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Chapter One Hundred and Twenty-Five—Building
"What is your snake doing, Mr. Potter?"
Well, he just saved the school last night. But Harry held his tongue. Even though he knew Severus would have told them all about Dash and the battle, and he'd told a few people himself, that was different from excusing Dash now.
"He's building things, Headmistress," Harry told McGonagall.
She stood next to him and folded her arms as she watched Dash wrapped around the set of almost forgotten steps that ran up the outside of Hogwarts. Harry had carefully asked around, on Dash's request, before he touched them. Apparently, the steps used to lead to a classroom door in one of the outer walls. But the classroom wasn't used anymore, and since the corridor it opened onto in the inside was long and draughty, no one used the steps as a shortcut, either.
Dash coiled himself hard suddenly, a surge of bright, scaled muscles that Harry felt in his chest. Then he yanked. The stairs collapsed in a shower of stones and with a grinding roar. Harry held his breath, but Dash had been right: the stones bounced from his scales without doing damage. There wasn't much that could penetrate basilisk hide.
"Dear God," McGonagall whispered next to him.
Harry twitched a little. Severus had told him he thought Dash should do this at night, so as not to frighten people. But Harry had said they wouldn't be that frightened and they should do it in the open. Now he had to wonder if Severus was right.
She's impressed as much as she is frightened. I can smell that in her scent. She's probably wondering how she could use that strength to defend the school when the Death Eaters attack again. Dash slid away from the rubble and began to nudge it about with his nose. A smart woman.
Just as long as she's not wondering how she can trap you and keep you there.
Dash glanced at him, a warm quiver running through the bond. Harry sighed a little. He really had missed Dash when he was conducting his mysterious ritual. She's smart enough to know that no trap could hold me.
Someone could still take you unawares, Harry snapped, and used his wand to float up a load of stone while Dash wrapped one length of his body around some of the rest of it and slithered towards Gryffindor Tower. I don't want you to get overconfident.
Dash's laughter was like a warm spring shower down the bond. No one managed to do that in my original life, either, I'll have you know.
Will you tell me more about your original life sometime?
I should have a reason to fairly soon.
Harry frowned, but before he could ask about that and get some kind of promise of when it was going to happen, they got to the base of Gryffindor Tower. Dash reared up and looked at it carefully. This would be easier if you had let yourself be Sorted into Slytherin, you know, he told Harry.
That prat Draco—
That prat now your boyfriend Draco?
He was a prat at the time!
Dash laughed again, and Harry reveled in it. McGonagall wasn't the only one watching now as they laid the stones on the ground and Harry floated some of them to the far end, so they formed a sort of broken column laid on the earth; Gryffindors and Slytherins and some Hufflepuffs had wandered out to stare.
"Okay," Harry told Dash, aloud, because he wanted people to hear this. "So I'm going to float it up when you signal me, right?"
Dash gave him a look of long-suffering. Not patience, either. Just long-suffering.
"Yes, I am," Harry said firmly, and then he gestured and the first part of the column floated up and hit the side of the Tower. He winced. At least the Tower was sturdy enough and tall enough that it wasn't a calamity.
Dash leaned forwards and opened his mouth. Some people shrieked and ducked behind McGonagall. Harry rolled his eyes. As if Dash could bite them when he was facing the exact opposite way.
I could bounce my venom off the Tower if I wanted and hit them that way.
Dash clamped his jaws carefully around different points in the stones and held them there for long moments. Then he moved on to other points. Harry trusted him to know what he was doing. Probably some of Slytherin's original memories included how to build things.
Now let the magic go.
Harry did. For a second, the stones trembled, but then they stopped. And there they clung, with Dash's venom for mortar, like a broken tooth to the outside of the Tower.
"Very nice, Mr. Potter." McGonagall didn't sound as though she really believed it. "But what are you going to—"
Harry pulled up his magic, like another Dash rearing inside him, and then cast as hard as he could at the pile of stones, the spell Dash had taught him the night before. "Lenis!"
McGonagall staggered back a step as the magic burst out of him. It hit the stones, and Harry held his breath as they smoothed out and jagged pieces settled down and some others surged up, so that they could do what they needed to. And there it was a second later. The first beginning of a smooth ramp up the side of Gryffindor Tower.
"Dash can't come up the inside stairs anymore," Harry explained to her and the students who stood gaping around him. "But he still wants to be with me at night, so this is what we're going to do instead."
