“Harry Potter!” roared Severus. “Where the hell have you been!”
Harry blinked at Severus. “Sorry?”
Severus looked—more than apoplectic. He looked scared. “Mr. Potter, we are living through an incredibly precarious moment in history! I don’t care how self-sufficient you think yourself, you simply cannot disappear overnight, especially without warning anyone! You flee from the library and fail to return for hours—the faculty have been searching the castle through the night! Dumbledore went under the damn lake, for god’s sake!”
“He what?” Harry demanded. “Why!”
“He had some notion in his head—but that doesn’t matter! Explain yourself, Potter!”
Harry blinked up at him. “Sorry,” he said, finally and honestly. “I apologize, professor. I didn’t mean to worry you. It was an emergency.”
“I don’t know what sort of emergency—!” He broke off in astonishment, for Harry had hugged him. “Mr. Potter—” arms akimbo, he flailed a bit. “Mr. Potter, are you alright?”
“I’m great,” Harry sobbed. “I’m better than I’ve ever been. I need to miss this week’s classes.”
“I’ll ask Dumbledore,” Harry said, pulling away and patting him distantly on the elbow. “Have a nice morning.”
“Mr. Potter, it is two pm!”
There was further scolding, but it all fell short in the face of Harry’s apparent emotional instability and the sheer force of his joy. He felt like he was drifting, he was so happy and relieved and also melancholy, for some reason. He would have to talk about it with Lobelia. Good thing their next meeting was soon.
His request to skip classes was summarily dismissed, but at least there were no further manhunts when he found it impossible to stay away from the basilisk overnight. Draco covered for him every time.
There were no more bouts of nausea. In fact, there was quite the opposite.
“All the portraits are talking about it,” said Jade Eyes. “We all feel like we’ve gotten a fresh coat of paint.”
“I don’t know why I ever wanted to stay in my toilet,” said Myrtle. “I can’t remember what I was scared of.”
“Something I is always feeling about the castle is gone,” said Limmy thoughtfully. “I is never noticing it until it isn’t here anymore.”
The staircases ran more smoothly, the suits of armor were more animated, the food tasted better. It was as if a curse had been lifted not only over the eggs, but over the entire castle. The basilisk figured that a curse of such potency squatting in the bowels of Hogwarts for so long was bound to have some effect on the building itself.
“Ohhh, they is precious,” said Limmy. “Look at the pink one! Look!”
The hatchlings’ eyes might have been open, but their gaze as far too weak to do anything more than slow Limmy down for a second. In any case, they loved her. The oldest two squirmed around her long hands and flicked their tongues over her nose. The blind hatchling slept around Harry’s neck, head shoved under his shirt, resting above his heart.
The basilisk rumbled in contentment beside Harry. “I have decided they are to have names,” it said.
Harry gaped at it. “What! Why? Snakes don’t have names!”
The basilisk nosed him. “One does. This is not a decision I made lightly. You are as much their family as I, and so they will have as close a relationship with you. So think long and hard about the matter, before you choose.”
“I get to name them?”
The basilisk met his gaze. “Yes.”
“Snake?” Limmy asked. “Is you alright? You’s crying again.”
Dumbledore turned around in mild surprise. “Hello, Mr. Potter. How are you feeling?”
Harry smiled. Dumbledore had been asking him that ever since he disappeared those weeks ago.
It was almost summer now, and the rest of the year had been practically idyllic. Slytherin had won the quidditch cup. Draco had gotten full marks on his transfiguration exam. Hermione had plans to visit Daphne over the summer, and Ron had started a chess club.
But one thing lurked at the back of Harry’s mind, working itself slowly out, and as uneasy as he felt parting with one more secret, after all the secrets lost so far, he knew he must.
“Can I show you something?” he asked Dumbledore.
“Of course, my boy. Lead on.” He and Dumbledore walked slowly from the great hall, talking idly. “I quite enjoyed my interview, by the way,” Dumbledore said. “Very accurately represented; outstanding journalism. Will The Demiguise continue over the summer?”
“You’d have to ask the collective, officially,” Harry said, grinning. “But I guess I can just tell you that it will. The, er, collective found a place of alternate summer operation.”
“How wonderful,” mused Dumbledore. “Do let the collective know I found the feature on centaur law truly elucidating. And I quite enjoy the crossword as well.”
They ascended a few flights of stairs, and started weaving through corridors. “I believe Severus told you a while ago that I went to Alimnion when you disappeared,” said Dumbledore.
“He mentioned it.”
“I was refused entry,” said Dumbledore ruefully. “And seriously reminded to stay out of mer business. I told the rather aggressive mer Sambation that I was unaware you were mer business.”
“Huh,” said Harry, trying not to smile.
“Indeed,” said Dumbledore, unable to conceal his.
Dumbledore demonstrated remarkable patience as Harry brought him to a completely blank stretch of wall.
“Here’s the thing,” Harry said finally. “I know what’s going on.”
Dumbledore raised an eyebrow. “Do you indeed.”
From out of his bag, Harry pulled the remains of Tom Riddle’s diary. “Yeah, I do.”
Dumbledore took one look at the diary and turned ashen, swiftly drawing his wand. “Harry, drop that immediately.”
“It’s alright,” Harry said, holding it out to him. “It’s been killed.”
“You don’t know what you hold,” said Dumbledore, his eyes wide and alarmed. “Put it down.”
“It was a part of Tom Riddle,” said Harry plainly. “Just like the locket you destroyed, right?”
Dumbledore simply gaped at him.
