Thank you again for all the reviews! This is the last chapter of the story. Thank you so much for following me all this way.
Chapter One Hundred and Fifty-Five—A Sunrise in Rose and Red
Hermione checked the parchment in her hand, and then nodded and cast the Feather-Light Charm on her robes. After that, it only remained to clear her head of the stupid fear of heights that had appeared all by itself, and then she took a step forwards and down through the trapdoor that she had gone through in first year with Harry and Ron.
Her robes billowed gently around her, slowing her descent. Hermione also cast a small variant of the Lumos Charm ahead of her that landed on and clung to the walls of the stone corridor beneath her. At last she stood on the floor with soft light glowing around her and no Devil's Snare.
Maybe next time someone came down here, the Devil's Snare would be back.
Hermione walked through the corridors until she came to the room that had held the giant chess match the last time that she'd seen it. This time, there was a series of black trilithons there, pillars with a gigantic rectangular stone resting sideways across the top of them. Hermione squinted at the trilithons. She thought they were basalt, but she couldn't be sure.
Regardless, she needed to find the right one.
She walked slowly around the circle they formed, the circle she had known they would form, trailing her hand along the stone. Her eyes were all but useless here, despite the glow of the charm that had followed her. She closed them and let her fingers roam and explore, until she felt a small notch that was too sharp to be a crack.
Hermione stood still and traced the shape, over and over, until she was sure. It was the rune Sowilo. Hermione turned and walked into the circle between that trilithon and the one on its right.
There was a bright flurry of sparks, and Hermione found herself surrounded by a copper circle set into the floor that glowed a dull red. Hermione ignored the way that more and more runes ignited along the sides, and sat down, arranging her robes carefully around her legs. In seconds, the runes and the red glow together had formed what looked like a panel of a mirror in the air opposite her, and a face appeared above the halfway point.
"State your name, and how you divined that the maze was here."
"Hermione Granger, fifth-year student at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry." Hermione added that last one because the face, a bland woman's face with white skin and brown eyes and brown hair, frowned as if trying to place her. "I knew it was here because I read about the tests to enter the Unspeakables, and how desire to do it could call a maze in a hidden spot. After that, it was just a matter of determining where the maze would be, and how I could get through it."
The woman's eyebrows lifted. "It is still a remarkable achievement for a fifth-year student to have divined that the maze had appeared here."
Hermione smiled a little. "I don't think that you would accept unremarkable candidates into the Unspeakables, madam."
"True enough." The woman looked at her thoughtfully for a moment longer, then turned and seemed to speak to someone outside the edge of the mirror whom Hermione couldn't see. When she turned back, she'd acquired a scroll of parchment and a silver quill with a shining nib. "I want you to tell me exactly what your academic achievements are and what makes you want a career in the Department of Mysteries."
Hermione swallowed back a tight lump in her throat—here was a place where she wouldn't be despised for being Muggleborn or mocked for her intelligence—and began to speak.
"Ron, how did you do that?"
Ron shrugged, and tried to keep his grin down. It didn't work very well. "It was just a matter of seeing what was obvious, Oliver."
"Obvious, the man says." Oliver Wood snorted and clapped Ron on the shoulder. He'd come back to Hogwarts when Ron wrote to him to say that he wanted to design strategies for Quidditch teams in the future and could use the feedback of someone who was a professional player. "That could only be designed by someone who understood the twins as Beaters and Harry as Seeker." He looked up and seemed to admire the broken Bludger pieces still falling from the edge of the Quaffle's hoop. "A genius at strategy, in other words."
Ron gnawed his lip. "But does that mean that I can only design strategies for teams I know really well? What happens when I have to see a team play for the first time?"
Oliver laughed aloud. "You study them and you learn! And then you design the strategy."
"Really? You think I can do that?"