"You can't just go changing the school around!" one of the Hufflepuffs spluttered.
"But the Headmistress said it was okay, and Dash used to be a Founder," Harry said, a little baffled. He'd thought people would be afraid of Dash, and maybe of him after they saw the magic he was doing, but he hadn't thought that would be an objection. "So why do you care?"
The Hufflepuff spluttered some more, and then stalked away. Dash shook his head, which was a lot more impressive now that he was bigger, and said, Pick up some more stone, Harry. We'll make the ramp go in a spiral around the Tower. Some people aren't worth speaking to.
Harry shrugged and began arranging more stone. McGonagall stepped up next to him and lowered her voice. "I find myself curious why basilisk venom works as mortar, Mr. Potter."
"Oh, I asked Dash about that. He said that the venom is deadly, but mostly it's permanent. He can pull it back if he wants and make it less deadly, and he can make it change a few other properties, too, as long as he's not changing the permanence of it. So he couldn't make something that would have to come down in a few months, but he can make this."
Harry glanced at McGonagall. She was looking grave. But Dash called out for him to pay bloody attention! as some of the floating blocks of stone collided with each other, and so he had to pay attention and worry about what the Headmistress thought later.
There is no getting rid of that basilisk.
Minerva had known it, already, at the back of her mind. After all, Harry and Dash had resisted any attempt to make them sever their bond. But somehow it was a lot more noticeable when a snake almost forty feet long and his bondmate were building a ramp up the outside of the school.
And with magic that she knew most students wouldn't even be able to wield in their seventh year. Did Harry know that?
She supposed, as she watched him direct the stones and consult with Dash and reorder things and smooth them and fetch some more rocks from a half-collapsed wing that no one had done anything about in the time since Minerva had been a student here, that Dash wouldn't have hidden the truth from him. Harry's face was creased as he worked, his wand dipping and rising and swirling in a combination of movements. And Dash watched him with pride, as far as Minerva could read a snake's expressions, and no sense of something hidden.
Minerva watched thoughtfully for as long as she could spare, and then went back into the school. She was due for a meeting with Aurors and the Board of Governors, because they were starting to despair of finding Umbridge.
And she had business of her own to press. While Dash had made sure the Death Eaters attacking the school were defeated, Severus had been the one who suggested hiding the students in the Room of Requirement. He had been without reward or acknowledgment for too long. Minerva would see that he received one.
Draco hesitated and glanced at the book in front of him. But it said the same thing it always said, the thing that he had to admit sounded like it might make his aunt useful to them again.
He hadn't asked Harry or Dash or Professor Snape for permission to be down here. He knew they would say no. But Dash and Harry had had to leave an entrance to the Chamber of Secrets open so that Draco could watch over Bellatrix during the battle. So Draco had been able to come here again, by himself, and Bellatrix was of course where they'd left her, floating in a cage of light.
Draco cut his finger with his dagger and smeared the blood on the ground around the cage, creating a containment spell. The sparks that leaped and flashed from spot to spot where he had already smeared his blood on other visits made him relax. This spell would hold. Even if he somehow broke Dash's Petrification, his aunt wasn't going anywhere.
Then Draco reached out and cut Bellatrix's upper left shoulder with the same dagger.
The blood that flowed out was sluggish. It didn't matter. It was still linked to his, and Draco knew the tie of mother's sister was close enough to make all sorts of magic powerful and effective. He closed his eyes and spoke the Latin words under his breath. "Cruor mihi."
The blood jumped in a spray between the cage and his hand, and Draco opened his eyes to see himself cupping a handful of what looked like red ice. It wouldn't remain that malleable for long. Quickly, he crushed it up with a few motions of his fingers, and then lifted a shard to his mouth and crunched it down.
It tasted foul. Draco closed his eyes and concentrated on the sticky taste that coated his tongue and the bitterness working its way towards the back of his throat.
"Make her loyal," he whispered. The blood seemed to halt in its trickling down his throat. "Make her loyal to me. Make her do whatever I tell her to. Make the bond permanent. Shared blood is stronger than the magic branded into the Mark on her arm."
There was a moment when heavy magic hovered in the air, and reached out and seemed to wind cold fingers around Draco's throat. He tilted his head further and further back, attempting to make it less uncomfortable.