“You’re looking for all of them, you and Severus and Minerva,” said Harry. “I didn’t understand it until I found this one, and I realized it felt just like Quirrell did last year.”
“Where—where did you find it?” Dumbledore asked tremulously.
“Lucius Malfoy gave it to Ginny Weasley,” said Harry. “I stole it from her. I’m giving it to you, because otherwise I think you’ll keep searching for it forever. Here.”
Dumbledore reached out with shaking hands and took the book from him, running his fingers over the corroded, bubbled cover. “How did you destroy it? Few things can eradicate a horcrux.”
Harry shrugged. “I found a way. But that’s not all I want to tell you.”
“Is it not?” Dumbledore murmured, still staring at the diary.
“Because you’re looking for one hidden in Hogwarts, aren’t you?”
Dumbledore slowly drew his gaze upwards again. “Why, yes. Tell me, Harry, is there any business you don’t know?”
“No,” Harry said wryly. “But, anyway, you’re looking for one hidden here. And there’s one place you won’t ever know to look unless I show you. So, here.”
And starting at one end of the hall, he paced back and forth, saying aloud: “I need the room of hidden things.”
On his third pass, the door materialized, and Dumbledore shadowed him in astonishment as Harry pulled open the door to the room full of clutter. “My word,” breathed Dumbledore. “Will I ever truly know all that Hogwarts contains? Astounding. Tell me, Harry, can I call it up at any time?”
“Just walk three times past, thinking that,” confirmed Harry. “Anyway, it wouldn’t feel right, not telling you about this room. What if it’s in here?”
“Indeed,” said Dumbledore faintly. The diary now dangled from the fingertips of his magical hand, completely forgotten. “I must—I must—Merlin and Morgana. Harry, you have quite blindsided me. Thank you, my boy, thank you.”
Harry grinned at him. “You’re welcome.”
“You’re sure we can’t owl you?” demanded Ron.
“Yeah,” Harry said regretfully. “I don’t think they’d find me, to be honest, Ron. Maybe you can spend the summer working out a way to send messages without an owl.”
“That sounds really interesting,” said Hermione. “Ron, maybe me and Daphne can come to the burrow.”
“Yeah, sure,” Ron said agreeably. “My mum’d love it.”
“Brilliant,” said Daphne. She flung her arms around Harry. “Remember to get permission for me, Harry! I’m meeting your heart’s partner if it’s the last thing I do! Limmy, make sure he does!”
“I’ll work on it,” Harry promised. “I think I’m wearing them down.”
“I’s advocating for you,” said Limmy staunchly, giving Daphne a hug. “You can owls me, you knows.”
“Really? Brilliant. Hey, maybe we can go to the launch party for the next book together!”
Draco clasped Harry’s arms. “I’ll bring you tons of sweets from France. And Luna and I’ll put coded messages for you in the crossword, so make sure you do them.”
“Bring me some jeans,” suggested Harry, and Draco’s face lit up.
Harry crouched down to hug Dobby. “See you soon,” he whispered, giggling.
Dobby patted his arm. “It is being another busy summer, Snake, in France or not.”
Limmy went back to the elf wing after saying her goodbyes, and Harry walked them down to the carriages, and then half-heartedly threw on his invisibility cloak. He sat under Áwere and watched the carriages roll away. Severus and Minerva stood there seeing them off. They glanced idly around, called his name a few times, rolled their eyes, and returned to the castle.
He watched the carriages til they were out of sight, then slowly made his way through Hogwarts.
“Hiya, Myrtle,” he said, pulling down Áwere’s hood as he entered her toilet. “Happy summer.”
“Happy summer, Snake!” she said. “I’m just here to see you off—I’m going underwater today!”
“It’ll be brilliant,” he told her. “You should make friends with the squid. Her name is Dances with Grace.”
“Maybe I will,” she mused, as he opened the sink. “See you soon!”
“See you soon!” he called. His trunk was waiting just inside the tunnel. He closed the sink, lit his elflight, and began the walk.
The basilisk’s hall was still half-demolished. That was a summer task: clearing the rubble from in front of Sal’s chambers, and fixing the river, and repairing the walls. “Basilisk!” he called. “I’m back! Did I miss it?”
“Welcome home,” said the basilisk, peeking out from the den. “And they have not started speaking yet. They should soon.”
Harry hauled his trunk into the den, grinning at the sight. In the depression where the eggs had once lain was a nest of dozens of blankets he and Limmy had hauled from the come-and-go room in the dead of night, with Myrtle playing lookout. The basilisk was curled around it, watching the three hatchlings playing together in the middle. Harry dropped his trunk and tumbled down into the nest, the hatchlings hissing in excitement and immediately coming to squirm all over him.
He kissed and pet them, and then lay flat on his back and stared up into the basilisk’s happy yellow eyes. “Welcome home,” said the basilisk again, softer.
He smiled gently. “It’s good to be home.”
“Have you thought of names yet?”
“Not yet. They’ll be brilliant though. What do you think about Percy?”
The basilisk gave a hissing laugh. “Absolutely not.”
The hatchlings slowly drifted into sleep. The pink and black hatchlings curled up under the basilisk’s chin. The blind green one crept to its favorite spot over Harry’s heart. Its eyelids drooped closed as it muttered little half-syllables and strangled hisses. And then:
“Warm,” it hissed, its tongue flicking over Harry’s chin. “Heart. Warm.”
Harry met the basilisk’s eyes. “It’s true, Snakeheart” it murmured to him, nudging him with its nose. “Your heart is so warm."