Dash now. I can ignore them.”

And I can tell you many nasty things about them. Even if you are going to lie and say that I’m complimenting them.

Harry smiled. That was another side-effect to the bond that he didn’t mind.

“He’s bonded? He talks to you in your head? Does it feel like someone talking to you through a television, or can you feel it right in your head? Do you think that I could bond with a basilisk and do that?’

Yes, same old Hermione, Harry thought with a shake of his head, but it was a fond shake, and he did his best to answer Hermione’s questions as they walked down to breakfast.

*

Draco looked up only when people began shrieking. He was trying not to pay Potter too much attention until he came up with some new taunts about Sirius Black. Besides, his arm was aching again where that awful beast had mauled him, and he was trying to convince Blaise, who didn’t believe him, to pass the marmalade to Vince, who was sitting between Draco and Blaise and would put the marmalade on Draco’s toast if Blaise would only pass it.

But shrieks were something new.

And so was the enormous bloody snake around Potter’s waist. And the shiny silver objects that circled around him.

Barely breathing, Draco watched as even some of the Slytherins leaped to their feet and shouted, and the Professors frowned from the High Table. They didn’t look so surprised, Draco thought. Someone must already have told them.

A thought of complaining to his father if he knew about it and hadn’t told Draco flowed through his head, but then it flowed away again as he concentrated on Potter and trying to identify what kind of snake he had. Draco knew that most snakes didn’t grow that big, which limited the number of candidates. It also meant Potter had probably raised it for a while in secret before bringing it into the school, and Draco wondered, mildly impressed, where he had got the time and effort to do it.

And why couldn’t he have a snake, if Potter had one?

Then Potter touched the snake’s head and leaned down as if as he was speaking to it, and the snake reared up. Draco leaned along the side. He would see the hood flaring now, if it was a cobra and had a hood.

But it didn’t.

It had a plume, instead, and something like dread and wonder mingled slammed into Draco’s heart and made him feel the way he did when he was in the middle of a Quidditch game, when Potter hadn’t spotted the Snitch yet and Draco thought he still had a chance.

He has a basilisk. 

The words didn’t even leave room for any other thoughts to come after them, for a long moment. Draco just sat there and felt and felt, and Potter moved over and sat down in the middle of the Gryffindor table as though everything was normal, as though he carried in a basilisk on his arm—and around his neck—and around his waist—to breakfast every day.

The seats near him emptied fast, except for the inevitable Granger and Weasley and, to Draco’s surprise, Longbottom. Well, Longbottom was probably too dim to realize what the thing was, and Weasley too invested in the fame and fortune he hoped to pick up from associating with Potter, and Granger too interested in studying the basilisk. She was asking Potter incessant questions even as he sat, Draco saw.

“Headmaster!”

It was Zacharias Smith, someone Draco had never liked. His family drifted back and forth between being blood traitors and being nice and respectable, and Draco thought it was wherever the political winds took them at the moment. His father said they had no conviction.

“Why is a student allowed to bring a dangerous beast into this school?” Smith stood and pointed a finger at Potter as if he imagined that he was an avenging Fury or something. “We know that he is a Parselmouth, but we did not think he was evil!

“Really?” That was Potter’s voice, and Draco had never heard him sound so flat and unimpressed. Well, Smith just doesn’t have my talent for riling him up, Draco congratulated himself. “You thought I was evil last year.”

Smith stared at him for a second, and then swiveled back to Dumbledore. “Well, Headmaster?”

There was a loud muttering of agreement, and some more shouting. Dumbledore rose to his feet and studied them all with that mild stare until they fell silent again. Draco nodded a little. His father had been right. Dumbledore had some tricks that were worth copying, even though he was stupid and the worst of blood traitors.

“I have examined the bond that Mr. Potter has with his snake,” Dumbledore began. “I have looked into his mind myself, using Legilimency, with Mr. Potter’s permission.’

Draco stared. He was trying to understand what was most remarkable about Dumbledore’s statement: the admission he was a Legilimens, which was something his father suspected but Dumbledore would never confirm in public, or the idea that Potter was bonded with the basilisk.

Of course Parselmouths could command snakes. That was in all the lore Draco had ever heard about them, and he accepted it without thought. It was one reason he had always envied them and hissed at everything snake-shaped in the Manor for six months before he had to accept that he wasn’t one.

But a bond? Draco was only aware of bonds from fairy stories, from stories of people riding on dragons they’d impossibly tamed and sea serpents they’d raised from the egg. Bonded animals could speak to people in their minds and were always loyal to them.

For a second, Draco had to close his eyes. Not only was Potter a Parselmouth, with the gift that Draco would have given anything to possess, but he also had a powerful and dangerous creature who would follow him around and attack anyone he commanded it to.

It wasn’t fair.

Lost in glaring at Potter, Draco barely listened to the statements that Dumbledore made, about the mirrors that orbited Potter being able to turn the snake’s gaze back on itself and the potion that he’d fed the snake to dilute its venom. And he only snorted with amused contempt when Dumbledore also announced about the snake’s name being Dash. Of course Potter would name the most dangerous snake in the world something so common.

Potter seemed to be ignoring Dumbledore, too, and certainly ignoring Draco, and the way that the other Houses stared at him, and even the reassurance that slowly spread across the room in the wake of Dumbledore’s statements. He petted his snake on the head, and listened to it with his head cocked, and a few times hissed aloud and offered it bacon. It refused everything he tried to give it. 

Basilisks prefer live prey, Draco thought. He could have told Potter that.

Potter finally looked up and caught Draco’s eye. He gave him, not the glare that Draco thought he would receive, but a nasty grin.

For a moment, Draco thought that Potter had somehow decided that Draco would like a basilisk, too, and was taunting him. But then Draco remembered. He’d never told anyone about wanting a basilisk. He was afraid it would seem too childish.

Why is he grinning like that? 

The answer was obvious as soon as Draco thought about it, especially when he saw Potter glance at his bandaged arm.

He knows he could have the basilisk attack me if I really tried to hurt him.

And that intrigued Draco. Not enough to make him forget his resentment and jealousy, but, well, he’d had to ignore other emotions down the years. Swallow his boredom and make nice with Pansy, for example, during the brief time when the Parkinsons had been politically influential. Since he’d been getting older, his father had been explaining why he asked Draco to do things like that more and more.

He knew what his father would say now.

Get close to Potter. You have to. He’s going to be powerful. He already is, if he can force Dumbledore to make compromises like this.

Because Draco had noticed something else: Dumbledore really only seemed to smile for the other students’ benefit. When he sat down in his place and studied Potter, his eyes were as hard as rubies.

So. He had a task, an important one. One that he could write to his father and report he’d thought of himself, and already had well in hand.

And maybe, just maybe…

Maybe Potter can get me a basilisk too.

Chapter Text

“You realize that everyone is staring at you?”

Harry shrugged and settled into his seat in Potions, then sat up and readjusted again. Dash was complaining that Harry had sat on his tail.

Well, don’t put your tail on my arse, and it’ll be even, Harry told him, which made Dash hiss and tuck his head under Harry’s robe collar. Harry had already noticed that he did that when he was sulky.

I am not sulky. Not ever sulky.

Only someone sulky talks like that, Harry retorted, and Dash clamped his jaws shut and laid his head along the back of Harry’s neck. Harry sighed and stroked Dash’s throat. He was still getting used to having a snake, and someone who could talk back to him and seemed to want to protect him at that.

Do you have such a lack of people who want to protect you? Dash let his head dangle down the opposite side of Harry’s neck while Harry got his cauldron and books out. Harry paused to move him a little yet again. The scrape of scales against his earlobe was a tickling distraction.

I don’t think that’s it, said Harry. He could think of Dumbledore and the Weasleys and Hermione and McGonagall off the top of his head.

But you don’t think about your Muggles when you do that. Dash flexed a little, eagerly, around Harry’s ears and the crown of his head. I shall have to think about this some more and see what I can do.

Any dread that Harry had about Dash’s suggestion vanished when Snape swept into the room and up to the front. Then Harry had to worry about the dread he always had when Snape was around. Granted, Snape had been decent about Dash last night, but Harry thought that was because it was a snake and he was surprised. He was upset again about fifteen minutes later, after all.

“One would think that no one had ever seen a snake before.” Snape made the remark to the air above his students’ heads.

Immediately, some people snapped around so that they were facing forwards. Harry bit his lip desperately, and managed to hold onto his laughter. Laughing would get him in detention. Only Malfoy could get away with that in Potions, and according to Snape, that was because Malfoy was a Potions genius.


But he was secretly a little grateful that Snape was helping him, or at least making people stop staring at him. Dash was worth any amount of stares, but Harry thought it would get to him in a while, the way it had last year.

They seem to distrust snakes and Parseltongue and all sorts of things that are reptilian. Why is that?

Harry sent back a strong image of Voldemort as he had seen him on the back of Quirrell’s head, but he didn’t dare have a silent conversation with Dash, because Snape was glaring straight at him. “And you, Mr. Potter, should not allow the snake to distract you from your brewing, or cause any mishaps with ingredients.”

It was a mild reprimand, at least when compared to some of the ones Snape tended to give him. Harry just nodded and said, “Yes, sir.”

Snape raised his eyebrows and turned, waving his wand so fast that the words seemed to spring out of it and cover the board. Harry used his left hand to brush Dash’s tail out of the way and began to write them down.

“The instructions will vanish in ten minutes,” Snape said smoothly, and Harry thought he saw a smile on his face as the banging of cauldrons turned into the frantic scribbling of quotes.

Harry began to write faster, and ignored the way that he could feel Ron shaking with suppressed indignation next to him. They could work together, the way they usually did, and as long as one of them had a good copy of the notes, then they could brew the potion.

Or you could ask me, Dash offered. I could remember the notes, and then you could reach out and touch my memories the way I’m touching yours, and you would see the notes right in front of your eyes.

Harry had been about to ask how Dash could read any English writing—he’d thought Dash could only understand English because Harry did, and that meant he wouldn’t be able to read something Harry wasn’t reading with him—but now he paused. That was actually a good idea.

But Snape’s eyes were on him, and Harry went back to writing, telling Dash, I’ll still need to write it down or else he’ll think you’re distracting me. But I’ll let you know if I can’t read something I’m writing and you can show me the notes.

Dash gave a soft, pleased hiss, and several of the Gryffindor girls who weren’t Hermione flinched. Hermione’s shoulders tightened. Harry could almost hear her saying, “Honestly,” but of course she wasn’t about to speak up in the middle of Potions class.

But there was silence only until the mad scribbling of notes had finished—Harry thought Snape looked mildly disappointed that most of his students finished writing the whole recipe down—and then people started to get up and fetch the ingredients. Harry stood up, and Lavender Brown moved so she was blocking his way out of the aisle. Harry folded his arms and made sure his look was unimpressed.

“Harry, you have to think about this,” Lavender whispered, and it sounded as if she were pleading. “You haven’t thought about it, or you never would have brought a snake to class. Snakes are dangerous. And they’re the symbol of Slytherin, and that means a Gryffindor shouldn’t have one—”

“Miss Brown. I expected to see that you had begun the potion already. You’ve wasted five minutes wringing your wrist instead of writing it down already.”

Harry didn’t think his mouth fell open when Snape loomed behind Lavender and told her that, but only because Dash’s head was tucked nicely beneath his jaw and it couldn’t move. What the hell was going on? Was Snape defending him?

You seem horrified that he would, said Dash in the back of his head, darting out his tongue so that it scraped Harry’s neck this time. Harry didn’t jump, but only because Snape was there, and Snape had already told him off for letting Dash distract him. You could use more people to help and defend you. 

Yeah, but only if they actually mean it, not if they’re just doing it to beat up on someone else and then turn around and hurt me again later, Harry thought bitterly, remembering some of his primary school teachers. They had defended him against Dudley, but that was only because they didn’t like Dudley. A few days later they’d forgotten all about him.

I must find out where your Muggles live.

Lavender had scurried away by now, and Snape turned sharp eyes on Harry and shook his head. “You are to go to the storage cupboard, Mr. Potter, not stand here acting as though you have never seen a cauldron before,” he said, and Harry bowed his head and scurried away, wringing his own wrist as if it hurt, too. It was better than doing something that would give away what he was really considering.

Which was that Snape wasn’t all that bad, sometimes, but Harry still couldn’t afford to trust him because it was “sometimes.”

*

Draco sighed and shook his head, stepping back from his table as Vince came up with the wrong ingredients. “We aren’t using Amanita mushroom caps today,” he explained, as kindly as he could. “Didn’t you see where it said that in the instructions?”

Vince shook his head and put the handful of ingredients down on the table, pushing on them with his palm so that most of them turned into green mush. Draco knew that Professor Snape wouldn’t say anything, because Vince was a Slytherin and Professor Snape stuck by his Slytherins, but he grimaced a little himself at seeing the waste of valuable plants.

“Then I’ll go get it myself,” said Draco, and was proud of his wisdom. Potter hadn’t come back with his own armful of necessary ingredients yet. This was the perfect chance to slip up on him and observe him with the basilisk, and maybe talk a little to Potter in a way that would get him his own basilisk eventually.

Vince nodded, but said nothing. Draco sighed. Sometimes he did envy people in other Houses who could have conversations with the people closest to them. But Vince and Greg had other virtues that made up for the lack of talking.

He stepped into the supply cupboard and saw Potter just plucking the last jar of diamond dust from the shelf. He immediately stared at Draco, rolled his eyes, and then started to walk around him towards the door.

“Potter, wait,” said Draco. He tried to keep his voice calm and smooth, the voice his father used when he was going to tell Draco that he couldn’t have something special he wanted. He thought he did a good job, but Potter still glanced back at him over his shoulder with an expression of disbelief.

“For what?” Potter asked. “You’re going to insult me over something, and I don’t see why I should stick around for that.”

The basilisk hissed. Draco hoped he didn’t look too envious. The basilisk was mostly draped over Potter’s shoulders, but there was a ripple under Potter’s robes that showed he ran further down, too. And Potter just stood there wearing him so casually, and comfortably, like he really didn’t have anything to worry about.

Draco wanted that ease. He wanted a basilisk. He wanted to be a Parselmouth, to prove that he was the best Slytherin, and those older students could stop giving him those condescending looks, and others could stop muttering about how Draco didn’t have any of the glories of the old Black blood.

He wanted so strongly that it gave him the ability to not insult Potter. He just shook his head and asked, “Do you think we could—we could be a little different?” He’d already asked Potter for friendship once. He wouldn’t do it now. This was just a first step, and his father would say that you couldn’t sacrifice all your pride for something small.

Potter blinked at Draco for a second, and then he snorted. Snorted. Draco could feel himself turning pink, and he bit his tongue so he wouldn’t say something like, “I’ll tell my father!” Potter would expect him to say that. Draco had to do the unexpected.

“This is the part where you tell me that I was wrong to choose Gryffindor and Ron and Hermione and all the rest of it?” Potter shook his head like it was a new fashion. “No. I love Dash and I’m glad I have him, but it’s not going to make my friends reject me just because I have a basilisk. And I’m not a different person because I have him.” The basilisk hissed again, and Potter reached up with an elbow and absently scratched the coil that flowed out of the top of his shirt. “So you’re not right, Malfoy. There’s no reason for me to say you were right.”

“I wasn’t going to say that!” Draco snapped, flustered. This was going all wrong. “I was going to say that you—that you don’t choose your House, and I—I maybe was wrong to say that all worthwhile wizards end up in Slytherin.”

There. That was a concession, and even someone like Potter ought to be able to see it and admire Draco for making it.

But for some reason, Potter was grinning at Draco again. “You can’t choose your House, but I chose mine,” he said. “Maybe I should thank you for it. Without you, the Hat would have put me in Slytherin. But I knew you were there, and I didn’t want to go into the same house as a slimy git. So I told it to put me somewhere else. I chose Gryffindor.” He bent towards Draco and whispered with a wink, “So you’re still wrong, Malfoy.”

Draco stared at him. He wanted to open his mouth and say something else, but his jaw felt as though someone had pasted it shut. Potter shrugged at him and started to walk away again.

“You didn’t tell the Hat that,” Draco said, suddenly angry. It was another lie, he thought, a lie that Potter was making up to make himself look special! It had to be! Why was Potter doing it? He must hate Draco a lot more than Draco had thought. “You didn’t tell the Hat anything like that. You’re in Gryffindor because your parents were.”

“Keep telling yourself that.” The basilisk flicked his tongue at Draco, and Draco thought maybe even he was laughing at him.

“You weren’t supposed to be in Slytherin!” Draco took a long step forwards, and the day before, he would have grabbed Potter’s shoulder and turned him around. But the basilisk was watching him, in a way that made Draco suddenly wary of the yellow glow beneath those clear eyelids. It would be so easy for the basilisk to open those eyelids…

“You don’t have to believe me, Malfoy. You can go on acting the same stupid way you always did.” Potter stopped and turned neatly on one heel to look back at him. “But I’ll know the truth.”

Draco started to say something. He didn’t think it would really matter what it was. One way or another, he had to say something that would get him out of this situation and prove that Potter was wrong.

“Potter. Malfoy.”

Professor Snape’s voice came from the entrance to the supply cupboard, and Draco jumped and turned to gather ingredients. But Professor Snape’s voice flicked again, and he said, “You will stop.”

Draco turned slowly around, his hands in the air. It was an automatic reaction to hearing Professor Snape speak that way. Potter had his hand on the basilisk’s head and was staring hard at those closed eyes. Draco swallowed. He wondered if the snake had been about to stare at him. But Potter didn’t look at him, and the basilisk put his head down on the other side of Potter’s neck a moment later, so it was hard to tell.

“Yes, Professor?” said Potter, and Draco wasn’t the only one, he was certain, who could hear a question in the back of that tone.

Draco looked at his Head of House. Snape’s eyes were locked on Potter, and there was an expression on his face that Draco had never seen before and couldn’t identify. A second later, Professor Snape looked at him, and Draco lowered his gaze and swallowed. He was feeling extremely uncomfortable.

“You should have gathered up the ingredients and returned to the classroom several minutes ago,” said Professor Snape at last, and his voice was that dreadful whip-flick again. “Mr. Malfoy, you will do so. And you will stay away from Potter.”

Draco blinked, but said nothing as he snatched up the appropriate vials and twigs and mosses. He knew that Professor Snape would refuse to answer him, and that was Professor Snape’s right.

But it was still hard, to walk out of there and wonder if he had blown his best chance to have a basilisk of his own.

*

“Was your snake going to stare at Mr. Malfoy? Tell me the truth.”

Severus spoke the words because he had to, but his real project at the moment was his intense study of Potter. Potter stood there with his hand on the basilisk’s neck, and his gaze appeared to be fixed on his own robe hem. He looked up when Severus completed the question, though, and shook his head.

“I won’t let him look at anyone,” he said. “I was just irritated, and Dash was moving up to the side of my head because he was irritated, too.”

Severus grimaced. It was hard to tell how much of that was the truth. On the one hand, he knew that Potter lied to him on a regular basis, and that he disliked Draco.

On the other hand, it was also true that Draco sometimes antagonized Potter, and Severus had no proof that the basilisk would have looked at Draco. The mirrors that Dumbledore had enchanted were still hovering quietly in the air, for one thing, and Severus trusted Dumbledore’s spells enough to know that they would be more agitated, at least vibrating, if Draco had been in serious danger.

“There is something you should know, Potter,” said Severus.

“Yes, sir?” Potter was looking at the basilisk’s scales now, running one finger along the delicate separations. He might be talking to the snake, too. Since he didn’t have to speak Parseltongue aloud, Severus had no idea if he was. He only knew what he could go on, and his impression was that Potter hadn’t meant to hurt Draco.

“This does not change your status with me,” said Severus. “I am not going to suddenly treat you as someone special because you have a pet that may kill us all. Your actions could still kill us all.”

Potter’s head jerked up, and he focused on Severus this time instead of his snake, Severus was glad to see. His eyes were wide. “What do you mean? Sir,” he added a moment later, although Severus hadn’t changed the expression on his face.

“If you get yourself killed before you could face the Dark Lord.”

Potter’s face closed off in an instant. “Yeah, yeah, I get it,” he said. “I know that I have to face him, sir. And Sirius Black. If Sirius Black kills me, there’ll be no one left to kill Voldemort.” He waved one hand at Severus and started to move past him, back into the classroom. His arms were still full of the ingredients.

Severus stepped in front of him as he went past. Potter glared at him as if he wanted to have a basilisk’s gaze.

“Look,” he hissed, and he sounded as though he spoke Parseltongue on a daily basis, “I know that my defeating him is important, all right? I’m sure that it is. I know that people count on me. I know that I can’t just go out and hunt Sirius Black down. But I have someone who’ll protect me now. So you can stop being afraid that I’ll die before I have to save your arses.”

“Language,” said Severus, but he hesitated. He hadn’t expected Potter to react the way he did to Severus’s suggestion—rather, to smugly agree with the special status as the Boy-Who-Lived that it promised him, and strut out of the room. 

And Severus had to decide what he was going to do with this unexpected information and actions now, before other students started to come into the cupboard looking for their ingredients.

“Knowing that you are bonded with a basilisk and might have been a Slytherin changes things,” said Severus, before he could decide against it. “Not the mere presence of a basilisk itself.”

Potter stared at him again, and Severus relished in the look in his eyes. He should look as confused as any thirteen-year-old in Severus’s class, not adult and cynical.

“You will think about that,” Severus ordered, and then swept out into the main classroom before Longbottom could cause another disaster.

Potter followed him, slowly. Severus felt the boy’s eyes on him several times as he began to brew, even with Weasley’s and Granger’s whispered attempts to distract him. 

Let him think, Severus thought. Even he was not sure what he might have put in play today, any more than he was sure how the boy’s basilisk would ultimately change the shape of the war.

He only knew that it would happen, and he would make himself a player in that change now. Not a pawn.

Not if I can help it.

Chapter Text

“There is no way that you would be willing to leave the snake outside?” 

It took Harry a moment to realize McGonagall was talking to him. He had been arguing with Dash about what Snape might have meant when he spoke to him earlier, and whose fault it really was that Dash had been close enough to the cauldron in Potions to get a drop of his saliva in the liquid, which of course wrecked everything.

“No, Professor,” said Harry, when he could concentrate. He reached up and stroked Dash’s scales, soothing down the hiss before it could begin. “Professor Dumbledore said I had to keep him with me at all times, just in case he tried to do something to somebody.”

In truth, Harry thought the mirrors that Dumbledore had enchanted to whirl around him would probably follow Dash if they had to separate, but, well. There were some things McGonagall didn’t need to know.

Like how much you blame her for not believing you and going with you to find the Stone in your first year? Dash asked thoughtfully.

Harry had already learned Dash was a genius. For example, he had a talent for asking questions like that right before a professor spoke. Harry was going to snap at him, but McGonagall said, “Then he will need to stay around your neck, and stay absolutely quiet. I won’t have him disrupting my class. Transfiguration is a delicate subject.”

Harry stared at McGonagall. Sure, he had heard her be harsh before, but not to people who hadn’t done anything. And this time, he thought he saw a spark of disappointment in her eyes before she looked hastily away from him.

Was she disappointed in him for having a snake? For bonding with a basilisk? For speaking Parseltongue?

I don’t think it matters,” said Dash, and of course he hissed aloud, instead of speaking mentally into Harry’s mind the way he’d been doing all morning. People jumped in their seats and turned around to flinch. Harry lowered his head and stroked Dash’s neck. Dash continued relentlessly, his head weaving back and forth in a series of loops that immediately melted into one another. “They would find some reason to dislike you.

But she never did it before, Harry told Dash, as he pulled out his wand and got ready to pay attention to the lesson. This time, McGonagall was having them Transfigure small booklets into butterflies. Her voice was high and stiff as she recounted the lesson, and Harry was sure it had to do with him.

Did she support you?

Harry hesitated. It was true that he couldn’t remember McGonagall intervening last year when people were telling him that he was the Heir of Slytherin. But she hadn’t been upset with him. She had done what she could to treat him absolutely normally.

Sometimes, that isn’t what you need to do. Dash’s head nudged his cheek. Sometimes, you need someone who’s going to do more than that. 

Harry would have answered, but McGonagall said, “Mr. Potter, I must insist on you leaving the snake outside if he’s going to be a distraction from your schoolwork.”

Harry lowered his gaze to the booklet and managed a passable imitation of the wand movement, he thought. The pages of the booklet in front of him fluttered, but didn’t Transfigure. Harry grimaced and tried it again. Still nothing happened, and he could feel the angry frustration at the back of his eyes that made them grow hot.

You can’t focus your magic that way, said Dash. You have to be calm and think about things that will make you even calmer.

How can I do that when everyone’s being stupid about you? Harry slashed his wand down again. This time, the pages didn’t even move. He thought he could see other people with wings beating on their desks, but he refused to look.

You have to learn to focus through the anger. With one wary eye on McGonagall, Dash edged his head down beside Harry’s. Look at me. My eyelids, not my eyes.

Harry did that. He didn’t find the yellow glow behind them soothing, but Dash said softly, Can you imagine the way that I would look if I had them open? I know that you haven’t seen a basilisk’s eyes, but—

I almost saw them last year in the Chamber of Secrets. That’s as close as I want to come. Harry could feel sweat prickling beneath his hair as those memories woke up again.

Then they aren’t the best thing for you to focus on, no matter how yellow and deep they are. Dash sounded a little amused. What calms you down the most?

Harry had to think about it, and practice the wand movement a little more, since McGonagall was walking past and giving him a stern look. But he finally said, Flying. 

Dash brushed his neck coil against Harry’s ear. It would probably look like nothing much to anyone else, but he and Harry could feel the difference. That did make Harry calm down a little, thinking about secrets that only he and Dash could share.

Then think about the way you are when you’re flying, Dash murmured. Think about the way your muscles relax. You’re getting ready to leap onto the broom, and I know you’re alert and ready

Harry thought it would take him a while to get used to someone who could hear his thoughts before he had them.

But you also have to be calm and focused, because you’re going to lose the game if you aren’t. Can you think that way through your muscles? Can you think that way about your wand movement, and do the same thing?

Harry thought. His arm relaxed, and he wondered if that had been Dash’s doing. Wondering made him start to tense up again.

You should still be thinking about getting ready to fly, Dash scolded him. Remember, I can feel it if you aren’t.

Maybe there was an advantage to having a monitor who could see everything in his head, Harry considered. He did his best to think about flying and the rush of wind past him and the relaxation that he always felt when he’d been up there a while. He felt it even when he was struggling to beat Malfoy. He always knew he would win if he just concentrated.

Dash murmured to him, but Harry wasn’t thinking much about the words anymore. He lifted his wand and brought it down in the movement McGonagall had showed them, instead, muttering the incantation the way he would mutter insults against Malfoy.

“Impressive, Mr. Potter.”

Harry blinked his eyes and came slowly out of his trance. When he looked down, he could see that he had mostly managed the Transfiguration. The pages of his booklet were butterfly-shaped, black with blue stripes around the edges; there was a head at one end; and the body mostly followed the book’s spine. The only thing that was wrong was the papery antennae hanging off the head.

“Did you do that following your familiar’s advice?” McGonagall asked, and there was a slight edge to her voice now.

Harry looked up and shook his head. “Dash only hatched yesterday, Professor. He doesn’t know anything about Transfiguration. And I’m not sure he’s my familiar,” he added, turning his head and staring at Dash. Are you?

It would depend on what you mean by that statement, Dash replied, and took a moment to lick through his memories in the way that Harry had almost become accustomed to him doing. No, I do not think I am. I can’t link with you and ground you in the way that familiars are supposed to do. And the bond they share is different than the one we have.

“He says he isn’t,” Harry said to McGonagall, and endured a few moments of her sharp stare before she nodded.

“Then continue doing what you were doing,” she ordered him, and marched over to Neville, who had somehow managed to create a one-winged butterfly flapping slowly and sadly in a circle on the table.

Harry Transfigured the booklet back into a butterfly; that was a lot easier than the other way around. Then he went back to work, imagining a different kind of butterfly in his mind as hard as he could. Maybe if he created one that was Gryffindor red and gold, then McGonagall would be a little less suspicious of him.

*

“That child will turn my hair white before the end.”

Severus paused, then eased back behind the door of the infirmary. He had come to ask Poppy for burn paste, so as to have some on hand the next time he encountered Longbottom, but it seemed someone was before him in visiting the mediwitch. And that person was Minerva McGonagall.

She had mentioned no names yet, but Severus could well imagine what child was driving her to distraction.

“You shouldn’t let Harry upset you so much that you need a Headache Draught,” Poppy said, practical as always, and confirming Severus’s suspicion at the same time. “I think it’s wonderful that he made friends with a snake. The child has almost none.”

“So Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger are nothing, then?” Minerva’s voice fired up, muted for only a moment by the clink of a vial against her teeth. “I’ll have you know, Pomona was complaining the other day that they have no talent in Herbology, that Mr. Weasley doesn’t pay enough attention to the plants he’s potting and Miss Granger is all theory, but I’ve seen both of them do remarkable things—”

“And they can’t be with him all the time,” Poppy retorted. Severus heard her shifting vials about. She kept them organized neatly, he had to admit, but in a way so different from his own that it was simpler to ask her for the burn paste than try and find it himself. “I hope that snake will do something to discourage people from hurting Harry outside school.”

Severus settled against the wall. He had no idea what Poppy was talking about, but he knew a bit of juicy gossip when he heard one.

“Who are you talking about, Poppy?” Minerva demanded. Severus heard her pacing back and forth, and imagined a tail switching from under her robes. He had seen her once in the middle of her Animagus transformation, when she was still shedding her clothes; it was not a sight one forgot easily. “I know that none of the Death Eaters has the slightest idea where the boy lives, or he would have been in trouble this past summer, after what he did to Lucius Malfoy at the end of last year.”

Severus narrowed his eyes. He had heard rumors of the trouble between Potter and Lucius, but they had not spread far before Lucius squashed them, and Severus was unsure what had happened. Something humiliating for Lucius, at least.

“I’m not talking about Death Eaters,” said Poppy.

“Then tell me who you’re talking about,” said Minerva, but her voice had dipped, as if she had taken up Poppy’s fears of eavesdroppers.

Long years as a spy and long experience of Poppy Pomfrey told Severus what she would do next. He immediately Disillusioned himself and crept into the hospital wing, moments before Poppy cast a shimmering curtain of magic that would cover the entrance and block out sound. She always did that when discussing controversial medical information about students.

Minerva was standing in front of Poppy, her face strained. Severus arranged himself in a corner to watch. Of course, perhaps she was only strained for the same reason she had come asking for a headache draught: precious Potter had picked up a snake and ruined her image of him as the perfect Gryffindor.

But there was something else there, Severus was certain, after studying her for a bit. Something that implied she knew what Poppy was about to say, and dreaded it.

“You know very well who I’m talking about, Minerva.” Poppy leaned a hand on her arm and then leaned near, as well, making Severus glad that he was in the hospital wing. Even without the spell that prevented eavesdropping, Poppy spoke quietly enough he wouldn’t have heard her from the corridor. “Those Dursleys.”

Severus cocked his head. Yes, he knew the name. Potter’s Muggle relatives.

So?

But he could not pretend that it did not matter, not in the privacy of his own head, which was the only place Lily still lived. He would admit secrets to himself that he would never admit aloud. 

“I knew they were the worst sort of Muggles,” Minerva answered, quietly, voice as soft as though she was struggling against passion. “But I never thought—Petunia was Lily’s sister! I heard Lily talk about her often enough! How could she hurt her own nephew? And someone who lost his parents, like Harry did!”

Severus closed his eyes. Sometimes Minerva’s blind Gryffindor faith in human nature irritated him. She had been through a war, and she dealt with the petty intrigues and silly lies of students every day. She should know better than this.

“You’d think not,” said Poppy, in the same sort of voice Severus had heard her use with a Slytherin last year who wouldn’t stop hexing her Housemates. “But that’s the way it is. And the way that boy looks, as though no one has ever asked him how he’s feeling, when I do it…it’s true, Minerva. It must be true. And that’s something that snake might be able to keep him safe from, at least.”

“You never told anyone?” Minerva looked hunched and sad when Severus opened his eyes. At least her faith wasn’t making her blind anymore.

“I told myself it was for the best if I didn’t.” Poppy sighed. “Harry never admitted anything. I did think about telling Dumbledore, but then that incident happened this summer when Harry went to stay in Diagon Alley, and you would think that the papers never had anything elseto talk about, the fuss they raised over it. What if I complained, and Harry ended up in the custody of someone even worse for him? A Death Eater like Lucius Malfoy?” She sighed again and pressed her hand against her forehead. “Fudge is certainly close enough with Malfoy for that to happen.”

Severus listened and said nothing—of course, there was no one to say it to, but this was more than that. There was a gap behind Poppy’s words, a fear she must have. Adverse publicity alone would never have kept her quiet; nor would a child’s wishes, considering how many children she bundled potions into and bedsheets across every day. And the incident with Potter’s aunt that she was crediting had happened only a few months ago.

No, there was someone else keeping her quiet, someone she didn’t want to name, maybe out of fear, maybe because the loss of that faith for her was more than she could stand.

Severus knew who it was.

“I suppose that the snake might be a good thing, then,” said Minerva grudgingly. “But only if it does not help him cheat in classes! He cast a Transfiguration spell today that I’ve never seen a third-year do as well, except Miss Granger.”

“Is merely doing a spell well a cause of cheating?” Poppy smiled a little. “Perhaps you might leave his snake with him and only separate them during exams. That might be the most he would allow you to do, anyway.”

Allow me to do,” said Minerva frigidly.

Severus recognized the turn the conversation had taken, and determined that he had no reason to stay and listen further. He had his own methods of dealing with Potter should he try to use the basilisk to cheat during an exam or a brewing session when the students were supposed to work alone. He turned and slipped across the infirmary to the spell Poppy had cast, which was much easier to make a hole in from the inside than the outside.

Once back in the corridor, Severus adjusted his robes around himself and made his way slowly back towards the dungeons, mind on his classes and his marking.

And only an undercurrent of thought running, carrying the powerful images and information that Poppy had told him about, all unwitting.

*

The instant Harry walked into Defense Against the Dark Arts, Professor Lupin caught his eye and beckoned him aside. “I need to talk to you, Harry,” he said, quietly but insistently.

Harry walked over to Lupin, wondering if the man was finally going to give him an answer about why he hadn’t let him face the Boggart. Dash was silent on his neck, shifting around so that Harry could bear his weight more comfortably and take some of the pressure off the middle of his back. Maybe he could smell the magical creatures Lupin worked with. Maybe he didn’t know what to make of Lupin.

Maybe you could ask me if you wanted to know what I was thinking, Dash sniped back, and sent a flood of images that he had picked up on from Harry’s mind, including the one of Lupin shoving him away from the Boggart. I don’t like him.

Harry rolled his eyes a little, making sure that he was done before Lupin faced him again. Well, I do. So we’ll just disagree.

Dash made a soft annoyed sound, and Lupin jumped as though someone had pricked him with a pin and then looked at Dash with concern. “You know I’ve made my living studying Dark creatures, Harry,” he began.

Harry nodded and raised a hand to pet Dash’s neck. “Does this have something to do with why I couldn’t face the Boggart, sir?”

Professor Lupin looked at him with a blank face for a second. Harry thought he wouldn’t get an answer, but then Lupin waved a hand and said, “Oh, that. No, I thought your boggart would be You-Know-Who and would frighten everyone else.”

Harry frowned. It sounded dismissive. “It would have been a Dementor, sir. If—”

Lupin interrupted before he could get that far. “You know you have one of the Darkest of Dark creatures around your neck, Harry? The Ministry rates them as extremely dangerous. No one except an expert should handle them.”

Harry opened his mouth to say No shit? But he ended up swallowing back the words. He’d already argued with enough people about Dash, who was hissing angrily enough that Harry couldn’t even pick up the words. A torrent of images rushed through his head, a lot of them showing Dash chasing Lupin.

You are not chasing Lupin, Harry scolded him. He just doesn’t understand. That’s true of lots of other people, too.

But not many who make a living studying Dark creatures, Dash reminded him. Still, he calmed down and only let one heavy loop of his body dangle down Harry’s chest so that it interfered with Harry’s arms and was generally inconvenient. Harry patiently moved it out of the way again.

“Yes, I know,” said Harry, when he realized Professor Lupin was still waiting for an answer to his question, and some of the other students were turning around in their desks and looking at them. He didn’t want to be accused of being special or the Professor’s favorite or anything like that. “I fought one last year.”

Lupin blinked slowly. “Then why are you walking around with one around your neck?”

Because you’re not stupid and know that your life is better with me in it.

“Because he needed help,” Harry said simply.

“Yes, the Headmaster told us the story.” Still Lupin didn’t move, and Harry was beginning to wonder what he wanted. “Would you have gone down and tried to help him if you realized that he was crying out in Parseltongue?”

“Yes, probably,” said Harry. He honestly hadn’t considered it, but the more he thought about it, the more sense it made to go if he did know it was Parseltongue. Who else in the whole school was going to hear and help?

“You know that you’re in a lot of danger from Sirius Black, Harry—”

Dash lifted his head and twisted it, and Harry smiled. “Not anymore.”

Lupin looked at him with a grave face that made Harry want to look down. But he put his hand on Dash’s neck and didn’t. If Lupin wanted Harry to care about Sirius Black, then he shouldn’t have told Harry all about the danger he could get into wandering around. Harry was taking the danger seriously. He had a snake to defend him, now.

And I will always defend you, Dash told him, and this time the rasp of his scales along the back of Harry’s hand was like a caress.

“See,” Harry said, and then remembered that Lupin couldn’t hear the words Dash was speaking, and wouldn’t have a reason to feel reassured. He shook his head a little and continued. “I mean, now that I have a dangerous snake, Sirius Black will stay away, right? Maybe he’ll decide that I’m evil and he doesn’t have to hurt me. So he can go away, and no one has to get hurt.”

“I hope that you would know better than to let your snake hurt anyone, Harry,” said Lupin. “Even someone like Black. People deserve to have a trial.”

“He wasn’t going to give me one, was he?” Harry asked, and suddenly felt a clogging rush in his throat that could have become a shout or tears yesterday. He coughed, while Dash touched his cheek with a blunt nose, and it went away. “He wants me dead for a stupid reason, because I somehow defeated Voldemort when I was one. I don’t know what he thinks killing me is going to do! It’s not going to bring him back!”

The other students were definitely staring and whispering now, and Lupin reached out and settled a heavy, cautious hand on Harry’s shoulder. 

“Don’t let your snake hurt Black,” he said. “Don’t let him hurt anyone, Harry. Or he could get taken away.”

He is very strange, said Dash, with a lash inside Harry’s head that was shorter than any lash of his tongue he had made. Does he want to warn or threaten you?

Harry shrugged and looked at the ground. He still liked Professor Lupin, but he didn’t know what else Lupin expected him to do. All anyone had done was tell him that Black was dangerous and he had to stay inside the school and he should be careful in case Black tried to kill him, and now they were unhappy because Harry had someone who would stay with him all the time and protect him? 

It’s like they care more about my reputation or the other students or even Black instead of me. I want someone who puts me first.

Dash leaned his head sideways and rubbed his cheek against Harry’s. Lupin stared. Harry reckoned it was something he hadn’t thought a basilisk would do.

“Well,” said Lupin, after clearing his throat for a moment. “Maybe you should come and sit down, and—we’ll think about what you should do with the basilisk later. I don’t mind you having him in class as long as he doesn’t hurt anyone.”

Harry nodded, because he knew Dash wouldn’t, and then walked over to his seat. Ron patted his shoulder awkwardly, carefully avoiding Dash’s tail. “Are you okay, mate?” he asked.

Harry sniffled, then said, “Yeah. It’s just—it’s just hard, when I don’t know where Black is or what he’s doing. It’s hard being hunted all the time, you know?” It was as close as he could come to saying what was wrong, which wouldn’t have been as easy to put into words.

Ron nodded sympathetically, and then Professor Lupin started the lesson. Dash gently tightened a coil of his body around Harry’s throat.

I’m going to be here. I’m going to guard you. I’m going to put you first.

Harry already didn’t think he could have turned away from Dash, after rescuing him form the egg and hearing Dash talk to him in his head, but he knew he couldn’t turn away now. He hugged Dash’s tail, and he didn’t care who saw him. They would stare at him and whisper anyway, no matter what he did, so Harry would take comfort where he could find it.

Chapter Text

Harry wouldn’t say that life stayed exactly the same as it had before he had Dash—for one thing, the amount of people staring at him was greater than it had ever been—but it did come to have its own routine.

Professor Lupin was teaching all sorts of lessons that Harry liked. They learned about all sorts of dangerous, Dark magical creatures, and the ways to counter their powers and make sure that they didn’t hurt anybody if they had to face them. Harry sometimes had to filter his way through Dash’s many comments when he did his homework, but in class, Dash was as silent and attentive as any of them.

It was only when he was hanging from Harry’s neck and reading the homework that he became dismissive. Something like a simple Tripping Jinx wouldn’t stop me.

Of course it wouldn’t, Harry retorted, and began to correct the spelling of the last sentence he’d written. He had a hard time with certain words. Hermione didn’t, but Hermione didn’t have a hard time with anything when it came to homework. And Hermione wasn’t here, as she usually wasn’t lately. You don’t have feet.

Not only for that reason. Dash coiled slowly around his throat, and let his tail drop on the paper. When are you going to learn something about basilisks? About how beautiful and violent we are, for starters.

Harry laughed, which made Ron, who was working on his essay beside him, jump. But a second later, Ron rolled his eyes and went back to writing. He and the other Gryffindors had adapted pretty easily to Harry having conversations in his own head, and sometimes laughing or snorting or reacting oddly aloud.

Most people wouldn’t consider that those two words go together, you know, Harry said, and reached up to rub his knuckles over Dash’s head. Dash liked it when he would rub gently up to the base of the plume, and then even more gently up it. He said the plume couldn’t stand rough handling. Or they wouldn’t think it was a good thing if they did.

Dash lashed out with his tongue, turning his head back and forth as if he wanted to catch subtle scents fleeing through the Gryffindor dorm. He seemed particularly focused on Ron’s bed, for some reason. That is because most people do not understand how wonderful basilisks are, he said, distracted. Your professor promised to teach you more about my kind. Why hasn’t he done so?

Harry waved his hand at the essay. He’s been teaching us other things.

I’m hungry, Dash whined, not paying attention to Harry’s words, which was a sure sign that he really was.

Harry grimaced a little. The last time Dash had been hungry, a week ago, he’d taken him out into the Forbidden Forest and fed him again, but McGonagall had caught him this time. Quiet and forceful, she’d made it clear that sneaking outside the school after curfew wouldn’t be tolerated anymore. She’d assigned Harry a detention where he had to write lines about responsibility and dangerous pets until his fingers almost fell off.

Dash had spent that detention peacefully sleeping off his full stomach in the corner of the classroom, one of the few times he’d been inside and not attached to Harry. He didn’t understand why Harry’s hands were sore afterwards and Harry couldn’t pet Dash to his demanding satisfaction.

Now, Harry wasn’t sure what to do. McGonagall had told Harry that house-elves could bring Dash food, but Harry thought even the elves would draw the line at dead rabbits. Or living rabbits, rather, since Dash liked to kill them himself.

Harry, are you listening to me? 

Yes, Harry said, and shook his head. Well, he had Quidditch practice in half an hour, since Oliver wanted nothing more than the Quidditch Cup. He could take Dash with him and feed him then, since at least they would be outside.

I’m hungry now, Dash insisted, and then slithered down from Harry’s shoulders to the floor, an unfolding motion so smooth that it took Harry a moment to realize what was happening. If there’s food in the room and you’re not giving it to me, that’s basilisk abuse.

Harry opened his mouth to retort, then paused and blinked. Ron had gone very still, the way he did whenever Dash climbed off Harry. What are you talking about, food in the room? I don’t think any Forbidden Forest creatures have got in here. There were also no more spiders left in the entire Gryffindor Tower, much to Ron’s joy.

Basilisk abuse, Dash repeated firmly, and slithered towards Ron’s bed.

Harry leaped to his feet. He had just thought about what Dash probably meant, and Ron would never forgive him if Dash got that far. “Dash—”

There was a terrified squeaking noise. Dash lunged, and Scabbers scuttled out from beneath Ron’s bed and ran madly for the door.

Dash coiled the top half of his body around—he didn’t need to cover the full distance when his size did most of the covering for him, Harry thought, distracted—and there was a telltale quiver in the clear lids that covered his eyes. 

Do not,” Harry said. He didn’t even know he could sound that commanding in Parseltongue. Of course, the only time he had really tried before this was when he was telling Malfoy’s conjured snake to get away from Justin.

Dash turned his head slowly back towards Harry, who found himself standing up. He crossed his arms and frowned at Dash. I’m not afraid of you, he said down the bond. I know you could kill me with a look, but you wouldn’t do that, because it would mean that you wouldn’t have someone to tease anymore.

Dash moved with terrifying speed, and wrapped himself around Harry from the floor up, so his head was hovering at Harry’s eye level. That’s not the only reason I wouldn’t kill you. I would never hurt you. I wouldn’t want to hurt you.

Harry maintained his stern look for a few moments, and then smiled and reached out and rubbed behind Dash’s plume. Fine. But you would hurt me if you hurt Ron or my friendship with Ron.

Dash did an intricate little dance of disgust with his head. Would he put that ugly creature whose only value is in being a mouthful for me above your friendship?

He’s attached to it. The way I’m attached to you.

Dash sent image after image of disgust and dirt and dung and filth at Harry for comparing him to Scabbers. Harry ignored him and turned around to see Ron cradling Scabbers protectively against his chest.

“Is he all right?” Harry asked, feeling a little guilty. He should have known what Dash was up to before now and stopped him. Scabbers had probably only survived this long in Gryffindor Tower with a snake because he usually hid, and Dash followed Harry’s routine and didn’t interact much with Scabbers.

“Yeah, I think so.” Ron looked up, and his eyes were as menacing as Harry had ever seen them. “No thanks to that thing.”

Harry breathed through his own anger. Dash could have killed Scabbers. It was extremely unlikely that it would work the other way around, or that Ron would dare to attack Dash, so Dash wasn’t in danger. “Sorry, then,” he said.

Ron replied, but Harry didn’t hear him, filled as his mind was with the buzz of Dash’s voice. Why does the rat smell human?

Harry stared blankly at Dash for a moment. Because Ron is holding him? he finally offered. It wasn’t like Dash to ask for Harry’s assistance in a matter that concerned scents. Harry certainly couldn’t compete with him in scenting things, and Dash was usually the one who told Harry when something smelled off.

No, it is more than that. Dash coiled himself up and up until a good chunk of his heavy body was resting on top of Harry’s head. Harry grunted and bore it. It wasn’t the most awkward position Dash had put him in. He smells human, himself. What is the name for humans who can turn into rats? And do they taste good?

Harry stared up at Dash. Dash looked back down at him, draping his head sideways until almost all of his body was slipping off Harry’s forehead like a crown. What? Did I discover something new? Didn’t you know there were humans who could turn into rats? 

Harry turned shakily away from Dash, although he put one hand on the bend of Dash’s body to show that he hadn’t been forgotten, and whispered, “Ron? Can I talk to you downstairs, please?”

Ron nodded, looking confused. He started to leave the room carrying Scabbers.

“No!” Harry yelped, and he decided that he must have sounded too panicked, because Scabbers abruptly leaped up, bit Ron’s finger, and dropped to the floor as Ron yelped. He was running straight for the door, and Harry reached out a desperate hand, even though he knew that once the rat got out the door, they would probably never find him.

Dash launched himself smoothly from the top of Harry’s head, as if he had wings. He landed between Scabbers and the door, and swayed back and forth like a cobra, hissing what Harry knew weren’t Parseltongue words, just random threatening sounds. Scabbers froze, his legs locked beneath him, squeaking frantically.

“What the bloody hell is going on?” Ron bellowed, wringing his finger and sending blood in all directions. “Scabbers, come back here right now!” He ran towards the rat, who dodged and ran towards Ron’s bed.

Harry finally cast the Tripping Jinx that he’d been writing about for Lupin’s essay. He didn’t have any other spell in his head, and this one worked well enough, mostly missing Scabbers but still sending him somersaulting tail over head.

Dash was flooding forwards, murmuring, We need to do something about the variety of spells you know, especially the curses, when Ron leaped in between him and Scabbers and snatched the rat up. Dash paused, watching Ron through his eyelids. Harry could almost feel the way Ron shook from here, but he didn’t move.

He is brave, Dash said admiringly. And maybe he loves that human who’s also a rat. Does he know who it is? Ask him if he does. This is interesting.

Harry closed his eyes. He would have to do this, even though he would rather go get a professor and bring them here. But he thought by the time he did that, Ron would have let Scabbers go, and he would run away somewhere, and trying to find a rat in a castle this size wasn’t something Harry wanted to think about.

“Ron,” he said, and waited until his friend was paying attention to him instead of Dash, even though that took a while. “Dash says that Scabbers isn’t a rat.”

“What else is he, then?” Ron said, and clutched Scabbers still closer. The rat seemed to be awake again, but he was huddling frozen. Harry hoped that had something to do with Dash’s stare, even muffled. He had read somewhere that some snakes could hypnotize their prey with their eyes.

That seems like a foolish thing to do. You stalk it and then you kill it with your poison or your body. Hypnotism.

Harry, steadied by the solid force of Dash’s contempt, took a deep breath and said, “Dash says that he smells human. I think—is it possible that he’s an Animagus?”

Ron stared at him as if he had gone mad. But Scabbers proved Harry’s contention, as far as Harry was concerned, by leaping up to Ron’s shoulder and flying desperately into the air, aiming for Harry. 

Harry had no idea what Scabbers was going to do, if he was trying to bite him or just get beyond him and run away. But Harry’s hand flashed out instinctively. After all, Scabbers wasn’t that much bigger than a Snitch. In a second, he had a palmful of squirming fur, and Scabbers was trying to bite him, and then Dash slithered up beside him and Scabbers went very still again.

Panting, Harry told Dash, Admit it. You can hypnotize someone by looking at them through your eyelids. One of the lesser known powers of the basilisk.

You sound like that book you were reading for Lupin’s class this afternoon. Dash tilted his head to the side and unhinged his jaw in a yawn. Harry became aware that something wet and stinky was dribbling over his fingers, and wrinkled his nose. And I haven’t hypnotized him. He’s just so cowardly that he can’t stand being in the same room with me.

Harry opened his mouth to retort, then paused. It was true that he had seen very little of Scabbers since Dash had come to live with him. He had just thought that was for the same reason that he’d seen little of Scabbers at any time lately, though. Crookshanks kept trying to attack him.

That cat is smarter than it looks.

Harry shook his head and turned to Ron, who was marching towards him and asking, “What are you doing with my rat?”

“Listen,” said Harry. Ron stopped and folded his arms, but reluctantly listened. “Why would an ordinary rat panic when I talked about going downstairs without him? Why would he make a flying leap when I asked if he was an Animagus?” Scabbers squealed miserably and paddled at the air with his paws, but went still again when Dash glanced at him, and Harry nodded. He had to reach up past his own head to pet Dash on the nose, but this once, he didn’t mind someone being taller than he was. “See?” Harry added. “Rats don’t understand human speech. Unless they’re not rats.”

“Your bloody snake understands English,” Ron said, with a look at Dash that was anything but friendly.

Harry shrugged that impatiently aside. “That’s because he’s bonded with me and understanding the words when I do. He wouldn’t be able to read or understand what someone was saying if I wasn’t there.” Dash hissed in agreement, making Ron jump. “But Scabbers can’t understand you or me. Right? Unless you’re secretly a Rodentmouth and you never told me.”

That won a brief, reluctant smile from Ron, but he still shook his head. “All right, it’s weird. But I always thought Scabbers was a magical rat. He’s already lived a long time. A lot longer than most rats should.”

Harry looked at him in silence, and Ron turned red. “He could still be magical!” he insisted.

“Or he could be an Animagus,” Harry said.

“Fine. You don’t need to sound like you think it’s obvious and I’m stupid. Your snake didn’t even smell him at first.” Ron gave a glance at Dash.

I could never smell the bloody creature separately until today. He was always on the blankets or in the hands that also smelt of human.

Harry decided that he didn’t need to speak that bit aloud. “Sorry if I sound like I think you’re stupid. I don’t. But I do think he’s an Animagus. And we need someone who can tell us. Someone who knows a spell that can force an Animagus to turn back or something.”

For the first time since Harry had got Dash, he and Ron had an idea at the same time. “McGonagall,” they said simultaneously, and ran for the staircase.

Dash slithered after them, accompanied by Dumbledore’s mirrors. You’re going to trip on the staircase when you’re holding something in one hand, Harry, he offered innocently. I could carry Scabbers for you. Perhaps in my mouth.

Harry rolled his eyes and kept running. Ron was pounding along beside him, and casting glances at Scabbers that made Harry understand why. It couldn’t be comfortable knowing that maybe an Animagus had slept in the same bed as you for years, and you hadn’t known.

Maybe McGonagall can transform and hunt him down if he does manage to escape, Harry thought hopefully. He was really hoping that she would make everything make sense and go away.

She shouldn’t get to eat him, said Dash sulkily behind him. I was hungry first.

*

Professor McGonagall looked at them when she opened her office door in a way that made Harry shrink. He wondered if he was wrong, if they should have tried to handle this themselves instead of going to a teacher.

But then Professor McGonagall looked at the rat in Harry’s hands, and her eyebrows went up. “Have you brought me Mr. Weasley’s pet to doctor, Mr. Potter?” she asked. “I’m afraid that I don’t know as much about animals as I should. Professor Hagrid would be a better choice.”

“No,” said Ron, sounding breathless. Harry was just as glad to let him explain. “We think my rat might be an Animagus, and Harry said—there’s spells—you could use a spell that would show if he was?”

McGonagall snapped upright. “There are indeed spells like that. But why do you think your rat is an Animagus, Mr. Weasley?”

Her eyes went to Dash. Harry nodded and touched his neck. “He said that Scabbers smelled human. And then Scabbers started acting strange, like he understood English, when we were talking about it. And he’s lived a long time for a rat.”

McGonagall’s eyebrows came down. “Well,” she said softly, and reached for Scabbers with her left hand, lifting her wand with the right.

Scabbers made one more desperate leap, towards the door. Dash snapped around, but the door had already flown shut. That must be some nonverbal magic, Harry decided, awed. Professor Lupin had mentioned it, but also said they wouldn’t learn it until sixth year.

Homorpho!” said McGonagall with what Harry thought was an impressive amount of calm, and the air around Scabbers boiled. He was squealing in what sounded like shrill despair as the magic forced him towards the floor, and then he spun around and began to grow.

Ron stepped back, looking sick. Harry caught his shoulder and squeezed tight. It was as much comfort as he could think about giving right now, when their fascinated gazes were still locked on the rat that had been Scabbers.

The man that had been Scabbers. Harry could see that he was a man now. He was naked and manky and smelled bad, and he had hair that hung around his face. He kept his head down and gnawed on his nails. McGonagall waved her wand and probably used some nonverbal magic again, and suddenly the man was dressed in a brown coat that covered him from his chest down to the floor. He looked up in shock.

McGonagall breathed in sharply enough that Harry thought she sounded as if she’d hurt herself. “Peter Pettigrew?”

Harry stared with his heart pounding. Ron made a disbelieving noise. “Not—not—”

“As in the wizard who was supposedly killed by Sirius Black when he went mad and killed those Muggles.” McGonagall cast another spell, her eyes so wide that Harry blinked. He had never thought anything would surprise McGonagall like that. “I don’t understand—no. Now that I know he is a rat Animagus, I do.” She advanced one step and cast another spell, and ropes appeared around Pettigrew, binding him. “Speak, Peter.”

Pettigrew, if it was him, whimpered and tried to rub his hands together, but the ropes around his limbs held them in place, and he couldn’t. “I—I escaped. It was a miracle. But I was t-too afraid to come back when Black was at large, and—”

“Black was in prison for twelve years,” said McGonagall. Her voice was level, and Harry decided they had made the right choice after all, getting a professor to handle it. “You were too afraid even then to come back and tell the Ministry what had happened?”

Pettigrew said nothing, but crouched and squeaked. McGonagall’s eyes were distant, and she abruptly made a sharp movement with her wand. The sleeve on the left arm of Pettigrew’s coat writhed back.

Harry stared at the deep, coal-black marking on Pettigrew’s left arm, not understanding. It looked like a snake and a skull—

And the snake isn’t a basilisk, Dash said, writhing around so that his tail was knotted around Harry’s legs. What a waste. If you were going to design a symbol with a snake in it, why wouldn’t you use a basilisk?

Harry touched the top of Dash’s head, feeling lost. He didn’t understand what was going on. He looked at McGonagall, who was pale and gripping the side of her desk as if she needed the support to keep from falling down. That scared Harry more than anything had so far, even when he thought Scabbers was going to get away.

“A Death Eater,” McGonagall whispered.

This time, Ron was the one who squeaked. “A—a follower of You-Know-Who?” he asked, and McGonagall nodded.

Harry stared at the snake and skull and wondered what to say. He didn’t know if he could say anything. His mouth was dry and he wanted to sit down and he wanted to run away and he wanted to vomit.

“It seems,” said McGonagall, in almost a mumble, “that there were—there were two Death Eaters among your parents’ friends, Mr. Potter.” She looked at Harry with pity that he had to look away from. “Either that, or something has gone very wrong here, and we have imprisoned—”

Her jaw trembled. Her face was flushed now, and Harry was astonished to see the flash of what might have been tears at the edge of her eyelids. But then McGonagall turned away briskly, and Harry could pretend he hadn’t seen them at all, which was more comfortable.

“Professor Lupin’s office!” McGonagall called, casting Floo powder into the flames. “Yes, Remus. I’m sorry to disturb you when you’re marking, but we have an…extraordinary situation here. Can you come to my office? Yes, right away, please. Give me a moment to call the Headmaster.” She closed the Floo connection, and then called, “Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster!”

It seemed to take longer for the Headmaster to answer, and McGonagall turned back to Harry and Ron with a vague frown. “You should go, boys—”

Dash twisted around like a pillar of smoke and hissed, harsh and threatening, his fangs bared. McGonagall froze.

“It’s all right,” Harry said hastily, and yanked Dash back down. “It’s just, how in the world can we go? He was Ron’s rat! And if he has something to do with my parents, I really want to stay. Please, Professor McGonagall,” he added, when she opened her mouth. “I don’t know anything about them except that my dad was good at Quidditch and they died defending me, not really.”

McGonagall was going to say something else, but Dumbledore’s voice said from the fire, “Yes, Minerva, what is it?”

“Fine, you may stay,” said McGonagall, with the air of someone granting permission they would regret asking for, and turned around again. A careless wave of her wand Transfigured two small trunks into chairs.

Ron settled down in one of the chairs, never taking his gaze off Pettigrew. Harry sat down in the other one and tugged Dash up beside him. Don’t hiss at anyone else.

But because of me, you got to stay, Dash said, and curled his tail around Harry’s waist in what was almost a hug. Now. Can I eat him in human form?

Chapter Text

Is he ever going to give you an answer, or is he just going to sit there smoothing down his beard and smiling?

Harry tipped his head to the side so that his cheek brushed against Dash's scales. Not just that. See the way his eyes shifted to focus on me when I did that? He's disturbed about something.

Dash curled so that a stray coil was wrapped around Harry's neck and started squeezing lightly. Then he could say it, instead of sitting there and acting like he's going to say something any moment, but then not saying it.

Before Harry could answer, Dumbledore said, "So, Remus, you are sure this is the real Peter? And there's nothing else you want to tell me?"

Professor Lupin had been looking at Pettigrew with a fixed stare for at least as long as Dumbledore had sat behind the desk in McGonagall's office stroking his beard. Now he shivered and looked up. "It's the real Peter Pettigrew, all right," he said, and then turned around and stared at Pettigrew again.

"How did it happen?"

Harry was glad McGonagall was there. He wanted to say something, but he had no idea what to say, and he thought it was the same thing with Ron. Ron kept opening his mouth, then closing it again. He caught Harry's eye now and went a little red, and Harry tried to nod reassuringly.

"I don't know," Lupin said blankly. "I think--I thought that Sirius was the Secret-Keeper for Harry's parents. But even if Sirius is a Death Eater, too, it doesn't make any sense that he would have hunted Peter down then." He shivered again and abruptly turned to Dumbledore with an expression that Harry thought was a little pathetic. "Unless Peter was a spy? Like--like other people were said to be?"

Who are those other people? Dash asked, and stroked Harry's earlobe with his tongue again. But no one was really paying attention to them at the moment, so no one was disturbed.

"No," said Dumbledore, and at this voice, Pettigrew cowered and put his arms over his head. "Peter was not a spy." He leaned in. "Unless Peter explains it to us, then it seems I will just have to make my own guesses."

Harry waited--he thought they all waited--but the silence was full of the sound of Pettigrew breathing fast, and nothing else. Dumbledore finally straightened up and made a sighing sound.

"I think that Sirius Black was still the original Secret-Keeper," he whispered. "I was there during most of the discussions James and Lily held, when they were preparing to hide." He turned abruptly to Harry. "You were there, too, Harry. So young, with the way you reached out and tried to play with my wand."

Harry tried to smile back, but he knew it was shaky. Dash made a noise in his head that resembled his fangs scraping down bone--and Harry wasn't sure that he wanted to know more about why that noise seemed so familiar. He thinks he's going to win you over now? He ought to know that I'm on your shoulder, and he's not going to do anything so ridiculous.

Harry chose not to respond. It was a glimpse of his childhood he was getting from Dumbledore, and there was still a man huddled over there who was involved, somehow, in his parents' deaths.

"And James gave several good reasons for Sirius being the Secret-Keeper," Dumbledore continued. "He was James's best friend, and there was no way that he would turn to Voldemort--" Harry did have to admire how Dumbledore ignored the way Lupin shivered and McGonagall flinched and Pettigrew moaned and Ron jumped out of his chair "--because of his dislike of the Dark Arts. He had conflicts with his family, the Blacks, over being Dark, and ran away to live with James as soon as he could."

Harry felt as though he couldn't be more attentive. It was like his ears were growing, stretching towards Dumbledore. He knew his eyes were wide. He could sit here for the rest of his life and listen.

He just wanted to know.

Then you shall, said Dash, and nothing more. Harry decided that Dash must have accepted they had to listen to Dumbledore for right now, and decided to wait.

"But I suspect that Sirius, who was always making plans and coming up with pranks that James knew nothing about--" Lupin bent his head, although Dumbledore didn't look at him "--came up with another brilliant idea. He must have told James that too many people would suspect Sirius as his Secret-Keeper, because they were best friends. And there was a reason that they did not want to make Remus their Secret-Keeper." Dumbledore turned to Remus. "Was that the way it happened, Remus?"

"I never knew anything about how Peter came to be involved," Lupin whispered, and it sounded as though he were gasping for breath. "But yes, I knew Sirius and James distrusted me. They thought I was going to become Dark more easily because You-Know-Who was holding out incentives for people like me to join him. They didn't feel safe asking me about that. They just assumed." And Remus sealed his lips.

"People like him?" Ron whispered to Harry. "What does that mean? I'm getting sick of secrets."

Harry nodded, but didn't say anything. He was sick of secrets, too, but he didn't want to interrupt when Dumbledore or Lupin or someone was finally going to tell them what was really going on.

It is good that I can speak to you and not be heard, Dash said, abruptly enough to make Harry jump. You are too trusting. You think they'll tell you the truth now, when they haven't bothered to do that so far?

Harry covered one of Dash's scales with his hand and listened harder. Yes, all right, everyone from the Dursleys on up hadn't told him the truth about his parents, but he had to know what they said before he could work on separating the truth from the lies.

"So," said Dumbledore, and turned back to look at Pettigrew. His eyes were sad, but he had started stroking his beard again. "My guess is that Sirius urged James and Lily to take Peter as their Secret-Keeper instead. Peter had none of the fearsome reputation among the Death Eaters that Sirius and James already did as daring fighters. And he didn't have the closeness to James, either. Sirius probably thought no one would suspect he was the Secret-Keeper."

Pettigrew bowed his head further and further, until his nose was touching the floor. He was sniffling so hard that Harry was surprised the floor wasn't covered with bogies. But he still didn't look up.

"How can we tell for certain without Veritaserum, Albus?" McGonagall asked.

"We cannot legally use it, Minerva," said Dumbledore. Harry wondered why not, but he didn't get a chance to think about it for long. "But if I am not wrong in my suspicions, there is someone else who can tell us the truth--provided we have him here and calm enough that he can respond rationally."

Dumbledore looked at Lupin. Lupin looked at the floor.

"If there was one unknown Animagus among your friends," said Dumbledore, and Harry thought he was speaking gently, the way Aunt Marge spoke to Ripper, "then there may have been more. And Peter was the least in power. What were the others?"

Lupin sounded as if breathing was painful when he answered. "James was a stag. He always said that he needed to be fast to keep up with the rest of us."

My father was a Stag Animagus. Harry vowed to himself that he was always going to remember that. He was going to think of his father as a stag, probably a big black stag, with huge antlers. He was going to picture him galloping around his mum and baby Harry.

You could also ask Lupin about what color he was and what he looked like, since he seems to know, Dash said gently.

Harry ignored him for the moment. He could do that, but right now he just wanted to think about his father being big and swift and protective.

"And Sirius?" Dumbledore had reached out and put a hand on Lupin's shoulder, as if he thought that would help him speak somehow.

"Sirius--Sirius could turn into a big black dog," Lupin admitted, and then put his head down and gripped his face between his hands.

"Like the one I saw watching me!" Harry blurted. McGonagall turned to look at him first, and so he told her, "I've seen this dog watching me. I thought it was an ordinary dog, but now..." He looked at Lupin. "Is that why you told me to be careful?" he asked. "Because you didn't want Dash to kill the man who betrayed my parents?"

"He didn't betray them," said Lupin. His face was strained as he nodded at Pettigrew. "We know that now."

"Maybe," said Harry. He still thought it was strange that Sirius Black had broken away from Azkaban and tried to come to Hogwarts now, and he'd apparently been muttering about Hogwarts all the time. Why would he want to be here if he wasn't trying to kill Harry? "But you didn't know that, and you were still more concerned about him than me."

Lupin gave him a pale smile. "I wasn't, Harry. I didn't want you to become a murderer at such a young age."

I would be the murderer, not you, Dash said. And since basilisks can have no guilt for defending the person they are bonded to, there would be no guilt and no murder. You should tell him that.

Harry touched Dash on the neck, and just said, "All right." He didn't know if he actually believed Lupin, but it made things make a little more sense now.

He turned back to Pettigrew, to find the man watching him, peering at him through hands that looked like paws. Pettigrew immediately tried to duck back behind them, but Harry was pretty tired of that, so he said, "Is that true? Did you become a Death Eater and betray my parents?"

Pettigrew squeaked again, but he seemed to think it was harder to look away from Harry than it was from the other adults. "I--I n-never meant," he whispered. "I th-thought it was g-going to be all r-right. I th-thought..." He abruptly started moaning and sobbing at the same time. "The Dark Lord tortured me! I never would have done it if he hadn't tortured me!"

Lupin was giving Pettigrew a look full of dislike and something else Harry couldn't distinguish. McGonagall was the one who said crisply, "You would never have done it if you weren't a coward, you mean," and turned to Dumbledore. "I know a spell that will tell us the location of any Animagus on the grounds. I don't often use it because there's no need and I would be blinded by my own glow anyway, but will you watch and see whether the spell will lead us to Black? It should look like a trail of blue light on the floor."

"We will look," said Dumbledore seriously, and nodded to Lupin, who was looking up now. He still didn't look at Harry, though. Harry looked at him instead, and wondered about something else.

Did he know that Black could get in because he was roaming around disguised as a dog? Would the castle even keep him out if he was an animal? Probably not. It didn't keep Pettigrew out. And the Dementors couldn't find him.

Harry gazed down at his hands. He was sick and a little light-headed. Lupin was his parents' friend, but he had decided it was more important to keep secrets from Harry so he could help someone who he thought had betrayed Harry's parents. Maybe they could have caught Black right away if Lupin had told them about him being a dog Animagus.

And then we wouldn't have found out about this, Dash said, pointing his nose at Pettigrew. Pettigrew huddled back into the corner of the room, as far as he could get from McGonagall or Harry or Dash or anyone else. It worked out for the best.

Harry nodded, but he was feeling a little numb. It was all so many secrets and adults lying to him, he thought. When he came to the wizarding world, he'd thought that would change. Hagrid had told him the truth about his parents, and certainly lots of people had been honest with him about Voldemort and when he got in trouble. And they'd been honest about not wanting him to have Dash.

But they wanted to put his life in danger so they could protect the secrets of mass murderers.

He wasn't.

Lupin didn't know that, Harry snapped back, and Dash kept silent as blue light flared around McGonagall and then sped away from her. It surrounded Pettigrew, who stared at his hands in dread, and then under the door. McGonagall looked around, but Harry knew she was in the middle of the light and couldn't see it.

Dumbledore stood up and opened the door, keeping his wand casually trained on Pettigrew. Well, after another look, Harry didn't think it was casual. He stood up.

"Where are you going, Harry?" Lupin turned to him quickly.

"I want to go with the Headmaster and find Black," said Harry. He thought he'd done well. He'd even remembered the Headmaster's title, and he didn't always do that.

Lupin shook his head. "There's a chance that Sirius is crazy and doesn't remember that he's innocent. You have to stay here until we can figure out if you're in danger from him or not."

Harry just stared at him. Lupin looked away as though someone had stung him. Harry petted Dash. "I have someone with me who would die to protect me," he said, and walked out the door behind Dumbledore. He heard Ron call him, but he stayed where he was.

Dumbledore turned around when they were outside in the corridor and gave Harry a kindly look. "Wanting revenge for your parents is very natural, Harry," he said. "But you need to wait until we can bring Black in. We don't understand exactly what's going on here, and we don't want to strike without need."

"I'm coming along because I want the truth," Harry retorted, feeling stung himself.

After that, he and Dumbledore made the walk down the trail of blue light in silence.

*

It wasn't until the Slytherin first-year Severus had been tutoring in Potions so she wouldn't embarrass his House came flying back through his office door almost crying out that Severus realized something strange was going on.

He recognized the trail of blue light blazing above the stairs to the dungeon at once. It was a rarely-used spell that would lead someone straight to an Animagus. Useless in cases where the Animagus could fly or swim, of course, unless the one following the trail could do the same thing, and useless to the person who cast the spell if they were Animagi themselves, but possible to track other than that.

Severus arched his brows. He assumed Minerva had her reasons to cast the spell, and would have agents walking the trail--

Footsteps sounded above him. For reasons that he found hard to define, even to himself, Severus stepped back into the shadows and let the seekers pass him.

One was Albus, his wand held out over the trail and a soft whisper passing his lips. Severus recognized a spell that would keep the trail lit. Perhaps it had started to fade before they got this far.

And behind him came the damnable Potter boy, with the snake around his neck, as usual.

Severus took a moment to consider the situation. It was the middle of the evening, and he had no detentions to supervise. On the other hand, this surely had nothing to do with him. Perhaps Albus was giving the boy extra tutoring in Transfiguration. It would be like him to do that, when he sensed a student he favored was straying from him. If he enchanted them with knowledge, he might count them as loyal again.

But if it had nothing to do with him, that made it more fascinating to any true Slytherin.

Severus cast a Disillusionment Charm around himself before he crept after Albus and Potter. It wasn't good enough to fool Albus most of the time, but for the moment, he was intent on the trail, and didn't look behind him. Or perhaps he knew and wanted Severus there for his own reasons.

"He should be around here somewhere," Albus said, as he and the boy paused outside the entrance hall. "He wouldn't have gone far away from you."

Potter clenched a fist, but said nothing. He had his wand out, not raised. Severus would have said such things to a student of his who made the mistake that would have ensured he did not do it again. But Potter was only a student of Severus's in an Art that required no wand in the beginning stages.

And a beginner at Potions is all Potter will ever be. It irritated Severus to know that Lily's legacy of cleverness lay rotting in the boy's head, but there was no way to tap something that did not exist.

"Ah, there we are," said Albus, and cast a spell that made a light flare out from his wand in rings that concentrated themselves around each animal in the vicinity. Potter's vain basilisk seemed pleased with the effect, tilting his head as if to admire the dance of golden light on his scales.

But Severus was paying more attention to the creature he saw standing under the trees ahead of them, as if hoping that the light would fade away before they could notice it. It began to flee in the opposite direction from the castle when Albus's head turned towards it.

"Sirius Black, I presume," Albus said, and cast a spell that made a glass-like barrier spring up in front of the dog. It whipped around, growling, and Albus walked forwards with his hands held apart and his voice speaking calm words. "We know the truth now, Sirius. We've found Pettigrew, and he told us..."

Severus lost the sense of the next words under the mad pounding of the blood in his head.

Sirius Black. Sirius Black was a dog Animagus and apparently capable of sneaking onto the grounds despite Albus's reassurances that he had kept out anyone who could do that.

Sirius Black was once again receiving a fair chance from Albus, the kind of chance that he wouldn't have given to anyone else.

Sirius Black was right there, and capable of turning around and running at Potter faster than the inexperienced boy could defend himself. Albus wouldn't strike, of course, because he evidently nurtured some kind of absurd idea that Black could be redeemed, and they would have a dead Potter on their hands soon.

Severus stepped forwards, and wove his own spell. And as the great black dog turned around, Severus's cage coalesced around it, formed of steel and iron that no dog or wizard could break, no matter how much they might try. The dog's howl a second later, the way that he flung himself against the bars, said he was trying mightily.

Albus turned around and sighed at him. "Severus..."

Severus paid no attention. Either way, whether there was some story here or not, Sirius Black had to be captured. And there was a boy standing there whose eyes were darting back and forth between Black and Albus as though he couldn't decide who was the greater threat.

And there was a snake around Potter's neck who was watching Severus with something like fixed interest.

It could be no bad plan for Severus to endear himself both to the boy and his snake.

Severus moved forwards with a smile he knew was skull-like, but that didn't bother him. "Yes, Albus," he murmured, although Albus hadn't asked him. "By all means, let us see what Black has to say for himself."

Chapter Text

I think you need to calm down. Your heartbeat sounds like a rabbit’s.

There wasn’t much Harry could say to that. He knew he should calm down, and not because of his heartbeat reminding Dash of prey. He thought he should calm down because he would fall over and die of a heart attack if he didn’t, and then he would miss what was going to happen next. 

Who Sirius Black really was, what the big black dog curled obstinately in the bottom of the cage looked like when he was transformed back into a man, what was going to happen to Pettigrew, the truth, what Ron would say and whether anyone was going to reassure him that Pettigrew hadn’t spied on him pissing, whether Snape would manage to glare a hole through Dumbledore…

If you want to know what happens next, then watch Snape, Dash commanded. I think he’s the one who’s going to act next. Dumbledore is just the one talking, and as we all know, there are more important creatures in the world than someone who just happens to be speaking English at the moment.

That made Harry snort and relax. A few of the adults, not used to his private conversations with Dash yet, glanced at him, but then they went right back to looking at Dumbledore. Ron actually gave Harry a wan smile. Maybe the snort reminded him there were normal things in the world, too.

There’s not much less normal than waking up and finding out your pet rat is an Animagus, Harry thought, and punched Ron lightly on the shoulder. Ron relaxed even more.

The adults in McGonagall’s office—McGonagall, Lupin, Pettigrew still in bonds in a corner, Snape, Dumbledore, and Harry supposed he had to count Black, if only as an adult dog—were mostly tense. But Snape was opening his mouth, and Dash bobbed his head for a second, a human gesture he liked. His tongue flicked out again. He smells of anger. A good, clean scent. It usually means someone is going to kill something.

That’s not a good scent! Harry protested, a little horrified, but one of Dash’s eyes turned towards him under its lid, and he knew the answer to that objection before Dash spoke it. 

It is when you might get to eat the dead thing.

You prefer to kill your own prey anyway, Harry thought grumpily back to Dash at the same second as Snape said, “All of these platitudes about friendship and the rest of it are beside the point, Albus. Surely our mission here is to find out why Black managed to transform into a dog, and how. And what do with him now.”

“We must let him tell his story, of course, my dear boy,” said Dumbledore, beaming at Snape, and Harry thought Snape liked being called “my dear boy” about as much as Harry liked it when Vernon was trying to show off before a stranger and called him “nephew.” “But first, we must let Sirius know that it’s safe enough to transform back.”

“If he doesn’t know that, he’s mad, and can be of no help to us anyway,” said Snape, and turned around to sneer at Black.

“Or perhaps you could make your cage larger,” Dumbledore suggested, so gently that Harry glanced at him again. He didn’t think Dumbledore’s eyes were gentle, but it was hard to tell. He didn’t think he had ever heard Dumbledore when he wasn’t being gentle, for one thing, and for another, so what? What did it matter if he had to tell Snape that the cage was too small? That was the kind of error Harry would probably have made, if he was the one casting the cage.

That’s another spell you can learn, said Dash thoughtfully. Then you could trap some of my prey when it tried to escape.

Harry didn’t even have time to retort. Snape had turned around and enlarged the cage without a word. All the dog did was snarl at them.

McGonagall took a step forwards and studied him. “I could force Sirius to reveal himself the way I did with Pettigrew, of course,” she said, as though someone had demanded to know why she hadn’t already. Harry thought all the adults were sounding uncertain, except Dumbledore. Well, and Pettigrew, but that was because Pettigrew was sniveling. “But I would rather not.”

Harry stood up. Immediately everyone in the room was focused on him. It sort of made him dizzy. Why?

He walked up to the cage and stood there staring at the dog. It was definitely the same one he had seen watching him on Privet Drive.

“Listen,” Harry said, staring at him. “You’re Sirius Black, and an Animagus, and my godfather.” That was still strange to say. Dash shifted his weight, and Harry remembered and continued speaking, the way he had first wanted to, instead of getting overwhelmed by the strangeness. “And I don’t know if you really betrayed my parents or if you and Pettigrew did it together or if it was just him. I’ll never know if you don’t change back. Because he’ll never tell the truth.” He didn’t glance at Pettigrew, just sort of flickered his finger at him. “Are you going to change back or not?”

Black edged one paw forwards, then another. Then Dash moved his head so he could see around Harry’s neck, and Black froze and snarled at him.

“Don’t mind him,” Harry said. “He won’t kill anyone I don’t tell him to.”

Except people who are harming you, Dash said helpfully. Or currently in rat form.

The dog went on peering at Dash. Harry was a little lost. He didn’t know what Black had against Dash—how could he have anything, when Dash had just hatched a few weeks ago and Black had gone to prison years ago?—but he repeated, “He’s my basilisk, and he won’t kill you. Dumbledore has mirrors that will stop him. See?” He pointed at one of the silver objects hovering overhead.

Why did you tell him that? Dash curled sulkily like a huge garland, dangling himself in two roughly equal halves over Harry’s neck. You make me sound so much less impressive than I actually am.

Harry just petted Dash, and watched. Whatever Black’s mysterious problem was, they weren’t going to get any information on that until he changed back, either.

Finally, Black sort of shivered and transformed. He kept his head bowed, and McGonagall immediately conjured some clothes onto him, too. Black kept staring down as if he was examining his pale arms and stunned not to find fur. Then he took a deep breath and looked up.

Harry winced. The flash of his dark eyes was…sort of insane.

“It was Peter,” said Black, his voice a rasp. “It was all him.” He looked at Harry. “And I don’t like snakes.”

“Not you, too,” said Harry. “I tell everyone that he won’t hurt them, and they still want to take him away. And then they’re just getting used to him, and you’re someone else who’s not used to him and wants him to go away.” He touched Dash when he would have lifted his head. He wasn’t sure that was a good idea right now. Black was so mad he might think Dash was striking at him. “Can’t you just accept him?”

Black was staring intently at Harry, and didn’t respond for a minute. No one else spoke up, either. Harry was sort of surprised. He knew why Ron didn’t, and Pettigrew was crying into his hands by now, but he had thought Dumbledore would have some wise words, or Snape would insult Harry’s intelligence, or McGonagall would take over and tell him what to do next, or Lupin would do something that proved why he was a good professor.

Maybe they don’t know how to handle this any more than I do. They probably haven’t had someone turn out to be an Animagus and innocent of a mass murder before.

“You look so much like James,” Black said softly. “But James didn’t grow up in the Muggle world. James never had to run away from home. James wasn’t a Parselmouth.” He looked back at Dash, and there was that feral expression on his face that made it hard to understand him again. “James would never have tolerated a basilisk that near him.”

“I’m not my dad, point made,” Harry said. “But one reason I can’t act more like him is that I don’t know anything about him except the little bits and pieces other people have told me. Can you tell me more about him? I won’t give up Dash—” The soft flick of Dash’s tongue across his ear and the way he coiled his tail around Harry’s wrist made it clear that Dash wasn’t about to give him up, either. “But maybe if I knew more about my dad, I would understand more about the differences between us.”

Black closed his eyes. His eyelids were trembling. “I never thought I would get a chance to do more than kill Peter,” he whispered. “This way, I could be your godfather. If the Ministry accepts everything and I get my innocence established. Would you like that, Harry?”

“Of course I would,” Harry said, and wondered if that was another reason Black had been reluctant to change back into a human. Did he think Harry would reject him because of what he’d been suspected of doing?

“But you don’t really know me.” Black was staring at him again, greedy and longing.

“Anyone would be better than the Dursleys,” Harry said honestly. “But I still want to get to know you. Just like I want to get to know my dad. Can you tell me about him?”

*

That was the point where Severus decided to intervene, because soon this would turn into a festival of weeping and good memories of James Potter, who needed no one else to idolize him.

But he had to admit, so far he had been just as fascinated as the others, though not because of the sentimental memories of friendship that paralyzed Lupin, or the tears he could see gathering at the corners of Minerva’s eyes, or the presumably dotty plans that must have crossed Dumbledore’s mind. He was seeing another side to the boy, one that he hadn’t known about before.

Potter had manipulated Black into transforming. He was essentially manipulating him by promising to act more like his bloody father if Black would trade him some truth. Whether anyone else saw it in the same way, Severus honestly did not care. What interested him was that Potter was more than the shallow puddle of scarlet and gold obsession that Severus had taken him for.

Well, he had known that from the minute the basilisk had bonded to the boy. But being a Parselmouth was one thing, and having a talent for manipulation was another. He had never thought about it before. The boy got around the professors and broke the rules more than he should have, but Severus had thought that was simply coasting on the dazzling comet trail of his reputation.

How much of it was manipulation that he apparently knows how to exercise? And how long was I blinded, not looking at it, not acknowledging it, not recognizing it if I did see it? 

Severus shook his head. For someone who had his reputation as well as his experiences, that lapse was unforgivable.

Black had settled more comfortably on his haunches in the cage and opened his mouth. He seemed prone to reciting more tales of James the Sainted Potter, all because the boy had asked him to. And Potter went on gazing at Black, one hand resting on the scales of his snake. If that presented an incongruous picture, then perhaps Black no longer noticed, as long as he got the chance to talk about the man he’d worshipped.

It was up to Severus, of course, to interrupt.

“Surely the stories can wait until after the explanation?” he said coldly, and jerked his head at Pettigrew. “Has anyone summoned the Aurors? They can use the Veritaserum that you refuse to employ, Headmaster.”

Dumbledore gave him a mild, speaking look. Severus simply looked back, unimpressed. He didn’t know what the Headmaster was trying to prove, but he did know that he was not going to sit here and let Black play the martyr.

“I had hoped to have this handled and clarified before the arrival of the Aurors,” said Dumbledore. “It is highly likely they wouldn’t listen to us, or understand the complexities of the situation, and simply march Sirius off to be Kissed. Especially,” he added, with a small frown on his face, “given Cornelius’s involvement.”

The Minister did have an irrational terror of Black, but Severus thought more of Dumbledore’s reluctance came from his desire to hold onto control of the situation at all costs. He turned back to Black. “Perhaps you would explain, then, since Pettigrew seems unlikely to.”

Black snapped his teeth in a way that made Severus wonder why he had never seen the feral beast hiding inside the man before this. “I was going to explain what his parents are like to a little orphan kid who knows nothing about them,” he said coldly. “That’s more important.”

“No, Sirius, I’m afraid it isn’t,” said Minerva, and Severus was grateful to note that at least a few people were recovering from the trance that Potter seemed to have cast all of them into. “We do need to get this cleared up as soon as possible. For one thing, the Dementors might try to enter the school now that you’re here in human form.”

It was clear that Black hadn’t thought of that. He grew pale enough to look like a Dementor’s shadow himself, and then bowed his head.

“Fine.” He spoke as though someone had taken a meat hook and was yanking the words out of him like gobbets of flesh. Severus sighed, a little sad he couldn’t actually do that. “I was the Secret-Keeper. I suspected Remus. I knew no one would suspect Peter, and so I suggested that James make the switch. I said was the one who killed him because I really did. If I hadn’t suggested Peter, James would never have gone through with it.”

Then his head flew up, and his eyes fastened on Pettigrew in a way that made Severus understand the hatred Black was really capable of, against which everything that he had ever expressed for Severus was a pale and ineffectual shadow. Pettigrew cowered back into the corner. Severus was sure that he would have fallen down if he wasn’t already sitting.

“And he was already a bloody Death Eater,” Black whispered. His voice was on the edge of raving, and his hands had curled around the bars of Severus’s conjured cage. If he noticed how deeply they were cutting into his palms, making a slow slick of blood gather on the steel, he showed no sign of stopping because of that. “So he betrayed them to You-Know-Who, and when I figured it out and went to hunt him down, he shouted that accusation, and cast the spell that killed the Muggles, and cut off his finger, and escaped like the rat he is into the sewers.”

Lupin shifted. There was a tautness in his face that Severus had never seen before. A moment later, he sneered at himself. As though I regularly monitor the werewolf’s expressions.

“Then it happened that way?” Lupin whispered. “A way that makes sense of everything, and means you’re not a traitor?”

Interesting that he’s less worried about exchanging one traitor friend for another, Severus thought.

“It happened that way, I swear it.” Black shook his head back and forth. “And I kept myself sane in Azkaban because I could turn into a dog, and the Dementors ignore animals. It’s like they don’t see them.” He reached out and touched Potter’s face through the bars of the cage. Potter stood there and let him do it. His own expression was oddly blank, and he kept one hand on the scales of his basilisk as if that would give him all the truth he needed, without having to hear it from Black. 