Ron despised the way he sounded like he was asking for reassurance—around his brothers, that was a way to get a prank or a lecture slid down his throat really quickly—but Oliver nodded at the pieces of the Bludger again. "Someone who has that level of insight is going to have no problems."
Ron basked in that. He'd admired Oliver like mad in the three years they'd shared at Hogwarts together, and dreamed of playing on the Gryffindor team before Oliver graduated. He hadn't managed that, but at least he knew that Oliver had a reason to admire him back.
"Hey." Oliver was trying to sound casual about it, but the way his hands shifted on the broom handle were anything but casual, and Ron focused on him, wondering. "D'you think you might want to come see Puddlemere United play next month?"
"I—you mean it?" Ron had no need to ask about paying for tickets. He knew what Oliver was offering.
Oliver smiled at him. "Of course. I don't expect you to work as well with my team right away as you did with Harry and Fred and George, but we should always get started early on the advantages that could let us win, don't you think? And it's not even cheating the way that some of my teammates want to do."
Ron laughed. Of course Oliver was looking for a way to win that wouldn't involve cheating. He wasn't a Slytherin, but he would still look for some way that he could avoid being a Slytherin and achieve the victory.
"No, thank you." Oliver looked around the Hogwarts Quidditch pitch with a satisfied glance, and then snatched up his broom, which he'd been carrying without flying on it. "I think I'm going to ask Harry and the twins for a game."
Ron nodded and started to turn back towards the school, but Oliver caught his shoulder. "What?" Ron asked, looking at him.
"You aren't going to stay here and advise us? See how the game changes when I'm there with your brothers and Harry?"
Ron tried not to show how much he felt like a little kid at the moment as he nodded casually and sat down in the Quidditch stands. "Yeah. Yeah, I reckon I am."
Oliver grinned at him and took off into the sky, calling for Harry, who responded by swerving his broom towards him. Ron lounged back and watched, no longer resenting that he had been left off the team.
He had an important role, here, one that he had to keep an eye on, one only he could do.
"What are we going to do with them?"
Harry turned to study Draco, where he stood in the entrance of the chamber that held the basilisk eggs. "That's one thing I called you here to discuss."
Draco swallowed the shard like an eggshell in his throat and wandered a little into the chamber, watching the eggs as they gleamed in the soft light. "Why ask me? I promise that I don't want a basilisk anymore." Conflagration, who was asleep on his shoulder, was more than enough, Draco thought.
"No, but it's a complicated decision, and I trust you," Harry said. "I don't want to leave them down here forever with no hope of hatching, the way Dash might have been if I hadn't been there. They deserve to live."
"But?" Draco said, and leaned closer to watch the dance of firelight through the side of one of the eggs. The size of the snake inside, huge though it was, gave him a fond memory of when Dash had been the same size. Conflagration woke up on his shoulder and darted out his tongue in silence, scenting Draco didn't know what.
"But there are so many people who might mistreat them. So few Parlsemouths who can truly bond with them the way I did with Dash." Harry paused then and grimaced, and Draco thought Dash might be reminding him of certain things through their bond. That was confirmed when Harry muttered, "And Dash says none of them would have the soul of Salazar Slytherin, so they might not have as deep a bond with anyone else as he has with me."
Draco smiled, and didn't care if Harry saw it. He was talking back to Dash anyway, from the slightly blank expression on his face. "Well, I think you should approach it by searching for people who would be worthy to bond with a basilisk first, rather than hatching them and hoping for the best."
"How do I determine their worthiness?"
From the way that Harry was looking at him, this was the part that he truly wanted help with. Draco tilted his head. "Why not see how they interact with other magical creatures? That would give you an idea if they see them as worthy partners in building a future, people in their own right, or if they would probably see a basilisk as just a tool."
Harry paused. "Do you think I could ask the goblins and werewolves? Most of the others probably wouldn't tell me."
"Those are good ideas," Draco said, nodding. "You have those contacts with Josephine's pack. And I think that you're going to have to consider something else." He paused until Harry turned to look at him. "You're going to have to find some way to neutralize their gaze and their venom while they're young."