The moment passed, and Draco swallowed the last foul taste and healed both the wound in Bellatrix's shoulder and his own finger. Then he stood up and removed the containment spell around the cage, cleaning up the last traces of his presence.
This particular blood magic spell had to be cast in stages. Draco would have to come back every day for a week to make sure that the spell had taken.
But if he could make Bellatrix loyal to them, take away a weapon from Voldemort and force her to willingly spill her secrets…
It would be worth it.
"What you have done is a remarkable achievement, Miss Granger."
Hermione flushed and waited for the scathing comment she was sure was coming in a second. Professor Snape never gave out compliments like this. At least, not to Muggleborn Gryffindors.
But Professor Snape only watched her whirling contraption in silence for a long moment, frowning. Then he glanced at her and smiled, inclining his head. Hermione waited. They were in the Room of Requirement again, this time a version different from the place where she had created her machine, but with a table big enough to hold it.
"That does not mean that I want you rushing off to gather the Horcruxes, and taking Harry with you in your mad dashes."
Hermione shook her head at once. "Of course not, sir. Besides, it seems that one of the Horcruxes is in Gringotts. I wouldn't dare attack it!"
"Wise of you. I am not sure that consideration would hold Harry back."
"I know that we have to plan, sir. And I'm not going to just plan with Ron and Harry. We'll have to talk with you and Draco and the Headmistress and—and all sorts of people."
Professor Snape gave her a sharp glance, although Hermione didn't know why. She would have thought that she was telling him just what he wanted to hear. After a moment, however, he gave her a nod and returned to studying the machine.
"You know where the other Horcruxes are?"
"Besides the one in Gringotts, there's the one in Little Hangleton, near where Voldemort is still lying incapacitated. I think that one might be even more dangerous to get than the one in Gringotts, sir. And there's one in London." Hermione frowned down at the map. "It's hard to tell exactly where, though. Sometimes the machine shows one place, and then the next time it starts turning it collects dust in another part of London."
"A wizarding home under strong wards, perhaps." Professor Snape frowned at the map, too. "Well. The one in London will be the least dangerous for us to collect. We will discuss how to obtain it, yes."
Professor Snape glanced at her. Hermione took a deep breath and all her courage in her hands, to ask the question that she could never ask Harry or Ron. "Do you think we'll find a way to destroy all of them and—and leave Harry alive?"
"And the piece of soul that Voldemort took from Harry to make himself into Harry's Horcrux? How are we going to solve that problem? It's just that—it seems destroying a Horcrux is rare in the first place, and things that could leave the piece of soul intact—"
Professor Snape held up a hand. "I do not know all the answers to all the problems, Miss Granger. We may not even be able to find them all in books. This situation is unprecedented. No one can record it if it has not happened before."
Hermione looked at him in dismay. She had to admit she'd never thought of that. "But—what can we do—"
"You have already learned a lesson that Harry and Weasley still have trouble with, that you cannot rely solely on your own efforts." Professor Snape held her eyes. "You will work with adults, and together we will discover a way. That is what will happen. That is what you can do."
Hermione nodded slowly. "Okay. As long as you think that we can help Harry and he's not going to die."
"I will never permit that."
Hermione felt a surge of comfort that she'd never got around Professor Snape before. If he spoke in that deep voice, what he said was going to come true. She relaxed. "Thank you. If you won't allow us to come along when you go after the Horcrux in London, will you please tell me that it went all right after you collect it?"
And he said that in the same tone he'd used to say that he was going to keep Harry alive. Hermione relaxed completely. "Thank you, sir," she said, and then began to run the machine again, trying to make sense of the different dustfalls it made when it came to London. Even a warded house shouldn't move around that much.
Harry leaned against Dash's side and wiped his face. No matter how many Cooling Charms he'd cast on himself, no matter how many glasses of water he'd conjured and poured down his throat, he was still parched.
"It's impressive as fuck," he muttered.
Dash nudged him with his nose. They both leaned back and looked up at Gryffindor Tower.
Besides the ramp that spiraled up the outside now, and the widened window so that Dash could reach inside and lean his head on Harry's bed, there was a brand new top to the tower. Dash could coil on it and keep watch for enemies. Eventually, he'd said, they'd enclose it and he could have a place to get out of the rain. And even further in the future, they would connect it to the pipes that the basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets had used to move around the school. Then Dash could come and go from Gryffindor Tower with no one being the wiser.