“Then I saw a photograph of Wormtail in his rat form on that kid’s shoulder.” Black jerked his head at Weasley, who jumped as though he was far from grateful at this sudden notice from an adult in the room. “And I realized he was at Hogwarts, and he might still be able to do something to harm Harry. We’ve all heard that rumor about You-Know-Who coming back. Maybe it’s just a rumor. I couldn’t risk it.”

Once again, he turned melting eyes on Potter. Potter remained blank for the oddest, longest moment, and then handed Black a hesitant smile.

“You came because I was in danger?” Potter asked.

“Yes,” said Black at once. “It was my responsibility as a godfather.”

The basilisk hissed something. Potter hissed back. Black blinked and shifted around uneasily. Even Lupin looked as though he would rather that Potter hadn’t done that.

How are they going to handle a godson who’s much less Gryffindor than they supposed? Severus thought. He would think that, he would cling to the small spar of discomfort in what seemed an ocean of good fortune for two people he hated, again. He would not let himself despair, because he was not that sort of person. He would look at what he had not noticed, and what might surprise others as it had surprised him. How are they going to handle that bloody great basilisk, I wonder? 

*

I still want to know, said Dash in Harry’s head.

I know, said Harry, and stretched his arm out along Dash’s back so that Dash could get even more warmth than he could from just coiling up on Harry’s shoulders. But I think we need to give him a chance to prove himself.

Dash settled down with a sulky shake of his tail. Harry sighed. He had asked why Black had run after Pettigrew if he cared so much about his responsibilities as a godfather. He should have stayed with Harry and taken care of him, Dash had said. It was what Dash would do.

Harry said that Black wasn’t a basilisk, which was true, but Dash only took that to mean he was less equipped to be a proper godfather, either.

Harry didn’t know. His head ached. He wanted to know the truth, and he wanted to know the stories about his parents Black had promised, and he wanted the day to end. Really, too much had happened already.

“Shall we call the Aurors, Albus?” McGonagall had turned and looked at Headmaster Dumbledore. “We do have a story to offer them now, a story that might prevent the Minister from reaching for the Dementors at once.”

Dumbledore stood there still and quiet for a moment. Harry didn’t know why. But he was starting to think he didn’t know the reason behind a lot of what adults did. He had always thought it was just the Dursleys he didn’t understand; the professors had seemed pretty straightforward to him since he came to Hogwarts, except Snape with his weird grudge. But now Dumbledore was acting strange, too.

There’s a lot you don’t understand, said Dash, and he gently tapped Harry’s left hand with his tail. You need to learn more about politics. It seems that lots of people think you’re important or strange because of your name. So you should learn more so they can’t take advantage of you.

Harry nodded slowly. He supposed that was true. He hated the thought of spending too much time around the Minister or people like Lucius Malfoy, but on the other hand, he hated attention and Voldemort, too, and he had to put up with them.

At least he didn’t have to worry about someone trying to kill him right now.

He looked at Black, and found him once again looking at Harry the way no one had ever looked—well, no adult had ever looked. Ron and Hermione had done it sometimes. That look said Harry was interesting and he wanted to spend time with him.

I’ve looked at you that way, said Dash. And honestly, I’m the one that you should trust the most, because you can hear my mind and you know I’m not plotting against you.

Harry smiled up at Dash. But you’re not an adult, so I wasn’t including you in that group, either.

Dash considered this, then curled his tongue in a way he had told Harry was more elegant than a human sniff. Harry hadn’t bothered pointing out that a snake couldn’t imitate a human sniff anyway. All right. But you should think of me first, at the beginning of every list.

Harry grinned again. Dash could relax him, and make it sound as if everything would be all right.

And maybe it would be. Dumbledore was nodding decisively. “I trust that you won’t mind remaining in the cage for a while longer, Sirius?” he asked, with a faint smile in Black’s direction. “It might reassure the Minister if he seems to think you’re confined.”

“Yeah, I can do that,” said Black, and sprawled back on his elbows and heels. He was kind of like a dog even when he was in human form, Harry thought. He turned his head and fixed his eyes on Harry. “Can I come and see you when this is all over, kid? And you’ll still want to live with me?”

Harry nodded. His throat was thick. “And Dash can come and live with me, too?” He wanted to live with his godfather, but he wasn’t going to do it if he couldn’t have Dash.

Black paused, then smiled reluctantly. “Yeah. I suppose I’ll eventually get used to having a snake around.”

“In the meantime,” said McGonagall, sounding so much like a professor that Harry jumped and glanced at her, “Mr. Weasley and Mr. Potter have studying to return to.” She opened the door to her office with a flick of her wand. “They should leave now.”

“But nothing’s been resolved!” Ron protested. Harry silently agreed. On the other hand, he was sort of grateful for an excuse to leave and get away from all the silent emotions swirling in the room. He needed to think about this.

“You will learn the results later,” said McGonagall, and maybe something in Ron’s face made her soften a bit. “I promise that we would not keep them from you. You deserve to know.”

With that, even Ron could be contented, and Harry accompanied him down the steps. Dash dropped and slithered beside him instead of staying on his shoulder like usual. Harry thought it was because he felt exhausted and was stumbling a bit.

“Wow,” said Ron, when they had walked down one set of steps and were waiting for the next staircase they needed to swing around. “What a day, mate!”

Harry nodded. Dash reached up and gently touched his plume to Harry’s face, brushing it under his eyes.

It’ll all be better. You’ll see.

Chapter Text

Draco didn’t know what the—the fuck was going on with Potter since he got the snake, but he was coming to suspect that he was about to be left out of it.

He was already sick of that.

There were whispers all through the school the next day when Professor Lupin didn’t show up for class, and the whispers said that he had been summoned to the Ministry to testify somehow in the trial of Sirius Black. Draco had closely questioned the fifth-year Slytherin who’d told him that, in an effort to understand why Sirius Black was getting a trial now when everyone knew what he’d done, but the fifth-year was regrettably a half-blood and from an independent family.

“Go do your own gossiping, Malfoy,” had been all the girl said when Draco tried to demand more accurate information, and turned back to her own conversation.

Draco scowled.

He scowled even more at the next announcement, from the Head Table as the students started to leave lunch, that Potions classes were canceled for the afternoon, as the Ministry had also requested Professor Snape’s presence.

“I suspect that you will enjoy the holiday,” said Dumbledore, twinkling at everyone as though he fooled any student in Slytherin, and then sat down and continued on with his meal. His robes were a particularly nauseating shade of orange-pink today, Draco saw indignantly.

No, we won’t, Draco thought, and stomped out of the Great Hall. Vince and Gregory were behind him as usual, but Theodore was also falling into line with him, and that was unusual.

“Do you know anything about this?” Draco asked, although he made sure to keep his tone more polite than it had been with the fifth-year. Theodore was one of Draco’s yearmates, not older, but his father trusted him with some secrets that Lucius Malfoy hadn’t seen the light about showing to Draco yet.

Theodore nodded, but paused as some Gryffindors went by before saying, under his breath, “Apparently they captured—well, Professor Snape captured—Sirius Black on the grounds yesterday. Only my father says that they don’t think he did it anymore. Something about Peter Pettigrew being alive, and the real criminal.”

Draco gaped before he could stop himself. Then, as Theodore glanced sideways at him in amusement, he tried to smooth his face out and look as cool and calm and knowing as possible. 

“Of course he’s the real criminal, if he’s alive,” Draco said, as calmly as he could. “He probably slaughtered all those Muggles.”

“That’s what my father’s spies in the Ministry told him,” Theodore murmured, and then moved ahead of Draco. Draco had meant to ask what Lupin had to do with all this, if Professor Snape was the one who had captured Black, but Theodore’s leaving put an end to that. On the other hand, Theodore tended to do that when he had no secrets left to share, so Draco wasn’t as put out as he might have been.

And why haven’t they summoned Potter? You’d think he would have been jumping up and down to go.

Cradling his wounded arm, Draco managed to draw near Potter. It was difficult, as they didn’t have a class right now due to the canceling of Potions and Potter and his friends were walking as fast as they could for Gryffindor Tower. Potter was stroking his basilisk and alternating between English words with his friends and Parseltongue words with Dash.

What an undignified name, Draco thought, not for the first time. But right now he had more than the hope of a basilisk of his own for wanting to get an in with Potter. He also had the hope of gossip.

“Potter!” he called, and hoped he sounded friendly. “Wait up!”

Potter turned to glance at him, but while his face wasn’t angry, Draco had the distinct impression that was because he was thinking of something else, not because he had deeply considered Draco’s merits and come to the obvious conclusion. “What is it, Malfoy? I’m busy.”

“I want to know about Sirius Black and all this business about him being captured and Professor Snape being called to testify,” said Draco, abandoning his attempt at friendliness. If Potter could be business-like, Draco could, too, even though it wasn’t the way he’d prefer to act towards Potter. “Why aren’t you with them?”

Potter shrugged. “They said they would tell me the results as soon as the Aurors get done trying Pettigrew.” And then he tried to turn around and leave again, as though he hadn’t just told Draco something even juicier than Theodore had. At least he knew Theodore’s sources. He couldn’t believe that Professor Snape would just confide in Potter like that!

He reached out one hand to grip Potter’s shoulder.

The basilisk hissed.

Draco found himself stopping all motion. And it wasn’t that the basilisk had paralyzed him—his lids were still over his eyes. It was just, one sound of that hiss and you just wanted to stand still for a little while, that was all. Draco thought even his father would have stood still, although that would be in respect and not fear.

“Don’t touch me,” said Potter, turning back around and sending Draco a little frown. “Dash doesn’t want you to.”

“Fine,” said Draco. He was proud of himself for shaking off the intense desire to keep standing still, and addressing Potter like an adult instead. “I won’t touch you. But how do you know so much? The whole school’s humming and no one knows, so how do you know?”

For some strange reason, Potter smiled. “One instant you think I ought to be at the center of it because Sirius is my godfather, and the next instant you’re wondering how I know?” The basilisk swayed against him, and Potter absently stroked its neck, the way that Draco had seen some children (not himself, of course) tap a lucky quill. “You’re not consistent, Malfoy. And consistency is a virtue, you know.”

Potter was imitating his father. He had to be. It was a lesson that Lucius tried to teach Draco all the time. Draco scowled. “Don’t make fun of me.”

Potter shrugged. “Well, I hope that the newspapers and the Aurors are going to tell the truth this time, so it’ll be out in a few days, anyway. Pettigrew was a rat Animagus. He was—hiding near me and spying on me.” For some reason, Potter turned red, but Draco didn’t know why he would be lying about this. Like he said, it would be all out in the papers if it was true, and right now, Draco was listening with breathless attention that had to gratify Potter. “Dash smelled him, and said he smelled human. So we caught Sirius, and it turned out that the reason he came here was to protect me from Pettigrew.”

Weasley pulled on Potter’s arm and whispered something. Potter nodded. “Right. See you, Malfoy.” 

And off they jogged. Draco stood there with his mouth open, wanting to ask more, but also not wanting to push his luck in case he destroyed the unusual good mood that had made Potter tell him that much in the first place.

Of course, that only sparked more thoughts. How had Black known about Pettigrew? Where had Pettigrew hidden all these years? If he had come here to spy on Potter on his own, did that mean the Dark Lord was coming back?

But eventually, Draco managed to shrug off his questions and trot back to the Slytherin common room, smug. He knew even more than Theodore did, now. He could sit on one of the couches and hint at people, and even the independent fifth-year would come to him to hear the gossip. He would be more popular than usual for a little while.

It was almost enough to make Draco thank Potter. Or would have been if it had been combined with reassurance about when Potter would give him a basilisk egg.

*

“Did you have to tell him even that much, mate?” Ron flopped back on his bed and stretched out his arms as if he wanted to embrace the ceiling. “He’s going to run around all smug and using it for gossip, and he’ll laugh his arse off when he finds out that Pettigrew was Scabbers.”

“Dash said it was okay,” Harry muttered, as neutrally as he could, rooting in his trunk for more of his school robes. He’d spilled a glass of pumpkin juice on the ones he was wearing when Dumbledore had said that Potions was canceled for the day. And he’d spilled it on Dash, too. Dash had complained about that vigorously as they walked from the Great Hall to the Tower.

“Dash said what?” Ron spun around onto his elbows with his feet dangling off the bed. Harry frowned a little. Dash was also long enough to reach the foot of the bed, but Harry wouldn’t be, even if he was lying closer to it than Ron was. He hoped he would be, too, someday, but it didn’t seem likely.

“He said that Malfoy didn’t smell aggressive.” Harry shook his head a little when Ron stared at him. “Don’t look at me like that. I was surprised, too. But that’s what he said.”

And I was right, Dash said, and looped his body around the pillow as he watched Harry take out the new robes. He didn’t attack you, did he?

Harry looked at him in surprise. Then why did you hiss at him when he tried to touch me?

Dash looped his head upside-down, which was something he often did when he had seen a contradiction in his own actions and didn’t want to admit it. I meant that he didn’t try to attack you after all.

Harry laughed and went to the bathroom to put on the new robes. Dash didn’t come with him. While he adored the warm water of the shower, he didn’t like the cold tile, and usually refused to join Harry there unless he was actually going to wash. Luckily, their bond didn’t seem to be affected by distance.

Why aren’t you angry about all the times that Malfoy harmed me in the past? Harry asked, and took off his robes and shook them out. No, he would have to use a harsh Cleaning Charm on them to wear them again. He would just have to use the new ones.

Because I wasn’t there to see it. Dash yawned, the sound audible to Harry at that distance. But when I see him getting ready to attack you, then I would be ready to bite him.

Harry rolled his eyes and pulled on the new robes, then walked over to the mirror to adjust his tie. I told you, you can’t bite anyone.

Now that the Headmaster has made my poison less deadly, I can. Some people need to be taught a lesson.

Harry paused in drawing his knot through. The way Dash had said those last words sounded…serious. Who are you talking about? 

Dash didn’t reply for a moment or two, which only concerned Harry more. Dash? he asked, and finished up with the tie. He wanted to be out there and with his basilisk as soon as possible.

You don’t need to sound as though I’m going to sneak out of your bed and bite anyone I encounter, Dash said sulkily. I’m saving my venom for when I need it.

I’m just worried that you’ll decide that’s during a time when I’m not around. Harry hurried out of the bathroom and lay on the bed next to Dash, accepting it as the basilisk carefully pushed the tip of his tongue into Harry’s neck, gathering up the scent. Or you might decide to use it on Sirius or something if he’s annoying.

Dash lashed his tail. I will if he changes his mind about you and I living together.

Harry stroked the soft, small scales on the back of Dash’s neck, where they came together neatly enough that there were almost chinks between them. Dash tossed his head back and flicked his tongue out in what looked like drunken bliss. From his bed, Ron rolled his eyes.

“You’re worse than Neville with Trevor, I swear,” he muttered, and turned away to gather up his chess set. “Fancy a game?”

Harry didn’t, actually, but he reckoned it would make Ron feel better. He was still tender about Scabbers, and no wonder. “Sure,” he said, and scrambled to the end of the bed, while Dash arranged himself so that his head was in Harry’s lap and most of his body was tucked under the covers for warmth.

You can’t always bite people, you know, Harry told Dash as he stroked behind his plume this time. He was such a terrible chess player anyway that having a conversation with his basilisk while he played Ron didn’t change things all that much. What would have happened if you’d just swallowed Scabbers the way you wanted to? Then we wouldn’t have the proof that Sirius was innocent, and I wouldn’t be going to live with him.

But then I could have bitten the Muggles. 

Harry snorted and leaned forwards to move his knight in what was probably the wrong direction. But it was worth it to watch Ron’s face light up.

*

Severus grimaced and swallowed the antidote to the Veritaserum. The eyes of the Wizengamot members who sat along the gallery railing were too speculative already. At least he had not been forced to confess every detail of his childhood interaction with the Marauders. There had been a few people interested in that, personal enemies or past parents of students, but Fudge had taken control of the questioning quickly and moved it in the right direction. Fudge was a competent politician when he had someone to tell him what to do.

Dumbledore, although he wasn’t here now, was the one who had set Fudge on this particular path. And Fudge was still nodding and rubbing his hands. Even his usual animosity for Dumbledore, Severus thought, had been driven aside by his relief at having a clear path to follow through a confusing situation, and the thought of the scandal that might attach to the Ministry otherwise. They never had given Sirius Black a proper trial, Dumbledore had told Fudge thoughtfully right before he departed…

Now, Fudge held up his hands as though appealing to someone, and murmured to the member of the Wizengamot beside him, “We’ve heard all the testimony?”

“Yes,” said that woman, a white-haired witch named Abigail Marcus, and leaned out as if she wanted to get a better look both at Pettigrew, in the prisoner’s chair, and at Sirius Black, who sat not far away with an Auror guard beside him. “And I must admit, it makes things easier, knowing that someone who doesn’t like Black is still prepared to testify that there was injustice done to him.”

Severus kept his sneer to himself. This wasn’t Hogwarts, where he would get away with it. And he wondered if any of those fools knew that he was here only because Albus had ordered him to be.

Well, yes, and there was the potential chance of courting Potter’s goodwill. But Severus was both unsure that this gesture was enough to win it and that Potter would really become as powerful as Severus thought he might. That was only a suspicion.

“The decision should be clear, then,” said Fudge, and glanced from side to side as though he was prepared to throw out anyone who disagreed. Again, Severus concealed a sneer. In reality, the man was as soft and yielding as the foodstuff he was named after. “Who agrees that, based on the testimony of those parties involved and our witnesses, that Peter Pettigrew was guilty of the treachery against James and Lily Potter?”

So many hands went up that someone could potentially hide amongst them with their hand down. Still, Severus doubted many would. The evidence was too clear, and any secretly loyal Death Eaters—like Lucius Malfoy—would vote to save their own skins no matter what their sympathy with Pettigrew.

“And who agrees that Sirius Black should go free?” asked Fudge, and once again turned around, while beside him, Marcus counted the hands and scribbled down the numbers with a quill that was enchanted to move fast.

Again, hands rose. Severus glanced at Black. He was looking from face to face as if a little dazed, one hand rising to touch the stubble on his chin. Possibly there were tears filling his eyes, although Severus was far enough away not to be able to see them easily.

So the mutt wins after all, Severus thought, and swallowed a draught of bitterness greater than many of his own potions.

But it would damage him more to let it out. For one thing, he had already testified that he believed Black was innocent; he had been convinced by Pettigrew’s stuttered words, by the fact that it was too great a coincidence for Pettigrew to survive and also to bear a Dark Mark, and even by what Black had said, Merlin help him. He would not turn his back on something he could not disown.

There was also still the fact of Potter.

Severus did not know that Potter would change the game between the Dark Lord and Dumbledore, between Dumbledore and the rest of the wizarding world, even between Severus and Black. He only thought it was possible.

He would retain that chance, the chance that he might be able to act freely someday, as long as he could.

*

“Hey, kiddo. I’m—they freed me.”

Harry flew over to Sirius and grabbed him around the waist. Dash followed at a more dignified pace, and because Harry was holding Sirius, he felt him stiffen. Harry sniffed and glanced back and forth between Sirius and his snake. “Both of you, play nice.”

All basilisk s know how to do that. Dash draped himself over Harry’s shoulders and around his waist. It’s the rest of the world that refuses to play nice with us.

“It’s not easy to get used to a bloody great snake twined around you,” Sirius muttered, but he shook his head and smiled helplessly at Harry in the next second, as if he was—charmed by him, the way that so many adults seemed to be by Dudley. It was a way that only Mrs. Weasley had ever smiled at Harry, so it was pretty easy to forgive Sirius. “And now it’s settled. You’re going to come and live with me.”

“Really?” Harry turned and glanced doubtfully at Dumbledore. They were in his office, and he had been standing behind his desk and watching Sirius and Harry’s reunion with a little smile. Now, he lifted his eyebrows.

“Yes, my boy. I think it is what your parents would have wished. Sirius is your godfather, after all! They had reasons for making him so.”

Harry breathed in deeply and spun around to look at Sirius. “And you’ll tell me stories of them? All the ones you promised?”

“All the ones I promised and all the ones Remus can remember.” Sirius reached down and shook Harry’s shoulder a little, smiling. “He’ll visit us a lot. And he’ll be here as a professor, of course. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”

“Him as a professor or him visiting us?” Harry asked, and laughed at the look on Sirius’s face, and hugged him again. “Either. Both.” He was happy with a kind of happiness that he didn’t know what to do with; it kept bubbling up and flooding him, and he wanted to spin around in the middle of Dumbledore’s office with his arms out, laughing. “This is—Sirius, I don’t have any words for how great this is.”

Sirius’s face softened, and for the first time since he’d transformed, he really looked like an adult to Harry. His hands came to rest gently on Harry’s shoulders. “I’ll try to be worthy, then,” he whispered into Harry’s hair. “The way that I should have been in the first place. The godfather I always should have been.”

He was acting insane, and now he is not, Dash said, his tongue shooting out as if he wanted to test Sirius’s scent again, although Harry knew he had smelled it the minute they came into the room. I wonder why that is?

Harry hesitated. Sirius was acting normal now, but then again, Uncle Vernon could act normal in front of other people, too, like Mrs. Figg. “Are you—are you going to get counseling or something?” he asked. “You were kind of scary before.”

“I—suppose I could.” Sirius blinked and glanced at Dumbledore. “I’m hoping that the Headmaster here can recommend someone.”

“I’d be happy to,” said Dumbledore, and beamed kindly at both of them.

I don’t trust him. But Harry thought he could distrust Dumbledore and still live with Sirius. For one thing, then they wouldn’t have to go back to the Dursleys.

Someday, Dash said dreamily, I will visit them.

*

“Professor Snape?”

Severus turned around, staring. That was the last voice he had expected to hear, especially on the first day that Black was officially out of Ministry custody.

But Harry Potter stood in the doorway of his office, and he didn’t back away or flush or flinch when Severus scowled at him. Perhaps the enormous snake on his shoulders had something to do with that. Oddly, Severus hoped not. Artificial bravery would not be of much use in most of the situations Potter was likely to find himself in.

“Yes?” Severus asked, and tried to make his voice less harsh than the croak that wanted to overcome it.

“I wanted to thank you for testifying the way you did for Sirius,” said Potter, and his voice was precise, and perhaps the snake had been good for his diction, too, because he spoke the words clearly, not in the disgusting mumble that was one of Severus’s biggest objections to Gryffindors. “I know he won’t thank you for it. Maybe someday one of you will tell me why. But I wanted to say it.”

Severus blinked and stared, and Potter turned and slipped away. A Slytherin couldn’t have done it better.

Severus stood there for a second, and then nodded quietly to himself.

It still might be true that Potter wouldn’t change the game as much as Severus thought he would. But there was something there—kindness or humility or foresight—that could reach out to a man who had humiliated him often and had only recently changed his behavior.

Whatever it was, Severus wanted to be close to it, to ensure that the flame did not go out.

Chapter Text

"Just a moment of your time, Mr. Potter. That's all it's going to take."

Harry could still hear the wheedling tone in Minister Fudge's voice when he'd said that. Harry had agreed, like the idiot he was, and that Dash was always telling him he was, and they'd gone out in front of the school so that the photographers could take their pictures and the reporters could interview the Minister about what an astonishing turn-around this was, finding Sirius Black innocent. They didn't seem interested in talking to Sirius or Harry at all.

No one was interested in talking to Dash, either, but they all wanted to snap photographs of him, and Dash, curled around Harry's arms and neck and waist and legs as if he wanted as much of his body as he could get to be in contact with as much of Harry as he could get, had a lot of comments on them.

Who is that woman with the green glasses? Does she know that she looks like a beetle in them?

Harry glanced a little sideways at the woman Dash was talking about, hoping he could do it without giving himself away. She did look ridiculous, but no, he doubted she knew it. She was holding up a parchment with a quill scribbling quickly on it. I don't know her.

You know that you have to find out, right? Dash's tongue was on the back of his neck, perfectly placed to make Harry start and ruin a picture that the nearest photographer was just snapping, of Fudge beaming over Harry's shoulder.

Fudge looked down chidingly. "I know you're not used to this much attention, my boy, but you'll have to get used to it! You're the Boy-Who-Lived!" And he turned back to the camera with a smile. Harry thought he would have already put one hand on Harry's shoulder, but the presence of Dash vetoed that.

The more often you do that, the longer I have to stand here, he thought to Dash, and pasted another false smile on his face.

I know. But it's a brilliant chance to start your political education. Dash pointed towards another reporter with his tail, without making it look like he was pointing. Who's that?

Harry did look, squinting, but all he could really see was that the wizard was short and white-haired and wore absolutely brilliant yellow robes that made some of Dumbledore's look sane. I don't know. Why don't we find out?

He waited until the next photograph had been snapped and the Minister was opening his mouth to speak again, and then tugged gently on his sleeve. "Excuse me, sir, but who's that?" he asked, nodding at the yellow-robed wizard. He had good manners when he wanted, he thought. Aunt Petunia would have been proud of him. He even smiled meekly when Fudge peered down at him as if surprised that Harry could talk on his own.

At least Fudge indulged him, looking over towards the yellow-robed wizard. He then laughed aloud, nearly making Harry jump again. It sounded like genuine laughter, which he hadn't known Fudge was capable of.

"Oh, him," Fudge said, shaking his head. "You don't need to worry about him, Harry." Again his hand twitched as if he was going to pat Harry on the shoulder or ruffle his hair, and again had thought better of it. "His name's Xenophilius Lovegood, and he publishes a rubbish paper called the Quibbler that no one pays attention to. He might ask you questions about your basilisk, since he's interested in all manner of magical creatures. But he's harmless!"

Harry nodded slowly, and wondered if perhaps he might want to speak to Lovegood more than some of the other reporters. None of them had asked him, anything, and certainly not about Dash, whom they preferred to pretend didn't exist outside pictures.

There were more questions the Minister answered, mostly about things that seemed deeply boring to Harry, and then he got a chance to break away. The Minister waved his hand grandly, and Harry broke into a run towards Lovegood before he could change his mind, or the Minister could and pull him back for another session of false smiles. It wasn't as bad as posing with Lockhart, but that didn't represent a huge improvement, for Harry.

He halted in front of Lovegood, who looked down at him with an impressive frown. His eyebrows jutted out like ledges. Harry caught his breath and asked the first thing that came into his mind. "Do you want to interview me about my basilisk?"

Yes, he should, Dash said, and stretched his head out and turned it to the side so that Lovegood could admire the soft green gleams in his dark scales if he wanted to. Someone needs to publish a tribute so that when I come into my full, awesome dreafulness of being, the world is ready to deal with it.

Lovegood stared at him, then at Dash, and there was a longing in his eyes that Harry thought was different from the longing that Lupin or Sirius used to look at him, as if he was special but distant, or even the way Dumbledore looked at him sometimes, which Harry didn't understand at all. "I would love to talk to you about your basilisk," said Lovegood, and his eyes burned. "But I didn't think you liked being interviewed."

"I don't, when someone else is doing all the talking." Harry shifted so that Dash's tail, which was dragging on the ground between his feet, would fit around his leg again. "But you'd let me talk, right?"

Lovegood, still watching him with that intense gaze, nodded and took out his notebook. "You can say whatever you want. Although I can't promise I'll publish all of it. I have a responsibility to the public."

Harry grinned. That was more the sort of thing he'd hoped to hear. He didn't like being interviewed, but he also thought that someone should know about the sorts of things the Ministry didn't want to say.

Like Dash says, I know to learn some more about this, or I'm just going to have people talking over me all the time.

You are learning the first lesson of having a basilisk, said Dash. Which is that the basilisk is always right.

Harry ignored that, and nodded to Lovegood. "Can I tell you how I found him?" He was sort of hoping that if Lovegood published that story, maybe someone who knew about basilisk eggs would see it and contact him. Harry still had questions about Dash and the way he'd hatched that Dash was no help with.

"Yes," said Lovegood, and waited, expectantly.

He didn't even ask any questions, he just wanted Harry to talk! Harry's opinion of him was improving. Lovegood might be crazy, but at least he was polite. "All right. So I'm a Parselmouth, and I heard someone calling me one night..."

Once he started talking, Lovegood started writing. He did ask a few questions, like about the Chamber of Secrets and the basilisk that had been in there, but most of the time he just wrote. Harry watched it with satisfaction. There would be an article about Dash, who was the reason that Harry had Sirius at all, and there might be answers, and Harry approved of both.

Harry finally ran out of words, and Lovegood looked up and nodded. "This is very important," he said. "New stories about magical creatures always are. The next edition of the Quibbler will carry your words." He hesitated. "Have you met my daughter Luna? She's in the year below yours. She would love to meet Dash."

Harry searched his mind, but he couldn't remember any girl named Lovegood, although he'd thought he would have remembered her. On the other hand, maybe she didn't wear yellow robes this bright. "No. What House is she in?"

"Ravenclaw." Lovegood gave him a strained smile. "She probably wouldn't be around you all that much, anyway. Gryffindor has most of their classes with Slytherin, don't they?"

"Yes, sir," said Harry absently, but he was still searching his mind. He thought he had heard someone talk about a girl named Lovegood, but it was a year ago, and it hadn't stuck in his mind, the way almost nothing had at the time except the voice he was hearing in the walls. "I'll look for her."

"Thank you," said Lovegood, which was so strange that Harry blinked at him. Lovegood leaned heavily towards him for a second. "I think she would be glad to have a...friend."

That was strange, but Harry didn't think he needed to worry about it. "All right," he said. "Thank you, sir." He turned around, then hesitated. Dash was silent on his shoulder, which meant he didn't object to Lovegood the way he did to a lot of other people, and that meant Harry could offer a treat that he didn't to most people. "Did you want to pet Dash? He likes the way you look at him." That much he knew was true without Dash even saying it, because Harry could feel it like a hum of contentment from his basilisk's mind.

Dash flickered out his tongue to taste the air and inclined his head in a small, gracious nod that Harry thought even Lovegood, who wasn't very familiar with Dash's personality, could understand. Yes, by all means, let him touch me.

That sounded a little less promising, and Harry kept a sharp eye on Dash as Lovegood reached out with a trembling hand. But the tremor seemed to appease Dash, who said, Well, here is someone who is properly respectful. Tell him that he may scratch the small scales behind my head. I haven't yet trained you to attend to them properly. He turned his head to the side and almost lifted those scales up, something Harry hadn't known he could do.

"He'll let me touch him?" Lovegood choked out. "There?"

"Yes," said Harry, and watched as Lovegood scratched in between the scales, smiling and shaking his head a little. He didn't understand the fire that burned in Lovegood's eyes yet, but he thought he was beginning to. For whatever reason, Lovegood was someone who just wanted to look at animals, and think they were beautiful, and watch them. Harry supposed he was the same way with Quidditch players.

"Please tell him thank you," said Lovegood, and pulled his hand back. There were unshed tears in his eyes. "To be this close to a basilisk, a unique basilisk, born in such an unusual way..."

Yes, you may tell him that he is welcome any time he wants to pet me again. Dash curled his head around so his chin was almost upside-down. He is a proper acolyte.

*

The moment he stepped into the Potions classroom, Severus felt the change in the air. He held his wand close to his face as he swept down the aisle--a time when most of the students except a few Slytherins were too intimidated to look at him closely anyway--and cast a small spell that would tell him whether he was right.

Yes. Over to the right side of the classroom crouched a shadow, if one looked for it. Severus might not have, if not for those spy's instincts that had let him know right away that something was different.

Potter, at least, was not betraying any sign that it was there, but arguing with Granger in a heated whisper. He shut up the moment he saw Severus, and sat up. Severus kept a careful eye on him. He would see if the boy's respectful behavior the other day translated into more respectful learning in the classroom.

Potter was at least paying attention, which was more than Severus could say for some of the Gryffindors. He would never understand why they chose the most physically dangerous class in the school--with the possible exception of NEWT Transfiguration--to dislodge their attention. He cast a simple spell that made a sharp crack echo through the air, apparently originating in his cloak, and watched as arses left chairs.

"You are brewing the Enlarging Solution today," said Severus. "The opposite of the Shrinking Solution that so many of you ruined a month ago." He sneered at the cowering Longbottom. The boy's cowardice was infuriating. He inspired fear in his classmates, and that was unforgivable. "The ingredients list is on the board." He waved his wand again, and they appeared. "You are to work alone on this potion."

Granger's mouth opened. Severus looked at her. Granger's mouth closed.

"I will know if you cheat and help each other," Severus added darkly, and to himself, For example, if Longbottom creates a potion that is passable.

He began to pace slowly around the classroom, even though the students were scurrying for their ingredients and no one had actually begun to brew as yet. Draco was sneaking a glance at Potter, but that in and of itself was harmless. Severus would not interfere until the boy began to make enough of a nuisance of himself to disrupt the class.

No, his target was that shadow in the corner, the one that was cast by nothing, or at least was if you knew the contours of the walls and the door and the tables as well as Severus did.

It didn't move as he came closer to it, either, but Severus murmured the incantation for the Summer Breeze Charm, and something silken swayed atop it. Severus then cast the Body-Bind Charm, because he knew what it was now: Sirius Black hiding under Potter's Invisibility Cloak.

Black struggled for a moment, but he had collapsed with the Cloak over him, and Severus's glare intimidated the few children who glanced in his direction. Potter wasn't among them. He had gone to get his ingredients and was squinting at the instructions with commendable anxiety.

Severus cast another charm that would deflect light from Black's body and the Cloak and make them hard to see, and then floated them both into the air next to him. "I will be in my office for the moment," he said. "Try not to add bloodstains to the ones currently on the floor." He turned and stalked into his office with Black bobbing after him like a Muggle toy on the end of a string. Severus made no attempt to ease the journey for Black.

He had the answer to a question he had wandered about. Yes, Potter would thank Severus for his efforts on Black's behalf, but Black never would.

It wasn't worsening their rivalry to dump Black on the floor of his office and tear the Cloak off with a flick of his wand, sending it floating up to the ceiling. It wasn't even harming the delicate bond that Severus must hope to construct between himself and Potter. For one thing, he believed that Potter had not known Black was there.

For another, he thought part of the boy would disapprove of Black's antics. As long as Severus did not actually hurt Black, there was no reason that the boy would take Black's side over Severus's.

That was so unusual a thing to think about James Potter's son that Severus paused for a long moment before he cast a Silencing Charm on the door of the office, and then released Black from the Body-Bind.

Black leaped to his feet, his black hair swaying around his face. Severus watched him clinically. While the madness induced by Azkaban would not have not changed the man for the better in most people's eyes, it had a significant virtue from Severus's point-of-view. More viewers would now see the deranged maniac that had been there all along.

"You have no right to do this to me," Black snarled, and really, Severus ought to have known he was a dog Animagus, the same way he ought to have known Pettigrew for a rat the minute he saw the cringing, sniveling man as an adult. "I'm Harry's guardian and I have the right to check up on his education--"

"And were you planning to observe Lupin's classes in the same way?" Severus leaned an elbow on the table and watched Black. "Minerva's? Sinistra's?"

Black's baffled, angry silence was as good an answer as anything. Severus nodded and began prowling in a circle that would take him closer to Black at the endpoint. Black snarled and edged a hand towards his wand.

"You might want to take a care," Severus said softly.

"If you hurt me in this school, you're going to feel the wrath of Albus Dumbledore," said Black, with so much certainty that Severus had to stop an acid retort from escaping his lips.

I know that. He was sure that was why Albus had been so eager to give second chances to Black the minute he found out the man might be innocent, in fact: Albus had a level of affection for Black that he had showed no one else in Severus's experience. Not even Potter. Not even Lupin.

Not even the younger Potter.

"I am not telling you to take a care with me," said Severus. "I am telling you to take a care with your godson."

Black's eyes chilled, and he looked now more like Bellatrix than anyone sane had a right to do. On the other hand, Severus had already thought that Black was dangerously close to the edge of madness. "If you're suggesting that I'll reject him because he has that snake, I already told him he could keep it."

"But are you flexible enough to accept that he might be less the son of James Potter than he's currently perceived to be?" Severus smiled, and watched as Black twitched. It was like Severus's words were tiny poison darts, afflicting Black effortlessly, and Severus didn't even need to lie. "That he never knew his father, and therefore can't imitate him?"

Black laughed wildly. "That's rich, Snivellus! When the word around the school is that you can't see any difference between James and Harry!"

The urge to strike because of that despised nickname was very strong, but Severus held his hand. He had more words to give. "Can you accept that he is a Parselmouth? That he was almost Sorted into Slytherin?"

Black jerked against an invisible barrier this time, one that made him snap his teeth dangerously near Severus's head. "You're lying. Harry would never."

Severus laughed, enjoying this immensely. "You don't know nearly as much about your precious Harry as you think you do."

Black's hands closed into trembling fists. "I know that he would never trust you or do anything that you wanted him to."

Severus considered whether to tell Black about Potter's apology, and decided that he would not. That would create more trouble for Potter, and most of Severus's declarations so far were well-known facts, minus the one about the Sorting. And that was known to Albus, to whom Black would certainly speak.

Severus would seek to drive a slender wedge between Potter and his godfather if he could, because someone with Potter's potential should not be influenced solely by Sirius bloody Black. But a wedge that was made of truth and could not be traced back to him, Severus had no compunction about using.

"Perhaps you are right," said Severus, and managed to cant his head and shrug in such a way, he thought, that Black could not boast of the victory he had won by subduing Severus, because he had not subdued him, only made him acknowledge the truth. "But nor do I think he would like you spying on him beneath his Invisibility Cloak. Did you even ask before you borrowed it? Or did you take it without asking because you once again confused the son with the father, and didn't think he would mind?"

The pallor of Black's face told him the answer. Severus smiled in a way he knew was unpleasant and lifted his wand. Black snapped taut, but all Severus did was cast the Disillusionment Charm on him, send the Cloak floating back to him, and nod to the door of the classroom.

"Leave, Black. I won't tell Potter about this as long as you leave now and never return."

He could leave the threat unspoken, he thought, both of what he would do should Black return and the threat of blackmail that he could now hold over Black's head. He heard the low, rumbling snarl from the ripple of shadow that was Black's hidden form, and then he turned and strode out of the classroom.

Severus, well-satisfied, returned to the class, and found that no one had melted a table or a cauldron in the interim--although Longbottom did so less than five minutes later, creating a blast of green liquid and fumes that required trips to the hospital wing for three students.

Well. It was still a better day than many on which he had Potter's class to teach.

*

"And I know that Potter could get me a basilisk if he wanted to..."

It was nothing personal, really it wasn't, but if Draco kept going on in that obsessive, obnoxious way about Potter, Blaise was going to have to kill him and bury the body somewhere. And thanks to his mum, he knew a lot about discreet burial of bodies.

"He just wants to keep the basilisks all to himself. As though you needed to be a Parselmouth to be able to communicate with a snake that speaks in your mind!"

Should I point out that Potter could only create the bond in the first place because he's a Parselmouth? Blaise wondered, and shifted so that his head was almost hanging upside-down off the couch in the Slytherin common room, to see if Draco would notice. Verdict: negative.

"He thinks he's so special sometimes! I need him to notice me."

True, but still annoying, Blaise decided, and rolled over. Draco was pacing in front of him, waving his arms. Some of the older Slytherins were giving him amused looks, but that didn't penetrate Draco's cloud of Potter-focused obliviousness the way any mocking attention usually did.

This is bad, Blaise decided, and broke into the tirade. "If you want a basilisk, why not go steal one yourself?"

Draco broke off and looked at him. "What?" He noticed the amused glances his way, now, and glared back. Several of the upper-years didn't bother to hide their snickers as they went back to their homework or NEWT reading, Lucius Malfoy's power or not.

"Well, that's the way Potter got one in the first place, ready?" Blaise hadn't read the details of Potter's story about the basilisk in the Quibbler closely, because he honestly didn't care, but Draco had read him the article aloud anyway, so he knew this much. "He went down and found these eggs, and just took one. If you find your way into the Chamber of Secrets, then you could do the same thing."

"You have to be a Parselmouth to find the Chamber of Secrets," Draco drawled slowly, sounding more like himself again.

"Just like you have to be a Parselmouth to bond a basilisk?" Blaise asked with a pointed look.

That made Draco stand up as though Blaise had shoved a wand up his arse. "Right," he said. "I'll find it. And I'll show you."

He flounced up to their bedroom. Blaise chuckled. Draco was extremely unlikely to find his way into the Chamber of Secrets by himself, and in the meantime, Blaise could enjoy some peace and quiet.

If Draco did manage it?

Then Potter will have to rescue him, and Draco will resent him for it, and I'll have enjoyment of a different kind, Blaise decided cheerfully, and went back to carefully correcting his Potions homework.

Chapter Text

"You really took my Invisibility Cloak and came into Potions to spy on Professor Snape?"

Harry had asked the question for the second time, and although he had only known Sirius for a short time, he already recognized the look on Sirius's face. He was impatient, and he didn't know why Harry kept questioning him. He gave his head a slight toss that made his black hair fly wildly, and said, "Yeah. The sort of thing your dad would have done all the time."

Harry nodded uncertainly, but he couldn't help but wonder about that. His dad had taken Quidditch seriously, he knew that, and he had died protecting Harry. He didn't know much about his dad. But neither of the things he did know suggested that James Potter would have sneaked into Snape's Potions class.

And most of the other adults Harry knew wouldn't have done things like that, either. Professor McGonagall and Headmaster Dumbledore and all the rest of them were too serious. The Dursleys wouldn't care.

He is a different kind of adult, said Dash, leaning his head on Harry's shoulder and watching Sirius with the yellow glow behind his eyelids. You should be careful around him.

Harry nodded again, this time in response to Dash, and asked Sirius, "But he caught you?"

"Yeah." For a second, Sirius looked away. They were in the temporary quarters in Hogwarts that Dumbledore had given Sirius until he could see about getting a house elsewhere. Harry didn't think Sirius was very eager to get a house, though. He seemed to think that Hogwarts was home.

Harry could understand that. It was his home, too.

"He told me a bunch of things," Sirius said, and turned back to Harry with a speculative gleam in his eyes that made Harry uneasy. "He said that you were almost Sorted into Slytherin. Is that true?"

Harry thought about lying, because Sirius had talked enough about Slytherin and Gryffindor to make it clear where he stood, but he didn't want to start out his relationship with his godfather by lying about it. He nodded instead, and while Sirius frowned, Dash draped himself over Harry's shoulder and murmured, It is nothing to be ashamed of.

But you don't really understand the Houses or care about them, Harry said. Dash had told him that the other day. He said that all humans looked the same to him, and he didn't understand why wearing different ties or robes was so important. The important thing was how they smelled.

No, but I know the differences are so shallow that they don't matter that much, said Dash candidly. And I won't have him making you miserable because you nearly went into one House instead of the other.

Dash gave a soft hiss, and Sirius started and looked back at him. Harry hastily put a hand on Dash's neck and tried to look innocent. Then he winced. Sirius was looking at Dash with new eyes.

"Is that why you almost got Sorted there?" Sirius asked quietly. "Because you're a Parselmouth?"

Harry shrugged. It had always been a gesture that the Dursleys hated, and even Sirius looked slightly impatient at it. But he didn't know what else to do. "I don't know. The Sorting Hat told me I had ambition and I could do well in Slytherin. But I said that I didn't want to go there, and it put me in Gryffindor."

In seconds, Sirius had taken a breath deep enough to inflate his chest and almost float him off the chair, like a cartoon on the telly that Harry had sneakily watched over Dudley's shoulder once. "That's the important thing, then. Not that you almost went into Slytherin, but that you made a choice for Gryffindor."

That's not really what I did, Harry thought in confusion. He had only asked the Sorting Hat to put him any place other than Slytherin, and it had obliged. That wasn't the same as choosing Gryffindor.

I don't think it matters, said Dash, and wound one coil around the back of Harry's neck, rubbing like someone giving him a massage. You owe him the truth, but not this part. It would only confuse him.

Harry blinked. But he's an adult. If I can understand it, then he should be able to understand it, too. Harry was used to adults being a lot smarter and knowing a lot more than he did, although sometimes he had to keep secrets from them because they wouldn't be happy with him if they knew the truth.

They don't always, said Dash. He licked the side of Harry's neck and added, If you get in trouble someday for not telling him this, then you can blame it on me. You can say I told you to keep it secret, which is true.

Harry relaxed. It wasn't like there was a lot he could do against Dash, or that Sirius could do to Dash to hurt him. So he turned to Sirius and muttered, "I'm glad that you can tell me all sorts of stories about my parents. But I want to know who they were. I don't want you to just do what they did. Can you tell me about Dad and not sneak into Snape's classroom anymore?"

Sirius looked at him earnestly. "I was just trying to see the way Snivellus treated you, Harry. I know it can't be right."

"You call him Snivellus?" Harry was a little horrified. He hadn't received that kind of nickname himself when he was in primary school, but that was mostly because Dudley was too stupid to think of one. And it irritated him enough to be called "Potty" by Malfoy and people like him. Snivellus sounded awful.

"Yeah," said Sirius, and gave Harry a conspiratorial grin. "He was always sniveling when he was a kid, whining when we pranked him. He'd fly into these rages. And he wore these tattered robes, and grey pants...Harry, what's wrong?"

Harry closed his eyes. Dash coiled close to him, not moving, but a tense and thrumming presence.

I wear Dudley's clothes. And if my pants aren't grey, it's only because I washed them more often than that. Maybe Snape couldn't afford to wash them. Or something.

In truth, Harry didn't know why he was so upset. He thought Snape could take care of himself, just like Dash could take care of himself. And in the meantime, Sirius would never make fun of Harry. He'd just be angry if he found out about the Dursleys, and that would feel good, to have someone angry on his behalf.

Someone other than me? Dash said stiffly.

You're wonderful, said Harry, and rested his cheek against Dash. But sometimes humans need other humans.

Dash considered that for a moment before he bobbed his head reluctantly. Sometimes you do. Although I don't know why. The world would be so much more sensible if you all relied on how you smelled and didn't travel around with feet. I think it was deciding to have feet than made most of you so stupid. How can you have common sense when you're above the ground as far as that?

"Harry?"

By now, Sirius's question was really anxious, and Harry opened his eyes and gave Sirius a weak smile. "I just want to hear about Dad," he said. "I don't know him at all. The Dursleys told me he was drunk and died in a car accident."

Sirius growled like the dog he could turn into, which was a chilling little sound, but when he was directing it towards the Dursleys, then Harry could approve of it. "Someday they'll get theirs, too," he said darkly, but then gave Harry a kind smile and said, "The first thing you should know that is how your dad became a stag Animagus. It took him forever. Much longer than it took me. First he saw the shadow of his antlers in a mirror, and he yelled and said that couldn't be him, that his head wasn't growing these horns. Then he wanted to be a predator like me and--like me, and he spent all this time trying to force himself to turn into one..."

Harry listened, and laughed. His Dad sounded like someone he could have told the truth to, he thought wistfully. He would have liked to meet him, even if it was just for a moment. He would have enjoyed talking to him about Snape and ragged clothes and all the things that he knew Sirius wouldn't really understand.

Even when he had an adult who was kind to him, there were too many things he wouldn't understand.

I will.

Harry had never been more grateful for Dash. He put one hand on his scales and stroked in a sliding downwards motion as he kept listening to Sirius's stories.

*

"But listen, you can't seriously believe all those creatures exist."

Draco had wandered through half the school that Saturday morning, it seemed, seeking Potter. He had finally tried the library only in desperation, but once he was there, it was a matter of following Granger's condescending voice. It sounded as if she had found a new victim to lecture, although Draco couldn't imagine who would have come near her willingly other than Weasley and Potter.

Potter sat in a chair leaning back from the table, his basilisk wound mostly in his lap, only his head dangling off Potter's shoulder like a picture Draco had once seen of himself on his mum's shoulder, his chin resting on her while he screamed. Draco frowned and put the thought aside. For one thing, he didn't like remembering that he had ever been that small and helpless and pouty. For another, the basilisk was tasting the air with his tongue, and Draco didn't want to smell like he was afraid.

He came marching up to the table and looked at the other two people there. Granger was sitting beside Potter, leaning across it while she waved one hand in the air. Facing her was a dreamy, smiling Ravenclaw girl. Draco struggled to recall her name. Looney? No, Luna.

"There's no such thing as Wrackspurts," said Granger, and brought one hand down on the table like Vince's father making a point. "I never read about them in any book."

Luna tilted her head to the side. She looked like a good pure-blood, Draco thought critically, but he couldn't immediately remember her last-name, which made it hard to be sure. She was pale and sort of pretty, although her silver eyes stood out too much. "And you never read about Hogwarts in a book before you came here," she said.

Granger stared at her, then puffed up. "That's different. Wizards deliberately keep themselves secret from Muggles. They say--"

"Potter," said Draco. He had wanted to cough quietly and not interrupt. But it didn't sound as though Granger would leave him a graceful opening to slide into the conversation, so it would have to be this way. "A moment of your time."

Potter turned around and looked at him without surprise. Then he nodded and stood. "All right, Malfoy," he said. He stood up and leaned across the table to shake Luna's hand while Dash readjusted himself with a grace that made Draco sick with envy. "It was nice to meet you, Luna. I'm glad you like Dash. Can I talk to you tomorrow?"

"Only in the afternoon," said the Ravenclaw, and looked around for a moment before she lowered her voice. "You see, in the morning, I'm going to be looking for my shoes."

"All right," said Potter, with no more than a blink, which irritated Draco for a moment. It made him suspect Potter was tolerating Draco's enquiry the way he tolerated Luna's eccentricities, rather than understanding it as something more important. "Maybe I could come and help you look for them, though?"

"That would be acceptable," said Luna, and gave him a serene smile that she extended to Draco. "You could do it, too. You have long fingers. That means you were born under a full moon, and you're good at finding things."

Draco blinked. He thought he remembered now why the name Looney had come to mind. "Of course," he said, and watched Luna turn back to Granger.

"You don't have long fingers," Luna continued seriously. "That means that you can't turn all the pages of the books well, and you were born under the half-moon. Did you know that people who were born under the half-moon can only see half the books that surround them? It's a dangerous affliction. For example..."

If he stayed listening to her for much longer, Draco thought his mind would start sliding gently away for him. He drew Potter away from the table and down a long aisle of books about Astronomy that didn't look as if they'd been disturbed much lately. The basilisk came with them, of course, and so did the whirring silver instruments that Dumbledore had enchanted to reflect the basilisk's gaze, but it was still a kind of privacy.

"I want to know how you found the Chamber of Secrets," said Draco, his gaze locked on Potter.

Potter had been watching him, one hand still on the basilisk as if looking at Draco needed all his concentration, but at those words, he snorted and began to stroke the snake again. Draco wondered if he should feel insulted.

"I told the Quibbler all about how I found Dash," said Potter tiredly. "You can go and read that article if you want to know more."

"I am above reading such rubbish," said Draco. "And besides, it has to have more to do with last year than this year. You only said that you heard Parseltongue this year and discovered it was coming from the Chamber of Secrets, but that implies a prior familiarity. How did you get down there in the first place?"

He thought his speech was impressive, but Potter was the one who stared at him. "Those are details from the Quibbler article," he said. "I thought you didn't read such rubbish?"

The basilisk hissed in amusement, or what Draco thought was amusement. Given that he wasn't a Parselmouth, he couldn't be sure. He glared at the basilisk in return. Why did Parseltongue have to come to someone like Potter, who was only a half-blood, and not a Slytherin at all, and couldn't appreciate a gift like it?

"I don't like people who lie to me," said Potter, as if he was continuing a conversation that Draco had started without realizing it. Or responding aloud to something his snake had said silently.

Draco hated the thought of people talking about him in a way he couldn't hear and answer back. He snapped, "I just want to know about the Chamber of Secrets. You can't mind discussing it that much, or you wouldn't have talked about it to the papers!"

"That was the only one that was interested in Dash for being Dash," said Potter, and his eyes had hardened. "Mr. Lovegood was kind. I don't like discussing what happened last year. Ginny almost died. Can you understand that?"

Lovegood must be the Luna girl's last name, Draco thought. A good pure-blood name, if somewhat debased by strange beliefs. "I need to find the way to the Chamber of Secrets," he said. "And I need to know if you can do it without being a Parselmouth."

"Why?" Potter shook his head as if baffled. "There's really nothing down there that you'd want to see. Full of bones and this ugly statue, and now the corpse of the basilisk that I killed there." He paused and tilted his head, and Draco was sure he was listening to something his snake had said. "Yes, well, that basilisk wasn't you," Potter muttered a second later, and Draco was even more sure of it.

Draco ignored the rudeness of that. Maybe if he was honest, then Potter would help him. Gryffindors liked honesty. "I want a basilisk of my own."

Potter blinked at him. "Why? Dash is neat, but you aren't a Parselmouth, and you couldn't bond with one of them. And he's a pain to feed, and just generally a pain sometimes."

The basilisk showed its fangs at Potter, who laughed. Draco shook his head. He would have a basilisk with a more dignified name than this one. He wondered why Potter had chosen it, and why the basilisk put up with it.

"I think the bonding would let me communicate with one even though I'm not a Parselmouth," said Draco. "And..."

He wondered how to explain his feeling about basilisks, about how he felt when he looked at the dangerous beast on Potter's shoulder, the utterly indifferent way that Potter ignored the glares he got for having it, the way he smiled at silent conversations. Draco wanted that crisp coolness of manner, he wanted that bravery, he wanted that spirit.

And he wanted someone who would care for him, just him.

"What I'm saying is that you couldn't bond with a basilisk in the first place, since you're not a Parselmouth," said Potter. He was looking at Draco in frustration, as though Draco was the one who was causing problems here instead of the one who was trying to solve them. "That's a requirement. And you have to be a Parselmouth to get into the Chamber, too."

"You could take me if you wanted," Draco said. "You could take me down there and show me the basilisk eggs, and we would see if one hatched and the basilisk that came out would take me as its master."

The snake on Potter's shoulder hissed sharply, and Potter looked a little shocked. But he started talking before Draco could wonder for long what had caused that. "You can't be a basilisk's master. That's what Dash says. You have to be its partner, bonded to it, and if you're still talking about being its master, then you probably aren't suited to have one at all. That's what Dash says," he repeated, maybe because he had seen the way Draco's face was closing up.

Draco, though, was thinking back to how he had bragged to Blaise that he would search for the Chamber of Secrets on his own, and not ask anyone where it was. He had got frustrated because he'd been trying for a few days and hadn't found anything, and so he had thought he would take a shortcut by asking Potter for help.

He should have listened to his own first instincts, the ones that said of course Potter would never want to help Draco, because he was a Slytherin.

I should have listened.

"You take my words and twist them," Draco said. His voice trembled, and then firmed. That was good. He knew his father wouldn't be proud of him for seeking out Potter and begging for his help in the first place, but he could make it okay by standing on his own two feet now. "I didn't mean I would enslave a basilisk."

"But you still think it would serve you," said Potter. "Like Dobby. You would still be the most important one in the relationship."

Draco looked at Potter without answering. Didn't he see how hypocritical he was being? He was the one who carried Dash around on his shoulder and called it a name like Dash and let the Headmaster use mirrors and poison to restrain it. He was the one who was hurting his basilisk if anyone was.

"I shouldn't have come to you," said Draco, and turned and walked out of the aisle.

Potter called behind him, trying to make him come back, but Draco didn't, and he was glad again and proud of himself as he walked away. He had been weak. Fine. But he had paid for it, and he would never be that weak again.

At least it had happened in private. He would forge ahead from here, and find the Chamber, and he would hatch his own basilisk egg in front of a fire. Or maybe he would find a toad and a chicken's egg, and he would hatch his basilisk in the traditional way. There had been basilisks bred by wizards who weren't Parselmouths. Draco would do research on that.

Either way, he would be free. He wouldn't be dependent on Potter or Potter's basilisk or Professor Snape or his father or anyone else. He would have the basilisk he wanted, servant or friend or whatever he wanted.

He would do it.

*

Severus took his seat at the High Table the next morning with much to think about.

For one thing, Black hadn't come back and confronted him about his revelations, or Severus's treatment of him when he discovered Black hiding under the Invisibility Cloak, or Severus's past conflicts with the Marauders, or anything else. Knowing Black's usual behavior when upset, humiliated, taunted, or even slightly thwarted, Severus suspected Albus's hand at work in restraining Black.

For another, Potter had continued to come and go through the corridors and to Lupin's class with no speculative glances at Lupin. That indicated to Severus that Black and Lupin had not told Potter the truth about Lupin's lycanthropy.

That was delicious, and Severus had laid the revelation up like a jewel that he could look at when he wanted to. He didn't know if he would ever use it, any more than he might ever sell a precious stone, had he been lucky enough to inherit or acquire one that he didn't need for potions. But he sometimes touched it in the back of his mind and watched it sparkle.

And finally, Potter had come into Potions class yesterday and given him a long look, but he hadn't said anything to Severus about Black. Black must have told him. Of course he had. Severus could not comprehend a world where he had not. Still, he seemed to have left the matter between adults.

Severus knew few children with that wisdom. Even Draco would have said something to Severus if there had been a similar conflict between Severus and Lucius.

Potter might be one of those who could partially teach himself, without even Severus's conniving.

And now Potter was leaning over to speak with his friends, but his gaze was on the Slytherin table, where Draco was digging hard into his food nearly hard enough to break his fork. Severus arched his eyebrows. Potter didn't look as though he was plotting against Draco. He looked worried about him, of all things.

"Severus? I want to see you in my office now, please."

And that was Albus. Severus stood up easily, his gaze passing back and forth from face to face, noting that Lupin and Black were both absent from the High Table where they usually sat although last night hadn't been a full moon, and that Potter continued to look up at Draco and not at Severus.

Life is more interesting now than it has been in years.

Chapter Text

"What is this about?" Severus asked, settling into the chair in front of Albus's desk that he kept for honored visitors, and alternating his bland gaze between Black and Lupin, who sat on either side of him.

Amazingly, he did feel as calm and bland as his voice suggested. He knew he had done nothing wrong, that he had even done something that would put Black in his debt by testifying at the Wizengamot trial. That meant he would not be compelled to put up with some of the nonsense that the so-called "Marauders" might get up to. Black might hate owing Severus the debt, but he would hesitate before attacking him in Albus's presence.

That I should have to think about my safety in front of Albus, among other adults...

But the thought of Black flailing around in this new world that he obviously didn't understand calmed him again. He turned back to Albus, who still hadn't spoken, but was sitting behind the desk and gazing at him with a spark deep in the back of his eyes.

"Well?" Severus asked, when some minutes had passed and still there was silence. He met Albus's gaze, and let a thought float near the surface of his mind that Albus could scoop off with Legilimency if he wanted to. You cannot intimidate me this way, when I have been in so many Death Eater meetings.

Maybe that thought did strike Albus's mind and make him take notice, because he sat up and shook his head. "I wanted to caution you, Severus."

"In what way?" Severus didn't fold his arms or cross his legs, and thought he heard a frustrated growl from Black.

"Against revealing Remus's lycanthropy to young Harry," said Albus.

Severus blinked. It was true that he had once thought he'd do that. A hint dropped in the right ears, and parents would be clamoring for Lupin's withdrawal from the school.

But Severus would have to remain here and teach in an environment that Albus's chiding could make unpleasant for him. And since the Wizengamot had declared Black innocent, Severus had dropped the plan entirely. It would turn Potter against him finally and for good. If a child, like the Granger girl, happened to figure it out, of course...

Severus shrugged. "I won't. I wasn't planning on it," he added, and smiled as Albus studied him closely. He would register the truth in that statement. Most skilled practitioners of Legilimency, although they couldn't infallibly detect lies, could detect truth when it was stated with enough conviction.

"I don't believe you!" Black was on his feet, his finger thrust out into Severus's face. Severus only regarded him. His wand was within reach if he needed it. "You already tried to turn Harry against me once before! You'd do it with Remus!"

"If you are talking about the conversation that you and I had when you sneaked into my Potions class," Severus drawled, letting Albus hear the truth in this statement as well, "I didn't mention that to Potter."

"You told him stories that prejudiced him," said Black, and his scowl was reminiscent of a snarl even though he hadn't opened his mouth.

"I would rather say that I told you stories that prejudiced you," Severus countered instantly. "You were rather shocked at the tale of his near-Sorting into Slytherin, weren't you?" Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Lupin startle in turn, and checked a smile. "You were disappointed to find out that he wasn't the father who died when he was one year old."

Black shook his head, and stubbornly stuck to the track. "You've been mistreating him because he's like James in all his classes so far! People told him that!"

Who was your informant? Lupin? Severus rather doubted the boy had complained of Severus himself. Or perhaps his Gryffindor friends had been chatty.

"It is true that I had misconceptions," said Severus, privately wondering why Albus was not stopping this charade. On the other hand, he had never figured out why Albus granted Black an indulgence and license that he did not offer to anyone else. "I have corrected those misconceptions, and I intend to treat him better now."

"You shouldn't have treated him badly at all!"

Severus had nothing to say to that, and simply watched Black. He wondered if Black would be this incensed if it was anyone other than Potter. Severus did not see him taking Neville Longbottom's side. Or if Black would have been more incensed if he hadn't had cause to doubt that Potter was exactly like his father.

"That is enough, Sirius," said Albus at last, cutting Black off as he opened his mouth to rant again. "In the meantime." He turned around and met Severus's eyes. "I must insist that you keep Remus's lycanthropy to yourself, Severus. And any other remarks that you may have been tempted to make about Sirius or James. It is not appropriate for you to be tormenting your students."

You never cared before. But Severus could easily give up "tormenting" Potter, since he had decided that being the boy's ally was more diplomatic. He only nodded, hiding his emotions. "Yes. I will do that. Can I go?"

"I don't trust him!"

"What would you suggest?" Severus asked, tired of this now, turning back to Black and letting his voice sharpen. "Albus asked me here to give him my word. If you doubt that--"

"I'm sure that we can trust Severus, Sirius." Lupin spoke for the first time, his amber eyes traveling back and forth from his friend's face to Severus's. Severus might have found them more reassuring if he didn't remember them glowing with madness in the darkness of a tunnel. "He promised, and he has to know what would happen if he broke that promise."

Most likely, nothing, Severus thought, and met Lupin's gaze solidly as well. Albus needs me more than he needs you, whom he only gave a job out of pity. I was his spy. I may well be again.

As if he had read Severus's thoughts at that precise moment, Albus cut in. "Yes, you can trust Severus, Remus. Sirius." He spoke the last word as a reprimand, and Black sat down and scowled at Severus. "I would ask, in fact, that you excuse me and Severus. I need to speak to him alone."

Black opened his mouth, but Lupin stood up and walked over to the door that led out of the office, nodding to Severus. Black seemed to realize that he would look silly if he did anything but follow. Still, Severus was vaguely surprised when he did. Looking foolish had never stopped Black before. Severus wasn't even entirely sure that he did know when he would look foolish.

"Well," said Albus, when a few minutes had passed since the departure of the other two and Severus reckoned that Black had given up listening at the door, "I confess myself curious as to the source of your better treatment of Harry, Severus. Is it only the snake? Or did knowing that he might have been Sorted into Slytherin and made the choice to go elsewhere change your opinion of him?"

Severus gently tightened his Occlumency shields and smiled at Albus. "I reconsidered what you had told me, about the son not being the father. I realized you were right."

Albus only watched him. Severus only watched him back. He owed Albus much, but not perfect insight into his private thoughts and motivations.

Albus finally sighed and said, "Keep your counsel if you will. But you should know the Ministry is looking over my shoulder. Some of the things that Harry said in his interview with the Quibbler have provoked them."

"What were they?" Severus had read the article himself, and except for a brief paragraph at the beginning which was typical Xenophilius Lovegood posturing about how wonderful magical creatures were and how more people should be paying them attention, it read like a children's story. Potter told things straightforwardly, Severus would give him that. Even his lies usually were direct.

"It was the existence of the interview itself that provoked them." Albus folded his hands on the desk. "Cornelius didn't like Harry speaking without his authorization."

"I see," said Severus. "And why are you telling me this?" It did seem like the kind of thing a godfather should deal with, more than a professor, particularly one who wasn't even Potter's Head of House.

"You have a few contacts in the Ministry that even I do not," Albus said neutrally. "I was hoping you could learn if Cornelius really does mean to do something to harm Harry, or whether this is political noise that will die down soon."

"You mean," said Severus, who did not know if he was enjoying himself or not, only that he was feeling a quicksilver mood rushing through him at the moment, "that I should be able to tell from the former Death Eaters like Lucius Malfoy exactly what Fudge is planning to do. Because Lucius has him under his thumb."

"Not as bad as that, surely," said Albus, with a falsely hearty smile. Severus had never seen it be so false. "Cornelius does listen to me. On occasion."

"Sometimes, yes," Severus agreed, and tried not to stare at Albus. It was odd of him to act this way, but he had been odd ever since Potter had adopted his basilisk. Perhaps that event's ripples of strangeness had not yet subsided, at least for Albus.

Perhaps not for any of us.

Severus stood, but he did ask one question, although he didn't think he would get an answer any more than he had the other times. "What makes you so forgiving of Black when you were not of others?" He would not mention his own name in connection with Black's, even for the length of a sentence.

Albus pushed his glasses up and looked at Severus with the distant gaze that Severus was well-accustomed to, as though Albus had temporarily forgotten what Severus's face looked like. "Hmmm? What was that, my boy?"

"You give him chances that you don't give other people," said Severus, and as he thought on it, he found a comparison that made more sense than the one with himself. "Even Potter. You wanted to read Potter's mind to look at his bond with the basilisk. You never did that with Black, even after he almost killed me." And there, there was the mention after all, so Severus might as well go the rest of the way and speak of what he had sworn to himself he not speak of. "Why did you never believe my side of the story, but you instantly believed Black's? Why were you so willing to think him innocent when you heard his story about Pettigrew, which must sound fantastic until it was confirmed under Veritaserum?"

Albus sighed a little. "My dear boy, I simply admired his courage."

"His courage," Severus repeated blankly. Yes, he had always known the headmaster favored Gryffindors, but that did not make sense of the sudden exclusion of Potter from Albus's good graces. After all, slaying a basilisk last year had required plenty of courage.

"His courage in running away from his family," said Albus, and his voice warmed in a way that assured Severus he was hearing the truth. Of course, he was a master Legilimens himself, although he rarely chose to make use of the talent against Albus. "And taking shelter with a family he could be sure would not send him back. He had the courage to stand up against his relatives when they violated his principles."

Severus was still for a moment.

That moment was the one when he could have walked out of Albus's office and not reacted. Instead, he lashed out and knocked the papers, silver instruments, and crystal globe on Albus's desk to the floor. Albus stared at him with genuine astonishment--genuine, Severus thought, for once--in his blue eyes.

"My boy," he whispered, "why? Why can compassion shown to one person trouble you so?"

"Because," said Severus, and leaned forwards with his teeth clenched, "you had no mercy on me when I almost died at the hands of your principled Gryffindor. I thought it was because it was a Slytherin. But now I begin to understand why. Because I never stood up against my father? Because I never ran away from my mother and left her behind to face my father alone? Do I need to remind you that Black left a younger brother behind?"

Albus stared at him out of an incomprehension so deep that Severus knew at once he had not made the impression he meant to, violence or not. It could have been down to the difference in Houses. It could have been that Albus hadn't known Regulus Black, and hadn't known that Regulus had become a Death Eater mostly to please his parents.

It could be, Severus thought, that Albus knew somewhere in his heart he was wrong, and he wouldn't change his mind, because that would confront him with all the consequences of his mistakes.

"My dear boy," Albus said, "surely the past--"

"And what is your excuse with Potter?" Severus whispered. Something was coiling darkly in his mind, something thick and horrible, something with fangs that would shame a basilisk's. "Was his courage not great enough? Or does he not have the sort of family that you would applaud him for running from?"

Albus blinked, and blinked some more. Then he chuckled. "Harry grew up with Muggles, Severus. I hardly doubt that they had impressions or insights into Dark or Light magic that they could have offered him."

Severus stared, and said nothing for long moments. Then he murmured, "You gave him to Petunia Evans?"

"Petunia Dursley, as she's been for some time now," Albus corrected him, and gave Severus a soft smile. "If you would take the time to get to know Harry for himself, Severus, I think you would come to see him as his own person, and not simply a method to take revenge on James."

Severus returned something, he never remembered what, and turned for the door. But he did remember what he said when he stood there with his hand on the door. "What is it about Potter's courage that you find deficient, Headmaster?" he asked, his back turned.

Albus sighed. "The time is not right yet to discuss that with you, Severus."

"If you expect me to treat the boy the way you treat Black, then you should tell me."

"My dear Severus! Did I say that?"

"I want to know. I deserve to know, by the vow that I gave you."

There was a pause, and then Albus answered, again in a voice of truth. Severus knew that Albus generally did when Severus invoked Lily's name. "He has the courage to face basilisks and Voldemort, and even to go seeking a voice in the darkness when he doesn't know who's calling him. But I am not sure that he will have the courage to face what I must ask of him, and because of that, I dare not love him too much."

Severus closed the door noiselessly behind him.

*

Harry stood up, even though Hermione was trying to keep him at the library table beside her. "Where are you going?" she hissed softly at him. "We need to work on this Transfiguration essay."

"Malfoy is just over there," Harry told her. "I need to talk to him." He felt Dash shift on his shoulder, and heard the humming in the back of his mind that meant Dash was ready to talk to Malfoy, the way Harry had asked him. Harry had promised that he would translate what Dash had to say, but he thought his basilisk could get through to Malfoy where he couldn't, that he might even be honored Dash was talking to him.

Mind you, it had taken a lot of bribery with mice that Harry promised to catch and set loose in an abandoned portion of the dungeons before Dash would agree to talk to Malfoy. But Harry thought it would be worth it, if he could keep Malfoy from doing something stupid. Sure, he'd killed that basilisk, but that didn't make the Chamber safe.

You must tell me more about how you killed it. I want to know, in case someone ever tries to kill me the same way when I'm trying to defend you, Dash muttered at him.

You can just look at my memories and get the story that way, Harry said in a distracted voice, dodging after Malfoy. It looked like he was going into the section of the library that had books on the Founders' time. That made sense, given what he was after.

I want to hear you tell it, said Dash in an ominous tone, and his tail curled around the upper part of Harry's arm, just in the place where he would be Marked if he was a Death Eater, and squeezed.

Okay, Harry said, and rubbed his knuckles right behind Dash's plume. As he had thought would happen, that made Dash go boneless on him. He really couldn't resist being scratched right there. Harry grinned. He needed some advantage when he was dealing with Dash's size and smelling capabilities and poison and deadly gaze and magic and all the rest of it.

I am pleased to note that you list a sharp sense of smell among my advantages.

Harry didn't have time to answer, because he came around a corner and nearly ran straight into Malfoy. Malfoy was kneeling over a thick book, frowning down at the dust that kept falling from the corners of its cover every time he turned a page. When he saw Harry, he stood up and turned around, clutching the book to him. Harry only had time to see a writhing illustration of a snake on the cover, but it was easy enough to guess what Founder Malfoy would be looking up if he intended to find the Chamber of Secrets.

"What are you doing here?" Malfoy asked, and sneered at him. "You don't want anyone else getting their own basilisk, do you? You think it might make you less special?"

"Dash has something he wants to say to you," Harry said firmly, ignoring the temptation to respond to the insults. For one thing, a response wouldn't actually shut Malfoy up; he knew that. He extended his arm, and Dash wound slowly and gracefully along it, only flicking his tongue out when he was actually near Malfoy. Harry tried to ignore the way that the basilisk's weight was making his arm sag, and hoped it still looked impressive.

Malfoy went as still as though he expected to hear English coming out of Dash's mouth. It was certainly the first time Dash had been this focused on someone other than Harry, and Harry had to bite his lip a little. He was not jealous. He was the one who had asked Dash to do this, so he couldn't be jealous of the way Dash was regarding Malfoy.

Remember this the next time you ask me to speak to someone else, said Dash smugly.

Harry focused on Malfoy, and asked Dash, What did you want to say to him?

That you only survived the way down to the Chamber because you speak Parseltongue, said Dash. There were all sorts of traps around us that I assumed you saw when we came back up through the tunnel, but then I realized you didn't. You were walking right past them, and they didn't affect you. They smelled like blood. This Slytherin of yours soaked them with his blood, and he must have thought that only someone who had his blood could speak properly and walk past them. He was wrong.

Harry shivered a little. But I did take two other people with me into the Chamber when I went down there the first time.

They didn't pass into the parts of the Chamber where the traps lurked, then. Or they were safe because they were with you.Dash cocked his head and flicked his tongue out. Malfoy didn't take his eyes from Dash's head. He was fascinated as Harry had seen no one else but Luna and her father be with a basilisk, although he also thought Malfoy was thinking about the advantages in power a basilisk would give him.

"Dash says that Slytherin left traps in the Chamber," Harry murmured. "I didn't even know about them. He left them covered with his blood, so that supposedly only someone of his blood could go down there."

Malfoy gave him a quick look. "But you aren't of the blood of Slytherin."

Harry wanted to retort that he must be more Slytherin than Malfoy was thinking, but he didn't see a reason to antagonize him like that. "The traps didn't work the way Slytherin thought they did. They would let anyone who was a Parselmouth pass." Harry shrugged. "I s'pose Slytherin thought that only someone who had his blood could be a Parselmouth. His loss. My gain." He put his hand on Dash's back.

Malfoy looked back and forth between him and Dash, and then said, "Then what's this nonsense about Weasleys being in the Chamber?"

"Ron came with me." Harry shrugged again. "Someone who came with me could pass through the traps, Dash said. Or at least that's the only explanation he can come up with." He did think telling Malfoy there might be safe parts of the Chamber wasn't a good idea.

There shall be a dead mouse on your pillow in the morning, said Dash, in tones of what might have been thunder if he was talking aloud.

"Then all you have to do is take me down to the Chamber and I would be--"

Malfoy abruptly stopped talking. Harry looked around for a second, thinking that someone had come up behind them and Malfoy didn't want to be seen talking to Potter of all people, but then he realized Malfoy was looking at him with big eyes and a clamped white mouth.

"No," Malfoy whispered. "I asked for help once. I'm not going to do it again."

He turned his back and walked away again, and he took the big book with the snake on it with him. Harry stretched out a hand and opened his mouth, but he had no time to delay Malfoy, much like the last time, before someone did come up behind him.

"Potter."

Snape's voice made Harry try to flinch on instinct, but Dash coiled around him in a way that prevented that movement. Harry was sure that Dash had studied how to do that.

Do not worry about the one Slytherin, Dash said. If you must insist on referring to them in that silly way and not by scent. He is young and stupid, and he will either not find the Chamber or he will find it and die.

Dash! That doesn't--

And the older one doesn't smell as though he wishes to harm you, Dash finished smugly, his tail snapping back and forth.

Snape? Not wish to harm him? Harry reckoned he could see that, but for Snape to come find him in the library, he still must have done something pretty bad. He turned around and looked up at Snape, waiting.

Snape stood looking down at him with such a blank expression that Harry began to wonder if it was something Sirius had done, instead. He'd almost opened his mouth to apologize when Snape said, "Potter. Come with me. I must speak with you."

And he put a hand on Harry's elbow and began to steer him towards the dungeons, like he thought Harry might get lost or something.

Harry went, blinking.

Chapter Text

Severus ushered Potter, and his snake, into his office, and then paused and checked the door. There was a Locking Charm on it already, but he strengthened it. He didn’t want to think of what would happen if they got interrupted, and someone took what Severus was saying the wrong way.

Potter just stood there stolidly and watched him. He usually stroked his snake when he was stressed or upset, Severus had already learned, but right now, his hand lay limply on the basilisk’s back. The basilisk itself had twisted his head in Severus’s direction, but showed no sign of lifting his eyelids or baring his fangs or any other unusual mark of aggression.

Perhaps this will work. Severus inclined his head to Potter. He knew what he wanted to say, but now how to say it. “Would you care for some tea?”

Potter’s eyes opened wide enough that he looked as if he was going to bolt. Severus was doubly glad of the Locking Charm on the door.

He was not so glad about the way the basilisk hissed, and raised his head. A second later, Potter shook his head and murmured, “No.” The basilisk was still, but Potter’s forehead furrowed, and he muttered, “No, really, I don’t think so. No, it’s solid. No, you cannot break it down.”

Severus hid his immediate reaction to this chattering to the basilisk, which was that it was rude and undignified, and said dryly, “I assume you are talking about my door? I, too, would prefer if you did not break it down.”

Potter flushed and shook his head. “Sorry, sir. I thought I was speaking in Parseltongue.” He hesitated, and the basilisk’s tail curved up and struck him in the back of the neck. Potter sighed, then said in the same put-upon voice Severus had heard children use when delivering a message from their parents, “Dash wants to know if you’re going to put potions in the tea.”

“No,” said Severus, and kept his face bland. It was less difficult than he had expected, even though he did not want Potter to challenge him any more than he had when the boy was an annoyance and nothing more. After what he had learned in Dumbledore’s office… “Only the charms that warm it.”

Potter glanced away from him, cheeks still bright red. “Thank you, sir.”

A second later, he was gazing at the basilisk, absorbed, in a way that made Severus assume he was speaking down the bond. Severus walked over to a cauldron that he kept for ordinary cooking when he was working late on a potion and could leave it for only a short time, and filled it with water. A second later, he lit the fire and reached for the leaves of the appropriate herbs that he kept on the shelves.

Potter was watching him again by the time he turned around. “Thanks for taking that so well, sir,” he muttered, as though he assumed his basilisk’s bad behavior required a second apology. He looked around, half-lost, and Severus drew his wand and conjured a chair. Potter dropped into it and poked the basilisk until it dropped and curled more on his lap than on his shoulders. “Not a lot of people would.”

“I assume that your basilisk is not used to people respecting his opinions?” Severus cast another spell that would make the water’s bubbles as it boiled increase in size, and began to sift in the right herbs.

“Well, I mean,” said Potter, and touched the snake’s neck. “My Housemates know to respect him now, or they’ll be getting a snap at least. Dash wouldn’t actually hurt them, but they don’t like it anyway.”

Nor would I, Severus thought, and simply nodded. He was still trying to feel out the steps of this conversation, but he did not think that making such a private confession to Potter right at the beginning was the way to do it.

Potter folded his arms a second later, as though he was hunching, and stared at Severus out of the corner of his eye. “It’s nice of you to make tea for me and everything, sir, but what is this really about?”

Fair enough. Severus nodded and said, “In a moment, Mr. Potter. I want to finish the tea first.”

Potter swallowed, but said nothing else. The basilisk lay down so that he was mostly arranged in Potter’s lap, although the tail dangled off the side of the chair. Severus thought the basilisk could have managed the trick of curling more tightly still if he had wanted. Most likely, he had done this to leave an escape route open, or simply to see Severus’s reaction.

Severus finished the tea at last, and handed a cup to Potter. Potter swallowed a scalding mouthful without pausing, then blinked and looked down at the cup. “I’ve never tasted herbs like this before,” he said.

“They are my own private supply,” said Severus. “I do occasionally brew something besides potions.” That won a weak smile. He sat down across from Potter and gazed at him for a moment, and then said, “Mr. Potter, what kind of home do you come from?”

Potter’s face closed in such hostility that Severus might have been rocked back had he not been partially expecting it. The basilisk stirred, but Severus paid no attention to him. He knew that the snake would not attack without Potter’s authorization. And Potter would not give it for a mere question.

At least, Severus thought so.

“One where my parents died,” said Potter, and then took another sip of his tea. Severus wondered if the boy knew that his hands were shaking on the cup. Probably not, or he would have done something to hide it. “You know that, sir. The first thing you said to me was a comment about the fame that I—that I got the night my parents died.”

“I have changed my mind about you. I no longer think of you as a mindless celebrity.”

The basilisk hissed. It was an unnerving sound, and all the more so when Severus knew that the creature was picking up not only on Potter’s emotions, but on the sense of Severus’s words as filtered through Potter’s mind. There were other ways Potter could have reacted that would have made a difference in the basilisk’s own reaction.

Then again, if Severus had not begun to believe there was something extraordinary about Potter and his reactions, he would not be here now talking to him. And the basilisk was occasionally useful as a guide to what was plunging through the inside of Potter’s too-hidden mind.

“That’s nice, sir,” said Potter. “Was that because I thanked you for testifying at Sirius’s trial?”

Severus started to answer, then paused. “Only partially,” he said, and then shook his head. “Leading the discussion away from your home will not work, Mr. Potter. I knew you grew up with Muggles.”

“Then you know all you need to.”

“No,” Severus said. “I do not.” He leaned back and wondered if perhaps bluntness would work better than gentle indirection. It seemed that Potter already sensed what Severus wanted to ask. “Did they abuse you?”

The basilisk dropped from Potter’s lap and slithered across the floor in a rustling pour of dark green scales. Severus moved his wand, and a shield sprang up in front of the snake. It was a shield he had specially tweaked himself, and the magic in it was strong enough to resist most Dark creatures. 

It was true that Severus had never tried to resist a basilisk, and as the snake twined up next to the shield and looked at him, more straight-necked and intelligent than any cobra, he didn’t know if it would be enough.

“I take it that question is not welcome,” Severus said blandly, eyes on the clear, thick lids closing away the creature’s dangerous gaze.

“You could say that. Sir.”

Potter’s face was nearly black with rage, and his hand positioned in his pocket as if curled around his wand, when Severus looked at him. Potter managed to loosen his grip with an effort, but he still shook his head. “You don’t need to know.”

“There are peculiar reasons that I do.”

Potter cast him a burning glance, and then held out his arm. It took a minute, and a hiss of Parseltongue that sounded like rattling dice to Severus, but the basilisk flowed back across the room and climbed onto Potter’s lap again.

“No,” Potter said. He sounded a little more recovered when he could stroke the overlapping small scales on the back of his basilisk’s neck and look down at the plume that was slowly flattening under his caresses. “You might have reasons, but I don’t have to bloody agree with them.”

“Language,” said Severus. He could feel his temper rising, and resolved not to explode. That would only increase the separation between him and the boy. It was already fragile enough, this truce between them. “Listen, Mr. Potter. I think that I might have the power to change your situation. I could—”

Potter gave him a glance, and shook his head. “I don’t need that,” he said. “I already have someone who’s going to make sure that things change.” Again his hand lingered on the basilisk’s neck.

“That would be a violent solution,” said Severus. In truth, the answer Potter had given him was a clarification, although far from a detailed one. “I’m sure the Headmaster would prefer that you avoid such things.”

Potter gave him a small, dark smile. “Do the reasons that you want to know more about my family have to do with Headmaster Dumbledore?”

“Yes,” said Severus. It wasn’t damaging to give away that much information, anyway.

Potter nodded. “Leave me out of it.”

“Excuse me?” Severus could usually anticipate the twists that his students’ minds made, the leaps and conclusions that they jumped to, but this one, he didn’t understand even in a basic outline.

“You’re angry with him, or something. Maybe because he never told you I was almost Sorted into Slytherin.” Potter started to stand up, swinging the basilisk around his shoulders. His gaze didn’t move from Severus’s, but for once, Severus wasn’t even tempted to reach for his Legilimency. “I don’t want to—I don’t want you to put me between you. I don’t want to trick him or lie to him or anything.”

“Even though he has not always treated you as well as he could have?” Severus was reaching for straws now, he knew, but he wanted to keep Potter from walking out of the room without actually testing Potter’s anger against his Locking Charm.

“What do you mean by that?” Potter snapped. “He had to dilute Dash’s poison to make sure other people were safe! I know that! I accepted that!”

“But first he looked into your mind,” said Severus. He eased back and put down his teacup on the desk. He would not prevent Potter from walking out the door if he had to, he decided. This situation was not utterly unsalvageable. “He has not always listened to you, either. And he was the one who placed you with the Muggles that you live with.”

Potter’s face was white. He shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. I’m going to live with Sirius, now. And that’s something that the Headmaster promised. He said it was okay!”

“He probably did,” Severus agreed. Thinking about it, he wasn’t sure if he needed detailed confirmation of his relatives’ abusive tendencies from Potter. “Very well. If you wish to go, you can.” He waved his wand, and the door sprang open.

Typical Potter; now that he could leave, he acted as if he didn’t want to. He glanced back and forth suspiciously between the door and Severus, and then set his heels. “Why are you asking this?”

“I asked him why he had believed your godfather when he did not believe me about certain things I had told him when I was a student,” said Severus. He thought that neutral enough. “And it occurred to me that he did not believe you, either. And that—well. He hinted something about your family that disturbed me.”

The basilisk bowed its head and hissed softly into Potter’s ear. Potter either didn’t notice or didn’t care. “What could he have hinted? What are you talking about? You’re not making any sense!”

Neither are you, if nothing is truly wrong. But Severus knew how he would have reacted if someone had tried to confront him about his family when he was a student, and although he didn’t want to think of Potter and himself in the same thought any more than he had wanted to name Black and himself in the same breath, he could not ignore reality. 

“I don’t mean anything that we can discuss right now, Potter,” he said. “Do go away.”

The basilisk hissed again, but once again it was at Potter instead of at Severus. Potter stood white-faced and shaking for another long moment, and then wheeled and was gone into the darkness outside the door.

Severus sat down and looked at Potter’s unfinished cup of tea, shaking his head. That could have gone better.

Yes, it could have. But Severus at least had confirmation of several things:

Something was wrong with Potter’s family life.

Potter also suspected that the Headmaster wasn’t being honest with him, although whether he would do anything about it seemed unlikely. As the Headmaster was unable to face his mistakes, Severus feared that Potter would prove unable to confront the consequences of the Headmaster playing with his life. 

Potter would restrain the basilisk if he ever came after Severus, or the basilisk would manage to restrain himself.

And this was not the end. Potter had not fled cursing Severus’s name and vowing never to trust him again. That left the path open for another conversation at a later date, when Severus might have figured out the right questions to ask and the right vulnerabilities to reveal.

Severus sighed and sipped from his own tea. No, not a perfect conversation, but better by far than it could have been.

*

He was right, you know.

Harry gazed up and around. He hadn’t even looked where he was going when he ran away from Snape’s office. He’d just gone deeper into the dungeons, and that meant running until the walls seemed to blur around him. Now he was in a corner of the dungeons he didn’t recognize, a rough corridor that looked as though someone had hacked it through solid rock.

There is a lot wrong with those Muggles you grew up with, and the old man should not have left you there.

Harry shut his eyes. He wasn’t crying. That was good. There was some other strange choking sensation in his throat, though, and that wasn’t good.

Dash rested his head on top of Harry’s hair. Harry could feel the soft dart of his tongue, which was so light that it tickled. Harry made an absent swatting motion, and Dash dodged easily and came down to wind around his neck again. Why didn’t you tell him about that? I don’t think he would make fun of you, because I would bite him. He might take you away from there.