Harry grimaced. "I'd hate to think of them left without ways to defend themselves."
Draco snorted. "You've been living with Dash too long. Like he says, he's unusual. He was willing to shield his eyes and not bite most humans, but will some of these other young basilisks? Especially if they do bond with humans and then sense their humans in danger? One basilisk was one thing, but if they become common and people think that there's no way to control them, it might be worse for those basilisks to be alive than contained in the egg." He looked towards the wall he thought Dash was probably behind. "They might event hunt down Dash, if they get scared enough."
Harry looked discouraged, but nodded. "Yeah, you're right. I suppose we have a long way to go before we can think about releasing some of them from the eggs." He shook himself visibly and turned to Draco. "And you?"
"And me, what? I told you I don't really want a basilisk anymore."
Harry smiled and laid a hand on Draco's shoulder. "I asked you down here to answer one question, but I wanted to know the answers to some of the others. Will you continue studying blood magic? Do you have a career in mind that you want, the way Ron and Hermione do?"
"For the next two years, I'm going to do the minimum of studying for my OWLS and NEWTS," said Draco firmly. "I have a lot of time to make up my mind, and it's not like my parents are ready to drive me out of the Manor if I don't start working. I'd rather do something much more interesting."
Draco snatched Harry around the waist and backed him up against the wall. Harry's eyes widened, and his breath started rushing out of his lungs at a pace that Draco watched with a smile.
"Snogging the life out of my boyfriend," Draco responded, and proceeded to do just that. If Dash was laughing at Harry down the bond, at least Draco didn't need to listen to him.
"You know that I'm probably going to have to have Mind-Healing for the rest of my life."
"I know that, Sirius. I wouldn't be here with you if I minded that."
Or if Malfoy or Snape or Dash minded. But Sirius couldn't begrudge Harry that, not when he thought back on the mess that his mind used to be. He nodded and shifted a little so as to get more comfortable on the hearth in front of the fireplace. "So, is Hermione driving you mad having you study for the OWLS?"
Harry laughed a little and shook his head. "Do you know, she's been busy with her own project? She hasn't told me what it is yet, even though Ron and I asked. But I think she will when she's ready, so I can wait until then." He stretched and turned his head a little, maybe to make sure that neither of his friends were around, Sirius thought, amused. Or at least that Hermione wasn't. He had done the same thing when he used to gossip about Remus or James. "And even McGonagall isn't getting after me as much as I would expect."
"Well, you did save the world."
Although seeing through the green flames of the Floo made it hard to be sure, Sirius still thought Harry blushed. "I did not," he protested. "Well, anyway, just one corner of it, and then just from the political mess Voldemort would have caused."
"You think Voldemort would have been content with Britain?"
"I don't know. He was pretty mad at the end. If I didn't put him down, I think someone else could have, once we'd taken care of the immortality problem."
Harry looked so genuinely pained that Sirius gave up on his plans to tease his godson some more, and just nodded. "That sounds reasonable," he said, and carefully pushed away the many things he wanted to say about how many adult wizards had been afraid to face Voldemort themselves and how "taking care of the immortality problem" would also have been beyond most of them. "Got a lot of fan letters lately?"
Harry groaned, but at least he was willing to talk about this, which was more than he was about the defeat of Voldemort. "You wouldn't believe it. Everything from people my own age proposing marriage—some of them right here in Hogwarts!—to people from other countries wanting me to move there. Or lead them, or something. It's mental."
"They want to get married in Hogwarts?"
"They go to Hogwarts," Harry said, and shook his head. "If they can't even walk up to me and ask me for a date, what in the world are they sending me marriage proposals for?"
"Perhaps they're trying to think of a way around that persistent boyfriend of yours."