But those were projects for another day, for which Harry was abundantly glad. He leaned his head against Dash again and slipped into a doze.
An almost imperceptible thrum down the bond woke him up maybe an hour later. Harry blinked his eyes open and saw Draco standing over him, his expression uncertain.
"You've almost missed dinner," Draco said quietly. "Do you want to go? I think you need to eat after a full day of magic like that."
He's right, you should, Dash said, and pulled away the comfortable coil Harry's head had been resting on. Harry only barely managed to sit up before Dash slid away towards the Forbidden Forest to hunt something. He glared after his bondmate and then smiled at Draco and remembered what he'd wanted to tell him. In a way, this whole day of work had been about giving himself the courage to think about it, and in the end, his decision was still the same.
"Can we go for a walk first? I have something I want to talk to you about."
Draco gave him a sharp glance, but then nodded. Harry turned and led him around Gryffindor Tower towards the lake, trying not to stumble. Draco immediately slipped an arm under his shoulder and propped him up. "You should go to the hospital wing," he muttered.
"I should talk to you and then have dinner. That's going to revive me more than anything else."
Draco nodded cautiously. "What did you want to talk to me about? Something you can't say in front of anyone else?" he added, seeing the way Harry looked over his shoulder.
"Something I think you should be the first one to hear. Draco…" Harry realized he was smiling, and let Draco see it. "I can read the words on that scroll you gave me for my birthday."
Draco's arm tensed so hard under Harry's shoulder that it was painful. Harry turned to face him, and nodded. "I can. It's about how you love me, and you want to be with me for the rest of your life. And how a scroll like that is a traditional gift for Malfoys to give their—future spouses." Harry had choked a little when he saw those words, and he choked a little now, saying them. "Your father gave your mum a scroll like that. You wanted to do the same for me, even though your mother kept asking if you wanted to. Draco, I love you, too."
Draco stared at him with dazed eyes. For a minute, Harry wondered if he thought Harry was lying, or just guessing at what was on the scroll. Harry waved a hand in front of his eyes.
Then Draco seized him and kissed him, and Harry laughed into his mouth and went with it, winding his arms tightly around Draco's neck. It felt as if he'd been missing this, too in the last few days, while he and Severus and everyone else got ready for the battle. The warmth and the relaxation and the trembling limbs as Draco cradled him close…
"Don't you disappear underground for a ritual that you cut me out of, too," he muttered into Draco's lips when the kiss finally relaxed.
Draco started at that, but he couldn't stop smiling. "What made you decide to read the scroll after all this time?" he whispered, trailing his hand through Harry's hair.
"Dash. I was thinking this morning about how much I missed him, and what I would do if he died. And I started thinking about how I would miss other people if they died, and I decided that I didn't want to waste any more time. I picked up the scroll and looked to see if I could read it. And I could. And Draco, thank you for those words. They're some of the most beautiful I've ever seen."
"Mother was so uncertain." Draco was breathing harshly, his hands skimming up and down Harry's arms. "She kept asking me if I wanted to do this because she thought I was too young. Father didn't try to court her with a scroll like that one until they were both out of Hogwarts, and even then, there were ancestral portraits telling him he was too young. But I told her my feelings weren't going to change."
"Of course they won't," Harry said simply, and leaned against him. Draco's arms closed savagely on him again. They stood there for long enough that Harry thought they might have remained until Dash came back from his hunt, but then Harry's stomach rumbled.
"Shit, I'm an idiot," Draco muttered. "You still used a lot of magic today and need food, and I'm standing here grinning like a fool and—"
"Look, the only ones who get to insult you are Dash and me, all right? It's flattering, Draco. How much you love me. How much you want me."
Draco stared at him with dazed eyes again. Harry grinned and kissed him one more time, then led him towards the school. Dash joined them at a distance, a gliding black shape who watched them until they stepped safely through the doors of the entrance hall.
Even though Harry thought the whole school must know about him and Draco by now, there were still some stares and mutters when they walked to the Gryffindor table hand-in-hand. Harry ignored them. He could feel the quiet confidence Severus had talked about, the confidence that he said Harry would gain someday when he became a good leader, beaming in the center of his chest.
This was where he belonged.
With everybody, Dash said, from somewhere within a pipe.
Hmmm, Harry agreed, and started eating without taking his hand or his eyes from Draco's.