I don’t want anyone to know, Harry snapped. He could have spoken aloud, but he was in enemy territory, Slytherin territory, and noise would alert people. He turned to find his way back to the stairs out of the dungeons.

Why not? I know, and your friends must know at least a little, because they saw the bars on your windows. And the old man knows.

Sometimes Harry liked the way Dash could access his memories without him saying a word, and sometimes he really, really didn’t. Because what happens at the Dursleys’ is private. That’s why.

Why? You are not making sense. And my human should always make sense, because I do.

Harry shook his head restlessly and walked carefully around the corner, peering to make sure there were no Slytherins waiting to ambush him. Because I don’t want anyone to know it.

There was a long silence, as though Dash had decided to accept the argument. Harry was glad. It was hard enough to convince Dash to accept arguments most of the time, even ones that included instructions not to eat other people.

Then Dash said, Ah. I understand now what it is that Hermione means when she talks about circular reasoning.

Harry snorted in exasperation, and then yelped when someone reached out from behind a nearby corner and grabbed his arm. He spun around with his heart hammering, reaching for his wand, and wondering why Dash hadn’t warned him someone was there.

You didn’t say to warn you against this one. You wanted me to talk to him, in fact.

That at least told Harry who it was, and he relaxed and shook his head in irritation when he saw a pale face. “Malfoy. What do you want?”

“Were you spying on me?” Malfoy demanded.

Harry blinked. “How could I? Professor Snape just brought me down here for—” The truth wouldn’t make much sense, given that it didn’t make much sense even to Harry. “To discuss a detention. How could I know that you would be here, or even follow you? You’re not making sense.”

You’re learning to value sense, at least, even if you’re not learning to express it, said Dash approvingly.

Harry ignored him, squinting at Malfoy. Malfoy was a little pale, and he looked as though someone had dragged him facedown through dust, although that could just have come from the dusty part of the library where he’d been searching. He huddled over something Harry assumed was the big book about Slytherin he’d been holding earlier. “What’s the matter, Malfoy? You look ill.”

“I want to know if you were spying on me,” Malfoy insisted.

“No, for all the reasons that I just told you,” Harry snapped. Honestly, he was starting to wonder why he’d ever been concerned about Malfoy. He was just a git, all the way through. “I’ll leave now, and then you can ask the shadows if they were. They’d probably give you the exact same answer.” He turned away and tried not to stomp on his way up the corridor that he hoped would lead to the stairs.

You’re not stomping, said Dash, twining around his arm and looking up into his face with what Harry knew was affection, although at the moment it didn’t necessarily feel like that. But you are sulking.

Harry ignored that. He had tried and tried to be nice to Malfoy, and this was the only result he got. He didn’t know what Malfoy’s problem was, but he would try to ignore him from now on. At least until he apologized and made it clear that he regarded Harry as something more than just a means of procuring him a basilisk.

Good, said Dash. That means you can spend some more time making me understand why you wish to go back to your Muggles.

I don’t want to do that, Harry said. He was on the stairs leading up now. He wondered what he would say to Ron and Hermione if they asked him what Snape had wanted. Surely it must be all over the school by now that he had come up behind Harry in the library and hauled him off somewhere.

Then what not tell this Professor Snape about it? Or your smelly dog-man? Apparently, Dash objected to the canine scent that hung around Sirius, although he had said that was partially because he hadn’t tasted a dog yet. Either one of them would make sure that you didn’t have to go back.

It already doesn’t matter, because we’re going to live with Sirius, and I don’t have to go back.

Then it shouldn’t matter if you talk about them either, because the situation is over and mentioning it can’t hurt you.

Tell me, do basilisks have arseholes to vanish up?

*

Once Draco was sure Potter was gone, he let out a shaky little breath and leaned back against the wall. That had been close. He had been about to cast the spell that would start the darkfire burning, and although Potter had looked as though he was oblivious to anything except whatever anger consumed him, Draco knew he would have smelled that.

Or his basilisk would have.

When I command my own basilisk, Draco thought, as he turned back to the ritual preparations in front of him, I shall tell it to let me know right away when it smells anything unusual. And that includes Potter’s basilisk.

He examined the small firepit he had created on the floor, and then nodded. He thought this would work. The instructions in the book—and how clever Draco had been, to think of looking in the history section of the library, where someone might hide secrets that other people wouldn’t find!—were pretty clear.

Draco crouched down in front of the firepit and took a moment to breathe deeply and clear his mind, the way that Professor Snape said he must if he wanted to judge situations objectively. Then he touched his wand to the edge of the firepit and murmured, “Ignis inferiae.” 

There was a long moment when Draco thought the spell wouldn’t work, because it flickered on the edge of his wand as though reluctant to approach the rowan twigs and holly berries that Draco had ordered by owl from Hogsmeade. But then the spell caught, and Draco smiled as the small black flames danced up and down on the twigs and berries, eating them alive.

Alive, but they’re dead, Draco thought a second later, and shook his head. He was running on little sleep. He knew that wasn’t a good thing, but he wanted so badly to find the Chamber of Secrets.

When the fire had burned itself out, Draco reached out and carefully stirred through the ashes. He ignored how hot they still were, and cast them quickly on the floor in front of him. This worked like Divination magic, Salazar Slytherin’s book had said, but only if they were used right away after the fire.

“The way to the Chamber of Secrets,” Draco whispered as he threw them.

The ashes landed in what looked like a tangled, random cluster, and Draco drew in his breath sharply in disappointment. But the more he looked, the more he realized there was a pattern there. Letters. Not a map or a key, but a riddle.

Draco hastily got out the parchment he had kept in his pocket to draw something, and wrote it down instead. He didn’t take his gaze from the ashes until he had got every last letter.

Of course, it looked like a complicated riddle and he knew it would probably take him a long time to solve. But at least this was a beginning step.

And he didn’t care how long it would take him to find the Chamber, as long as he would finally have a basilisk at the end of it. 

Chapter Text

“What’s up with you, mate?” Ron demanded, out of the blue as far as Harry was concerned.

Harry blinked and looked at Ron. They were sitting at the Gryffindor table for breakfast, and so far, Ron had mostly been interested in filling his mouth with food. Harry shared that desire. He still hadn’t got used to being able to eat as much as he liked of eggs and buttered toast, which Dudley and Vernon usually consumed all of.

“What?” Harry asked, and tried Dash with an egg. As usual, Dash flicked out a tongue and touched the shell, then retreated at once.

I prefer raw eggs only. I like to kill my own prey.

You can’t kill an egg.

That only proves that you’ve never tried to smell the young chicken in the egg.

Harry cracked the boiled egg against the edge of his plate and ate it himself, shaking his head at Ron. “I still don’t know what you mean,” he added helpfully, when Ron went on staring at him.

Ron gave an explosive sigh. “You’ve acted as though someone took away your best friend for the past two days. And since I’m still sitting right here, that can’t be it.”

Harry managed a mechanical smile, but he knew Ron noticed the difference from the real thing, especially when Hermione leaned around Harry’s other side and chimed in. “Yes, and you didn’t seem to mind Potions so much, either, but now you’re back to scowling at Snape again. And he hasn’t gone back to his bad treatment of you. Honestly, Harry, there’s so much theory in Potions that can help you when you give it the chance…”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Harry muttered, and extended a spoonful of his porridge to Dash. Sometimes Dash would consent to eat food made from plants in a way that he wouldn’t food made from animals unless he managed to kill it himself. 

This morning, Dash graciously sipped from his spoon, and then said, Your friends are right, you know. This anger that you have towards everything in general and Snape in particular is silly. You know full well that you only have to be angry at the old man, and perhaps the smelly dog-man.

Why can you call Snape by his name and not Sirius? Harry asked in irritation.

He smells better.

Ron interrupted again. “But I want you to talk about it, mate, since I never know whether you’re going to be surly or give me that fake smile that you try on me when you think no one can see through you.” He resisted the glare that Harry gave him, only smiling faintly as if he thought Harry’s anger was amusing. “Come on, then. If it doesn’t have to do with us, then you can tell us, right? And if it has to do with Snape, I want to hear.” He shoved himself close to Harry and cocked his head. 

Harry shot a quick glance at the Head Table before he could help himself. Snape gave him a bland look and went back to eating. Harry tensed in spite of himself, but Snape appeared utterly content to ignore him and only pay attention to his breakfast.

Harry sighed and turned back. “Fine. I—I had a conversation with Snape that didn’t go well.”

You can talk about things that displease you after all, Dash said, and curled his tail around Harry’s ear like a seashell.

Harry swatted it off, and continued. “It was weird. He wanted to know—things about the Dursleys.” It couldn’t hurt to tell Ron and Hermione that much. By now, he trusted them enough to know they wouldn’t betray him to an adult. “And he gave me tea, and he acted nice. But then he said things that made me think this is just some contest he’s having with Dumbledore.” Harry scowled, feeling the ache begin deep down in his chest. It would have been nice to have Snape put him first, the way Sirius did, but be interested in things other than pranks and Quidditch and telling stories about Harry’s dad. But he was stupid to expect it.

“What things?” Hermione sounded like she was a hound getting ready to track down a runaway criminal.

Harry shook his head at her. “It’s hard to explain.” He had to pause as he realized that Sirius and Snape knew about him almost being Sorted into Slytherin, but he hadn’t mentioned it to his friends. “Listen. When I got here, you remember that the Sorting Hat took a long time trying to decide where I belonged?”

“I remember that!” said Ron. “Percy said it was strange. Thought you were a Gryffindor for sure.”

Harry hoped he didn’t look like he was grimacing too obviously. He felt like everyone knew his parents better than he did, and the role they’d expected him to fit. Maybe he would have fit it if he’d known anything before he came to Hogwarts.

I think that you fill your most important role neatly, said Dash, and draped his tail more heavily along the back of Harry’s neck when Harry grunted a question. Companion to a basilisk.

Harry managed a smile, and then said, “It’s because the Hat was trying to decide where I would go. It said that I could do well in Slytherin. I held onto the stool and thought Not Slytherin, not Slytherin at it because Malfoy was in there and I couldn’t stand the git, and then it said that I should be Gryffindor instead.”

Ron stared at him with his mouth open. Dash reached over and nudged Ron’s jaw with his head. Ron didn’t even seem to notice that it was the first time Dash had touched him; he shut his mouth, and went on peering intently at Harry.

Blimey!” he finally whispered. “Why didn’t you tell us that before, mate?”

“Because I didn’t want it to be something that would get you upset,” Harry muttered, and turned to look at Hermione, who was as silent as though she had found an ancient book and hadn’t heard him at all.

Hermione had one hand held up to her mouth, though, and her eyes sparkled. “The Hat said the same thing to me,” she whispered.

“Am I the only one here who was supposed to be in Gryffindor?” Ron asked, sounding a little hurt.

“Oh, no,” said Hermione. “I mean, it told me that I could do well in Ravenclaw, not Slytherin. But it did tell me that.” She gave Harry a measuring look. “I thought Gryffindor was the best House, though, and I wanted to come here. Remember, I told you that on the train?”

Harry nodded, more relieved than he could say. At least he wasn’t alone, and this wasn’t about him really being “a snake at heart” or something. “That’s right. And you chose your House the way I chose mine.”

“Not even that,” Hermione said. She had paid rather more attention to the story than Harry had thought she had, and she leaned forwards, her eyes focused on him. “You didn’t say that you wanted to go to Gryffindor, right? You just told the Hat to put you in the best House, and after Slytherin it chose Gryffindor.”

Harry shrugged. “Right. I didn’t want to be where Malfoy was, but I didn’t know that much about the other Houses, so I couldn’t choose between them.”

“You could have been with me, mate,” Ron said indignantly.

“Oh, Ron, don’t be silly,” Hermione interrupted before Harry could say anything. “You hadn’t been Sorted when the Hat was having that discussion with Harry! How could he know where you were going to go? For all he knew, you’d be in Hufflepuff. And you should choose your House based on what you want, not what you think other people should want.”

“I told him I was sure to be in Gryffindor,” Ron muttered, a little sulky.

“It doesn’t matter that much,” said Harry. “But I think that Snape thinks it matters a lot. So he’s been trying to talk to me about it. But he’s mostly angry that Dumbledore never told him about it. I don’t want to be part of whatever revenge he wants on Dumbledore.” He ignored Dash’s low mutter that Snape might want other things more than he wanted revenge on Dumbledore. Maybe that was true, but Harry couldn’t trust Snape that far. 

“That makes sense,” said Hermione. “Professor Snape is a great teacher—” she ignored Ron’s snort a lot better than she would have done last year “—but he does have a lot of complicated relationships with other adults. Sometimes I think his relationship with Professor Dumbledore is the most complicated of all.” She stared thoughtfully at the Head Table. “And did you notice the way he glares at Professor Lupin?”

“He probably just doesn’t like him because he’s a friend of Sirius’s,” said Harry, and then jumped when Dash poked him abruptly in the side with his tail. “What?” he added, staring at Dash.

While you sat here talking, the professors and other students began to leave, said Dash calmly. I think you must hurry if you do not want to be late.

Harry jumped to his feet, swearing. And it was Potions first thing this morning, too. 

*

Blaise sighed and closed his eyes, rubbing his forehead. He wanted to know why it was up to him to solve these problems, he really did.

Of course, Draco was the source of the problems, and it was asking a little much for him to watch himself. Vince and Greg would only notice the problem if it involved food, and then they would just eat it. Theo never noticed anything he didn’t want to see.

As for the Slytherin girls, Blaise was a little wary of asking them for help. He liked to think he had a healthy respect for girls, having grown up with his mum the way she was, but that respect included a healthy amount of terror, too.

So that meant it was up to him to go up to Draco’s trunk when Draco was out somewhere in the dungeons, the way he often was these days, and break some of the ridiculously easy protection spells Draco had put on the trunk to defend it. Blaise didn’t reveal his talent a lot. Of course, lots of other people were talented in the Dark Arts or equally dangerous spells, and they tended to brag and swan around.

They might not like it if they knew that someone was in the House who could find his way past the heaviest protections due to intensive tutoring, though.

One ear cocked in case Draco came back, Blaise knelt next to the trunk and threw back the lid. A second later, he swore softly to himself. Right on top of everything else was a heavy book that looked as if it had come from a library. Well, the library. The Library of Hogwarts. And it had an S on the front that Blaise recognized, from the time his mother’s seventh husband had stolen an artifact he claimed belonged to Salazar Slytherin.

Isn’t this just wonderful, Blaise thought. He wasn’t entirely sure what Draco was doing, although he thought he could guess, but messing around with the Dark magic that protected Slytherin’s own possessions was asking for trouble.

He cast a few spells to make sure Draco hadn’t put individual protective enchantments on the book, and then nudged it. It fell open right away to a page that was marked with a streak of soot. Blaise nodded grimly. It was a Divination spell that was supposed to let someone find something of Slytherin’s. 

And Blaise could think of only one thing in the school that Draco would want to find that badly.

Footsteps were coming up the stairs. Blaise flipped the trunk lid shut again and recast the spells with a negligent flick of his wand, then moved over to his bed.

He had just flopped down and picked up a book when Draco ducked into the room. He looked suspiciously around, but that was nothing new; he always looked suspiciously around. Blaise met his look, because it would have been more suspicious not to, and then shrugged and turned back to his book.

But he was watching out of the corner of his eye as Draco sat down on his bed and took out a long scroll of parchment. Unlike the essays they wrote, this one was strung on a wooden spindle of the kind that someone would use to roll up a book in an older library. Once again, Blaise was grateful for his mother’s training; he wouldn’t have known what it was if she hadn’t insisted on teaching him so much history and even showing him images of things like the old books.

And now that Draco was holding paper and Blaise was holding paper…

Blaise found a blank section of the margin in his book and traced his wand over it as if he was practicing the gestures of a spell, moving his lips only in the spell. As his mother had taught him, nonverbal magic might take a long time to master, but there was no reason that you had to shout when you cast aloud.

The words on Draco’s scroll began to appear in the margin of Blaise’s book. The limited space meant they quickly appeared, rose up the page, and disappeared for more to appear beneath them, but Blaise could still read several.

so that the mighty gift of Parseltongue should not die out, Salazar Slytherin arranged a ritual by which one could gain knowledge of it. This ritual involves the bite of an asp at the full moon. When the one who would be master of snakes goes to the dark place on the night of the full moon and bears the asp to his breast…

“Something interesting, Blaise?”

Blaise decided he must have gasped aloud or something else to show that he wasn’t as involved in the book as he pretended. Or that he was involved in a way unusual for a textbook. He smiled slightly and glanced up at Draco, shaking his head. He mourned the words he would let get away, but at least he could throw off suspicion.

“Just learning the number of people who think that Herbology has a use in the world,” he said. “Instead of providing an occupation for Hufflepuffs.”

Not too long ago, Draco would have relaxed and agreed with him, or at least made teasing remarks about Blaise being surprised about anything when it came to Hufflepuffs. Now, he only stared with hard eyes for a few seconds before he turned back to his scroll.

Blaise looked down and read along again in the margin of his book. It was now onto what seemed to be the consequences of the ritual performed on the night of the full moon, which included such ominous phrases as when the one who has lain as dead.

He had established that Draco was mental. Anyone who ran around planning to let poisonous snakes bite him on the full moon was. Now, of course, the only task that remained was what to do about it.

*

“I really got it because of you, you know,” said Sirius, throwing open a door and coughing a little. Harry had noticed that his confident manner had faded more and more the closer they got to the house, and now he was watching Harry constantly as if he thought that Harry would wildly reject everything Sirius might try to give him. “I mean, I could have gone on living in those rooms at Hogwarts just fine. Happiest time of my life, Hogwarts. But I thought you’d like to have a home of your own.”

Harry walked into the house trying not to show how much those words meant to him. Of course, Dash touched his tongue to Harry’s ear and murmured, You should tell him.

You don’t have much say in that, do you? Since you dislike Sirius anyway, Harry retorted, and looked around the little entrance hall he’d stepped into.

It was a house on the outskirts of Hogsmeade, such a nice one that Harry had fleetingly wondered how much it had cost Sirius to buy it. But there were no mad thoughts about paying Sirius back. Harry didn’t have that much, and, well—

It was nice to know that someone had wanted to do something just for him. And Harry didn’t really want to pay them back or return the favor, even though that made him selfish.

It makes you practical, Dash told him, and then dropped down from Harry’s shoulder and began to slither through the house, pausing now and then to stick his tongue out and brush it against the walls, the banisters, the chairs, the tapestries that hung on the walls and were even more wonderful than the ones at Hogwarts.

Harry felt Sirius’s hand on his shoulder, and turned around to find Sirius nervously beaming at him. “I don’t know what sort of thing you like,” he explained. “I mean, I put some Quidditch posters in your room, but that’s just common sense, really. I don’t know what else…” He waved his hand at the house.

“It’s great,” Harry assured him, and Sirius broke into a smile.

“Let’s take the tour, then,” he said, and hauled Harry out of the entrance hall, which was patterned in dark wood and had a few tapestries of stags running through green forests, into the drawing room beyond.

It sprawled, and Harry thought it was probably the biggest room in the house. There was paneling on the walls here, too, and stone, but Sirius had already painted or enchanted them or something, so they were pale and the room felt light and airy. Harry noticed that the only windows were enchanted ones, both showing an ocean view, and Sirius waved a hand. “Just taking some precautions.”

Harry nodded, unconcerned. All the precautions Sirius had to take couldn’t possibly be as onerous to live with as the conditions to set up the blood wards at the Dursleys’ had been.

He wandered out of the drawing room, which had almost no furniture except for some empty bookshelves and an enormous blue couch, into the dining room that lay right next to it, with a shimmering curtain of cloth the only door in between them. There was a table in the middle of the room, and Harry’s eyes widened. “Brilliant,” he said.

The table was one like you might see in a pub, Harry thought, like the Leaky Cauldron, made of dark wood, with some scars on top of it. Sirius grinned and pointed to a mark with long lines like a star right in the center of the top. “See that? That’s where a fireball that an Auror hurled at a fleeing criminal landed, they told me. Right there. It would have burned through the whole table, except this is pretty tough wood. Black oak.”

Brilliant,” Harry said again. He knew he was repeating himself, but he couldn’t come up with another word, and Sirius laughed.

“Then there’s the kitchen, where a few elves from Hogwarts will work for us,” Sirius said, and nodded through a pair of swinging doors. Harry didn’t really feel any desire to explore the kitchen; he knew he wouldn’t be expected to cook there, and that was enough for him. “And a room I have outfitted as a potions lab.”

“You do?” Harry glanced sideways at Sirius.

Sirius snorted. “Hey, just because Sniv—Snape ruined it for you doesn’t mean we all had it ruined for us! I was lucky enough to have a professor who was easy.” He winked at Harry. “And this way, I can make my own potions that are useful in pranks.”

Harry didn’t feel like saying anything about Snape and his complicated relationship with the man at the moment, so he turned and ran back into the drawing room. There was a set of stairs there, running between banisters that had carved dragon heads on them. Harry stopped to study one of the dragon heads, and jumped back when it opened its mouth and breathed out a puff of smoke at him.

“One of the few enchantments I remember liking at home, when I was a kid,” Sirius said. “I thought I’d duplicate it here.”

“It makes me feel like I’m living in a real wizarding house,” Harry breathed out, and then flushed a little, wondering if he would sound stupid.

But Sirius only grabbed him and ruffled his hair. “The way you should have been all along. Do you want to see your room?”

Yes,” Harry said, and left Sirius laughing behind him as he ran up the stairs.

There were only four doors at the top of the stairs, and one was made of glass panes, so Harry could see it was a bathroom, and one had a heavy lock on the door, and one was ajar and had Sirius’s Room floating above it in yellow letters on a magical banner that made it seem as if they were pinned to the door. So Harry turned to the one room that was left, and flung open the door.

He stopped, paralyzed. Even though he hadn’t known before this exactly what he would put into a room of his own, he felt as though Sirius had reached into his head, and scooped out the answer, and put it down. Harry wandered further into the room, in a daze.

The glittering, turning images above him were constellations, the ones that Harry saw every time he went up on the Astronomy Tower and looked through a telescope for class. But there were lines drawn among the stars so that they made up a dog and a stag, and they ran and curved through the ceiling, endlessly chasing each other. Harry did see the Quidditch posters on the wall with moving figures, but for now, he found it hard to look away from those constellations.

When he managed, he saw the four-poster bed with red and gold sheets, a quilt that had a flying phoenix embroidered on it, heavy curtains, and a table right beside the bed that had three Galleons on it. Harry wandered over and picked up the Galleons, blinking. Three more images of them immediately appeared where they’d been, and Harry reached curiously for them, but his hand went through them.

“Money-controlling spell,” Sirius explained from behind him. “You have to spend those before you get more, and you only ever get three at a time.”

Harry shook a little. He had thought—he had thought that Sirius would house him and feed him, and all right, maybe buy him clothes, but he hadn’t known, he didn’t ¬think

He spun around and hugged Sirius around the waist. Sirius blinked, Harry saw that, in the moment before he closed his eyes. Then Sirius gently touched his hair.

“Hey,” Sirius said. “It’s okay.”

“It is now,” Harry said.

Yes, said Dash, and crawled up his leg and wrapped himself around Harry’s waist like a knotted cloth. It’s okay now.

Chapter Text

Harry relaxed as he lay back against the couch in the Gryffindor common room and kicked his feet up. Exams were finally over, and tomorrow, he would go home with Sirius for the Christmas holidays.

The very first time he had ever had Christmas in a house where he lived, with someone who cared about him. Not at Hogwarts, even though it was nice. A house that belonged just to him and Sirius.

And me, said Dash, who was draped over Harry’s legs to get nearer to the fire. He turned his head and let one eyelid flutter as if he was going to draw it back and let the deadly eye underneath it peer out.

And you, said Harry, reaching down and brushing a hand against Dash’s plume. As usual, Dash’s head sagged to the side, boneless, in the wake of Harry’s caress. The thing is, I don’t think it matters to you that we live in a house. We could live in a cave, and you would be happy as long as you were able to leave and hunt. Wouldn’t you? he added, because Dash was keeping silent, and Harry was pretty sure it was out of pure stubbornness and refusal to admit Harry was right.

It matters to me where we live. There would be more mice in a cave.

Harry had to laugh. He thought he could. Most of the Gryffindors were either gone already to their parents or other family members, or they were running around out in the snow screaming and throwing snowballs and rejoicing in the general lack of constraint. Harry could understand that, but he had begged for one more night at Hogwarts before he went home, and Sirius had consented. It wasn’t like Harry couldn’t just walk home, anyway.

Besides, Dash didn’t like the cold, and participating in a snowball fight would have meant Harry had to leave him behind. Which made some people in Gryffindor notice, and even Dumbledore had watched him with a narrowed eye the first time Harry had done it.

You should warm me up, said Dash, and wrapped around Harry’s legs until Harry thought he was going to have to go boneless himself to put up with it. Think warm thoughts. That will help. 

Harry tried to comply, but there was only so long he could think about fire without thinking about Potions class and the fires under cauldrons. He scowled a little, but then he had to sigh and shake his head. 

What had he expected? Of course Snape was going to go back to being a glaring git when he found out Sirius had bought a house. Harry had been explaining to Ron and Hermione about it when Snape swept by and slowed to listen.

Harry had glanced at him, unsure whether or not he should include Snape in the conversation. It wasn’t like they were in class. It had been Saturday, and he and Ron and Hermione were all sitting in the Great Hall after breakfast, with Dash happily winding around a little globe of hot light that Harry had learned how to conjure. 

But Harry had done his best not to think about Snape or Malfoy for the last few weeks, and the weeks had turned into months. And Malfoy didn’t ever think about him, Harry was sure. He just seemed to spend all his time in a corner of the library, researching, or going to class, or wandering around school like a ghost.

And Harry wasn’t worried. He wouldn’t be, not after Malfoy had been such a git.

Snape was the same way. He had listened to Harry talk about his room—because Harry wasn’t going to stop talking just because he had more of an audience—and the minute he’d heard about the stag and dog in stars on the ceiling, he’d turned and walked away, back perfectly straight.

So Harry might regret it, and he might especially regret it because he knew Sirius hadn’t ever thanked Snape for testifying at his trial, but there was nothing he could do about it. He was just going to try and be happy the way that he knew his parents would want him to be, and in the meantime, he was enjoying the thought of living with Sirius.

I only hope that he has not filled the rooms with mounds of biscuits, or decorations in the shape of brooms on every wall, or something equally ridiculous, Dash said, and rolled his head to the side, making Harry’s fingers move with it.

Why would you care about brooms? Harry asked, blinking. I like them, so you either ought to like them or ignore them.

Dash twitched his tail. I think he would do something ridiculous because the only thing he cares about is you. And now he is living in the house and only seeing you on weekends. He would do something that might make it difficult to climb the walls because he doesn’t have you there to concentrate on.

Harry frowned, and then he shook his head a little. He didn’t know if he could deny what Dash was saying, but he wanted to deny the conclusions. So that means I’m responsible for it if he does something stupid? No, thanks. I’ve already had enough of people blaming me for things that aren’t my fault.

Dash yawned, curling his tongue in a way that Harry knew wasn’t natural for him; he was just doing it because it made him look as if he was doing a more human gesture. Then he turned and curled around Harry’s torso, leaning his head right below Harry’s cheek. Harry stroked his neck and closed his eyes.

No one is making you responsible for him, Dash said softly, firmly. I am not, at least, and anyone who tries can cope with my bite. He didn’t even let Harry say that he hadn’t given Dash permission to bite anyone, simply going on. What matters is that you shouldn’t be surprised if he sometimes acts obsessive.

Harry stared at the floor. The only other obsessive people he knew, at least about him, were Voldemort and Snape.

Yes, but one of them wants to kill you, and the other one doesn’t know what he wants. Dash nudged him with his nose and slid to the floor. That makes the first one more dangerous. And now, we are going to stop discussing depressing things andgo to the kitchens. There should be food there.

Not food that you can kill, though, Harry said cautiously, standing up. Dash, who had sniffed out the kitchens a month ago, had once brought up the notion of hunting house-elves, and Harry still didn’t know if he had reacted too mildly, although he had yelled and stomped his feet and told Dash about Dobby.

Yes, but there might be ice cream.

Harry rolled his eyes and followed Dash down the stairs. Dash took them in an interesting way, flowing along the side like a stream of water. You complain about being cold, but then you want to go and eat cold food.

Then we can come back and warm up in front of the fire, and you can pet me. I see no drawbacks to this. 

Harry had to at least give a half-smile, and from there, it wasn’t a big step to a full one.

*

Draco checked his notes, and then bit his lip. They looked right, and he thought he had copied them right from Slytherin’s book. But he couldn’t copy them exactly with a Replication Charm. Slytherin’s book had other charms on the text that prevented that.

In the end, Draco shook his head and stood up, going over to retrieve Slytherin’s book from his trunk. Perhaps he was being an idiot, but at least he would be a live idiot with a basilisk if he looked one more time.

He glanced carefully around the third-year boys’ bedroom as he reached into his trunk. So far, he thought the only reason he hadn’t been caught was that this book had been sitting in the middle of an old and disused history section. Everyone assumed that everything important about the Founders was in Hogwarts, A History, except for researchers that mostly lived far away from Hogwarts.

His hand scrabbled among clothes and patted other books, papers, his broom that he’d had to promise to put away and not use until next year—

No book about Slytherin.

Draco froze for a second. Then he threw back the lid and began to look fully, fiercely, not bothering to keep an alert stare around the room. He thought he would hear footsteps on the stairs in a minute, anyway.

There was nothing there. Nothing that he wanted, anyway. Books that he had learned to disdain now he knew the secret of real power. Clothes that wouldn’t help him with the ritual. A broom that he wouldn’t need if he gained a basilisk and learned the secret of enchanting it to fly, as Slytherin’s book had promised him that he could.

Only the bloody book wasn’t there.

“Draco, what are you doing?”

Draco leaped up and spun around, his wand out. Blaise stood behind him, blinking. After a second, he shook his head and walked over to his bed, although with his head turned to the side, one eye on Draco, as though he thought Draco would try to copy his homework or something.

“Whatever it is, leave me out of it,” Blaise muttered, and sat down on his bed and pulled out a scroll and ink. No books, Draco thought, staring at him, thinking wildly. Blaise always claimed that he did his best work from memory, and he only needed his books to help him revise the essay.

“Did you take it?” Draco demanded.

“Your sanity?” Blaise murmured absently, dipping his quill into the ink and beginning to write a title at the top of the scroll with a flourish. “I think I saw Greg absconding with it. Be quick, before he figures out how to Transfigure it into a cake and eat it.”

Draco was abruptly sure that Blaise was the one who had taken it. None of his other roommates would have the intelligence, and no one else knew he had taken the book out of the library. He had spotted Blaise peering at him the day he came in with the book, and some of the times he was reading it, he was sure.

He stalked over and slammed his hands on Blaise’s bed. But Blaise had already caught his inkwell so it wouldn’t turn over and spill his ink everywhere. That confirmed to Draco that he was guilty, because how else would he have known Draco was angry and what he was going to do?

“It would help to know the crime before I face the execution for it,” Blaise remarked.

Draco became aware he was holding his wand in a tense, trembling hand, and that Blaise, for all his casual pretense, was watching him carefully. Draco sneered at him and brought down the wand to rap hard against his kneecap. “I want to know if you took the book I had,” he said. “My History book.”

Blaise curled his lip. “My dear Draco,” he said, and placed a hand over his heart with a gesture that Draco couldn’t see as either false or true, given how well he was acting it, “I have enough trouble writing relevant notes in my own History book. I assure you I wouldn’t want to take anyone else’s and spy on their adolescent scribblings.”

Draco stared for a blank moment before he realized that Blaise thought Draco was talking about his History of Magic book.

Or he was pretending to think that. Because of course he really didn’t, and of course he was only lying, and acting, and pretending he cared about Draco and what he was researching, but no one really did, not the way a basilisk would—

Draco uttered a short scream of pure frustration and launched himself at Blaise.

Blaise only fell back against his pillows and flicked his wand, and Draco went flying across the room as protection spells he had never known were there leaped into life around the bed. Draco found himself lying on the floor panting, and struggled back to his feet, his head aching fiercely.

“You’re not acting like yourself,” Blaise said, as if responding to the murderous rage that brewed behind Draco’s thoughts instead of the actual expression on his face. “You would know that if you thought about it. I don’t have your precious book. I’m telling the truth,” he added, when Draco started forwards with his mouth open.

Draco stared at him searchingly. Blaise looked back at him and radiated sincerity.

Acting, Draco thought, again. But this time, he didn’t think so. Which meant…someone else had taken the book. Maybe there was a charm on it that alerted the librarian if someone kept it out too long, and she could take it back. Madam Pince had started doing that with some of the Quidditch books, because otherwise, she complained, she never had them on the shelves at all.

Maybe Theodore had noticed and done something about it. It was true Theodore rarely deigned to pay attention to anything beyond the edge of his nose, except letters from his father, but once he did see something he wanted, he was ruthless about taking it.

Draco backed away from Blaise, panting, his eyes on the strange spells that guarded Blaise’s bed. He had never seen anything like them before, and he would have given a great deal to know how to raise them.

Yesterday. Last week. A few months ago. Right now, he needed that book, and he needed to get into the Chamber of Secrets, and most of all, he needed his basilisk.

“You’d better not be lying,” he whispered. “I’ll hurt you if you are.”

Blaise’s face changed. “Then you’ll be making a mistake,” he said, and his expression looked like the shadow of a not-smile that Draco had seen on some photographs of Mrs. Zabini in the newspapers. 

Draco stared hard at Blaise again, and then turned and slipped away. He didn’t think Blaise would really poison him, which was said to be Mrs. Zabini’s preferred way of making husbands into ex-husbands, but it would also be foolish to stay and take chances.

This was…

He had no idea what to do next. He could track Theodore down, but not soon enough to do the full moon ritual for this month. It had to be done tonight, and Draco had already wasted some of the preparation time he needed.

He fled from the dorms, and if there were eyes on his back, well, Blaise probably thought he had his reasons.

*

Blaise sighed and flopped back on his bed. He had taken a chance, he knew, especially when he told Draco that he didn’t have the book. Draco was so agitated he might have taken that truth as a lie, and then Blaise would have had to show off some of the skills his mother had taught him rather sooner than he wanted to. 

In the meantime, he knew the book was safe. Blaise had taken it and owled it to his mother, with questions about what was in it and hints she might find it interesting. She would know whether Blaise’s own suspicions about the book and the spells that guarded it were true. 

Why would a book like that be sitting all alone in the middle of the library? It had been his mother’s question before, but Blaise agreed with her. His mum saw only three fit places for it: in the Restricted Section, in a private collection, or with her.

Unless, of course, the book itself was responsible for its placement, and for the way it was preying on Draco’s mind.

Blaise only hoped he had removed it before its effect on Draco’s mind was ingrained.

*

Severus frowned and slowly leaned back from the Gryffindor portrait. The ridiculous Fat Lady had refused to let him in, of course. She had said first that he didn’t know the password, and next that he was the “traditional enemy” of Gryffindors, and third that there was no one in the common room anyway. Severus had argued back that he knew Potter was there and he had to speak to him, and that was when the Fat Lady had said the interesting thing, the thing that would have kept Severus from having an argument with a portrait if he hadknown it.

“Went down to the kitchens a few minutes ago, didn’t he?” the Fat Lady had said, smug and robust, folding her arms beneath her bosom as she laughed at him. “Not like he’s here. I told you, no one in the common room.” And she stared vigilantly past him, as if she was going to protect Gryffindor Tower against any more “traditional enemies” if one showed up. 

Severus had decided she was telling the truth. Of course, school portraits were not supposed to be able to lie anyway, or they would have joined the students in countless pranks and the Headmaster would have lost control, but they could be biased or mistaken.

Still, it would take no more of his time to seek Potter in the kitchens than it had taken to come up here. And Severus wanted a chance to speak to him before Black took him “home” for the holidays.

When Severus arrived at the pear that concealed the entrance to the kitchens, he heard the sound of voices. That was not unusual; Potter would be speaking to the house-elves. Not having grown up around them, he had not adopted the usual wizarding attitude towards the creatures.

Severus raised his hand to tickle the pear, and then paused. No, he recognized those voices, and one of them was Draco’s.

Severus at once cast a spell of his own invention, the Eavesdropping Charm, which brought him the muffled words clearly despite the wall in the way. Then he cast a Disillusionment Charm around himself and settled in to listen.

*

Harry had been more than surprised when Malfoy came flying through the door into the kitchens, but not as surprised as the elves, who had all frozen as solid as the mass of ice cream they’d just put in front of Dash, or Malfoy, who stared at Harry with desolate eyes and whirled to fly back out.

“Wait!” Harry blurted.

“No, why should I?” Malfoy asked, and he sounded as if he’d been crying, or as if he was trying to avoid crying, and not succeeding very well. “This is—everything’s wrong, maybe you took my book, now I’ll never have a basilisk.” He turned around and scowled at Harry and Dash again. Dash coiled up and watched him for a second, then flowed off the table.

Dash! Harry said.

I’m not going to bite him. I want to try something. 

Harry could only bite his lip and sit still and hope this would be okay as Dash slithered up until he was directly in front of Malfoy. Malfoy stared at him and said nothing. He was keeping very still, and Harry didn’t think it was out of fear. It was like Malfoy was so despairing that his despair was holding him there.

Harry had felt like that sometimes before, mostly when he was crouching in the cupboard at the Dursleys’. He found himself holding his breath.

Dash swayed before Malfoy like a cobra, and his tongue flickered out, tasting scents that he didn’t share with Harry, even though Harry asked. He only repeated, I want to try something, and flung a loop of his body around Malfoy’s legs.

Malfoy sat down hard. Harry got up. He was going to run to someone’s rescue, but he really didn’t know if it was Dash’s or Malfoy’s.

I told you to let me alone, said Dash, and the next second he had unbound Malfoy and was slithering back to Harry. There was something missing from his back, Harry saw as he picked him up, something glimmering on Malfoy’s leg. It looked like a small and silky scale, one of the ones Harry often stroked when he couldn’t get to sleep and Dash would let Harry pet him as a soothing method. 

It was as I thought, said Dash, and bobbed his head in what looked like self-congratulations. Harry rolled his eyes. Dash immediately told him that it was self-congratulations, and added, He smelled like the magic on the traps I scented around us when we left the Chamber.

You mean Slytherin’s magic? 

Yes.

Harry looked at Malfoy in wonder. He had wanted to find a way to the Chamber of Secrets, and it seemed like he might have found one. “You’re pretty brilliant for someone who’s not a Parselmouth,” he heard himself say.

Malfoy slowly picked himself up and shook his head. “What did your snake do?” he asked, and he sounded as though he had forgotten he was talking to a Gryffindor and an enemy. Or maybe those were the same thing, to him.

Harry smiled cautiously at him. “I think he healed you of some magic that was hurting you. He left you his scale.” He nodded at the glimmering green piece that still clung to Malfoy’s leg, as though it was molded there.

Malfoy bent down and pulled on it. It didn’t come off, and Malfoy said in a high, haughty voice that Harry could recognize the terror in, “It’s stuck there. Why is it stuck there?”

The magic haunting him was very powerful, said Dash, who was guzzling down the ice cream and flicking his tongue out as though he wanted to swallow the scent of the ice cream along with the taste. I had to leave part of myself behind to counter it. It will be bound to his body now. He turned his head and flicked his tongue out. Tell him not to smell so terrified. It’s putting me off my appetite.

“Dash had to give you one of his scales so he could get rid of Slytherin’s magic,” said Harry. “Slytherin was influencing your mind.”

Malfoy stopped tugging on the scale. “He was?”

Harry listened to Dash for a second, although his words sounded oddly muffled in Harry’s mind. He was tired, Harry realized. And hungry. Using that much magic had taken something out of him. “Yes. Through the book, I think. Dash said you smelled like the traps in the Chamber of Secrets. And he gave you a scale so you could be free of that magic.”

“It’s going to stay with me.” Malfoy stared dazedly down at his leg.

Harry nodded. “That’s right.” He didn’t actually need Dash to tell him that this time. He thought the scale looked stuck on there good and proper.

Malfoy visibly swallowed. Then he looked up at Harry and said, “I was looking for a basilisk of my own, not to become part one.”

Harry grinned and gestured him over. “Sit down and tell me what you were doing. And I’ll tell you why Dash is smarter than both of us.”

Always nice to have an audience for one’s greatness, Dash said, without looking up from the ice cream. He had already started to drape part of his tail in Harry’s lap, though, which meant he would curl up soon and start sleeping.

Malfoy came a few cautious steps forwards. Harry beamed at him and nodded as welcomingly as possible. Slowly, Malfoy sat down and started talking.

*

Smiling, Severus stepped back from the door and went on his way.

Chapter Text

“This is the best Christmas ever,” said Harry, and flung himself down in the middle of the paper from the huge pile of presents and rolled in it.

Dash moved slowly out of the way, his tail tapping the floor in what looked like irritation, although his thoughts flowing through Harry’s head were almost too calm. If you wish to call gifts that smell odd and do nothing interesting the best.

Harry rolled over on his stomach and laughed. He was doing that a lot lately, and it made Sirius, who was currently in the kitchen fixing their Christmas dinner, laugh back when he heard it. He chuckled now, and Harry smiled. It was nice to be here with someone who wanted to spend time with him and wasn’t lecturing him about Slytherins or snakes or Gryffindors. Sure, Sirius had gone through that period, but he was over it now, Harry thought. “Sirius got you mice. You can’t complain about him after that.”

“What was that, pup?” Sirius called out from the kitchen. “I didn’t hear you.”

Harry closed his eyes as another glow of warmth and happiness traveled through him. He was with someone who not only wanted him, they gave him a nickname. Harry had always secretly envied Dudley that, although he hadn’t envied the nickname “Dudders” itself. He simply wanted to know what it was like to get called that way, to be so casual around an adult that they didn’t call you by your formal name all the time.

“Just talking to Dash,” he said, and picked up Dash, who was flowing in the direction of the stairs. After a moment, Dash ceased his attempt to struggle, which wasn’t spirited anyway, and tolerated Harry carrying him in the direction of the kitchen. “He said that the gifts you got me weren’t interesting, and I pointed out that you got him gifts that were more interesting to him.” He was trying to speak at least part of the conversations he had with Dash aloud to Sirius. He thought Sirius would get used to the fact that he had both Parseltongue and a mental bond more quickly that way.

I don’t see why you think that, said Dash, and wrapped his tail firmly around Harry’s shoulders and neck. Harry rolled his eyes. He knew why Dash was doing that. The first time Sirius had seen it happen, he’d yelled that the basilisk was trying to strangle his godson. He hates me.

“He does not,” Harry snapped aloud, and then he was in the kitchen with Sirius, who was covering the table with their dinner. Harry opened his mouth and discovered that no sound would come out.

He had assumed, without thinking about, that there would be some fruit and some meat and some of the dishes like the ones the Hogwarts house-elves made for the Christmas feast there. Instead, there was just—sweets. Piled mounds of chocolates from Honeydukes jostled against sweet iced cakes. There was a chocolate fountain in the center of the table, except it was a magical one, which meant that sugary dragons blew out a splattering cascade that flowed down and disappeared before it touched anything else. There was some fruit in the center of the table, but it was covered with a glaze of sugar. And there was a bowl of biscuits not far from that, so delicate and white and filled with folded bits of orange and dough that Harry was afraid to touch them.

“Happy Christmas, pup,” said Sirius.

Harry blinked at him, and then at the table again, and then said, “You aren’t going to make me eat anything healthy?”

Sirius relaxed and laughed. “Of course not! There’s tomorrow for that, and the other three hundred and sixty-three days of the year. But for today—” He reached out and snapped one corner of a biscuit loose, and then brought it up to turn to powder on his tongue. “There’s this.”

Harry thought about it a second, and then grinned. He didn’t really know why he was hesitating. He supposed that was the Hermione voice in the back of his head, the one that sometimes made him feel guilty when he didn’t pay enough attention to the rules. 

But if his adult guardian didn’t say he needed to pay attention to the rules, why did he? Harry reached out and picked up a spoon buried in ice cream.

That, you may give me, Dash said graciously, and unwound from about Harry’s neck and extended his tongue for it. 

Harry snorted. You don’t need to use your tongue to lap up ice cream, he said, and then began ladling ice cream over to Dash anyway. 

It’s something that is a human mannerism. Dash slurped loudly, getting some cream on his nose and having to lick it off. And sometimes, I wish to ape human mannerisms.

There was some kind of dark hint in the back of his voice, something that said maybe he didn’t approve of Sirius or this feast either, the way Hermione wouldn’t have, but Sirius broke in before Harry could ask Dash about it. “Why are you in Divination, pup?”

Harry turned around and stared in surprise. He had thought they would talk about nothing except fun over the whole holidays. That was what Sirius had promised. But from the determined set to Sirius’s face, he either had forgotten about this or he thought it would be fun for some reason.

And Harry wished he could stop distrusting Sirius and stop thinking about the way that Professor Snape would have talked to him, or Malfoy. Maybe Harry could wish that Sirius treated them better, and he would have to insist on it if he and Malfoy were going to be friends. But for right now, they weren’t here, and Sirius had just asked an innocent question, so why couldn’t Harry answer it?

“I wanted to choose a subject that was kind of easy,” said Harry, shrugging. “And I wanted to be with Ron.”

Sirius relaxed back until Harry thought he might melt off his chair. “So there was no other reason?” He began to grin. “I’ve met Trelawney, you know. She’s been predicting your death for months, hasn’t she?”

Harry thought about it, but he had to pause in the midst of his thinking to feed Dash again, who was impatient with him for being distracted. “Yeah, I reckon so. I just stopped paying much attention to it once I got Dash.”

Sirius’s eyes flickered over to Dash for a second, and he snorted. “Why?”

“Because if Voldemort came up and tried to hurt me, Dash would handle it,” said Harry.

It seemed simple to him, but Sirius sucked in his breath, and then reached out and put his hand on Harry’s shoulder. “You know that would help you too, right?” he almost whispered. “You wouldn’t be alone.”

“I wouldn’t be alone with Dash, either,” Harry had to point out, but when he saw the way Sirius was frowning, he gave in and nodded. “I know. It’s just…”

The point was somewhere out there, Harry thought, where he couldn’t reach it. It was strange. It was as though sometimes he felt so smart and wise and he could see all these undercurrents moving around him, like he’d been Sorted into Slytherin after all and he’d learned to see the “mysteries” he sometimes heard the Slytherins talking about, like who was allied with who. That was the main reason that he’d thought Snape was trying to use him in his feud against Dumbledore, and he’d told Snape sharply not to use him that way.

And then, sometimes he felt stupid and like he couldn’t understand anything. Like the way Sirius was staring at him. It was kind of like the way he’d looked at Harry when he was telling him stories about his dad, like he was expecting Harry to be his dad, sort of the way the Dursleys had. But Sirius would have been happy if he was, and the Dursleys would have been upset.

It wasn’t exactly like, though. Harry didn’t know how to describe it.

I’m probably being all Slytherin by looking for hidden plots and stuff, Harry thought. Maybe the Dursleys would have plotted against him, but this was Sirius. His godfather. He thought Sirius could be mean and impatient sometimes, but he wouldn’t keep secrets from Harry.

“I know you’d help me,” he said.

“More than just a snake,” said Sirius.

Harry had to laugh at that, because Dash was so far from just a snake that the way Sirius was reacting was funny in and of itself. “Yes, but he’s a basilisk,” he pointed out, when he saw the stiff way Sirius was looking at him. “He can defend himself and me a lot more than just a snake would be able to.”

“Hm.” For a moment, Sirius tapped his fingers against his arm and looked at Dash, who curled tighter around Harry and returned the gaze. For the moment, Dash seemed to have lost interest even in ice cream. Harry sighed and cuddled Dash against him, wishing he didn’t feel so torn between Gryffindor and Slytherin for reasons he didn’t even understand. He’d been fine until this year.

So the Sorting Hat didn’t tell you more than once that you would do well in Slytherin. And you didn’t pick up a snake that makes part of the school think you’re the reincarnation of Slytherin. And—

Stop that!

No, said Dash, and snapped his fangs off to the side of Harry’s cheek. Someone who can see your memories needs to convince you, because otherwise you’ll never listen.

Harry was about to respond when he realized Sirius’s wand was out. And then he realized why. He shook his head and jumped up with his hands extended. “No! It’s okay! Dash wasn’t going to attack me. He and I were just having an argument.”

“He could have bitten you,” said Sirius, voice low and ugly and eyes never moving from Dash’s face.

“Yes, but even then, his poison is diluted,” said Harry, desperate to make the savage expression on Sirius’s face go away. “He wouldn’t hurt me much.”

“I don’t want anyone to hurt you at all,” said Sirius, and jammed his wand back in the holster. He was growling a little, and Harry was afraid that he would transform into a dog and leap right across the table at Dash.

“I know,” said Harry, as soothingly as he could. “And that’s nice. But he’s not going to hurt me. He would never do it.” Sirius went on glaring, and Harry lost his temper. “If you don’t want anyone to hurt me, stop.”

Sirius blinked and glanced at him, worried. “Pup?”

“Just—stop staring at Dash as if you hate him.” Harry sank back in his chair with his arms around Dash, all his appetite gone. “That’s what hurts. Thinking the two of you will never get along.”

I will get along with him if he stops thinking that I’m going to corrupt you, or whatever it is that he is really afraid of. Dash only sounded that formal when he was upset, and Harry leaned his head to the side so that Dash was heated by both his chin and his shoulder, caught between them. Dash hung stiffly there for a second as if he was going to refuse the comfort, and then sighed and tapped Harry’s cheek with his tongue. All right. Let me up.

Harry did, and Dash wound about his neck like a collar, while Sirius sighed and said, “Fine, pup. I’ll do what I can. It’s just hard to go from thinking about snakes as the symbol of evil and thinking about basilisks as dangerous, and then finding one fawning all over my godson.”

“Are snakes the symbol of evil because of the reasons Muggles think they are?” Harry asked, and got a blank look. Right. Sirius hadn’t been raised in the Muggle world. “Or are they evil because they’re the symbol of Slytherin?”

“They’re not exactly evil,” said Sirius. “It’s just that I didn’t expect you to have one.”

“Well, I do,” said Harry, and looked down with his hand still on Dash’s neck. Dash moved his head back and forth a little as if to encourage Harry to pet him, but Harry was having trouble right now. It wasn’t even because Sirius was watching him. It was because Harry felt as though this all mattered, mattered tremendously, but—

But he didn’t know why. And he didn’t know whether he should do the right thing, or what the right thing was. He’d known it was right to go and thank Snape for the part he’d played in freeing Sirius. But beyond that?

It’s like there was a whole room of people having a conversation about me, and they all stopped when I walked into the room, and yet they expect me to know what they were saying.

I will be your conversation partner, said Dash, and his determination made Harry smile.

He took a deep breath and just said, “But you like me anyway? Right? And you can put up with Dash?” he added, because Sirius had his mouth open and Harry wanted to make sure that all his questions were answered.

Sirius swallowed like Dudley when he had a stomach-ache and looked for a moment at Dash. Then he nodded. “I reckon I can.”

“Then I don’t think there’s anything else I need to say,” Harry decided, and went back to eating his biscuits.

It was only later, when he was undressing for bed, that he realized he had never really got an answer about why Sirius wanted to know about Divination.

*

Harry stuck his head around Sirius’s bedroom door. “Sirius?”

Most of the time, Sirius was up before him, at least on this holiday. Harry was taking advantage of time off from classes to sleep in and not worry about chores or anything else. Sirius had his magic, and the ability to cast it without the Ministry fussing at him now. And sometimes a house-elf came from Hogwarts. All the chores were taken care of for Harry.

But this morning, Sirius was asleep, as his loud snores proved. Harry stood there and cast a longing look out the window beyond Sirius’s bed. The windows were mostly enchanted, but some of them were just guarded and would show you the real view, and this was one of them. The weather out there was cold but clear and blue, perfect flying weather. At least if Harry wore his warmest Quidditch gear, and he would. He wanted to go out there and test the new Firebolt Sirius had given him.

Surely it’s all right, said Dash, twining around his ankles. I will watch and tell you when he wakes up and you should come down.

Harry hesitated again. But he thought Sirius might actually like it if Harry broke the rules a little. He was always saying Harry was too prim and proper, and it was probably Hermione’s influence that had made him that way.

So Harry ran back to his bedroom to get his Firebolt.

He stopped when he saw the dark green package lying on his bed. He wondered for a second if it was a present from Dumbledore. That was just the way his Invisibility Cloak had shown up in first year, lying in plain sight with no sign of how it had got there.

But when he picked up the package and turned it around, there was no sign of a note. He looked down at Dash, who had come through the door after him.

“What do you think?” he whispered. “Is it safe?”

Dash’s tongue darted out, and a second later, he said, It smells like cloth. And also like Snape’s dungeons. I do not think it is dangerous.

You don’t think, Harry muttered, but he unwrapped the package.

It was a cloak, and for one blank moment, Harry wondered if someone had taken his Invisibility Cloak and turned it green. But it didn’t make his hands disappear as it tumbled over them, and a second later, he shook his head and told himself not to be so stupid. This was an ordinary cloak. It was nice, and it felt thick and warm, and Harry suspected it would guard him well from the wind when he flew on his broom, but it was ordinary, after all.

Which made him wonder why someone would go to such trouble to sneak the cloak into his room, and if he should be suspicious.

There is something else, Dash said, and he wound about a piece of paper that had fallen off the bottom of the package’s wrapping and onto the floor, and passed it up to Harry in a coil.

Harry took it cautiously, although he knew the handwriting on it, and he didn’t think Snape would try to put contact poison on a note.

The cloak is a Christmas gift. I have used a Draught of Invulnerability on it. It should reflect most spells that hit you with an intent to harm, as long as at least part of the cloak is touching you. Use it wisely.

And then there was Snape’s signature, although it was tiny and cramped, as if Snape had been writing fast.

Harry let out a wavery little breath and stared at the cloak. It was something to protect him. He didn’t think it had any strings attached. Snape had probably given him this just to give him something, without mocking Dumbledore or Sirius. Harry didn’t even think the note sounding like the note Dumbledore had given him with his Invisibility Cloak was a plot. Probably just a coincidence.

On the other hand…

The cloak was green. Sirius might not care that much if he saw Harry wearing it, as long as he didn’t know where it came from, but Harry knew the color was a message.

Once again, it was a message he was too stupid to understand.

He wants to protect you, and he wants to think of you as partially a Slytherin. Dash said it with a long, human-like yawn that indicated his extreme patience, as least from the hum of his thoughts in Harry’s mind. I don’t see why that’s so difficult.

“I could understand him wanting to protect me,” Harry whispered, stretching the cloak back and forth in his hands. It was weird, thinking of Snape that way after he’d thought of him as a villain in first year and not much better last year, but he could. “It’s…he’s known I could speak Parseltongue for a year. It didn’t bother him. It never…”

It never concerned him? He didn’t seem to care? Dash’s voice was gentle, and he laid his head on Harry’s foot, looking up at him with concealed yellow eyes.

“Yeah,” Harry whispered, and he bent down and touched Dash’s plume. Why now? he continued mentally, because the last thing he wanted was for Sirius to wake up and hear this conversation. It must just be because Sirius is back and he wants to compete with him, or something.

I thought you were hurt because he hadn’t cared before, said Dash, sounding surprised. I didn’t know you were thinking of it like that. Of course I’m what’s different. He didn’t know that you could bond to a basilisk before.

Harry frowned at him. But Dash looked back at him, and his self-importance was calm, not bragging the way it usually was.

I hope he doesn’t think I’m Slytherin reincarnated or anything. That rumor had begun to appear in some of the papers.

No. I doubt that. Dash’s tail crept back around his ankles, so that Harry would have tripped if he’d tried to take a step forwards. But he knew Dash wouldn’t let him fall. But I think he thinks of you as something rather special. Someone to be protected. The only way he can, since you’re not under his protection the way the Slytherins are.

Harry ended up shaking his head and draping the cloak slowly, hesitantly, around his shoulders. He wished he could feel sure of what was Snape’s game and what was reality. But then, he didn’t even know that with Sirius half the time. He felt like he should be suspicious of Sirius’s questions about Divination, and then he felt bad about feeling that way. And he’d wondered about the locked door not far from his bedroom, and then told himself that Sirius was perfectly in the right to keep secrets in his own house if he wanted to.

Except it’s my house, too.

Harry took a deep breath and snatched up his broom. If he was going to fly before Sirius woke up, he had to go now.

Dash not only came with him and watched him fly, he consented to go up on the broom with Harry, which he didn’t usually do. Harry delighted in flying with him. It meant he had to keep making adjustments, because Dash wasn’t only a slight extra weight added to the broom but prone to moving around to try and find a more comfortable position, which sent the broom in new directions. 

But it was worth it, to feel Dash’s head on his lap and against his heart. Worth it even to encounter Sirius’s scolding when he came down, although Sirius also seemed pleased that he hadn’t asked permission, which made Harry wonder about the scolding.

*

When Potter came back to the school after the Christmas holidays, he wore the cloak.

It was pure chance Severus saw him before he got into Gryffindor Tower and took it off. And his pleasure at the sight was almost chance, too. After all, he had regretted the gift the moment he sent it. He had thought it possible he would get a visit from an enraged Black within the day, roaring about Snivellus endangering his godson.

Instead, he got a long, slow look from Potter as he walked past Severus, and then a nod. Severus nodded back. Potter ducked into the castle, but paused once to turn and look at Severus where he stood by the gates, waiting to guide in students who might find themselves lingering or inexplicably delaying on the road to Hogsmeade.

Severus looked back. He could say nothing here, in front of so many hurrying other people, and perhaps Potter knew that, or sensed it. The boy did not have bad Slytherin instincts, when he chose to exercise them.

But if Potter knew subtlety was necessary, that wasn’t the same thing as being good at it. He whispered, “Thanks,” with a motion of his mouth big enough that Severus could have seen it from behind a tree, and then turned and ran towards his friends, who were shouting for him from inside the school.

Severus nodded at his back and stepped thoughtfully to the side to watch a developing interaction between two Gryffindors and a Slytherin.

Potter still lived with Black, it seemed, and must not have told him where the cloak came from, or Black would have made him take it off or give it up. And that meant…

Perhaps that Severus’s wish for the boy would come true, and he would find some way to balance between Gryffindor and Slytherin.

Severus did not know exactly what Potter would become, if he managed to do so. But he was sure it would be something infinitely greater than if the boy continued along the undivided Gryffindor path.

Chapter Text

The term after Christmas holidays was at least quiet. Severus was grateful for that. He did not know what he would have done had a new disaster brewed around Potter, the way it could have if he had told Black about the cloak, or if his basilisk had got out of hand, or if Draco had continued along the path he had been taking towards…

At that, Severus had to pull his mind back into order. He did not know what path Draco had been taking, and he resented not knowing. If only because Lucius and Narcissa would expect him to do something about it if Draco got into trouble.

But Draco, if not openly friendly with Potter, at least did not sabotage him in Potions, did not sneer when his name was mentioned, and tended to turn the conversation when his friends started laughing about Potter’s lack of skill in classes. And a few times, Severus had come upon the two boys standing close in a dungeon corridor or an alcove on the upper floors, arguing quietly about something. But quietly, that was the point, not loudly.

Severus was grateful to be able to turn his attention back to teaching and care of his House, and a different, growing problem that had nothing to do with Potter. Or only something indirectly to do with him, at any rate.

Severus had begun to clear the willful blindness from his eyes. He had owed Albus a great deal, for taking him in and defending him against the charges and the Azkaban stay that otherwise would have inevitably followed him after the first war. He had allowed that debt to make him look away from several things Albus had done since that war.

More than one thing. If he was honest, and he was trying to be. But it had seemed the best thing to do, and he had been content to make sure that Albus’s prejudices didn’t impinge too much on his Slytherins. Students in other Houses had their own Heads to fight for them. Let them do so.

Now, though, Severus had an idea burning in the back of his mind like an ember, and it would not go out even when he tried to smother it with new Potions research. He must know, and that meant he would have to look around, peer into the dark places of his own mind, think about subjects he had carefully avoided thinking about.

What he would do when he found the truth, he did not let himself think of yet. This task must be done first.

And perhaps it was time to accept that if he had owed Albus something, it was a debt he had more than fulfilled by teaching at the school for thirteen years. Perhaps it was time to think of someone who was neither Albus nor himself nor Lily for once. 

Severus was not entirely proud of the person it seemed contact with Potter had transformed him into, but while he had often been good at starting a Transfiguration, he had never been good at reversing it. He would have to live with the same debility when it came to the transformation of his soul, it seemed.

And pursue it, no matter where it led.

*

“It’s weird that you’re around Malfoy all the time, mate,” Ron said, sitting down beside Harry and giving him a hard look.

Harry rolled his eyes back and turned his head to look at Hermione. “Do you understand what Professor Lupin was talking about this morning?”

Hermione froze as though she was a rabbit, which was weird. “What thing?” she squeaked, and then she reached out and grabbed a handful of bread, stuffing it into her mouth. Harry stared. Hermione didn’t do that. She was always scolding them for eating with their mouths full.

She smells frightened, said Dash, and wound himself into a neat knot around Harry’s shoulders so he could examine the food plates with a critical eye.

“I just meant,” said Harry slowly, wondering if he had missed something and Lupin had given Hermione a secret homework assignment or something, “I didn’t know what he meant when he said that there were no good giants. Hagrid’s part giant, and his mum must have been at least a little good or she wouldn’t have been his mum, right? She would have killed his dad.”

“Oh!” said Hermione, and relaxed so much that Harry almost thought she would fall out of her seat. “That’s all right. He meant that giants aren’t good in the way we usually think of it, you know. They don’t have moral debates or philosophers. Sometimes they do things that benefit humans, but they always benefit themselves, too. Hagrid’s mum probably just wanted to be with his father, and…”

And off she went, explaining, and indeed clarifying what Harry had wondered about when it came to giants. But it was hard to still the nagging idea that she thought he had meant something else, and was relieved he didn’t.

The key is scent, said Dash, and used his tongue to tickle Harry’s ear for a moment. You wouldn’t have so many questions if you could smell her emotions.

Yes, but I like some mystery in my life, Harry retorted, and picked up a scone he could share half of with Dash. Dash liked it best with butter, which luckily there was plenty of. Why do you like melted butter but you don’t like cooked meat?

You must also pay more attention to the sensation of taste, said Dash, and curled his jaws around the piece of scone Harry had offered him.

Harry ate some of his own half, and watched Hermione’s face, and wondered a little.

*

Draco looked around suspiciously. It was unusual enough that Potter had told Draco to meet him in the library near curfew, instead of the more hidden places and better times they usually used. Draco had to wonder if Potter was planning to betray him, and if perhaps a prefect would pop around the corner in a moment and haul Draco away to his Head of House.

“Malfoy! Hey.”

Draco turned around slowly, and then nodded and eased back into the shelves as Potter opened his mouth to babble something cheerful. “Over here,” he muttered. “Or Madam Pince is going to do something drastic.” He didn’t even want to imagine what would happen if she caught someone in the library after curfew. As far as Draco knew, no one had ever dared to linger.

“Right,” said Potter, and lowered his voice, and smiled at Draco. Draco looked back and breathed a little, reminding himself that Potter was a Gryffindor. It was acceptable for him to smile in ways that it wouldn’t be for Draco.

The scale on his leg—well, his ankle, really, clinging just below where his robes swished back and forth—made the little squirming motion against his skin that it sometimes did. Draco had decided that was a sign of reassurance. He’d take it.

“What did you want to talk about?” Draco whispered. “I can’t be out long. I can’t imagine what Professor Snape would tell my father.”

Potter looked at him thoughtfully. “Does he talk a lot to your parents? Snape, I mean. I don’t think McGonagall usually bothers contacting parents.”

Draco frowned. What kind of Head of House was McGonagall? He thought it was really weird if she didn’t at least speak to parents when someone got in major trouble. “Professor Snape and my father had—certain business interests in common.” He knew it was more than that, but he chose the phrase his father had used to explain it. “So he probably talks to them more often than he does some of the others. But I know my father would be upset if I got in trouble, for any reason.”

“Sorry, then,” Potter whispered. “But I do have something to ask you, and it’s not something I wanted Ron and Hermione to overhear.” 

Draco grimaced. Weasley and Granger had interrupted a few of their meetings, “accidentally” coming around the corner and acting fake-surprised when they found Potter and Draco together. Draco was enough of an expert in jealousy to recognize it when he saw it, although that didn’t make him any more disposed to admire it in others. He nodded once. “Then can you tell me what it is now, soon? And then we can have our conversation, and I can get back to bed.”

“Right,” said Potter. He sighed. “Is there something about Professor Lupin that’s secret? Hermione’s been acting strange lately. I ask a question about Defense Against the Dark Arts, and she freezes and squeaks like a mouse.”

Draco blinked. He would never have expected that question. “I know Professor Snape doesn’t like him,” he offered, because it was the only thing he could think of.

“No, I know that,” said Potter, and shifted the basilisk on his shoulder. Dash had been so quiet that Draco hadn’t paid much attention to him. Now he watched with his usual envy as Dash draped his tail down Potter’s chest and swayed it back and forth in pendulum patterns. “I heard about it when Professor Snape testified at Sirius’s trial. This is something else. Something strange about him?”

Draco rolled his eyes. “Are you asking me or telling me?”

“Asking you,” said Potter, and his eyes glinted at Draco, proud and dark green. Draco had to grin back. That was the kind of challenge Potter usually only offered him in Quidditch, and Draco would remember in the future that it could happen in other places, too.

“I don’t know anything,” said Draco, and Potter sagged a little. “Why did you think I would know?” Draco had to add. “You probably know Lupin better than I do.” He assumed so, anyway, since Lupin was a friend of Black and had spent a few weekends in Potter’s company, apparently teaching him to repel Dementors.

“Because you’re a Slytherin, and Slytherins know secrets,” Potter said matter-of-factly. “And it’s Professor Lupin.”

“Granger’s here in spirit,” Draco muttered, and Potter snorted and then gave him a blinding grin. He shrugged. “I’ll watch for them, but I don’t see anything different about him on a daily basis. Anyway, I don’t know the secret of Parseltongue and the Chamber of Secrets.”

Potter looked at the floor. “I would tell you where it was, if I thought you would just want to go down there and look around. If you wouldn’t try to find the tunnel Dash came out of and get an egg for your own.”

Draco was about to retort sharply when Dash pivoted to face the end of the bookshelf they were sheltered behind and hissed. Potter turned his head, and Parseltongue spilled out of his lips in a liquid flow. Draco shivered. Why can’t I speak like that? he asked himself. It was starting to seem unfair not that Potter had a basilisk and he didn’t, but that Potter had been born a Parselmouth and Draco hadn’t.

“Dash says someone is coming,” Potter said tensely, and he pulled out something that sparkled and glinted in the dark. Strangely so, without light, Draco thought. He blinked, and then Potter pulled the thing over both of them and Draco found himself crouched in starlit darkness next to Potter and his basilisk.

“An Invisibility Cloak,” Draco said, and he was afraid his voice was a slight wail. It was so unfair. “You have an Invisibility Cloak.”

“Shut up!” Potter whispered, poking Draco in the ribs. Draco drew his breath to complain about that, too, and then Dash hissed.

Draco told himself that, rationally, he had heard the basilisk hiss a few minutes ago, too, and if that hadn’t silenced him and almost made him wet his robes, then this shouldn’t. But there was no denying that it was impressive. He shut up.

There were footsteps outside the shelves, and then a slight hiss that made Draco jump, until he realized it wasn’t more Parseltongue. It was someone catching their breath and looking around warily, but that wasn’t the same thing as someone speaking in hisses.

Potter’s hand tightened on his wrist. The scale on his leg tingled. Draco felt a smooth slide of scales against his shoulders, and he nearly jumped, shrieking, out of his skin. But then he remembered Dash, and he clamped down on the impulse. He could just imagine the detention he would get if he reacted too much, and he wasn’t going to face it.

There were a few confused noises, and then yellow eyes shone through the edge of the shelves for a second. Again Draco thought it was a basilisk, and then he calmed down and saw them for the ordinary cat’s eyes they were. Mrs. Norris ran back and forth for a minute, but either she couldn’t get a good enough sniff of them or she couldn’t make Filch understand that someone was really there. She ran off, and Filch went with her.

Potter stood there for a while. Draco kept still, assuming Dash was telling Potter something about who he smelled or that Potter had more experience with sneaking around than he did and knew how long it would be before they were safe.

“All right, he’s gone,” said Potter at last, and turned to look at Draco under the Cloak. His face was distant and dimly lit, at least until he called a faint light from his wand. Draco blinked, impressed. He’d seen Potter’s Lumos, and it was so strong that Draco hadn’t thought he knew how to make it fainter. “Can you get back to the dungeons by yourself? Or do you want me to go with you under the Cloak?”

Draco opened his mouth to say that he was all right, of course he could.

But if Filch and Mrs. Norris were already searching for students, then it was later than Draco had remembered. And his father would have something to say if Draco got in trouble because of his pride.

He was always telling Draco that real pride came from understanding and manipulating situations to one’s advantage. He would hardly forgive Draco for failing to do that.

“Yes, I need your escort,” said Draco, even though he hated to admit that, and then had to add, in order to gain back a bit of dignity, “This is the reason you never got caught breaking the rules, right? Because you wander around under the Cloak?”

“Yes,” said Potter, and shrugged when Draco looked at him. “I didn’t do anything particularly wonderful to get it. It belonged to my dad, and Dumbledore gave it to me for a Christmas present in my first year.”

Draco shut his eyes and shook his head. If Potter couldn’t hear how out of the ordinary he was in just speaking those words—favored by the Headmaster, getting his Cloak that way instead of from his parents—then Draco knew he couldn’t enlighten him. “Let’s go.”

*

He doesn’t smell like anything in particular, said Dash, and draped himself so that his head was down near the table where Harry was studying the captive grindylow in its cage. I think he has spells on himself to disguise his smell. Most humans wouldn’t think of that. He’s very clever.

Harry sighed and shook his head. Really, he thought, he ought to give up trying to investigate Professor Lupin. So he didn’t have a mystery to solve this year the way they’d had the mystery of Nicholas Flamel during first year and the Heir of Slytherin last year. He couldn’talways have a mystery. He was probably making too big a deal of Hermione’s slip the other day.

Except that he looked at her then, and she was staring anxiously at Professor Lupin. Harry looked with her. It was true that Lupin looked rather pale and tired, but he seemed to look like that on a regular basis. Maybe he had some sort of disease, and Hermione had found out by accident and was concerned about him.

That made so much sense! Harry relaxed a little. Hermione would think it was wrong to tell anyone about that. Harry would probably think it was wrong, if he’d found out himself. And it made sense of the times that Lupin had gone to visit Sirius, and hadn’t wanted to tutor Harry on certain days. Sirius probably knew about it because he was such old friends with Lupin.

Harry nodded. Maybe they didn’t think he could handle the truth, or maybe they thought he would get upset because he was afraid of catching the disease himself. Well, he would have to tell them that he was okay with waiting until they decided he was old enough to know. He wasn’t disgusted, but they didn’t know that yet.

Why would you be okay with waiting until they tell you? Dash asked, abandoning the effort to terrify the grindylow to death and winding back around Harry’s neck. You’ve never been okay with anything like that before.

Harry blinked at him. That was true, but, well, he hadn’t thought about it until Dash pointed it out to him. Well, it’s all so fragile, he said, and bent over the grindylow again. Professor Lupin had told them there was a way to charm them without using magic, to make them be friends, but Harry couldn’t see it. The grindylow hissed at him and threw itself against the side of its cage. I mean, Sirius loves me, I know that, but sometimes he asks those weird questions, and he would have been so upset about the cloak Snape sent me. So if I force him to talk about Lupin’s secret too soon, it’ll just upset him more. I have to wait.

Dash was silent, both mentally and physically, for so long that Harry finally began to notice the grindylow wasn’t snarling at him when his face didn’t wear a smile. He had to bite back the grin that wanted to spread across his face at that. So, okay, maybe they thought humans were baring their teeth when they smiled or something? He began to write down notes.

I think that you need to worry less about Sirius, said Dash abruptly. If he cares for you, then he will continue to care for you even if you ask an awkward question.

Harry shrugged, which Dash hated because it always almost unseated him. Yeah, but there must be a reason they haven’t told me yet. So I’ll have to wait.

Then you won’t ask me to smell the truth out of Lupin again, said Dash.

Harry nodded.

And you’ll call Malfoy off as well? 

Harry started. It had been almost a week since he’d seen Malfoy in the library and asked him to spy on Lupin. And it really was spying. Harry felt ashamed of himself now. He had just forgotten all about it, because he wasn’t concentrated on the mystery every minute of the day. He hadn’t even thought of asking Dash what he smelled on Lupin in particular until today.

Yeah, I need to talk to him about it.

Dash leaned his chin on Harry’s shoulder for a long moment, not something he often did for long, unless he was trying to see something better. I don’t think you should need to accept anyone lying to you.

Harry shrugged a little again and said, It’s a human thing, and smiled at Professor Lupin when he came by the table and paused to look at Harry’s notes.

“Ah, good, Harry,” he said, and smiled at him. “You’re on the right track. Five points to Gryffindor.” He wandered away, and Harry relaxed. Professor Lupin really was his favorite teacher, even if he had secrets. Everyone had secrets. Harry was protecting his share now.

That is the good thing about me, said Dash simply. I refuse to be a secret.

*

Severus had had to use all his spy skills, but that had turned out to be less of a problem that he’d thought. After all, he had never truly integrated himself back into the school or normal society after the war. He had lived as a distrusted, suspected Death Eater, and then the hated Potions professor. While his colleagues were capable of getting along with him, working with him, they hadn’t extended the hand of friendship. There was no one close enough to Severus to realize he was acting differently, as long as he kept it subtle.

No one except Albus, Severus would have said once. But Albus appeared taken up with other things, since the reappearance of Black. Or perhaps, Severus should say, since Potter’s potential, partial, rebellion.

Even so, the labor hadn’t been easy. There were people who would notice if he asked too openly about Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw students. The only reason that his questions about Gryffindor students might be more easily accepted was the House rivalry, and Minerva in particular would bristle and rush to defend her charges if she thought Severus was trying to get them in trouble. His best tactic was to make vague sneering statements and see what happened. It worked, but it was slow.

Then he had to coordinate the visits of the students he suspected to the Headmaster’s office. In many cases, as with the Slytherins, there were none. In the case of the Gryffindor students Severus suspected, several. Severus wondered for a moment what had happened. Had the Gryffindors broken down, or had the Headmaster lectured them, kindly and severely, the way he’d tried with Potter?

Impossible to know. But Severus sifted the information, and he found the patterns.

The last step was using a most delicate truth-telling potion on Poppy Pomfrey, one that made her a little more likely to ramble when she was talking. If Severus got her focused on something else, like stacking a crate-load of potions he had delivered to her in the correct order, she would talk and talk in a sort of daydream. It was the safest way to gain access to the students’ medical information, since Severus could hardly raid the files openly, and he dared not be found charming the cabinets.

Not now. Perhaps in a while. 

But at last, the search was done, and Severus was sure. He sat before the fire in his rooms that night, and stared into his teacup, and wondered if he should feel more triumphant than—empty.

He knew what he knew. He had a list of names, all neatly written down and then tucked behind charms that Severus would not be able to undo unless he was in his right mind, not under Imperius or the like. In all the school, perhaps only Filius could have managed them, and Severus was sure he wouldn’t, not when there were several of Severus’s suspects in his own House.

Severus took a deep breath and closed his eyes. 

He knew, now, of other students who had been abused, and whom the Headmaster had ignored. Or never seen. Or called to his office, and talked to, and then sent back to their homes. 

He knew of twenty-two. There might be more, but in this case, he had selected the ones he was sure of. 

Twenty-three, if one adds Harry Potter’s name to the list.

Severus opened his eyes. Three courses were open to him. He might confront Albus, but he suspected that would be futile.

He might go to the papers, but that would surely entail revealing the names, and he would rather not.

Or he could find an ally powerful enough to force Albus into doing something about the situation, someone who had been a credible threat to Albus once before, although he had failed in that particular plan. 

Severus flexed his hand, took a final gulp of his Firewhisky, and chose. 

He Summoned ink and parchment, and set about writing a (very) carefully-worded letter to Lucius Malfoy.

Chapter Text

Harry stayed behind after Defense Against the Dark Arts one day near the beginning of Easter Term, and got a tired smile from Professor Lupin as he paused in putting his latest creatures away. “Yes, Harry? I must say that you don’t need to worry about your mark on this exam. Your practical work has been outstanding.”

Harry beamed. He had to admit, it was nice to have a teacher who praised him a lot. McGonagall would tell him when he did well, and Flitwick sometimes, but it seemed he just wasn’t good enough in those classes to get a lot of praise. And the others, he was pretty mediocre in.

You are not. You underrate your talents.

Harry ignored Dash’s interjection. That was nice of Dash to say, but he didn’t judge the talents of humans the way Harry knew his professors did. For Dash, it was mainly important that Harry was good at feeding and petting him.

What else is there?

Harry rolled his eyes at the baffled tone of Dash’s voice, and almost missed that Lupin was peering closely at him. “Oh, sorry,” he said. “Just a conversation with Dash. But I wanted to tell you something.”

“Yes?” said Lupin. He sounded surprised. Well, Harry supposed most kids who stayed after class wanted to ask questions, not answer them.

Not that Lupin and Sirius had asked him the question right out, but Harry was still confident he could give them the answer they were looking for. “I want you to know that whatever you’re sick with, I can wait for you to tell me,” he said. “I know that you might think I would be afraid of catching it, or upset because you’re sick. But I’m not. I can handle that kind of thing. I know what it’s like to keep secrets.”

Lupin was so pale by the time Harry had finished, Harry didn’t really need the information that came from Dash lifting his head, letting his tongue flicker out, and announcing, He smells like terror. But he appreciated it anyway.

“What’s the matter, Professor Lupin?” Harry asked. He wondered now if he was wrong, and it wasn’t a disease, but something else. But he couldn’t think of anything else that would really fit what he knew: Hermione’s silence and edginess around the topic, and Lupin acting nervous like this.

“Who—” Lupin sounded like he couldn’t get enough air. “It—who told you I was sick, Harry?”

Harry squirmed. He didn’t want to get Hermione in trouble. But she hadn’t really told him, anyway. Harry had just figured it out from watching her.

“I need to know who told you.” Lupin was leaning against his desk as though someone had taken away all his strength. He gave Harry a look that Harry had sometimes seen in the mirror in the bathroom, when he’d been let out of the cupboard after a long time there.

Harry took a deep breath. This was really important to Lupin, so Harry would have to tell the truth. “No one, really. I just noticed that you looked pale a lot, and I noticed it happened more than once. I mean, if you weren’t sick, it wouldn’t happen more than once, right?” He looked at Lupin uncertainly, but Lupin only stared back, looking just as unfriendly as Snape for a minute. Harry looked down at his feet. “I didn’t mean—I wasn’t going to tell anyone else. I just wanted to tell you that you could wait to tell me.”

His heart was bounding uncertainly in his chest. He had meant this to be a great moment, so he could show Lupin that he was an adult, and Sirius and Lupin didn’t need to worry about Harry. And somehow things had gone wrong.

There was a long moment before Lupin cleared his throat and straightened up from leaning against his desk. “I appreciate it, Harry.”

No, he doesn’t, Harry thought gloomily, sneaking a glance at Lupin and then turning away again. Harry was good at telling when someone was lying to him. And Lupin was lying now. He sounded strangled.

“But I’m not sick.” Lupin said it firmly, like he believed it. Maybe he did. Harry finally looked up again, because he thought Lupin wouldn’t go on until he did, and Lupin gave him a small, encouraging smile. “But you’re right, it’s a secret. It’s a dangerous one. I’ll ask that you wait until I tell you. Or Sirius does.”

“That’s all I wanted,” Harry muttered. “To tell you that I’d wait. I’m not a gossipy little kid, you know.” He was sick of all the gossip that always swirled around him and had last year, when everyone thought he was evil. Or at least a lot of people thought he was evil. He had to admit his friends hadn’t turned on him.

You are not a child at all, said Dash. He was holding still, scenting the air with his tongue, and Harry had the feeling he was concentrating as hard as he could, to understand the human concepts swirling around him. That is part of the problem. He turned his head and roughly nudged Harry’s cheek, and Harry gave a smile he didn’t feel and put his hand on Dash’s head.

“Of course you can wait,” said Lupin. “Of course you won’t gossip. Thank you, Harry.” He put his hand on Harry’s shoulder. But it was trembling and cold, and it didn’t feel like it had when Lupin was congratulating Harry on how well he’d done in their Patronus lessons. 

Harry nodded back and slipped out of the Defense classroom, upset and not understanding why. And he couldn’t even talk about it with Dash, because Ron and Hermione were waiting for him.

“Were you in trouble?” Ron asked, dropping into place beside Harry as they headed towards dinner.

“Harry was the one who went to see Professor Lupin, Ron,” Hermione snapped at once. “Why would he be in trouble? He was probably asking for extra tutoring, since what he’s already had has been successful. Right, Harry?” She glanced at Harry.

Harry didn’t want to lie to them either, but he couldn’t tell Lupin’s secret, and this made a convenient cover. He managed a small smile and nodded. “Yeah, he reckons that he can teach me other Defense spells that might help.”

“I didn’t know Harry would willingly go talk to a teacher,” said Ron in wonder.

“There are lots of people who could benefit from that,” said Hermione, with a significant glance at Ron.

That started the both of them bickering again, and in one way Harry was grateful for it. He could ask Dash, the only one whose judgment he really trusted right now, Do you think I should have pushed it? 

I do not think he would have told you the truth, if you had. Dash still seemed concentrated and thoughtful, even though the conversation he had to keep track of had passed. He’d also settled into his favorite spot around Harry, dangling with a good deal of a coil resting on Harry’s chest and the other big one on the back of his neck, while his head reared up to Harry’s chin height. He seemed so frightened of the truth. I wonder why?

Harry blinked. Do you think maybe he’s afraid of getting sick and doesn’t want to talk about it? There had been a teacher like that at the primary school once, who got thin and tired but snapped at all the people who mentioned it. Soon after that, she went away, and Harry had heard a rumor that she had cancer.

The second part is certainly true.

And with that, Harry had to be content, since even Dash didn’t want to talk about it anymore. There was just Ron and Hermione, and Hermione telling them they should eat a healthy dinner, and Ron joking about all the things that Harry could learn for them, like maybe stealing Lupin’s exams early if he could, and silence in Harry’s head, down the bond.

*

“The letter you wrote me was rather…cryptic, Severus.”

Severus hated the dramatic pauses that Lucius tended to insert into his sentences, and showed his displeasure with a curled lip that Lucius was welcome to take any way he wanted as he poured the tea. Lucius didn’t seem to take it at all, though. He sat in the chair Severus usually took, gazing around the room as if he wanted to see what had changed since he was last here.

“It had to be,” Severus said, and gave Lucius his cup before walking over to sit down on the other side of the room. “I did not think you would have come here if I had told the truth.”

Lucius paused again, but this time, it was with an arrested stare that Severus could perhaps have done with less of. “You need to explain that, my friend,” Lucius said then, and leaned back as if arranging himself comfortably.

Severus, who was well-aware that the repositioning in fact put his hand close to several weapons, snorted. “I know how much you don’t care about anyone outside the pure-blood circles.”

“I care about them a great deal,” said Lucius, and examined one of his hands for a moment as if making sure his fingernails were clean from scrapings of mud. “Them and their regrettable…interventions in our lives.”

The pause again, Severus thought, but called upon his own strength and dismissed the annoyance from his mind. He had done worse than bearing with Lucius’s quirks over the years, such as bearing torture in front of the Dark Lord. If he could do that, he could do this.

“This is an intervention in theirs,” Severus said, and watched as Lucius’s eyebrows twitched with interest he couldn’t control. “In some of them, at any rate. But if the consequences spread as far as I think they will, it will be an intervention in many.”

“Perhaps you could tell me what you found now,” Lucius said. “Rather than continuing with cryptic hints there is no need of to pique my interest.”

Severus nodded. It was time. “Give me one moment.”

Lucius only watched with growing interest and hunger as Severus raised the defenses around his rooms until they were locked behind shimmering wards. Severus had woven these spells into the stone of his rooms long ago, when he had still been paranoid that either Albus or one of the other professors at the school would come into his rooms looking for his secrets. This time, that might happen, so it was good to remind himself of the correct sequence of nonverbal spells and the images he had to focus on in his head to let the passwords, trapped in his memory, rise back into consciousness.

When he was done at last with a set of barriers that would make his chambers cease to exist where the rest of the school was concerned for the next few hours, he turned around to find that Lucius had a new expression on his face. He touched his fingertips together and inclined his head to Severus.

“More than impressive, old friend,” said Lucius softly. “You could make a good living as a security consultant, you know. If you wished to.”

His eyes and voice were guarded, his tone low and his gaze fixed on Severus. Severus gave him a sour smile in response. Now he wonders where I might have acquired some of my skills.

Of course, there was some gain in having Lucius Malfoy be a little concerned about him. Severus took his chair again and said, “I know I told you once in what respects Dumbledore had ignored my…former life.” His pause equaled any of Lucius’s, he thought.

A shadow moved across Lucius’s face, and he nodded. Severus knew he didn’t like talking about this, but for other reasons than mere discomfort; it reminded both of them of their younger Death Eater days, and Lucius didn’t like reminding Severus of his Muggle father. He considered it an embarrassing acquaintance best forgotten.

Severus didn’t like bringing it up, either, but since Lucius already knew about it, the revelation was not the unforgivable weakness it otherwise would have been. He inclined his head and murmured, “I am not the only one whose former life he has ignored.”

Lucius caught his breath and sat up for a moment, staring. Then he leaned back in the chair and said, “You would not make such an accusation about Draco.”

Severus carefully hid his amusement that Lucius would even venture in that direction, but shook his head. “No, of course not. Not when I know the way he was raised,” he had to add, and watched as Lucius’s eyes narrowed, his suspicious brain searching the words for any hint of a trap. “These are Muggleborn children, for the most part, although a few half-bloods raised in the Muggle world count as well. And one pure-blood child. Members of all Houses.” Severus tapped his fingers in turn and waited for Lucius to respond to that.

Lucius stared off into the distance for a moment, his expression rapt in that infuriating way Severus had so often seen. Sometimes it meant Lucius was considering deeply, but it was just as likely to mean he was contemplating the possibilities of a dazzling future littered with dead enemies. In this case, either consequence would benefit Severus, and he kept quiet about it.