"Then they might as well have all kinds of fantasies," Harry said, and smiled the way James had smiled when Lily finally agreed to go to Hogsmeade with him. "I've chosen who I'm going to marry."
Because Harry, and James, would have expected it from him, Sirius teased him a little about Draco, but let it go when he saw Harry looking uncomfortable much the way he had when they talked about him defeating Voldemort. Sirius was thoughtful as Harry closed the connection, and he turned around and studied Narcissa, who was sitting behind him.
"Why look at me that way, Sirius?" she asked, putting down her teacup. "It didn't sound as if anything about that conversation was unexpected."
"I just never realized how deeply modest he is," Sirius said. "I mean—I knew that he was uncomfortable with his fame, but that was a given. He was raised away from all of it, and the level of fame that they've given to a boy has always been absurd. But—James would have gloried in doing something no one else could do. If he hadn't gloried before that in things like being the youngest Seeker in a century."
Narcissa didn't smile, but her eyes shone in a way that was deeper, somewhat, given the way that the Blacks had tended to express emotions. "I think you should work more on separating the father and son in your Mind-Healing."
"Yeah." Sirius sighed and then said something he couldn't have said to Harry without putting undue pressure on him, and hadn't yet worked up the courage to say to his Mind-Healer. "Sometimes I wonder if I should do something other than what—I mean, other than the good thing to do, because it's what James would have wanted."
"Would James have wanted you to tease Harry until he was uncomfortable?"
"No. I mean. He would have expected me to encourage Harry to accept the fame. And to find a girlfriend." There, he'd said it.
"I never heard that James had any problem with a man dating men."
"Not that so much. But James told me over and over when Harry was a baby how much like him Harry was, how much like a perfect Potter. Potter men have married women for generations. Mostly pretty girls they met their first year at Hogwarts, even. I know that what I should do is exactly what I'm doing, but sometimes I wake up from a dream of James being disappointed with me."
There was no one else he could have said that to. He and Narcissa hadn't been close growing up, but for whatever reason—maybe the same reason that had led her to reconcile with Andromeda and make sure her insane mother was imprisoned in her house—there was a sense of family between them now.
"Harry is different," Narcissa said simply. "I don't imagine that many Potter men have defeated Dark Lords."
Sirius had to laugh. "No. Some fought them, but before Voldemort, there was Grindelwald, who—never mind." He had figured out quickly that Narcissa didn't like to talk about Dumbledore.
Narcissa nodded. "Then you don't have to worry about raising Harry exactly the way James would. James, forgive me, died before he could raise him. And do you truly think he would be disappointed in the man Harry became?"
Sirius leaned back and thought about that, which was hard to do when he'd just awoken from a dream of his friend lamenting how Harry could have married a Gryffindor girl like his mother. "No," he said finally. "How could anyone be disappointed in Harry? Just look at him!"
Narcissa smiled at him. "I do approve of him as a potential son-in-law, too, which Draco knows very well. I think this is guilt speaking more than actual belief in what James would have done. And, well, you have much more to feel guilty for and to make up to Harry than not raising him to be exactly like his father, or the way his father would have wanted."
Sirius relaxed with a long sigh. Even though the words made him wince, he'd needed to hear them. And no one except Narcissa would have been stern enough to speak them to him.
"You're welcome, Padfoot."
"Mr. Potter. A moment of your time."
Potter turned around and nodded to her. Elena took a moment to study his face. There was still the boy whom she had followed in him. In fact, there should be more boy than man, given that he had reverted back in many ways to being as "normal" as possible after the defeat of the Dark Lord.
And yet, she considered him more a man now. Perhaps that was simply his new confidence, or the way he tended to walk as if someone was not out to kill him.
At least, as if a Dark Lord were not out to kill him. Which is true now.
Shaking away the indefinable sensations as she realized that Potter was waiting for her to speak, Elena nodded to him and said, "My son seeks a return to Britain. And perhaps to attend Hogwarts next year."