Lucius then turned back to him and said, “You called on me with this because I am on the Hogwarts Board of Governors.”

Severus nodded slowly. Lucius had been reinstated to a position on the board shortly after the new year, although he had certain conditions on his power and was no longer the chairman. The sheer money Lucius had at his disposal was enough to overcome even grudges caused by threats, it seemed.

“You know I can’t do this alone.”

Severus raised his eyebrows. “Of course not. But if you go to the ones who can, and present to them your concern about how many unfortunate family affairs have gone ignored by the Headmaster…”

Lucius smiled, but there was an odd light in his eyes. “Why do this now, Severus? Your own unfortunate beginnings cannot be avenged, and there are children involved in this who are not Slytherins, or you would have chosen a different route.”

That much was true. As Head of Slytherin House, Severus would have had many different options. He was somewhat surprised at himself for not doing that.

But if he did not know the answer right away, any more than he had known immediately what he had wanted to say to Potter in their last disastrous conversation, he had some idea of what had to happen, the balance between the truth and what Lucius needed to hear.

He spent a moment searching his mind, and then nodded when he was sure he had his words in answer. “I cannot have revenge, you said.” Severus leveled a glance at Lucius. “Because my father is dead, I assume you mean.”

Lucius shifted again, his only sign of discomfort at forcing that idea into the open. “Yes.”

“But I went to Albus, and he ignored me,” said Severus. “He ignored me when others attempted to make me do something by force, as well, while giving priority to someone whose situation was no worse than my own.” He snarled a little. “And there is someone else he is ignoring, someone I recently discovered had a great deal in common with me.”

Lucius raised his eyebrows. “And do I get to know the name of this prodigy?”

Severus met his eyes. “If you give me your word that you will not attempt immediate revenge against him instead of pursuing our own more important goals.”

Lucius settled back. “Potter,” he said. His voice had gone distant again, like his gaze. It was impossible for Severus to tell what he was feeling.

“Yes,” said Severus. “Was it that obvious?”

“Only if you know about my recent history with the brat.” Lucius sighed and shook his head. “Will Potter even agree to testify about this, or support it in any way? I know he hates me. I know he doesn’t like you, either.”

“I intend to approach him about it soon,” said Severus. Now that he had a definite plan, he thought the next conversation would go better. “And he is becoming friends with Draco, you know. I think perhaps he can cooperate.”

Lucius shot him a disbelieving look. “He is a Gryffindor.”

“Who was ignored by Dumbledore,” Severus told him coolly. “And who was nearly Sorted Slytherin.” He enjoyed the effect of that tidbit on Lucius’s jaw for a moment, and then added, “Besides, while he does not relish the thought of someone prying into his past, he is Gryffindor enough to want to save others. I will give him the chance.”

“Will he want his name exposed, though?” Lucius turned his head to the side as though he was inviting Severus to look at his fascinating throat. “I’m told he avoids rather than courts the press.”

“It will take approaching him in just the right way,” Severus acknowledged. “I can do that more easily than you can, but not easily. It may take a few months for me to present it as a matter of justice, or bravery. But he did allow the Quibbler interview so the facts about his basilisk could spread. He is willing to do what is necessary to alleviate what he sees as ignorance about those he cares for.”

“But this time, it does not directly threaten his basilisk.” Lucius frowned and drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair. “I admit, I could use those months to talk to some of the more reluctant members of the Board and get them on my side. But will Potter be ready to talk even then?”

“I believe we may have more of an ally than we do right now, by then,” said Severus, and added, at the sideways glance Lucius tossed him, “The basilisk.”

Lucius blinked. “It is intelligent, then? And it communicates with Potter down a true bond?”

“Surely Draco would have told you that by now,” said Severus, puzzled. Draco spent all his free time with Potter, at least when he didn’t have homework or plans with his Slytherin friends, and he still chattered in an obsessed way about the basilisk and Parseltongue. 

“I know what Draco wants to believe,” said Lucius, and shook his head. “Would you believe that somehow I have managed to rear a son who is a romantic, Severus? It must be his mother’s influence. He wants to believe in true friendship bonds been wizards and animals, and so he does.”

Severus reached for his cup of tea, although he didn’t want it. It would make a useful shield for his smile. The day that Lucius managed to make him believe he was less than proud of Draco, Narcissa’s influence over the boy and all, was the day that Severus killed himself, because he would no longer survive in this world with his ability to detect lies so impaired.

“It is a true bond,” said Severus. “I have seen the basilisk obey commands not to strike, and it underwent, for Potter’s sake, having its venom diluted and the mirrors that Dumbledore enchanted to reflect its gaze continually rotating around it. And Potter laughs at comments it makes in his head.”

Lucius’s breath caught then. Severus supposed having the word of an adult observer made a difference to him. “Then—do you think Slytherin—and the body was almost Sorted into our House—”

“That is not the case,” said Severus coldly. Speaking of romantic folly, he thought that the notion only Salazar Slytherin had ever had a true bond with a basilisk was nonsense. Slytherin would not have left those eggs in the chamber where Potter had discovered them if he was the only one who could ever come back and bond with one of them.

Unless Potter is his reincarnation.

But Severus would pay no such mind to silly rumors. And he would not encourage them in Lucius, either, who in any case looked only remotely disappointed before he nodded.

“Does Potter want revenge on Dumbledore as well?” Lucius added, and then sighed and shook his head before Severus could say anything. “It would be almost too sweet if that was the case.”

“I am not sure,” Severus said slowly. He did think that Potter distrusted the Headmaster more, but on the other side, Albus had been the one who had arranged for Black’s trial to go through so quickly. It was possible that Potter gave Albus some credit for being the one to ensure he was removed from his abusive family and had a permanent home to go to.

If anything can be permanent with Black in charge of it. Severus had his doubts about the capability of Black to provide any kind of emotional guidance for a child, and more than doubts about the fact that Lupin passed his every wretched transformation now in Black’s home. Black had said that he had the room where that happened locked tight so Harry couldn’t get into it, but Severus wondered if he had paid attention to the fact of his godson getting into the Chamber of Secrets on his own.

“I think I need to sound him out on that,” Severus added, so that Lucius would not suspect him of daydreaming, or demand more truths than Severus wanted to give at the moment. “I will try.”

Lucius looked at him searchingly, and then nodded. “That’s all I can ask for.” He stood, and added, “I’m sure you understand that Potter won’t be pleased to work with us once he knows he’s working with me.”

Severus raised his eyebrows only. A few minutes ago, that would not have concerned Lucius; he would have seen Harry as a child and a pawn, important but able to be worked around and moved across the board, nothing more. Severus wondered if it was the revelation of Harry’s true bond with the basilisk that had made Lucius change his tune, or something else.

“I understand,” said Severus. “It remains to be seen whether I can persuade him to this at all, or whether we must try another tactic.”

“Like using one of the other children?”

Severus nodded. He was sure that one of the others would risk exposure in order to escape a horrible situation. But none of them would bring as much attention and start the needed investigation as readily as Harry.

And perhaps, now that Harry himself was safe from returning to the Muggles, he would feel a bit calmer about it, more ready to speak the things that he had kept to himself for years. Severus still thought that courting the basilisk’s favor would be the key. The snake had a power to talk to Harry and understand him as no one else did.

“Very well,” said Lucius. “Consider alternative plans.” He paused with his hand on the latch of the door. “And Severus? Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention.”

He departed, and Severus leaned back in his chair and sighed. He had the considerably more delicate task, he thought, no matter how Lucius had to dance around the other members of the Board of Governors.

Especially when he had started calling Potter Harry, if only in his head.

I refuse to refer to the basilisk by his ridiculous name, however, Severus thought sternly, and stood up to put the teacups away. 

Chapter Text

“Remus told me that you asked about his sickness, pup.”

Harry held his breath a little as he turned around. This was the confrontation he had been afraid would come up. He had come home for the weekend, and Sirius was standing behind the table, looking upset.

Dash was in the other room. Harry thought that was maybe one reason Sirius was bringing this up now. But even as Harry thought that, Dash slithered in through the door of the dining room and crawled up Harry’s leg like a stream of water in reverse. Harry wrapped his arm around Dash’s neck and held him there, grateful.

Sirius sighed a little. “Does he have to go everywhere you do?”

“Yes,” said Harry, and stared at Sirius for a minute. “You know that.” Sirius had complained about it often enough.

He does know that, said Dash, and he said it with a savage, slashing intensity, so that his tongue darted out even though he wasn’t speaking Parseltongue aloud. Something has changed, if he wants to speak to you in privacy.

“I would just tell him everything later anyway,” Harry told Sirius, which Sirius also surely knew. Dash curled up with his head on Harry’s hip, and waited. Harry waited, too, but Sirius acted as if he didn’t want to go on, clearing his throat and glancing away like Aunt Petunia did when she didn’t want to tell Uncle Vernon some bad news.

Harry grimaced. He didn’t ever want to think about the Dursleys and Sirius in the same breath. Something was badly wrong if he did.

“That’s true,” said Sirius grudgingly. “Well.” He faced Harry again. “You have to understand that this is serious, Harry.”

Harry gulped and nodded. It had to be, if Sirius wasn’t even going to take the chance to make his favorite pun on his name.

“Remus is sick,” said Sirius. “He’s been sick for a long time. It’s—a family illness. Not catching. But it does make him break out in horrid spots and look menacing sometimes.” Sirius was talking as though he wanted to impress every word on Harry’s mind, and Harry nodded to show he was listening. “He got teased for it in school. It’s one reason he stays away from everybody a few days a month. Well, just during the night, really. In daylight he’s weak and pale, but fine.”

“So he doesn’t want me talking about it because he got teased?” Harry asked hesitantly. He wanted to say that he wouldn’t tease Professor Lupin, but in the back of his mind was what Dudley had said to him in the past. He didn’t want to discuss it even if it meant that no one would tease him about it.

“Yes,” said Sirius, and he gave Harry the bright smile that made Harry feel he had done something right and deserved to be praised. “That’s exactly it. He doesn’t want to alienate you, but it’s still such a sensitive topic. There were people who thought it was catching even though it wasn’t, and that’s why he hasn’t told any of the students now that he has it. Their parents might complain, and Moony needs this job.”

When he thought about it, Harry thought he could see why Professor Lupin had got that nickname. He did always seem to be sick around the time of the full moon. 

You always deserve to be praised, said Dash, his voice oddly disjointed, as if he was listening to echoes of Sirius’s words instead of paying attention to Harry.

Harry touched Dash’s plume and said, I know. Then aloud, he said, “Well, okay. I’m sorry I asked about it. I just thought he should know that someone is there to support him. I wouldn’t care even if he looks really disgusting.” There were always people who had thought helooked disgusting, with his scar and his bad glasses and his oversize clothing.

“We just have to know one thing, Harry.” Sirius gave him a heavy look. “Did you ever tell anyone else about it?”

“It’s not like I could keep Dash from knowing,” Harry retorted, and his hand came down on the back of Dash’s neck again.

“Oh, of course not,” said Sirius, and smiled a little. “I’m not worried about him because he can’t gossip to anyone else.”

Dash was silent in Harry’s head and physically, which Harry knew was always a bad sign. But Sirius interrupted before he could ask. “But you didn’t tell anyone else? I know you’re close with Ron and Hermione, but this is a very private thing.”

“I think Hermione figured out something on her own,” said Harry, with a shrug. “She sometimes was staring at Professor Lupin and acting like she was concerned about him. But she didn’t tell me, and I didn’t tell her.”

“That girl is too clever for her own good,” Sirius muttered, which Harry didn’t understand. He supposed that Sirius was a little annoyed Hermione had recognized the symptoms of Lupin’s disease when no one else had. “Fine, I’ll talk to her. But I need you to keep it from Ron for right now, all right? Maybe over the summer, we can tell him.”

“Okay,” said Harry. And he had to ask something else, something that the comment about the summer holidays had brought up. “Can I have Ron and Hermione over here this summer? I know they’d really like to visit Hogsmeade and see me and see what Hogwarts looks like when there’s no one else around.”

Sirius’s eyes softened, and he reached out and ruffled Harry’s hair. “Of course you can. I never want to keep you away from your friends, Harry.”

Except Malfoy, said Dash, with a dart of his tongue. I don’t think that he would approve if you wanted to ask him over. And me.

Harry didn’t think it was a good idea to answer that one, either, and so he just smiled at Sirius and came around the table to hug him. “Thanks. And thanks for not being angry at me.”

He could feel Sirius sigh, deeply, where he held him. “I would never be angry at you just for asking a question,” he said firmly. That made him so different from the Dursleys Harry wanted to explode, but he held it in and looked up to see Sirius still beaming at him with that slightly silly smile. “I’m glad that you came and asked Remus, in fact. We probably would have explained this to you earlier, but…Remus is one of my oldest friends, and it was a long time before knew what was going on. He’s so embarrassed about it. I’m glad you know now, and maybe when Remus is ready, then he’ll let you see him.”

Harry nodded. He hoped that Professor Lupin would. He had to understand that Harry knew about these things, and maybe he could even tell Lupin something about the Dursleys so he would know why Harry wouldn’t make fun of him.

Sirius leaped back and clapped him on the shoulder. “I know! Why don’t we go play some Quidditch?”

Harry happily trotted outside with Sirius. It was just good that they both liked Quidditch, he thought. That cheered them both up even the way that Sirius telling him stories about his dad didn’t, and it could always break up any tension they were feeling.

Any tension? 

Harry had left Dash on the ground this time, but he watched every movement Harry made on the broom, not even trying to search the garden for mice, and of course he could speak into Harry’s head no matter how distant he was.

Yes, was all Harry could think of to say. He didn’t know why Dash was so upset about what Sirius had said, even though Harry could tell he was. After all, it was understandable why Lupin wanted to keep the illness to himself, and Sirius had said that he wasn’t angry.

I see, said Dash, which was a shock, because he didn’t use human phrases like that very often.

But he came over and twined around Harry’s shoulder and chest as usual when Harry landed on the grass again, and rode with him into the house, and made his usual fussy debate over lunch and whether he really wanted to eat the food Sirius had made. Harry petted his head, and watched Dash close his eyes in ecstasy, and decided that Dash had just had a mood change. Humans could do it, why not basilisks?

Because basilisks and humans are different, said Dash, and for a moment, his eyelid trembled the way it did when he was going through some strong emotion. And the duty of this basilisk is to make sure you don’t get hurt.

Harry would have asked him what he meant, but Sirius called out from the drawing room then, saying, “Mrs. Weasley just firecalled me, Harry. She said that Ron can come here instead of going to the Hogsmeade weekend, and she’s sure Hermione can tag along. Do you want Ron and Hermione over for the afternoon?”

Yes,” Harry said, and Dash let it go again.

*

Severus had not had a chance to speak to Harry before the Easter holidays. The rush of marking had been partially responsible for that, but Severus knew himself, as only someone who had had to do long, detailed, and painful analyses could. He knew that he was also putting it off.

Not having the right words to convince Harry to stand up for other abused children was only part of it, as well.

But the children came back from the last Hogsmeade weekend of the year, and Severus knew this was probably his best chance. Enough time had gone by since their last, uncomfortable conversation that the boy would be more likely to forgive him. And while Lucius was still debating and negotiating with the Board of Governors to get them to believe his sudden interest in abused Muggleborns, he would probably move before the summer.

So Severus said quietly when Harry was about to leave Potions class with his friends one day, “Mr. Potter, stay behind.”

Oddly enough, Draco paused along with Weasley and Granger, as if he thought Harry might need protection from his Head of House. Severus met his eyes and jerked his head the way he did when he was on the verge of taking points from Slytherin. Draco frowned at him, but left. Harry’s friends were whispering fiercely to him.

Severus was quick enough to hear Weasley say something about Severus being a vampire. Severus checked a sigh. Was that old rumor making the rounds?

And this in a school with an actual werewolf working in it.

“You know where Mr. Potter is,” he interrupted the useless conversation. It might make what he needed to say to Harry harder, but he also needed them to leave. “You can report his mysterious disappearance if he fails to come to his next class.”

Weasley turned red, although it was the red of edge-of-battle rage. Luckily, Granger chose that moment to drag him away, and Severus turned towards Harry and added, “I suppose I don’t need to tell you where we’re going?”

“Again?” was all Harry said. His face had gone carefully closed and neutral. Severus blinked. He couldn’t remember Harry being master of that expression the last time they had talked. Neither had the basilisk watched him that closely, head peeking like a deadly locket from just beneath Harry’s chin.

Perhaps the basilisk taught him to keep his emotions in check, Severus thought as he nodded and led Harry down the corridor. Hopefully it wasn’t simply being around Black and battered by the man’s relentless commitment to seeing the son in the father.

Not that he had not done that himself. But what he would do now was part of the process of making up for it.

*

This time, Snape didn’t offer him tea. Harry thought that maybe it was because the man knew he would take it badly.

A second later, he scowled. He knew he never used to think that way. Two months ago, or maybe six months ago, he would just have thought that Snape was an evil git, and let it go at that.

I may have taught you some things, said Dash, and his tongue flickered out hard enough for Harry to jump because it stung a little. And so has Draco, although his teaching was not conscious. Is that such a bad thing? 

Harry didn’t get the chance to answer, because Snape turned around and studied him with an intense expression that made Harry sure this chat wasn’t going to about classwork. And that left only one thing it could reasonably be about.

“No,” he said loudly, standing up.

Snape blinked at him. “I beg your pardon?”

Another thing Harry wasn’t particularly cheerful about was the idea that Snape would pretend he didn’t know what this was about. Harry took a long step towards him, ignoring Dash’s warning hiss. After all, Dash was the one who would protect him if Snape tried anything. “I know that you want to talk to me about getting Sirius in trouble. Or you want me to acknowledge that he never thanked you. Or you want to draw me into your war with Dumbledore. Either way, it isn’t going to work. All right?”

Snape smiled, and he looked—human. Harry blinked in shock. That was a real smile, that was, and not just a smirk at the thought of getting someone else in trouble or getting to punish a student. It was enough to make Harry back up and put a protective hand on Dash’s scales, wondering if he needed to run.

Stop being ridiculous, said Dash. And there’s something else this could be about, that you haven’t mentioned.

Harry was in the middle of asking what that could be when Snape sighed heavily and admitted, “I do indeed want you to help me in fighting Dumbledore, Harry. However, not in the way you think.”

“I don’t want to interfere in the results of a private quarrel,” said Harry stiffly. “I know Sirius can be—hard sometimes, but that’s just the way he is.” He had almost said that Sirius was stupid sometimes, but he couldn’t be so disloyal to Sirius, even if he would never know about it. He was the one who had saved Harry. “Adults should handle their problems by themselves.”

“Yes, I agree,” said Snape, forcefully enough that he caught Harry off-guard again. “However, in this case, it is other students who will suffer if the adults go on handling things by themselves.” He hesitated, then added, “Specifically, Dumbledore.”

It took Harry a moment to work that out. For a second, he thought Snape was saying Dumbledore was the student who would suffer if adults didn’t do something. He did feel stupid, a lot, trying to work out what Slytherins were saying.

No wonder your own thoughts confuse you so often, said Dash casually.

Harry opened his mouth to at least splutter about that, but Snape went on in an urgent but soft voice. “I have reason to believe that you are not the first abused student Dumbledore has ignored, and not the only one he will get away with ignoring, unless you can find it in you to do something. To help me. To help them.”

Harry clasped his hands behind his back. That would keep them from shaking. Dash thoughtfully wound a coil down that would bind them and stop the shaking. Harry mentally thanked him for that, and then looked Snape in the eye. “I wasn’t abused.”

“I do not know the full nature and extent of the abuse,” Snape said. “But I know you were.”

“I wasn’t.”

“Your Muggle relatives did not like you very much,” said Snape. “And you leaped at the chance to live with a godfather you barely knew over the chance of returning to them. And I know—knew—your aunt as a child. She would never have welcomed a wizard in her house. Or Lily’s wizard son.”

Snape spoke the last few words between his teeth. Harry stared at him in astonishment. He wondered why the mere mention of his aunt upset Snape. Of course, it upset Harry, but there was no way that Snape could feel the same way about her for the same reasons. And anyway, what Snape was saying was stupid.

Harry shook his head. “I wasn’t.”

Snape opened his mouth, but Dash abruptly reared up in front of Harry, swaying back and forth like a cobra. Harry felt Snape freeze, but Dash was facing him and not Snape, so Snape shouldn’t be afraid of Dash attacking him. Harry, though, also knew that Dash wouldn’t attack him, so he glared at him and spoke aloud in English, for Snape’s benefit. It wasn’t as if Dash wouldn’t get the gist of the words from his thoughts. “Your cobra act doesn’t work on me.”

Harry.

Harry faltered a little. He had only heard Dash sound like that one other time, when he was talking to Harry at Christmas. His tail curled harder around Harry’s wrist, and Dash leaned in and rested his nose on Harry’s nose.

Harry swallowed. He wasn’t scared of Dash, but he was scared of what Dash might say. This was the closest they’d ever been, the most intimate, and, well…Harry just wanted to know what was coming next.

You know you were, Dash whispered to him. It doesn’t matter how Snape found out. You know he won’t spread it further, not without your permission. Harry winced a little. That was the part he was most afraid of, he had to admit. Or, well, that Snape would somehow convince Harry to spread it himself. And you know you were. The cupboard and the food and the way that your cousin was encouraged to do whatever he wanted to you. How is that not abuse?

Harry stared at his feet. I just don’t want anyone to know. They already get to know everything else, about you and my Parseltongue and all the shitty details of my life as the Boy-Who-Lived. Why do they get to know this, too?

Dash touched him hard on the cheek with his own cheek, head turned so that his scales slid and gently rasped along Harry’s skin. I told you the good thing about me is that I cannot be a secret. I would have refused to be even if it was possible. And I will guard you from anyone who tries to take advantage of you once this knowledge is out. His tail flipped up and pointed in Snape’s direction. Harry was vaguely aware that Snape was standing as still as a suit of armor and watching him. But it wasn’t his real concern right now. Even him. You will always have me at your side.

Harry reached up and wiped at his eyes. He would start crying in a minute, and he didn’t want that. But you can’t prevent them from saying bad things about me. Or pitying me. 

I do not think that pity counts as a bad thing. You could have done with more of it as a child. Dash’s tail wound a little harder around Harry’s wrist. And as for the saying bad things, I can.

“How?” Harry said, aloud, and Snape shifted a little. But he didn’t move or say anything otherwise, and Harry was glad. He knew that Snape would just be too much for what he could take, now.

Have you forgotten that I still have poison, however diluted, and that I can scare the shit out of someone by threatening to gaze at them? Dash lowered his head and let his eyelids flutter mockingly. Harry heard Snape catch his breath. I can cause them pain. Fear. Embarrassment. That is not the same thing as death, but for some people, it is worse.

Harry just shook his head and whispered, “They would take you away if you did that.”

Harry. Dash stretched out his full, glimmering length along Harry’s arm and then down his side and to the floor. Sometimes Harry forgot how long he was. And Dash was longer than he had been when he first hatched, Harry realized now—closer to seven feet than five. I am a basilisk. There are things about me that wizards have forgotten. Maybe never knew. Many Parselmouths hardly wrote down their conversations with my kind.

Harry narrowed his eyes. “You said you didn’t know a lot about Slytherin and Parselmouths and your kind.”

When I hatched, I didn’t. I’ve found that knowledge is starting to come to me. Though not about Slytherin and the eggs and the hatching chamber, I’m sorry. Dash lifted his head. It’s like another language that I had to learn how to speak, and now I can feel the memories filtering into my head. There is no way they can remove me from you if I say that I will not be removed.

“They could try to kill you,” Harry whispered. “They could use the Sword of Gryffindor like I did on your…your brother.” That was the only term Harry could come up with for the basilisk in the Chamber.

Now that we know about that way, we will guard against it, Dash said calmly. Is now a good time to mention that they call me the King of Serpents for a reason? I can call on other snakes, and they’ll rise to help me. I could have a court if I wanted. Although I think thrones are silly.

“When were you going to mention this?”

At a suitably dramatic moment. Is it working? 

Harry had to laugh in spite of himself, but he knew the sound came out tinged with terror. He shut his eyes and shook his head. I just found you so recently. I can’t lose you now. He would rather lose Sirius than Dash, he thought. It hurt, but it was true.

I won’t let myself be taken, said Dash quietly. If worst came to worst, Harry, we would leave Britain. They know you here. They know what I am. We would go where they wouldn’t know us at all. The secret places serpents know.

Harry wanted to trust that, he did, he wanted to trust that no one would separate him and Dash, but…

They could try to do that tomorrow. Dash pointed it out gently, and his tongue reached out and gently took some of the tears from Harry’s face. For any reason. Because I make them nervous the way I am. But we have to face it. And it’s the right thing to do, to get justice for your abuse. You know that. The right thing for you, whether or not Snape wants you to do for it anyone else.

Harry sniffled. Then he felt horrible for that doing that in front of Snape, who would humiliate him—

Give the man some credit for intelligence, Harry. He knows he would find my fangs in his leg if he did.

Harry nodded, and waited a moment for Dash to finish taking his tears away. Then, with his basilisk one huge knot of comfort around his shoulders, Harry turned and faced Snape, and nodded. “I’ll do it.”

*

Severus swallowed. He had been ready with many arguments that should change things, and the basilisk had done it for him.

Severus doubted he would ever know the exact terms of that conversation. But from the quiet, motionless gaze of dimmed yellow eyes, he did know two things.

A basilisk had a chance of turning into an unstoppable force.

And he might well turn Harry into one, as well.

I hope I will have a chance to help in that goal.

Chapter Text

“I don’t know how we’re going to do this.” Harry had his arms crossed and his eyes firmly fastened on the floor. 

It didn’t bother Severus. He had dealt with far worse than a little understandable teenage sulkiness, and for worse causes. He nodded now and placed his pile of paper on the floor. Harry glanced at it, then away. The basilisk around his neck uttered a hiss that Severus could nearly take as amused, although he didn’t know Parseltongue.

Harry hissed something back. Severus was able to listen with an impassive face. After the first few times he had heard Harry do that, it lost its ability to shock. “These are the reports I have prepared on abused students,” he said. “I will ask that you do not use any of the information you read in any way.”

Harry jerked around and gave him a glance that stood out as wounded, despite Harry’s absurd attempt to look noble and aloof. “Of course I wouldn’t! I mean, what am I going to do, go up and taunt them because they’re just like me?”

“I did not mean that,” said Severus, although he privately wondered how true that was. He knew he would find out when they began their announcements, but he still did not know how bad the abuse in Harry’s household had been. “I mean that you might suddenly show concern for people you have never shown concern for, and that might make someone suspicious.”

“Oh.” Harry lowered his head until his chin rested on the basilisk’s scales, an unconscious gesture of comfort that Severus had noticed he practiced often. “Are any of them in Gryffindor?”

“A few, yes,” said Severus. He had the temptation to ask if Harry cared about the ones in Slytherin, but halted his tongue. For one thing, he thought that Harry was doing this for all of them; for another, reminding the boy obsessively of the House he’d chosen and the one he’d rejected would lose him Harry’s trust. “None in your year.”

“I probably won’t know them, then.”

Severus paused. Despite his own private warnings to himself about indulging curiosity too much where Harry was concerned, his desire to ask this question would only plague him until he eased it. “Why have you made so few friends in your House?”

Harry lifted his head. “What do you mean? I have Ron and Hermione. And Neville, sort of. And I mean, I don’t get on bad with Dean and Seamus or anything. And Lavender and Parvati are all right.”

Severus half-sighed. “I mean that many people have more friends than you do. More casual ones,” he added, when he saw Harry’s expression, which seemed to suggest that he thought of Severus’s words as a taunt. “I know you have no trouble making friends. Your closeness to Weasley—”

Harry snorted at the same time as the basilisk hissed. Severus refused to be intimidated by the hidden eyes of the thing. They were still hidden. 

“I don’t have an easy time making friends,” Harry said. “Ron started talking to me about everything first, and then he stayed friends with me even when he found out who I was. And I got to be friends with Hermione because of the troll.” He folded his arms tighter and glared a little at Severus. “All these other people only want to gape at my scar or accuse me of being the Heir of Slytherin or something.”

Severus paused for a long moment before slowly nodding. In truth, he had thought the way Harry had acted last year when his Parseltongue was revealed partially a show. There was no way he could not have known about it, after all. And this year, he had seemed positively to revel in frightening people.

Then again, he had already had to admit that he didn’t know the boy before him at all.

“So it has nothing to do with your House placement, or wanting to keep your abuse away from people,” said Severus, just to make sure. Those were both things that could easily affect the plans he was brewing with Lucius, and hoped to brew with Harry.

“Of course not,” said Harry. “I mean, I would have been even more out of place in Slytherin, don’t you think? Especially last year.” The basilisk curled one loop of his body around Harry’s shoulders, and Harry massaged his scales for a second without taking his eyes off Severus. “And no one knows about my abuse. So they can’t think I’m hiding it.”

Severus would have liked to say that was not what he meant, but Harry’s expression was already closing down, and he knew he would have to get Harry used to talking about his abusive Muggle family only a little bit at a time. “Very well,” he said. “Then let us begin going through the information, and discussing strategy.”

Harry’s eyes were big as he sat down. Severus supposed he wasn’t used to adults talking to him in that way.

He should be. How Albus can insist that he’s a huge part of the war but never invite him in for so much as a cup of tea—

Severus subdued his anger. If anything, he should be glad of Harry’s lack of closeness to Albus. If he had been accustomed to relying on the Headmaster for more than a chat now and then, Severus’s task would have been much harder.

“Okay,” said Harry, and leaned forwards to pick up the first file, the basilisk looking as intently as he was at the paper. Where Severus would have found that unnerving only last week, now he rejoiced in it. Harry was more likely to do something with the basilisk close behind him, prodding him on.

*

Draco closed the book and leaned back in his seat, staring up at the ceiling of the library. Was that really it?

When Harry had asked him to try and figure out what was going on with Lupin, and Draco had figured out the pattern of Lupin’s pallor and weakness at the full moons, he had leaped to the obvious conclusion. But then Harry had said something about an illness, and Draco had recalled that the Board of Governors, bereft of his father’s wisdom or not, would hardly allow a werewolf to teach in the school.

Now he thought he had found the solution. He was just a little wary, because he hadn’t had to work that hard and he hadn’t thought it would be this easy.

Slowly, Draco opened the book and began to read again.

The Shaking Pustules is a rare disease often thought to be a side-effect of lycanthropy. However, recent studies have proved that the only side-effect of being bitten by a werewolf is turning into one. We must therefore look elsewhere for the origin of the Shaking Pustules.

The pustules first appear around the time of one’s adolescence, and do not often lessen thereafter. But they break out with especial violence around the time of the full moon, and oblige the sufferer to hide from others as his limbs convulse. The skin that breaks out into the Pustules runs with green and yellow pus, and covers the skin with streaks of them that may not be magically banished until the moon sets. Most of those who have the disease are obliged to retreat from society, and remain rather pale and worn for days afterwards.

It fit everything, Draco thought—not only the way that Lupin acted pale and worn around the full moon. It would fit the way that he didn’t seem to have a lot of friends, because he wouldn’t want to make them from people who were embarrassed or disgusted by his disease. And of course he had to stay hidden all night, wherever he hid. Otherwise, he would be covered with pus.

Draco smiled. Gross or not, he had made a striking discovery, one he thought Harry would be pleased with.

And if Draco couldn’t have a basilisk who would bond with him and tell him how wonderful he was (not that Draco didn’t know that, it was just nice to be reminded sometimes), then he had decided having Harry Potter turn to him with that one particular smile and tell him would do just as well.

*

“Harry, I need to talk to you.”

Harry looked up from his breakfast, startled, and distracted from Dash’s musing over whether he would like to have a piece of buttered bread this morning, in case the taste was better than usual. Draco didn’t often walk up to him like this. They would usually meet in the corners of the library and staircases.

But he was so determined and his eyes were shining so much that Harry found himself smiling back. He nodded and stood up, and said to Ron and Hermione, “I’ll see you lot in Defense, right?”

“Where are you going?” Ron’s hand was suddenly clamped on his arm, in a way he hadn’t often dared to touch Harry since he got Dash, and he didn’t take his eyes off Malfoy.

“To discuss things with Draco,” Harry said. 

Ron leaned back and blinked at him. Harry smiled as reassuringly as he could. He knew Ron didn’t understand many of the things Harry had done this year, from openly flaunting his Parseltongue to bonding with a basilisk, but Ron had borne with them pretty well. Harry didn’t think a friendship with a Malfoy would be the end of things if his Parseltongue and Dash weren’t.

Ron finally nodded with his eyes locked on Harry. “All right, mate. Just remember that you can come and ask us for anything, right?”

Harry wasn’t even sure Ron would have said “us” instead of “me” except that Hermione was right there, watching them over the top of her book. He smiled at her, too, and said, “I do know that, Ron. Counting on it.” He squeezed his friend’s hand once, and Ron finally scowled and released him.

He smells excited.

Harry jumped, wondering if that meant Ron was about to attack Draco, until he realized that Dash’s head was pointed straight at Draco. He nodded. Well, I reckon he is, or he wouldn’t have come up to me in the Great Hall. Let’s go see what it is.

*

“I should have told you to stop looking.”

Draco snorted and folded his arms. He wasn’t hurt, he told himself. He should have known that Harry’s reaction wasn’t going to be exactly what Draco hoped it would be, any more than he could have a basilisk for the hoping. Everyone was always turning around and disappointing him slightly.

But he didn’t manage to keep the hurt tone out of his voice—even if it was false!—when he muttered, “Well, I found it anyway.”

For a second, Harry looked off into the corners of the corridor they’d chosen to talk in as though he was seeing a secret in the shadows. Not the kind of information he could share with Draco, of course, Draco thought, and his heart and throat ached. Any more than he could the path to the Chamber of Secrets, or Parseltongue.

But Dash nudged the side of Harry’s neck, and he started and came back to himself. And then he looked straight at Draco and said softly, “It’s not—it’s not anything you did.” He reached out and gripped Draco’s shoulder and shook it. “It’s that Sirius told me the truth already, and he asked me not to share it with anyone else. It could hurt Lupin. It has to do with whether Sirius trusts me or not. It must have been pretty hard to trust me with a secret like that. So I was going to ask you to stop searching, and I forgot.”

Draco sniffed, partially appeased, but still thinking that Harry could have avoided forgetting about him. Harry seemed to realize that, or perhaps Dash had told him, because his other hand came up and tightened on Draco’s other shoulder.

“I appreciate the work you’ve done,” he said, speaking slowly and precisely, in a somewhat annoying tone. Draco reckoned it was the best Harry could do right now. “I just think it would be better to leave this alone. You know? So Sirius and Lupin will see that they can trust me, and I can have a better relationship with them.”

Draco gave Harry a look that made Harry blink. Draco didn’t know why. To him, it was self-evident that Harry’s words sounded odd.

“Don’t they have to prove you can trust them, too?” Draco asked. “I mean, until recently you thought Black was a murderous monster, and you didn’t know Lupin at all.”

“They’re friends of my parents.”

Draco nodded. “Right, and you have the explanation for what happened with Black. But what about Lupin? Why didn’t he tell you right away that he knew your parents? It’s not like it would be some huge horrible secret, right?”

“He’s just used to being secretive with his disease,” said Harry, but his face was sharp in a way that meant Draco’s words had pierced him.

Draco paused. He had sometimes seen the same look on his mother’s face, and he knew that he couldn’t press further without hurting the person who had that look. But maybe this was important enough that he had to. “Right,” he drawled slowly. “You think that’s the only reason?”

“What other reason would there be?” Harry lifted one hand away from Draco as if he would tug on his hair, but Dash coiled casually around his arm, and halted it. “I mean, he did tell me in the end. Even after Sirius showed up, I still wouldn’t have known about Professor Lupin, except he did make an effort to tell me! And he’s a great teacher, and he’s nice—”

“I’m not saying that,” said Draco, although he personally didn’t think Lupin was as great a teacher as Harry did. The man was competent, compared to Lockhart and Quirrell, but Draco could read about lots of things in his family’s library at home that Lupin wasn’t teaching them. “I’m saying that he didn’t volunteer any information.”

Harry relaxed a little and shrugged. “Neither did anyone else.”

Draco eyed him speculatively. “No one wants to talk to you about your parents?” That seemed strange to him. His parents had talked about Lily and James Potter, although they’d had negative things to say, of course. It made Draco feel strange and sad to think that he knew more about the Potters than Harry did. “It’s strange.”

“Yeah,” said Harry, and tapped his fingers on the wall for a second. “It is.”

Dash hissed something. Harry hissed reassuringly back. At least, Draco thought it was reassuring. He would be the first to admit he could misinterpret Parseltongue.

Not because I want to. Because no one else will tell me what it means or let me learn it!

Draco did his best to suck in his breath and ignore that, though. Harry wasn’t keeping Parseltongue from him on purpose. “Ask Black and Lupin about them,” he said. “You said Black told you stories about your dad and pranks when he was in Hogwarts. He must know other things about him. And your mum. And Lupin should, too.”

“Yeah, he should,” Harry whispered, apparently to himself. He reached out and touched Draco’s shoulder again. “Thanks. Maybe—maybe they can also trust me, as well as having me trust them.”

Draco swallowed down his own feelings at the moment, and his disappointment that Harry had simply forgotten to tell him that he didn’t want Draco researching Lupin anymore. Harry just looked so desolate now, and as though he was perched on the edge of a really big decision. “Yeah. They should.”

Harry shook his head once, firmly, as though responding to an argument from someone who was invisible, and then said, “Look, Draco, I won’t forget this. You want to go out and ride my Firebolt this afternoon?”

Draco relaxed. It was a kind of bribe, but he knew it was, so that was okay, and he still would have given up a lot just to be able to ride such a spectacular broom. “Sure. About one?”

Harry nodded, squeezed his arm again, and then trotted off, his face still pale.

Draco watched him go. In a way, he thought, he still envied Harry, with his fame and his basilisk and his Parseltongue and the way that so many adults were interested in him for himself, not for his family name or things his father had done, the way Draco knew some people were interested in him.

But in other ways, Draco was more than glad to leave that life up to Harry. He was glad that he’d always grown up with his parents, and knew them, and loved them, and he didn’t have to think twice about trusting all these people who should have protected him.

*

I think you must speak to them. This is driving you mad, and making your head an uncomfortable place for a small basilisk to be.

Harry grunted. Yes. Small. Right.

But Harry was wandering through his bedroom right now, picking up and setting down games and books and small moving pictures that Sirius had got for him, and he knew what Dash meant. He hadn’t been able to stop thinking since the conversation with Draco, wondering if Sirius and Lupin really trusted him. What if they didn’t? It was the reason they had kept Lupin’s disease from him for so long. 

What if they were just watching him until he passed some sort of test? Harry could accept that. They didn’t really know each other, after all. Until this year, both Sirius and Lupin hadn’t seen him since he was a baby.

Dash had been the one to point out that Harry was the one who should be able to set up tests, not them. Sirius had had a reputation as a murderer, and Lupin had just come from nowhere and been really secretive about his disease. Sometimes Harry wondered if Lupin would have told him about his connection with Harry’s mum and dad at all if Dash hadn’t sniffed out Pettigrew.

That is another thing.

Harry turned around. Dash had dropped off his shoulder when Harry began to pace, and was arranged by the door, watching him with his reared and swaying head like a cobra. It seemed to be one of his favorite poses. Harry sighed. What do you mean?

Lupin continually casts spells to conceal his scent. If he has the Shaking Pustules, then perhaps that is to cover the scent of his pus. Dash slithered slowly back to Harry and curled up on his feet, gazing up at him with a flicker of yellow dancing like a flame behind his eyelids. He didn’t start using them until after I sniffed out the rat-man, though.

Harry swallowed. What did he smell like before then?

I was young, said Dash with dignity. I cannot remember, and I don’t think that I was yet able to sort out one scent from others so well.

Harry nodded. So you think it’s some sort of different secret? Something worse than the Shaking Pustules? He wouldn’t accept the possible alternate idea that Lupin was someone like Pettigrew had been. For one thing, Sirius seemed to totally accept him as the friend he had known when they were in Hogwarts.

I don’t think it’s a disease, said Dash. It’s something else. And I think you should go and ask them why they can’t admit you into the secret. What’s do dreadful about it that they have to hold it back from you?

Harry shut his eyes. Maybe all sorts of things.

But you won’t know unless you ask them, Dash pointed out, with the sort of sibilant snap to his mind-voice that meant he was losing patience. And it could also be that they’re just being stupid and it doesn’t have much to do with you at all.

Harry swallowed. Yes, well, he had thought of that, hadn’t he? And Lupin was here this weekend. And Sirius wasn’t home right now. He had said that the Ministry was making a fuss about some aspect of the Black fortune, some vault or property they wanted to keep, and he’d left after dinner.

Maybe Harry could use this privacy to talk to Lupin, just the two of them, without Sirius hovering between them like a barrier.

It is the best choice, said Dash, and it was his advice, more than anything else, that made Harry open his door and walk down the corridor towards Lupin’s bedroom, the one with the locked door. 

Harry didn’t think it was locked right now, though. Lupin usually went up to it right before the full moon—well, Harry got to see him do that on the times that the full moon was on weekends and he was home, anyway—and spent a little time meditating before he shut himself away. Now Harry knew why. It would be hard to endure that stupid disease breaking out all over your body no matter how prepared you were for it.

But he still wanted to see Lupin. To talk to him. To tell him that keeping a secret from Harry was kind of pointless, since Harry had a friend who’d told him anyway. And Lupin and Sirius ought to trust Harry more.

Harry knocked on the door. There was silence from behind it. Harry hesitated, wondering if Lupin was still downstairs after all, or perhaps he’d gone with Sirius and Harry simply hadn’t seen him leave. He would have thought they’d tell him, but—

They haven’t told you much else, said Dash, in the neutral tone he used when he was trying not to use a considerably different one.

Harry knocked again, wondering what the hell was going on here. Sirius had always been so paranoid about leaving him alone in the house, as if he thought Voldemort was going to pop up from around the corner and attack him. It didn’t seem likely that he would have taken Lupin with him. On the other hand, Lupin being here when Harry had no way to contact him was also strange.

The door swung open slowly. Harry heard a snuffling sound from beneath it, a slow, heavy breath that made him wonder if Lupin had been crying.

“Professor Lupin?” he called, as calmly as he could. “It’s Harry. I wanted to tell you—I know. It’s okay.”

The heavy noise came again, and Harry saw a blurred shape moving towards him. He blinked, trying to focus his eyes. It wasn’t easy, with the shadows in the room seeming thicker than they had any right to be. But it almost seemed that Lupin was moving on all fours. Could the disease be so painful it had knocked him there?

“Professor Lupin?” he asked again.

The four-legged shape made another noise and blurred towards him. Harry caught a glimpse of fur, of gleaming yellow eyes, of something that opened a terrifying mouth filled with equally terrifying teeth—

And then Dash was whipping, rearing up, between him and the beast, and he sank his fangs deep in Lupin’s leg.

The beast was Lupin, Harry thought, numb, as he watched the thing fall, and then looked up and saw a pair of shredded robes deep in the room. And it wasn’t Shaking Pustules he had after all. It couldn’t be.

Another disease, another option, based on the full moon came to him. And Dash flicked out his tongue and said, He smells like a wolf.

Harry sat down hard. He looked at the breathing wolf, then away again. He’s still alive?

My poison is diluted, remember, Dash said, with a sharp hiss, and slithered back to him. He’s unconscious, and will be for some hours, but he will live.

Harry just nodded, and stroked Dash’s plume, and said nothing. He didn’t feel like he could even get up and go back to his room. 

He just sat there, holding Dash, until Sirius came up the stairs and found them like that.

Chapter Text

"Harry? Are you all right?"

At least that was the first thing he said, Dash murmured, and uncoiled his tail from around Harry's throat. I will remember that.

Harry wished he could attach the significance to that question that Dash did. Or even really understand why Dash was attaching that significance. He sat there numbly as Sirius knelt down in front of him and looked into his face.

"Are you there, kid?" Sirius whispered.

Dash watched from the side. Harry understood that he had to drag himself together and respond, because even if Dash was going to be the one to talk to Sirius, he would have to do it through Harry.

Harry made his eyes blink and his head turn. It wasn't so hard after all, once he thought about it. He'd done harder things last year, when he'd had to stop Tom Riddle and save Ginny. He looked Sirius in the eye, and Sirius immediately looked down.

"You could have just told me," Harry whispered. "He almost bit me. What--" He couldn't find the words. There was a big ringing in his ears, and he couldn't find the words. He just sat there and stared and waited for what Sirius would say next.

"He should have taken his Wolfsbane," Sirius said, and he glanced over at Lupin. Then he stood up and said, "Why's he lying there like that? What happened?"

"Dash bit him," said Harry dully. He could force himself to answer questions, but he didn't know if he could do more than that. He reached out his hand, and Dash wrapped around his arm. He was cool, soothingly cool. Harry cradled Dash against him and watched as Sirius whipped back around and stared at him.

"Bit him," said Sirius, with a growl in his voice that reminded Harry of his dog form, and it did seem that dark hair was thickening around his ears and eyes. "I told you that snake was dangerous."

Dash reared slowly up until he was wrapped around Harry's shoulders and neck. He opened his mouth. Sirius stepped back, his eyes on him, fumbling for his wand. Harry sat there and felt nothing. It was like he didn't even have arms and legs. The needles that pierced them, needles of pain and doubt, had vanished. He watched, and it was as though it was all happening somewhere, in a different place, to someone else.

Dash hissed, a long, slow, complicated piece of hissing that didn't translate into Parseltongue for Harry. Harry wondered absently if he'd lost that ability too. He might as well have lost everything else that mattered. What was one more thing?

But instead of Dash undraping himself from Harry and crawling away, or biting him, he dropped and wrapped in furiously tight coils around his shoulders and arms. And from the shadows, trailing their shadows behind them as they moved, came snake after snake. They were all grey and gleaming and had black stripes on their sides and fangs that stuck, long and slender, out of their mouths, like Dash's. They slid and slithered around Harry and Dash and climbed towards Sirius.

Sirius cast a spell that split the corridor with light and fire and cut through one of the snakes. But it didn't even seem to have been affected. Harry blinked, coming out of it, mildly interested now.

They are snakes made of shadow, said Dash, and wrapped him tighter still. And I am the King of Serpents.

The snakes all clustered around Sirius's feet and hissed at him. Then Dash turned and placed his head underneath Harry's chin, and Harry felt his jaw open without him even willing it. Dash's voice flowed forth from his throat, turned into English.

"You are more concerned about your friend than about Harry."

It took Sirius a minute to tear his eyes away from the shadow-snakes and answer him. Harry felt as if more air was flooding into his lungs all the time, and things were starting to hurt. He thought they would hurt a lot more in a few minutes.

"Moony--Moony was bitten," Sirius mumbled, and then he blushed. Harry wondered why for a second. But then he thought he knew why, and he wanted to look away, but Dash's head held his in place. "What the hell are you doing to Harry, anyway?"

"You cared more for your werewolf friend than anyone else," Dash's merciless voice continued. Harry thought it sounded a lot different than his, rougher and darker, kind of like Snape's, but deeper. "You didn't make him take his Wolfsbane or lock his door. You left him alone in a house with a child who didn't know he was a werewolf."

"It was Moony's secret to tell," said Sirius.

"All you care about is his father's friends," said Dash. "Your friends. You don't see Harry at all except as a reflection of James, and you placed a secret that could have got Harry killed above his safety. You are a poor guardian."

Sirius was flushing more than ever now. Harry lay back against the wall and watched. He felt a little like an abandoned toy. Well, no, not abandoned, not with the tight hold Dash had on him. He just hoped that Dash was able to pick him up and play with him, after this.

"No one at the school knew, except Dumbledore," Sirius whispered. Then his face hardened. "And Snape, but that was because he nearly exposed Moony's secret to the world when we were students. And Moony thought you would react badly if you knew, because he always gets rejected as a monster." He looked at Harry and leaned forwards as if he would touch Harry's forehead. "Harry? Are you in there?"

All the snakes hissed as one, with a force that made Sirius flinch. Harry felt a distant emotion when he saw that. Was he glad? He supposed that part of him was. Not in a mean way, he thought. Not really. He didn't want Sirius to be bitten and suffer from poison, if the shadow-snakes could have poison--and he thought they did. He just wanted him to acknowledge that what he'd done was wrong.

The thought made him convulse. Fear rode him, and he lowered his head and had to close his eyes as hot tears forced their way out from underneath the lids.

He could have been killed. And Sirius didn't care.

Harry had thought he had.

"Oh, Harry, Harry, kid," said Sirius helplessly, but he didn't dare move nearer. The ring of snakes was tight around him. Harry reached up and put a hand on Dash's neck, but he couldn't move it further than that. Dash was still so tightly wound.

Dash? Can you pull back and let me have my voice again? I need to talk to Sirius.

Not right now, said Dash, cold, imperious. There are more things I need to say to him.

"How did it happen that he came to be in the house without this Wolfsbane drug and without a locked door?" Dash asked, coldly.

Sirius stood back up again and folded his arms. His gaze went back to Lupin. Harry looked into his eyes and saw all this caring.

He supposed it was for Lupin, and not him. He even supposed dully that that shouldn't be a surprise. Sirius had known Lupin all his life, or at least since he went to Hogwarts, and he'd known Harry for a few months.

That does not matter, Dash roared inside his head, and murmured aloud, "I am waiting for an answer to my question."

"Snape brought over the potion as usual," Sirius whispered, still looking at Lupin. "He does always go up to meditate before he takes it. He says it makes him more relaxed and less likely to make mistakes. I think he must have fallen asleep." He cast a spell that made Dash tighten and hiss and even Harry tense, but all it did was throw a shaft of light from his wand into Lupin's room, like a more powerful Lumos. Sirius stared, then sighed and said, "Yeah. I can see the goblet of Wolfsbane still sitting in the corner. I'll make sure he takes it before he comes back to consciousness, even if I have to force it down his throat." For once, he sounded appropriately grim.

"That does not give an answer to the riddle of the unlocked door," Dash said.

"I don't know what happened there any more than you do," said Sirius shortly. "We'll have to ask Moony when he wakes up."

Moony, Dash said. I should have known from that stupid nickname. I failed you as much as the rest of them, Harry. His hold loosened, and he took his head from beneath Harry's chin, rubbing against Harry's cheek instead. I am sorry.

It isn't your fault, Harry said down the bond. He was using glamours to hide his scent. Then he looked up at Sirius and whispered, "I could have kept the secret. If you'd just told me he was a werewolf. I'm good at keeping secrets. I would have known it was dangerous. But I just thought his disease made him look ugly, and I was going to see him and tell him that it didn't matter what he looked like."

"Harry," Sirius said, and hesitated and glanced down at his feet. The shadow-snakes had vanished. Harry hadn't even noticed them go. "That's you again, right?"

Harry nodded and stood up. His legs were shaky, and he leaned against the wall. Dash rubbed his head against Harry's cheek again. You need to get warm, and you need to have something to drink. Tell the useless dog-man to take you down to the kitchens and get you something warming, and then come up and make sure the creature has its Wolfsbane. If he comes after you again, I will open my eyes.

"I need to get warm, and I need something to drink," Harry recited obediently. He felt Dash coil and relax gently around his wrist, telling him that this was right, that he was going to feel better in a few minutes. Harry managed to calm down a little at that. "And then Dash thinks that you should come up and make sure--he takes his Wolfsbane." Harry didn't think he could call Lupin Professor right now, and he had never called him Remus or Moony.

It would be hard to think of him as Moony right now. Harry started to shiver again.

"Of course! You were probably in shock." Sirius jumped forwards and hugged him. Dash did nothing, but Harry could feel Sirius holding his breath when he realized that he'd just hugged Dash, too. "Come on, kid."

He led Harry down the stairs. Harry glanced back once at the sleeping werewolf, but Dash said, I can call the snakes and send them up the stairs again if I have to. I told you I was the King of Serpents. They can bite even when apart me from me.

Harry relaxed completely. Then he wondered if he should. He was relaxing because someone else was promising violence. It seemed...wrong.

You're relaxing because someone else promised to protect you. The way they always should have. The way they all should have. It shouldn't all be left up to one small basilisk.

I know, Harry whispered, and rested his chin on Dash's scales as Sirius led him down the stairs. It's not fair to you.

Or to you, and Dash sounded strangely intense when he was speaking the words, the way he had when he argued with Harry in Snape's office. You know that, right?

Yes, I do now, Harry thought. But it made him wonder, if Sirius wasn't doing his job of protecting Harry, what he could do next, and whether Harry should trust him.

Don't trust him. But trust me, and I'll protect you while you're here. And maybe someday, he can make it clear why he wanted to have you around if his best friend meant so much more to him. That's a question I'd like to ask.

Harry rubbed Dash's head and said nothing while Sirius bustled around the kitchen getting a cup of hot tea ready and filling it with sugar and lemon and cream until it seemed that it would probably mostly be sweet things. Maybe he would let Dash use his voice to ask the question someday, but not right now. Right now, he wanted to sit there and drink the tea and listen to Sirius creak back up the stairs to see about Lupin and the Wolfsbane.

And forget that he had almost died tonight. Again.

*

Severus would have to be blind not to notice the change in Harry when he came back from the mutt's house. His face was still white, and he responded to the jokes and gibes of his friends with only the ghost of a smile.

And one hand was always touching the basilisk, even in Potions when he had to use the other hand for stirring the cauldron or chopping ingredients or taking notes. He kept a death grip on the creature's tail if nothing else, and sometimes he leaned his head sideways and rested his cheek on the serpent's scales.

The signs of weakness made Severus nervous, but he had to admit there would be fewer consequences to it this year. Draco was no longer someone who tried to notice Harry's every weakness and point it out to the other Slytherins, and the rest of the school finally seemed to have decided that the fun of "gawking and whispering about Harry Potter" was less important than the pain of "having a giant serpent angry at you." So Severus thought it had passed unnoticed for most people other than him.

He held Harry after class, and Harry only gave him a weary glance from glazed eyes and nodded. Severus held back the impulse to immediately find Black and curse him, and shooed Harry's friends out before he turned to him. Harry still had a hand on the bloody basilisk, stroking down his neck as if the snake was the one who needed the soothing.

And he held still for a moment before he responded to Severus's obvious, unspoken question, as if he was asking the bloody basilisk whether it was a good idea for him to do so.

"Something happened over the weekend," he said. Still dully. He rubbed the basilisk with both hands this time and looked at the floor. "And I s'pose I can tell you about it because Sirius said you already know."

Severus held onto his patience with both hands. "Know what?" he asked.

"Know that Professor Lupin is a werewolf."

A chill calm settled over Severus. He thought, carefully, how much distance there was between him and the nearest vial of poison, and which one would cause the least disturbance to the Wolfsbane should he add that to the liquid. He had a plan in mind in seconds, if Lupin had hurt Harry.

"No, he didn't bite me," said Harry, who must have been watching him more closely than Severus had thought. He glanced at the basilisk, who opened his own mouth in what might have been a yawn, but Severus had watched him closely before this and knew better. "Dash bit him before he could."

"He should not have been without the Wolfsbane," said Severus, and put aside thoughts of the poison for now. At least, a fatal poison. One that rendered Lupin mildly uncomfortable the day afterwards and required to stay close to a loo was still possible. "Or in a place that you could reach him."

Harry shut his eyes. "They told me Lupin had a skin disease that he was embarrassed to discuss with anyone else. I wanted to show him that I was fine with it. Sirius said that he must have fallen asleep while he was meditating and forgotten to take the Wolfsbane."

"And to lock his door, of course," Severus muttered, thoroughly disgusted. He had told the Headmaster that a werewolf was not safe to be around children, but Dumbledore was more infatuated with the Marauders now than he had been during their school years. He had passed some evenings at the Head Table talking of the great injustices they had suffered, Black in prison and Lupin hounded from job to job.

And this is why.

"I don't know if wolves can lock doors," said Harry, his head still down, his hand constantly caressing the basilisk's scales. The basilisk nudged him in the ribs, and he looked up at Severus. "I mean, Dash says I shouldn't try to excuse him."

Severus nodded. "You should not." He experienced a brief spasm of regret that he and the basilisk could not communicate more directly. He was sure they would find even more to agree on than they did now.

"But...I don't understand it." Harry was huddled around Dash, and if no one else had seen this, they were even more moronic than Severus had thought them. "They could have just told me Lupin was a werewolf. Then I wouldn't have pried. But Sirius was still going on and on about how it was Lupin's secret and he just can't bear to have it exposed even a couple hours afterwards."

There was an anger in Severus that he was not ready to examine, which was more than his customary grudge against Black. He tried to bury it by asking, "And what did Lupin say?"

"I don't know." Harry's voice was tinier than Severus had ever heard it. "He was gone the next morning before I woke up."

Severus leaned forwards. "What has he said since you have been back at school?" Lupin could not easily have avoided Harry there. He would have to have spoken.

"He just calls on me to answer questions, in class." Harry was staring at Severus's boots as if they were the most interesting thing in the world. "He doesn't answer mine."

Severus reached out, slowly, the way he would if he was trying to creep up on a magical creature whose willingly donated hair or feathers he needed, and slowly cupped Harry's chin. Harry didn't immediately raise his head, but the basilisk lodged his head beneath Severus's hand, and Harry had to look up then.

His eyes were too big and glossy, not in tears yet, but in the state that could so easily become them.

"Why didn't they tell me?" Harry whispered. "Why is it so important for Lupin to keep his secrets and not talk to me?"

Severus had many answers for that, but...

Be too bitter, and you will lose him forever.

"They have been like that since they were young," he murmured instead, while wondering when his relationship with James Potter's son had become so important to preserve at all costs. "They had secrets when they were young, some of the same ones. And I do not think they have changed. Black went to Azkaban for twelve years. He has not grown up."

He paused, but Harry was listening to his words, absorbing them, while the basilisk was giving him one of those complicated looks that were hard to judge. Harry whispered, "What about Lupin? What excuse does he have?"

None.

That was what Severus wanted to say, but again he restrained himself. He said carefully, "I think that Lupin is obsessed with his own secret. He has been rejected from jobs and homes for it. He cannot comprehend that someone is willing to offer him a fair chance, even if they know what he is."

"So it didn't matter who it was? He wouldn't have trusted them?" For some reason, Harry's face was lightening.

After a moment's search of his own mind, Severus discovered the reason, one he should have thought about before now. Even when he was brave enough to do something like say he would speak about his abuse, Harry didn't want to stand out from others. He wanted to be treated the same as they were. Suggesting that Lupin might have refused his confidence to Harry because of who he was would devastate him.

But if he was only one of the many mistrusted ones, then Harry could accept that.

Even if he should not have to, Severus thought viciously, and responded to Harry, "That's right. I must admit, I had thought he would make an exception for the son of his best friend."

"It's all right that he didn't," said Harry, and stared at his feet again. But his breathing was calmer, and the glossy sheen had faded from his eyes.

Severus grimaced, now that Harry was no longer looking at him. He could see why this would soothe Harry, but the fact remained that he should not have had to accept such treatment, that he should be able to demand better, and Lupin and Black should have given him better.

"Do you think I should talk to Professor Lupin again, then?" Harry asked, and his voice was soft and anxious, hoping for one sort of advice. "If he doesn't mean to be angry at me."

He has no right to be angry.

Severus only inclined his head. "I cannot predict what he will say. But yes, I believe that would be productive."

Even if it would allow Lupin to get away with this bloody secrecy for a little while longer. Even if it would encourage him to believe he had been in the right. Harry would need support when the news of his abuse went public, and although Severus planned to be the majority of that support, it would help if Lupin and Black were solidly behind Harry.

And it was becoming too obvious that they would only be so if their image of Harry matched the reality. Severus could only hope that when Harry was more adult, he would find the courage to question that kind of conditional support and break away if he wished to. But for now, it was better that he manipulate them, unknowingly, with guilt if he could.

"Thanks, Professor Snape." Harry said it in a rush, and looked towards the door of the classroom. "Can I go? Defense is next."

Reluctant though he was to send Harry back to associate with those who would place their own needs above his, Severus nodded. He had to work within constraints himself, this time those of the school. He could take no responsibility for Harry. It would be too strange for too many, limit his effectiveness if the Dark Lord returned, and have no legal basis.

That he even wanted to was an astonishing revelation to him. But for now, he would simply live with that revelation instead of trying to pursue it.

"Thanks," said Harry, and flashed him a smile that made Severus go breathless before he ran out of the room, supporting the basilisk with an arm around its neck.

Severus leaned against the wall for a moment with his eyes closed. He could do nothing more for now. He had done something that would have--he hoped--impressed Lily with its generosity.

Well. Nothing more is a lie.

He straightened, and went to find certain potions that would be untraceable to him and easy to slip into Black and Lupin's food.

Chapter Text

“So, what the hell happened the last time you were home?”

Draco knew that using words like that, so different from his usual language, would at least get Harry to pay attention. And it had. Harry turned around and gaped at him a little, then raised his fists and rubbed at his eyes.

“I—something that really hurt,” Harry said, looking as startled as Draco that he was responding.

Draco leaned back against the library bookshelf and folded his arms. They were in the middle of a research project on basilisks. Or, rather, Draco was, and Harry had let himself be dragged along to the library, because Harry was letting himself be dragged everywhere these days. He barely seemed to notice when Draco grabbed his arm, though he would have protested violently before.

No, the one Draco kept his eye on for protests was Dash. But he had only given Draco a glance, and then returned to his slumber around Harry’s neck. 

“Then tell me about it,” Draco urged softly. “Or is that something that Gryffindor friends don’t do for each other, but Slytherin friends do?”

“Sympathize?” Harry was trying to hold onto his smile when his face was that pale and Dash was butting up against his hand. Draco counted the seconds, and hadn’t even reached three when, sure enough, the smile disappeared. “Of course they sympathize with me.”

“But they haven’t noticed the way you look, have they?” Draco lounged closer against the bookshelves. “Come on, Harry,” he added, when Harry opened his mouth to defend himself. “I know they haven’t, or we would have heard something about it before now.”

Harry shut his eyes. Dash was wound all down his arm now, and he seemed to be holding Harry back from doing something drastic. Draco winced. He still wanted to know, but he wondered if what had happened was even worse than he thought.

Probably. Everything about Harry sometimes seemed worse than he thought, from the way Harry had reacted to his initial attempts at friendship, to the fact that he couldn’t help Draco get a basilisk or teach him Parseltongue.

But Draco was trying to move past that. Harry looked really bad. And Draco felt a little smug that he had noticed but other people hadn’t. So he said as gently as he could, “Come on. Tell me?”

“All right,” said Harry dully. “But you can’t tell anyone else, all right? Because part of it isn’t my secret, and I shouldn’t have pried, and that means if someone starts spreading it around—”

He stopped. Draco looked up, then looked down at his hand, where Harry was also staring. Dash was wrapped about Harry’s wrist and gently squeezing. Or it looked gentle, anyway, but it must have hurt, because Harry winced and tried to yank his hand away, hissing—in English—“Dash, what are you doing?”

Dash looked up at Harry. Of course Draco couldn’t hear what he said, and he wouldn’t have been able to understand it if it was aloud, anyway, but he would wager he knew.

“It doesn’t matter whose secrets you found out,” he said. “Right? Dash still thinks that you don’t have anything to apologize for, and he wants you to stop.” Draco sniffed. “I can see why. You can’t have anything to apologize for when you look like that.” He leaned near, and Harry looked desperately up at him.

Merlin. Harry looked like—like he wanted to die.

“Listen,” said Harry, and he sounded as though he was whispering to a lot more people than just Draco. Maybe Dash, then, Draco thought, and told himself to stop being jealous. How could he be jealous of Dash? Of Harry for having Dash, maybe, but not a basilisk himself. “I found out that—that Professor Lupin is a werewolf.”

Draco felt his eyes widening, and widening. “Impossible. My father!”

“I don’t know what your father has to do with it.” Harry buried his head in his arms, and Draco sat down beside him so he could go on listening. “He’s always taken this Wolfsbane potion and locked himself away somewhere on the full moon, I reckon. But this time, he didn’t lock the room in Sirius’s house where he was, and he fell asleep and forgot to take his Wolfsbane potion.”

“Fuck,” Draco breathed, wincing a second later. His father would never forgive him if he could hear Draco using language that vulgar, but it was the first word that came to mind as Draco looked in sick fascination at Harry’s arms and legs, wondering where the bite was.

“He didn’t bite me,” said Harry, looking up and catching Draco’s gaze. “Dash bit him first, and his poison is diluted, so it put Lupin to sleep but didn’t kill him. And then Sirius came back, and he got upset because Dash is dangerous.”

“So he has a pet werewolf,” said Draco. “And he was upset because he cares more about the pet werewolf than you.”

It wasn’t until Harry went white that Draco wondered if he should have put it like that. But Dash gave a hiss that honestly sounded as if it agreed, and Harry swallowed a little and clenched a fist, staring down at it. Then he shook his head. 

“That’s what it seems like. But why would Sirius want me to live with him and give me a room and everything if he was just going to kick me out the minute Lupin was in danger?” Harry dragged in a painful breath. “I just wish he’d told me. And Dash wishes more than that, but I can’t let him hurt Sirius or Lupin.” He put a hand on Dash’s neck.

“I’ll help,” Draco told Dash, knowing perfectly well that Dash would at least understand him from hearing the words through Harry’s ears. “How dare they.”

“Draco.” Draco looked up. Harry was staring at him, shaking his head a little. “Listen. You don’t need to do anything. It’s—they explained, and Lupin forgot and fell asleep. It was horrible seeing him coming at me, but—it’s not like they did it on purpose.”

“That doesn’t matter.” Draco smiled at Harry, and Harry blinked. Draco supposed that Harry had never seen him smile when he was furious before. It was, to be fair, not the expression Draco usually wore when yelling insults at Harry. “They let a monster endanger you. They should never have done anything like have a werewolf in a house without letting people take proper precautions. And now I can do something to them.”

“What can you do?” Harry blinked at him. “No offense, but I think they both know more spells than you. They’re adults.”

“I can go to my father and get Lupin sacked,” said Draco smugly. “They might not like him very much right now, but the Board of Governors will have to listen if we prove there’s a werewolf at the school!”

“Don’t do that!”

Draco blinked and leaned back. He was having a hard time keeping up with Harry’s mood swings, he thought. Now Harry was on his feet and pointing one trembling finger at Draco. Dash had reared up and was mostly on the ground, his body wrapped around Harry’s leg but his head swaying back and forth between them. Draco was sure he understood what was at stake here. He just didn’t know why Dash was so hesitant. Didn’t he want to protect Harry?

“Why not?” Draco asked. “Lupin proved that he didn’t really care about you when he failed to take the bloody Wolfsbane!” Swearing was kind of fun. Maybe Draco would have to do it more often, although not in the hearing of his father. “You should lose him his job. He shouldn’t teach at a school if he’s going to be that careless!”

“He wasn’t at the school, though.” Harry’s arms were folded so tight that Draco thought he was hurting his shoulders. Then Harry shifted his stance a little and winced, and Draco was sure of it. “He was at Sirius’s house. I think he was going there every full moon since Sirius got freed. I just never knew what it was for.”

“I don’t care,” Draco snapped, irritated. “Unless you think that makes it better because he could only hurt you, or something.”

“Yes, of course that makes it better,” said Harry, staring at Draco. “It’s better to have one person in danger than a whole bunch of them.”

Draco jumped to his feet and waved his arms. Great, he thought in one corner of his brain, now Harry’s making me just as bad as he is. “But you wouldn’t feel that way if it was me, right? Or Weasley, or Granger?” He managed to keep from sneering when he talked about Harry’s friends. Really, he thought Harry ought to be proud of him.

“Of course I wouldn’t.” Harry looked a little stunned, his eyes wide, one hand lifted as if he was going to fend off what Draco was saying.

“Then get Dash to explain that don’t feel any differently when it’s you.” Draco tapped his foot on the floor.

There was a long, silent moment—silent for Draco, at least—when Draco hoped that Dash was doing just that. Then Harry sighed and said, “Listen, Draco. Don’t do that. Maybe—maybe it won’t ever matter. I don’t think Lupin will ever forget his Wolfsbane again. Sirius said he was shocked about what happened.”

He didn’t apologize?” Draco was going to accept, for the moment, that werewolves were something more than deadly dangerous beasts who should be put down at once and kept away from normal wizarding society, because Harry wouldn’t listen to him if he tried to talk about that. But he was horrified by the notion that Lupin wouldn’t apologize to someone who didn’t believe werewolves were deadly dangerous beasts who should be put down at once and kept away from normal wizarding society.

It would be like Mudbloods getting upset at somebody who defended them from pure-bloods. It was just wrong.

“No,” said Harry in a harsh croak, and then he faced Draco. “Look, drop it. This is why I didn’t tell anyone.”

“No, you didn’t tell anyone because you have no common sense,” Draco said, and his voice only rose a little on those last words. He was glad they were in an isolated corner of the library. Otherwise, Madam Pince probably already would have thrown them out for yelling. “You need to get Lupin sacked! Or out of the house!”

Harry closed his eyes. Then he said, “Look, Draco. Sirius didn’t tell me about it, and he must have had his reasons. I don’t think Lupin has anywhere else to go. I don’t—I don’t want anyone to lose their homes because of me. Okay?”

Draco opened his mouth to say something else, something scathing, and then paused. He suddenly knew, he was sure, what Harry was really afraid of, but he wouldn’t say that, either.

Harry was afraid that his godfather might choose Lupin over him, and kick Harry out.

Draco knew it as though someone had branded the words on his forehead. It wasn’t the kind of insight that he’d expected to have, but there it was. 

And he had to decide what to do with it.

He swallowed, and decided he would keep it secret. Harry hadn’t said it aloud. He would deny it if Draco tried to convince him of it. Or he would run away, and Draco hadn’t put all these weeks of effort into becoming Harry’s friend for nothing.

So. Even though, as far as Draco was concerned, Black had already chosen Lupin over Harry, Draco would have to stay quiet for now, because Harry needed time to come to terms with that.

Draco glanced at Dash and muttered, “Will you protect him from any more werewolf attacks?”

Dash slowly extended his neck flat, then bobbed his head once. Draco relaxed. It wasn’t an absolute guarantee that Harry wouldn’t get hurt, but it was a lot better than having no one living in the house who cared about Harry’s safety.

“I don’t want to cost anyone anything,” Harry whispered, his eyes down. “I don’t want Lupin to lose his job or his house. I don’t want Sirius to lose him.” He paused, and Draco thought he was about to add something else, but he didn’t.

Draco nodded and patted his shoulder—not the one that Dash had twined himself back up and around—and said nothing. He would wait until Harry could accept it, if he had to.

It was still bloody stupid, and Harry was being a pissant little martyr. But Draco supposed that was the sort of thing you had to put up with when you had friends who weren’t just with you because your father had ordered them to be.

*

“You know why I have called you here, I think.”

Dumbledore’s voice was as gentle as falling snow. Harry was glad of that as he sat down in the chair in front of Dumbledore’s desk, because Dash’s voice was in his head, and it was a long way from gentle.

He’s called you here to apologize for Lupin, so Lupin won’t have to do it for himself. He’s called you here so he can go on making you feel bad when you’ve done nothing wrong. I want to bite him. I want to call the serpents on him.

Harry laid one clenched fist on Dash’s neck and shook his head. You can’t do that, he thought back. I still want to have Sirius in my life, and you know Sirius would never let us back in the house if you bit the Headmaster. He didn’t understand the depth of the connection between Sirius and Dumbledore, honestly, but he knew it was there.

Dash twisted around and laid his neck along Harry’s chin. You want to stay with Sirius, but you would never abandon me, would you? 

Harry tilted his head down so his cheek was against what he had to call Dash’s cheek, for lack of a better word, and said nothing. Dash had to know, from the connection thrumming through Harry’s blood, what the link between them meant. No, Harry would hate to abandon anyone else, but he would do it before he left Dash.

“Harry?”

Harry sat back and looked up again. Dumbledore had his hands folded on his desk, but they were clasped tightly around each other, and Harry thought he had probably been waiting for a few minutes for Harry to pay attention. He swallowed and said, “You want to apologize for Professor Lupin.”

Dumbledore gave a long, soft sigh and looked down at his hands. “How much do you know what of what your godfather suffered when he was young, Harry?”

The topic caught Harry off-guard. “I know he was in Azkaban,” he said. “And I know—I mean, I think his family was terrible to him. But that’s all I really know.”

“I am glad to find that you can have compassion for him,” said Dumbledore gently. “Compassion is a rare trait in one so young. But then, you haven’t had a normal childhood.” He paused and looked at Harry.

I would never tell you. Never, never, never. Harry felt as if he could push enough rejection at Dumbledore to shove him out of his chair on the other side of his desk, but at least Dumbledore didn’t appear to feel it. He only sat there and finally spoke again when he seemed to realize that Harry didn’t want to answer.

“His family rejected him,” said Dumbledore quietly. “He was Sorted into Gryffindor, and his family had always been Slytherin.” He paused, but Harry had no idea what to say. Sirius hadn’t told him much about his family, and that remained true. “He had a younger brother, Regulus, whom his parents decided would take over and be made family heir in his stead. So, while Sirius had been raised thinking he would inherit everything, he found himself reduced to the status of a pensioner.”

Harry listened, and said nothing. He thought that it was sort of like the way Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon had always reminded Harry that he was taking food out of Dudley’s mouth. But in that case, he didn’t know if he would be Regulus or Sirius.

“His parents tortured Sirius.” Dumbledore was looking at Harry over his glasses, so gravely that Harry wanted to choke. Dash wound a small portion of his neck along Harry’s throat and into his hair, but for the moment, Dumbledore didn’t appear to notice, even though most of the time he was jumpy and nervous around Dash, and he would have noticed right away. “They used Dark curses on him. They beat him. They tried to break his spirit through compulsion spells, but he managed to resist that. And they tried to take away his friends.”

Harry found it hard to speak. Of course that would horrify anyone, but he thought that most people wouldn’t be able to feel the horror the way he did. If the Dursleys had been wizards, or if they had known about Ron and Hermione and tried to take them away…

He’s manipulating you, said Dash, simply, coolly. He’s explaining the similarities between you and the cowardly dog-man so that you will forgive the dog-man anything. Can you not see?

Harry looked down, and nodded a little, and said nothing. He could see, but that didn’t diminish the fact that he was sorry for Sirius. It was still horrible for him to have to go through that. His parents still stounded like the Dursleys.

You are not responsible for his suffering. Or for compassionating it.

“In the end,” said Dumbledore, leaning back behind his desk and watching Harry while Harry thought of how he should respond to Dash, “Sirius gained the courage to run away. He went and stayed with a good friend of his. That friend’s family welcomed him warmly, and Sirius had a home he could never have imagined.”

“You mean my dad’s family, right?” Harry was sure, and he thought he’d heard something about this from Sirius, before, but he wanted to ask anyway, just to see what Dumbledore would say.

Dumbledore smiled, so warm and deep that Harry nearly smiled back before he remembered it wasn’t for him. It was for Sirius, and the way that Dumbledore said he’d had the courage to run away.

It’s never for me, Harry thought, and looked down and stroked Dash’s small scales behind his eye again.

“Yes,” said Dumbledore. “And he remained with James’s family, and managed to recover from his hurts. But then Azkaban, and the death of his best friend, wreaked damage again.” He hesitated, then added, “I want you to have a family and a chance to heal, too, Harry. But I ask that you be patient with Sirius. Lupin was one of the friends who comforted him when he was at Hogwarts, and although Sirius didn’t live with him, he was instrumental in giving Sirius the courage to survive. Sirius isn’t yet—experienced in dealing with you as a godson. He tried to have his godson and his old friend in the same house without considering the consequences. But truly, he didn’t mean what happened.”

Harry braced and looked up at Dumbledore. “And what about Professor Lupin?”

Dumbledore looked shocked. “Do you think he chose you as a deliberate victim, Harry? Of course not! If he had bitten you, I am sure he would have regretted it for the rest of his days.”

All about their pain and their regret, Dash said, his voice as scorching as a shot of venom. He cares nothing for what you suffered.

“No, I mean,” said Harry. “He hasn’t apologized. He hasn’t looked me in the eyes. I don’t know what he’s thinking. I think he cares more about what happened to him than what happened to me, though.”

Dumbledore shook his head at once. “He doesn’t understand how to deal with the crushing weight of his own guilt. And what happened is a shocking thing. I have made him swear to carry a ring that will blaze with light and an alarm to wake him up in case he ever falls asleep before taking his Wolfsbane again. You don’t have to worry about that carelessness harming you, Harry.” He hesitated, then added, “I’m afraid that Professor Lupin hasn’t been treated well by the wizarding world, either. You must have patience with him.”

I can translate that, said Dash, and his tail was a blur of motion in the corner of Harry’s eye. He wants you to remember that he could send you back to the Dursleys at any time. If you don’t have this home and be patient with the dolts that call themselves adults, then you’ll lose any home. Harry, if you listen to him and forgive them—

You don’t know what I’m about to do, Harry whispered, and he felt Dash pause. He looked up into Dumbledore’s eyes and sighed. “I’ll try to have patience, sir, but they haven’t acted like they’re sorry. Sirius yelled at me for letting Dash bite Lupin. They acted l-like they cared more about each other than me.”

And Harry’s fists curled, and he felt his voice tremble, because he didn’t want to, he didn’t want to, but he thought he was going to lose Sirius over this, but things couldn’t stay the same. Dash wouldn’t let them. And Harry had never really had Lupin to lose. Not if they could keep the secret from him.

“They could have told me Professor Lupin was a werewolf,” he told the Headmaster sullenly. “Then I wouldn’t have intruded.”

“They did several things wrong,” Dumbledore agreed softly. “I ask you again, have patience. All of you are new at this. Sirius at being a godfather, Professor Lupin at having people who will help him and love him, you at having a family. It will come more easily in time.”

Harry sat there and let it all wash over him. He was listening to what Dumbledore said, but he was listening to other things, too. He thought about what Dumbledore had said about Sirius having an awful family, and he thought of what Snape had said about other people herehaving awful families.

Well. Harry couldn’t change Professor Lupin being a bloody coward or what Sirius had suffered or what he had at the Dursleys’, but he was going to change some things for some people. He felt Dash lift his head and stare at him. Harry just mumbled a few more replies to Dumbledore, and then left the office and walked towards Snape’s office. Dumbledore seemed to think the conversation had gone well, and Harry had agreed to forgive Sirius and Lupin.

Harry thought maybe he could forgive people, but he would have to do it later and not because the Headmaster asked him to.

He knocked when he got to Snape’s office, and Snape opened the door and stared at him in utter silence. He had a bubbling flask of something in one hand, purple. Harry didn’t recognize it. 

He stared at Snape instead and said, “I want to know how we should tell people about my abuse. Because I’m sick of people suffering.”

Dash curled around his neck, but said nothing. Harry just felt a deep, warm thrum from his basilisk. It wasn’t exactly like contentment. It was more—

As though Dash admired him and didn’t know what to say next.

Harry petted Dash’s plume and looked at Snape and also said nothing, and finally Snape nodded and stepped back from his office door. Harry took a deep breath and walked in. 

He was doing this because he didn’t want anyone else to suffer, and because he wanted people to be proud of him, and—

Maybe because telling people about what the Dursleys had done to him, if he had to, wouldn’t hurt as much as the suffocating sensation that gripped him right now when he thought of Sirius and Lupin. 

Chapter Text

“Do you feel ready to talk about it?” Severus asked.

He had sometimes been told—though not in recent memory—that his voice was most soothing when it was at its deepest. He tried to keep that in mind, his eyes gently on Harry and the basilisk that had curled up in his lap the moment he sat down. The basilisk’s tail was long enough to dangle down the boy’s knee and to the floor. Of course, that was partially because the boy himself was not tall.

Will he be willing to talk about that as well, what made him that way? Severus wondered, but as yet, he didn’t know. He would have to wait and see.

Harry looked up. He had one hand on a particular thick, diamond-shaped scale behind the basilisk’s head, and was pressing down as if he wanted to keep the snake from striking at something. Severus judged the distance between their chairs and moved a little further back.

“I can,” said Harry. His voice was soft, but strong. “Dash was just trying to persuade me to talk about what Sirius and Lupin—did to me as a form of abuse, too. But I don’t want to do that. I’m only going to talk about the Dursleys.”

Severus suffered a fierce stab of disappointment, one which nearly made him want to compare it to a basilisk bite to test which one hurt more. But he had never expected Harry to turn on Black this soon. He nodded and said, “Then tell me what you would consider saying.”

Harry gnawed his lip for a second. The basilisk watched his face and didn’t move. Then Harry glanced up at Severus and muttered, “The cupboard and the—the way they didn’t feed me a lot.”

“The starvation?” Severus used the word deliberately. Merlin knew it would come up once they started talking about this, and the last thing they needed was the child flinching like a startled hare before someone else’s first mention of it.

Harry squeezed his eyes for a second. “I still ate.”

The basilisk looped one coil around his arm. “I did,” Harry insisted, opening his eyes and looking down at the snake. “Just not as often as Dudley did!”

“Dudley being your cousin,” Severus murmured, as if anxious to help Harry along. In reality, he was, but he did wonder how prepared Harry would be to face a ravenously curious wizarding world if he still reacted by throwing delays in the path of an ally.

“Yes,” Harry said, and turned towards Severus with the light flashing off his glasses. “I mean, that’s natural in a way, right, sir? That Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon would care more about what Dudley ate than me? Because he’s their son and I’m just their—nephew.” He trailed off near the end, as if hearing what he was saying.

Or because he saw the expression on my face, Severus’s thoughts supplied to him. He said aloud, only, “Do not presume to defend them to me, Mr. Potter.”

“I’m not really trying to defend them.” Harry traced one hand over the part of his lap that the basilisk didn’t occupy. The snake promptly moved so that he was under Harry’s hand. Severus understood and approved, although he might not have been able to put the reason why into words. “I just—they said so many things about that during my childhood that I understand what they mean.”

Severus waited, and waited. It took longer than it should have for Harry’s gaze to rise and find his.

But when it did, Severus said, with a fixed smile that he thought Harry would probably take note of, “You may understand what they said. But let me ask you a question. Would you understand it if it was Mr. Weasley’s parents starving him? Or Miss Granger’s parents starving her?”

“They would never!” Harry snapped at once.

So quick to defend others, and never himself, Severus thought. It would have annoyed him as recently as a month ago. Now, he only felt profoundly tired. “Answer the question, Mr. Potter.” Among other things, if Harry really was ready to take an abusive adult’s side, then he would be useless in trying to help the other children with bad homes.

Harry curled into himself and closed his eyes. The basilisk laid his head on Harry’s shoulder and hissed into his ear, although of course they didn’t need to speak aloud with the mental bond connecting them. Severus watched them both and wondered what either of them was thinking.

*

Cease your thoughts immediately, or I will bite you.

Because that’s going to help, Harry snapped back. His breathing was rushing along. He was afraid he was about to start crying, and that was not going to happen in front of Snape. That would only just prove you don’t really care about me!

My bite would only send you to sleep. Perhaps you would wake up with a clearer head if you got some sleep right now.

Harry wrapped his arms around his knees, sheltering Dash within them mostly because he had no choice, and said nothing. It was—he didn’t think that he really deserved less than Ron or Hermione just because of who he was. That wasn’t it. They had great families, and he didn’t want to talk about them hurting his friends, and Snape was a bastard for making Harry even think of it, anyway.

That is not the reason. Dash’s voice sliced through his thoughts like Dash’s fangs slicing through the neck of a rabbit.

It was just—Harry was tougher, that was all. The way that he had pulled the basilisk fang out of his arm in the Chamber last year and got on with saving Ginny. His experience with the Dursleys had made him tougher. That was all he meant. It wasn’t that the things they did weren’t horrible. It was just that they hurt him less than they would have hurt someone like Hermione or Ron.

So you’re not different, except that you are, said Dash. Yes, you’re utterly logical and adult right now.

Harry dug his fingers into his hair for a second, at least until Dash’s tail tapped him on the cheek. No hurting yourself, I don’t care how upset you are.

Yeah, you don’t care, Harry said, mutinously, ignoring the way that he could feel Snape staring at him. Let the bastard wait. That’s pretty clear from the way you’re talking to me now.

And would I have defended you from the wolf if I didn’t care? Would I have translated the things that Dumbledore was actually saying, the excuses he was making?

Harry took a harsh, complicated breath and stared at his hands. Then he looked back up and said, “I would want to stop Hermione or Ron from being starved.” It was the only answer he could give, and it was the truth.

Snape nodded, looking at him in that quiet way he had that made Harry want to writhe and crawl into a corner. It wasn’t even that it was bad, like so many of the looks he used to give Harry in Potions. It was just that it made him feel looked at. And he had dreaded being that way ever since last year, at least, if not earlier.

Of course your relatives didn’t want anyone to look at you. They might have seen that you were abused.

Not everything about me goes back to the Dursleys, you know, Harry said, and took another deep breath. “I can talk about this,” he told Snape. “Otherwise I wouldn’t have come here and said that I was going to, you know?”

“You will need to talk about it in more detail,” said Snape quietly. “And not falter when someone asks you if it was abuse. Because there are those, I will tell you now, Harry, who will want to deny that you were abused, if only because it would disturb their comfortable world view. They want the Boy-Who-Lived to be one thing, and will not like you telling them that you are something else.”

“Yeah, I know that,” said Harry tiredly. “Like last year, when they didn’t want me to be a Parselmouth or the Heir to Slytherin, but there were a bunch of people who thought it anyway.” He dug his hands into the sides of the chair, and Dash reached down and carefully detached his wrists, presumably because he was also digging his nails into the wood, and not even that level of hurting himself was allowed. Harry sagged against the back of the chair. He wished this was less complex. “Or Dumbledore.”

It seemed to take Snape a second to react to that, but then he leaned forwards. “The Headmaster will deny that you were abused? Do you have proof of this, or do you only think it?”

Harry flinched. Of course he should have remembered the way that Snape had always corrected Harry if he said someone’s title without “Professor” in front of it. Adults stuck together like that. Snape wasn’t going to stick together with his relatives, or the people who would deny that he was abused if they were outside the school, but—

“Harry.”

It took Harry a moment to slow his breathing and focus his eyes on something other than the vision of Snape turning his back, just like everyone else who can’t slither, but then he saw. Snape had bent down in front of the chair and was eyeing him with something Harry couldn’t lie to himself about. It was concern, the same thing he felt from Dash in his thoughts.

Now you can admit it.

Harry didn’t acknowledge Dash’s words, feeling like he was in a dream as Snape took his hand.

“I am here,” said Snape. “I cannot promise to spare you from all pain, as I was the one who suggested you do this in the first place. And we do not have the best history. But I will do what I can to ease your worries if you tell me what they are.”

“It’s just,” said Harry, and he closed his eyes and sat there for a long second, because he wasn’t going to cry like a baby.

Do you want me to speak to him, the way I spoke to the dog-man? Dash was there, wrapped around most of his body, although Harry didn’t know how he had managed to move that much when Harry was still wrapped around him in turn. I will be happy to use your voice.

Harry choked a little, and got his sobs under control. No. Thank you. But I think I have to speak to him. I don’t think he really trusts you, or he would call you by your name.

There is that, said Dash, and eased back onto his lap again. All the time, Snape’s hand stayed absolutely still and firm on Harry’s.

Harry opened his eyes and said dully, “I was—I was in his office just now. He kept talking about how hard Sirius and Lupin have had it. Their hard lives. Dash said—Dash said he was making excuses. He was talking in my head all the time Dumbledore was talking. So I know that—that what he says isn’t all true. But it—Sirius grew up with a horrible family, too! Why doesn’t he apologize? That should just make him apologize more!”

Snape was silent and still for a long moment. Then he said, “Perhaps he will, when the details of your story come out.”

Harry couldn’t conceal a bitter snort, but he only shook his head when Snape looked at him narrowly. “I don’t think he will. He didn’t apologize right after it happened. He was just concerned about Lupin. And Lupin won’t apologize, and I think Dumbledore was trying to tell me that they never will. They’re just so bloody concerned about each other!”

His voice rose, and Snape looked at him again. Then he said, “They were concerned with each other when they were friends in school, as well. I do not think that has changed.” He turned and swished his wand, and something flew into his hand.

Harry immediately shook his head when he recognized the soft sheen of a Calming Draught in its vial. “No. I don’t want it.”

“It may help you get through the rest of a story I think you need to tell,” said Snape, and went on holding it out.

No.”

Harry stared at Snape for a minute as the man tensed, wondering if he would make him take it. Then Snape would be just like everyone else. That would be easier, in a way, Harry thought. He would like it if he could just yell at Snape and everything would be all right. If Snape was horrible again, it would be horrible, too, but at least that would be something Harry understood.

Then I will bite him, as well.

Harry laid his hand on Dash’s head, but didn’t really breathe until Snape made a small grimace and set the potion down on the floor. “Very well.” He stood up and stared at Harry, searchingly. Then he said, “Perhaps you should take one before you speak in public for the first time about your abuse, though.”

“Thanks, I will,” said Harry, because he thought being a little polite would be a good idea. Then he turned his head away and said, “I don’t want to talk about Sirius and Lupin right now. Can we just talk about the Dursleys?”

“It must be bad,” Snape murmured, “if you are willing to bring your relatives up before your godfather and his friend.”

Harry could have told Snape why it was painful. He didn’t even know if the thoughts had originally come from him or Dash, but he knew why it was so painful. Because the Dursleys had never acted like they cared about him, and Sirius had.

But he couldn’t say that. It would only lead them straight back into the conversation that Harry wanted to avoid. So he sat there and stared at Snape, and Snape nodded and said, “We were talking about what you would be willing to reveal to the press. The cupboard. The starvation.” He gave Harry a sharp look, but Harry didn’t object to the use of the word this time. It was kind of hard, when he’d thought about it.

Besides, Dash rapped him on the thigh with his tail when he thought about denying it.

“What else?” Snape asked.

Harry thought, then shrugged. “I mean, I don’t know what else there really is. The rest of it wasn’t abuse. It was just normal stuff.”

“You will explain your use of that phrase.”

Harry eyed Snape cautiously. He sounded angry again, and Harry didn’t know why. After all, he was telling the truth, and he was going to do what Snape wanted.

*

Has the boy never had anyone but his bloody basilisk express concern for him, that he takes mine the wrong way?

Probably so, Severus thought, forcing himself to ease back in his chair and adopt a posture and even expression of calm indifference again. Or at least, the boy wasn’t used to adults expressing that sort of thing for him. He had probably received support from his friends, perhaps some of Weasley’s older brothers, and not much of anyone else.

“I am not angry at you,” said Severus, because he would be explicit when there was need. He wanted to encourage much the same honesty in the boy, after all. “I am angry with your relatives. I do not—like to think about what has been done to you.” If only because it meant he had to think about his own complicity in depriving the boy of his parents and condemning him to the life he had undergone.

Harry finally eased back in the chair and nodded. “You’re being pretty good to think of it at all,” he muttered, and groped for his cold cup of tea.

Someone must. Severus only remained still, though, and Harry finally sighed and said, “My cousin—chased me. Bullied me. Beat me up. And my relatives locked me in the cupboard all the time when I did something magical. I didn’t know what it was then, but they did. So if I was somehow up on the roof of the school and they didn’t know how it happened and didn’t know how it happened, they would lock me up.”

Severus half-closed his eyes, because he was reliving a particular moment with James Potter, and although the boy had demonstrated no skill at Legilimency, he did not want it to show on his face. “Your aunt and uncle? Did they verbally abuse you?”

Harry relaxed a little. “So my cousin—it wasn’t so bad?”

“Did your aunt and uncle ever encourage him to stop?” Severus asked quietly. In truth, he was not sure what could be done to another child under wizarding law, particularly a Muggle child who had probably not known the truth about Harry’s magic, either.

But Petunia and her husband…

They were fair targets.

“No,” said Harry. He seemed eager to be honest now that he thought he would spare his disgusting relatives punishment, Severus thought, both saddened and revolted. “They told me off when I got better marks than him in school or said something back to him, though.”

Severus arched his eyebrows. Some behavior from Harry that he hadn’t been able to understand when it came to classes was now explained.

But he said only, “I see. Is that something you are also willing to talk about when the press asks you questions?”

“’Course.” Harry sat up and gave him a wise look, which was immeasurably added to by the basilisk that coiled softly around his arms and his throat. Others would have to take him seriously as a threat if he had a snake like that, Severus thought. That would provide a measure of protection for him that more resembled his reputation than a basilisk’s normal ability to strike with poison. That could only be a good thing. “I wouldn’t have brought it up if I wasn’t.”

Severus eased him with more questions about that, questions that did let them plot out a strategy and that did not distress Harry unduly. Indeed, as they spoke Harry seemed to forget about the disastrous meeting in the Headmaster’s office, enough to function anyway. He actually laughed at one point, and when Severus called a house-elf for food, he ate most of what Severus put in front of him.

He had gained enough of the boy’s confidence to be going on with, Severus thought, and let him go when it was time. He had pressed all he could. Hopefully he had at least made Harry think about who could be there for him beyond Black. 

And the basilisk.

Severus found himself watching the snake as Harry carried him out of the room. The basilisk watched Severus in turn over Harry’s shoulder, and then flicked out its tongue in what could have been a mocking salute or a simple attempt to catch his scent, before curling rapidly around Harry’s neck. No one would be able to strike at Harry there without encountering a wealth of thick scales and diving poisonous fangs, Severus knew.

That was some comfort to Severus as he shut his office door.

*

“Why are you staring so hard at Professor Lupin, Harry? You know it’s not polite!”

Hermione’s words as they came out of Defense were so scathing that Harry abruptly decided he’d had enough. Before, he had actually been grateful for his ability to fool his friends. It removed an additional source of stress if they didn’t know and didn’t press him about Sirius or Lupin or Dumbledore, and it was nice to talk to someone who didn’t look at him in the knowing way Snape and Draco did.

But Harry didn’t want to listen to someone defend Lupin, either. And his friends had mostly not noticed because they trusted him and thought he would have told them if something was wrong.

So now he would.

“Listen,” he said, bending close to Hermione and Ron. “It’s almost dinner. Meet me after dinner in the Owlery, okay?”

“Harry, what—”

But Harry just nodded to Ron as if he’d already agreed and broke away from them, jogging towards the Owlery. He wasn’t hungry, and he had no desire to go to dinner and see Dumbledore looking at him with a terrible kindness.

They would have noticed before now if you didn’t have the practice in concealing abuse which you learned at your relatives’ house, Dash murmured to him when they were up in the Owlery and Harry was stroking Hedwig. Hedwig eyed Dash and flexed her claws. Dash, meanwhile, ignored her as a tasty, feathery flying snack. He had told Harry that his taste didn’t run to raptors anyway. 

Harry thought that had a lot more to do with Hedwig’s talons and beak than Dash’s taste, but he was smart enough not to say so.

I can hear you thinking it. How is that an improvement? 

Harry was spared the necessity of answering because Ron and Hermione came up then. Hermione’s face was red, and Harry didn’t think it was from the climb up the stairs.

Sure enough, she began to scold him. “Harry, you should have been at dinner. You’re thin enough already!”

“Here,” Ron muttered, and held out a chicken leg and a big piece of bread covered with butter in a napkin. Harry smiled at him and ate the chicken on his own, sharing the bread with Dash. Hermione, abruptly deprived of something to fuss about, blinked and petted Hedwig for a while, then sat down on the floor near the wall and watched Harry. Ron stood next to her, looking at the owls longingly.

Harry sighed as he finished eating. “All right, it’s like this. I went home that day, and Sirius went to a meeting about the Black estates, and…”

It didn’t take long to tell—probably longer than it had to live through, though. When he’d finished, Hermione had her hand over her mouth and her eyes full of tears. Ron had a nasty scowl on his face.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Hermione said, and then she rushed forwards and gathered him in her arms, Dash and all. Harry closed his eyes and held her, and Dash, probably because he knew how much Harry needed the hug, slithered up to a perch on top of his head without comment and let his tail dangle down Harry’s back.

“Damn, mate,” said Ron, his voice empty and his face working in the grip of some strong emotion, and then he burst out, “Why didn’t you tell us?”

“Because I was so torn up,” said Harry. “I didn’t really want to tell anyone. But a few people noticed something was wrong, and…” He swallowed. It made a click in his throat. Hermione still hadn’t let go of him, and she shuffled a little closer when she heard that. “The Headmaster just kept talking to me about how hard it was for Lupin as a werewolf, and how hard Sirius’s life was, and I couldn’t take it anymore.”

“Yes, I can understand why.” Hermione stood back from him with tears on her face now, although she wiped at them angrily. “I’m sorry I got on your back about staring at Professor Lupin earlier.”

“And neither of them apologized?” Ron demanded.

Harry shook his head.

Ron came forwards then and awkwardly patted both Harry and Hermione on the shoulder, dividing his pats evenly between the two of them. “Well, who needs adults, anyway?” he said bracingly. “We can make it up to you every bit as well as they can, right, Hermione? And Harry, you can come and stay with us during the summer. You’re welcome, any time.”

Harry smiled weakly back. He was thinking that it would be nice if he had an adult who was concerned about him, someone who could live with him, too.

But he didn’t have that, and he would just have to make the best of it.

You shall have it someday, Dash said abruptly. Because you deserve it, and I shall get it for you. His tail came down and hugged Harry around the shoulders.

Harry, standing there in the embrace of his three best friends, decided that he would leave that thought until later. Right now, he had a lot. He had forgotten how much.

Chapter Text

Draco stood with his arms folded and a scowl on his face near the door of Professor Snape’s office. He knew, from Father’s single glance, that he disapproved of the scowl. Draco should smooth it out and wear a pleasant mask, like the kind he wore when Father had Ministry connections to the Manor for dinner.

But Draco knew what had happened at the end of last year between Harry and his father. And he hadn’t known until a few minutes ago that his father was going to come to Professor Snape’s office and speak to Harry for some reason. Harry had let it slip because he was arguing aloud with Dash in what he probably thought was Parseltongue, and then Draco had heard, and of course he wasn’t going to let Harry walk alone into a situation like that.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you under such different circumstances, Mr. Potter,” said Father, and bowed his head a little so he could hold Harry’s eyes. Harry had the worst habit of looking at the floor, Draco knew. He didn’t know how Harry intended to convince people to let him alone, like Sirius Black, if he just stared at the floor all the time. “You understand that we will be allies in this?”

What’s this? Draco hated not knowing. And he cleared his throat to remind the other people in the room of that.

“Yes, sir. Professor Snape told me.” Harry’s voice was a compressed little version of itself that Draco had never heard before. He even acted as if he hadn’t heard Draco clear his throat, either! Unbelievable.

Draco was about to say something else when Father’s eyes found him. Draco clamped his lips shut and looked off, at one of the jars on the shelves that held a floating, half-dissected heart in it. Draco had never understood that. Why not a whole heart? There weren’t any potions that used half.

“Good,” said Father, and sat back in his chair. Professor Snape was near the door, watching them both with his arms folded and his face as dark as it usually was only around Longbottom. Draco looked back and forth between the two of them in confusion. Which one of them had drawn Professor Snape’s wrath, Father or Harry? “How old were you when you first started being abused?”

Draco jolted. That didn’t sound like Black and Lupin. That sounded like something else, something a lot worse.

This time, it was Professor Snape’s eye on him when Draco started to open his mouth. Draco decided that since he was in class with Harry, he would get more of a chance to speak with him than the two adults did, and clamped his mouth shut again, but his throat was burning the way it had one time when he ate too many Fizzing Whizzbees at once.

What was going on? And how come Harry hadn’t told him before this? He’d told Draco a lot of other things, and if he was going to tell Father, of all people, about this, then he should have been able to tell Draco.

Draco decided he would listen. Then he would talk to Harry about it later. And he would do it with lots of details so he would know if Harry was keeping something from him or lying again. That was the best thing.

There was so much he had to learn about Harry, he thought, watching him as he lifted his head and started answering Father’s question. Dash was leaning up along Harry’s neck, watching his eyes, but Harry wasn’t looking down at him for once.

I suppose I can think of it as him telling me now…

But that didn’t mean there weren’t going to be questions later.

*

Harry had hesitated when he realized Draco would be in the room while he talked about his abuse, but then he had shrugged to himself. Eventually, Draco would know about it along with everyone else. Why not tell him now, instead of making him wait?

I could bite him, Dash offered.

You can’t simply offer to bite everyone who does something I don’t like, said Harry tiredly, and then concentrated on his conversation with Mr. Malfoy. There was nothing else he could do right now. Professor Snape had warned him that it was going to be this way, told him he could talk to someone else first, but in a strange way, Harry thought it was a good thing. If someone who was on the Board of Governors talked about Harry’s abuse, fewer people would think he was crazy or making things up.

If they say that, I will bite all of them.

You can’t. 

I can. It will only take a little longer.

“I think they abused me for a long time,” said Harry. “Since I was three, anyway. I was sleeping in the cupboard by then.”

“Your bedroom was a cupboard,” Mr. Malfoy repeated. He sounded odd. Harry couldn’t tell what he was thinking. “And no one warned them that this was inappropriate?”

Harry did have to sort of look at him then, because he would have thought the answer to that was obvious. “No one knew, Mr. Malfoy. None of the Muggles ever saw the inside of the house, and they told all the neighbors that I was a violent boy who was going to a school for criminals.” Mr. Malfoy’s cane tapped on the floor at that, and Harry found himself wondering if it was something he used to use to beat Dobby.

He breathed out slowly. Focus on what he’s helping you do. That will be better than focusing on how he hurt Dobby.

It was still pretty bloody weird, having Lucius Malfoy help him. But maybe Harry would have more than one chance to get used to it. Maybe he would see Mr. Malfoy again and he would say encouraging things.

Then Harry shook his head sharply. He had only just got used to having Sirius say them, and look how that had turned out.

“I see,” said Mr. Malfoy. “How long did you stay in the cupboard?”

“Until I got my Hogwarts letters.” Harry once again didn’t know what Mr. Malfoy was thinking, but that made it easier to talk. If he had been faced with pity or something like that, he didn’t know if he could have stood it.

“Letters?” Mr. Malfoy seemed to have decided that he was less interested in the things that had outraged Snape. Harry relaxed a little. Sure, he’d talk about them if he had to, but he didn’t particularly want to.

You should. Everyone should know, and then perhaps they would try to make up for how you were treated.

Harry didn’t see the point of answering that, because it wasn’t anyone here except Sirius and Lupin who had treated him badly, and sort of Dumbledore, and just answered the question instead. “When they sent one letter, my relatives took it away. So Hogwarts sent more. My uncle finally fled the house and took me along with him.” Harry snorted a little. “They sent Hagrid instead. He sort of made an impression.”

Mr. Malfoy gave a quick look over Harry’s head at someone, but Harry wasn’t sure who he was looking at, Snape or Draco. Harry gave Dash a quick little stroke on the back of his head and gathered his voice to go on when Mr. Malfoy nodded to him.

“They didn’t feed me well,” said Harry. “They let my cousin beat me up. They made me do most of their chores.” He thought about it, but he honestly couldn’t see what else he could bring up with Mr. Malfoy that would make a good story for the papers. He straightened up, though, as he remembered why he was doing this. He didn’t want that to get left out of the stories.

“I want other kids to be safe,” he said quietly, meeting Mr. Malfoy’s eyes. It was easier to do this time, loads easier. “I wouldn’t be speaking up otherwise. I didn’t really want anyone to know about this, but if I can make sure that someone else gets to spend some time away from their abusive families, then it’s worth it.”

Mr. Malfoy only watched him with more of that odd expression on his face. Harry supposed he was thinking about the political advantages of having the Boy-Who-Lived confess like this, and didn’t care that much about the other abused kids at Hogwarts. Well, Harry could understand that. Maybe it didn’t matter so much why someone did the right thing, as long as they did it.

“I will cooperate in making them safe,” said Mr. Malfoy. It really didn’t have much passion in it, but, well, Harry supposed he could live with it. “Now. What do you mean by they didn’t feed you well?”

Harry flicked his eyes over to the side. Snape was watching him, and he leveled Harry with a glare that was more impressive than some of the ones he had used in Potions class. Harry grimaced. That meant he wasn’t going to get away with denying that it was starvation.

“I meant that they starved me,” said Harry. It was easier the second time around, he thought. Maybe someday he wouldn’t flinch at all when he said it. “They would lock me up with no food in the cupboard, and sometimes they would only give me a little food because my cousin was supposed to eat healthy. And sometimes they wouldn’t give me food until I finished my chores.”

“How often would you say that happened?”

Harry relaxed a little. Mr. Malfoy sounded like a man who had come and talked to Harry’s primary school class one day about statistics, how he collected them and reported on them. He’d just cared about numbers.

Maybe Mr. Malfoy did, too. Maybe he wouldn’t care that much about what had happened to Harry as Harry, or the Boy-Who-Lived. Maybe he only cared about what he could make happen with the numbers that Harry would give him.

“A lot,” said Harry. “Sometimes once a week. Sometimes more. It usually happened if I’d done something freaky, but sometimes just when my uncle got upset with something else and took it out on me.”

“Freaky,” said Mr. Malfoy.

Snape was glaring at him again. Dash stretched his neck alongside Harry’s and said, That word caught his attention. If you wished to avoid that, you should not have used it.

Well, how was I to know he would pay that much attention to it? Harry snapped at Dash. I didn’t know he would. He was ignoring a lot of what I said before!

You do not want pity, but you need it.

That made less sense than when Dash was trying to tell Harry about the wonders of roasted mice—which he had never tasted—so Harry ignored his basilisk and turned back to Mr. Malfoy. “That’s what they called magic,” he said. “I never knew it was magic until I got the letters, though. I mean, I made my hair grow back and I ended up on the roof of the school once when my cousin was chasing me. Those seemed pretty freaky to me.”

Mr. Malfoy nodded. “And was this word a frequent term of abuse for you?”

Harry grimaced. He supposed he would have to do that, too. “Yes. They said I was a freak and the things I did was freaky. Or freakish,” he added. If he was going to be honest, he should talk about all the words, he supposed.

Mr. Malfoy nodded and spent a moment staring off into the distance, his fingers clasped around his cane. Then he turned back to Harry and said, “You wouldn’t object to explaining how big the cupboard is? Or what your cousin did to you when he beat you up? Although it’s perhaps best done in front of reporters.”

Harry winced, but then nodded and shrugged. He’d come this far. He could go farther. He would pin his mind on the other kids he could help. He was out of the Dursleys’ house now, so no one could really help him or change what had happened, but he could still change the future.

You distress me.

Harry touched Dash’s neck, but just like he hadn’t understood Dash’s last comment, he really didn’t understand what he’d done wrong this time. Sorry.

Dash flung multiple coils around Harry’s wrist and arms, his version of a hug. Harry hugged him back, arms around his neck, and looked up only when Mr. Malfoy cleared his throat softly.

“I understand there has been recent trouble between you and your Wizengamot-appointed guardian.”

Harry stood up and took a step forwards. “You’re not going to put that in the papers,” he said.

Mr. Malfoy looked at him with the same considering expression, but this time, it failed to reassure Harry. Harry took another aggressive step forwards. He was thinking about how he had tricked Mr. Malfoy into freeing Dobby the year before. He would do something like that again, if Mr. Malfoy didn’t cooperate. “You’re not,” he said, and his voice was like a snarl. He might have managed a better one if he’d been turned into a werewolf, he thought, but not by much.

“No,” said Mr. Malfoy, and his hands relaxed from the top of the cane. “No, I will not put that in the papers.”

Harry nodded. He was wondering who had let part of the secret out, Draco or Snape. He knew Mr. Malfoy wouldn’t have talked to Ron or Hermione. “Good. Because it has nothing to do with this. It doesn’t matter what Sirius does. He won’t lock me up in a cupboard or call me freak or lie to me about magic, so he’s loads better than the Dursleys.”

“That, at least, is true,” said Mr. Malfoy, and tapped his cane. “Now. We need to plan when and where you will appear and make this announcement.”

Harry nodded. That was actually the sort of thing he had thought he would come here to discuss with Mr. Malfoy. He settled down, and Dash released the tight coil, and he could participate in conversations about the Board of Governors and reporters without feeling that he was rather stupid.

*

Severus waited until the boys were out of the office to turn to Lucius. Lucius had one hand held to his chin in thought, and Severus knew he was far away, revising plans in his head and making new ones about who to contact first.

“So,” Severus said, when Lucius looked at him with eyes that acknowledged his presence again.

“Yes,” said Lucius. “He will do well to bring down Dumbledore. What happened to him is worse than I thought.”

Severus lifted his eyebrows. He had expected the first comment, but not the second. “Despite the lack of detail, and your lack of sympathy for the boy?” He had been sure that Lucius would overcome his distaste of Harry for the sake of the plan, but he had not foreseen sympathy of any sort.

“He was lying,” said Lucius dismissively. “Or at least carefully choosing his words in an attempt to downplay the truth.”

Severus hissed a little. “I have told him to be honest. If someone in the press traps him in a lie, or Dumbledore manages it…”

Lucius shook his head. “Not consciously, Severus. He has defended his secrets for so long that I think he is unable to let go of them. It is a skill probably bred into him by long residence in that house.” He paused, and Severus waited for the next question. Lucius’s mind ran in unpredictable directions sometimes.

Lucius finally asked an unexpected one. “Why is he not in Slytherin?”

Severus gave him a grim smile. “Because he talked the Hat out of putting him there.”

Lucius had known about Harry’s near-Sorting already, but not that tidbit. He shook his head as he rose to his feet. “His loss. Someone would have discovered this before now, and secured him in an environment where he would know better than to trust someone who spent twelve years in Azkaban Prison.” His glance at Severus said he had no doubt of who that person would have been.

“Someone has discovered it now,” Severus said, and paused. “I did not intend for you to expose my inferences about Black in front of Harry.”

Luicus’s eyes narrowed around the corners in the way that sometimes made him look as if he was a fox. One about to break a hen’s neck, Severus thought darkly. “I was, admittedly, reaching for more information. There is…a certain long-standing matter between Black and myself that I would like to see resolved.”

Severus stared at Lucius. He had known that Lucius had met Black several times before his stint in Azkaban, and perhaps he had attended Lucius’s wedding to Narcissa, but that was all. “What is it?”

“You do not share all your information, Severus. You did not even tell me what the boy’s godfather is supposed to have done.” Lucius’s mouth quirked a little. “Think about this, and resolve on whether you want to tell me something more.”

He left the room. Severus sighed soundlessly and spent a moment controlling the urge to pace in a circle. 

His potions that he needed for revenge on Black and Lupin were not finished brewing yet. He had invited Lucius into this explosion, and he would have to deal with the resulting burns. 

But there was one thing he could do, one thing that need not ever come to light as far as the reporters were concerned, but which he wanted to do for his own peace of mind, in case Dumbledore ever tried to send Harry back to the Dursleys.

He found parchment and ink easily enough, but it was still long minutes before he could order his mind to start composing the letter to the woman who had been Petunia Evans.

*

“Why didn’t you tell me? What they did to you was horrible!”

I like this boy, Dash said, mounding his body up so that his chin was crowning Harry’s head, and giving Draco a look of unexpected approval. He talks good sense.

Harry didn’t bother petting Dash this time. That was another one of those confusing remarks that he wouldn’t understand. And he was honestly surprised that Draco didn’t already know the answer to his own question. “Why would I?” he asked, staring at the floor. He had a hole in the toe of one of his trainers. He wondered if Sirius would buy him a new pair of trainers if he asked for them. Sirius had been so strange lately, it was something he had to wonder. “It’s embarrassing.”

“Stop staring at the floor,” Draco snapped abruptly. “Look the fuck up.”

Harry did, shocked. The swear word wasn’t the only reason why, but it was a big part of it.

Draco leaned against the library shelf next to them, and spent a long moment staring at Harry. “That’s better,” he said finally. “You should meet people’s eyes. You did before you started thinking about this abuse all the time and before Black and Lupin pulled their stupid idiocy.” His voice softened for a second. “Anyway, if my father is one of the people who advocates for you and exposes your abuse to the public, then you know we can be friends more easily, right?”

Harry nodded, a little blank, not sure what that had to do with anything.

“So you can tell me things.” Draco gave him what was probably supposed to be an eloquent glance, but Harry couldn’t see why that would make things less embarrassing. It was easier to talk to people who didn’t care, like Mr. Malfoy. “And anyway, you don’t have to be embarrassed. They’re the ones who should be.”

“They’re not in the wizarding world,” Harry pointed out, getting a little annoyed. “They’re not the ones who’ll have to deal with seeing their faces on the front page of the paper for months and months.”

“But if you could tell my father, you could tell me. My father isn’t your friend.”

“I know,” said Harry and sighed. “But I let you stay there while I was talking to him, so I did tell you, didn’t I?”

Draco studied him for a second. Harry wanted to squirm. It was sometimes harder to face Draco’s eyes than Hermione’s, even though there was no reason why that should be true. Hermione was the one he’d been friends with for years, and she was the one who tended to launch into lectures about things like not doing homework. Being with Draco should be easier, because he didn’t do things like that.

No, he just looked like this, and it was worse than his father’s kind of hard-to-read expression, because it had an undertone of disappointment that Harry didn’t understand. 

“You can tell me other things,” said Draco. “Besides that.” He let go of Harry’s shoulder and nodded to him and walked out of the aisle.

Dash watched him go. Harry had gone back to looking at the floor again. Dash said, He has good advice about keeping your eyes up.

“Not you, too,” Harry muttered, and went back to Gryffindor Tower. He was pretty drained, and he didn’t even bother going to dinner, despite Dash’s threat to ask the house-elves to bring him mice if he didn’t. He just needed to lie in one place and think about things for a while.

*

Blaise rolled his eyes at the way Draco kept looking up at the post-owls. Was he waiting for his mother to send him another box of sweets?

Blaise had to admit that sometimes he was jealous, because he rarely received post from his own mother, but he knew she was busy. And when she wrote to him, it was exciting. She would tell him about new magical theories she’d been investigating, or the holidays they were going to take in the summer, or that the rumors about his latest stepfather’s death had been greatly exaggerated.

He preferred that over more frequent but less exciting letters, he had to admit.

Anyway, Draco reached out and took the Prophet, in the end, not a letter or a wrapped box. Blaise shook his head sadly and picked up his fork to finish his breakfast. Poor Draco. His life had become much less exciting since Blaise had taken that possessed book away.

Harry!

The shout came from the Gryffindor table. Blaise looked up, and found that Weasley was staring at Potter, who went on steadfastly feeding tidbits to his basilisk as if nothing had happened. In between bites, the basilisk stared up wistfully at the soaring owls, or as much as it could with its deadly eyes shielded.

Weasley was holding a copy of the Prophet.

Blaise promptly used a spell that would allow him to look directly over Draco’s shoulder without moving from his seat. He had refused to read the Prophet on a regular basis since they’d reported false rumors about his mother, but he wanted to see this.

There was a photograph of Potter there, one they’d probably taken months ago when he first had a basilisk and they were interviewing him about that, because it didn’t look recent. Potter looked resigned but determined—appropriate for the headline.

BOY-WHO-LIVED ABUSED AT THE HANDS OF HIS MUGGLE RELATIVES!

Well, Blaise thought, as his heart gave an odd tremor and memories he had sworn to forget flooded the back of his mind, it seems Draco found some excitement after all.

Chapter Text

“Why didn’t you tell us?” Ron was saying, shaking his head as he stood in front of Harry. Hermione stood behind him. They were in a little side-alcove in one of the corridors that led to the Charms classroom, and Hermione had cast a spell that meant they wouldn’t be bothered. Harry reminded himself that he really had to learn that one.

For now, Dash was wrapped heavily around his arms and waist again. It was a hug, but it also meant that it would be awkward for him to run.

You knew this would come. You can’t run from it. Dash sounded almost smug about that, for reasons that, again, Harry couldn’t discern. He didn’t understand his own basilisk much lately.

“Because it’s embarrassing,” said Harry, the same answer he had given Draco, the true one. “I mean, what happened with Sirius and Remus was bad enough. There’s just no one in the world who wants me, is there?” His voice shocked him with its bitterness, and Ron and Hermione were both staring at him. Harry blinked hard, and managed to push down the tears. He was so stupid lately, he thought. He was hovering on the edge of tears all the time, and he never used to do that. 

“It’s embarrassing to say that,” he continued hastily, before his friends could interrupt. “And anyway, Ron, you and your brothers saw the bars on my window when you rescued me last summer. I didn’t—I didn’t want to say anything about it. Ever.”

“That’s not true, mate!” Ron glared at him. “If we’d known that you were being starved and all the rest of it, we would never have let you go back there.”

Harry closed his eyes and savored that idea for a minute. Maybe he could live with the Weasleys if Sirius didn’t work out.

But Harry still wanted it to work out. Sirius had given him his own room, and told him stories about his parents, and all the rest of it. But he still hadn’t apologized, and Harry had to admit that he didn’t know what would happen next.

“Okay,” he said, and opened his eyes. “But anyway.” He lowered his voice and glanced at the little shimmer in the air that Hermione said marked the spell she’d used. “Is that pretty secure, Hermione?”

“Of course it is.” Hermione looked as if she was on the verge of tears, too, but she battled them back and nodded fiercely to him. “I wouldn’t come up with something that wasn’t, Harry.”

Harry gave her a weary smile. “Okay. The reason I did this is that there are other abused children at Hogwarts. If people start investigating my abuse, then they’ll probably find out, and make sure that the other children don’t have to go back to their families, or whoever was abusing them.” Harry had to admit that he wasn’t always sure that it was their families. “I don’t know their names,” he added, as Ron started to open his mouth. “I only know about them at all because of what Snape said. I’m doing this for them, not for me. I mean, I don’t have to worry about the Dursleys again. I’m with Sirius now.”

“Because of what Snape said?” Ron looked ready to faint.

“Yeah.” Harry took a deep breath. Maybe this would be harder than just telling them about the abuse, which the article had sort of done. “He’s been—decent about it. Not the best in the world, but he was the one who told me that if we told other people about it, then maybe the rest of them can be safe.”

“What about you, Harry?” Hermione was there, right beside him, so close that Dash looked at her in interest. Of course, she was the only one who had never seemed nervous hugging Harry when Dash was wrapped around him. “Are you going to be safe if you keep doing this?” 

“Safe from what?” Harry asked, a little blankly. “I mean, I don’t think Voldemort is going to attack me any harder because I don’t live with the Dursleys anymore.”

“I meant Sirius. And Professor Lupin.” Hermione used the edge of her palm to get rid of the last of her tears, and stood for a moment gazing earnestly into Harry’s eyes. “Are you—have you talked to them about this?”

Harry clenched one hand on the wall and hurt his palm a little, until Dash wrapped his tail around Harry’s wrist and tugged hard enough to get his hand loose. But Dash didn’t remove his tail the way he usually did when he’d stopped Harry from hurting himself; instead, he tugged it over to him and put Harry’s hand firmly in place on his own head. A bit bewildered, Harry stroked him, and Dash put his head down and flicked his tongue in the equivalent of a sigh.

“No,” said Harry. “They haven’t talked to me since—what happened. I mean, Professor Lupin asks me questions in class sometimes, but not as much as he used to.”

“Which is unfair, because it’s your best subject,” Hermione said at once. “He shouldn’t take what happened out on you and ruin your marks!”

Harry had to smile. That would be one of the things Hermione most cared about, of course, when Harry honestly didn’t care if he passed Defense with a good mark or not. 

“You have to talk to them, mate.” It was Ron, and his voice was gentle, but he was looking at Harry the way he usually only looked at chess pieces who refused to move in the right way to win the game. “They really deserved to know.” He scowled a little. “Like we did.”

“But you only wanted to know because you wanted to help me,” said Harry. “I’m not sure what Sirius and Lupin are going to want to know for.”

“We’ll make sure they help you.” Ron drew his wand menacingly, and again Harry had to smile. But it was true that Sirius probably wouldn’t expect an attack from Ron the way he would from Snape or Draco.

“Thanks,” said Harry, and dried his eyes while Ron clapped him on the shoulder. “Like I said, I don’t—really know yet. But I’ll talk to them.”

Ron nodded, looking appeased, and they made their way towards Potions. Harry straightened his shoulders and leaned his chin on Dash’s neck for a moment. He knew his friends and Dash would make sure that no one hurt him about this, at least as much as they could, but he didn’t know what was going to happen, and that always made him a little nervous.

I prefer it when I have something straightforward to do, like preventing Voldemort from stealing the Philosopher’s Stone.

Anyone who hurts you, I will coil around their legs and trip them.

Harry blinked and looked down at Dash. What happened to offering to bite them?

You didn’t want me to. And my diluted poison is not painful enough, since it only put the wolf to sleep. If I can make someone fall in the right manner, I can break several bones.

Harry rolled his eyes. Ron and Hermione saw him do it, but they were used enough by now to his silent conversations with Dash that they didn’t comment.

At least one thing is normal, Harry thought, and that was the main thing that kept him walking down the corridor towards Potions instead of running madly away.

*

“The next person who asks Mr. Potter a question about the newspaper article will find themselves elbow-deep in newt guts for the rest of the year.”

That shut people up, Harry noticed. He didn’t manage to flash a grateful smile to Snape, because people would ask why and Snape’s part in it was something the article had left out, but he relaxed when mouths slammed shut and people leaned away from him.

Neville blew something up then, and Snape stormed towards the front of the classroom. At least this time, it didn’t appear to have splattered sixteen other people in the vicinity, Harry noted idly.

Harry.

The voice seemed to reach into Harry’s stomach and curl around something there, like it was going to pull an organ out. Once, Dudley had threatened to hang Harry on a meat hook, which was probably something he’d seen on the telly, since Harry didn’t think he’d be capable of coming up with a threat like that on his own. Now, Harry felt like it was actually happening.

He turned around in his seat and sort of gaped at Sirius, who stood in the door to the classroom with his cloak swirling around him the way that Snape’s seemed to billow whenever he was moving. He stared at Harry, and Harry could see anguish in his eyes that went on and on as if it was the beginning of a long, dark path.

Harry’s guts twisted miserably again. He hadn’t wanted to hurt Sirius, he thought. He hadn’t ever wanted to hurt Sirius. But this was what happened when something happened to part him from Sirius and then he didn’t go talk to him.

He started to stand up, because he knew that Sirius would just come get him if he didn’t. But then he found he couldn’t move. He blinked and looked down. Dash was curled around his waist and around the back of the chair at the same time, forming a chain that kept Harry effectively locked in.

This isn’t funny, Dash, Harry said, and he reached out to yank at Dash’s plume, the only vulnerable part of his body, really. Dash promptly twisted his head so the plume was wound in and protected by his coils. His covered eyes peeked guilelessly out at Harry.

It isn’t funny, I agree, said Dash. None of this was ever funny, from the moment the smelly dog-man decided that he would leave you alone in the house with a werewolf. But at least I’m sparing you further humiliation.

Harry opened his mouth, ready to yell in English if it would do any good, and then Snape arrived. 

His entrance was even more dramatic than Sirius’s, honestly, Harry thought, with a kind of numbed admiration. Snape’s robes not only billowed behind him, they snapped. He stood there looking down his nose with such a level of haughtiness that Harry felt as if he’d shrunk three inches. He wondered, miserably, if Snape was going to yell at him for Sirius being in the classroom.

Then Harry realized he wasn’t the one Snape was glaring at.

“You dare to disrupt my class,” said Snape. He might have sounded like he was able to speak Parseltongue if you didn’t know any better, Harry thought, staring in fascination. There were certainly enough hisses crowded around the edges of his words. “You dare to saunter in as if you own the world, and command a boy who has already missed enough class to miss again, that you might satisfy your own craven curiosity.”

Harry felt as if his heart would leap out of his chest. He had wondered how Snape was going to defend him without revealing that he was helping Harry with things, but of course this was the way. He hated Sirius anyway, and he mocked Harry’s academic performance on a regular basis. The two together would make a more than adequate disguise.

“You don’t have the least idea of what was in the paper this morning, do you?” Sirius asked, his voice low and ugly. Harry thought he might use the name Snivellus, but apparently Sirius would get to a point where he was so angry that he couldn’t. “Because you don’t read articles about Harry. The last thing he needs right now is more people who will abuse him.” He turned to Harry. “Come on, kiddo. We need to talk.”

Snape’s wand flicked negligently, and Sirius’s arm was stuck to the doorframe. “As you said,” Snape murmured, “the last thing he needs…”

The look of rage on Sirius’s face made Harry flinch back. He hadn’t thought Sirius could look like that. He hadn’t when he was asking Harry if Lupin was okay, if he was okay. Harry tried to stand once more, found himself locked in, and raised his voice.

“It’s okay, Professor Snape. I do have to talk to Sirius. Let me just leave.” He yanked on Dash’s coils as he spoke, but Dash seemed to have turned into steel, and Draco was staring at Harry from the other side of the classroom and shaking his head as if he wanted Harry to stay put and not go away with Sirius.

“He is disrupting my class,” said Snape, with another Parseltongue-sounding hiss, and his wand swished down again. This time, Sirius went staggering back from the door, and Snape shut it with a third swish. Harry thought for a second Sirius would come banging back in, but although he seized the door and rattled it, it didn’t open.

“Now,” said Snape, after another spell that abruptly sealed off any noise from beyond the door, “what are the rest of you standing around and gaping at me for? Longbottom, if you have managed to achieve another disaster, I will recommend that your grandmother place you in a special school for idiots.”

Harry gave Snape a weak glare as he went past. He didn’t have to keep picking on Neville. Snape only looked back with no emotion on his face at all, and went away to stare gloomily into Crabbe and Goyle’s cauldron.

“Why did he come in here like that?” Hermione whispered fiercely as Harry turned back to his potion with Ron. Dash had finally loosened his hold, probably because he knew that Harry wouldn’t be able to get through the spells on the door, either. “He should have waited until later and then asked you about it in privacy!”

“I don’t know,” Harry whispered back. “I haven’t talked to him, remember?”

Ron started to say something else, but Snape swept by, and Ron gulped and shut his mouth at the look from a mere corner of his eye. Harry sighed as Snape turned and walked in the other direction. He knew why Snape was trying to spare him from talking about this, but he would have to eventually.

But he could at least put it off for the duration of Potions class, which he supposed was the point. He turned back to his cauldron.

*

Severus had heard insistent chimes from his Floo during the class. A charm he’d cast years ago let him hear the Floo in his rooms or his office all the way across the school. It was the only way, Dumbledore had said, that he could be sure of reaching Severus when he had vanished into a haze of brewing.

This time, though, Severus casually ignored the sound until the end of Harry and Draco’s Potions class. Dumbledore ought to have known better than to contact him while it was still ongoing. Luckily, his next class was NEWT students, whom he could leave alone for ten minutes without them killing themselves.

“The instructions are on the board,” he said curtly as his older students sat down and took out their supplies. “I must be elsewhere for a short time. If you are so foolish as to try to do something that you know would displease me, you will be obliterated when you return.” Ordinarily, he would have made his threats more explicit, but with this class, he saw no need. They immediately hunched over their cauldrons in silence.

Severus swept out regally, and walked towards his office. The Floo chimed again as he stepped into the room. Severus nodded and opened it, arranging himself so that he looked bored.

Dumbledore’s face was grave and calm as he stared at Severus. “I suspect you know what I want to see you about,” he said.

“I can spare you ten minutes,” Severus said briefly. “I am, after all, teaching.”

Dumbledore paused. Severus knew that he hadn’t expected the opposition.

But you should have, Severus told him silently, while they both stared at each other and Severus strengthened his Occlumency barriers. While he was confident in their strength to keep out the Dark Lord, who was a stronger Legilimens than Dumbledore, the Headmaster was more subtle, and it was possible for someone like that to slip into an unwary mind. When you favor Black so outrageously, you should have expected an opposing side to form.

“Nine minutes,” said Severus, when enough time had passed that he felt justified.

Dumbledore nodded grimly. “Then please come through to my office, Severus.” He vanished from the fireplace, but left the flames blazing.

Severus cast a spell that would warn him when nine minutes had gone by, and stepped through the flames. When he came out of it, he was ready, which was the reason he was able to cast a spiderweb-like shield to catch the flying blow of Black’s fist.

Black yelped as his arm rebounded from the shield and nearly hit him in the face. Severus watched him coolly, and then turned back to Dumbledore, who sat behind his desk. “I do not enjoy being lured into ambushes, Headmaster,” he said, pitching his voice low. “If that is the only reason you brought me here, I will go.”

“No, no,” said Dumbledore. He shot a quick glance at Black, and sighed. “Do sit down, Sirius.”

No apology demanded, even for attacking a professor, Severus noticed, and moved to the chair he usually took when he was in Dumbledore’s office. This time, though, he stood in front of it, instead of sitting down, and kept his casual, neutral gaze fixed on Dumbledore.Yes, he should have realized long since that opposition would form. I suppose he didn’t care.

“Sirius says that you ignored his reasonable concerns about Harry,” Dumbledore began.

“He burst into my classroom during the time when Potter is supposed to be learning Potions,” said Severus. He would have to choose his words carefully, or expose too soon exactly how much he knew about Harry and how involved in the situation he was. “You have urged me in the past to treat Potter exactly like another student, Headmaster. Well, then I must be concerned about his academic record. He is in danger of getting a T in my class already, due to poor performance. I saw no reason to allow his godfather to come into the room to shout at him.”

“I wouldn’t have shouted!” shouted Black.

Severus turned his neutral gaze on him. “You called his name as you came in. You gave no sign that you were sympathetic. You sounded angry.”

“Did you, Sirius?”

Dumbledore sounds doting, Severus thought, and managed to keep his lip from curling by thinking of an offer Lucius had made to him more than once, that Severus could become his private Potions master. Severus had always refused because of what he owed Dumbledore—what he had thought he owed Dumbledore—for keeping him out of Azkaban, because of his vow to Lily, and because he had no desire to be in Lucius Malfoy’s grip.

But the thought was tempting at the moment. Were he in that position, he would never have to deal with Black.

“I was angry he hadn’t told me,” Black muttered. “But—” He spun around and snarled at Severus. “What do you have to do with it? You’ve never cared about Harry, so expecting me to believe that you do now is pretty rich!”

Four minutes. Severus inclined his head and said in a colorless voice, “I am attempting to treat the boy more like other students. That means no special favors, but no disdain, either. And I would cast out Lucius Malfoy if he interrupted my class demanding to speak to his son in such a way. Or Molly Weasley, or any other parent. Neither of you are being treated as special, Black.”

Unlike the treatment that you have received from Dumbledore. Severus hoped that the man would hear the unsaid words, although from the enraged way Black gaped at him, he had taken them the wrong way if he had. 

Three minutes, thought Severus, and turned back to Dumbledore. “Was there anything else that you wanted me for, Albus?”

Dumbledore looked at him over his glasses, but that gesture had ceased to endear him to Severus long ago. Severus simply looked back without expression, and Dumbledore seemed to realize he had wasted a minute, because he pressed his fingers together and murmured, “Did you know anything about the confession that appeared in the newspaper this morning, Severus?”

Confession?” Severus cocked his head. “What an interesting word. As if Mr. Potter was the criminal.”

Black made some noise that didn’t achieve the dignity of words, but Dumbledore held up his hand, and he subsided for a second, glaring at Severus with naked hatred. “Severus. I must ask you again. Did you know?”

“Why would I?” Severus whispered. “I am neither the man who was supposed to act in loco parentis when Potter was at school, nor his godfather, nor his guardian.”

Dumbledore peered at him again, but Severus had not only his Occlumency shields up, but his bored and long-suffering expression as well. Dumbledore would find that he had little to accuse him of, even if he persisted.

One minute.

“You might have taken his side in certain recent disputes,” said Dumbledore, and his eyes flickered to Black, “considering the unfortunate similarities between you. But that doesn’t mean that you should have concealed important information you learned about Harry, Severus.”

Black was staring too stupidly to have picked up on the insinuation of Severus’s own abuse, Severus decided quickly. He had once had to make such snap judgments all the time, and risk his life by them. He was risking his dignity now, and he still thought he was right.

“Would you have listened to him if he reported it?” he whispered. “Would you have understood why having his trust in his guardian butchered was more devastating to him than it might be to some other children?”

Half a minute.

“I would have listened to him!” Black yelped.

Dumbledore took on a gentle, almost indefinable aura of disappointment. Since Severus didn’t intend to pay him any attention because of that, he just stared icily, and Dumbledore finally looked away and made a small motion with his head. “I understand that you have classes to return to, Severus.”

“Yes,” said Severus, straightening up just as his charm buzzed at him. “My NEWT students. Fortunately, they can be left without supervision for a small period of time.” He bowed his head a little. “Excuse me, Albus. Black.”

He took one look back at Black as he exited via the Floo, and hoped that his eyes said it all for him.

Do not cross me. Harry has someone at his back now who won’t listen to your pathetic excuses and let you use your abuse as an explanation for abusing someone else.

Do not get in my way.

On the other hand, if Black did not grasp it, Severus thought with a thin smile as he whirled away, he would enjoy the consequences. Black would not, but that hardly mattered.

He will not hurt Harry again.

Chapter Text

You don’t need to talk to them, said Dash with a certainty that stabbed Harry under the heart like a sharp, slim bone dagger.

What a keen imagination you have, Dash added, and his heavy head came to rest in the place that Harry had been thinking of, his tongue darting coolly out for a moment. His closed eyelids fluttered a little, and he turned his head to the side, apparently feeling Harry’s heartbeat. You don’t need to.

“I still need a place to live for the summer,” Harry reminded Dash quietly, running his fingers softly along the ridge above Dash’s closed eye. They were in the middle of Harry’s bed, sealed behind curtains that Harry had warded with several strong privacy charms. Harry spoke quietly as much to avoid waking Ron as because his throat was too choked with emotion to speak more strongly. “I can’t have that if I don’t talk to Sirius and Lupin.”

You could have a place with your Weasley friend. You could have a place with your professor.

It took Harry a moment to realize which professor Dash must be talking about, and when he knew, he snorted aloud and shook his head. “Come off it, Dash. I’ll admit, he’s been nice to me, a lot nicer than he used to be, but there’s a difference between that and wanting to adopt me.”

He would not need to adopt you to guarantee you a safe home.

Dash sounded more enchanted with the idea as he spoke. Harry shuddered a little as he realized that Dash had vowed to get him an adult who could look after him. Snape might be the adult he had in mind.

No, Harry snapped, switching to the silent voice of their bond as he heard someone shift in their bed. Dean, most likely. He said that he always had bad dreams right before exams. I forbid you to do anything about getting “someone” for me, Dash. You couldn’t talk to Snape without me being there, anyway.

Dash paused, his tail tapping the sheets. The stirring sound had stopped, but this one was loud enough. The only one louder was Harry’s heart. Harry held his eyes, as well as he could when Dash’s lids still blocked them, and glared.

I want to help you, Dash finally said, and laid his head in Harry’s lap. His emotions tumbled through Harry’s head like the images he had first hurled at Harry when he was explaining his name, and his voice was soft and sulky.

I know that, said Harry, and used his hand to gently smooth down Dash’s plume. But I still have a home that I can get back if I say the right words.

What about the words they should say to you?

Harry let out a long, slow breath and shrugged. That shifted Dash’s coils around his shoulders around in a way that usually made him grumble, but now he was silent, waiting, and Harry realized how seriously he took this. I don’t know. I’ll—we’ll see how this confrontation goes.

You realize I will be with you, and that I’ll bite them the moment they try to threaten you. 

I know that. Harry leaned back on his pillow, and didn’t speak what he was saying aloud in words: that if not for Dash’s presence there, he wouldn’t have been able to go to the confrontation with Remus and Sirius at all.

Dash’s head snuggled further into his lap. You don’t need to worry. I’ll never leave you.

Harry closed his eyes. He could have contested that, could have asked what happened if Dash chased after one of his enemies or wanted a mate, but he didn’t. For once, he thought, he could trust that a person who said something like that meant it.

No one else is bonded to me.

*

“Were they really awful, the Muggles?”

Draco paused and laid one hand flat on the wall. He’d been about to speak to Harry when he saw him stalking along one of the corridors away from the Great Hall, after dinner had finished, but it seemed someone else had had the same idea.

And that person was Pansy Parkinson, which stunned Draco.

Draco waited, only leaning forwards a little to see what he could see. He heard Harry huff before he saw him. He was standing in the center of the corridor, one hand so firmly on Dash’s head that Draco would have winced if he was Dash, away from the pressure. But Dash only looked as if he liked it, even touching his tongue to Harry’s hand before opening his mouth in a yawn.

Pansy didn’t leap and squeal at his fangs, which she had talked about being frightened of more than once at the Slytherin table. She only studied Harry, and Harry studied her back.

“They were exactly as awful as the paper said they were,” Harry finally muttered, after what looked like an encouraging squeeze around the waist from Dash’s tail. “The article didn’t exaggerate.” He shrugged and started to edge past Pansy. “You can read about it there. It tells the truth.”

“But—it’s different, with magical families, right?” Pansy demanded, turning to track Harry. “They wouldn’t hurt someone like that. You wouldn’t have been abused if you grew up with wizards instead of Muggles.”

Harry turned around with a grace that Draco had only seen once before, when they were dueling in that stupid club Lockhart had tried to set up last year. For a minute, Draco was afraid that Harry was going to attack Pansy for some reason, but he didn’t. He just walked up to her and looked her earnestly in the face, earnestly enough that Pansy blushed and started looking down at her hands and picking at her nails.

“That was hard for me to admit to myself,” Harry murmured, his voice tender. He reached out and took one of Pansy’s hands and held it still. “That it was abuse and awful, that I deserved better.”

Pansy was trembling. She lifted her head, and Draco saw a gleam of tears on her lashes. He stared. Pansy, who never cried?

“But what if it’s not like that?” Pansy whispered. “Why if they just—ignored your nightmares, and told you that you had to study more, and locked you in the library with books, and sometimes put potions in your food to see if you could recognize them? That’s not abuse. Not like what you went through. No one ever starved me. They were just trying to train me for the hard ways of the world.”

Draco closed his eyes. He had heard people use that phrase before. Specifically, Pansy would repeat it soon after her father sent her a letter.

“No. It’s abuse.”

Harry’s voice was firm, strong, sure. Draco opened his eyes again. He was standing right in front of Pansy and giving her the kind of earnest look Pansy would ordinarily have mocked. But she wasn’t in the right frame of mind to mock anyone right now, Draco thought. And come to think of it, he couldn’t have done it, either.

A thought did drift across Draco’s mind, even as he watched Harry do something admirable like comfort a Slytherin who wasn’t him, that it was strange Harry was so able to do this when he’d kicked and screamed about calling his own Muggle abuse by the name “abuse.” But that just seemed to be the way Harry was. Jump into the fire for someone else, not notice he was burning if it was him.

“You’re the only one who can make the decision to call it that,” Harry went on, still earnest. “And you’re the one who has to decide what to do.” He hesitated, and then Draco saw the moment when he flung caution to the winds. “But if you want someone who will help you and not question you, then you can go to Professor Snape.”

“P-Professor Snape?” Pansy stared up at Harry with eyes so wide and bright that it seemed as if the tears had transformed themselves into her pupils or something. “W-was he the one who helped you?”

“Yes.” Harry looked at her again and clenched her hands. “But you can’t tell anyone that unless he wants to come out and say it, okay? We decided that it would be best if no one knew that for right now.”

“I know,” said Pansy, and swallowed. “But I didn’t even know I could go to him about something like this.”

“Why?” Harry sounded puzzled. “You’re a Slytherin.”

Draco shook his head. This was the kind of thing that he would have understood better than Harry, although he also understood why Pansy had chosen to confide in Harry rather than him. She would be afraid of Draco making fun of her. Draco was trained to attack weakness. It was the lesson his father had drilled into him throughout his childhood.

But Professor Snape was also someone who, while he would accept and repair the weaknesses of his Slytherins, wouldn’t offer much comfort while doing so. Most of Draco’s Housemates assumed he only wanted to be bothered by either things that had to do with potions, his area of expertise, or things that a student really couldn’t get help with elsewhere, like being treated unfairly by another professor. None of them would have gone to him with something like this.

It made Draco wonder abruptly how Harry had known that it would be safe.

“No, really, you can go to him,” Harry was telling Pansy now, maybe because she had started to confide in him and he had realized she didn’t have the words to tell him the truth. “Come on, I know he’s in his office right now and he doesn’t have anyone to supervise in detention. I’ll take you there.”

Pansy hung back with a little murmur, but it was obvious to Draco that she really wanted to be convinced, and that was what Harry did. He smiled at her and pulled on her hand, and she let herself follow him.

Draco leaned back. He would talk to Harry later. Maybe tomorrow. They still had about a week before exams, and Draco could take some time away from revising furiously.

He thought he saw Dash glance back at him, snapping his tongue out to catch his scent, before Harry and Pansy disappeared around the corner. Draco looked back as hard as he could. He wanted Dash to take care of Harry. But he had the feeling that was probably going to happen anyway.

*

“Professor Snape? Pansy wants to talk to you.”

Severus had only a moment to wonder when Parkinson had given Harry permission to call her by her first name. From the appealing look that she gave him before she ducked her head, and the even more appealing one that Harry fastened on him, he knew what this was about.

Severus settled his face into the neutral, natural mask that seemed to reassure Harry the most, and nodded. “Please sit down, Miss Parkinson.” That was what he normally called her in class, and he thought changing the level of formality too quickly would only make her more uncomfortable.

Parkinson took her chair in front of his desk, and breathed out once her gaze was on her fists in her lap. Severus had expected more hesitation, but perhaps she had decided there was little use in hiding now that she was here. “It’s about my father, sir.”

Severus nodded once, and glanced up at Harry, who was standing by the door with his gaze fastened protectively on Parkinson. He caught Severus’s eye and nodded, and slid quietly out of the room, shutting the door behind him. Although Parkinson must have heard it, she showed no apprehension. She had probably accepted being alone with Severus, then.

Good. Parkinson was not one of the twenty-two children Severus had identified as current students who were abused. He would need to listen to her story in privacy and with keen attention, and Harry had handled the situation well.

As he prepared the tea that he could best mix with a Calming Draught, Severus decided, I must remember to tell him so.

*

Harry got to Lupin’s office feeling as if he was glowing from the inside. That had been the right thing to do, a good thing. He had helped Pansy, and that made him feel as if he could fly.

It prepared him for the conversation with Sirius and Lupin, he knew. Better than the Strengthening Potion Snape would have suggested. 

Well, he would have suggested it if he knew about this conversation, anyway. Harry thought he would probably want Harry to run the other direction.

But it had to be done. And Harry knew Sirius had come to the castle to visit Lupin tonight. He’d been at dinner.

You can fight for her, and not for yourself, said Dash, in a sad tone of voice, just as Harry put his hand on the door.

Harry looked down at him. I need you to support me right now, he said. Without faltering and without reservation. Can you do that? 

Dash reared exactly as much of his body off Harry’s shoulders and waist as he needed to meet Harry’s gaze. You know I will. But supporting you isn’t the same as approving of all your actions. Or not wanting to bite people.

Right now, I don’t need criticism, Harry told him quietly. Right now, I do need approval.

Dash slung a coil over one arm, held it tightly for a minute, and then let it go. Harry smiled down at him and knocked on the door.

“Yes, just a moment…” Harry heard Lupin making his way past the crates and cages that his office was always filled with. He wasn’t supervising a detention tonight, either. Harry had checked. Harry folded his arms tightly and took a deep breath.

Lupin opened the door, a pleasant, slightly dotty smile on his face that he usually wore when he thought people were coming to ask him questions. It fell away entirely when he saw Harry, and he leaned on the wall as though someone had hit him, wincing as he placed one hand to his chest.

“Yeah,” said Harry, looking at him and holding his eyes, “it’s me.”

Lupin licked his lips and looked over his shoulder for a second. Then he stepped quietly forwards and started to shut the door behind him, whispering, “Harry, what are you doing here? Do you need help with your homework?”

Dash was uncoiling himself with a slow, deliberate grace that Harry knew promised nothing good. He put a hand on Dash’s head to hold him still, and shook his head slowly. “You know what I came to talk about, Professor Lupin,” he said. “And I know Sirius is in there, and I have to speak to him too. Will you tell him to come out?”

For a moment, Professor Lupin dithered, and Harry thought he might turn away. But finally he nodded, with a kind of numb wonder on his face, as if he was stunned that he was doing this. Then he turned away and called to Sirius. Harry hugged Dash around the neck and said nothing.

Sirius came to the door walking as slowly as if he was going to a funeral. Harry didn’t know if he’d heard Harry’s voice or if he was just thinking about Harry in general, and that weighed him down. Harry sort of hoped it was the second one, honestly.

He held Sirius’s eyes in turn when he got there, and then nodded at the door. “Can we go inside your office, Professor Lupin?” he asked.

Both of them moved aside so Harry could go in, and both of them watched him in a sort of daze. Harry wondered why he had to be the adult here, and then sighed. Because neither of them would be. They would have come and talked to him before now if they were going to be adults about it.

This is why you should find someone else, someone who will treat you right.

Harry ignored that, and turned to face Sirius and Professor Lupin. They were standing shoulder to shoulder, huddled, as if Harry really was the adult and had the power to send them to their rooms.

Harry banished the painful thought about bedrooms and how much he wished Lupin had locked his door, and looked from face to face. “All right,” he said quietly. “I think you know what I’ve come about.”

“You’re going to tell us why you didn’t tell us the Dursleys abused you?” Sirius was looking into his face with an earnestness that really reminded Harry of a dog trying to understand someone.

“And you’re going to tell me why you didn’t apologize and come talk to me about what happened in your house,” Harry told Sirius.

Sirius gave a little flick of his head to get his hair out of his eyes. “It’s your house, too,” he said. “And Remus’s house.”

Dash was hissing, although not aloud. Harry thought he was the only one who would ever feel that throb of hissing through his mind, and honestly, the only one who ever needed to feel it. “I’ll consider it home when tell you me why you didn’t apologize,” he said.

Lupin held out his hands. His eyes were amber-colored, and when Dash gave an incoherent mutter about a threat, Harry told him to stop that. He thought Lupin’s eyes were that color all the time. It was just more noticeable right now. “What apologies are enough for what I did?” Lupin whispered. “I can’t make up for it. I can’t beg you to forgive me. I can only—quit my job at the end of the year and go somewhere else.”

Harry stared at him with his mouth open. He had never thought Lupin was going to quit being their Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. 

Guilt bubbled in him. Did I cause this?

Dash’s tail slapped him firmly on the side of the head.

It wasn’t a hard blow, but it did its job. Harry shook his head. No, he hadn’t. He couldn’t have, because he had opened the door not knowing where Lupin was and not knowing what he was, and that was because they had kept secrets from him. And he hadn’t even known that Lupin was thinking about quitting his job, because they hadn’t told him anything about that either.

I deserve to be told things.

Dash’s tongue flickered out and gently licked the side of his arm.

“I always said that snake was violent!” Sirius was pointing one finger at Harry, as if he might have missed the fact that Dash had slapped him. “How can you stand there and defend him, Harry?”

“Because he would apologize for it if he did something wrong,” Harry snapped. He didn’t mean to, but the words slipped out, and then they were out there and there was no taking them back.

Sirius slowly folded his arms. Lupin turned away and stared at his hands again. “No words can encompass how sorry I am,” he whispered. “But I am sorry.”

Harry turned and stared at Sirius. “What about you?” he whispered. “Are you sorry for not trusting me, and embarrassing when you burst into Potions class like that? Sirius?” he added, because he honestly thought his godfather might stand there until the end of time looking the other way if he didn’t.

Sirius waited so long that Harry’s hope was dying a smothered death in his chest. Then he drew in his own breath and spoke.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. I thought you were like other kids. Couldn’t keep secrets.” He cleared his throat roughly. “And I thought—I thought that you—I mean, Albus tried to tell me—I knew you were different from other kids. I just didn’t know how different.” He looked at Harry, and his face was bleak and desolate. “I see now that you can keep secrets pretty well.”

“I wanted to tell you,” Harry said quietly. “But you weren’t talking to me.”

Sirius closed his eyes. His face was etched with torture. “I wish I’d never had that bloody talk with Albus,” he whispered.

Harry didn’t know which conversation he was talking about, and so he just stood there and waited. Dash squeezed and relaxed around his waist in a regular pattern. Sirius finally opened his eyes and said slowly, “I wanted you to come to me. I thought—I thought that what I did was awful, kind of like Remus.” He nodded to Lupin, who still had his head turned away. “But I wanted to talk to you in private. At home.” He gave Dash an eloquent glance. “And without a snake listening to every word we said.”

Before Harry could say anything about how Dash would be with him everywhere he went, always, Sirius met his eyes and added, “Whether the snake is a literal snake or a Slytherin.”

“Professor Snape was helping me,” Harry said. He would call the man “Snape” most of the time, but he wanted to add the title now. “He kept you out of the classroom because you were just making people more curious, and wanting to stare at me.” He folded his arms tighter. Dash flowed over them, and made Harry feel as if he was wearing armor. “And anyway, I don’t know if I would have trusted you to tell you about the abuse after Lupin attacked me and you didn’t apologize. It felt—it felt as if you cared more about each other than you did about me.”

Sirius seemed to crumble. “Oh, kid,” he whispered. He held out his arms.

Harry hesitated.

He has not solved anything, Dash told him, head still weaving back and forth. He still remains as prone to jealousy and shallowness as he ever was. Think about that.

Harry did think about that. But he also thought that Sirius looked sorry now, and weary, and tired, like Harry himself. They hadn’t apologized on time, but Harry hadn’t sought them out and talked to them, either.

And he was tired of things not working out. 

When he ran forwards and embraced Sirius, Sirius murmured into his ear, “So sorry. I’m so sorry. And if I’d known that the Dursleys were treating you like that, I would have broken out of Azkaban a long time ago. I just thought—I just thought that I’d missed my chance, and messed everything up by suggesting Peter as the Secret-Keeper, and I didn’t know how I could face the guilt.”

Harry closed his eyes. It sounded like Lupin and Sirius had a lot of the same guilt problems.

You are not going to let them get away with this? Dash asked. These pitiful apologies, too late?

Harry took a deep breath and told Dash, I’m not really going to trust them again. Not unless they show me they can be trusted. But I want to live with them—well, with Sirius, and have Lupin visit, or whatever’s going to happen there. It just means that I won’t be able to relax as much around them, and I’ll have to be careful.

Dash’s silence was as bitter as hatred. At last he said, It is unfair that you should have to be the adult.

I agree with that, Harry whispered. But Sirius was hugging him, and he wanted a home, and he had one, if he could get over his own pride and anger and accept it.

And he had Dash with him to make sure that things didn’t go wrong.

I still think Snape would be better.

Snape wanted to help me with the abuse, but that’s not the same thing as helping me permanently, Harry told him, and wrapped his arms all the harder about Sirius. I’ll do what I have to.

Dash was silent. And Sirius whispered apologies, over and over again, and Harry thought it was going to be all right.

Really. No matter how heavy and disapproving Dash made his body. Harry only had to think about Pansy, and his body fired with glowing determination. He could do things that helped people. And Sirius really did love him, Harry knew that when he thought about his room. Next to that, what was a little caution?

Chapter Text

“Mr. Potter,” said McGonagall softly behind him, as Harry was finishing up his exam for Transfiguration. “If you could stay behind for a few minutes when you’re done?”

What did I do now? Harry wondered, out of habit, as he scribbled down the last line and shook his hand. It didn’t hurt as much as it used to when he was trying to write with a pencil in Muggle primary school, but a quill made things awkward in other ways. He had to concentrate really hard to make sure that he didn’t blot the ink, for one thing.

You shouldn’t think like that, said Dash, and his tail gently squeezed around Harry’s waist. You shouldn’t always think that you’re in trouble, that you’re the guilty one.

Harry didn’t respond, only stood up and hurried after McGonagall, who had withdrawn to the front of the room. Only a few people remained—Transfiguration wasn’t horrible for Harry, but it wasn’t his best subject—and they were all in the back. Harry smiled a little. He knew McGonagall was keeping one eye on them even as she talked with him, and she would make anyone who tried to cheat wish they hadn’t.

“I understood there was some confusion about your summer plans,” McGonagall told Harry, peering at him with concerned eyes. “About whether you were going to stay with Mr. Black or go somewhere else.”

Harry found himself a little relieved that she called Sirius by his last name, instead of his first, the way Dumbledore did. It made Sirius sound like he wasn’t an adult when Dumbledore called him that.

Well, he is not.

Dash’s opinion, Harry could also safely ignore. He shook his head. “No, I’m staying with Sirius, ma’am. There was—we had an argument, but everything’s okay now.” He saw the soft, relieved breath that escaped McGonagall.

For one second, he was sort of sad that Snape knew more about the “argument” than his Head of House did, but he shook that away. He did have people who cared for him now, and it wasn’t like he had ever wanted to talk about his abuse with the Dursleys before, much less what had happened with Sirius. And he hadn’t ever relied on McGonagall for much before.

“I also wanted to say, Mr. Potter,” and McGonagall also paused and took off her glasses and wiped them. “I am so sorry that I never noticed what was happening when you returned from the summer before.” Her accent was so thick on the last words, Harry had trouble understanding them. “If I had known…”

“I know,” said Harry, uncomfortable as always when someone started blubbing like this. At least Snape had never blubbed. And Sirius had, but not about this. “But I didn’t tell anyone. How were you supposed to know?”

She should have looked, said Dash, and for a moment, the hold of his tail became constricting. If she had paid attention instead of sinking into her own obliviousness, then you could have had better guardians last year. Or the year before.

Who would I have stayed with? Harry asked. I didn’t have Sirius then, and there’s no one else who could have taken me in.

Dash’s silence abounded in discontent. Harry thought he was doing his friend a favor by ignoring it. He said to McGonagall, “Is that all, ma’am? I mean, I’ve got a Herbology exam in ten minutes.”

McGonagall went on looking broodingly at him for what had to be another minute, though, before she nodded. “You realize that you can come to me if you have any more concerns or need help, Mr. Potter?”

Oh. Harry thought he knew what this was about, now. She was feeling guilty, and she wanted some reassurance. That was easy enough to give. Harry knew the right way to smile and the right words to speak, the way he had known how to soothe the Muggles who sometimes thought they could make the Dursleys stop the abuse.

“Yes, I do,” he said. “Thanks, Professor McGonagall.”

He left the classroom and ran towards the greenhouse. This part of the Herbology exam was entirely practical, and he would have to drag his gloves on after he got there. At least Dash had promised not to crawl through people’s plants and crush them the way he had one time in Professor Sprout’s class at the beginning of the year.

She could do more than that if she was feeling guilty. You shouldn’t have to lie to spare people’s feelings.

Harry shrugged as he wrestled his gloves out of his satchel and tugged them on, using his teeth when he had to, particularly when part of Dash’s body was in the way and he refused to move. I’m already lying to spare Sirius’s feelings. And Lupin’s. Sirius had told Harry that he could call Professor Lupin Remus outside of school, but Harry hadn’t felt comfortable enough to start that yet—especially because he hadn’t yet heard the permission from Professor Lupin himself.

You shouldn’t have to.

Harry nearly tripped from the thunder of Dash’s feelings through his mind. He took a moment to recover his breath, and glanced down at Dash, who stared back at him appealingly, his tail shaking back and forth as if he was a rattlesnake.

“I know that,” Harry told him quietly. “But it’s the way things are.” He made sure he was using English so Dash would pay more attention to the words. “At least things are a lot better now. I have you, and I’m away from the Dursleys.”

But your life should be happy, perfect, not full of these compromises.

Harry gently stroked Dash’s plume. “Nobody’s life is perfect.”

But I am perfect, because I am a basilisk, so I should be able to make my human’s life perfect.

At least that put Harry in a good mood to take the Herbology exam, even if Dash was petulantly insisting in the back of his mind that he didn’t really understand what Harry had found so funny.

*

Let’s see, Draco thought sarcastically to himself as he watched Harry rub his forehead the next morning in lunch, between what had probably been a morning of frantic revising, given that Granger was his friend, and the Potions exam. Harry looks pale and he’s constantly touching his scar. Do I think something’s wrong? Yes, I do.

Which made the way Harry had tried to fob him off earlier with a smile and a story about how he hadn’t slept well stupid. And Draco didn’t enjoy people assuming he was stupid.

He leaned towards Blaise, who had been quiet and moody in the last few days for reasons Draco didn’t understand, and muttered, “Blaise, did your mum say anything about the Ministry getting involved in Harry’s life lately?” It was the only thing he could think of, that Harry might have been distressed by the Ministry doing something stupid. If the stupid thing had happened at school, Draco would have heard about it, and Black and Lupin had stayed away from Harry since his last conversation with them. Draco didn’t think anything new was happening there.

Blaise jumped as though Draco had pricked him with a pin and turned around to stare at Draco with something unpleasantly close to hatred on his face. “Do you think I keep track of what’s going on with Potter all the time?” he whispered in an acid tone. “No, I don’t. It’s bad enough that his picture is on the front page of the paper every morning now, without discussing him with other Slytherins!”

And he turned away, leaving Draco to blink at him. He had no idea that Blaise hated Harry that much. Maybe he only hated the attention and the media circus. Draco probably would if he hadn’t known the truth about some of Harry’s secrets.

Draco did scan the Prophet when the owls delivered it that morning, but found nothing new, only rehashes of what they’d already reported on Harry’s abuse and some mention here and there of Draco’s father’s part in reporting it. So Draco decided he would need to ask.

And what better time to do that than after the Potions exam, when Harry would probably be stumbling with tiredness and vulnerable to someone who asked questions in the right tone?

*

That wasn’t a dream. It was real. You need to tell someone. 

Harry shut his eyes. He had his hand pressed to his scar, still, and his fingers flexed now and then. He thought if he applied some pressure, then the pain and the bleeding would go away. Or at least the bleeding would have to stop. Harry knew all about applying pressure to the kinds of little cuts he’d got from Dudley and his gang.

And this is not that! Dash was almost shouting at him, tail so tight around his waist that Harry’s ribs ached.

Right. That was abuse, everyone tells me now. This is nothing. Harry finally dropped his hand from his scar and turned towards the kitchens. He could distract Dash with some bread and butter, or maybe the elves would have some freshly killed chickens that he could have, or be willing to capture some mice.

Then Dash brought him to a stop by the simple expedient of dropping his tail to the ground so that it coiled around Harry’s legs and almost tripped him up, and someone called out behind him.

“Harry!”

Harry gave Dash a dirty look, and turned to face Draco. Draco immediately stopped jogging along the corridor and started strutting instead. Harry swallowed back a snort. Draco had told him once that Malfoys were on never less than perfect dignity. Harry reckoned he was getting to see that.

“I know something is wrong,” Draco said. “You looked like you were in pain at breakfast today. Tell me?”

He was probably trying to look charming, the way he sometimes did with professors, Harry thought. What was wrong with him that it was working?

You are a normal person and he’s your friend? Dash lashed his tail against the floor, once. Something has gone wrong when I understand human interactions better than you do.

Harry gave Dash a dirty look, and managed to smile politely at Draco. “I had a bad dream last night. I woke up, and my scar was bleeding. It’s bled off and on all day. And my head won’t stop hurting. So I’m going to get something to eat. The headache is probably getting worse because of not eating at breakfast this morning.”

Draco blinked once or twice. He seemed not to have expected that Harry would actually tell him what was wrong. Take that, Harry thought, although he didn’t really know who he was talking to, and turned towards the kitchens again.

Draco walked by his side. “Have you seen Professor Snape for a headache potion?” he asked abruptly.

Harry wanted to gape. He didn’t even know that you could go and ask Snape for that kind of thing, although now that he thought about it, it made perfect sense for Slytherins. And maybe it would have been helpful if this was a normal headache. But he didn’t want to think that much about the dream. 

“Uh, no, that’s okay,” he said. “I always get a headache when I’m hungry, and I didn’t eat much at dinner last night, either. Nerves over the exams, you know.”

“Harry,” said Draco, and stopped in the middle of the corridor, so that Harry had to stop, too, and look at him. “I saw you last night. You ate a lot. Even Dash had what must have been most of his meals for the week there.” He hesitated. “Why won’t you tell me? What’s wrong? And does your scar bleeding have something to do with the—the Dark Lord?”

Harry shivered. He hadn’t even realized, until this moment, that he was lying to Draco again, after telling him the truth about the dream and the headache and his bleeding scar. It seemed so natural, sometimes, so necessary. But he hadn’t really meant to do it. Draco was his friend, and he deserved the truth.

Fine. I’ll do this.

Dash rubbed the side of his neck against Harry’s fingers. Harry nodded a little. “I think so,” he said. “I was dreaming about a woman walking through this big dark forest somewhere. Not the Forbidden Forest, I think,” he added hastily, as Draco’s eyes widened. “But she was looking for something. I had the impression she was nervous. And then she stopped and screamed, and I saw this—this dark thing rising up from the floor of the forest, and circling around her. I don’t know her. But I think she died before the dream ended.”

Draco shivered convulsively. Harry tried to smile and pat him on the arm. “Hey. It was my nightmare, remember? Not yours. I’m the one who had the dream. I should be the one who gets scared by it!”

Draco shook his head, his eyes stubborn, his face mute. “I think it was real,” he whispered. “It sounds real to me. Awful.”

Harry snorted and rolled his eyes. “It was pretty awful, but I don’t know why you think it was real.”

You do,” Draco said, his eyes studying Harry intently. “Or part of you does. Or Dash does. Right?”

Harry closed his eyes. Yeah, that had been the part that he’d been trying desperately not to think about, both the part of the dream and the part of his brain. He nodded once.

“Then you need to tell someone,” Draco insisted. “I had to drag it out of you—and why do I keep having to do that?” There was a hint of resentment in his voice that made Harry frown and blink. “You should just tell me.”

“I’m not used to that,” Harry said, trying to sound like he was calm and not resentful himself. “And anyway, who would I tell? I don’t trust Dumbledore. Sirius—he’s just not—” Harry shook his head. Not even to Draco could he say that he was the adult because Sirius couldn’t be.

He would understand.

“Professor Snape.” Now Draco was looking at him as if he was mental instead of exasperating. “He’s helped you before. He would help you now.”

Harry silently clenched his hands. He wondered how he could tell Draco that he didn’t want to. He had gone to Snape for help, and he had encouraged other people to go to him for help, but that was about abuse. And Harry reckoned he could help if someone was failing Potions, too. But this was different.

Then he thought of something, and hesitated. “I could go talk to McGonagall,” he said. “See if she has anything useful to say.”

“Why her, and not Snape?”

“Because she’s my Head of House,” Harry said. And she wanted to do something to help. That line wouldn’t make sense to Draco, so he didn’t say it. He wasn’t sure that it made sense to him. But he knew that he would be more comfortable talking to McGonagall about this than he would to either Snape or Sirius. “And she’s supposed to help with things like this.”

You can go to her, and she can try to help, said Dash. But you’re going to eat something first. He pointed his head in the direction of the kitchens as though Harry would have forgotten the way.

“Not right now,” Harry snapped at him, and started to turn in the direction of McGonagall’s office. Then he tripped over Dash’s tail, and caromed into Draco, who caught him before he could smash his head open on the wall. Draco blinked at him, studied him for a second as though he thought Harry was drunk, and let him go.

“Are you arguing with the basilisk again?” he asked. “What does he want now?” He nodded at Dash as though he was in a conspiracy with him against Harry, which maybe he was, by this point, Harry thought, yanking a hand through his hair.

“He wants me to eat before I go and talk to McGonagall,” said Harry. “I can do that later. Can we go now?”

You’ve ignored it this long and ignored me when I told you to tell someone, said Dash, and laid his head along Harry’s arm. Why can’t you wait long enough to eat, and then see if she’s in her office or still at dinner, and wait for her if she is?

“All right,” said Harry grudgingly. “That makes sense.”

“Yes, it does,” said Draco, and he shot Harry a sideways glance as he walked towards the pear and tickled it. “And maybe after you’ve had something to eat, you’ll have reconsidered this ridiculous prejudice you have against telling Professor Snape anything.”

“He’s done enough to help me,” said Harry, and ducked into the kitchen, wishing that two pairs of eyes weren’t watching his every move. Even if one of them was covered by a thick pair of clear eyelids.

“And you think he’s come to the end of his store of compassion, and he can’t give you any more?” Draco demanded incredulously, following him. “Yes, because that makes sense.”

Harry rolled his eyes at him. “That’s not what I mean, and you know it.”

“Well, then, explain it better,” Draco ordered, sounding enough like both a Slytherin and a Malfoy that Harry was tempted to tell him he sounded like a Gryffindor, just to make him splutter. “And maybe I’ll agree with you.”

His tone said he wouldn’t. Harry glared at him, and turned around to tell the house-elves who were watching him with gaping mouths, “Can you get some fresh mice for Dash, please? Can you check the traps?”

“And some bread and cheese and soft fruit for us,” said Draco, sounding as though he ordered house-elves around every day, which he probably did at home. He dragged Harry towards a table and made him sit down, then sat down in front of him, too. “Listen, Harry. Did you think it would stop once your abuse was revealed? That Professor Snape wouldn’t want to do anything for you ever again?”

“No,” Harry admitted. “I know he would help me if I was in real trouble.” He was trying to remember to tell the truth and behave like an adult, because he would have to when it came to Sirius. He had to practice the rest of the time, or he would be out of practice there, where it mattered the most.

“Then you can tell him about this, and he can probably give you a potion to ease it. Dreamless Sleep, if nothing else.” Draco sat up and tugged insistently on Harry’s sleeve, reminding Harry of a puppy pulling on a shoestring. Dash was calmly eating the mice that the house-elves had brought him, for once not complaining about eating killed food, and he didn’t say anything when Harry glanced at him. “He knows a lot about the Dark Lord and curses. Maybe he’ll know what this means.” He pulled again when Harry just sat there. “What are you waiting for?”

“Well, for the food that you thought I should eat,” Harry pointed out.

“Oh.” Draco sat down and looked a little blankly around the kitchen for a moment, until one of the elves deposited a plate of the food he had asked for in front of them. Harry picked up a slice of apple and found that he must be a lot hungrier than he’d thought; he devoured most of that in a bite.

“Right,” Draco said, and picked up a piece of bread that he smeared cheese on. “So. We’re in agreement that you’ll go to see Professor Snape after this?”

Harry ate some more, and thought. When he finally knew he had the words, he shook his head. “No.” He held up a hand when Draco opened his mouth. “Can you listen to why? I know the reasons why now.”

“As long as you don’t think that he’d turn his back on you because he was helping Pansy, or something.”

Harry felt his eyes narrow of their own free will. “You know about that?”

Draco shrugged a little. “Yes. And believe me, I won’t spread it around. But I want to hear your reasons.”

“Okay,” said Harry, and looked down at Dash. Dash was quiet, though, with even the bond only a distant hum in the back of Harry’s mind. Harry sighed and looked up at Draco. “I want to be close to the Gryffindor side of me, too.”

“Going to McGonagall will make you feel that way?” Draco folded his arms. “I thought maybe spending time with your other friends instead of me would.”

“Stop trying to confuse me,” Harry told him. “I’m already confused enough as it is.”

Draco’s lips twitched at that. “Fine. But what do you mean?”

“I was almost Sorted into Slytherin,” Harry said, and he grew more confident as he talked. He knew Dash wasn’t saying anything right now, but he had the feeling Dash would if he got this really wrong or something. “But I was Sorted into Gryffindor. And I don’t feel like I understand most of the Gryffindors well except my friends. I don’t really get why Sirius didn’t apologize to me on his own. And I’ve spent a lot of time with you lately. And I went to the Slytherin Head of House for help instead of my own Head of House. So I want to go to her this time. She said that she wanted to help me. I’m giving her the chance.”

Draco squinted at him. “So you would rather go to Snape, but you’re going to her because she wanted to help? That sounds—kind of strange, Harry. She’s the one who should have noticed and done something to help you on her own, if she really wanted to do that.” He nodded heavily.

Harry winced, because it was so close to what McGonagall had said about his abuse. “Of course. But I want to do it anyway. Give her another chance, the Gryffindor side of me another chance, the way I gave Sirius and Lupin another chance.”

Draco squinted harder. “That makes a sort of sense, but I still think that Snape would probably be the better choice. He’s the one with the potions.”

Harry ended up shrugging and eating a little more of the fruit, then picking up a slice of the cheese. Dash had turned around so that he was leaning on Harry’s shoulder, all the mice making hard little bulges in his throat, and Harry sighed and rubbed at his scales. “You can think about it all you like. But I’m going to McGonagall’s office after this. Maybe she’ll tell me to go straight to Snape, I don’t know.”

He hoped she wouldn’t. He wanted—he wanted to rely on more people, he thought. To tell more people. He’d already told the whole bloody wizarding world, and before that Lucius Malfoy, about some pretty personal and important things. He should get to choose who he told something less important to.

Draco watched him, sighed, and then said, “All right. Don’t eat all the cheese!”

Harry relaxed, slowly, from having his muscles braced against something he hadn’t even realized he’d thought was coming. Draco wasn’t going to tell him that he was wrong and fight and argue. He was going to just go along with it, and probably follow Harry to McGonagall’s office. 

It was all right. Someone could still approve his decisions.

Yes. And it’s time that someone besides me did.

Harry touched Dash’s head, and said nothing, but kept a hand there all through the rest of his meal. 

Chapter Text

“This is a very serious matter, Mr. Potter.” McGonagall’s voice was hushed, and Harry was reminded abruptly of his aunt when she didn’t want someone to overhear her gossiping. “Do you think that you can tell me again in detail about your dream?”

Harry did, with Dash supplying some details Harry had been on the verge of forgetting. Honestly, Harry wanted to forget them. It was a regular nightmare, and if it hadn’t been for the suspicion that the thing would stop being a nightmare and become real if he ignored it, he wouldn’t have told anyone.

I don’t understand this way of protecting yourself, or thinking that you protect yourself. Dash’s tail drummed out a little tattoo against Harry’s ribs, though he stopped at once when he seemed to realize, from the thoughts that darted through Harry’s head, that he was hurting him. Why would you need to hide things that aren’t your fault? They don’t even relate to the Dursleys! No one is going to hurt you for dreaming this dream!

The last words were almost shouted down their bond, and Harry lost track of his conversation with McGonagall. He swallowed, smiled apologetically at her, and then hissed at Dash, If you can’t understand when you’re in my bloody head, you can go outside for the rest of this conversation. I don’t need you acting as though what I’m doing is absolutely alien.

Dash was silent for a long moment, his head lying along Harry’s waist as if he was a mere decorative band. Then he whispered, I apologize.

And me just dreaming a dream could have people branding me as mad or evil, Harry reminded him relentlessly, and tossed all his memories of last year with people whispering about him or running away from him into the front of his mind. I was trying to save Justin, and people still thought I was evil, because I could talk to snakes. Sure, they changed their minds, but it took me killing your cousin or brother or whatever and saving Ginny to make them do that!

Dash was quiet. Harry waited, but the inside of his mind remained hollow and echoing like the Chamber of Secrets itself. He took a deep breath and turned back to talk to McGonagall.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I just—things are hard.”

“I know, Mr. Potter.” McGonagall’s eyes were so soft it was almost hard for Harry to meet them. “I know.”

Harry wanted to say that she didn’t know, that she couldn’t know, that things were horrible and only Dash knew, but that would destroy the whole point of his coming here, if he wasn’t going to tell her the truth. He swallowed down his protests the way that he had always swallowed down the ones he would have made against Dudley, and nodded, then resumed the story.

When he had finished, McGonagall was paler than before. She nodded once, tapped her fingers on the desk, and cleared her throat. “My immediate suggestion, Mr. Potter, is one that I think you will probably reject. But it is the most sensible one I can give.”

Vague dread coiled in Harry’s stomach; Dash squeezed around his waist as if to contain it. “What, ma’am?”

“There is no greater expert on You-Know-Who than Professor Dumbledore.” McGonagall gave him a look of vague pity. “He is also the one in the school who knows the most about curse scars. You should talk to him.”

“What about Madam Pomfrey?” Harry blurted out, the words tripping over his tongue before he knew he was going to say them.

“What about her?” McGonagall paused. It seemed she’d been in the middle of preparing to speak, and Harry had interrupted her.

Harry shivered, but he had been through harder things than this and summoned the courage to face them, so he was going to do it now. “Wouldn’t she know about curse scars and things like that? Wounds that bleed when you dream? I think we should at least talk to her and see what she can do.”

McGonagall smiled. Harry wondered why.

Because you used the word “we,” said Dash, which at least proved he was paying attention even if he wasn’t going to speak right now. 

“That may be true,” said McGonagall, and nodded. Her voice became a little more staccato. “I also understand the reason that you’re reluctant to talk to Professor Dumbledore. I would be myself, in your situation.”