Potter blinked, and then he was Harry again, staring at her with a confused sheen in his eyes. "Okay. What about it?"
"He is, not unreasonably, unsure that you will not want his presence here, after what he did to your betrothed's snake," Elena murmured, looking into the corridor where the young Malfoy waited for him. Malfoy was watching her, but she couldn't be sure if he'd heard Blaise's name or if that was simply the same protectiveness for Harry he always displayed. "But he asked me to ask."
Harry hesitated for a long time. Then he said, "Blaise was a victim of his uncle as much as Draco was a victim of Blaise. I think both of us would be fine with him coming back as long as he promises never to make another move in the direction of our snakes." He glanced at Malfoy, who nodded, although his face had gone as blank as a mirror with no one standing in front of it. "That's something that would have to be non-negotiable." He grimaced a little. "Otherwise, I don't feel comfortable dictating someone's Hogwarts education."
"He'll take his exams abroad," Elena offered. "But otherwise, everything should be in place for his transfer back to the school next year."
She looked directly at Malfoy. He stared back at her, then nodded.
"With the same conditions as Harry pronounced," he said. "I'm fine with it."
Elena closed her eyes briefly. It had been one of the final obstacles in the way of her son returning to Britain, but she had been afraid it would be one of those that couldn't be overcome. "Thank you, Mr. Potter, Mr. Malfoy. I mean it."
There was enough silence that Elena opened her eyes again. It wasn't Harry's way to linger when thanks were being discussed; he still got charmingly embarrassed about them. He had set up a special spell to direct his post to a different location unless he knew the sender, he'd received so many letters that evidently offered distasteful promises.
"I wanted you to know," Harry said softly, "that if I find you using the potions you've invented to poison anyone, not just someone I consider a friend or ally, that I would be most displeased."
Elena slowly inclined her head. Well, there went the plans that she and Malfoy's father had half-made to experiment on the few former unrepentant Death Eaters still around. But Lucius had already warned her that it was unlikely Harry would either grant his permission or remain ignorant of their plans.
"I understand," she added, when Harry continued to look at her.
"Good, then." Harry gave her one of those smiles that could still make him look like a flustered little boy, and walked out of the classroom.
Elena gazed thoughtfully after him. She had heard from a few allies—ones who had stayed well out of the war—that since she was so close the Boy-Who-Lived and had expertise in potions, it would be a simple thing to get control of him with a subtle draught. She had replied that he had a Potions master for a guardian and she wouldn't dare try, and let them assume, as well, that she was afraid of the basilisk.
But the truth was that she didn't want to try. Harry was refreshing enough that it would have been a shame to subjugate him.
She might even have given him a promise not to experiment on the former Death Eaters without his asking for it.
Remus held out his hands in front of him. They were trembling, but even as he watched, they slowed, then stilled.
Because he had chosen to make them do so.
He stood and reached for the clothes he'd tossed in the corner last night when he began the transformation. He stared out the window of the small cottage he was in and watched the sun rise.
He'd still used Wolfsbane last night when he did the transformation. For all the claims of the few werewolves who had survived Voldemort's attack that they could do without it entirely, Remus didn't think he was ready to trust himself like that yet. He still winced at remembering the note in Snape's voice when he asked what Remus had been doing behind an unlocked door with Harry in the house.
But he had concentrated on making the transformation hurt less, not being so swallowed up in pain and fear and self-loathing that he could think of nothing but how much it had hurt. Therefore, he had tried to apply the techniques that the people in Josephine's pack had shown him.
And it had worked.
I am stronger than my curse. I am the inhabitant of this body, and although I might have to change, I shall say how it goes.