I like her more than I thought I did, said Dash abruptly.

McGonagall continued before Harry could say anything else. “It is only that, as this may be a matter of important security, you’ll want to talk to the Headmaster eventually. You’ll have to explain things to him.”

“Because you think Voldemort might threaten Hogwarts?” Harry clenched his fingers into his palms. He ignored the way McGonagall flinched at the name. He thought it was a little silly, but there were more important things to think about right now. “I mean, does Professor Dumbledore think he’d have to attack him?”

He at least understood why Dumbledore would have been interested in his other two years. The Philosopher’s Stone had been right in the school, and then the Chamber of Secrets was, too, and the basilisk was attacking students who were in the school, too. So Harry had relied on the Headmaster to help him, because he had thought he was the only one who could. Or at least someone who would take an interest.

But now Harry didn’t trust Dumbledore as much as he used to, and his dream was about a forest far away. How could Dumbledore help Harry combat that?

McGonagall hesitated again. Then she said, half-whispering as if she thought someone was hiding behind the wall and would jump out on her if she spoke too loudly, “You should know that Professor Dumbledore was very active in the first war against…You-Know-Who. He will have an idea what the nightmare means, and the bleeding in your scar.”

Harry grimaced. On the one hand, he didn’t want that nightmare again, and he also wanted to do what he could to fight Voldemort. But he didn’t see how Professor Dumbledore could actually help him right now.

“Do we have to tell him?” he asked.

“Not right away,” said McGonagall, to his relief. “We can go and see Madam Pomfrey first, and see whether she has any potion or salve that can soothe your scar.” She stood up and pulled her cloak around her.

Harry gave her a grateful smile. “Thanks, Professor McGonagall.”

McGonagall hesitated at the threshold of the office. “Do you mind telling me what has gone wrong between you and the Headmaster, Mr. Potter? I feel I would be of more help in offering suggestions if I knew.”

She doesn’t smell simply curious, Dash said in a cold voice, after having extended his tongue. But curious enough.

It’s still my choice what I tell her, Harry reminded him, and turned back and gave McGonagall a smile he hoped was convincing. “He thinks that I need to forgive Sirius something that happened between us, and I don’t want to. And he…he acts like he cares more about Sirius than me.”

“Sirius was one of his favorite students,” McGonagall murmured, as if that excused it, and Harry knew the bitter taste of disappointment. At least she wasn’t marching him straight to Dumbledore, but it seemed as if he should also agree that Sirius was right and Dumbledore was right and everyone except Harry was right. 

“Good at Transfiguration?” Harry had to ask, because he didn’t know why that would have been the case otherwise.

“No, I was the Transfiguration professor even then.” McGonagall hesitated again, and then sighed and muttered, “He was Dumbledore’s favorite student in much the same way you are, Mr. Potter—because he got in trouble but benefited others when he did it, and he was clever and devil-may-care and chased trouble with his laughter flying.”

Harry’s teeth clicked together hard enough that his mouth hurt. How could he complain about Sirius to her, then? No matter what he said, she wouldn’t understand. And it sounded like it was still okay to think about Sirius as a child even though he should have been an adult by now.

But then, I always knew that I would have to be the adult when it came to Sirius.

Harry knew that, and the conviction, the reinforcement, of his knowledge should have left him unmoved or actually strengthened him. It was stupid that he couldn’t make his feet move after Professor McGonagall for long moments.

They walked through the mostly empty corridors towards the infirmary, and McGonagall murmured out of the side of her mouth, “I hope that you can work with Professor Dumbledore again. It might be essential to the course of fighting You-Know-Who. And…” She hesitated. “I hope he apologizes for what he did to you.”

He won’t, said Dash briefly. He’s too convinced that he’s right.

And Harry was afraid Dash was right, but he managed to nod and murmur politely enough, he thought, that McGonagall was content to take him to Madam Pomfrey instead of asking more awkward questions.

*

Severus did not turn his head as he walked before the Gryffindors that morning, but he could walk as if absorbed in the papers he held and listen to students who had no idea he was listening at the same time, and that was exactly what he did.

“I wish you’d let us know that you were going to visit Madam Pomfrey,” Weasley was hissing at Harry, who kept his head bowed as though it was vital he count the number of flagstones he was walking over. “We waited for you in the Tower, and I thought maybe some Slytherins had pranked you or something.”

“They’ve stopped that, mostly,” Harry muttered. “No. I went to her to see if she could make my scar stop bleeding.”

Severus nearly lost his grip on the papers, but if he dropped them or turned around, the Gryffindors would glance up and notice he was paying attention to them, not simply walking down the corridor. Or perhaps they would notice him for the first time. With Granger and Weasley’s tight focus on Harry, Severus would have put good money on them not noticing him at all.

“Could she?” Granger.

“A little bit,” said Harry. “See, the puffiness is gone, look.”

Severus immediately touched his wand to the paper on top of the pile—a pitiful exam from a boy who would earn a Troll mark in any case—and Transfigured it into a mirror. He could see well by angling it only a little in front of his face and continuing to walk slowly. Harry had stopped in the middle of the corridor and was letting Granger lift his fringe. The basilisk had his head on the boy’s shoulder, appearing to look up intently despite his covered eyes.

Severus could see the scar, which he only now realized he hadn’t consciously noticed in some time. He supposed he could put that down to his relationship with Harry improving, but it was also testimony to how hard Harry tried to hide the thing.

And it was red now, standing up and out from Harry’s flesh, and there was a bloody lining all along the edges of it that Severus did not think was there normally. As he watched, one drop of blood welled out.

Severus had had enough.

He lowered his pile of papers and turned around. Weasley had just leaned forwards to examine Harry’s scar, and he froze as though Severus had caught him doing something wrong. In Severus’s mind, he had. He could understand why Harry would have kept quiet about the scar, because he was a martyr and that was the way he worked, but Granger and Weasley should have known better.

“How long has this been happening?” he demanded, striding up to them.

“Since I had a dream a few nights ago.” Harry’s voice was calm and quiet, and he looked at Severus as if he knew Severus would not hurt him. Which was exactly right and what he should think, and Severus knew it, but his veins still heated with the implication that he didn’t have the right to scold Harry. 

You don’t. You aren’t his legal guardian, and you know the stink Black would raise if he thought you were interfering with his right to be a confidant to his precious godson.

Since Black likely thought of Harry as no more than a playing piece on the board of a game between the two of them, however, Severus saw no reason why he had to pay attention to that stink. He bent down towards Harry. “Let me see.”

“You already saw,” Harry muttered, truculent, but he let Severus brush his hair away and look again. Severus hissed under his breath. Harry folded his arms and waited until Severus dropped his fringe, then looked away.

“You’ve gone to Madam Pomfrey,” Severus diagnosed, his mind coiling around at sharp speed. “Who else?”

“Professor McGonagall. She was the one who took me to Madam Pomfrey.”

Severus stared at him, but Harry blinked stubbornly back at him, and now Granger and Weasley were leaning in from the sides, eager to confirm his story. “That’s right, sir,” Granger said, with the pursed mouth that always made Severus try to avoid calling on her in class. “Harry was telling us just that now. He went to Professor McGonagall about it last night, and she took him to Madam Pomfrey.”

“What did the mediwitch tell you?” Severus asked, still directing his question at Harry. He saw no value in talking to Granger when she would only repeat information that he could get less circuitously from Harry.

There was a long moment when he thought Harry would turn his back and stomp away like the boy he had stopped being. But then he blinked and glanced aside, incidentally stealing Severus’s chance to skim his surface thoughts. 

“That it looked like I’d been picking at it,” Harry muttered. “She did give me a cream to put on it.”

“What is the real cause?” Severus pitched his voice low. That seemed to be one of the ways to get Harry to trust him. He suspected that Harry had had enough of raised voices, and might welcome, or at least pay attention to, one voice that was the opposite.

Harry shivered, once, and then nodded. Severus knew the nod wasn’t an answer to his question. It seemed to be Harry deciding that he could trust him, after all.

“The dream was about a woman walking in a dark forest, and getting eaten by something that rose up from the forest floor and wrapped around her.” Harry’s voice was also low, and precise. “Professor McGonagall thought it had something to do with Voldemort. She said I should talk to Dumbledore, but I don’t really want to.”

Professor Dumbledore, Harry!” Granger seemed unable to resist the impulse to correct Harry even when she should resist it, Severus thought, icily annoyed. “And you didn’t tell us about that!”

Harry twitched one thin shoulder blade and then reached down. The basilisk was wrapping around his leg as if he wanted to rest his head on the floor. Severus was as glad that Harry was restraining the snake. It made Weasley and Granger look at him, and gave Severus the chance to unclench his hand from the fist it had made.

“Did you avail yourself of her advice?” he asked, at his most arctic.

Harry was staring at the floor in that way he had which Severus most intensely despised. Once, he had despised it because it meant he couldn’t read the brat’s mind and he was probably plotting mischief or hiding a smirk while Severus tried to tell him something for his own good. Now, he despised it because it meant Harry was shrinking back into himself and recoiling from advances he had already made. Severus repeated the words in a less cold tone, and Harry glanced up at him.

Severus held his eyes without trying to read his mind, this time. That would only put the boy off further, particularly if he sensed Severus doing it. And perhaps it was time Severus showed a measure of trust in Harry, in turn.

He waited, and Harry said, “No. I didn’t want to talk to him, about this or anything else. Not since—” He shook his head and fell silent, and Severus knew from that that Harry hadn’t filled his friends in about everything.

Or perhaps simply doesn’t want to refer to it aloud, Severus considered while Granger protested, “But this isn’t about Sirius, Harry! I’m sure that Professor Dumbledore would be able to discuss this with you without saying anything about Sirius. Right?” She squeezed Potter’s shoulder and glanced up at Severus as if she expected him to agree.

“I would not take that wager,” said Severus, and Granger looked as if a saint had climbed down off his pedestal and declared that he didn’t like his halo. 

“But he’s the Headmaster of this school,” Granger started to argue. In her eyes, Severus supposed, that would make him a saint, or the near equivalent. As a guardian of academic knowledge and an authority figure wrapped into one, it was hard to imagine someone Granger would respect more.

“Which means that he knows what about this?” Harry suddenly demanded. He looked as surprised as any of them that he had spoken up, and Severus thought the only one not surprised was his basilisk, who reached back up and wound about Harry’s leg again. “I mean, yeah, he’s knowledgeable and all, but what would he know about curse scars?”

Severus made out the sound of students nearing them down the corridors. He grimaced. This was not the ideal place to have such a conversation in any event, but having it in front of students was worse than simply having it in public. “Continue walking,” he directed. “Should someone ask a question, say that I have decided to make you serve one last detention.”

“But that’s lying,” said Granger.

Weasley spoke up for the first time. Severus did not think the boy stupid, as he once had, but he did seem to let Granger and Harry take the lead more often, unless he was angry. “We know it is, Hermione. But remember what happened last year when people kept finding out Harry’s secrets? It was horrible. Let’s keep walking.”

Granger’s mouth firmed down to a thin little line, and she did start walking. She thought she could fight all battles with the power of honor and truth, Severus thought, weary. And with the power of the Headmaster.

He wondered how soon she would become disillusioned. He knew that Harry was reluctant to enter conflict with the Headmaster, for a number of excellent reasons, so it might be a long time.

“Harry?” Severus murmured, keeping his voice low enough that it would be hard enough for the boy’s friends to overhear what he said, let alone students who were more focused on the upcoming summer holiday and Leaving Feast.

Harry walked without speaking for a bit, then whispered, “McGonagall was hinting some things about Dumbledore fighting Voldemort in the first war, but she wouldn’t tell me outright. What good is that? No one can tell me what they think ought to reassure me, because I’m not old enough for it or something?”

Severus sighed noiselessly. Minerva had not handled things as badly as she could have, but she had clearly underestimated the level of Harry’s distrust of the Headmaster. Not a hard thing to do, when Harry was so careful to let few people know about it.

“Dumbledore was active in the first war, yes,” he said, and Harry’s eyes shot to him. “He led a group called the Order of the Phoenix, which frequently opposed the Dark Lord. Several of the Order’s members were killed, in fact. Your parents among them. So it is likely that he would know more about the Dark Lord’s manifestations than many other people would.”

Harry closed his mouth a little, and then muttered, “If anyone would ever tell me about that, instead of just hinting around that it’s a dark secret I’m not meant to know, I wouldn’t mind it so much.”

“The Headmaster probably does not think you old enough to know,” said Severus, and shrugged when Harry looked at him. “But you are old enough to know the story behind your godfather’s supposed betrayal of your parents, and to reveal your abuse, and to know about Lupin. I believe that you will not dash away and use this knowledge in ways detrimental to your health.”

Harry’s friends had gone silent, watching Harry more than they did Severus. Harry walked in silence too for long moments, then let out a noiseless sigh of his own and muttered, “I really don’t think I can. I mean, I don’t even know where that forest is. It’s not like I could try to help the woman.”

Severus hadn’t even thought of that particular reason Harry might put himself in danger. He had thought more in terms of trying to conquer the Dark Lord.

But, of course, this was Harry, who considered himself duty-bound to act like an adult to his ridiculous godfather and save a basilisk from eternity alone in the depths of the castle.

“No, you could not,” Severus agreed, and glanced sternly at Harry. “Now, come to my office so that we may maintain the detention pretense, and I will give you a potion for the scar that will work better than the salve Pomfrey used.”

“Will it actually stop the bleeding if it has something to do with Voldemort?” Harry glanced from Severus to the basilisk, and Severus wondered what kind of silent conversation they were holding now. It was unlikely that the snake would know anything about bleeding curse scars if Harry didn’t; most of his knowledge seemed to come from what he saw or heard inside Harry’s head. 

“It should,” Severus agreed. “It was made to stop bleeding, whether or not it comes from a curse scar.”

They had turned towards the dungeons, and Granger had stepped up to Severus’s side and opened her mouth as if to ask another question, when a voice like a bark rang out, and Severus closed his eyes in silent exasperation. 

What are you doing with my godson, Snivellus?”

Chapter Text

Professor Snape and Sirius were glaring at each other, and Harry knew without asking that things were going to get a lot worse before they got better if someone didn't do something. He moved forwards, ignoring the uneasy way Dash was shifting on his waist and shoulders. Dash couldn't do this much better than he could. He would have to take over Harry's body to speak himself, and Harry thought there were people here who would pay more attention to that than to the words Dash said.

"Stop it," he said, and got between Sirius and Professor Snape.

"What do you mean?" Sirius stared down at him anxiously. He looked almost as wild as Lupin had when he was charging at Harry as a wolf, Harry thought. He reached out and smoothed his hand along Harry's forehead as if he was checking for a fever. "You can't mean that you want to protect him, Harry? Not really? Right?"

"I don't know what you mean about protecting anyone." Harry folded his arms and tried to actually remember Uncle Vernon's stern expression when he was scolding Harry for something. "Unless you were going to attack Professor Snape."

"He was leading you towards the dungeons." Sirius's voice dropped frighteningly low, and he turned towards Snape. This time, Harry thought he saw the edges of Sirius's face tremble, as though he was going to transform into a dog and spring. "What was he going to do with you? Did you ask him that?"

"He was going to give me something to make my scar stop bleeding."

That at least made Sirius pay attention, although Harry didn't think it was in a very good way. Sirius choked and reared back. "Why didn't you tell me that your scar wouldn't stop bleeding? I could have taken care of it for you!"

"Are you a Potions master?" Snape asked without lifting his voice or sounding very interested in the answer. "I didn't know that, Black. How much time we might have spent together debating something other than our mutual hatred, if I had." He reached out, and Harry saw Snape's hand from the corner of his eye, hovering over his shoulder. 

Don't touch me, he thought sharply, and hoped that Snape could hear him somehow. You'll only make things worse if you touch me in front of him.

Why should he care about that? Dash asked into his head, but Harry didn't answer. He kept standing where he was, while Sirius's face seemed to swell and darken. He opened his mouth, but couldn't answer because he was shaking too badly. 

"Listen," Harry cut in before anyone could say anything. "Yes, I think that he could help me. I was going to come and tell you, Sirius. But later. Right now, I just want it to stop bleeding. And I trust Professor Snape to help me." He could feel Hermione opening her mouth, but he didn't think she could speak before Sirius did. He was right.

"Why?" Sirius demanded. He glared at Snape. "All he does is tell you lies about your father and not treat you right in class!"

"He's treating me better now." Harry found that he was having to rest his elbow on Dash's head, so Dash wouldn't be able to rear up and bite Sirius. It was hard when Dash was so much longer than he was. "You heard what he said the other day. He hasn't treated me harshly since the newspaper article came out." He felt sweat sliding down the back of his neck. It was a struggle to keep calm, but at least his head didn't hurt so much right now. If his scar burst out bleeding again in front of Sirius, he knew Sirius would find a way to blame it on Snape somehow. "It's all right, really. You can let this go and I'll come talk to you later."

"I don't think so." Sirius was taking out his wand, with slow, deliberate motions. Harry wondered if he was trying to frighten Snape. Harry was frightened, anyway. He could feel his hands shaking and his heart beating wildly the way it used to do when Dudley and his friends chased him. "I need to show Snivellus that he can't simply interfere between me and you."

Harry felt something swelling up in his chest. It had to do with his shaking hands and his beating heart, but he didn't know what until it got to his mouth.

"He's not the one interfering! You're the one interfering!"

At least Sirius was looking at him now, and didn't act like he was trying to frighten Snape by clutching his wand. He did seem stunned, though. "Harry? What are you talking about?"

"You took Lupin's side!" Harry yelled wildly. He could feel Dash squeezing him around the waist, but if Dash was telling him to calm down, Harry didn't care. "You didn't apologize to me! You act like everyone is horrible to me except you, and then you're horrible to me! If you hurt Snape now, then I'm going to run away!"

Hermione was hanging onto one of his arms and saying something in his ear, but Harry couldn't hear what it was. Everything was happening, too much, the squeezing was there around his heart and his throat and his ribs and Harry wanted to throw up. Except he couldn't do that, either, and the world was beating and swaying back and forth like a pendulum and--

It's all right. I'm here.

Dash was there, he was always there, and Harry turned and grabbed him around the neck, holding him close. The pendulum stopped swaying, and Harry knew he could breathe again. He stood upright, his hands so close around Dash's neck that Harry would have been worried about choking him if he was human.

“I didn’t think you were ready to hear Remus’s secret.” Sirius was crouching in front of him, face pale and shocked, and he had one hand reaching out as though he assumed Harry would take it and let Sirius walk him away from the situation. “I was wrong about that. But I’m not on anyone’s side except yours now, Harry.”

“Then prove it,” Harry said. “Walk away and let me have the potion that Snape said he could give me, and I’ll talk to you later.”

Sirius reared back as if from a striking cobra, and spent some moments glaring at Snape. Then he whispered, “I don’t know what you did to him, Snape, but I’m going to find out. His father could resist the Imperius Curse, so I thought Harry could, too, but maybe he can’t, and—”

Harry’s head was very clear, suddenly. The swaying pendulum was gone as though it had never been, and Harry knew exactly what he needed to say and how he would say it.

“Get out,” he said. “Go away.”

Sirius stared at him. “What?” he whispered, and reached out with one hand that Harry batted aside.

“You said you wanted to be there for me,” Harry muttered. He was tired, but that clear, cold sensation remained. “Well, you haven’t proved it. You keep trying to take me away from Snape for some old grudge. You cared about Lupin more than me. You didn’t apologize. Right now, you still want me to be in pain because all you care about is my dad.” Harry sighed and shivered a little. He had never thought he would say that caring about his dad wasn’t a good thing. “You can’t think Snape is good.”

“He’s not!” Sirius sounded hysterical. He made a lunge at Snape that probably only failed because Harry was in the way and he stumbled to a stop. “You can’t possibly think that! Do you know how much he tortured us when we were in school? And he was best friends with your mum for a while, but then he called her a Mudblood—”

Harry’s shoulders were so tight they hurt. He didn’t know what happened. He only knew that he wanted Sirius to stop talking, and he felt as though something had shaken the corridor around him, a silent thunderclap of power, a flash of white light that wasn’t a flash. 

He blinked in the wake of it, and turned around to look at the others. Snape remained where he had been, although with his head ducked into his robe as if sheltering from something. Ron and Hermione were both gaping, Hermione with her hand over her mouth.

Dash said, That was accidental magic.

Harry stared down the corridor. Sirius was gone. The coldness had come back, but now it seemed to have drained down into his bones, and swallowed. I didn’t—I couldn’t have—

Killed him? Never. Dash sounded dismissive, as though the thought wasn’t worth a moment’s consideration. He stuck out his tongue and lapped it through the air, and then pulled back and draped himself over Harry’s shoulders with a satisfied sigh. He’s back in his quarters, from the smell of the shadows. Utterly stunned, and I hope that he’ll stay that way for a while.

What was the accidental magic, then? Harry whispered. He hoped it hadn’t been controlling Sirius’s mind somehow. That had been what the Dementors had done to him, and that meant Sirius would never forgive him.

Why do you want his forgiveness? Dash asked curiously, but continued before Harry could try to explain things that probably wouldn’t matter to a basilisk anyway. You told him to go away. So he went.

Harry swallowed. A second later, there was a pressing hand on his shoulder, and Snape turned him around and gazed at him searchingly.

Harry stared back at him, and Snape said, so softly that Harry knew even someone walking down the corridor couldn’t hear them, “Mr. Weasley. Miss Granger. That was accidental, wandless, forced Apparition. I trust you won’t speak to anyone else of what you saw today? Mr. Potter needs some privacy to recover.”

Hermione reached out and grabbed Harry in a tight hug. Then she took a step back and looked Snape in the eye. “You’d better take care of him, sir,” she murmured, before she grabbed Ron’s hand in turn and tugged him down the corridor.

Ron turned his head once, and gave Harry a single glance that was probably the most like a hug Harry had ever got from him. Harry took a single, long breath and managed to relax. Dash’s coiling around him loosened at the same time.

“Come to my quarters, Harry,” Snape told him. “We still need to get a salve for your scar, and a potion for the pain.”

Harry shrugged and followed. He felt more than a little drained, as if it was magic and not emotion that had bubbled up in him and then been shoved abruptly out an opening too small for it.

In a way, that is what happened, Dash said thoughtfully as he rested his chin on top of Harry’s head. The emotion was building up and it had to go somewhere, and so did the magic. It just all focused on the same goal: sending Black to his room.

Harry smiled wanly. He couldn’t really see it as humorous the way that Dash did. He knew he would have to face Sirius sooner or later, and he wondered what would happen when he did.

He will treat you respectfully.

Harry paused, then reached up and stroked Dash’s scales once. He knew who would be there to reinforce the respectful treatment.

*

Severus was not proud of the way his hands shook as he reached for the small pot that contained the salve for irritated skin and the vial that contained the pain potion. He was even less proud of the knowledge that plucked and prickled in the back of his mind, the knowledge that Harry had done that partially to protect him.

No. It was his anger at Black, nothing more. I cannot have mattered in that decision, or he would have said so. He said that he wanted Black to stop pretending to be on his side.

But Harry had stood between the two of them, and he had reacted with fury when Black had started implying that Severus was somehow controlling Harry with the Imperius Curse—

Does he even know what the Imperius Curse is? He may not have known and simply grown angry over the constant comparison to his father.

Of course, the Harry Potter Severus had thought he’d known before this last year would have been thrilled at being compared to his father. He would have followed Black around and clung to his stories of life before the war as talismans.

Severus rubbed his forehead with one hand and turned around with the salve and potion. It didn’t matter what he thought, honestly, or whether it was the reference to his father or the Imperius Curse or Severus or something else that had made Harry angry enough at Black to take action. What mattered was that it had happened.

And it was a drained, shaken, thoughtful boy who reached out to take the salve and the potion from Severus, swallowing the potion with a murmur of thanks and breaking open the seal on the pot to dip his fingers into the salve.

“One thing I don’t understand,” he whispered without looking at Severus. “Would I have hurt him when I did that?”

“I cannot be sure without checking on Black,” Severus said. He did not dare to be less than absolutely honest with the boy, not now. “But I doubt it. You didn’t want to hurt him, did you? You only wanted to send him away and stop him from speaking.”

“Yeah,” Harry breathed as he finished smearing the salve on the scar and handed the little pot back to Severus. “I wanted him to—to go away and stop.” He stared at the floor, then up at Severus. Severus braced himself for what came next.

“You were really close friends with my mum, then?”

“We were, at one point.” Severus told himself that the sensation of whips striking his soul was not so very painful, and at any rate, were perhaps what he deserved for being part of the reason this boy had no parents. He put the salve and the empty vial on the table and sat down, regarding Harry as directly as he could. “She saved me one day when your father and his friends were pranking me, and I was humiliated—she had seen me in a—a horrible position. I lashed out at her, which I should not have, and lost my only friend.”

“You called her what—Sirius said you did.” Harry’s voice was small.

“Yes,” Severus said.

Harry stared in the other direction. Severus was glad for the chance to recover from the living, breathing, twisting tension in the room, but then Harry’s eyes came back to him, and he found the tension had become like a basilisk of his own pressing him down.

Harry’s basilisk was watching him without moving, other than the faint flicker of his tongue in and out of those dangerous jaws. Severus wondered if he should feel threatened by those hidden eyes. On the other hand, the basilisk had shown no desire to move towards him so far, while Severus had not missed the way it had wanted to rear at Black.

Harry prevented it. 

Harry doesn’t always have a good sense of when he should forgive someone or let something go as useless.

But because Harry and not the basilisk was the one making the decisions here, Harry swallowed and said, “All right. I wish—I wish you hadn’t done that. But I want to hear more about my mum. Sirius doesn’t talk about her much. Do you think he didn’t know her as well as he did Dad?”

I think Black was so enchanted by James Potter that he could never see anyone else with an unbiased gaze. But Severus did something he had never thought himself capable of doing, and didn’t try to make someone else think badly of Black.

“I think that was the case,” said Severus. “Remember that he was friends with your father from first year, while—your parents only became well-acquainted in their last two years here.”

“Oh.” Harry looked down at his hands for a second, then looked back up at Severus. His face had hardened in an expression of determination Severus didn’t understand until he leaned forwards.

“I don’t like what he did,” Harry said. “I don’t like what did. I said I was going to have to be the adult with Sirius, and then I got angry like a child.”

The basilisk twined so tightly around Harry’s chest that Severus was surprised he could still breathe, but it didn’t make him move or take his eyes away from Severus’s face, which meant it was less tight than it should be. Severus simply shook his head and murmured, “No. What you did was a reaction borne of listening to an intolerable string of words in an intolerable situation. No one will blame you for striking back and doing something that might have saved your relationship with Black at all.”

“Is Sirius going to see it that way?” Harry hesitated for a moment. “Is Dumbledore?”

“I do not know.” Severus sighed. Even when he wanted to speak truth to Harry, it seemed impossible. Severus could only tell Harry what he thought any reasonable person would believe, but reasonable did not always include Black and Dumbledore. “You can only speak to them from a position of strength.”

“What do you mean?”

“Do not go into this apologizing and determining that everything is your fault,” Severus told him. “Otherwise, they will decide that they can take advantage of you, of your guilt, and they’ll make sure that you promise never to do anything like that again.” He paused. “Do you think you will never do anything like that again?”

“No.”

Harry’s voice was small. Severus ached in a way he had only ever felt when Lily died. He wanted to tell Harry that it was all right, that he could stay at the school during the summer, that he didn’t need to worry about Black being his guardian or Dumbledore doing anything to him, and he wanted to make it true.

But anything he might try would only end up backfiring if Albus and Black brought the legal might of their positions down on him, and Severus would rather do less than he could and remain near Harry than get sacked and sent away now. He no longer thought Albus might refrain from doing that. Yes, Severus had been useful as a spy, but he had two of his beloved Marauders back now, and Severus’s usefulness hadn’t prevented Albus from bringing Remus Lupin in to teach Defense even before he knew Black was innocent.

“Then listen and accept their apologies, if they offer them,” Severus told him. “Do not back down. Don’t become too visibly upset. Don’t let them play on your guilt. Use the excuse of accidental magic or needing to leave because you must control your basilisk if they won’t listen. Then come back and fight again.”

“In other words,” Harry said, his face harder than ever, “lie to them.”

“That is my advice, yes.” Severus wondered if Harry would reject it because of that. It wasn’t unheard of for his own Slytherins to reject advice that McGonagall or another professor had tried to give them.

Harry sat there, thinking. When he had finally opened his mouth to say something, Severus held a hand up. He could hear footsteps approaching his door, and the single firm knock a second later could have been heard by anyone. The basilisk had certainly turned his head in its direction, though in his case he was probably alerted by Harry.

“I want to see who that is,” said Harry, but then, instead of moving, he stared at Severus.

Severus rose to his feet, both impressed and amused. Either Harry was thinking ahead and had decided that it would make the most sense for Severus to answer his own door because the adult who had come would expect him to, or he simply wouldn’t presume to do anything in Severus’s own rooms.

Either way, when Severus opened the door and found Remus Lupin, most of his other emotions fled. He turned to the side so that Lupin could see his hand on his wand, and asked calmly, “Have you come to complain?” He knew exactly what hex he would use if the response was “yes.”

*

“My business isn’t with you, Severus. But thank you for helping Harry.”

Harry relaxed a little. Yes, Lupin wasn’t someone he especially wanted to see right now, but at least he could try to get along with Snape, and that was better than Sirius.

He was also a wolf who tried to kill you.

But you stopped him.

The fact that I had to stop him instead of him taking precautions to prevent the attack at all is the problem.

Harry saw Snape tense, and shift as if he would block Lupin’s entrance into the room. Harry shook his head and stood up. “I think it’s okay, sir,” he said. “As long as he’s going to apologize or do something other than scold me for using accidental magic on Sirius.”

“That was accidental?” Lupin did look stunned, his eyes flicking around the room for a second as if he thought a powerful wizard was hiding in a corner.

“Yes. I wanted him to go away, and he did.” Harry paused as Dash moved a portion of his tail down Harry’s legs. He wanted to be free to slither at Lupin if he attacked, he told Harry primly. Harry rolled his eyes in silence and added, “Did you need something, sir?”

“I’ve come to do something I should have done long since.” Lupin seemed to brace himself against air, and he nodded to Harry. “I should have realized how profoundly the attack and the lack of explanation afterwards would hurt you. I’m sorry.”

Not good enough, said Dash, almost vibrating his tail against Harry’s legs.

But I’m the one who has to decide whether I accept it, Harry reminded him, and faced Lupin again. “Why are you the one apologizing and not Sirius?” he asked quietly. “I mean, I know you could have told me about being a werewolf and made sure that your door was locked in the first place, but he also could have made sure that he told me and didn’t leave me alone in the house with you.”

Lupin sighed and touched one hand to his shaggy grey hair as if he could somehow lighten the color. Then he said, “How much did Sirius tell you about his family?”

“Not much,” said Harry, blinking. What did that have to do with anything? “They were Dark and they were pretty awful to him. And they were upset when he was Sorted into Gryffindor, he told me that.” It was one reason he could understand why Sirius was upset that Harryhad almost been Sorted into Slytherin.

Lupin,” Snape snarled softly. “You shall not make the Headmaster’s excuse.”

“This is an explanation, not an excuse,” Lupin said quietly, and turned to face Harry again. “Sirius was still a child when he escaped his family by running away to your father’s parents. But I don’t think he ever let go of the vast majority of what his family had done to him. He never escaped them mentally. He—he still suffers from wanting to defy them at every turn, and that includes irrationally hating Slytherins and what he sees as anything Dark.” He glanced at Dash. “He thinks of Parselmouths as Dark wizards. He doesn’t want to think of James’s son as Dark.”

“You are making the Headmaster’s excuse,” Snape said.

“I said it was irrational,” said Lupin, still sounding gentle and defeated. “And, Harry, I don’t ask you to forgive him. Some of what he’s done is going to take a lot of apologizing and atoning if he ever wants to make it better. But I do ask you to be patient with him, as patient as you can. He isn’t angry at you right now. He was startled and frightened by what you did, but after he told me what had happened, I told him he should have known better.”

“How comforting that it is still Black’s defenders coming instead of Black in person,” Snape remarked, and Harry saw Snape spinning his wand between his fingers out of the corner of his eye.

“Let me speak to him, please, Severus,” Lupin said. “I know that a lot of what Sirius did was inexcusable, but this time, it wasn’t to you.”

Snape’s wand stopped spinning. Lupin turned back to Harry. “Give him what chances you can,” he said. “I don’t want you to make excuses for him. Lots of people did that, and that’s how he turned into the person he is now. What I want you to do is listen to him, and talk to him about what you’re really feeling, and use magic to defend yourself again if you need to. That should knock some sense into him. What you did today already has.”

I shall defend you, as well, Dash announced, and flicked his tongue out.

Lupin looked down at Dash. Harry, whose emotions were churning so much that he didn’t really know what he was feeling, shook his head and stood upright when he did. “No,” he said. “I’m not going to leave Dash behind to make peace with Sirius. He’s going to come with me, no matter where I live this summer.”

Lupin gave a deep groan. “I didn’t know Sirius was on the verge of driving you away from your home.”

“Yes,” said Harry. “I really, really don’t want to go.” He was relaxing now. At least Lupin hadn’t immediately promised to punch Snape or something like that, and so Harry was going to make sure that Lupin listened. “But I can’t live with Sirius if he’s always going to be attacking people who helped me and never apologizing and only trying to make me into what he wants me to be.”

“The more you show him that you’re different, I think the more that he’ll accept that you are different.”

Harry snorted. “Because that worked so well with the Dursleys.” Of course, he hadn’t known that his accidental magic was in operation at all times, differentiating him from the Dursleys in ways he hadn’t recognized, and he hadn’t realized that Vernon and Petunia knew about magic, but it still meant Lupin’s plan didn’t make sense.

“Sirius can listen,” Lupin said. “He’s not like your relatives.”

“It occurs to me, Lupin,” Snape was saying, his voice low and intent, “that you persist in saying what Black will do, but you do not prove your point in what would be the best way. Drop in on the boy and Black at certain times—not the night of your transformation—and perhaps you will be able to see whether or not Black does treat him better.”

I thought Snape was a smart man, Dash murmured into Harry’s mind.

I think he still is, Harry said, but Lupin replied before he could engage in a full conversation with Dash.

“I won’t be able to do that, unfortunately.” Lupin shook his head, his eyes going once to Harry before they darted away. “I—I’m leaving. I don’t—I can’t trust myself around children, Harry, not after what happened with you.”

Harry was sure his mouth was open. The next second, he hoped that his eyes still looked stoic and strong, the way he wanted to look in front of Lupin, instead of flooded with guilt.

You have nothing to do with this, said Dash sharply in the same moment as Snape drawled, “Fleeing like the coward you are, Lupin?”

“Realizing that you’re right,” Lupin said, and glanced at Snape once before focusing on Harry again. “Even with Wolfsbane, which can protect my mind when I transform into a werewolf, I can’t protect others against my own forgetfulness and stupidity.” He hesitated, then knelt down in front of Harry. “Please be as strong as you can, Harry,” he whispered, embracing him. Dash hissed, but Harry simply stood stiffly for a moment, then hugged Lupin back. “Know that I think you’ll grow into a fine young man. And be as patient with Sirius as I know you can be.”

Be the adult again, said Dash, with a bitterness that would have made Harry flinch if he wasn’t thinking about other things. Just like he knows you can be. Just like you’ve had to be for the last few months because they can’t bear to be.

Harry drew in all his breath and asked, “Is that the only reason you’re leaving, Professor Lupin? Really?”

Lupin paused with his eyes widening until Harry thought he could see a touch of gold in the corners of them. Then he shook his head once and murmured, “You’re even sharper than I thought, Harry. No. The Headmaster has a task among the werewolves that he wants me to complete. He thinks that You-Know-Who might be hiding among them, or there might be some werewolves who know where he is right now. During the last war, he was in contact with them, especially near the end.”

“Did Dumbledore make you leave, then?” Harry wasn’t sure what to make of that. It wasn’t like he’d been very close to Lupin, but…

“No,” said Lupin, and his smile was sad. “I told you the truth, Harry. I don’t trust myself, and I do think that I shouldn’t be around children. Headmaster Dumbledore just thought of something I could do other than going away and moping.” He stood up and looked down at Harry for a long minute. “I’m sorry for a lot of things, Harry, but most of all for making you feel that you can’t trust anyone.”

Harry rolled a shoulder and thought about mentioning his friends and Dash and Snape, but in the end, he just nodded.

“I’ll try to keep in touch by owl,” Lupin went on, more cheerfully. “And you can always owl me if Sirius does something especially stupid.”

Harry managed to smile. “As opposed to ordinarily stupid? Right, Professor Lupin, I will.”

Lupin ruffled his hiar and turned away. For a second, he glanced at Snape, but Snape’s expression must have been upset, because Lupin sighed and left his rooms without another word.

I don’t like him, said Dash then, in the same instant that Snape came around and studied Harry’s eyes.

“You are not to blame yourself for what happened with him,” Snape all but demanded. “You are not to think that things would have been better if you had been the adult at all times. You should have been safe in your godfather’s company. Lupin should have known better than to forget to lock the door.”

Harry reached for the still center of himself where he had sometimes gone when he didn’t want to hear what the Dursleys were saying about his parents, and he nodded. “I know.”

Snape stared at him harder. Then he finally murmured, “But you intend to continue living with your godfather nonetheless?”

“He’s still better than the Dursleys.”

Snape closed his eyes for a fleeting second, then nodded. “True. But you are to come to me if you need help. If you have another dream. If you think that Black is doing something that might jeopardize your safety.” He looked for a second as though he’d bitten into a sour apple. “Perhaps I should say, seriously jeopardizing your safety.”

“The professors spend their holidays away from the castle, don’t they?” Harry asked carefully.

“Not all the weeks of summer.” Snape straightened as if he was a soldier going into battle. “And an owl can always find me.”

Especially one as smart as Hedwig, Harry finished the sentence for him. He nodded and smiled at Snape. “Thanks, sir.” 

I will be the one to tell you when I think you need to write to him, Dash murmured. I trust my own judgment more than I trust yours.

Harry hesitated once, then decided Snape might as well know. “Dash is the one who will tell me when I need to write to you, he says.”

Snape’s face relaxed in the first real smile Harry had seen from him probably since the article about his abuse came out. He nodded. “Good. The basilisk is a good judge of character.”

“He has a name,” Harry said, finding the ability to tease from Merlin knew where.

“Until there is another basilisk in the room, I see no need to use it. He will know who I mean.”

Professor Snape hesitated, then reached out and touched Harry’s shoulder once. The next instant, he was sweeping to the other side of the room.

Harry patted Dash’s scales as he let himself out. Even if I’m treated bad a lot of the time, there are a lot of people who care about me, too. I’m always going to remember that.

Chapter Text

“You have to write to me every day so I know you’re going to be all right,” said Hermione, and leaned forwards and hugged Harry again. Apparently she thought the seventy times she’d already done it weren’t enough.

Harry smiled tiredly at her. He was feeling exhausted from his meeting with Lupin and Snape yesterday, and even more from what had happened with Sirius. He wanted to collapse on his bed and sleep for a week.

But they never allow you to do what you want, do they? Dash coiled himself thoughtfully around Harry’s neck. Sometimes I wonder if I should not threaten to bite them as well. It might be the only way to make them see reason.

Shut up, you’re only saying that because I didn’t let you bite Lupin or Sirius, Harry snapped back at him, and nodded to Hermione. “I’ll do that. Do you want an owl every day, too, Ron?” he added, because Ron was standing behind Hermione and rolling his eyes a little.

Caught out, Ron flushed and said, “Just one every week will be enough, mate.” He lowered his voice a little, although no one else was in the common room right now. They were upstairs, frantically packing for the Hogwarts Express. “That way, you get to write me longer letters with more details about what Sirius is doing.”

“You have to write me long letters, too!” Hermione immediately objected, her face turning a little red.

Harry smiled at her, amused. “Every day?”

That made Hermione fumble a little, and Dash and Ron both chuckled, although Hermione could luckily only hear one. She glared at Ron, then said, “Do whatever you want to do, Harry. But write to me, and be safe.”

Harry put one hand on Dash’s coil. “He won’t let me be anything but that.”

Hermione hesitated, nodded, then hugged him one more time. Ron settled for clapping him on the shoulder and muttering something about best friends and how Harry could always tell him everything that was bothering him. Harry nodded and sat down again in a chair near the common room fire while Ron and Hermione both disappeared up the stairs, Ron to pack and Hermione to make sure she had all the books she wanted to take with her.

Harry felt…almost empty. It was going to be a better summer than he’d ever had before, within reach of the castle and without Dursleys, but it was also going to be strange and not the one he’d hoped he could have had when he first got to know Sirius. Perhaps he’d been silly to wish for anything that good, though.

You deserve anything good the world can offer. Dash sounded as angry as a hornet. I wish you would stop feeling otherwise. He twined himself firmly around Harry’s neck and tightened there like a noose until Harry tapped him on the nose to get him to stop. I wish you would start feeling like I do, that nothing anyone can do is enough for you.

Harry snorted. That sounds like a good way to end up permanently dissatisfied.

Dash probably would have answered, but someone tapped on the portrait of the common room then. The Fat Lady immediately began to speak. “Just because you don’t know the password is no reason to knock on me, young man!”

Harry stood up and went to open the portrait from the inside, curious. The Fat Lady swung open, but she was still talking about disrespect and all the rest of it.

Draco stood there, his arms folded and his nose in the air, probably because of the Fat Lady’s rant. It took a long moment for him to put it down and consider Harry. “Is she always this rude?” he asked, gesturing at the Fat Lady.

That set her off again. Harry didn’t think it worthwhile to listen to her, so he didn’t. “Draco, what are you doing here?” he asked.

“I came to say good-bye, of course.” Draco leaned forwards and stared him in the eye. “I heard something about what happened earlier. Apparently a portrait saw you banish Black back to his rooms. It was all they could talk about.”

Harry flushed. “And so now everyone in the school is going to be talking about it?” he muttered.

Draco shrugged. “I doubt it. There are portraits that gossip to students and ones that don’t. This one only told me as much as it did because they owed a debt to the Malfoy family when they were alive.”

Harry narrowed his eyes. “You have your own private portrait spy? Who is it?”

Draco looked smug, and didn’t answer.

Harry rolled his eyes, because that was exactly like Draco, but before he could say anything else, Draco was focusing on him as if he was the guilty one. “You were going to leave without telling me about this?”

“I would have written to you about it.” Harry felt Dash loop down his leg, and ignored him for the moment. He could be exploring or doing something else, but he wasn’t talking about attacking people, which made it an improvement over the rest of today. “I just—I needed time to think about it. It was overwhelming.”

“Why did you do it?” Draco seemed perfectly willing to stop scolding Harry as long as he got to discuss it with him.

“Because he was threatening Snape,” said Harry. “Snape was just trying to help me with my scar, and Sirius decided he was taking me down to the dungeons to hurt me.” Harry sighed. He seemed to still feel the burst of power and magic that had built up inside him, and how it had lashed out at Sirius. “It’s not something I want to do again.”

“You did it in a place where it’s supposed to be impossible,” Draco said. “Sending someone Apparating, I mean. Not that forced Apparition is very common in the first place. Most people hold someone by their arm and pull them along if they want them to come on the journey.” He folded his arms and looked Harry thoughtfully up and down. “I know you want to say you’re not all that powerful, that you’re a Parselmouth and bonded to Dash by accident…”

“Well, I didn’t know what was going to happen!”

I resent the implication that you would not have come into the Chamber of Secrets if you had known.

Harry rolled his eyes. You’re wonderful, Dash, and you know I think you are, because you’re inside my head. Stop fishing for compliments.

Dash apparently had to fall silent to think about that one for a moment, while Draco continued. “But you have to be more powerful than you thought, if you did that.”

Harry rubbed his forehead. His scar wasn’t itching or bleeding or hurting right now, but it was still more prominent than usual, and different than touching bare skin. He dropped his hand when he noticed Draco staring at him with a bit of awe. “What does it matter? If I have some more magical power than I thought, I mean?”

“You don’t know?”

“Know what?”

Draco lowered his voice and glanced around ostentatiously again. “There are some people who already think you might be the reincarnation of Salazar Slytherin. This is going to add fuel to the fire.”

Harry waved one hand hard. He wondered if he could properly show his disgust of the whole idea if he didn’t. Draco was laughing at him, and so was Dash. Harry knew how Ron must have felt, now. “Draco. Don’t.”

Draco paused and looked at him. “What?”

“You said one portrait told you this and I didn’t have to worry about it spreading gossip around.” Harry found his eyes and cheeks were stinging, and he didn’t know how much longer he could hang onto his calmness. “But you’re talking like the news is going to get around. Who are you going to tell?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Draco said softly, and Harry felt a hand on his arm, shaking it roughly. He opened his eyes, hastily blinking away the tears so that he wouldn’t look even more ridiculous, and found Draco frowning at him. “I only intended to tell my father, who already knows things about you that he isn’t going to tell anyone else. And he can change the story or disguise it when he tells other people, so that no one has to know exactly what Black did.”

“Or what I did,” Harry said firmly.

Draco blinked. “Why would you want to disguise that?”

Harry looked straight at Draco, but Draco only went on looking back, now and then blinking. He really doesn’t understand, Harry realized, a little numbly. He would tell everyone if it was him, probably just so that he could get some notice for being strong and famous. 

I don’t understand, either, Dash said peacefully. Being known as powerful might reduce the number of people who try to attack you in the future. But we have already established that I am only an ignorant basilisk, since you insist on returning to the house of the smelly dog-man.

Harry didn’t bother responding. He only shook his head at Draco and said, “I don’t want people to be afraid of me. Some people are always going to be afraid of me because I’m a Parselmouth and I have Dash,” he added, when he saw Draco’s mouth opening, because he knew exactly what Draco was going to say. “But I don’t want other things to get around. I don’t want them to be afraid of my accidental magic.”

Draco looked at him long and hard enough that Harry really didn’t have any idea of what he would decide. He found himself holding his breath in anticipation.

*

It doesn’t make any sense. He could have allies who aren’t Black or even Professor Snape. He could get well-known for something that isn’t being the Boy-Who-Lived. He might get some respect from people who would otherwise oppose him on principle. Why does he want to hide this?

From the steely gleam in Harry’s eyes, though, he wasn’t going to back down, and he really didn’t want Draco to tell his father. It was probably one of those Gryffindor-Slytherin differences that Draco wouldn’t ever understand. 

Draco squinted a little and said slowly, “I can keep it secret from my father, at least for a while. But that doesn’t mean I can keep the portrait or Professor Snape from telling him, if they decide to.”

“I know,” said Harry, and looked enormously relieved, his eyes shining in a way that made Draco’s stomach squeeze. “But if you can keep it secret for a while, that’s fine.”

“So you’ll let me tell him eventually?” Draco pounced on that. He would get in trouble if his father found out that Draco had known and didn’t tell him, but this might be a way that would let him get out of trouble again.

“Yes,” said Harry. “If you have to, if he asks you, you can.”

Draco nodded. “Good,” he drawled. “Then I can ask for something in return.”

“What?”

Draco smirked at the outraged expression on Harry’s face. But it was only slightly outraged. Harry had to have known this was coming. Dash also hadn’t lunged and tried to bite his face off the way he probably would if he thought Draco was a true threat to Harry, so that was something. “I want you to practice for me.”

“Practice what? It’s not like I can stop using Parseltongue anyway, not with Dash around.” Harry stroked the back of Dash’s neck and avoided Draco’s eyes for a second, seeming embarrassed. 

“Not that,” said Draco. “Practice focusing your accidental magic on objects. I wouldn’t ask you to hurt a person,” he added, when Harry turned accusing eyes on him. “I’m not a monster, remember?”

Harry flushed and looked at the floor. “Sorry.”

“It’s all right.” Draco waved his hand. They were both struggling to figure out the limits of friendship between a Gryffindor and a Slytherin. “But I want to know what you can do when you’re not angry at a person. Can you use your anger and your frustration at other times? How strong are you, really? That’s the sort of thing I want to know. If we’re going to share it as a secret, I’d like to know exactly what magnitude of secret I’m helping you hide.”

“My friends know, too.”

“And so do Professor Snape, and the portrait, and Black,” said Draco, with a nod. “But do you really think that any of them are going to encourage you to practice this the way I am? The way you might need to?”

Harry shut his eyes. Dash was watching him now, and Draco had the impression of another intense, silent conversation from which he was closed out. He had almost ceased to resent it. He stood and waited, knowing he would learn certain things from what Harry said after the conversation, and how he reacted.

Finally Harry opened his eyes and said with extreme reluctance, “Dash thinks it’s a good idea.”

“You have approval from me and your friendly neighborhood basilisk,” said Draco, winning another small smile from Harry. “What more do you need?”

Harry traced one small scale in the rippling wash of paler green to darker green on Dash’s neck, his head bowed and his eyes locked on the scale. “I just don’t want to use it on people,” he whispered. “Dash thinks I might need it to defend myself. I don’t want to fling people into walls, or even blow them up the way I did my aunt.”

Draco stared at him. It seemed to him that it was a little too late to worry if Harry had already made someone explode. But there were a few other things that phrase could mean.

And he wouldn’t get anywhere right now if he tried to make Harry talk about it. “Well, ease your mind, then. I don’t want you to practice it on people, because that would make it too obvious what you were doing. I want you to do it so you’ll know how strong you are.”

“Lots of things matter more than magical strength,” said Harry.

Draco met him stare for unimpressed stare, and Harry was the one who half-nodded and muttered, “But I suppose it would be good to know.”

“It would,” said Draco. “It would be excellent to know.” He softened a second later, reaching out and putting one hand on Harry’s arm. He didn’t really want to, because it was hard for him to understand some of Harry’s objections, but at least he knew that he wouldn’t get much further trying to push Harry, either. “Think about it this way. Maybe you can defend yourself against the Dark Lord if you learn enough about it.”

Harry nodded. Then he hesitated, muttered, “You can visit me sometime this summer, right?” and gave Draco a quick hug that Draco could have closed his eyes and missed. He had barely even felt the touch of Harry’s arms around him.

Draco nodded. “Of course I can.” He smiled at Harry, touched his shoulder once, and turned away from the Gryffindor common room. He had some packing to finish himself, and he would never hear the end of it from his parents if he arrived at the train station looking flustered. There was always someone in Slytherin who would be happy to offer that information to Mother and Father even if he had managed to smooth all traces away.

“Have a good summer,” Harry called after him.

Draco turned around, gave Harry a serious nod, and said, “You had better. And practice.”

It wasn’t Harry’s mumbled reassurance that really convinced Draco he would. Dash was meeting Draco’s eyes, arching his neck a little to do it. And he bobbed his head in a discreet nod as Draco watched.

Good, Draco thought, and went his way happier and more confident than he had before.

*

“Can I talk to you, Harry?”

Tell him no and that you’ll be upstairs checking under the bed for werewolves.

It was too bad Dash didn’t care about hurting Sirius’s feelings, because Harry would sometimes have used his suggested replies if he did. He turned around instead and nodded to Sirius. “I think we have to, don’t we?”

Sirius sagged for a second, as if he had hoped that Harry would just want to talk to him because he liked him. But then he nodded determinedly, and turned around and walked into the drawing room. Harry did the same thing, trying to ignore the increased hum of protective enchantments on the windows. He thought Dumbledore had put them up, and he would probably say that he was worried about Voldemort if Harry asked. Sirius must have told him about Harry’s scar bleeding, at the very least.

But Harry wondered whether those enchantments might also respond to accidental magic. He didn’t know if he would be able to keep his promise to Draco.

I can help with that.

Sirius sat down on the big black couch against one wall and started speaking before Harry could ask how. “You—I haven’t treated you fairly, Harry. I apologize. And this is something I ought to have told you before, but I didn’t know how to say it.”

Harry took a cautious breath. It felt as though his lungs had been crushed flat and now he was breathing normally again. Of course, he didn’t know if Sirius was going to keep that promise to tell him the truth or not.

And you don’t know if he means the apology.

For right now, though, Harry didn’t find anything wrong with smiling cautiously at Sirius and asking, “What should you have told me before?”

Sirius stared at the wall behind him with hollow eyes. Then he faced Harry, and Harry felt his smile slip. Sirius looked absolutely devastated, as though he thought Harry was going to march out of the house any second.

Maybe he hates me so much for making Lupin leave that he wants me to move out.

You had nothing to do with making Lupin leave—

Sirius interrupted Dash, although of course he couldn’t know that. “Do you remember the question I asked you a while ago, Harry? About Divination?”

Harry stared at him, blinking. He wanted to flinch a moment later, because he was sure it made him look stupid, but it still took a reminder from Dash for him to bring the memory back. “Oh. When you asked me why I was in Divination?”

“Yes.” Sirius seemed to be bracing himself. He smoothed one hand down the arm of the couch, but snatched it back when he saw Harry looking at him. Or maybe it was when he saw Dash looking at him. Harry didn’t actually know.

You should trust your instincts when it comes to the smelly dog-man. He is too dangerous to be handled any other way.

“What about it?” Harry still couldn’t think why Sirius would be interested in his reasons for choosing Divination as a class.

Sirius spent a minute contemplating his hands. Then he looked up. “Dumbledore told me something about you. About—prophecies.”

Harry could barely understand the last word, because all the spit seemed to have drained out of Sirius’s throat, but Dash was already hissing. Harry grabbed him around the middle so he wouldn’t go slithering at Sirius, and asked, “What? Is there a prophecy about me?” Then a realization hit him, about how stupid he would be to think it was only about him, and he added, “About me and Voldemort?”

Sirius forgot to flinch at the name, still staring broodingly at him. Then he nodded and closed his eyes.

“Dumbledore told me,” Sirius whispered, “that You-Know-Who came after you because he heard you were destined to kill him. And you’d have to face him again before it was all said and done.”

He opened his eyes, and they were shining with tears. “Harry, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I just got so focused on protecting you and giving you a childhood that I didn’t want to tell you about Remus because I thought you were already burdened with enough. And then I thought—I wondered if it was better for you to find someone else other than me to raise you. Someone who would be better at teaching you how to survive. Because I don’t know how to help you survive dueling him, and I’m scared.”

Harry sat there. He knew he should say something. He just didn’t know what to say.

He’s lying.

Harry blinked and looked down. Dash was wrapped around his waist, his head sticking out and projecting towards Sirius. Harry stroked his plume without thinking about it. About what? The prophecy? He was calm, he thought. He was, and it was sort of absurd, when he had just been told he really had to kill Voldemort once and for all. But maybe Sirius’s words had cleaned him out of emotion and so he had to wait until it came back.

I cannot tell. Dash swayed in agitation and flicked his tongue out again. I only know that he is lying about something.

Harry took a deep breath and looked up. “Dash says you’re lying about something. What is it?”

Sirius froze, and looked from Harry to Dash. Dash’s eyelids were quivering. Harry grabbed him around the neck. Keep your gaze for someone who’s done something worse.

At the moment, I know of no one who has.

Harry shook his head. I don’t want you to.

Dash’s eyelids calmed down. Harry turned back to Sirius. “You want me to trust you again, after all you’ve done to me?” he asked. “Trust me now. Tell me what it was.”

I still sound like the adult. But if being an adult was so repulsive to him, then Harry knew he would have stopped giving Sirius any more chances.

Sirius shook his head. “I don’t know what he means. There was a prophecy. That was another reason I kept Remus’s secret from you. I am scared.” He reached out a tentative hand, and ruffled Harry’s hair when Harry sat there and didn’t try to stop you. “I don’t know what you want me to tell the truth about.”

He ended on such a helpless note that Harry was convinced. Dash flicked his tongue sulkily and announced, Now he doesn’t smell as if he was lying. But I know what I smelled.

Could you have mistaken it for something else? It’s not something you would smell most of the time, is it? Harry couldn’t really picture an animal lying.

I know what I smelled.

Dash said nothing after that, and Harry sighed and turned back to Sirius. “I want—I just want you to tell the truth,” he said, and his chest ached in a way that he thought might be a sign of his emotions returning. “I want to trust you. I want to live with you. I just—I can’t do that if you lie to me.”

“No,” said Sirius. “No, I won’t, Harry, not ever again.” He looked as though he had rescued Harry from walking off a cliff or something, the way he was smiling and sitting straight in his chair.

Harry blinked at him. It’s like…the opposite of what it was like living with the Dursleys. Sirius really does want to help me and know me better. I’m the one who’s in control here, if I want to be. Not the way it was at the Dursleys, where I was just the victim.

Harry sighed. He had told Draco the truth. Power wasn’t really interesting to him, and he wasn’t interested in exercising it over Sirius, either.

But he would do it if he had to. He straightened in his chair, too. “All right,” he said. “Tell me about the prophecy again. Did Dumbledore tell you exactly what it said?”

As Sirius started to answer, Harry felt Dash hug him especially close, one loop of his body around Harry’s waist that was nearer than the others, his scales picking up Harry’s heat. I want you to practice magic the way you promised Draco you would.

I already said I will. But why do you care?

So you can defend yourself when the smelly dog-man turns on you.

Harry had no answer for that, and something interesting to listen to. So he stroked Dash, and was still. 

Chapter Text

Hello, Harry. You would tell me if something was wrong, wouldn’t you? was the first line of Hermione’s letter, and it made Harry sigh and lean back on his pillow. He wanted to have a happy summer. How could he when people were constantly asking him if something was wrong?

Perhaps you should have put the smelly dog-man in his place. Then people would ask you that less often.

Harry reached out a hand to idly stroke Dash, who was beside him and occupying more than half the bed, although he’d said that was okay because part of the space he was occupying was on top of Harry. I have no idea if it’s just about Sirius. Sirius being fairer to me wouldn’t make the abuse go away, or the Dursleys. Or the people who think I’m wrong for being abused.

All you have to do is shrink me and let me ride the owls back. I’m certain I could manage the magic to grow again on my own.

Harry snorted. No. But he knew it was no good denying that the option was an attractive one, because Dash was in his head and could hear him.

And it was exasperating to get Howlers from people who were mainly concerned that he wasn’t “strong” enough and that meant he might not be able to defend them from Voldemort. Especially because Harry was starting to get worried they might be right.

Shrink me. Dash lifted his head and parted his jaws, sagging them sideways, in a yawn that he deliberately exaggerated whenever Sirius was around. Put me in the Headmaster’s food if you are not going to send me to the distant people who bother you.

I’m not going to do that to anybody. Harry sat up, a thought coming together that had been bothering him for a little while. But I can make sure that I’m strong and ready to take on Voldemort.

That should not be the only thing you do with your life.

Harry looked down at the heavy coil lying on his hand, as if Dash was trying to prevent him from reaching for a fire. Even if there’s a prophecy that says I’m the only one who can defeat him?

Dash turned and stared at him, wreathing his head sideways. Harry snorted again. Of course, he already knew what Dash thought about the prophecy. He had made it abundantly clear. 

“I want to get stronger,” Harry said aloud. That felt less intimate and more what he needed at the moment. “And I don’t want to reply to Hermione’s letter right now.” Ron’s he would reply to today, maybe. Ron was talking about how Bill had been promoted by the goblins and was going to be able to pay for a second trip to Egypt for the whole family, and they might also be able to visit his other older brother, Charlie, in Romania. Nice things, fun things. “So I’m going to start training my wandless magic.”

Dash waved his tongue around as though scenting delicious prey. I can help you with that!

How? Harry stood up and looked at Dash in interest. He had thought Dash might agree to sometimes be Apparated or a target of his wandless spells, but other than that, he didn’t know what Dash could do to help him.

By giving you some of my magic. Dash curved his neck around in a way that was definitely meant to be cute. I am just learning to do that.

When were you going to tell me? Harry grumbled, but he couldn’t feel too bad about it. Dash hadn’t told him about being able to speak with Harry’s voice or summon snakes out of shadows, either, but those had been useful at the time.

Just now, said Dash, unhelpfully, and poured himself off the bed. Let us go up to Hogwarts and find Professor Snape.

Harry hesitated. He hadn’t asked permission to go to Hogwarts so far, because Sirius was so touchy about Snape and it was only a couple of days into the summer.

Dash turned his head around patiently. Do you want the smelly dog-man to find out that you are practicing banishing things? And there is little private space in this house. There are plenty of private and protected spaces in Hogwarts.

That was true, at least. And Harry had to admit that Snape would probably know where all of them were, at least if they were in the dungeons. Fine. But he was going to tell Sirius where they were going before they left.

If you think he will not try to stop you.

Harry rolled his eyes, because he didn’t actually need Dash’s permission, and bolted down the stairs. Sirius was in the drawing room reading a book, and now and then chuckling at something one of the moving pictures apparently did. He looked up at Harry, and his face became a little more drawn and white. 

That is not your fault. Dash had a little singsong intonation to the thought that he’d perfected, although Harry had never worked out who he thought he was imitating.

Harry ignored him and asked, “Do you think I can go to Hogwarts and visit Snape for a while?” That he wasn’t going to talk about the wandless magic was a given, as far as he was concerned. Sirius would probably want to be his teacher, and Harry didn’t trust him enough for that. 

That is the smartest thing you have said today.

Harry waited, petting Dash a little while he coiled most of himself around Harry’s chest and shoulders, and Sirius finally said, “Oh, all right. But make sure that you’re back by dinner. And if Snape tries to give you any potions, refuse them. You don’t know what kind of revenge he’d try to take on you.”

Harry blinked. “Why would he want to take revenge on me?” If anyone, he had thought Snape would be aiming for Sirius.

“Because you’re so much like your dad.” Sirius’s face softened, and he looked Harry up and down as if even his feet reminded Sirius of his dad. “Snape and your dad didn’t get along, you know that. I think James would be rolling in his grave to know you’re spending this much time around him.”

Harry had found that the best response was silence. So he waited again, and Sirius nodded and sighed and muttered, “I just wish I knew how to help you more.”

“You help me a lot,” Harry said, and escaped out the back door while Sirius was still grinning at him. It always helped to leave on a good note if he could.

You are learning how to manipulate him, Dash said, as he dropped down from Harry’s shoulder to investigate an interesting squeak in the grass. Harry was also learning how to compensate for the intense flood of hunting interest and vertigo in his mind, and he only shook his head and kept walking. Snape will approve.

I don’t intend to tell Snape about it.

What a shame, said Dash, but in that absent voice that meant he had spotted an actual mouse, and Harry wasn’t surprised when his head jolted forwards and he snatched something up, swallowing it whole. He doubted Dash would remember this or push him to tell Snape. 

Dash flowed on both sides of him as he went up to Hogwarts, finding several other mice and one small frog, and Harry only urged him onto his shoulders again when they got into the vicinity of the school, where Dumbledore might see.

*

Severus was deep enough in brewing that he might not have heard the knock he was sure Harry gave at his door. But there was an alarm set up on the edge of his cauldron that would flash when Harry came into the school, and he managed to add the last few ingredients in a hurry, levering the Skin-Growing Potion out of the cauldron with a ladle and looking critically at it. The color would win no awards, but he knew the slight difference in shade wouldn’t affect the use.

He corked the vial, put it aside, and stepped from the lab into the drawing room where he usually entertained his few visitors. It felt as though he had put on dress robes over his old and shabby ones. The lab was where he both lived and worked, the heart of his existence. The drawing room was there for those who thought one should live in different places.

He opened the door as Harry was raising his hand, probably for the second knock. The basilisk was entwined around his ankles and legs. Severus nodded to him and looked up to meet Harry’s eyes. “Are you well?”

Harry blinked, interrupted in his first words as he had been in his knock. Then he smiled. “Yeah,” he said. “And you sound like Hermione.”

Severus wanted to say that he had never waved his hand around in class until the professors grew tired of looking at it, but he only stepped back and waved Harry into his quarters. “What have you come to ask me?”

Harry didn’t protest, the way that, say, Albus, would have, and pretend he had come for a purely social visit. He turned around and locked his elbows against his sides as if pushing off against his ribs. Severus raised his eyebrows and waited.

Harry finally blurted, “I need a place where I can practice wandless magic. Draco thought it might be a good way to get ready to use it as a weapon against people who would try to hurt me.”

Why can you not practice it in a secure room in Black’s house? were the first words that sprang to Severus’s mind. But he would not be so stupid as to speak them when he knew the answer. He considered for a moment, then nodded. “Very well. There are a few dungeon classrooms that might serve. They were once used for Potions, but they were ruined by explosions.”

Harry’s mouth opened a little. “Doesn’t that mean they’re dangerous, sir?” The basilisk lifted his head a little higher and flicked his tongue out, as if scenting for threats or dangers to his ward.

“No,” said Severus. “They have stains on the floor and walls and cracks in the floor, but those are easy to dodge if you know what you’re doing.”

Harry was looking oddly thoughtful. Severus glared at him. “Do not pull these classrooms into your usual list of places to go to take risks.”

“I don’t take risks,” Harry muttered as he followed Severus down the corridor towards the first of the classrooms he had mentioned. “Risks find me.”

Severus didn’t answer. He was thinking. While wandless magic was not part of the usual course offerings in Defense the Dark Arts, it might be the only chance he would ever get to teach his favorite subject.

And if it was to Harry, and Harry was learning things that Black would disapprove of…

Severus smiled contentedly. It would serve Black right for caring more about the ghosts of his past than about the living boy who had needed his help.

*

Harry looked around the classroom in wonder. Snape was right, it didn’t look that dangerous. Yes, there was a crack in one wall, but it had magic glowing around it like Floo powder, and Harry didn’t think it would suddenly collapse. And there were splinters that might have come from exploded tables, but Harry wouldn’t get hurt unless he stepped on those. He wouldn’t be so stupid.

The really impressive thing was the stains, though.

There were green ones like stars all around the crack in the wall. And there were some hanging like the strokes of giant white claws down from the ceiling all the way to the floor. And there was a gigantic hand-shaped purple bruise in the center of the floor, the most impressive one, which pattered away into smaller handprints near the ends of the splotch.

“What happened with that?” Harry asked, pointing at the purple stain. “Why don’t you ever teach us to make potions that do that?”

Dash looked up at him through his closed eyelids, but Harry couldn’t really tell what he was thinking. For a second, his tail swished, and then he slid away from Harry and seemed content to explore the outside of the purple stain, his tongue lashing as though he could pick up the scents of the ancient explosion.

Snape turned around, and for a second, he was stiff and stern as if Harry asking questions was the bad thing Uncle Vernon had always told him it was. Harry was about to shrink back and apologize, when Snape sighed and muttered, “That was an intense accident. An almost perfectly brewed Draught of Living Death was emptied into the cauldron of an early version of Wolfsbane. This was the result.” He swept out one hand that included most of the classroom, to Harry’s way of thinking. “There is no way you would cause a stain this large unless you were working with those potions both at once, which you won’t. Not even if you take NEWT Potions.”

Harry cocked his head. “Then why were students working with them in here? Sir,” he added swiftly, when he saw the way Snape was looking at him.

But Snape only shook his head a little, as though it actually irritated him to be called by a title, and said, “It was not students. Shall we begin?” He waved his wand, and several of the splinters flew together. When he snapped his wand down again, there was an actual chair there, more impressive than most things Harry had seen people do with Transfiguration. “Do you want to learn to banish things and people, or do something else with your magic?”

“Was it you, sir?” Harry found that he couldn’t let the idea of the stain go. And hadn’t someone said something about Snape working to improve Wolfsbane? Although Harry couldn’t remember if it was something someone had said around the school or an article he’d read in the paper.

Snape took a sharp breath and answered, “Yes, it was. It taught me not to mix those two potions in the same vicinity. Shall we begin?”

He isn’t angry, said Dash, who was investigating a corner in which, he told Harry, there was a high possibility a rat was living. Just irritated with himself for past mistakes.

“Angry” and “irritated” sounded like the same thing to Harry, but he only nodded and said, “Yes, sir. I want to learn how to banish things. I think that would be the best defense.”

“Good,” said Snape, and paused. “How are your marks in Defense, Harry?”

It’s not strange when he calls you Harry, Dash said, and wriggled most of his blunt nose into the corner. Don’t think it is.

I can think it is all I want, as long as I don’t actually say that to his face, Harry argued back, while knowing he sounded petulant, and then faced Snape and said, “As good as they can be when only one of the teachers was decent, sir.”

Snape nodded as if he’d expected that. “Very well. Then I will assume you have not learned some of the basic theory. When you banished Black to his rooms,” and there was a twitch of Snape’s lips as though he was holding back a smile, “what emotion were you primarily feeling?”

“Anger. Desperation.” Harry shuddered a little, and finally mentioned the fear he had that had bubbled in the back of his mind like a cauldron since he’d talked to Draco. “What am I going to do if anger is the only emotion I can use for wandless magic? I can’t get angry at a chair or a desk the way I could at a person. And I don’t want to be angry all the time, either.”

“There are other emotions you can use,” Snape said, and his voice slid into a tone Harry had never heard him use before. Maybe this is how he lectures when he thinks all his students aren’t dunderheads. “What is important is feeling them and thinking them at the same time.”

Harry blinked. That was probably a part of the Defense theory Snape had said he didn’t know, which made him feel a little stupid. “I don’t know what that means, sir.”

“You feel them, but you allow the passion to pour through you and over you,” Snape explained. “Like swimming. The emotions are the water, but you are not. You are within the water, and you keep your thinking mind free of their influence. Most magic is powered by emotions, in one way or another, if only the desire to see the spell completed. You felt the sharpest edge of that desire when you banished Black.”

Harry nodded, still unsure where this was going. He understood what Snape was saying, but he had no idea how to just let the emotions pour over him in a torrent.

“You feel them, and you think about them,” Snape said, and raised his wand. A small pattern of green lights began to rotate around his head. Harry blinked and tried to focus on them. He wondered if it was only coincidence that Dash turned around and lifted his neck at the same time. “You concentrate on something else first,” Snape continued, his voice soft and lulling. “Your trick your mind into focusing on that thing. Then you summon the emotion, and pour it like thick water all around the thing you are already concentrating on.”

“But if you know what you’re doing, how can you trick your mind?” Harry strained his eyes to look at the little green things. They looked like stars sometimes, and flowers others, but then the points would vanish back into the dots of light, and he wasn’t sure. “I would keep thinking about tricking my mind instead.”

“I did not say it was easy.” Snape’s voice was gentle now, not lulling. “But I believe it is a trick that will allow you to practice better wandless magic than not using it would.”

Harry swallowed, nodded, and said, “You want me to focus on the green things?”

“The Lullaby Dots. They are a spell sometimes used by mothers to soothe their children to sleep,” Snape said. “Yes. I think they are a good choice. They are what I learned to focus on when I was teaching myself a different branch of magic.”

Harry blinked. What branch of magic is that? It seemed strange Snape was trying to teach him this way if he didn’t know about wandless magic himself.

But his tactics, or theory, or whatever they were, still sounded good, so Harry focused on the dots and tried to think about how green they were, how bright they were, how strange they looked spinning around Snape’s head.

That is not the way to do it, said Dash in a bossy voice. You’ll only fall asleep like the children Snape mentions if you do it that way. Here, let me.

Harry thought he was going to create some sort of other distraction for Harry to focus on, but instead he reached into Harry’s mind and touched something there. It felt like a spring that had been holding thoughts back. Harry winced and touched his forehead, which was aching and hot, as if he had a fever. 

What did you do? Harry asked Dash at the same moment as Snape said, “Harry?” in a rapid voice.

I gave you the ability to focus on something like the Lullaby Dots without falling asleep, said Dash, and wriggled more of his body into the crack in the corner. Thank me later. This smell is really fascinating and strong down here.

“I’m all right, sir,” said Harry, when he realized Snape was still scowling at him in concern. And it was strange to know that he could distinguish the concerned scowl from the merely annoyed one. “Dash improved things somehow. He said I would just fall asleep before, but now I should be able to concentrate on the Lullaby Dots.”

Snape’s eyebrows went up, and stayed there. “Then he can exercise a familiar bond to interfere with your thoughts?” he asked. “I would not have thought that a bond with a basilisk would have that ability.”

Harry shrugged, unable to say what he really thought. But Snape was still waiting for an answer, so Harry finally said, “I don’t think anyone knows what a bond with a basilisk is supposed to be like, do they? They’re making up their own theories and hoping they work.”

Snape gave him an actual smile. “I suspect you are right. Now, concentrate. What I am teaching you can be the basis of dueling as well as wandless magic.”

Dueling sounded interesting, despite Harry’s disappointing experience of it against Draco. He concentrated.

*

It can also be the basis of Occlumency.

But Severus would not tell Harry that, not yet. It could be that he would show no talent in the mind arts, or have no intention of learning them. It could be that he would never be good enough at them to hide secrets from Dumbledore, and that would mean the Headmaster would only grow more suspicious and determined to pry into Harry’s mind. It could be that Harry would not have the discretion—he was only thirteen—to use them wisely, and would cause legal problems for himself.

He is only thirteen, and threatened by so many enemies.

Severus breathed a little. Yes, he was. And he could deal with the darkness that stirred up in the back of his mind.

Deal with it, and move on.

Then give him the weapons to defend himself.

Chapter Text

“Not that way.” It was all Snape said, but from it, Harry knew the depths of his failure.

Harry raised his head and stared silently at the far wall of the classroom, the one with the glowing green crack. He listened to Dash, who had chased a rat out into the corridor. He counted to ten. Then he finally turned back to Snape and said, “Why? I pushed the chair into the wall. That’s what I was trying to do.”

Snape shook his head and moved towards him, wand flicking once. The chair slid back to the center of the room. “Didn’t you feel how your magic spilled out around the chair, and the others started rattling?”

Harry blinked. “No. I was busy.”

“Well, it did.” Snape gestured with one hand towards the other chairs he had assembled out of splinters and dust, his intent gaze on Harry. “Wandless magic isn’t practiced much because most wizards do receive adequate help from their wands. But there’s another reason. When you cast a spell with a wand, it’s focused, tight as a knot, except perhaps in the case of first-years.” 

“Is that why you don’t let people use their wands in Potions?” Harry interrupted, because suddenly it made sense to him.

He wondered if he should have done that a second later, but aside from tightening and hunching up like a vulture for a minute, Snape didn’t do anything bad. In fact, he nodded and muttered, “One of the reasons. Now.

“Wandless magic is not focused, at least not without practice. It spills and sloshes. It can alert anyone in the immediate area to the presence of a wizard, and does not make a good surprise technique. More, it cannot achieve the precise results of a spell. Try to clean a pot with a spell, and the dirt and grease vanishes. Try to clean it using wandless magic, and the pot might explode.” He tilted his head and fixed a glittering eye on Harry. “You understand? That is why I wanted you to practice concentration first.”

“But I was doing well on that,” Harry complained. “You said I had it down right last time, and since this is the third time I’m here, I could practice the magic.”

“You should hold the state of concentration you perfected in your mind at the same time as you are pushing with your magic.”

Harry shook his head. “But I can’t do both.”

“Yes, you can.” Snape moved a step away from him and considered him with one finger on his lip, as though Harry had disappointed him in some intangible way. Harry straightened his back and tried not to feel offended. “That is why I taught you the theory of holding yourself back from your emotions first. Summon and control the emotions while you float.”

“You said that was emotions, not magic.”

“It applies to both.”

Harry glared at Snape. It seemed that professors were always telling him things that they should have explained first later, like they were obvious. It wasn’t obvious, and they should have been able to tell that.

But he supposed Snape had talked about floating in the midst of his emotions and using the emotions to power his magic. Grumbling, Harry focused on the chair again, and thought about how he wanted it to go away. Then he flung his magic at it again.

This time, while the chair skidded to the side, it didn’t fly all the way to the wall, and Snape shook his head. “You’re still slopping your power around.”

“I know that!” Harry kicked at the floor, and felt Dash pause outside the door. It’s okay, you don’t need to come in, he told Dash, and focused all his attention on Snape again. “I just don’t know how to float in the middle of the emotions and use the power at the same time!”

“The way we discussed the day before yesterday.” At least Snape had a calming voice, when he wanted to use it, Harry thought grudgingly. “You focus the emotions the way you did when you used anger to banish Black. Then you concentrate on floating in them. And you push the emotions and the magic in the same direction.”

“Well, you didn’t say that before,” Harry muttered. “That makes more sense.” He glared at the chair and thought of how much he’d like to see it fly into the opposite wall. Then he focused on the image of the green Lullaby Dots orbiting Snape’s head. Snape didn’t conjure them anymore, but they were still the image that Harry liked the most.

He slipped into the calm, and felt the anger at the chair rushing past him. And then he gathered up the magic and pushed it along the same “current” as the anger, as if it was all a river where he could pour his power.

The chair skidded backwards and into the wall. And then it vanished. Harry staggered, gasping, to his knees. He had thought of the chair Apparating, but he hadn’t known that it would actually do it!

“Very well done.”

Harry stopped panting and gasping and wondering what had happened for a whole thirty seconds. There was a note in Snape’s voice that he had never heard before. It was like—pride. Harry looked up at Snape, and Snape knelt down in front of him and gave him a tiny smile that Harry would have traded the whole world for.

Even me?

Well, not you, Harry told Dash, and Dash went back to hunting in the corridor, reassured.

“There,” said Snape, with a slight nod, and hauled Harry to his feet. “It is always easier to do something with wandless magic that you have already done once before.” He continued as Harry opened his mouth, “With controlled wandless magic that you have already done once before with uncontrolled power.”

Harry relaxed. At least that answered his question about why he hadn’t been able to banish the chair right away when he’d been able to banish Sirius.

“We will try something different now,” said Snape. His eyes were intense, and Harry found it hard to breathe as he watched Snape assemble yet another chair out of wood and splinters from the floor. It was made of silvery wood, though, which Harry supposed was a spell Snape had cast to make the chair easier to distinguish from the others. He set it up in a row with two other chairs and cocked his head. “Can you make three different things happen to them?”

Harry hesitated. “What else would I want to happen to them?”

“You might banish one,” said Snape, and his eyebrows rose for a moment. “To an agreed-upon destination. I expect to find the chair that you Apparated in my office, as we agreed.”

Harry nodded. Snape looked from him to the chairs, and kept his eyes on them as he spoke again. “As for another, you might topple it over. And the third, you might send skidding into the wall as you already did.” He smiled once, and his eyes darted over to Harry as if he was daring him to report the smile to someone. “But on purpose, this time.”

“I don’t know if I can do that.”

“That is why you will practice.” Snape stepped back and leaned on the wall with a patient expression that Harry almost hated. It meant he would be here until he’d done it. “Well? I’m waiting.”

Harry licked his lips and focused on the chairs. “Does it—does it matter which one I do which to?” he asked.

“Banish the silvery chair. The others, I don’t care.” Snape’s voice lowered. “And you’re stalling.”

It’s not very polite of him to notice that, is it? Dash asked from the other side of the wall.

Harry closed his eyes and plunged himself into the vision of the green Lullaby Dots again, concentrating until he felt a headache growing between his eyes. Then he summoned the magic and the emotion again, and pushed it at the chairs, trying to imagine all the things that Snape had talked about happening at once.

The silvery chair vanished. The chair in the middle spun in a circle and then fell over. And the one on the end…

The one on the end burst into flames.

Harry gasped in shock, and then drew his wand. But Snape had already waved his lazily, once, with a murmur that sounded like “Aguamenti,” and a cascade of water descended on the flames and put them out. Harry sat down and shook a little.

“What are you thinking of?” Snape asked softly. He hadn’t come over to Harry the way he had the last time Harry managed the magic.

Well, Harry supposed he hadn’t really managed it this time. He put his hands over his face. “What would happen if I lit someone on fire?” he asked. He supposed, sometimes, that he wanted to light Voldemort on fire, and he had wanted to do that with Pettigrew for a few minutes, but now that he’d seen it happen, it was horrible. He would never wish for it again.

“That is another reason to practice and gain control of your magic,” said Snape. He walked over to Harry now, picked up the fallen chair, and sat down on it. His gaze had never wavered from Harry’s, at least. “To make sure that you don’t hurt someone when you don’t mean to.”

Harry stared at him. “But what if you mean to? Have you meant to?”

“I have,” said Snape. He leaned forwards and studied Harry. “And I fear that you may have to as well, if you intend to fight the Dark Lord.”

Harry looked off into the distance. He spent a moment debating with himself. He wanted to tell someone, but he didn’t know if Snape was the best person.

There is no best person, said Dash impatiently from the corridor. If you are waiting for another adult to help you, I fear you will wait. There was a lash in his mental voice on those last words as though he had snapped and coiled his tail. And as much as your friends have proven their worth, they cannot help you with this.

Harry turned back to Snape. “Sirius said something about a prophecy that says I have to defeat Voldemort.”

Snape closed his eyes. Harry shifted around for a second, and then said the only thing that made sense to him. “You knew about it, too.”

He wasn’t sure why his voice was more hollow, or he felt more upset, than he had felt when he was speaking with Sirius. He just knew that he was standing there and there was a ringing inside him, like a coin that Dudley used to like to drop in front of Harry to see if he would snatch at it.

The ringing would stop in a little while. He was sure of it.

But maybe it would take longer than he thought.

*

I am going to have to do something about this.

Severus grimaced. He had thought this part of the truth would wait, or perhaps Harry would learn the truth from some other source and then confront him with it. But he had not thought of it as Harry learning the partial truth, or the prophecy. It seemed to him that Dumbledore had gone out of his way to keep the prophecy from Harry. 

Now, though, when it was tell him the truth or lose him? This was the only way he could do it.

“I was a servant of the Dark Lord during the first war,” Severus began, opening his eyes. He looked at Harry, and that was surprisingly easier than looking off into the distance or at the stained and scarred walls of the classroom would have been. “I was the one who had the task of following and spying on several people, and one of them was, at times, Dumbledore. I overheard part of the prophecy, and I was the one who took it back to him.”

Harry’s hands became white. That was the only word for it, as though all the blood had fled. And he looked like a ghost, and the basilisk, who had apparently trusted Severus enough to leave him alone with Harry all the morning, came boiling into the room and wrapped around Harry’s legs and one of his arms, rearing up as though he would form a barrier between Harry and Severus’s words.

But Severus was determined to finish this, and he still took it as an excellent sign that the basilisk hadn’t attacked him yet. “I overheard only part of the prophecy. It said that a child born as the seventh month dies, born to parents who had thrice defied him, would have the power to defeat the Dark Lord.”

Harry licked his lips. They looked as if they needed it. “Then you…”

It was a question with many answers. Severus gave the ones he thought Harry required. “I went to the Dark Lord and begged for Lily’s life, after I was caught and thrown out. But he didn’t spare her, in the end. He killed her and your father, and he turned to you.”

Why did I survive?”

Severus closed his eyes. Harry didn’t think he would be able to provide the answer, from the way he’d cried out. It was a simply a cry it was impossible not to give.

“I don’t know,” he said quietly. “Dumbledore thinks that your mother’s love for you had something to do with it. It may be that the Dark Lord made some sort of magical mistake that day, and that combined with your mother’s love is the answer. I would give you the real reason if I had it. Harry, I do not know.”

There was a long, strained silence. Severus heard the soft and steady hissing that he thought marked the basilisk talking in Parseltongue to Harry. When he could look again, Harry was standing with his free arm wrapped around himself and the basilisk wrapped around the rest of him.

“That’s not what Sirius said,” Harry whispered at last.

Severus did not freeze, because he did not allow himself to do so. “What do you mean?”

“Sirius told me the rest of the prophecy,” said Harry, and stared at him. “The part about the power that the Dark Lord knows not—”

Severus moved his hand a little. Harry fell silent, but didn’t move his stare away, or ask a question. Severus ducked his head and massaged his temples with his fingers.

He was not unwilling to hear the rest of the prophecy. He knew that Albus had repeated it to him once, or offered to, but at the time, Severus had been in such a haze of grief over Lily that he honestly didn’t remember if he had heard the whole thing or not. But that Albus would have told Black, who possessed no Oclcumency to defend his mind from the Dark Lord and the tendency to charge recklessly into danger which could certainly see him captured…

Severus did not understand many of the Headmaster’s decisions of late. This was only the hardest one, he reminded himself, and focused on Harry again. Harry was the one who needed reassurance here.

“Then you know it,” he said, and added, “You may share it with me.”

Harry sounded a little confused as he repeated it, which Severus didn’t blame him for. Then again, no one had ever said prophecies were supposed to be easy to interpret, or easy to make come true.

And is Albus trying to make this one come true? 

The only answer that came to Severus as he stared at Harry’s dazed and blinking eyes was, Most definitely. But that didn’t tell Severus how or why Albus had decided to use Black to do it.

“So you know all of it, now.” Harry seemed to make a little shoving gesture with one hand, the same one he made when he was concentrating on his magic to forcibly Apparate a thing or person. Severus thought idly that he would have to break him of that habit; the whole point of wandless magic was that it was supposed to be a surprise and hard to counter, and that gesture would tell the enemy too much of Harry’s intentions. “What are you going to do about it? What do you think of it?”

Severus met his eyes. “I think that you do have to kill him. And that you will not be able to without more practice.”

Harry blinked once. “I don’t think I could ever be a soldier. I mean, I could fight to save my friends, but to just go out and kill someone would be—hard.”

“I think you will have the chance to protect your friends,” said Severus, as gently as he could, and despite his vast reluctance to do anything that might serve to shove Harry along the path that Albus wanted him to follow. “And that might give you the anger even as—as Black gave you the anger to banish him once before.”

“Then why teach me about all this concentration and things other than anger?” Harry used his hand to make a wide circle around the room. The basilisk had relaxed and was no longer clutching him as hard as he had before.

“Because I want you to survive past the initial strike,” said Severus simply, and watched as Harry shuddered under that hard truth, and bowed his head under it for a minute.

And then accepted it. He nodded and looked up. “What do you think I can do to keep things from catching randomly on fire?”

*

“I believe it would be best, considering how volatile the situation is, to wait for an invitation from Mr. Black himself, Draco.”

Draco leaned back in his seat and folded his hands in his lap. He wouldn’t fold them on the table. Such a mistake would just make his father bored and irritated with Draco, and bad things happened when his father was irritated.

“I don’t think that Mr. Black will ever invite me to visit Harry, Father,” said Draco, as calmly as he could. “He’s convinced that Slytherins are evil.”

Father raised one eyebrow. He was reading a letter that he had read several times before, Draco thought. All he knew was that it had a silver and green seal, and plenty of former Slytherins sent letters like that. “Why would he think that?”

“He and Professor Snape were enemies in school,” said Draco promptly. Father lowered the letter and stared at him, and Draco nodded solemnly. “And I know he was uneasy about Harry being a Parselmouth. I don’t think that he would ever invite a Slytherin friend of Harry’s to visit no matter how close we were.”

And I have other reasons for wanting to visit. To see Harry’s wandless magic practice and to make sure that Harry wasn’t suffering from living with Black were only two of them.

Father looked off into the distance for a moment, eyes so cold that Draco thought he was thinking about the letter. Then he nodded and glanced at Draco. “You may write to Mr. Potter and ask about a visit. But if Black disapproves, then you may only invite Mr. Potter to meet us in Diagon Alley.”

“Yes, Father,” said Draco, and slipped out of the dining room. But he didn’t go upstairs right away, even though he kept his ink and parchment in his rooms. He lingered, because his mother had glanced at him across the table.

His mother was with him in moments, her gown whispering around her. Draco followed her into the library. She didn’t look back at him the entire time. Draco swallowed and started frantically thinking about all the things he had done and not done in the last fortnight. 

When they were in the library, his mother went over to the window and stood with her back to him, looking down into the gardens where Father’s peacocks roamed. “You are sure that Black hates Slytherins?”

Draco frowned, not understanding the tone of his mother’s voice. “Yes, Mother. He certainly seems to.”

“Well.” Mother turned around and laid one of her hands on the windowsill. She was wearing a necklace of pale sapphires that went well with her blue gown. Draco thought she looked particularly lovely this morning. “Then you shall carry a letter with you, either to Mr. Potter’s house or when you meet him in Diagon Alley.”

You want to write to Harry, Mother?” Other than a few questions when the abuse story first broke, his mother hadn’t seemed interested in Harry.

“I have some questions for his guardian,” said his mother, and there was a strange smile on her face. “From one Black to another.”

“Er,” said Draco. He knew that his mother was a Black, of course he knew that. He had to know all the genealogies of most of the wizarding families before his father would be satisfied. But it had never occurred to him that his mother would want to talk to Sirius Black. “Even though I can’t know if Mr. Black will take it.”

“You don’t have to call him Mr. Black in front of me, Draco,” said his mother calmly. “You can call him whatever Mr. Potter calls him. After all, you are related.”

“Er,” Draco said again. He was puzzled. His father wanted him to keep away from Black and not annoy him, but his mother was doing something that seemed like it would annoy him. Draco’s parents had never contradicted each other before.

His mother’s face softened, and she reached out to smooth one hand over his hair in the special way she had that made Draco feel as if they were the only two people that existed. “It won’t cause harm to you, my precious son. I’m sure of that, or I would never do it.”

Draco nodded, reassured. He knew his mother loved him. It had been the first thing he was ever sure of, even before he was sure about his father.

“And it won’t make sense to anyone but another Black,” his mother continued. “So you don’t have to worry about Mr. Potter reading the letter and being offended on behalf of his guardian, either.” The strange smile came back, and she looked out the window again. She usually couldn’t stand looking at Father’s peacocks for that long; she said they were ridiculous, puffed-up things. “I only need to talk to my dear cousin about something that we argued over long ago.”

Draco hesitated one more time, but after all, what was the worst that could happen? Sirius Black would probably just rip up the letter without reading it. “All right, Mother.”

“Excellent,” his mother said softly, and continued looking out the window, even after Draco went upstairs to write the letter to Harry.

Draco managed to shrug it off while he was writing. Parents are weird.

Chapter Text

Sirius sat there looking at the letter from Draco. Harry took a few bites of breakfast and glanced up again. No, he was still sitting there staring at the letter from Draco.

Eat your breakfast and attend to your private thoughts, Dash told him, winding gracefully around his neck and leaning down to eat part of Harry’s buttered toast that Harry had rejected as being too crusty. It was still a luxury to be able to do things like that instead of eating everything in desperation, and Harry was glad Dash ate his leftovers. I’ll let you know when he moves.

Harry managed a wavery smile and went on eating. Sirius finally spoke. “He wants to come here?”

Harry swallowed and looked up. “That’s what he says.” He would keep to the simple things, the true things, for right now.

“Why would he ask for that, rather than for you to come over to Malfoy Manor?” Sirius’s fingers were rapping the edge of the table.

Uh-oh, Harry thought, and would have sat back, but Dash coiled around him, forcing him to at least partially relax. Nothing for it. Harry licked his lips and spoke what he thought was the truth. “He probably thought you’d never let me go over there.”

Sirius looked at him in silence for a second. Then he nodded. “I’m glad that someone still realizes I’m your guardian.”

Dash shared a fantasy of snapping forwards and shearing one of Sirius’s fingers off. Harry gripped his neck and said, No. I don’t want to deal with the fuss, which made Dash sulk, but reduced the threat. Aloud, he said, “Well, can he come over here?”

Sirius again looked at the letter. Maybe he’s looking for the secret plot to have Death Eaters come kidnap me, Harry thought snidely, unable not to.

“No,” said Sirius at last. “I’m just not comfortable having the son of someone I fought in the war swaggering around the house.”

Harry closed his eyes for a second. Then he said, “What about meeting up in Diagon Alley? He suggested that, too. He could bring his parents. Or his father, anyway.” He knew that Lucius Malfoy probably didn’t want to meet up with him just because he was Draco’s friend, but that was something he could deal with, too, in its place.

“I suppose we could do that,” Sirius said slowly, as if the nonexistent plot to kidnap Harry couldn’t be foiled in public. “But I want to go with you, and I want to make sure that you and Draco don’t go away from me.” He leaned forwards and stared at Harry anxiously. “I know it might not seem like it, but I do love you, kiddo.”

“I know,” said Harry, and if he worked at it, he could make his lips move into a smile. “I love you, too.”

That’s amazing, said Dash, snapping his tail down once against Harry’s shoulders as he crawled most of the way to the floor.

What’s amazing? Sirius was talking now about what shops he wanted to show Harry when they were in Diagon Alley and how much things had probably changed, but all of Harry’s attention had switched to the internal conversation with Dash.

Not even you know if you’re telling the truth or not when you talk about how much you love him.

Harry closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead, and Sirius promptly broke off his chatter to ask anxiously, “Does your head hurt?”

“Just sometimes,” said Harry, and opened his eyes. It suddenly occurred to him he’d been rubbing his scar, and Sirius was leaning away from him as though he thought Voldemort was going to come bursting out of his forehead. The look on his face made Harry look away and repeat firmly, “Just sometimes. So when should I tell Draco that we’re meeting him and his father in Diagon Alley?”

*

Lucius watched in silence as Draco broke away ahead of him, shouting. He’d apparently already spotted Mr. Potter standing next to Quality Quidditch Supplies, looking at something in the window, his basilisk wrapped around his neck and shoulders. And behind Potter lurked Black.

Lucius sighed. Then, firmly, he pushed away thoughts of the letter he’d finally answered that morning. It was done. He had told the writer no. He wouldn’t second-guess himself now.

He had more interesting things to study, like the way that Black bristled and seemed about to draw his wand when Draco hugged Mr. Potter. Then he eyed Lucius, and snorted, and let his hand just rest openly on his wand as if it was the hilt of a sword, while he sneered at Lucius.

Well, sneering must take all his mental concentration, Lucius thought, as he made a shallow bow and observed his wife’s cousin. His own distant cousin, too, if it came to that. Malfoys had intermarried with Blacks before.

A pity that we didn’t do more about the madness that lurks there. Lucius was still startled at how thoroughly Narcissa had escaped all traces of it. It was there in this Black, though, in the way he jumped at the slightest sound and leaned forwards to scowl when Draco handed Potter a letter. Potter turned it over with a mystified expression, then shrugged and put it in his pocket when Draco gestured emphatically.

Lucius eased a little closer. It would do no harm to make sure that Draco couldn’t pull something over on him. Especially since Lucius had no intention of losing his son, either in body or in spirit.

“What’s the matter, Malfoy? Haven’t found enough innocent victims to make it worth casting the Dark Mark yet?”

Black at least kept his voice low enough that none of the passerby, gaping at the Boy-Who-Lived, appeared to have heard him. Lucius smiled back pleasantly. “I see that you haven’t learned any manners, Black. What an example to set for your ward.”

Black snarled at him, an actual, honest snarl, baring his teeth the way he must when he turned into a dog. Lucius made sure to laugh lightly and shrug, as if he had anticipated that, ignoring the way Potter glanced back at them.

“We’re here to make sure the boys have a good time,” said Lucius. “Not to argue. Not to fight. Not to act like boys ourselves.”

“I heard you did that last year. With Arthur Weasley.” Black’s eyes were gleaming in what he must assume was wit. “And Harry.”

“I’ve got over that,” said Lucius blandly. “Enough to let my son be friends with someone I would have violently disapproved of last year. It’s a pity that, for some people, twenty years isn’t enough to overcome House prejudice.”

Another snarl, but this time, it was futile. Black seemed to have glanced ahead and realized that Draco and Potter were getting farther away from them, not next to Quality Quidditch Supplies now but in front of the Magical Menagerie. The basilisk had its head raised to consider some of the animals in the window.

“Harry!” Black called anxiously, and trotted after him. Potter glanced over his shoulder with an annoyed look.

Lucius chuckled under his breath as he strolled after Black. He would never say that he would have a close or cordial relationship with Potter, but he knew the advantages that could come from it. And he had chosen those advantages over long-term but nebulous ones already, hadn’t he? Or he wouldn’t have said “no.”

Wouldn’t it be delicious if Black lost his ward’s trust and I gained some of it, all because he can’t stop hovering over him when there are “evil Slytherins” around?

*

“You’ll give the letter to him, then?”

Draco knew he was probably risking discovery by talking about this so much, but he had to make absolutely sure. His mother had trusted him with that letter. And while Harry taken it, Dash had looked at it, and then at Draco, in a way that said he didn’t like it being a secret. Draco knew he could argue with Harry and still be his friend.

But if Dash started disliking him, then he would probably never get close to Harry again. And surprisingly, Draco was finding that that didn’t only bother him because it meant that he wouldn’t get the chance to pet Dash. Harry was part of the equation, too.

“Yes, I will,” said Harry, his jaw firming, and then went back to arguing with Dash. Draco looked back into the window of the Magical Menagerie, and noticed a snake towards the back of the shop, a glittering green snake in a low wire cage.

“Does Dash not like to see other snakes caged up?” Draco asked.

“What do you mean?” Harry blinked at him, and then only looked in the right direction when Draco pointed his finger at the cage. “Oh, no, he wasn’t thinking about that at all. He was trying to persuade me to buy him birds from the shop. He wants to practice on them.”

He tapped Dash on the head and hissed something at him that was probably “practice on your own,” not that Draco could really understand Parseltongue. But he was learning to read the way Dash and Harry interacted with each other, and that was its own sort of language. He snickered a little, but shook his head when Harry stared at him.

“What does he want to practice on them? Hunting?”

“Some kind of magic,” said Harry, rolling his eyes. “More than the sort of magic he gets just by existing, I mean.” He tapped Dash on the nose this time when Dash started to unwind from around his body. “No, hunt wild birds if you want to do that.”

Draco grinned, an idea coming to him. “You know, if you went in there and announced that you were Harry Potter and your basilisk wanted those birds, they would probably give them to you for free.”

Harry turned around and stared at him. “What?”

“I mean, I don’t know for sure,” said Draco, and shrugged stiffly. There was something rather uncomfortable about the way Harry was looking at him. “It was a thought I had, which might or might not be true.”

“I don’t want to get the birds for free,” said Harry. “They’re pets. They’re not meant to be snake food.”

Draco thought of telling Harry about the fate of some animals kept in apothecaries, but he didn’t have the heart.

“And I don’t really need any more pets,” said Harry, and smiled down at Dash. He seemed to be listening intently to a one-sided conversation, but Draco had got used to that. He looked into the shop again, at the cage with the snake in it.

The snake was watching them through the wire and the window. It was probably only attracted to Dash, Draco thought, but he did think it was a beautiful snake, green in all its scales in a way that Draco had only previously seen on jade figurines. When it spread its hood—it was a cobra—he could make out a delicate blue design on either side of it. It looked like a flame, though, not the curved sign Draco was familiar with.

He sighed and looked back to find Harry hesitating in front of him. 

“What?” Draco asked. They were going to go to Flourish and Blott’s, he had thought, and start buying a library on wandless magic and history for Harry. He ought to know why people would think he was the reincarnation of Slytherin because he had Dash.

Harry’s jaw firmed for a second. Then he said, “You really want a basilisk, right?”

“Don’t joke about that,” Draco snapped. He shut his eyes a second later and rubbed his temple, because Dash had got interested in him when he spoke sharply to Harry. “I just—I want it too much to joke about it. And I know that I can’t ever have a basilisk, not the way you can, because you’re a Parselmouth and I’m not. I know that. I’m trying to get used to it.”

“What if,” said Harry, and his voice wavered a little, “I went in there and bought that green snake and commanded it to obey you? You know, the way I could because I’m a Parselmouth? I don’t think I could command it to bond to you, but I could make sure that it would protect you and never attack you.”

Draco opened his eyes again. He didn’t know what to say, what to do. He wanted—he didn’t want—he wanted lots of things. He looked at Harry in helpless silence instead, and hoped that Harry would understand.

It seemed he did, because Harry smiled. “I was a little too busy to get you a birthday gift when it was your birthday,” he said. “Call this a late one.” And he opened the door of the Magical Menagerie and walked in.

Draco trailed behind him, a little dazed.

*

I can enforce your commands, and that will make sure the snake never bites him, or anyone else who smells the same as him. Dash’s head was swaying back and forth, probably in interest, although the frozen shopkeeper seemed to think it was something different. Harry tried smiling at the man, but he didn’t even look at Harry. I can’t promise anything about the other people in the house, however. Or the house-elves.

Then I’ll ask the snake not to bite the house-elves, and hope he listens, said Harry. He looked at the shopkeeper. At least the man was looking at him now, although he was using the counter to hide from Dash. He nodded to Harry only once before he stared at Dash again.

“Um,” said Harry. “Excuse me. I’d like to buy that snake.” He pointed confidently in the right direction without taking his stare from the man. He knew it was the right direction because Dash told him so.

The man coughed and slowly straightened, eyes darting around as though he assumed someone else would come in and save him from the agony of being afraid of Harry Potter’s basilisk. Or maybe from serving Harry Potter. Harry didn’t really know, and he was starting to think Draco was wrong. Trying to use his fame to buy things wasn’t a help. It just made people stand there and stammer.

Tell him again, Dash suggested, wrapping his head around Harry’s neck. The man gave a little moan of fear. Dash flicked his tongue in what looked simply like tasting the air, and which no one other than Harry would know was amusement. Try a touch more arrogance this time. Sounding apologetic doesn’t work.

Harry didn’t really like doing it this way, either, but stammering when he asked was a problem. He stood taller and tried to think about the way Sirius sounded when he was dealing with Slytherins. 

“I want to buy that snake,” he said, and pointed to the cage again. “For a gift.” He stared at the shopkeeper, and the man snuffled, but came out from behind the counter. He reminded Harry a lot of Pettigrew, except his hair was blond.

“Sir is sure?” he whispered. “That’s a flame cobra. Highly poisonous. Prone to burn when angered.”

Draco gasped behind Harry. Harry snorted a little. He knew Draco wasn’t afraid. That probably just made the snake sound even more special to him. 

“I’m sure,” said Harry, and he would have said something else, on Dash’s advice, but Sirius spoke from behind him.

“You’re getting another snake? What for? You already have the most dangerous one anyone could possibly want!”

Harry turned around and swallowed. Sirius was looming over him. Harry had a complicated emotion when he did things like that. He wasn’t afraid of Sirius, not really. For one thing, he had Dash. For another thing, Sirius wasn’t Uncle Vernon or Voldemort.

But it made him want to flinch and back off. And he knew he couldn’t do that if Draco was going to get his snake.

“This one is a gift for Draco, not one I’m bringing home,” Harry said, and tried a smile. “Dash wouldn’t want me to have another snake anyway.”

The shadow ones I make would not be so bad, Dash disagreed. At least, that way, I could be certain they were fairly under my control.

Sirius was still red in the face, but he seemed to have calmed down a little. “But you can get another gift for—my little cousin,” he said, and his eyes darted to Draco, and then away. “One that he could take to school. I don’t think snakes are allowed, are they?”

“They might be,” said Draco, and he was smiling at Sirius. Maybe he understood why Sirius was calling him his cousin, because Harry sure didn’t. That was, he knew Draco’s mum was Sirius’s cousin, but Sirius had never called him that before. “They changed the rules so Harry could have Dash. They might do the same for me.”

“It would be less a matter of expanding rules than reviving an old one,” said Mr. Malfoy. He had come into the shop and was near the door, leaning on his cane. Harry didn’t think he needed it, but he still didn’t know that much about Mr. Malfoy, so he steadfastly watched the shopkeeper taking the flame cobra from its cage instead. “Students used to be permitted to have the animals that embodied their Houses.”

“Gryffindors had lions?” Sirius was still facing Harry, but Harry could see how much his eyes shone.

“Cats, rather,” said Mr. Malfoy, his voice cool now. “And Hufflepuffs could have badgers, Slytherins snakes. Ravenclaws flew eagles. With the changing of traditions, eagles became owls and badgers were replaced by toads.” He gave a little sigh and shrugged. “As with so many changing of traditions in the last few centuries, only Slytherins were forgotten in the changes. They simply were not allowed to bring snakes anymore.”

“A good thing, too,” Sirius muttered. “Snakes are dangerous.”

Mr. Malfoy smiled. Harry watched the flame cobra wrapping around the shopkeeper’s arm, but he could still hear the smile in Mr. Malfoy’s voice. “Have you ever faced a cornered badger? Oh, my mistake. You can’t have, or you wouldn’t be talking as much about the reputed dangers of snakes.”

Harry decided to ignore the expression on Sirius’s face, and turned back to the shopkeeper. “What does the snake eat?” he asked.

I could just ask it, Dash offered, and opened his mouth, probably to talk in Parseltongue to the flame cobra. Harry pinched his side, and Dash shut up, although he looked extremely sulky about it. He gave Harry a single look before dropping his head to rest along Harry’s shoulder.

“Um, mice and crickets mostly.” The shopkeeper blinked and then straightened a little, as if he thought he had to answer Harry’s questions. Probably because of who I am, Harry thought wearily. “But he does need hot coals and ashes, regular. That’s how he maintains his scale gloss.”

“That’s fine,” said Harry, and reached into his pocket for the Galleons he’d bought along today. He’d vaguely thought he would buy lots of sweets and nice clothes, but the flame cobra would probably take most of his money.

It was completely worth it, though, to see Draco standing beside him with his mouth slightly open and his face disbelieving.

“Ten Galleons.” The shopkeeper was glancing back and forth between Harry, Sirius, Draco, and Mr. Malfoy as though he didn’t know whether Harry would actually buy the flame cobra. And of course every few seconds he stared at Dash.

“I forbid you to spend your money on that thing, Harry.”

Harry swallowed. He had been afraid that would happen someday, Sirius doing this in front of someone else. Harry didn’t want to challenge him, didn’t want to make Sirius feel like less than his godfather.

But he also didn’t want to go back on his word and not buy Draco the birthday gift he had promised.

“I just want to get this for Draco, Sirius,” he said, and he didn’t know how his voice would sound until he heard it. Mostly tired, he thought. “Besides, it’s not going to come into our house. Draco will take it home.”

If Malfoy allows him to,” said Sirius suddenly, sounding triumphant. “And you know that he won’t!”

“On the contrary, I can see no reason why my son should not be allowed to have a snake as a pet,” Mr. Malfoy murmured. “For the reasons that I told you. Hogwarts rules can be returned to traditional standards.”

“I was talking about at home,” said Sirius, while the shopkeeper looked at Harry’s Galleons as if he wanted to snatch them off his hand but didn’t dare. “And I’m still Harry’s guardian. I don’t want him to spend his money that way!”

Fine. Harry didn’t want to do this, but he didn’t want to disappoint Draco after he’d made him a promise even more.

He turned around and looked at Sirius as calmly as he could. “But this was money I got out of my vault before I met you,” he said. “I should be able to spend it the way I want.”

Sirius blinked at him, and blinked again. He was looking at something distant, Harry thought. Something that had nothing to do with him.

The thought made him sad, but it was the truth. He thought most of the things that Sirius saw had nothing to do with Harry, but they might have something to do with his dad. Or the Marauders. 

Then Sirius turned back to Harry and said, “All right. But we are going to have a talk when we get home about appropriate spending of money.”

“That’s fine,” Harry said, feeling more than a little relieved. At least Sirius wasn’t going to yell in public. And it might mean, it might mean, that Sirius was going to start taking care of him the way Professor Snape was always saying a good godfather should.

Fine, Dash agreed. Especially since I can always give you my shed skin to make money on your own if he unreasonably restricts access to your vaults.

Harry petted Dash in silence. Dash wasn’t threatening people or trying to bite them, either. That made the day look up.

“Fine,” Sirius echoed. He looked a little uneasy, but not much. “Then why don’t you give your…friend his gift, and we can go get something to eat?”

Harry turned to Draco and motioned the shopkeeper to hand the flame cobra over to him. At the same time, he said in Parseltongue, “You know that I don’t want you to attack your new owner or anyone who smells like him? Or anyone at all, unless he’s in great danger. Dash, can you add to that?”

Dash held out his head and hissed Harry’s instructions softly in Parseltongue, then opened his mouth. The flame cobra looked down Dash’s gullet, between the enormous fangs, and laid its hood down against both sides of its head.

“That’s right,” said Harry, content, and turned back to Draco, who was staring at him with more than a bit of awe. “Choose a name for him, and choose a word to tell him when you’re in real danger. Then I’ll teach him what those words mean by giving him the Parseltongue equivalents, and—well, that should work.”

Draco looked at him as if dazed. Concerned, Harry started to ask if he was okay, but then Draco shook his head and whispered, “This is the best gift I’ve ever got. Ever.”

Harry smiled. “Happy birthday, then. But I need his name.”

Draco looked in silence at the flame cobra for long moments, stroking the green scales. The shopkeeper took the chance to get Harry’s Galleons and come back with a cage and some frozen mice. 

“His name is Conflagration,” said Draco at last. “And I think that he—he can burn people, right, as well as bite them? You should add some instructions for him not to do that. I’ll tell him ‘Attack’ if I want him to attack.”

Amused by Draco’s choice of name, Harry hissed the instructions to Conflagration, and Dash repeated them and showed off his throat to Conflagration again. The flame cobra cuddled closer to Draco in response. Harry smiled. He thought having Dash around would make sure Conflagration didn’t get out of hand.

“We will see how you handle the snake this summer, Draco,” Mr. Malfoy said abruptly. “Such a trial will tell me whether you should be allowed to take him with you to school.”

Harry jumped, then relaxed as he saw the look of determination on Draco’s face. Draco would make sure Conflagration behaved, he thought, because he really wanted to show the snake off at Hogwarts.

And then, abruptly, Draco turned around and grabbed Harry himself in a hug. Harry froze before he could stop it, but Draco just whispered fiercely, “Don’t forget about the letter you need to give Black. And thank you.”

Harry gently patted his back, the only thing he could think of to do. “You’re welcome.”

Draco stepped back to gaze adoringly at Conflagration, while Dash hissed gently beside Harry, Someone who hugs you that hard is someone to hang onto.

Harry would have asked if Dash was making a pun, but Sirius clapped his hands, announced, “I’m starving, and I’m tired of talking about snakes!”, and steered them all out of the Magical Menagerie. He seemed determined to talk only to Harry, but at least it meant he would get to have lunch with Draco.

If Draco eats anything, he’s so fascinated.

Draco was rubbing his hand along Conflagration’s neck. Harry smiled. He really liked that, he thought. The ability to give people gifts and make them happy.

It just made him feel sadder that he would apparently never be able to make Sirius happy, no matter what he did.

He shook the thought away. Making one person a day happy was enough.

Two, said Dash. You make me happy all the time. He trailed his tail down Harry’s leg. I want you to know that

Chapter Text

Harry relaxed, keeping his gaze fixed on the chair. He could feel the strong desire to drive the chair through the wall into the next room, and at the same time, he floated in the middle of the soft concentration that Snape had taught him.

He twitched, once, as he felt Dash wind around his ankle. But Dash was part of him. He couldn’t disrupt the spell, the magic that was building in Harry’s chest.

It was wonderful. It was like the moment when Hagrid had told him magic was real and his parents could do it. Harry just gestured, and the power flew out of him and collided with the chair.

And the chair vanished. 

Harry glanced at the chairs that Snape had conjured nearer the front of the room. For long seconds, he didn’t think it was going to work. They were vibrating, but they weren’t vanishing, and Harry wanted them to. He narrowed his eyes and glared.

The chairs vanished. Harry sagged to the floor with his arms spread. He could feel Dash winding around them, too, as if he was checking for bruises. Dash snapped his tongue at him when he had that thought, though.

How stupid. I am making sure that you don’t try to exercise those muscles too soon. They’ve been through a lot, and they deserve a rest. Dash sounded like he was bonded to Harry’s muscles and not Harry.

You want to keep them safe? Harry tilted his head back and sighed. Dash curled up around more of his body, this time keeping him pinned to the floor the way he’d kept Harry pinned to his chair in Potions that one day.

Yes. I want to keep all of you safe. But right now, they’re the ones that hurt the most and deserve to have someone stand up for them. Poor muscles.

Harry snorted. He pulled himself upright then, and turned towards Snape. He’d avoided looking at him until now. “What do you think, sir?”

*

I think you have achieved remarkable results with a month of instruction only, and I am worried about what it would mean if you had to collapse in the middle of a battle, immediately after using wandless magic.

But Severus would not voice the second thought. It was years yet—let it be—before Harry would have to engage in open battle. He inclined his head and murmured, “You did it well, with little waste of energy this time. I could barely feel the magic spilling around you. However, I did not understand the pause between vanishing the first chair and Apparating the other two.”

Harry’s face was practically glowing, and it seemed to take him a long time to acknowledge the existence of Severus’s question. Severus wondered how long it was since he had heard praise from anyone but Severus—sincere praise, at least. The papers lavished it on him as long as he did what they wanted, and Dumbledore would distribute it to keep the boy moving along the right path. 

And Black?

Severus shook his head. Black was one of the subjects he and Harry did not discuss unless Harry brought it up. Severus could feel it burning in him, often, the desire to speak, but he had an imagination as vivid as his desire for vengeance, lately. That imagination let him picture Harry turning his back on Severus if he pursued the subject.

“Oh.” Harry frowned and scratched at one ear, sitting up. The basilisk twined around him and laid his head in Harry’s lap. “I think I was concentrating too much on the first chair. I only thought of vanishing that one. And then I realized the other two were still there and hadn’t gone with the first one.” He gave Severus an anxious glance. “Is that bad?”

“Only in the sense that you may not have the chance to react with a delay in battle,” said Severus. He flicked his wand, and more chairs appeared against the wall, all in a row this time. Perhaps having them all in his line of sight at once would improve Harry’s concentration. “Now you know what you have to practice on next.”

Harry looked discouraged for the briefest moment. Severus had found that silence and dry practicality were effective counters to that dejection, and a second later, Harry nodded. The basilisk altered position so he could rise to his feet. “Yes, sir,” Harry said.

He is intense when he gives loyalty, Severus thought, stepping back so that Harry could concentrate only on the chairs. And anxious to give it, even after the life he has had. Perhaps because of the life he has had, Severus decided a second later.

How has Black missed out on earning it?

*

Sirius was sitting in the middle of the kitchen when Harry got home, sipping tea. That wasn’t unusual, not after the last few weeks. He had been quiet since that argument about Harry’s money in Diagon Alley. Harry had thought he might try to take charge because he was committed to showing he could be a good guardian.

But he hadn’t.

Just like every other time he has done something that seems as if it will be to your benefit, and then reneged on it, said Dash with disdain, sticking his head around Harry’s neck and flicking his tongue out for a second. And he smells like self-pity.

How would you know what that smells like? Mice and rabbits probably don’t have it. Harry began casually putting together his own tea from the kettle and scones and butter that Sirius had left on the table. Sirius nodded to him, but didn’t seem ready to turn around and have a conversation.

I’ve had a lot of practice smelling Black and Lupin. Dash unwound himself from Harry’s neck and dropped to the floor, curling his tail beckoningly towards Harry’s room. And eventually, I was able to name the scent.

“Harry?”

Harry turned around reluctantly. He’d been almost ready to carry his plate out of the kitchen and up to his bedroom, and even if he was ready to argue with Dash about what Sirius smelled like, he really didn’t want to talk to him. 

Sirius was fiddling with the handle of his teacup, turning it back and forth as if it had broken and he’d put it back together wrong. “How would you feel about taking a letter to Draco’s mum?” he asked. He grimaced as he said it.

Harry blinked. “Why don’t you just send a letter to her?” He knew Sirius had turned pale when Harry handed him Mrs. Malfoy’s letter. That made Harry sure that Sirius wouldn’t want Harry to visit with Draco again, even in Diagon Alley. “An owl won’t mean you have to see her.”

Sirius shook his head wildly enough to send his hair cascading down his neck. “I don’t dare,” he whispered, and swallowed through a throat that sounded dry. “What I have to say—it should be said in person, or not at all.”

Then that is not in a letter. Dash slithered back into the kitchen and watched Sirius with hostility from the floor. He could try not saying it at all. I don’t think he has much practice with that, and getting some would do him good.

Harry kept silent. He wanted to agree, but what he really wanted to do was repeat Dash’s words aloud. Maybe then Sirius would see how ridiculous he was being.

Sirius turned the teacup around and stared at something on the side that was invisible to Harry. Harry fidgeted. He wanted to get along with Sirius, like Sirius, love Sirius, respect him. He wanted to be a good godson and help Sirius figure out how to be a good godfather.

But half the time, he didn’t know how to do that, and he didn’t think Sirius did, either. He sat there and was silent and then said things that were nonsensical, like this. Maybe things would change someday, but until they did, Harry didn’t see the point of trying to change them.

Finally Sirius cleared his throat and said, “Then I’ll send an owl to her. I think she’d like to hear from me.”

“Oh.” Harry hesitated. He wondered if he could ask a question and get it answered. “Would you like to see her again? You could ask her over here, and Draco could come with her.” It was the only way he knew of to make sure that he would get to see Draco but not have Sirius hovering over his shoulder the whole time. Sirius and Draco’s mum would probably go into another room and talk. Then Harry and Draco could do whatever they wanted.

“No,” said Sirius, and then swallowed. “Don’t you want to go over to the Burrow? Visit Ron?”

“Well, they were going to see if they could visit his brother in Egypt again,” said Harry. “But when they’re back home, yeah, I’d like to go. If you let me,” he couldn’t help adding, because he thought Sirius might want to come with him the way he had come to Diagon Alley.

“Of course,” said Sirius, and beamed at him. “I like Ron Weasley. He reminds me a lot of his dad. Did I tell you that Arthur was the one who decided to induct your dad and me into the Order of the Phoenix?”

“No,” Harry said. He was sometimes a little tired of the stories about his father, but at least this was one he hadn’t heard before.

He sat down in the chair across from Sirius, while Dash slithered up his leg and hissed softly in his ear, Share the scones, since we won’t be going to a place where we can share them in privacy.

Harry began to slip the buttered scones to him under the protection of the table, and sighed a little.

*

“You must understand that I will not tolerate the snake in my library.”

Draco bowed his head. He had brought Conflagration to his father’s library because it was the only room early in the morning with an active fire, and he had thought Conflagration could feed on the coals he needed there. Sure, Draco could have asked a house-elf to build up a fire in his own room, but the elves were terrified of Conflagration and would barely come near him.

It had seemed like a good plan, until Conflagration got distracted by something on the top shelf and slithered out of Draco’s arms.

“If you cannot control the snake, it will be removed.” His father sat back in the chair and gave Draco an utterly remote glance. “I know you are not a Parselmouth, and therefore may have more trouble communicating with the snake and training it. That is the only reason why it is still outside a cage.”

Conflagration hissed. He had given no sign he could understand English, though, so Draco thought he was just reacting to his father’s tone. Draco quickly caught him back, flushing when his father gave him a long, slow, judging glance.

“But you may not bring him into my library again,” Father continued. “You also cannot take him to Hogwarts if he continues to misbehave.”

Draco opened his mouth to protest.

Father pointed again to the small mound of burned books that had happened when Conflagration climbed the shelves.

Draco bowed his head and murmured something he hoped sounded sorry. He was sorry, but his heart had started pounding when his father said he couldn’t take Conflagration to school. Of course Conflagration was coming to school with him! That was the whole point!

Everyone had to see how Draco had a snake of his own, and a snake that Harry Potter had given him, no less. Conflagration was special and important even if he wasn’t a basilisk. He made Draco feel more special and important, too.

Draco wanted to walk down to breakfast with a flame cobra coiled around his shoulders. His father had said that there was no reason the rules couldn’t be changed to accommodate that. That meant Draco had to take Conflagration with him.

“Good,” said Father at last, after a long time when Conflagration shifted slowly along Draco’s neck and Draco thought that he would probably have to take him out of the room before Father said anything approving. “Now, go work on your snake control.”

And he turned away in a way that blatantly dismissed Draco.

Draco opened his mouth to say something, but thought better of it. He turned and managed to march with appropriate speed out of the library. Then he put Conflagration down on the stones in front of him and stared at him. Conflagration raised his head and looked back, spreading his hood out.

“You haven’t eaten anybody yet, or bitten any of the elves, or burned anything you weren’t supposed to until this morning,” Draco mumbled. “Why can’t they see how good that makes you?”

Conflagration flicked his tongue idly out, and a tiny spark of flame jumped off it. He moved slowly down the corridor in response, and Draco sighed a little and followed. At least here it was stone, and Conflagration couldn’t scar that any worse than Draco’s ancestors had themselves.

He would have to write to Harry. Maybe Harry could teach him the Parseltongue commands to make Conflagration come back and stop burning something. “Stop burning!” ought to be simple in Parseltongue, right?

Draco straightened his back with a snap. He didn’t care if it was simple or not. He was going to learn it. And then he would practice and practice until he really could go back to Hogwarts with Conflagration riding tamely on his shoulders.

There was just no reason to give up on that.

*

Lucius stared again at the letter that had come right before he smelled the scent of burning from his library, and laid his hand across his lips. He had to admit, he would not have suspected this particular person of asking again when they were once refused. He had anticipated opening the letter to threats of what would happen to him when the Dark Lord again rose to power.

Not entreaties.

Which might mean that the writer was less powerful than he thought himself.

Eyes narrow in thought, Lucius studied the letter, this time looking as much at the ink blots and the straggling nature of some of the handwriting as the words themselves.

Lucius,

You gave no reasons for your refusal. We have a plan, a very powerful plan. The Dark Lord is coming! He has put together a temporary body for himself from an unlikely source. He has a wand again. He has a snake familiar. He will destroy the Potter boy.

We have a way in to Hogwarts. We plan to use something that will be announced this year as the tool to finally conquer Potter. You need do nothing but influence a few members of the Board of Governors to allow snakes on the grounds. I know you can do that. The Dark Lord also knows that your son acquired a snake familiar himself, so you’ll have a natural excuse for asking.

You know that you can do it. Why would you still hold back? The Dark Lord will reward you handsomely when he rises.

No signature, of course. That would have been beyond foolish, to hand Lucius the power that must come from knowing who this current, single, active Death Eater was.

Lucius leaned back with a small sigh. He had promised Draco that he would ask about him having a snake at school, and the sudden revoking of permission now would make Lucius’s life unpleasant for the rest of the summer.

But he was also not sure that he could grant it knowing how this Death Eater would exploit it. Potter by himself might be nothing to him. If the Dark Lord arose again, however, and learned how Lucius had aided Potter, even if it was merely for a political strike at Dumbledore…

He could not change the past. Perhaps he would have if he had had access to a Time-Turner. But in the meantime, he would live with his choices and turn into a different path, one only accessible to him because of that very alliance with Potter.

Lucius smiled a little as he reached for a piece of parchment. And accessible to me because I do not want to listen to my son’s whining.

*

“You can do it, Harry!”

Harry certainly hoped so. He and Ron had switched roles for this latest Quidditch game. He’d started out as Seeker, of course, and Ron was Keeper, but now Ron wanted to see how well Harry would handle the Quaffle.

Harry was gripping his broom with sweaty hands as Fred and George soared towards him, tossing the Quaffle back and forth fast between them. They were also hitting the Bludgers every now and then with their paddles, apparently counting as combination Chaser-Beaters. They were going to try to split apart and one would distract him while the other got the Quaffle in underneath him, he just knew it.

Then George lifted his broom a little and flew straight towards Harry, and Fred spun up above him, with the Quaffle flickering between his hands.

Above, not below, Harry thought, and flew straight at George in turn.

It surprised George, and he turned aside from Harry with a shout. Then Harry was right up in Fred’s face, and Fred lost his grip on the Quaffle because he was trying to catch it and reach for his Bludger bat at the same time.

Harry dived after the Quaffle.

It was almost too easy, because it was so big compared to the Snitch. Harry stretched out his hand and caught the ball around the side, and then soared up and hovered in front of the hoop again, grinning.

Fred and George had reunited in the middle of the pitch and were having a little whispered conversation. Ron had the Snitch—a Quaffle that Mrs. Weasley had kindly shrunk and colored gold for them—in one hand and was waving it around in ecstasy.

“Oh,” he said, when he saw Harry with the Quaffle. “I think both of us are good at being Seeker and Keeper.” He flew back towards Harry, his eyes shining. “Think I should try out for Keeper this year?”

Harry was about to answer, but an owl flew towards him and sat self-importantly on his broom. Harry blinked. It was a huge black owl with glaring golden eyes, and now that he thought about it, he had sometimes seen that owl bringing letters to Draco.

“I have an owl here,” he told Ron, and tossed the Quaffle back to him as he started flying slowly towards the ground. Halfway there, the owl took off and flew alongside him. Harry sighed in a little bit of relief as he landed. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt an owl that belonged to Draco.

Or Draco’s father, as he found out when he opened the letter.

Mr. Potter, 

I have to ask you a very particular question. Would you be able to control any snakes that might come onto the grounds during the school year? Such as Draco’s flame cobra? Or would your basilisk be able to do so?

Lucius Malfoy.

Even the ink he had used looked expensive. Harry blinked and turned the letter over, but that was all of it.

Maybe the ink is so expensive that he can’t use a lot of it to write the letters, Harry thought, and glanced over at Dash, who had been asleep in the sun on the pitch. He was already awake, though, probably because Harry was thinking about him, and he slithered over and flicked his tongue out inquiringly.

Could you control any snakes that might come onto Hogwarts grounds? Harry asked him. Even if they were somebody else’s familiar?

Dash curled his head around as he obviously thought about that. Harry reached out and petted him absently. That made George and Fred fly down and start suggesting all the horrible and evil things he could do with Dash if he had a mind to. Harry ignored them.

It would depend on what the familiar had been ordered to do, Dash said at last. If I was going to demand that someone go back to their master or leave Hogwarts, I could do that. But if they had been ordered to fight to the death, probably not. He lifted his head and locked his muffled eyes with Harry’s. Especially if their master was another Parselmouth.

Harry drew in a sharp breath. You’re talking about Voldemort, aren’t you?

You know as well as I do that he is the dark figure in your dreams.

Harry didn’t respond. He had talked to Snape about the continuing dreams, most of which seemed to involve a masked man and a big snake and a high-pitched voice that he never saw much of, and which spoke half the time in Parseltongue rather than English. Snape had promised to teach him something called Occlumency, which he said would help protect Harry’s dreams.

I can do something other than simply command or control snakes, however.

Harry blinked and looked back at Dash. What?

Fight them. Dash lifted his head and lashed his tail, and for a second, Harry thought he saw little snakes peering from his shadow. I am still the King of Serpents, and there is no venom more deadly than mine.

Harry probably shouldn’t have felt a little shiver of excitement and pride at that. He knew what Sirius would say, Lupin, Dumbledore, maybe even his parents if they were alive. Killing people, or their snakes, was wrong. Dash should be planning about how he would turn Voldemort’s snake in to the Aurors, or capture it alive, if it came to Hogwarts.

But Harry had learned a lot of things over the summer, even though his only “classes” were in wandless magic and concentration with Snape. He had learned that he wasn’t a Slytherin in the way people told him he was. He still didn’t want to manipulate people, and he didn’t think he was the reincarnation of Slytherin even after he had read that book of fairy tales Draco had made him buy. In fact, he thought people who believed he was were utterly mental.

He wasn’t Gryffindor either, though. He didn’t tell the truth about everything and feel good things all the time. Sometimes, he thought about how good it would be if other people were gone, and although he didn’t want to kill them, he still wanted them gone.

I think you’re you, said Dash, and coiled around his feet.

Harry took a deep breath, and nodded. Then I’m going to write back to Mr. Malfoy, and tell him that you can control Voldemort’s familiar if it shows up, and in the meantime, Draco can bring Conflagration.

Of course he must be able to do that, Dash murmured, and then raised both his head and tail to the sun. I am going to enjoy this year.

Chapter Text

Lucius gave a small, pleased smile at the letter he had received back from Potter. If he hadn’t known better, he would have said that an adult had dictated it, but since the boy had so few adults he could trust, it was much likelier to have been the boy’s native intelligence flavored with some promptings from his basilisk.

Mr. Malfoy,

Thank you for the word of warning about snakes. Yes, Dash can fight and control any snake that comes onto Hogwarts grounds. If Draco doesn’t know how to control Conflagration and needs my help, then I can do that. I’m sending him a letter with some Parseltongue words written down the best I can, so he should be able to communicate with Conflagration soon.

Yours respectfully, 
Harry Potter.

Indeed, Lucius thought as he cast the letter into the fire, the only thing he would have changed in the whole of it was the basilisk’s unfortunate name.

*

Harry gave a gasp as he woke with his scar burning. This time, when he reached up to it, there was blood from it inching down his face.

Let me see.

Harry gratefully removed his hand so Dash could make his way up to the scar. Dash studied it with a silent intensity that Harry didn’t think was criticism of him, but the only way he knew for sure was the reassurance he got from Dash wrapping his tail gently around his waist. 

No, said Dash abruptly. There is no broken skin there, no fear that some level of contamination might have come through. But I can taste the scent of a snake.

Harry froze in surprise. His dream had had a snake in it, as usual, and sometimes two snakes. He didn’t know if Voldemort was trying to summon and control an army of them, or if Harry just dreamed a lot about his snake familiar, or what. Why would you be able to do that?

That is what I am trying to figure out, said Dash, with a chiding tone in his voice that reminded Harry of the way Snape sometimes talked, and he held obediently still while Dash seemed to run through a bunch of facts in his head. Then Dash spoke again, and his voice was startlingly cold. I think Voldemort is trying to control you the way he would a snake.

Harry shivered. Can he do that? The things he dreamed about Voldemort commanding his crazy-eyed follower to do, and his snake familiar, were horrible. Sometimes they ate people, sometimes they cast Dark magic, sometimes they collected ingredients for potions that left people bleeding on the ground or plants torn and shredded.

I don’t know, said Dash, and his voice was low and still cold. He should not be able to. We have our bond. His tail tightened on Harry’s waist again, and Harry grabbed it and hugged it. But the bond that you and Voldemort have is like no other I have studied or seen or heard of.

Harry would have asked, most of the time, what Dash meant about studying, and when he’d had the time to read a book. But now, he only swallowed and said, I don’t want to be bonded to Voldemort.

I know, said Dash soothingly, and for a moment, his tail rose and brushed the last of the blood away from Harry’s scar. It’s nothing that you did, though, and it’s not something you can help. I think we need to look at this more closely. Will you let me into your mind? 

You’re already there, said Harry, confused.

No, the way you did when I adjusted things in your mind when you were trying to use wandless magic.

Harry hesitated once, because he hadn’t given Dash permission for that and he had wondered ever since exactly what had happened, what he had given Dash permission for. But it probably had to do with Dash being his familiar. Professor Snape had said that familiars could do things like that for their wizards. You can.

Dash eased closer to him and stared into his eyes. Harry started to ask why he needed to do that, when he had done it last time without the stare.

Then he gasped as he felt something heavy and smooth sliding through his mind. It wasn’t like the other times he had felt Dash there. This time, he felt as if he had scales himself, as if he had a tail, as if he knew what it was like to move without legs.

He didn’t know why Dash felt like he had to tell Harry that to help him with his dreams and the bond with Voldemort. But he was glad to know, because he didn’t think he would ever have known otherwise.

It isn’t a bond.

Harry sighed. He hadn’t known how much he needed to hear the words until Dash spoke them. But that meant he had a question. What is it?

There were more sensations that made Harry know what it would be like to carry poison in his mouth. He licked his lips. It would be strange to walk through Hogwarts and know what would happen if he bit someone.

It’s a connection, said Dash at last.

Harry felt good enough now to roll his eyes. Because that’s informative.

I’m still a young basilisk. Dash pulled his mind free of the deep link with Harry’s, and Harry gasped a little. That felt like someone had slid a fang out of his throat instead of into it. But I know it isn’t anything like the one we have. It isn’t your mind that’s connected to his.

Harry frowned and rubbed his throat. Then what could it be? Why are we sharing dreams?

Dash curled up with his head on Harry’s knee, his shielded eyes intent on Harry’s face. I don’t know exactly what this is. But I want you to promise me that you’ll get someone to watch over it and monitor it if it starts changing. Professor Snape would be my choice.

Harry sighed. I hate to put any more burdens on him. He knew that Professor Snape had time to teach him during the summer because he didn’t have any classes, but that would change once people came back in September.

It would not be a burden. Dash reached out and curled the end of his tail around Harry’s ankle. Or, at least, not as much of a burden as my constant nagging if you don’t do it would be.

Harry shuddered a little. At least he had been able to escape nagging from the Dursleys when he was in the cupboard, and nagging from Sirius by not spending much time in the house. There would be no escape from someone who was in his head. All right, all right. I’ll ask him when I see him tomorrow.

Good. Remember that I will know if you don’t.

Harry laughed and reached down to loop his arms around Dash, gathering him into his embrace. That should sound like a threat, but all it reminds me is of how much I love you.

Dash didn’t even respond to that, maybe because it didn’t need words. Harry was still learning about things like that. Dash just rested all his weight in Harry’s arms and flicked his tongue out to taste Harry’s scent at the crook of his wrist, where he had said that it was strong.

*

Draco studied the Parseltongue words on the letter uncertainly. Then he looked at Conflagration.

The problem was, even though Harry had sent along instructions about how to pronounce the words, Draco still wasn’t sure that he was going to get it right. Would he really get the right number of S’s in his voice? Or what about the one that Harry had written with a T in the middle of all the S’s? How was he supposed to say that?

Harry did also say that he would have to practice. But he didn’t seem to understand it would be easier for Draco to practice with him.

Time to see what happens. Draco took one more look at the letter, then looked at Conflagration and tried the one with the T in the middle. It was a complicated series of hisses, sh and s sounds, with here and there a vowel thrown in like someone had forgotten it. According to Harry—who had had to write the word with Dash’s help, because he told Draco Parseltongue sounded like English to him—that was the one that was supposed to mean “Stop.”

Conflagration snapped his head up and hissed something that Draco, of course, didn’t understand. Then he turned as if he was going to crawl into the hearth, and Draco repeated the word.

This time, Conflagration curved his head back and glared again.

But he did stop. Did that mean it had worked?

Draco snatched another look at the letter. There was a word that was supposed to mean “Come here,” complete with f and v sounds. Draco licked his lips and pronounced it as best he could. “Shessshefevess.”

Conflagration moved towards him slowly, checking with his eyes and tongue as if he thought Draco was going to change his mind any minute. Draco smiled at him and then wondered if snakes would think about smiles in the same way, at least if they weren’t as intelligent as Dash. “Shessshefevess,” he repeated, and held out his hand and wriggled it back and forth encouragingly.

Conflagration climbed up his arm and twined himself around Draco’s shoulder. Draco wanted to burst with pride.

Then Conflagration poked him in the cheek with his nose, and kept on poking. Draco pulled back to glare at him, but Conflagration kept poking. Draco tried the word that was supposed to mean “Stop” again.

Conflagration kept poking.

Draco gave an aggrieved sigh. He must have more practicing to do.

*

“I can teach you the basics of an art called Occlumency, which you have already learned part of through learning to concentrate. But it is hard, and would involve me looking into your mind. I am not sure that you wish me to do that.”

The speech Severus had spent so much time preparing slid out of his lips with an odd naturalness when it came to the moment when he had to utter it. And Harry sat there listening in their practicing room, tracing the outline of the splash Severus had caused on the floor with one nail, but not ignoring him. Severus knew that much, however hard Harry was to read at other times.

The basilisk had curled up with his head on Harry’s knee and was regarding Severus with unblinking eyes. Well, of course they were unblinking, behind those eyelids that had to stay shut. Severus looked away from them with an effort and back at Harry, who had lifted his head.

“You wouldn’t ever tell anyone about what you saw in my thoughts?” Harry’s voice was quiet.

Severus shook his head. “No. I would not.”

Harry nodded. “I had to ask, because Dash wanted me to ask,” he said, and rested his hand on the basilisk’s back. Harry spent a moment listening with his head tilted to the side, and then smiled a little. “He also wanted to let you know that even though his poison is diluted, it would still be painful if he bit you.”

“Understood,” said Severus, and managed to keep his voice so calm that he himself was impressed by it. “But in practice, Occlumency works only if student and teacher trust each other. I do not think I can teach Dash. Can I teach you?”

It was a question he had never asked of Harry in so forthright a fashion before. He supposed he was afraid of what the answer would have been, at least some of the time before now.

Harry swept him with a quick glance. Then he nodded and stood up, stretching out one hand. Severus didn’t catch on for an embarrassingly long time, but at least he took hold of the hand and shook it once before Harry got upset and pulled it back.

“You can,” said Harry. “I know that you aren’t going to betray anything you see to anyone. And—and not only because of Dash’s threats.” His voice broke for a second. 

Severus nodded once, not looking away from Harry. The moment was one of those fragile ones that they seemed to have distressingly often, when Severus was providing something to Harry that not enough people had provided to him before, in the place of those others who should have been pleased and proud to do it.

“Good,” Severus said, when he thought enough time had passed that he could say it. “And the first thing you have to remember is that you can use the concentration trick, but that is not all Occlumency is. Occlumency is also about protecting your mind so that someone else, a Legilimens—”

“The one who can read minds?”

Severus nodded. If nothing else, he thought, the interruption was good training for further moments he would share with Harry, when he would need to be braced for far more frequent interruptions. “It is about trapping them and slowing them down. It is a far more defensive art than wandless magic…”

*

Harry was sitting at breakfast with his head whirling, trying to remember all the things that he’d have to buy for his fourth year at Hogwarts. That included rats and mice for Dash, cages to keep them in, books on Occlumency—well, Professor Snape had said Harry could borrow his, but Harry wanted a few of his own—parchment, ink, quills, the books in the Hogwarts letter, a new cauldron, owl treats for Hedwig, new bristles for his Firebolt, a new bag for his books that seemed like they were going to be heavier this year, and—

“Harry, when did you plan to meet up with Hermione in Diagon Alley?”

Harry blinked and looked up. Sirius was sitting hunched forwards in his chair, staring at yet another letter he had received the other day. Harry gave a mental shrug. He hadn’t paid that much attention to what Sirius was doing with letters lately. He assumed Sirius was still getting some from Draco’s mum, though.

“About eleven. Why?”

Sirius licked his lips. “Do you think you could go a little early? I mean, I could Apparate you there, and you could—wander around until you found Hermione and her parents? You wouldn’t get in trouble if you went early, right?”

Does he forget who you have with you? Dash asked, and lifted his head above the level of the table to flicker his tongue at Sirius.

“Not while Dash is with me,” Harry said. “If anyone tried to attack me, they’d regret it.”

Sirius smiled, but he looked a little desperate. “I mean, you wouldn’t get into trouble because you went looking for something that you shouldn’t. Like you did when you heard Dash calling you.”

Now that I have you, you aren’t going to do that anymore, said Dash promptly. I’ll be the only basilisk bonded to you.

Harry rolled his eyes, because he had to, but he reassured Sirius, “Dash doesn’t want me doing that any more than you do.”

Sirius gave Dash that bug-eyed look he got whenever he and Dash turned out to have anything in common, and then mumbled, “Right. Right. So we can go now?” He stuffed the letter into his pocket and stood, offering a hand to Harry.

Harry nodded. “Of course we can.” He reached down to pick up Dash, only to find that Dash had already looped himself around Harry’s shoulders and waist enough that Harry didn’t really have to pick him up. Harry gave him a grateful smile and stood up, only to encounter Sirius’s shaking head and raised eyebrow. “What?” Harry added.

“You don’t have to carry him everywhere. I’m sure he has leg—I mean, scales that will get him from place to place.”

It just really upsets him that Dash is a snake, Harry thought in wonder. He still can’t get used to it even though he and Dash have both been with me for almost a year. 

“Well, Dumbledore told me that he needed to be close to me at all times when we were in school, and I’ve done the same thing when I took him up to Hogwarts,” Harry said, shrugging. “So it makes sense to carry him. And he likes being carried.”

And what I like and do not like are no concern of yours, smelly dog-man.

Harry tapped Dash on the nose for that. Dash clung to him and looked as unrepentant as only a basilisk could.

“What did he say?” Sirius was eyeing Dash with more intense interest than any he’d shown during the summer.

“Oh, an insult,” said Harry, and didn’t translate it.

Although Sirius still looked as if he would have liked to know, he went to get his cloak and boots. Harry shook his head at Dash and went to collect his vault key from his rooms; there would be no getting money out of Gringotts without that.

Why do you insult him? He matters to me.

Frankly, I don’t know why.

Harry chose to keep silent on that, as well. 

*

There were some people who might say she was stupid because she was “only” a Muggleborn and didn’t know everything they did about the wizarding world. There were even some people who probably thought she was stupid because she was a girl. When she was in Muggle school, she’d certainly encountered people who thought that, and who didn’t like it that she knew all the answers, because boys were supposed to.

But Hermione Granger was not stupid. And she knew that Harry had had a good summer and a bad summer both the instant she saw him.

Harry walked up to her parents and greeted them quietly. They’d agreed to meet at Flourish and Blotts. Hermione knew her parents were a bit overwhelmed with all the wizards and magic around them, but they both calmed down when they were in a bookshop. You couldn’t do much to make books different from themselves.

(Hermione had never told them about the Monster Book of Monsters).

Harry looked better than he did after a summer at the Dursleys’! He wasn’t all pale, and he had a confidence to his walk that Hermione usually only saw when he won a Quidditch game. But he also had a sad look in his eyes as he stared at Dash, and Hermione thought they were probably having an upsetting conversation.

Then he saw Hermione, and maybe especially Mum and Dad and how frightened they were because he had a giant snake draped all over him, and gave an apologetic smile and held out his hand. “I’m sorry if Dash upset you,” he said. “And I know that we met before, but we didn’t get to talk that much. Harry Potter.”

Dad gave a weak little smile as he shook Harry’s hand, even as he looked hard at Hermione. Hermione nodded in reassurance. She had explained about Dash to her parents, and if she hadn’t managed to convey his sheer size and the way he considered the world as if he was looking for threats to Harry, well, it was probably because she hadn’t read enough descriptions of basilisks.

Or because Dash had grown. She knew that last year he had fit around Harry’s shoulders and waist with maybe some of his tail trailing down Harry’s leg. Now he looked as though he could sheathe Harry in his coils and not notice.

“Well, Harry,” said Mum, and Hermione smiled a little. Her mum was always the one who would cover up some mistake that people made in front of her father, or mistakes that Dad made. “Hermione tells us that you have a lot of books to buy for next year. Can you recommend some books about wizards for Muggles? There are so many!”

“Oh, Mum, I told you I’d recommend them,” said Hermione, because she didn’t think it was a subject Harry had actually studied much.

“I can, actually,” said Harry, and Hermione blinked at him in surprise. He gave her that little shrug and smile that sometimes infuriated her. He’d done exactly the same thing when he’d disappeared during the night and came back with Dash. “Sirius had some to help introduce me to the wizarding world. I was raised by my aunt and uncle,” he added, presumably for Mum and Dad. “They’re Muggles, too.”

Dad relaxed a little. Hermione smiled at him. She had known how uncomfortable he was around all the wizards and witches who thought you had to have grown up in their world to really matter. She was proud of him for coming along anyway.

“This is a good book,” said Harry, pulling one off the shelf. “A Basic Muggle’s Introduction to Non-Muggleness.” He handed it to Dad, ignoring the way Hermione tried to grab it. Well, that meant Hermione would have to get her own copy.

She did that with most of the books Harry pulled off the shelves, which made Harry snicker at her, although some of them were their schoolbooks and that just made sense. Then she held up the copy of a book he had just bought, and blinked. She had memorized the letter Hogwarts had sent, and it wasn’t on there.

“Harry?” she asked, pointing to the title of Concentration Like Glass.

Harry flushed and looked around for her parents. But Mum and Dad were at the end of the aisle, examining the Galleons and Sickles they had exchanged for Muggle money earlier that day; they looked dubious. Harry explained in a low voice, “Professor Snape has been teaching me Occlumency. It’s this mind art that involves defending your thoughts from people. He thinks it might help me shield my thoughts from—Voldemort.”

Hermione flinched despite herself at the name, and then felt silly. Words were only words. It wasn’t rational to be afraid of them all the time.

“You think that you’ll be able to master it?” she asked, looking at the book in fascination.

“I think so,” said Harry, and he grimaced a little. “Professor Snape has been working with me on wandless magic. If I can do that, I think I can do this. He said some of the techniques are the same.”

Hermione nodded in determination. “Do you think you’ll still be working with Professor Snape after school starts?”

Harry turned red and looked aside to pet the back of Dash’s neck. “I don’t know. He’ll be busy, you know?”

And probably still willing to help you. But Hermione knew that Harry needed this, and that he didn’t want to stay too close to Snape for some reason, so she reached out and took his hand instead. “Then I’ll work with you. We can have our own Occlumency study group.”

Harry beamed at her, and Hermione added Concentration Like Glass to her own bag. Then they turned around and walked towards the front of the shop with her parents, Harry talking about how Ron would probably be so full of his trip to Romania to visit his brother Charlie that they would get tired of hearing about dragons.

Mum casually slung an arm around Hermione’s shoulders as they went towards the front of the shop. Hermione leaned against her and watched as Dash gently squeezed Harry’s waist.

She was glad that Harry, who didn’t have parents and didn’t sound like he got along well with Sirius, had someone. Even if it was the most dangerous snake in the world. 

Chapter Text

Harry heard a wave of shrieks follow him as he walked into Hogwarts, and looked around, blinking. Yesterday, he had thought all the students at Hogwarts had got used to Dash, and over the summer, most of the people in Hogsmeade had, too. Were they frightened because they saw how big he’d grown?

Then he realized that it was a line of trembling first-years backing away from him, and sighed. Of course they would have had no chance to get used to Dash, any way he appeared.

Promise me you won’t frighten them, Harry told Dash sternly as he took his place at the Gryffindor table and watched the ceiling of the Great Hall swirl with stormclouds.

Not even the one that looks like a mouse? Dash filled Harry’s mind with the memory of a small straw-haired boy whose nose had twitched as he backed up. I might need to practice with him when I don’t have real mice. You know how easily I run out of them.

Harry snorted and sat back against his chair to watch the Sorting, knowing Dash was in one of those moods where arguing with him would be useless. I’ll make sure the house-elves have enough mice even for you.

Unless I get hungry for elves, too.

Harry had had enough. Even if no one else could hear what was running through Dash’s mind, he could. He tapped Dash sharply on the tail, just at the point where the most delicate scales overlapped each other and there was a weak point. Dash went back to sulking, which was fine with Harry.

He glanced up at the High Table and noticed Snape nodding to him. Harry nodded back. He knew Snape would probably still have to be hard on him in class, but everyone else was free to think that the nod was a silent promise of revenge for something. Harry knew a lot of things other people didn’t.

Sometimes that was lonely. But when it could protect him, Harry didn’t mind keeping the secrets.

The Sorting seemed to go more quickly than usual; either there were fewer Gryffindors or there were less kids in general, but Harry hadn’t been paying attention to either number, and when he asked Dash for help in remembering them, Dash wasn’t inclined to help. Harry did notice when Dumbledore stood up near his seat, though. He had a grave expression on his face that Harry didn’t understand.

Ron seemed to have been paying more attention to the number of professors than Harry did. “Blimey,” he whispered. “We don’t have a Defense Against the Dark Arts professor again?”

“Maybe Dumbledore will teach us himself,” said Hermione, although she didn’t sound very hopeful. “I heard that he used to be wonderful at that, even though his specialty was Transfiguration. After all, he defeated Grindelwald.”

“Dumbledore doesn’t have the time,” Ron started to object, and Harry poked him in the side. After all, Dumbledore was just about to talk, and he was probably going to answer that question if Ron would only listen.

Strange that you’re in the mood to listen to Dumbledore, and not to me.

Harry didn’t bother poking Dash. He could think back to him that that was silly and he would always want to listen to his basilisk, and listen to Dumbledore, at the same time.

“I have several announcements to make, each of them a pleasure to make known,” said Dumbledore, and then his face fell a little. “Except the first one. I am sad to announce that there will be, this year, no Quidditch at Hogwarts.”

What?” Harry thought Ron’s voice was the loudest, but it was pretty much a massed shout from all the Gryffindors, except Hermione. She looked a little pleased. Harry noticed Slytherins and Ravenclaws and even Hufflepuffs fuming, too, leaning over to talk to each other or casting looks of loathing at Dumbledore.

One dangerous thing ends, then. Dash had grown resigned to staying behind on the ground when Harry flew, because his weight was too much for a broom and he could see Harry at all times, but he didn’t like it.

And I don’t have to like it.

Harry stroked his neck and said, I don’t think you need to, either, while the murmurs of disappointment faded enough for Dumbledore to add, “But the Quidditch games would not have been canceled without a good reason. Would you like to hear that reason?”

Yes!” Fred and George yelled, making several people around them laugh. Dash wound about Harry a bit tighter, as if to say that he didn’t care about what the reason would be because it wouldn’t benefit him.

“The Tri-Wizard Tournament is being held at Hogwarts,” Dumbledore announced, and yes, his eyes were bright. “This is an ancient competition between three schools, hence the name. The other schools are Beauxbatons, located in France, and Durmstrang, located in Bulgaria.”

Harry caught Draco’s eye even across the space between the Gryffindor and Slytherin tables, and barely managed to hide a snicker. He knew Draco would be thinking that anyone who didn’t already know where those schools were didn’t deserve the benefits of an announcement telling them so, either.

“The competition involves three tasks of increasing complexity, each task leading on to the next,” Dumbledore was continuing, in a grand, sonorous voice that seemed to reach the furthest corners of the room. Harry thought he could still hear some students whispering angrily about Quidditch, though. “Three champions are chosen, one from each school, to compete in the tasks.” He paused, then added, “Because of the danger—each task could well be fatal—only students who are of age will be allowed to compete. I encourage students who are seventeen already, and only them, to volunteer for the prestigious position of Hogwarts’s champion.” His eyes shot towards Fred and George, and then he turned his head a little, so that he was looking at Harry.

How strange, said Dash, arching his neck so that he could look at Dumbledore, or at least aim the yellow glow of his covered eyes more in his direction.

What is it? Harry asked, wrapping one hand around Dash’s neck and avoiding Dumbledore’s gaze. It made him ache to think Dumbledore would distrust him so badly that he thought Harry would actually try and enter the Tournament.

Dumbledore has these strange ideas about you despite knowing you for years, and probably knowing more about than you realize, because he was probably spying on you from a distance. Dash leaned his head against Harry’s cheek. He doesn’t know you at all despite all the opportunities that he had to learn who you were.

Harry had no chance to answer, because the door of the Great Hall opened then.

“Ah, yes,” said Dumbledore, without changing the smoothness or the cheery tone of his voice. “And I am pleased to introduce this year’s Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, Auror Alastor Moody.”

Harry craned his neck, interested in spite of himself. He hadn’t ever seen a real Auror except from a distance, and the man who came limping through the door on a wooden leg looked intimidating. At least an Auror would probably know more about Dark Arts and how to defend against them than Lockhart had, he thought.

Dash hissed against his throat, strong and threatening.

What is it? Harry asked, looking at the man. He wondered for a second if this man was Voldemort’s familiar that Mr. Malfoy had warned him about, but the more he considered it, the more he decided against it. Voldemort’s familiar had to be a snake, and he doubted the snake could transform into a human, even with Voldemort’s help.

On the other hand, there was a small chance that Moody was the servant of Voldemort’s that Harry had only seen as a kind of crazed, laughing figure in the dreams. Harry knew from bitter experience that people you thought were good could still help Voldemort. He slipped his hand into his pocket and closed his fingers around his wand.

Dash hissed, He smells of slaughtered snakes.

Harry blinked and sat back, looking at Moody again. He was saying something to Dumbledore about the weather and the trek he’d had to get here and “constant vigilance,” but Harry didn’t pay much attention to his words. He would probably hear them later in class, and Dash could repeat them to him in memory if they mattered.

Finally, Harry noticed the flask that Moody kept pulling out and drinking from. The flask had a diamond pattern on it that could have come from snakeskin. Harry nudged Dash and pointed. Is that what you’re sensing? The dead snake smell is coming from that?

I must get close enough to judge.

Before Harry could pick up through their bond what he intended, Dash dropped off Harry’s shoulders and neck and to the floor, and flowed towards Moody. Harry heard shrieks. This time, he couldn’t really blame people. He lived close to Dash all the time, and sort of forgot how big he was. But Dash was almost nine feet long now, and it looked like a lot of snake.

Moody didn’t try to run. He had a magical blue eye that swiveled to focus on Dash, but he didn’t even draw his wand. He just stood there. Harry had to admit that that didn’t seem much like a servant of Voldemort’s.

Dash slithered straight up to Moody’s flask and stuck out his tongue to sniff it. Dumbledore was shouting something about order and how people had to be more careful, but Harry ignored him and followed Dash. He would probably get a scolding later, but right now, he didn’t care.

Moody’s magical eye swiveled to focus on him instead as Harry put his hand on Dash’s head, and Moody grunted. “Heard about this snake of yours,” he said. “Friendly, is he? For a basilisk?”

“Yes, sir,” Harry said, meeting Moody’s gaze and trying to figure out from the way he took Harry’s answer if he was angry or not. “I never have much trouble with him, sir. Except when people try to hurt me.”

Moody’s craggy face got a twitch that could have been a smile. “Well, don’t bring him to my class, then,” he said. “I believe in teaching students real spells, Potter. Spells they have to dodge, or catch, or resist. Constant vigilance!” He looked down at Dash, who now had his head so close to the flask that his tongue was stroking the skin. “Is he done?”

Is it snakeskin? Harry asked Dash. Or is there a chance that he might be Voldemort’s human servant? Dash ought to be able to make out spells that were trying to mask scents, or magic that had to do with snakes.

It’s snakeskin. Dash still sounded upset. He reared up so that he was rising above Harry’s head and lashed his tongue again, to the screams of several students. I can’t smell any other magic that has to do with snakes. I can’t smell anything but human. Dash curled his head to the side, and his eyelids quivered. I still don’t like him. He’s too powerful. I can smell the kind of practice that you’ve done hovering around him like a scent of smoke.

Wandless magic? Harry asked in surprise. Maybe if Snape was too busy, he could get Moody to teach him. He eyed Moody once, and found Moody looking calmly back at him. Harry had to admit he was impressed by someone who was so calm in the face of a basilisk.Then I suppose I’ll have to make sure that I practice even more, in case he is hostile and tries to throw something at me.

Yes. Be careful of him.

Harry opened his mouth to say something else to Moody, but he hadn’t figured out what it was going to be yet, an apology or a question that might make him reveal if he had a connection to Voldemort, before Dumbledore arrived.

“Harry.” Dumbledore still sounded impressive when he put his mind to it, Harry found. Harry wanted to hide by force of habit. He stood still, though, helped by the way Dash had wound about him again. “I think you owe Auror Moody an apology.”

“I’m sorry, sir,” said Harry. It was easy enough to say. Dash was teaching him how to talk, and Mr. Malfoy had taught him some, and Sirius had taught him some. Professor Snape had maybe taught him the most of all, when he had told Harry that their Occlumency lessons would have to remain more secret than the wandless magic lessons had. “I wanted to make sure that Dash didn’t hurt you, but I know it must have been awfully scary to have him coming towards you.” He gave Moody his best smile, one he’d picked up from seeing the way Draco smiled at shopkeepers in Diagon Alley.

“Why did you let Dash get out of your control in the first place?” Dumbledore’s voice had a cool tone that would have made Harry cower last year, before the lessons with Snape and the things Sirius had told him and Dash and—everything, really.

Everything that makes up my real life.

“I didn’t mean to do that, sir.” Harry ducked his head and peered up from under his eyelashes at Professor Moody. Snape had taught him that was effective. “But he smelled slaughtered snakes. You know he had to investigate.”

There was a long, startled pause, and then Moody chuckled. “The skin of my flask?” He slapped the side of it, making it bulge. “Well, he would, wouldn’t he? Took it out of the hide of a Runespoor that decided I’d make fine fodder for its argument with itself.”

Dash flicked his tongue out again, but didn’t say anything. Harry just said, “Sorry, then,” and looked at Dumbledore. “Can I talk to you later, sir?”

Dumbledore gave him a long, slow look, one that might have been angry or pleased. It was hard for Harry to tell, because he wasn’t looking Dumbledore directly in the eyes. That had been the second thing Snape had ever warned him about when they stared practicing Occlumency, that Dumbledore was a Legilimens.

“Yes, you may,” said Dumbledore. “Come to my office tomorrow evening, after dinner.”

Once, it would have been right away. Dash sounded soothed and thoughtful now. Is he sensing your change of heart?

Harry didn’t care to explore that in the middle of the Great Hall. Besides, he hadn’t actually been to Dumbledore’s office all that many times during his years at Hogwarts. He didn’t know if it would have been right away. “Yes, sir,” he said, and turned and slipped back to his seat at the Gryffindor table, while Moody stumped up to the Head one, talking to Dumbledore.

Ron pounced on him the minute he came back. “Is Moody an Animagus like Pettigrew was?” he demanded in a loud whisper, his face white enough to make the freckles stand out.

“No,” said Harry, amused at what Ron was thinking. But he could see why. The last time Dash moved that fast, it probably had been when he was chasing Pettigrew. “Dash could smell dead snakes. He wanted to make sure that it was really just the skin of Moody’s flask, and not something else.”

Ron leaned even nearer. Luckily, most of the Gryffindor table was talking about either the Tri-Wizard Tournament, Moody, or the lack of Quidditch. “You thought maybe it had something to do with You-Know-Who?”

“You ought to call him by his right name, Ron,” Hermione scolded in a whisper, moving in on the other side. “Headmaster Dumbledore says it only makes people more afraid of him if you don’t.”

“Then let’s see you do it,” Ron promptly told her, scowling.

Hermione puckered up her mouth and shook her head. “Not right now,” she said. “It could cause a panic if someone heard me. I’ll say it later in the common room, when not so many people will hear me.”

Ron snorted. “She’s afraid,” he whispered to Harry, and didn’t even try to keep his voice down so Hermione couldn’t hear them, although Harry supposed that wouldn’t have been possible anyway. “She just doesn’t want to admit it.”

“I am not,” Hermione began.

Bickering broke out, and Harry sighed and looked out at the Great Hall again. This time, it wasn’t hard to meet Draco’s eyes, because Draco was leaning forwards as if he was looking specifically for Harry. He promptly flicked his head at the doorway of the Great Hall and mouthed, Meet me out there?

Harry nodded. He’d noticed that Draco hadn’t come into dinner with Conflagration. He probably needed more help with the Parseltongue words before he could completely control the flame cobra. Harry turned around to his friends, adjusting Dash as he hung around his shoulders, and said, “Uh, I’m going up to the common room. I’ll see you later.”

Most of the time, Hermione would have tried to make him eat more, but this time, she only waved him off and continued arguing with Ron. Harry wasn’t sure whether she would say Voldemort’s name later on or not. He grinned as he slipped out into the corridor. It might be funny if she did, if only because more Gryffindors than Ron would leap in the air.

*

Draco leaned against the wall and watched Harry walk towards him, arguing with Dash as he did.

At least, Draco assumed it was arguing. Harry was peering intently into Dash’s eyes with his mouth a little open. He was also shaking his head, and he would probably start frowning in an instant.

Draco, though, couldn’t know what the argument was about, and he would never know unless Harry chose to tell him. He pressed on to something more urgent. “Those Parseltongue words aren’t enough,” he announced.

It took a moment for Harry to blink and focus on Draco, to Draco’s annoyance. However, at least he did take it seriously when he was looking at him. He promptly said, “Why not? Didn’t I write them clearly enough?”

Dash’s head swayed back and forth. Knowing he had helped Harry write them down, Draco could only imagine what he was saying.

Keeping his eye on Dash, Draco said, “Uh, they were fine. But Conflagration won’t always stop when I want him to, and sometimes he acts like there’s more than one thing he could stop.” He grimaced, remembering the moment on the train when he’d told Conflagration to stop hissing at Greg and Conflagration had started biting at the inside of his cage instead. Then, when Draco had told him to stop that, he’d started hissing at Greg again.

“Well, I can’t teach you how to control him completely,” said Harry, and for some reason, smiled down at Dash. “I don’t control Dash completely even though I’m bonded to him and a Parselmouth.”

“Oh.” Draco was obscurely disappointed. The next best thing to a bonded snake would have been a snake he could control. But he shook his head. “Can you teach me other words?”

“Yes,” said Harry. “But keep in mind, Conflagration did get threats from Dash and me about what would happen if he didn’t behave himself. Some of what he does is probably only play, not really threatening people.”

Draco sighed a little. “I know that, but there’s no way I can really convince my roommates and other people in Slytherin of it.”

Harry scratched his chin. “All right. Then I think what we need to focus on is the word ‘stop’ in combination with other words. Stop hissing, stop burning, and other things like that. What are other things that he does?” He looked at Draco.

“Stop poking,” Draco muttered. He saw Harry blinking at him, and managed to avoid blushing, he thought, as he explained, “He likes to poke me in the cheek, and like I said, when I tell him to stop he acts like he was supposed to stop something else.”

Harry put his hand across his mouth, and even Dash hissed in a way that didn’t need any translation. Draco glared at both of them. Dash might be annoying sometimes, but at least Harry could always explain to him why he was annoying, and that might make him stop.

“All right,” Harry finally said, lowering his hand and grinning at Draco again. “Then that will be one of the things I work with Dash on. It’ll probably take a few days. Keep Conflagration in his cage until then, or at least out and under your control, or only have him out when I have Dash nearby. Then—”

“Um. Excuse me, Mr. Potter. I want—my mum said I was to give this to you.”

Harry turned around with an utterly blank face. Draco blinked. He knew the second-year Slytherin who was offering a wrapped present to Harry, vaguely. His name was Jackson Selwyn, although there was a lot of debate about whether his family was actually related to theSelwyns. Draco had never had to have an opinion either way.

Now he wished he had, because then he might have known why in the world Selwyn was offering Harry a present.

“Thank you,” Harry said cautiously. He shot a glance at Draco, who shrugged.

“You’re welcome,” said Selwyn, and he bowed several times, backing away. “Please let my mother know if you liked it—I mean, if it’s acceptable. I’ll owl her that you took it from me.” He gave Harry a dazzling smile and ran towards the dungeons.

“So who was that?” Harry asked Draco, opening the package. Draco reached over and put his hand on the paper.

“I wouldn’t open that here,” he said. “Just in case.”

“In case it explodes on me or gives me boils, you mean?” Harry hastily pulled his hand back from the paper.

Draco shook his head. “In case it’s something Dark.” The legendary Selwyns might or might not have been in favor of the Dark Arts, but the modern ones definitely were.

“Well, he would be an idiot, wouldn’t he, to bring something like that into the school?” Harry retorted. He paused, then added, “Anyway, Dash says that it doesn’t smell like Dark magic.”

Draco opened his mouth to ask exactly how much Dark magic Dash had ever experienced, and then Harry tugged the paper in the right place, and it fell off.

Inside was a small box that looked like the sort Honeydukes chocolates came in. Harry seemed to assume that was what would be inside, because he lifted the lid with a pleased expression.

Draco felt himself sway a little at what was inside, but Harry only looked at it with a blank expression. He looked up at Draco. “What would they give me a ring for?” he asked, turning it around.

Draco found his tongue, after long seconds. The ring was heavy gold, and had a black stone set in the middle of it, incised with a triangular image that Draco only recognized because he’d seen it before. Even Dash had reached out curiously to touch it with his tongue, in a way he probably wouldn’t have if he’d known what it was.

“An allegiance ring,” Draco whispered. “This is a sign that the Selwyn family pledge to follow you and assert their loyalty to you.” He turned the ring around, and both Harry and Dash seemed to see at the same time that the triangle could be a snake’s head.

Dash hissed something. Harry hissed back, making the hair on the back of Draco’s neck rise deliciously, and then asked, “They—follow anyone who has a basilisk?”

“No,” Draco said quietly. “They’re willing to follow you because they think you’re the reincarnation of Salazar Slytherin.”

Chapter Text

You will have to do something about it sooner or later, Dash said, twining out of Harry’s bed and poking the box on the table with his nose. The allegiance ring that Selwyn had given him rattled inside.

Then it can be later, Harry grouched, and dragged himself out of bed. His muscles throbbed. Even though he had had worse aches before, especially when flying or when he’d received a pounding from Dudley, there was a special ache about the first day of being back to school that made him want to sleep in.

Not that he would get to, of course. Dash had woken him up early so he could shower and get to breakfast on time, but also so that he could go to the library and look up allegiance rings.

Draco should have told me enough about the bloody things already when I asked, Harry thought, as he stepped into the shower and deliberately turned on the cold water. Not only did it wake him up with a leap and a shout, but it meant Dash had to stay outside the shower stall until it got warmer.

You are so anxious to be parted from me, then? Dash was now tall enough to rear up and look over the wall of the shower, at least if he slung a coil of his body around one of the sinks outside.

Harry bowed his head and scrubbed his fingers through his hair, not saying anything. He had thought—well, he had just hoped that he could stay out of it all this year. He probably couldn’t get away from Voldemort completely, since there were reports of Dark Marks at the Quidditch World Cup. And, well, Professor Snape and Mr. Malfoy were Death Eaters, or had been. Still were, if you listened to Sirius, which Harry didn’t make a habit of doing.

But he could stay out of politics. People were getting used to Dash now. The excitement around Pettigrew’s trial and Sirius’s release had already died down. Harry hadn’t done anything remarkable at the end of last year, nothing to compare to saving the Stone or entering the Chamber of Secrets and rescuing Ginny.

He’d just thought, hoped, that people were forgetting about him.

Did you forget that you announced your abuse to the papers, and some other people started coming forward? I know you didn’t look at the papers much of the rest of summer, but I did, and the public paid attention to that.

Harry paused and squinted up through the soap and shampoo at Dash. You read the papers? Really? 

Yes. I didn’t inflict it on you because I thought you needed some freedom from them. Dash’s tail lashed once, and he ended up falling down from his high perch. But he just flowed over the wall again and into the water, since it was warm now. But I wanted to make sure that no new threats to you were brewing there.

Harry swallowed, and then reached down and swept a hand across Dash’s flat head, because it replaced a lot of things he could have said and didn’t have the words for.

You’re welcome. Dash stuck out a tongue and licked at a bit of shampoo, then shuddered and scrubbed his tongue on the stones. He always said that shampoo looked like something that should taste good, since it was thick and glistened the way blood did, but he was always disappointed. In the meantime, you need to pursue the matter of the allegiance ring.

Harry sighed. Yes, he might prefer to forget about politics if he could, but it seemed politics weren’t going to forget about him.

Fine, but I think it’s just going to be a disappointment to them, he said, ducking his head through a final scrub of his hair and then stumbling out and reaching for the towel.After all, I’m not Slytherin reincarnated or whatever. What are they going to do when they find that out? 

You’re not, Dash agreed. But that doesn’t mean you can’t lie and claim to be.

It was Harry’s turn to fall, as he whirled around to stare at Dash in shock and tripped over a slight irregularity in the floor. He choked and got up again, while Dash slid towards the door and said, Clumsy, clumsy. You should practice walking like a pure-blood.

Harry glared at him. Pure-bloods don’t walk any better than Muggleborns or other wizards.

But they receive some training in grace, because of how embarrassing it would be to stumble in front of a political opponent. You should try it.

Harry gave up in disgust. You can’t seriously mean what you said. About pretending to be Slytherin. I’m not a good liar!

But there are things you can conceal, the way you concealed your abuse for years and years. Dash shot out his tongue and flicked it once as though he was gathering in a scent he had been searching for. I think Snape would help you. Draco would help you. Even Mr. Malfoy would help you, if he thought it was to his advantage. Dash turned and flicked his tongue out along the same path as his back, and Harry received a clear vision of him polishing his scales.

Maybe. But not something like that.

How do you know until you try?

Harry said nothing. He could see some sense in what Dash was saying, and a lot more trouble. 

Then he said, as he rubbed his hair furiously dry and ignored the way it stuck up, because it was always doing that, What would be the goal, anyway? If it’s so important to lie, then what would I gain?

Dash flung a casual coil around his hip and leg. Except that it bound Harry and stopped him from walking, it felt a lot like a hug from Ron or Hermione. Harry looked down at him.

You gain people who would follow you, said Dash, leaning his jaw on Harry’s leg. Fight for you. Protect you. People who would help me, and make my life easier.

And that was what it was really about for him, Harry was certain, feeling the throb in his brain, down their bond. Dash didn’t care much about the human politics of Gryffindor and Slytherin Houses, except if it meant that some other student would try to attack Harry because of it. He didn’t care whether the human families like the Selwyns got told the truth.

He wanted Harry safe. And that was all there was to it.

Harry stroked his scales until he heard people waking up in the bedroom, because he didn’t know any other way to convey how grateful he was that someone cared about him like that. Just him. Just Harry.

Then he said, All right. We’ll try it.

Dash immediately squeezed him tighter for a second, then let him go and glided in front of him, saying, Yes, Lord Slytherin. We should get ready for your first public debut.

Harry rolled his eyes. 

*

Severus was ready when he saw Harry walk into the Great Hall and detour over to the Slytherin table. He was far from deaf, and the excited gossip in Slytherin last night had alerted him to Selwyn’s giving the allegiance ring to Harry.

Harry stopped in front of Draco to exchange nods, and then turned to Jackson Selwyn. Severus immediately and shamelessly cast the charm that would allow him to hear clearly from this distance.

“Jackson Selwyn, right?” Harry asked, with that stare which broke out in a smile a moment later. It was much more charming than he had ever realized, but this time, Severus thought he was doing it on purpose.

Selwyn stared, seemingly star-struck. Severus concealed a sigh. He thought only family tradition and the boy’s own pleas with the Hat had landed him in Slytherin. He had as much guile as a Crup.

“Y-yeah,” Selwyn said, and then he seemed to make an effort to smooth down his hair and sit up more, probably in imitation of his parents at dinner parties or negotiation efforts. “Yes, of course. I mean, I am.” He glanced slyly at Harry, and then added, “I’m honored you know my name, sir.”

Sir? Severus narrowed his eyes. Of course he knew what the giving of the allegiance ring meant and why it had happened, but he was surprised at the respect that flowed so freely from Selwyn. 

Other than the way Harry reached down to touch the basilisk’s neck in the way that always meant he wanted reassurance, there was nothing to show how rattled he was. “Yes. Well, I wanted you to know that I’ve decided to—” A brief hesitation. The basilisk would be feeding him the right words, Severus thought. “Acknowledge and honor your family’s allegiance. Keep faith with me, and I’ll keep faith with you.”

Severus raised his eyebrows. Those were not the words of the most ancient of allegiance vows, but they were close enough to it that he doubted they were coincidence. Yes, the basilisk would have learned them. Or perhaps Harry had got them from Draco.

Selwyn looked ready to die of the honor. “Of course, sir,” he burbled, and held out his hand to tap his fist against Harry’s. “An honor to serve you, sir.” He hesitated, then added, “What should I tell my parents?”

“That I’d like to meet them.”

Severus sat back, thrown. He had thought Harry would come up with some appropriate words about waiting for now. This was an unusually proactive step.

“Yes, sir,” and Selwyn looked almost ready to float off the floor. “When would you like to meet them?”

Harry pretended to ponder. Only because he had been so close to him during the summer, however, could Severus tell that it was pretending. Harry was standing a little stiffer than he did when he was simply thinking, and his hand kept up that self-comforting stroking of the basilisk’s scales.

“One must not be hasty,” Harry said, and it had probably been the basilisk’s advice that he use the pronoun One as well. “Perhaps in a week? That gives me some time to see who else will declare allegiance, and perhaps like to come to the meeting as well. And it should be at Sirius Black’s house in Hogsmeade.”

Severus frowned, baffled. Why would Harry wish to meet there, in front of Black, who would probably go mad when he found out that several Slytherin families thought Harry was Salazar Slytherin reincarnated?

“Yes, sir! Thank you, sir! I’ll owl them right away!” And Selwyn actually leaped up from the table and ran through the arched doorway of the Great Hall, at least in the direction of the Owlery.

Harry was frowning or smiling at Draco—one of the two—and rubbing the back of his neck as if it hurt him. That soothed some of Severus’s fears, a little. He had thought Harry might grow as arrogant as his father if he took the treatment of those Slytherin families to heart. Not that Severus thought Harry naturally arrogant any longer, but it was hard to resist the entreaties of those who seemed ready to worship you.

But no, Harry was still himself, uneasy with attention and almost unreasonably modest. He would be able to put up with the attention if he was working towards a larger goal, the way he had when revealing the truth about his abusive relatives. But he wouldn’t do something that was merely meant as a way to gain adoration for himself.

Severus still wished Harry had come to him before he made this appointment with the Selwyns, however. He might or might not know how to behave around them.

Harry looked up and caught his eye. Severus nodded once. He would like to speak with Harry, and soon. Luckily, from the nod Harry gave him back, he knew that, and he was able to go over and eat his breakfast without fuss.

“Planning something with Harry, Severus?”

Severus turned to Albus. Albus hadn’t spoken to him all summer about the extra lessons he was giving Harry, although Severus was sure he knew about the ones in wandless magic. Severus and Harry had more than once mentioned that before portraits. It was only Occlumency that it might be dangerous for the Headmaster to know about.

“Yes,” said Severus. “I want to let him know that some people are more dangerous than they appear.”

“Ah.” Albus’s glance traced the path that Jackson Selwyn had taken out of the Great Hall, and he gave Severus a smile of cordial approval. “I think you are very wise to want Harry to know about his future enemies, Severus.”

He thinks that Harry is converting me to the Gryffindor side, Severus decided, in carefully hidden amazement. Albus was capable of changing the direction of his plans based on a single unexpected expression on someone’s face. Severus had seen evidence of that before. Or at least to the side that thinks of Slytherins as evil.

Severus could use this, which was the reason he allowed himself no more than a thin smile before he turned to his own breakfast. And then he was allowed no more than a few bites of his poached eggs before a hand nearly slapped down in the middle of his plate.

Unluckily for the source of the disturbance, Severus still had instincts honed by years of conflict with the Marauders and then handling himself among Death Eaters. He had his wand out in less than a second, and had cast a spell that restrained the hand in midair, on a flexible, invisible shield. That spell, created in his fifth year, was one of the few reasons that he had achieved an Outstanding in Potions. Otherwise, James Potter and his friends would have ruined more than one draught.

“You were saying?” Severus murmured, turning his head and giving Moody a dazzling scowl.

Moody settled back and stared at him. Severus endured the gaze of that magical eye, though not easily. It was productive of unease, and Moody was a formidable Auror, one of the few who had interrogated Severus during the brief time he’d spent in Ministry custody after the war. But Severus knew the touch of another Legilimens too well to fear that Moody could actually see his thoughts.

“I was saying,” Moody finally grunted, “that you seem to be far too interested in Harry Potter for one of your…persuasion.” His eyes flickered to Severus’s left arm.

Once a suspicious bastard, always a suspicious bastard, Severus thought, but he inclined his head. “You will know that I intend him no harm by watching my behavior,” he said, and took a final bite of his eggs before he stood up.

Moody rose too, squinting his real eye at him. “You’ll be telling him the truth about your past?”

“I already have,” Severus said. It was the first time he had ever thought of revealing that awkward conversation with Harry to anyone else, but worth it for the way that both of Moody’s eyes widened. “And he still comes to my class and trusts me to treat him fairly.”

Fairly.” Moody almost barked, and actually managed to draw Sybil’s attention away from her morning glass of sherry. Severus glared at her, and she returned to it fast enough. “Heard all about the way you base your treatment of the boy on his father. A fine man, James Potter. Good fighter. You don’t care about the boy compared to the father.”

“I am certain that his father felt more affection for him, yes,” Severus said. “I understand that is in the nature of fathers.”

Not that I would know. But Severus had kept Tobias Snape a secret too long to reveal his existence now, even in the face of provocation. He received provocation more extreme from Albus and Minerva on a regular basis.

“You’re a deep one, Snape.” Moody moved up towards Severus, until Severus could smell a complex of ingredients on his breath. Severus frowned a little. There were several strange ones there, rare ones. Rosehips, which were not usual in most liquors or meads, and—

“But I’m watching you. Wanted to let you know.” Moody jabbed Severus in the chest with one finger, gave him a nasty chuckle that he seemed to assume would frighten him, and walked away.

Severus watched him go, then turned back and gave a look of indifference at Albus, who was also watching him. “And it is necessary that he teach here, Albus?”

“He has Auror experience, which will prove invaluable when he teaches these youngsters to face up to curses,” said Albus, and beamed at him. “And he is absolutely loyal to our cause.”

Severus knew what that meant. The cause of the Order of the Phoenix, rather than the Ministry. Not that Albus was about to name the Order in front of most of the professors.

“Very well,” said Severus, and audibly sniffed and moved away in the direction of his classroom. He could hope that he would find Harry lingering along the way, and could give him his opinion of a too-hasty meeting with Selwyn.

But he did not, and in fact, Harry nearly came in late to Potions. He panted into his seat a moment before Severus would have shut the classroom door on principle. Severus raised his eyebrows. Harry ducked his head and muttered something that sounded like a, “Sorry, sir.”

Severus then hoped he would be able to catch the boy after classes, but Harry scooted out the door the instant he gave Severus his vial. He had done nothing horrible during the class, though nothing remarkable, either, apparently making his potion his reason for existence.

Severus sighed. He hated to resort to owls or giving Harry detention, but he would do it rather than see Harry march into a meeting with the Selwyns unprepared. Harryneeded some advice.

That does not come from Black or Albus.

*

Blaise blinked as an owl dipped towards him at the lunch table. His mother wrote to him once a week on Thursdays, and had never varied her habit in the last three years unless he wrote to her first. And post usually arrived at breakfast, anyway.

Automatically casting the spell that would blur the letters of the words in the eyes of anyone trying to peer over his shoulder, Blaise slit the envelope. 

The writing inside was familiar. So familiar that Blaise almost tore up the letter before he remembered that no one else could read it, and so his secrets were safe. His breathing was still shallow as he did read, and he knew he was getting more than one curious glance.

Brat,

I was reading in the Prophet about that initiative to reveal the abuse among pure-bloods. The paper takes a distance to come, here. You’re not to say anything to anyone.

Otherwise, I might have to take a little jaunt back to Britain.

There was no signature. Of course, there didn’t have to be.

Blaise shook his head and gave a slight, contemptuous smile, as if the letter held news not worth discussing, then ripped it up. He hid his shaking hands underneath the table.

It had come. What Blaise was afraid might happen when he saw that reckless story of Potter’s in the papers, and more when he heard that Pansy had actually gone to Professor Snape and told stories about her father abusing her. The story had vanished into quietness after that, the way it should, but Blaise had still managed to hear that Pansy’s mother had taken Pansy and moved out of the house.

Blaise had no such recourse. Couldn’t Potter have left things alone instead of stirring them up? The families handled such things in their own way.

Or didn’t handle them.

Blaise swallowed. Potter’s thinking had infected him. It was no wonder that the one other person in the world who held a portion of Blaise’s secret might think there was a chance of Blaise agreeing with Potter and deciding to expose him.

Did he need to reply? After a moment, Blaise decided he did. There was too much chance that silence would be seen as defiance.

Blaise slipped away from lunch, an easy task when everyone else was listening enthralled to Draco bragging about his flame cobra. Blaise snorted a little. Draco hadn’t brought the snake to the Great Hall yet, the way he kept promising. Blaise thought this was little more than posturing on Draco’s part.

As he made for the Slytherin common room, Blaise’s thoughts were far away, and he didn’t notice the sound of light footsteps coming towards him until he slammed into the person making them. She gave a little “oof” and scrambled away from him, then stood up and bowed her head. “S-sorry,” she whispered.

Blaise glanced at her casually. Pale hair, sallow skin, an upturned nose: she was a Paxton. There was a first-year in Slytherin with that name, so it made sense for her to be down here. “Watch where you’re going,” he said coolly, not seeing the need to take more from a first-year than an apology.

“Y-yes, I will.” The first-year gave him a nervous little curtsey and turned away. She had a box in one hand that gleamed with the Paxton coat-of-arms on top of it, and Blaise was abruptly sure he knew what she was doing.

“Wait.”

Paxton stopped and glanced nervously back at him, and Blaise took a long step towards her. “Is that a family allegiance ring you’re giving to Potter?”

Paxton clutched the box closer. Did she think he would try to steal the ring? Well, Blaise could make allowance for the absurdities of first-years.

He wanted to take the information and not the ring, anyway.

“Y-yes.” Paxton’s head went up a little, probably because she thought she had the honor of her family to fight for this time. “My mother says that Salazar Slytherin’s prestige can protect us against the war to come.”

Blaise laughed harshly. He had thought that was the reason Selwyn had given Potter his family’s allegiance ring, but he hadn’t believed the delusion would spread to other families. Everyone knew the Selwyns had a bit of an inbreeding problem, like the Gaunts back in their day. “You’re a fool if you think that Harry Potter is Salazar Slytherin reincarnated.”

“But he has a basilisk,” Paxton began earnestly.

“That’s because he has a Parselmouth. Anyone who was could command one.” Blaise took another step towards her. “And, in fact, anyone could learn enough Parseltongue to control a snake. Did you know that Draco Malfoy has a flame cobra? He hasn’t learned enough Parseltongue to make it obey him all the time, but some of the time works. You could do the same thing. Anyone could. Harry Potter is not Slytherin.”

Paxton opened her mouth, then closed it again. Her hold on the box grew tighter.

“But then who’s going to protect us?” she whispered. “My mum says someone needs to protect us in the war.”

She also wouldn’t want you telling me that. But fuck if Blaise was going to reveal a secret so beneficial. He drew himself up. “My mother could.”

Paxton blinked at him. Blaise thought he would need to give an explanation of who his mother was, but then she gasped and said, “You’re Blaise Zabini.”

“Yes, I am,” said Blaise, and gave her a cold smile. “And you can think about what she’s done, including that duel with Scrimgeour a few years back.” 

Paxton stood there, trembling. Blaise added, as if generously, because he didn’t think he could prod her to go against her family’s decision right now, “Look, just hang onto the allegiance ring for a while, all right? Owl your mother back and ask her what she thinks you should do. Tell her what I told you about Parselmouths. Just try to make sure that you’re giving your allegiance to someone who can really protect you, not a fake.”

The reasons Paxton must have been placed in Slytherin came to the fore then. She nodded, her face tightening in suspicion. “Yes, I have to ask.” And she turned back to the common room.

Blaise closed his eyes in relief. That was one family who might never give their allegiance ring to Harry Potter, then.

And the less powerful Harry Potter was, the better it could be for Blaise.

Which didn’t get rid of the letter he still had to write. But every wave Blaise could prevent Potter from making was one more that wouldn’t splash on him.

Chapter Text

Dash coiled in a large pile in the sunlight next to the lake, and pretended that he didn’t feel the racing hum of Harry’s thoughts.

Tell me again why pretending to be Slytherin was such a great idea, Harry thought in a daze, sorting through the pile of letters he’d received in the past week. Over to one side was a pile of boxes holding allegiance rings. There were more empty ones, which according to Draco meant that the families were considering allying with Harry but wanted to wait and see what would happen first.

Dash finally raised his head and showed his fangs off in a yawn. It’s bringing more people into the nest to protect you.

Harry paused and looked at him. Nest? What are you on about?

It’s the best term I could think of. You don’t have a house where you’re safe or that you own. A nest is the only way to think of it. Dash wriggled closer to him and leaned his head against Harry’s ankle, yawning again as if to emphasize that this was his bed now and Harry had better not move. So they’ll be your nest.

Harry only shook his head. “It’s getting hard to keep up with it,” he whispered. That was the main reason he had avoided Snape so far, even though Snape seemed to be on the verge of assigning Harry detention just so he could ask him what was going on. It was too overwhelming.

And he was wary about Snape being disappointed with him. Snape probably would be, because Harry had been pretending to be Slytherin.

You can tell him that it was my idea, and my fault. Dash leaned his head over Harry’s shoulder now, wrapping him in a half-coiled hug. I don’t think he trusts me as much as you do, anyway.

No one trusts you as much as I do. Harry scratched behind Dash’s plume and was rewarded by the snake’s head trailing down his arm, Dash gone nearly limp with pleasure. Even when they should.

A function of being unable to communicate with me, perhaps. Dash’s yellow eyes smoldered behind his eyelids for a second, and then he uncoiled from Harry and moved towards the lake. But even I don’t understand what you meant by telling the Selwyns that you’ll meet them in Black’s house.

Harry smiled a little and turned back to the pile of letters in front of him. You don’t?

Dash hesitated once, his tongue flicking out as though to catch an elusive scent. Harry supposed the scents of emotions might be elusive. You mean it to be…a test?Dash sounded as if he wasn’t sure he believed him, even though Harry was letting Dash pick up his thoughts now.

Exactly, said Harry, and ran a knuckle down Dash’s head, which made him turn over on his back like a dog. Harry laughed. He knew Dash had only picked that up from imitating Sirius, and it wasn’t something he would have done on his own. I want to see if Sirius can actually treat the Selwyns politely, and if it’s my home, too, and I can hold meetings there.

Dash rolled back over and flicked his tongue out so that it touched Harry’s elbow. What happens if he fails those tests?

Harry stopped sorting letters for a minute, because he couldn’t make himself continue. Then he took a deep breath and went on. Well, that proves some things about Sirius are true that you’ve been trying to…convince me to believe.

Dash said nothing for a moment, his tongue still resting comfortingly against Harry’s elbow. Then he said abruptly, There’s at least one confrontation you can’t put off any longer.

Harry looked up. Snape was heading towards him across the grounds, his strides so sharp that they looked like he was hurting his feet. Harry winced and sat back, reaching for Dash. Dash wrapped himself around Harry’s shoulders and spine, but he was chuckling in the back of Harry’s mind.

I don’t think it’s that funny. Harry ducked his head so that his chin was resting on Dash’s scales, and wondered bitterly why Dash thought it was hilarious.

I just think it’s that predictable. You avoid him, and he comes and finds you. This time, Dash’s tongue brushed against Harry’s ear. And you were wondering if he would have any time for you during the school year.

Harry felt a complicated mixture of warmth and squirming embarrassment in his stomach, which didn’t make it much easier to face Snape when he halted in front of Harry and asked coolly, “And what have you been doing with the allegiance rings these families have been sending you?”

*

“Waiting to see if Sirius is really the guardian I thought he was, sir.”

Severus paused. He had thought for a long while that Harry, while he could manipulate, wasn’t conscious of it most of the time. He would employ defensive strategies out of fear of pain, or to get someone to leave him alone, or because he thought it would content an adult who might be on the verge of anger. 

This, though…the way Harry was ducking his head and looking up at him through his eyelashes, the way that he had one hand resting on but not stroking the basilisk’s scales, and that his first words were about Black…

Severus cast a few unobtrusive charms that would keep people from looking casually in their direction, and then bent down towards Harry and said, “Tell me what you mean.”

Harry swallowed, and Severus thought the words that came out next were true, although that might not keep them from being manipulative. “I didn’t know Jackson Selwyn would give me a family allegiance ring. I didn’t even know what it was at first. Draco had to explain it to me. But then I thought I could get some allies by pretending I was the reincarnation of Slytherin, which is what they all want to think anyway.”

Severus did not slap a hand over his eyes. This matter had already gone beyond that. He crouched down in front of Harry instead and whispered, “Why did you think you could pull off a lie?”

Harry gulped and spent a moment touching the basilisk on the back as though the snake was feeding him ideas. Perhaps he was. Severus, with his demanding gaze on the boy’s face, didn’t particularly care what Harry thought he was doing, only what he would do.

“Because they want to believe it,” Harry finally said. “And Dash wants help in protecting me. If some families swear allegiance to me, then he might get it.” He sat up. “And I meant what I said. I told them they could meet me at Sirius’s house because I wanted to see how he’d react to it. If he supports me, then that means that it’s my house, too.”

“He might not support you because he might see how mad you are acting.” Severus spoke with an informality that he knew caught the boy off-guard, from the way Harry stopped moving altogether. “Has your basilisk realized his ruse might place you in more danger than you currently are?”

Harry shook his head a little as though he assumed he would be able to come up with an answer, but in the end, he could say nothing more than, “I’m already in an awful lot of danger, sir. At least this way, I have more of a support.”

Severus closed his eyes. “What happens when they find out the truth?”

“Should they?” Severus glared at Harry again, who seemed to have found his inner Slytherin and only looked back. “The books Draco gave me said there isn’t a prophecy that says Salazar Slytherin will look a certain way. Or act a certain way. There’s just the Parseltongue, and him being bonded to a powerful snake, that distinguish him. It actually sounds like it could apply to Voldemort, too.”

Severus flinched hard enough at the name that his hands tore up grass and the basilisk flicked his tongue at him. Severus stabbed the snake with a glance. He had been used to think he was sensible. Now he did not.

“No,” Severus conceded. “It is not lacking certain memories or failing to perform certain actions that would expose you as a fake. You are simply too inexperienced a liar to fend off the inevitable suspicions.”

“Dash can help me. And I have to go through with this, sir. I already told the Selwyns that I would meet them at Sirius’s house.”

Sirius’s house, not home. Severus could see the sort of gaping emotional wound that might have driven the boy to try this sort of test at all.

It did not please him, however. “Then meet with the Selwyns and tell them that you were trying to gain political allies and resign their allegiance ring back to them,” Severus told him. “They will not spread the story for fear of embarrassment. You are not to do anything like this ever again.”

Harry squinted hard at him. Severus half-expected the basilisk to unfold with a hiss and come for him, if it had really been his idea, but he was silent, although his cocked head showed his eyes focused wholly on Severus.

“Why?” Harry finally asked. “If I can get some protection this way, then why?”

Severus took a deep breath.

Because you aren’t good at politics. Because you aren’t good at lying. Because there are too many people who will try to use you for their own purposes and you haven’t the slightest idea what they are or what they’ll want. Because you didn’t spend the last three years in Slytherin House and don’t know the kind of people you’ll make enemies of for doing something that would seem innocent to you. Because the basilisk isn’t a good adviser. Because you didn’t grow up in our world and don’t know what the Selwyns see as manners.

So many answers, he couldn’t get through them all. He ended by saying, “Because a lie that was successful for a while would ultimately endanger you more than apologizing and portraying this as a joke or whim that got out of hand.”

Harry opened his mouth to respond, but the basilisk hissed something in Parseltongue. A courtesy, Severus realized, as he tensed his muscles against an unfortunate response. He could simply have spoken silently into Harry’s head, and Severus wouldn’t have known they were having a conversation.

“Dash says that if I’m really going to be in a political crossfire, then I should learn how to play the politics want to play.” Harry’s eyes were wide, and for a few seconds he was obviously simply repeating the basilisk’s words, but then his voice firmed. “I chose to act a certain way when I told you about—the Dursleys. We played it a certain way.” He swallowed. “Why can’t I play this the same way?”

“You have too few allies,” Severus told him flatly. “I will not support this, and I doubt the Malfoys will. And you haven’t told Black about this test, have you?”

Harry looked at his feet. His voice was small. “I couldn’t tell him, not if it was going to be a test.”

That was undoubtedly true, but it didn’t make Severus less worried about how Black would react. “Tell him,” he said, standing. “If he refuses to have the Selwyns in yourhome, arrange to meet them at the gates.” He thought having Harry off Hogwarts grounds was not a wise idea.

“Okay,” said Harry in an even smaller voice.

Severus looked down at him and sighed. Harry must feel beaten in something he had thought he would manage, by the way his head was bowed. Severus hadn’t seen such discouragement since their early days of practice at wandless magic. Harry seemed more willing to accept defeats in Occlumency, since Severus had told him it would be difficult.

“I am doing this for your own safety,” said Severus. He had been about to say “your own good,” but Harry would have excellent reasons for being cautious around someone who said something like that. “I don’t think it would be a good idea for you to meet with the Selwyns more than once.” He eyed the pile of boxes off to the side. “Or all those other people who sent you allegiance rings.”

Harry nodded. “Okay.”

Severus studied him for a moment, wondering if that simple word hid disobedience, the way it would have with Draco. But Harry saw him looking, and he smiled a bit before sighing and leaning his hand on the basilisk’s back.

“I have to admit that I never knew how I was going to lie my way through it,” he whispered. “I’m not good enough at lying. And now that Dash knows what you think, he agrees with you.”

From the basilisk’s calm, shadowed glance, Severus was not sure that was true, but he was also sure that the basilisk would at least consider the possibility before involving Harry in another such game. He nodded. “Then go and tell Black that you need to use his house. Conduct your test. That you might at least do.”

Harry studied him for a second, then smiled a little. “You’re only saying that much because you hate Sirius, right, sir?”

Severus shook his head. His feelings for Black had been considerably complicated by the addition of Harry. The frustration that the mutt continued to place dead men before the child he was supposed to protect…

And yet, it would not have mattered to Severus once. It hadn’t mattered enough for years, despite his vow to Lily, for him to report Potter to McGonagall or give up the pleasure of disciplining him so that someone else might take the boy in hand and properly train him in the ways of keeping himself alive. Perhaps his grudge at Black as much as desire to help Harry had guided his permission to Harry.

“That’s all right,” said Harry, and he abruptly stood up and put one hand on Severus’s arm, to Severus’s utter astonishment. “I’m starting to understand that. I think it’s just the way Slytherins work.” He smiled a little. “If something can benefit you and other people at the same time, it doesn’t really matter why you do it.”

He moved off, while Severus stared after him. As had happened many times before, the basilisk was the one who watched him over Harry’s shoulder, turning only when Harry seemed to request his help to manage the floating packets of letters and boxes.

At least he will not pretend to be Salazar Slytherin, Severus told himself as he returned to the school. And his secret is the less dangerous for not having been enacted before I caught him. He should be safer now.

The notion of danger remained glittering in his mind anyway, but he told himself to put it aside, and move on. Harry had promised. That would be enough.

*

“So that’s the reason I invited the Selwyns here, you see.” Harry paused and looked up to see how Sirius was taking it.

Sirius was sitting there so shocked and silent that Harry thought he was going to crumple over in a minute. Dash said, He’s playing. He wants to ignore the traits you have that align you with Slytherin, and that’s all there is to it. Leave him alone to endure his confrontation with reality.

He looks sick, though, Harry snapped back, and stepped towards Sirius. “If it shocks you that badly, then I’ll just meet with them at Hogwarts,” he said. “I’m sorry, but I thought you should know.” He glanced at the clock on the wall. He had got permission from McGonagall to go home long enough to talk to Sirius, since it was Saturday, but she had told him to be back by lunch.

“You never said that you wanted to meet with Slytherins at all,” Sirius whispered. He tried to smile. “If I thought you were setting up some kind of prank on them, Harry, of course I would help you.”

Harry swallowed. “So it would be all right if I was planning something that might hurt or frighten them? But not something that might make allies or friends?”

Sirius stood up and began pacing around the room. Harry hated when he did that. It always made him feel dizzy and small. He knew that was probably partially because Uncle Vernon had done it when he was talking about how much money Harry had cost them and how worthless he was.

But he only knew that because Dash had told him so, and he didn’t really want to think about it. Sirius wasn’t Uncle Vernon.

You should tell him that it makes you feel unsafe, Dash hissed gently into his ear. Tell him to stop it. Tell him that it makes you feel uncomfortable, and you want to make this your home instead of just his.

It sounded so good when Dash said it, Harry thought miserably. But he couldn’t say it like that. It would just hurt Sirius, and he would twist Harry’s words around.

I could take control of your voice and talk to him about it.

Harry considered it, but in the end, he had to shake his head. He had done this in the first place because he wanted to see how Sirius would respond to him, not Dash, and if Sirius wouldn’t let him hold any meetings in this house because of “Slytherins,” then Harry had already failed. He found himself holding his breath as Sirius turned around again.

He is the one who’s failed if all he can think of is “Slytherins” whenever other adults are mentioned. Adults old enough to have a twelve-year-old child at school, no less. This was your test to give and his to fail, remember?

Harry couldn’t remember being more frightened in his life as he stood there, waiting for Sirius to say something. And Sirius was staring at him with lost and haunted eyes. Harry knew that no matter what, he would end up feeling that something was his fault. 

“Harry,” Sirius finally whispered. “You know that what I want is your comfort and happiness.”

That means no, Harry thought, dully.

“And I really think you need to keep away from Slytherins if you’re going to be comfortable and happy.” Sirius folded his arms and smiled. Harry thought it was supposed to be a happy or amused smile. It was a horrible one, though. “That means that you don’t need to bring adult Slytherins here or entertain them, either. If someone was going to do that, it would be me. But I don’t need to talk to them. I don’t need to speak to them.”

Something itched fiercely along Harry’s eyes, something that felt like tears, except he wouldn’t let it be. He was just going to nod and turn away and leave the house, but he felt Dash uncoiling from around him.

He knew that, this time, words wouldn’t be enough. Dash was going to bite Sirius unless Harry did something else, something that wouldn’t send to Sirius to sleep like the poison but might hurt him as much.

“You’re talking to one Slytherin all the time, though,” Harry said. His throat felt rusty. He just wanted to be on his broom, high above the school, far away from everyone. He looked Sirius in the eye. “You’re talking to Draco’s mum all the time, aren’t you? Why can you talk to her but I can’t talk to people who might ally with me?”

Sirius froze. His throat seemed to stop moving, which meant he wasn’t about to speak. Harry stood there and waited.

There was nothing, though, except the growing belief that Sirius wasn’t going to answer. Which meant Harry had something else to do. He had to leave and send an owl to the Selwyns. He had to think. He had to think a lot about whether he even wanted to come back to Hogsmeade for the holidays.

Well, of course he did. Sirius had legal guardianship of him, and if it wasn’t him, it would be the Dursleys. Sirius might confuse the hell out of Harry sometimes, but that was a lot better than locking him in the cupboard.

“Harry! Wait!”

Harry turned around, ignoring the hiss that Dash gave for him to walk out the door. It seemed Sirius had something important to say, from the way he knelt down in front of Harry and hugged him around the waist.

“You can do this here, if it’s really important to you,” Sirius said, in a rushed voice. “And I’m talking to Draco’s mum about something important I can’t reveal to you—yet. I promise that you’ll be the first to know, the instant I can tell you. The instant.” He paused and stared pleadingly at Harry.

Don’t trust him. He was the one who didn’t have an answer when you asked him a plain question.

Harry wanted to nod in response to Dash’s words, and he wanted to laugh, and he wanted to throw up. He ended up just whispering, “Okay.”

At least that was a word Sirius couldn’t take and twist around. Instead, he beamed, and started talking about how he would make sure the house was in good order and the food was cooked and he would sit off to one side and not say a word to the Selwyns.

Harry took a steadying breath. It was still better than it could be. He would remember that.

It’s far from as good as you deserve.

But you think I deserve everything, Harry said, and let a caress trail through Dash’s mind since he couldn’t move his arms with Sirius still hugging him. You should remember that not everyone agrees with you.

And you should remember that a basilisk is always right.

For the moment, Harry didn’t have any response to that. He was too glad Sirius had agreed to notice much of anything else.

*

Severus started to his feet as Harry stepped into the old classroom where he had told Harry, when he’d hesitantly asked, that of course they were still going to practice Occlumency and wandless magic. Harry’s face was stricken, and he stopped near the door and stared at Severus as if he had forgotten who he was.

“What is the matter?” Severus flicked his wand as he spoke, searching for a Confundus Charm and several other common means of making Harry look like that. No magic answered his search, however. Severus ended up moving one of the conjured chairs for Harry to collapse into.

“Where is the basilisk?” Severus added, when he turned around and realized that he wasn’t with Harry or slithering into the room right behind him. Perhaps he was fighting whoever had made Harry look this way. Severus strode towards the door, intending to find him and bring him right away. If he poisoned someone or gazed on them, the restrictions Dumbledore would impose on Harry—

But the basilisk slithered in then, and his high-pitched hissing sounded the most like laughter of any sound that Severus had heard him make. He looked at Harry and flicked his tongue out in a series of short snaps. Harry let his face collapse into his hands.

“Explain what is going on.”

Severus had enough soft force to his voice to make even seventh-year Slytherin pure-bloods pay attention. Harry responded in much the same way, lifting his head. “It didn’t work,” he said, in a flat voice.

“What did not?” Severus glared at the basilisk as he twined himself around the legs of Harry’s chair, wishing, not for the first time, that he spoke Parseltongue himself.

“I told the Selwyns that I wasn’t Salazar Slytherin reincarnated.” Harry took a deep breath. “That I’d made a mistake and been too enthusiastic about accepting their allegiance ring. I was sorry, but I couldn’t protect them, and I’d have to return it to them.”

“And?” Severus could think of no reason why that wouldn’t work. The Selwyns were haughty, but not unreasonable. They would understand the logic of a fourteen-year-old boy and his desire to look more important, the most coherent explanation for why Harry had accepted the ring in the first place.

“They didn’t believe me,” Harry whispered, looking down at the basilisk. “They said that because I had a basilisk with me, I must be Slytherin. No one else could control such a dangerous snake. And they’d heard I found him in the Chamber of Secrets. Who else could enter it?” He looked hopelessly at Severus.

Severus stood there, admitting that he didn’t know what to do, while the room was silent except for the basilisk’s soft hisses. Severus understood them now, without knowing Parseltongue. They were snickers.

“So what am I supposed to do?” Harry leaned back.

“You move forwards from here,” said Severus. “You keep their allegiance ring and don’t accuse them of lying. You politely fend off the others who’ve only sent you empty boxes as tests, and you tell the ones who sent you rings that you can only provide them limited protection. And you train harder than ever, so that no one can accuse you of lying, either.”

Severus watched the fire return to Harry’s eyes. He saw the basilisk peer at him around the chair, darting his tongue out in what was probably approval.

Severus glared back, since this was really the ruddy snake’s fault, but it was hard for a basilisk to look repentant, and Dash didn’t try.

I might as well grant him the ridiculous name, since he has proven to be ridiculous. 

Chapter Text

“Potter, stay after class.”

Moody’s voice was gruff. Then again, thought Harry as he got up, adjusted Dash around his shoulders, and walked to the front of the room, it was always gruff.

Sometimes Moody seemed to like Harry and would praise him for his spells; sometimes he ignored him for an entire class except to mock him for not getting his dueling posture exactly right. Harry wondered what Moody had to say to him today. Harry didn’t think his work had been that unusual.

Except in comparison to the other students, none of whom could do it for more than a second? Dash tickled Harry’s ear in a way that always made him jump. I’m proud of you.

You weren’t in my mind, helping me, were you? Harry asked a little suspiciously. Despite the fact that he and Dash had what was essentially a familiar bond, it wasn’t always easy for him to tell when Dash was influencing his magic.

No. I wanted to see what would happen if you had to face it on your own.

Harry lifted his head a little at that, proudly. He thought he’d done well, and he knew Dash wouldn’t have been praising him if he didn’t think it, too.

He came to a halt in front of Moody’s desk, and the man folded his fingers and looked at him. Harry tried to keep his eyes away from the dead spider next to Moody’s hand. He wanted to go and ask about Neville, who had gone so pale when he’d seen the Cruciatus Curse used. But he had to do this first.

“Professor?” Harry finally asked, when a full minute had passed and he’d started to think he wasn’t going to get the chance to talk to Neville. Not only that, he might be late to Transfiguration, and McGonagall was back to treating Harry pretty much like any other Gryffindor.

“Who taught you to resist the Imperius Curse?” Moody fired the questions the way Dudley used to fire stones. Moody always did that. Harry wondered why he blamed thestudents in the class for missing the questions or getting upset at them, when he did it that way. “What did it feel like? How many tries did it take for you to resist it when you practiced?”

“I never even heard of the Imperius Curse until today,” Harry snapped back. Moody was acting like Snape when he used to be unfair in Potions and accuse Harry of cheating. “I didn’t practice with it, and nobody taught me! And it felt like somebody else’s voice telling me that I had to do something. But I didn’t want to listen. So I didn’t.”

Moody raised his eyebrows. “That’s not the way most people describe their experience of the Imperius Curse, Potter,” he said, and he was almost accusing. “Didn’t you feel a pleasant sensation? It may have been like floating,” he added, while both of his eyes rolled back in his head. The magical one was a little more disturbing, though.

Harry hesitated, then shrugged. “There was a feeling like that at the beginning, Professor.” It hadn’t lasted long, though. Harry was always aware of where he was and the nasty voice urging him to do something. 

And the solid rock of his bond with Dash was there at the back of his mind, too, giving him a place to stand on and push against. But he didn’t think he’d mention that. Moody was already upset that Dash was in the classroom and seemed to think Dash would attack if somebody cursed Harry in a duel. 

Even though that already happened and Dash didn’t do anything, Harry thought, rebellious.

“It’s impossible for you to resist it without trying,” said Moody, and he almost barked the words, more like a dog than anyone Harry knew except Sirius. He drew his wand, then paused. “Unless…”

“I did try to resist it,” Harry said, his cautious eyes on Moody’s wand. But he wasn’t very afraid. For one thing, he was close enough to Moody that Dash could uncoil in a snap and take the wand away if he had to. “Professor?”

“I mean, first try,” said Moody, and now he seemed calmer. He stepped around the desk and looked at Harry from so close that Harry had to tilt his head back. “Have you ever seen a Veela, boy?”

“No,” said Harry slowly. He thought Lupin had mentioned them last year in Defense Against the Dark Arts, though. “They’re—sort of like bird-women, aren’t they, sir? Or they can turn into birds.”

“Sort of.” Moody looked amused again. “They’re also very good at charming people, mostly boys, to fall in love with them. If you’d seen one and been able to resist her charm, then I could know for sure whether you’d also resist the Imperius Curse out of natural talent.”

Harry shrugged. “My friend Ron said there were some Veela at the Quidditch World Cup, but I didn’t go to that.” Neither had Ron, although he had read all the details in the papers and recited them over and over again until Dash had complained that he was dreaming about Quidditch. 

Moody tapped his wand against his arm. “There has to be some way to test you,” he muttered, staring into Harry’s eyes so hard hairs prickled up and down Harry’s arms. “Some way…”

“What does it matter, sir?” Harry shook his head. “It’s a good thing I can resist the Imperius Curse, right? And if I ever meet a Veela, it’s probably good that I won’t start drooling about her, either.” Ron had said some people at the World Cup had done that, and even tried to fling themselves out of their seats to meet the Veela. Harry cringed at the thought of making a fool of himself like that.

Oh, I would bite you and send you to sleep before I let you do that, said Dash cheerfully.

Harry shook his head and looked up at Moody again. And that was when he thought he felt it. There was a fast, sharp flicker at what felt like the inner corner of his eyes. Harry squirmed and lifted a hand to rub them.

That was Legilimency, said Dash, confirming Harry’s guess. He started to unwind himself deliberately from around Harry’s legs and arms.

Harry tried to clutch at him and rub his eyes at the same time, and ended up tripping and falling to the floor. He heard Moody exclaim something that could have been a curse, and then he reached out a heavy hand, as Harry saw when he managed to blink and get his eyes open all the way.

“Didn’t mean to make you fall, boy,” Moody said. “You all right?”

You can’t bite him, Harry said to Dash. Dash had paused in his unwinding, maybe because Harry wasn’t hurt or Moody hadn’t tried Legilimency again, and at least seemed to be listening. I won’t let you. I’ll—I’ll sever our bond if you do that.

Dash gave a hiss that only Harry probably knew was a hiss of agony, from the way Moody jumped back and stared warily at him. But he coiled close to Harry again, and rested his head right under Harry’s chin. Nothing is worth losing you, he whispered, his voice drumming down the corridors of Harry’s mind. Nothing.

I didn’t really mean what I said, about severing the bond, Harry told him, and stroked his head. Sorry. I just really didn’t want you to bite him.

Dash said nothing, but he also didn’t let go and retreat somewhere to sulk, which was how Harry knew he was probably forgiven.

He licked his lips and turned to Moody. “Sorry, professor,” he said, and he knew he sounded a little shaky. “Dash just didn’t—didn’t understand what was going on.”

“That’s the way we’re going to phrase it, is it?” Moody sounded as though he was being thoughtful, maybe about to launch another attack on Harry. But when Harry looked up, Moody, although he was watching Harry closely, didn’t look ready to draw his wand. “All right, boy. Go on your way. You’ll be late.”

I already thought that, Harry wanted to protest, but he knew there was little point in arguing with a professor like this. He turned and hurried out, winding his way through the corridors in search of Neville.

But it seemed everyone else had already gone on their way to Transfiguration, and Harry sneaked in just as the door was about to close. McGonagall gave him a stern frown, but didn’t start scolding. She never did unless someone had actually done something wrong. She went up to the front of the room and started showing them how they were going to change a wooden shoe into a leather one.

More useful than some of the strange things you have learned in this class.

Harry wanted to shout out loud with joy that Dash was talking to him again, but since they were in the middle of class, he didn’t. He just stroked Dash hard with one hand and muttered, Are you okay?

Yes. I am thinking about what you said.

Harry waited, but Dash didn’t elaborate on that, and Harry knew he probably wouldn’t get to hear more about it, not right now. He hid his sigh and turned to focus on the shoe in front of him. He thought about how nice it would be to have shoes of his own that he could make, that Sirius didn’t have to buy for him or have opinions about him spending money on, and then he waved his wand as fiercely as he could and spoke the incantation.

The shoe didn’t turn all the way from wood, but now the toe was leather and there was mottling on the side that looked sort of like the mottling on Dash’s scales. McGonagall, passing by, paused, then gave a nod and said, “Concentration does wonders for your skill, Potter.”

“Yes, professor,” Harry said, knowing it was as close to an open reference to his “crimes” as McGonagall was going to come, and sat respectfully still until she passed on to another student. Then he stroked Dash’s back.

A second later, Dash’s tongue tickled his hand.

Harry relaxed completely for what felt like the first time all morning, and wondered how soon he could get to Snape to tell him that Moody had tried to use Legilimency on him.

*

Draco had a secret. Or, at least, knowledge that he suspected Harry wouldn’t want him to have, and neither would Professor Moody. 

But he hesitated over what to do with the knowledge. He could confront Harry about it. He could try talking to Professor Snape, who he thought would at least be interested in news about Harry but might frown on the method by which he’d obtained it.

Or he could owl to his father.

Draco had nodded as he thought about it. He had gone to catch Harry as he was coming out of Defense, and then heard the low-voiced conversation between Harry and Professor Moody, and stood outside the door in helpless enthrallment while he listened. Harry would probably overlook that, but Draco didn’t think Moody would.

Moody was…Draco wouldn’t say he was unfriendly, but he did have the impression that Moody didn’t like Slytherins. He listened to them with this air that was uncomfortable to Draco, and never paid as much attention to their answers as he did to the other Houses’. And he took off points from Slytherin in a flash.

Maybe that wasn’t strange when Moody was an Auror, but Draco had received a letter from his father a fortnight ago saying that Moody didn’t tend to favor any one House. He’d made sure no one he worked with on a regular basis actually knew which House he belonged to. So it would have been out of character for him to attack Slytherin in case someone decided he’d belonged to Gryffindor.

Until now, Draco thought, his feet pounding up the steps to the Owlery, he’d held back from writing to his father. A stray impression here and there wasn’t worth a letter. But this was.

And his father would let him know what he should do. Talk to Professor Snape? Encourage Harry to stand up to Moody more? Moody hadn’t been able to make Harry get rid of Dash. So Harry might be able to get away with more than other people because of Dash and his fame.

Draco came out into the Owlery, looking around for a regular owl, since his own was with his parents. And then he stopped and stared when he saw Harry there, tying on something to Hedwig’s leg.

“Harry?”

Dash, coiled on the floor, had only lifted his head and examined Draco sleepily before curling up again, but he must not have told Harry Draco was there. Harry leaped and cursed in a way that made Draco’s eyes widen in respect. He wondered if Harry had learned that from Black.

“Oh, Draco. Hi.” Harry sighed a little, and finished tying on the parchment. “Take that to Professor Snape, girl,” he told Hedwig.

The snowy owl glanced at Draco, tweaked Harry’s hair, and sailed out the window. Draco shook his head and went to coax a regular barn owl down to his hand.

“Why do you have to write to him? You’ll see him tomorrow in class, and I know that he might want to meet privately with you before then.”

“No time for a private meeting today,” Harry said. He held out his arm, and Dash coiled up it and around his body. If Harry scolded him for not letting Harry know Draco was there, Draco certainly couldn’t hear it. “Hermione has a study session organized that would be difficult for me to slip away from. And I can’t wait until tomorrow.”

“Is it about Professor Moody, then?” Draco thought he made his voice very suave and uninterested as he sent the letter out the window.

But Harry turned around with a stricken look, and Draco winced. He’d never had a friend who he had to be so careful with. Blaise could give as good as he got, and Vince and Greg just didn’t understand if Draco was making fun of them most of the time.

“I was eavesdropping outside,” Draco said, hoping that the casual way he spoke would make Harry feel better. He certainly hadn’t meant to embarrass Harry or keep him from trusting Draco. It would be awful if he started feeling that way, and the mere thought made Draco tense up.

“How did you even know I was still there?” Harry’s cheeks were as bright as some of the owls’ eyes, but he sounded calmer. He started walking towards the door from the Owlery, and Draco followed him. “And why didn’t Dash tell me you were there?”

“Ask him that,” said Draco. He hadn’t thought to wonder about that, but now that he thought about it, maybe Dash had kept quite because he and Harry were having an argument. “Maybe he was too busy to start sniffing for intruders.”

Harry probably did ask Dash, from the way he turned his head, but probably didn’t end up getting a satisfactory answer, because he only sighed and turned back around. “Well. It—doesn’t matter. Better you than a lot of people who could have heard that.”

“What made you fall to the floor?” Draco had been able to hear Moody say that, but not able to see around the edge of the door.

Harry clenched his fists and kept walking without answering. Draco only waited. He wasn’t Harry’s friend for nothing, and he knew Harry didn’t really want to keep secrets or hide things most of the time. He only did it because he was embarrassed or wanted to keep people safe.

And he can’t be embarrassed if it’s because of something Moody did. Moody’s a lot older and more experienced than he is.

“I don’t know if I should tell you,” Harry finally muttered.

Draco rolled his eyes and started to say something about people who let embarrassment control their actions, but Harry went on, “Snape said I wasn’t to let anyone know, and there’s no way I could explain recognizing this otherwise.”

“Recognizing what?” Draco almost wanted to hop from foot to foot in frustration. He would have if he hadn’t been a Malfoy, he thought, and therefore skilled at recognizing what someone wanted him to do and doing the opposite. He made himself take a breath and release it slowly, and went on, “Come on, Harry. You can trust me. Right? I haven’t done anything to make you think that you can’t trust me.”

He stopped there, because his voice was beginning to sound whiny and he didn’t want it to. Harry turned to the side and surveyed him, then nodded.

“I believe you wouldn’t betray me,” he said. “On purpose. But you need to keep your eyes away from Dumbledore and Moody, okay? Because they can practice it, too. Don’t look directly at them.”

Draco stopped walking in shock this time. “Are you talking about Legilimency?”

“See there? You didn’t need me to tell you. You figured it out on your own.” Harry smiled, but he looked worried, the lines of skin around his eyes tighter than Draco had ever seen them. He looked off to the side and touched Dash’s neck again, shaking his head, maybe at something Dash had said.

“Professor Snape is teaching you Legilimency?” It made sense now that Harry had said he wasn’t supposed to be able to recognize it. But then something else caught up with Draco’s wonder, and made him even more indignant than the fact that Moody must have tried to read Harry’s mind. “You didn’t tell me!

Harry glanced at him. “Well, Snape said I wasn’t supposed to.”

Draco managed to calm down, mostly by telling himself they were passing through areas of the school where someone else might overhear him and get upset now. “Well, you should have. I want to learn it, too.”

Harry shrugged a little, which made Dash drop down to the floor and flow ahead of them. They probably had had an argument, Draco thought as he watched Dash go. He was a little surprised about how worried that made him.

“He isn’t really teaching me Legilimency, anyway,” said Harry. “He’s teaching me Occlumency. He’s more worried about someone reading my mind than he is about me being able to read other people’s.”

“You’re still lucky,” said Draco. And he thought Harry was, a lucky thing who hadn’t done enough to share his good fortune around. “You could have invited me to the lessons when they started.”

“Without asking Professor Snape?”

Harry sounded so scandalized that Draco had to smile. “Now you’re talking like he’s your Head of House,” he teased, turning backwards so he could see Harry clearly as he walked down the stairs.

“Well, he could have been.” Harry was looking off to the side in that uncomfortable way that meant he didn’t want to discuss it anymore. “Let it go, Draco,” he added, when Draco was opening his mouth to say something else. “Come on. We’ve got to get down before all of dinner was gone.” He paused and studied Draco. “What were you writing to your father about, anyway?”

“Overhearing the conversation and wondering what I should do about Moody.”

Harry blinked at him. “Why would you need to do anything about him? For that matter, why would your father?”

“If he’s mistreating someone we’ve allied with,” Draco explained patiently, wondering why Harry didn’t already understand this, “then we have to do something. And the same thing with the Selwyns. They would have to do something, too. Regular professor-student interaction is one thing, but it sounds like Moody was trying to go beyond that.”

Harry shook his head like something was stinging him. “But Professor Snape probably reads people’s minds a lot. I mean, I can’t imagine that he never does it. And he probably used it in the past when I didn’t know he was doing it to figure out I was lying.”

“That’s different,” said Draco.

“Why?”

Draco found himself adrift in a sea he’d never expected to have to cross. He said, “Because it is. I mean, Professor Snape has been a professor for a long time, and for the most despised House in the school. He had to use Legilimency sometimes to protect people.”

Harry snorted a little. “And to figure out where I was wandering during the night?”

“Until last year, you might have been trying to get Slytherins in trouble!”

Harry shook his head once. “I don’t want to tell anyone else about this, Draco. Professor Snape has to know, and I suppose your father has to, now that you’ve sent off the letter,” Harry added, with pretty bad grace. “But no one else does. Right?”

About to argue, Draco found himself on the other side of an unexpectedly powerful glare. He finally sighed and closed his mouth. “Yes,” he said, when he thought Harry would let him speak. “All right. I just worry about you, you know.”

Harry’s face softened. “And I value that, Draco. But I don’t think Moody is going to do anything else to hurt me. He has to know I’m on my guard.” He looked up the corridor, and frowned suddenly. “And I’d better make sure that I can find Dash before Dumbledore starts getting upset because he’s not with me.”

He hurried off before Draco could ask if he’d thought about why Moody had wanted to hurt him in the first place.

*

“What’s the matter, sir? You look upset.”

Severus glanced up. This would, of course, be the moment when Harry came in for their lesson. And he couldn’t even blame Harry for that, because it was the time he had told Harry to show up.

“I’m not upset with you,” said Severus. It was the thing he had to say most often, or Harry would make the inference himself and become sullen and withdrawn. “I am…disappointed as a result of the meeting I had with Dumbledore. I went to him and told him that I hadn’t known Moody was a Legilimens, and that I hoped he would have informed me.”

“Oh.” Harry sat down on the chair he usually took with Dash at his feet, although every few seconds the basilisk’s tongue darted out as if scenting for prey. “And what did he say?”

“That it wasn’t in the nature of my position to be informed about every new professor’s talents,” said Severus. “And that he was pleased to note I had been quick to see that Professor Moody might be competition for me, and what it said about my work ethic.”

“Oh.”

Severus thought back over the conversation he’d had with Albus again, frowning. Of course he had expected an unsatisfying conclusion, with him and Albus as divided on the issue of Harry and Black as they were, but this had been more than that. Albus had seemed concerned until Severus had divulged which professor was reading students’ minds. Then he’d laughed and said that yes, dear Alastor was a Legilimens, but he hadn’t known Severus would regret not being informed of that.

Then he’d made a few light-hearted remarks about Gryffindors and Slytherins of the type Severus believed he was always thinking, but which he rarely expressed aloud, and sent Severus on his way.

It didn’t satisfy Severus at all. But until he could name why, he would remain unsatisfied. And it wasn’t as though he had political allies, like Harry did, or even allies inside the school he could bounce conclusions off. McGonagall was rather too admiring of Alastor for being a “good” professor, and Severus was close to no one else on the staff.

It came as a sudden shock to realize that he might need to change that, and not for his sake. He looked at Harry.

“Professor?”

“We are going to have another sort of lesson than Occlumency today,” Severus said. “Or in addition.” If Moody could read minds and was unscrupulous enough to try, then Severus would strengthen and quicken Harry’s Occlumency training. “It’s time that you understood more about politics.”

Chapter Text

“One thing you must understand is that the Dark Lord offered the pure-blood families who followed him a promise of influence. That is what they will expect from you.”

Harry sat back and felt things shifting inside his head. He almost expected Dash to fool around the way he had when Harry was having trouble concentrating on wandless magic, but he didn’t. Dash was curled up at Harry’s feet, intently watching Snape. His tongue darted out now and then, but otherwise, he might have been a sculpture of a snake.

“I don’t see how I can, though,” Harry said, since Snape had paused like he expected Harry to answer. “I mean, yeah, I have people who will do what I say since I’m the Boy-Who-Lived, but these families aren’t among them, right? Or they would already feel they were allies to me.”

Snape smiled a little, thinly. “Exactly. They might feel compelled to go along with any demands made of them by powerful people who are already your—fans, but it would be compulsion, and you want them following you freely.”

Harry sighed and massaged his forehead. It seemed all too complicated and backwards to him. 

He thought of the things he had wanted. Food. Friends. Parents. Escape from the Dursleys. A school with teachers who didn’t think he was stupid. Magic, once he found out about it. Safety from Voldemort. Ginny to stay alive, in second year. For the school to stop rejecting him for being a Parselmouth. Dash to stay safe and with him in third year.

All of those were…things he had to either find or not find, or other people had to give him. Harry didn’t see how he could ever give “influence” to someone else. 

Oh, he would have been glad enough to trade his fame and power to someone else. Maybe someone else could put on the scar and look like the Boy-Who-Lived for long enough to give Harry some peace. But he didn’t know any spell that could do that, and he thought Snape or Dumbledore would have told him by now if there was one.

“What can I do?” Harry finally asked. Snape wouldn’t be telling him if there was no solution, he thought. He would probably have offered to negotiate with the Selwyns himself or something, and tell them that they would never get what they wanted out of Harry.

Snape bent forwards. “You remember that you’ve used your influence twice already. Once to familiarize the public with the concept of you having a basilisk and get them used to thinking of—Dash as something ordinary. Once to acquaint the public with the fact of your abuse.”

Harry still felt like someone was smearing poop in his face when he heard that word, but he nodded. “But that wasn’t to help pure-blood families. I don’t think they’ll be impressed with it.”

Snape put his chin on his fist. “The Selwyns own a business that imports wood. Much of it goes for magical purposes, such as wands or Ministry Potions ingredients. But they have competition. What would happen if you endorsed that business?”

Harry blinked. Then he blinked again. Then he said, “But I don’t even know if my wand is made of wood they imported.”

Snape sighed. Harry bore it better this time. It had taken him a while to realize that Snape wasn’t like Uncle Vernon every time he did that, or even Sirius.

“You don’t need to say that,” said Snape. “In fact, it’s better not to make direct statements, in case someone tries to sue you later or claim that you lied. But if you offered the Selwyns the promotion of their business in an article…”

“How, though?” Harry honestly couldn’t see any way he could do that. “If I just told the papers I wanted to talk them about magical wood the way I did about Dash, everyone would know something was up.”

“Ah,” said Snape, and he was breathing the words the way he did when he was particularly interested in something. Harry had only heard it before when he was talking about potions. “You allow it to be known that your shopping choices are important to you and link it to an ethical cause. For example, talking about illegal importation, or the use of banned ingredients such as unicorn blood.”

“People kill unicorns to use their blood in potions?” Harry whispered. His mind was filled with the motionless body of the unicorn in the Forbidden Forest that Voldemort had been drinking from as if it was yesterday. Dash hissed soothingly and leaned against him.

“They do.” Snape looked at him for a moment, and then nodded. “I think you’ve found the cause that you want to talk about.”

“Yes,” Harry muttered. He was thinking about the way the Quibbler had just wanted to ask him questions about magical creatures. That would probably be a good place to start.

Dash rose and wound around his legs, leaning his head into Harry’s lap. I think you’ll be much, much better at this than you think. 

*

Draco made sure that he’d cast all the necessary charms on his bed-curtains to seal them in place. The last thing he wanted was someone to spy through them while he was reading his father’s letter.

His father’s very important letter. The one in reply to the one Draco had sent him about the way Moody had made Harry fall on the floor.

Draco opened it carefully and began to read the letter through. He knew he’d probably need to read it more than once to catch all the nuances.

My son,

Alastor Moody has been an Auror of high reputation for some years. He was one of the most active in capturing and interrogating Death Eaters during the first war, and he would not have been hired to teach at the school if Dumbledore did not trust him.

The Board of Governors approved the hiring choice.

Moody is not a known Legilimens. On the other hand, there is not even a whisper that he is a follower of the Dark Lord.

It would make sense to draw certain conclusions from these facts. Some of them might be detrimental to Mr. Potter’s safety. Some of them might be things that you should look into.

Be assured that I will be making inquiries about Moody.

Your father.

Draco sat back and stared at the letter, shaking his head. He had hoped for more support from his father. Actually caring about Harry’s safety, for one thing. And telling Draco outright what suspicions he had about Moody, if he was suspicious.

Then Draco sighed. He might have hoped for more, but that didn’t mean he was going to get it. His father was as cautious as ever. He didn’t write or talk about his experiences during the first war, Draco knew, because of his arrest at the end of it and the way he had been under the Imperius Curse during it.

Or claimed to be under the Imperius Curse. Draco was getting a headache.

Likewise, his father wasn’t going to put certain things into a letter that someone else might read, even if it was by abducting the owl or breaking into Draco’s trunk or wherever he stored the letter. Draco couldn’t write anything he wanted, either. If Moody came to know about this, and he didn’t mean Harry any harm, and he made enough noise about it, old scandals about the Malfoy family might get dragged up again. Or the Board of Governors—which was hardly tolerating his father as it was, according to him—might decide that Mr. Malfoy no longer deserved a position on it.

Draco shook his head and concentrated on those aspects of the letter he could do something about. So Moody might not be a follower of the Dark Lord, but he wasn’t a Legilimens, either. What did those things suggest? Draco turned the conclusions around in his mind for a bit before he sat up.

Maybe someone else could be pretending to be him. Maybe he’s using an illusion, or Polyjuice Potion!

Draco wriggled with some excitement, and then studied the letter again. That had to be what his father suspected. But Draco didn’t understand why he hadn’t whispered in the right ears. They didn’t have to be the ears of the Board of Governors. Why didn’t his father tell Professor Snape?

Because Professor Snape was in the school and so was Draco, of course. Draco could tell him more easily. And it was a test for Draco, probably, to see if he could figure out the truth from the scant clues Father had offered in his letter.

So all he had to do was tell Professor Snape, and the danger to Harry would be over.

But Draco hesitated when he thought about that. He knew Professor Snape hadn’t had much luck in talking to Dumbledore about anything, including Sirius Black and the way he was treating Harry. So why should he listen if Professor Snape came up with a random accusation against someone he’d hired?

And the Board of Governors probably wouldn’t listen, either, for the same reason that his father hadn’t gone to them.

Someone would need some kind of proof to do something about this. Proof that Draco already thought he’d have to provide. 

He sat up. So he would. He had understood his father’s hidden message. He knew exactly what could be done about it. And he could reveal it in a public place where “Moody” wouldn’t be able to hide or deny who he really was.

That would get Draco some credit, too. There was a little envious ache in his heart when he thought about his father and Professor Snape helping Harry all last year and Draco not being able to help at all. If he exposed Professor Moody as a fake, then people would have to pay attention to him.

He would need a distraction, though.

Draco leaned over the side of the bed and called, “Come,” to Conflagration in Parseltongue, smiling as he unwound from under the bed. This was going to be rather fun. If he managed to disrupt the hold that the Polyjuice had over Moody, or the illusion, then everyone would need to pay attention to him.

And there might be an admiring stare from Harry, too. 

Draco didn’t want to really admit how much part that motivation played in his actions as he started making clear what he wanted Conflagration to do, but then, he was only admitting it in his head, anyway. No one else ever had to know.

*

Blaise didn’t like to think much about politics. It was the sort of thing that his mother would handle until he was in his sixth year and had some OWL marks to make a reputation for himself, anyway. But he didn’t ignore the political articles in the papers, and he had paid more attention since people had started to come to him for advice on sending allegiance rings to Potter.

It paid to be known as the voice of reason who had to be talked to and talked to before he would “reluctantly” give his opinion.

But it was difficult to ignore politics when they came to you, the way they did when screams broke out in the Great Hall during lunch. Blaise glanced up from his food and then froze, staring.

Draco’s flame cobra was slithering straight towards Professor Moody, hissing. The fire dancing up and down on his hood was hot enough that Blaise could feel a hint of singeing from here.

Draco ran after the cobra shouting, “Conflagration! Come back! Stop! What did Professor Moody ever do to you?”

Blaise narrowed his eyes. He’d heard Draco practicing Parseltongue words on the snake in the dead of night when he thought everyone else was asleep. That didn’t mean it would be good Parseltongue, but he ought to be able to command the cobra better than this.

Which meant something else was going on here.

The flame cobra coiled up at Moody’s feet and raised his head and hissed again. Moody stood there staring down the snake. Blaise would have expected some laughter by now, or a spell that threw Conflagration back into Draco. Instead, though, Moody seemed to be thinking of something else.

Not frightened. Not impressed. Only outside it and waiting for someone to prove why he should care about this. Blaise nodded slowly. Honestly, that was the way he wanted to be. Maybe he should spend more time studying Moody.

Draco bellowed out a spell Blaise didn’t recognize, except the last part of the incantation was “Fluctuatio!” It was probably supposed to snatch Conflagration up and send him flying back to Draco the way Blaise thought Moody should have done.

It didn’t do that, though. There was a small whirlwind of blue sparks from Draco’s wand, and they all blew straight at Moody’s face, the sound they were making even louder than the screams in the hall from a cobra being loose. They hit Moody’s face and robes and played over them like a tiny flickering storm. Blaise blinked and leaned forwards again. They looked like a spell his mother had showed him that could tear down some illusions.

Is Professor Moody under an illusion?

Moody finally lifted his wand and swatted it gently at the sparks, muttering under his breath. They dissipated, and Moody stood there, looking exactly as he had always done, but making a long stride forwards to face Draco.

Well, no, maybe not exactly the same. Blaise thought his magical eye was dulled a little. But he thought that was adequately explained by the next, slowly-building roar.

“So you’re the sort of Slytherin who goes around attacking professors, eh?” Moody circled to the side and examined Draco, who was standing in terrified silence, with both eyes at once. “Throwing sparks into their faces that could affect the sight in a magical eye, are you? One of my enemies who wants to blind me?”

Draco had gone pale, but he was standing still and not turning around even when Moody circled behind him. He had gathered up Conflagration again and draped him around his shoulders.

“No, professor,” he said. Blaise listened, but couldn’t hear any hint of a tremor in his voice. “I just—I just was trying to get Conflagration to come back to me, and I mixed it up with the sort of spell that would have produced sparks. They have similar last words, you know. Sorry.”

“You could have used a Summoning Charm.” Moody’s voice was low and rage-filled, and the screams had all died down. Blaise suspected that listening to Moody was more important to people at the moment than screaming their little hearts out over a snake. “I think you learned that recently in Charms, didn’t you?”

Draco widened his eyes. In a few years, he’s going to be really good at manipulating people, Blaise thought with the part of himself that always noticed things like that, after the early…education he’d had. “I didn’t think of that, professor. I’m really sorry.”

“I think you do need a lesson,” said Moody, and flicked his wand. Blaise sat up, staring. That flick was familiar. But he didn’t know why. It wasn’t like he knew the spell that Moody was using.

The spell that turned Draco, a second later, into a small, squeaking, flailing mouse, and set him down on the floor in front of his snake.

Conflagration turned his head. His flames had died, but Blaise could see in his tense, quivering body how ready he was to pounce on the mouse and eat it. He slithered what would have been a human step forwards. His head was pointed straight at Draco.

A-Alastor! What are you doing?”

That was McGonagall, and she was running down the middle of the Great Hall with her wand waving. From the way Conflagration was coiling up, though, Blaise didn’t think she was going to get there before the snake ate Draco.

Someone should use a Summoning Charm. But that person wasn’t Blaise, who hadn’t got it right yet.

Ssshanfaffa!

Blaise snapped his head around at the Parseltongue, and saw the flame cobra stop dead at the same moment. Potter was walking into the room, the basilisk dropping to the floor and unfolding like a long wave.

Blaise cursed under his breath. He had forgotten how bloody big that basilisk was. At least ten feet now, his head snapping down and his tail covering the distance to curl around the cobra and hold him motionless. 

Any actions Blaise took against Potter would have to take the bloody basilisk into consideration.

McGonagall had reached Moody by then, and she was speaking breathlessly but so fast that Potter couldn’t get a word in edgewise, though from his face he would have liked to. “Alastor! You cannot go around Transfiguring students and nearly getting them eaten by their pets!” She waved her wand, and the mouse flew into the air and began changing back into Draco. McGonagall took a step up to him the minute he was human again, and put her hand on his shoulder. “Are you all right, Mr. Malfoy?”

Blaise stirred restlessly. Sometimes he wished that McGonagall could be the Slytherin Head of House. She didn’t give people that cool judging gaze the way Snape did, and she treated everyone pretty impartially except when it came to Quidditch.

“I feel like I’m going to vomit,” Draco whispered.

“Yes, that’s standard after violent human Transfiguration,” said McGonagall, and gave Moody a glare that promised him no good. “Mr. Potter, if you would escort Mr. Malfoy to the hospital wing?”

Potter twitched. The basilisk did the same thing, at the same time. He had probably wanted to set the basilisk on Professor Moody, Blaise thought, and shuddered a little. He hoped that he never accidentally pissed Potter off. It was a horror waiting to happen.

Now, Mr. Potter? And do take his snake with you.”

Potter gave a choppy nod and then turned to Draco and said something. Draco nodded back. The two of them walked to the door with Potter yapping something at Draco and the basilisk and the cobra following them.

Blaise turned back to Moody. His magical eye looked normal again, although he was grimacing as he wiped at his mouth. He’d apparently taken a drink from his flask. Blaise wondered why someone would carry a healing draught around that tasted so awful, and then snorted a little. It was probably so he couldn’t be easily poisoned, or something like that.

“I have never seen such outrageous behavior from a professor,” McGonagall began, and then seemed to realize how many people were watching her raptly. She flushed and led Moody out of the Great Hall. Blaise slumped back in disappointment. He did see the Weasley twins nod to each other and then stroll casually in the direction of the door. Idly, he thought about sitting near some Gryffindors in the library the next day to see if he could overhear their gossip.

“Oh, poor Draco!”

That was Astoria Greengrass, tears standing in her eyes. She’d always had a bit of a crush on Draco, Blaise thought. Her remark was setting the tone of conversation around the table, too. 

Blaise didn’t want to listen to yet more bitter remarks about how unfair the professors (other than Snape and McGonagall) were to Slytherins. He knew that already. He wanted to think about the whole attack, about what Draco had thought he was doing, and how Moody’s magical eye had looked after the sparks had flown into it. 

And he wanted to think, too, about how bloody terrifying that sodding basilisk was. 

And wonder if there wasn’t something he could do about it.

*

“You are going to keep him on.” 

Severus made the words flat. That disguised how much he wanted to explode.

“Of course I am.” Albus folded his hands in front of himself and gave Severus a patient smile. “The Board of Governors has already discussed this incident and agreed that Professor Moody was provoked. Given his history of trauma related to battle violence, his reaction was understandable. And young Mr. Malfoy wasn’t hurt.”

Severus started to open his mouth, and then closed it again. The Board of Governors wasn’t objecting? After the hell that Lucius must have raised among them?

That argued that either the Board of Governors didn’t care at all about Draco—which Severus did not believe given how Lucius had managed to influence them into bending the rules for Draco’s snake—or something else was going on. Perhaps Lucius husbanding his advantage for the moment, to raise the outrage later, when it would be connected to another cause and could do him more good.

No, certainly Lucius waiting to spend that advantage until later. And Draco will be avenged.

Given that, Severus suspected that pursuing the Board of Governors route would do no good. But he had to put up at least enough of a show that Albus didn’t suspect what Lucius was doing.

“If he had Transfigured a Gryffindor student, would you be saying that?” Severus asked smoothly. “For example, if it was Mr. Potter? Or would it take a complaint from Black before you took it seriously?”

Albus just frowned at him. “I sincerely doubt that Mr. Potter would do anything like that in the first place, Severus.”

There it is. Albus had called Harry “Mr. Potter” in the last few conversations Severus had had with him. The habit had never been frequent with him before, since he had always used Harry’s first name in the apparent attempt to push them together. 

Something was different about Albus. Changed.

And Severus was going to find out what.

“Severus? What’s wrong, m’dear boy?”

It would never do to reveal his suspicions too early, either. Severus shook his head roughly and stood. “I’m sorry, Albus. But it does suggest to me that you don’t care as much about Slytherin students as about others.”

That led into a more familiar series of comforting, empty noises about how of course Albus didn’t mean that, and he valued Slytherin students as much as any others, and so on. Severus heard him out, nodding, and escaped the office as soon as he could.

He had his own research to do, and one potion in particular that he wished to prepare.

And Harry’s lessons to step up.

*

That was enough. There were lots of things that made Malfoy wrong, but this was more wrong. A professor should never have done that to a student.

Hermione raised her chin and marched into the hospital wing. Harry was sitting next to Malfoy’s bed, talking to him quietly. Dash was looped around Harry’s shoulders, but Hermione didn’t see Malfoy’s snake. Harry stopped talking and blinked at her, and Malfoy glared as if Hermione had thrown a mud pie in his face.

Hermione ignored that and said, “They’re letting Professor Moody stay. He’s not even being punished or reprimanded by the Board of Governors.” She moved a step forwards. “That’s wrong. There are all sorts of laws about what you can Transfigure other human beings into, so why aren’t they being applied in the school? I know about the laws because I looked them up,” she added, since Malfoy’s mouth was opening and he was probably going to ask how she knew. “And I found out that the Ministry hasn’t given permission for anyone to cast Unforgivable Curses at the school since it was founded, even for professors.”

“Well, Moody said something about special dispensation on the first day,” Harry protested. Malfoy was just silent. He was the one blinking this time.

“We’re going to find out,” said Hermione, feeling the rightness of the cause race through her like a flame. “And we’re going to show him that he can’t do that. Professors should never mistreat their students.”

Harry and Malfoy both seemed too shocked to say anything, but Dash reached out and gently tapped Hermione’s shoulder with his nose. Hermione smiled and touched him on the back of the neck, which made him tilt his plume happily back and forth.

“Well,” she said to Harry, “they shouldn’t.”

Malfoy apparently didn’t want to show her a genuine smile of any kind and wiped it off his face an instant after it appeared, but the important thing to Hermione was that Harry was nodding, and Dash hissed softly and contentedly, the way he did when he was lying in front of the fire in the Gryffindor common room.

And the flame still leaped inside her. 

People shouldn’t get away with doing wrong things. Even if they’re professors.

Chapter Text

“I don’t understand why you didn’t come to me at once if you suspected something off about Moody.”

Professor Snape’s voice was stiff, and he kept his back turned to Draco, his hands clasped behind him. Draco breathed slowly, calming himself down. At least they were in the hospital wing, where the professor had come to see Draco, and not in Snape’s office. It would be awful there.

“I wanted to prove myself, Professor,” Draco finally said. He glanced once at the door a short distance from his bed, then decided that Snape would have shielded it if he was worried about Moody lurking around and learning they were talking about him. “I wanted to be a hero for Harry.”

Professor Snape turned around and stared at him with a kind of steady astonishment that was worse than his surprise when Draco had tried to tackle Moody alone. Draco looked away with a dull flush making its way up his cheeks.

“Why?” Snape whispered. “You thought that you had to risk your life as foolishly as he did?”

Draco shook his head. “I thought Moody was under either a glamour or Polyjuice,” he said. “So I was going to pretend that Conflagration wouldn’t come back to me, and then that the spell I was planning to use to pull him back got mixed up with a revealing charm that’s supposed to cut through glamours and Polyjuice.”

“You would have looked weak in that case,” Professor Snape said sharply. “As though you couldn’t control your snake and had forgotten a spell.”

Draco shook his head. “No one would have paid attention to me if Professor Moody was exposed as a fake, though.”

“Then that defeats your intended purpose.” Professor Snape drew himself up more and more, so that he looked like a pillar. Draco would have found him intimidating only a few hours ago, but he wanted to explain now.

“I mean everyone would have forgotten about me for the moment because Moody was exposed,” Draco said. “But the people who really know me and knew what I had done would be appreciative.” He hesitated, because Professor Snape was opening his mouth and Draco just knew he was going to say that he wouldn’t have appreciated Draco’s sacrifice. “Mostly Harry.”

“This is about him, then.” Snape took the chair by the bed, but it was still like a pillar sitting down in a chair, and Draco had to swallow.

“Yes, professor.” Draco faced him down. This was the only time he would get to say this, probably. He had explained to Harry what he was trying to do with the spell and Conflagration, and Harry had found his hand and held onto it for a long time. But he couldn’t talk to Harry about his motivations. Harry was too committed to thinking of what he had with Dash as normal.

To thinking of his whole life as normal, really, Draco thought, and continued. “Harry is special. He has powerful friends, or he could have them, and he still acts humble. He has a basilisk, and there’s nothing more special than that. He still offers to teach me Parseltongue and be my friend. I want to show him that—that I’ll protect him, and help him, and that I’m special in my own way.”

Professor Snape considered him for a moment. Then he said, without a change of expression, “What is your father’s opinion on this?”

“He sent me a cryptic letter that I had to figure out for myself,” Draco said. “But he was giving me discretion to act.”

Snape paused, then gave a half-smile. “And considering what he can leverage against the Board of Governors in the cause of you being attacked and the attacker not being reprimanded for it, perhaps he wanted this to happen. Or something similar to it.”

Draco’s cheeks burned. He hadn’t thought about that, and he didn’t know whether his father would have expected him to. He coughed and hoped that he didn’t look stupid as he added, “And Hermione Granger says that it’s wrong for professors to mistreat students, and she’s going to start a campaign to make sure it doesn’t happen anymore.”

To his shock, that was what made Professor Snape look the most interested. He swung around on Draco and seemed about to say something, but a second later, he gave up and simply lifted a hand. There was movement outside the door of the hospital wing, Draco realized when he listened. Maybe Madam Pomfrey coming back.

“I am grateful that you took no hurt, Mr. Malfoy,” said Snape, in the stiff voice that most people outside the Slytherins expected him to use, sort of bowing to him. When his mouth was down near Draco’s ear, he hissed, “And I will make sure that you are avenged if your father does not move within three months.”

Draco didn’t have a chance to react before Snape was out of the hospital wing.

And it might not be wise to react, anyway. Draco lay back against the pillow and nodded to himself. Yes, Snape was still a good Head of House. Draco had sometimes thought that Snape was getting too involved with Harry and might only value Draco because he was Harry’s friend.

He should have known better. Professor Snape was capable of concentrating on more than one thing at a time. His father had told him always to remember that, if he was planning some mischief that might make Slytherin look bad if he was caught.

Draco smiled thinly and closed his eyes. His head had been pounding, but it calmed now, helped by the way that Madam Pomfrey came bustling over to him with a flask of golden potion and a scolding tone in her voice she used to address everyone.

For now, Draco didn’t want to think about his pain or his father or whether Professor Snape would have to avenge him. He wanted to think about the way Harry’s face had looked when Draco had told him what he was trying to do to the fake Professor Moody, and why.

It had only been a moment of staring with wide eyes and flaming cheeks, and then Harry had reached out and put his hand on Draco’s wrist. Dash had curled tightly around his hand a second later.

“You didn’t need to do that,” said Harry, and then frowned more sternly at him than ever and shook his head. “Dash doesn’t think you should have done it, either. You almost got eaten by Conflagration!”

Draco smiled as the potion started affecting him, slipping further and further away from the world. Harry had said that. Dash had supported him, flicking his tongue out at Draco in a way that made it seem as if he was scolding him without words.

But the way Harry had looked…

Nothing could change that. Nothing could corrupt that, and Draco would carry it with him as a precious jewel always.

*

Harry and Ron were waiting for her. Hermione knew that. But she also knew that it was only sporting to let the enemy know you were after him.

And give him a chance to change his ways, if he would. Somehow, Hermione didn’t really think that would apply to Professor Moody. But she still had to do it.

She marched straight up to Moody where he stood behind his desk. He looked at her with his magical eye, while his normal one seemed to focus on the papers he was sorting. But then he nodded and gave her a faint smile. “Miss Granger. Impressive performance today.”

“Thank you, Professor Moody.” Hermione wanted to smile, because Moody’s compliments were rare, but she knew she couldn’t let herself get distracted. “There’s something bothering me, though.”

“Of course.” Professor Moody nodded as though he had expected the question. “The morality behind knowing the Dark Arts? I did attempt to emphasize that we should understand them in a theoretical way only, not that we should practice them.”

“I understand that, professor,” Hermione said. “What’s bothering me is your treatment of Draco Malfoy the other day in the Great Hall.”

Moody stood further up and stared at her. Then he said, “I was given to understand that this—young man has bullied you on more than one occasion.”

“He has, Professor,” said Hermione. Ron had said the same thing to her. But she had the answer. “That doesn’t make what you did to him right.” 

“I didn’t take revenge on him,” said Professor Moody. He seemed more confused than anything, which puzzled Hermione. But she shook that off. If he wasn’t agreeing that what he did was wrong, then he was still in the wrong.

“But you hurt him,” said Hermione. “When he hadn’t done anything that hurt you.”

“The sparks could have blinded my magical eye.

He sounded a lot more exasperated than he ever got during class. Hermione wondered how many people had ever dared to disagree with the renowned Auror Alastor Moody in the last few years, though, and pushed bravely ahead. “But they didn’t. And you could have killed him. Why did you turn him into a mouse, Professor?”

Moody had both eyes firmly fixed on her now, as if by glaring, he would get her to go away. He hadn’t paid much attention during the last few weeks, Hermione thought. People glared at her in class when she knew too many answers or told them they were wrong, but she still didn’t go away.

“He needs to learn not to attack professors,” Moody said.

Hermione just looked at him, because she knew that wasn’t an answer. “With respect, Professor Moody,” she said, “almost killing him isn’t a way to teach him that lesson.”

“Well, he won’t do it again, will he?”

Hermione thought of the way that Malfoy had looked at Harry when he was in the hospital wing, and a few cryptic references he’d made that it was “all for Harry.” Harry had turned red when Malfoy was talking about that.

“You don’t know that, though,” Hermione pointed out. “You don’t know unless you talk to him and find out what his motive was for the attack. Did you, professor?” She knew what Malfoy had said was his motive for the attack, but she was also nearly certain Professor Moody hadn’t gone and asked him.

“My dear Miss Granger,” said Moody, and abruptly leaned over her with his magical eye glaring as though he thought she was cheating and trying to hide it, “you forget yourself. There is not equality between professors and students.”

“No, but there should be respect,” Hermione began.

“Exactly!” Moody stepped away and smiled at her. His smiles were strange, Hermione thought. Sometimes he seemed to mean them, and other times it was as if he had a cupboard full of masks that he only arranged on his face when he remembered to. She thought this was a mask-like smile. “And Mr. Malfoy wasn’t showing me respect by attacking me, was he? Perhaps after this time, he’ll remember to do so.”

Hermione only ended up shaking her head again. “You weren’t showing him respect either, Professor Moody. But I think you should talk to him. Then maybe everyone could understand, and it could restore a calm equilibrium between professors and students.”

Moody’s face twitched in irritation. “The matter is over, Miss Granger. I appreciate your concern for your fellow students, and for doing the right thing. But sometimes, you need to trust that the right thing is best left up to the proper authorities.”

Hermione left the classroom without saying anything. Let him think he’d convinced her. Hermione still wanted to be as Gryffindor as she could in all things, because it wasthe best House, but subtlety was a weapon she would need in a contest like this, Malfoy had told her bluntly.

And it wasn’t like she was going to hide or sneak around when she committed her next action to ensure that Moody treated the students with more respect. She simply wasn’t going to sit back and wait for him to stop being stupid.

*

Harry blinked at the petition Hermione had slapped down in front of him. It had a long list of names and only a small sentence at the top that seemed to state what it was for.

Harry read it, and nearly spat out his pumpkin juice all over the petition. But that would probably have made Hermione upset.

A fair trade for plumping it down in the middle of dinner, said Dash, and raised his head. He already knew what the words had said, because they’d passed through Harry’s mind, and he nudged the platter of beef that Harry had been feeding him pointedly.

I thought you didn’t like cooked meat, Harry said, even as he took another slice and fed it to Dash. 

I am expanding my tastes, Dash said, and took the meat in his tail as if he needed to study it before he swallowed it. The way that you’ve always wished I would, since you’ve lamented more than once that I was hard to feed. 

I never meant—

“Harry? Are you going to sign it or not?”

Hermione was hovering in front of him now, clutching the quill in her hand and giving him an expectant look. Harry nodded and took it, but he did say, “I’m not sure a petition to stop professors from Transfiguring people will have much effect. I mean, not if Dumbledore wants to keep Moody on.”

“There are higher authorities than Professor Dumbledore,” said Hermione, looking mysterious, and swept away to bother the Hufflepuffs. Harry shook his head and turned back to his drink.

You’re lucky to have her as your friend.

I know that, Harry said irritably. And what happened to you being upset because she interrupted you in the middle of dinner?

Dumbledore stood up and gently cleared his throat before Dash could respond to that. Harry thought it was probably because Dash didn’t have an answer, though. He’d never let someone speaking stop their silent conversations before.

“The Tri-Wizard Tournament is fast approaching, as you know,” Dumbledore began. “The students from Durmstrang and Beauxbatons will be arriving tomorrow. They will each be housed in an appropriate student common room, with extra beds appearing as necessary. Currently, the plans involve accommodating the Durmstrang students with rooms in Slytherin, and the Beauxbatons students in Ravenclaw.”

There were some grumblings from the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff tables, Harry thought. Personally, though, he was relieved. The last thing he wanted to do was watch over his shoulder all the time for more strangers. 

And maybe Voldemort would have tried to slip allies in among them, too.

“I will remind you that these students are from other countries, and may be unfamiliar with the customs pertaining to Hogwarts.” Dumbledore held up a hand that Harry thought was supposed to be scolding. “If you want to make them welcome, don’t spend time teasing them or staring at them.”

Harry blinked. Well, that’s more decent than I thought Dumbledore would be.

Then he sighed a little. Just because Dumbledore was an arse to him didn’t mean that he couldn’t be nice to other people.

You want to give your enemies too much credit, said Dash, and his tongue tickled Harry’s hand until he started feeding Dash meat again.

“You planning to enter the Tournament, Harry?”

Harry blinked and turned his head. Ron was leaning towards him, nodding. Harry glanced at the Head Table, but Dumbledore seemed to have finished his speech and sat down again.

“Did he say something about who could enter?” Harry shook his head. “But I don’t want to. I’ll have enough to deal with this year.” Like Moody, if Draco’s right and he’s really not who he says he is.

“He said it was restricted to seventh-years and above,” said Hermione, and sat down beside Ron with a little frown at him. “Which means that you can’t enter.”

“I don’t want to,” Harry repeated, but Ron’s eyes were glowing.

do,” he said. “Imagine it. Everyone looking up to you, and then all those Galleons.” He sighed longingly. “Then maybe I could buy myself a pair of dress robes that don’t look as though someone fished them out of a ditch.”

Harry shrugged at Hermione when she began to scold, and fed another piece of meat to Dash. All he knew was that he didn’t want to, and no one was going to change his mind about that.

*

Severus had thought they might have problems with the arrival of the other schools, and it was one reason he had listened to Albus when he asked the professors to be on guard, instead of rolling his eyes and attributing it to Albus’s extreme caution. But admittedly, he had not thought the problems would come from this direction.

Currently, there was a shrieking file of part-Veela students standing in front of the school, refusing to look at Harry and almost on the verge of running. It was only the fact that Harry had Dash wrapped tightly around his body instead of slithering about that had kept things even this calm.

Severus had come to accept the basilisk almost as part of Harry. If a giant venomous snake could seem ordinary, then Dash was. He didn’t attack people, other than perhaps Moody that first night he had entered the castle. He wasn’t inconspicuous, but neither did he try to call attention to himself.

But to the students of a school that not only had no Dark Arts built into the teaching, as was the case at Durmstrang, but had a strong tradition of Veela blood, he was terrifying.

Because Veela, in many ways, were birds. And Dash was still a snake.

“You will remove the snake,” said Madame Maxime, her nose so far in the air that Severus could see how clean she kept her nostrils (extremely). Her accent had faded a little the minute she had stomped up to Albus to begin making demands. She turned now and looked at Harry, who had his hands full of Dash and his head turned as he argued with his friends. “My students, they are not accustomed to these…creatures.”

“I’m afraid that’s not possible,” said, surprisingly, Karkaroff. He stood near Maxime, but kept his neck craned to the side so that he didn’t need to take his eyes off Harry. He looked at Maxime now, and his smile was faintly nasty. “Sorry for your girls and their ruffled feathers, Olympe, but the boy is bonded to the basilisk. And it goes deeper than a familiar bond. The bond of any snake to a Parselmouth does.”

Severus made a silent note to check whether that was true. He knew it obtained with basilisks, but he had not heard that the same thing was true for ordinary serpents. If it was, then they would have to be more careful when Harry confronted the Dark Lord.

And considering what Karkaroff had been, he might indeed have knowledge of the sort traditionally considered Dark that many others would not.

“This is intolerable.” Maxime went on talking to Albus as though she hadn’t heard Durmstrang’s Headmaster. “How can you permit the boy to have it?”

“I’m afraid there wasn’t much choice,” said Albus. His voice was still different than Severus was used to hearing it, although in this case it was hard to pinpoint the difference. Just—milder, perhaps. “Dash is bonded to young Mr. Potter. But I’ve placed mirrors about him that reflect the basilisk’s gaze, and diluted his poison.”

He gestured to the mirrors hovering above Harry’s shoulders and whizzing around his head, mirrors that were such a part of Harry’s environment Severus looked past them all the time now. Dash lifted his head as if he wanted to examine them, as if Albus’s gesture had also recalled them to his existence. Severus narrowed his eyes.

He was suddenly sure that Dash could escape the glare of the mirrors at any time he wanted, and that he had allowed them to orbit him only to make him seem harmless.

But Severus didn’t know if his impression was true, and he certainly didn’t have time to pursue it right now. Madame Maxime was pointing an accusing finger at her Veela students. “What do you say to my students who cannot even enter the competition they came for, if this wild beast is not removed?”

“He isn’t a wild beast.” Minerva, her back straight as she came to defend one of her lions. “He’s been obedient to Mr. Potter and hasn’t bitten anyone at the school since Mr. Potter hatched him. Your students will be fine, Olympe. Trust me.”

Severus raised one eyebrow. Interesting choice of weasel words, Minerva. Dash had of course bitten someone outside the school, but Minerva had created a situation in which she would have some plausible deniability.

She had also been the only one of the professors to openly accost Moody about the wrongness of what he had done to Draco. Severus decided that he would have to keep an eye on her. She might be a more useful ally than he’d realized.

Maxime started to say something else, but just then, one of her students turned and approached Harry. Severus waited, one hand casually next to his side in a way that would only indicate he was ready to draw his wand to someone extremely expert in reading him. And since Albus had begun acting in his strange way, there was really no one like that here.

The girl was tall and beautiful, even more than most of the students who had obvious Veela blood. Her silver hair swayed behind her as she gave a small bow to Harry. She was either gazing straight at Dash or averting her gaze from him a bit so as to be able to face the snake without bolting. Either way, Severus had to admit her tact.

“My name is Fleur Delacour,” she said, in a breathy, softly accented voice. “Will you put your snake away, please? He is frightening us.”

Harry blinked at Miss Delacour and seemed to think for a moment. Severus recognized that silence, though. Harry was getting input from Dash, which meant he would probably come out with something other than outright agreement.

“He won’t bite you. I can promise that. I can even make it a formal oath if you want?”

Don’t do that. Where did he learn about oaths? 

But Severus knew the answer. Draco, of course. He would have to have a chat with Draco about not giving Harry lessons in politics that Severus wasn’t there for.

Miss Delacour turned her head and looked at someone—perhaps Maxime, Severus thought. She nodded, and Delacour turned back to Harry and said, “Yes, please.”

“All right,” Harry said, and drew his wand, and laid it along the palm of his right hand. Dash flowed up beneath him and put his nose in the middle of Harry’s palm. Harry spoke softly. “I promise by my magic not to allow Dash to attack any student of Beauxbatons unless they’re attacking me and I need him in self-defense.”

There was a flash and a glimmer, and the gentle blue light of an oath shown for a moment around Harry’s wand. Then the blue light spread down onto Dash’s neck and made his scales glow as it slowly worked its way around them, like spreading water.

Severus felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up. And at the same moment, he found Karkaroff beside him, staring greedily at Harry.

“Is your Mr. Potter by any chance aware that no one’s sworn an oath like that in hundreds of years?” Karkaroff asked casually.

No. And you will not be the one to enlighten him.

Severus settled for nothing more than a cool glare before he turned to watch the students of the other schools parade into Hogwarts. Harry watched Dash until the blue glow faded, but he seemed to be concerned only that his basilisk might have been hurt. He went into the school with the others a few minutes later.

Leaving only Severus to be aware of the covetous and interested glances that followed him.

The boy causes a walking political disaster even when he doesn’t mean to.

But Severus did have to pause when he considered who might have been aware of what would happen—and wanted it to happen anyway.

That basilisk is a worse menace than he is.

Chapter Text

“I have wanted to introduce myself to you.”

The stiff voice wasn’t one Harry knew, and Dash hadn’t hissed, either, the way he would have if someone unknown had approached. Which meant he had probably known this person was coming and kept silent to see if Harry would notice in time.

Harry tossed an annoyed glance at his basilisk even as he turned around and smiled politely. The boy was one of the students from Durmstrang, one who was taller than most of them and looked vaguely familiar. “Why?” Harry asked. “I didn’t think the Boy-Who-Lived mattered so much in Bulgaria.”

The Durmstrang boy hesitated, as if he didn’t understand. Harry was just about to try it again, without the joke, when he abruptly grinned and said, “He does not. I have come to meet your basilisk.” He nodded to Dash and held out his hand. “My name is Viktor Krum.”

“Oh, you’re that great Seeker!” Harry hadn’t got to attend the Quidditch World Cup, but he’d heard all about it. He shook Krum’s hand and motioned him to a seat on the other side of the library table. “Dash says hello.”

I haven’t said it yet, Dash said in a thin voice as he began to unwind some of his body and point it in Krum’s direction. You shouldn’t speak for me when I haven’t told you what you should say.

Well, are you going to reject him and hurt his feelings? Harry supported some of Dash’s coils with his hands as he stretched across the table, because otherwise he would probably sag and look silly.

I never look silly. And of course I am not. He is the first one other than you to address me as an independent being right away. Dash darted out his tongue, and Harry caught his impression of Krum’s scent, thick and meaty, like a heavy predator. You have my permission to tell him he’s welcome.

“Dash likes it that you’re treating him like an independent being and not just part of me,” Harry told Krum, who was watching with big eyes as Dash reared up above him on the table. His scent didn’t smell of fear, though. “Most other people just treat him like my pet.”

When really it should be the other way around.

Harry ignored Dash in favor of listening to Krum, who gave him a confused look and said, “Bu