He'd never really felt like he was in control, Remus admitted to himself. When he was in Hogwarts, he'd felt like he couldn't openly oppose some of the more cruel pranks that James and Sirius wanted to play, even after they tried to use him against Snape, because they might abandon him if he pushed. When he was in the Order of the Phoenix, he'd gone on dangerous missions on Dumbledore's orders, because people already suspected him of being a traitor and he'd wanted to prove he wasn't one. That full moon night he could have killed Harry, he'd felt helpless to change things, to protest that it was a mistake, to do anything but be swept along by the flood of events because guilt had paralyzed him.
But now he was thinking of himself in a different way.
And he might have, if a life that wasn't exactly normal, still a life that was far more pleasant and peaceful than it had ever been.
Remus smiled. Time to make another decision that he would have been terrified to make before because it would have felt like he was imposing himself. He would send letters to Sirius and Harry, tell them how he was feeling, and ask to visit.
If they said no, or if Snape told Harry to say no, then Remus would live with it. It wasn't the end of the world.
Very little was.
Minerva glanced at the blank spot on the wall, and then glanced away again.
It should have held Albus's portrait. She was sure that there were some people who would believe that it still should. They would point to the good Albus had done in life, decades before he ever knew of Harry Potter's existence.
But Minerva couldn't bring herself to hang the portrait. Perhaps it was unfair. Perhaps it was terrible. Her own memories burned too bright and clearly, though, especially that Albus would have been willing to destroy one of the things that brought Harry strength and joy.
Every day, Minerva saw more clearly how his bond with the basilisk had affected Harry positively. And being rid of You-Know-Who, too, of course, but that wouldn't have happened without the basilisk. Harry laughed more. He smiled more. He took chances that he wouldn't have, speaking out in class even when he might be wrong. He was sparing more time for people who weren't his close friends, including younger children in Gryffindor.
He wasn't driving himself mad with fear of the future. And Minerva felt as if he would have, without the basilisk at his side.
Perhaps that was irrational. Minerva had got letters from people who had known Albus in life that said it was. They urged her to put his portrait on the wall and create some kind of memorial for him as the first anniversary of his death approached, glossing over the crimes he had committed against Harry.
Or, as one letter from Elphias Doge had put it, "not forgetting, but forgiving."
Minerva just shook her head and burned the letters in the fireplace. It wasn't her place to forget or forgive, even if part of her mourned the man she knew and the man he'd used to be.
She couldn't stop other people from holding memorials of their own, and maybe she couldn't stop someone else from putting up a portrait of Albus if they did it after she retired from the Headmistress post. But while she was here, she would resist it.
The better thing to meditate on was the brightness of the world now.
Severus stood in silence beside the door of Harry's room in his quarters, watching as Harry read the letter from Sirius Black.
Harry hadn't said what the letter contained, or the ones before it. Severus hadn't cast charms on them to detect any spells. He was trusting Harry and Dash to do that. He hadn't opened them. He hadn't demanded to know the contents. He hadn't made the point that if Black wanted Harry to stay with him, he would have to demonstrate more conclusively that he'd changed than just writing a few good letters.
But it was taking all his self-control not to do that, not to say that.
Harry looked up from the letter at last. "Sirius wants me to come visit him this summer."
Severus nodded with his best neutral expression, then blinked. "Visit?"
"Yes, of course. Is it okay?"
"Yes," Severus said, still a little dazed. "I—"
"I thought he would want you to come live with him."
Harry considered him with uncomfortably direct eyes for a long moment as he folded up the letter and put it away. "Why would Sirius do that? He knows that I have a guardian I—enjoy living with, and we're not even close enough to the point that we could share a house for months, anyway."
Severus nodded slowly. There was an odd sensation in his head, as if he had been holding his breath and now was letting it go to breathe in scented smoke instead of air. "Of course. I should have thought of that."
Harry stood up and faced him with the same kind of directness that Dash sometimes used. Severus suppressed the urge to scowl for fear that Harry would take it wrongly and think he needed reassurance. It was still odd to see a basilisk's expressions on a human face, however they might be bonded.
"You are one of the most important people in my life," Harry said simply. "I love you. I'm not going to leave you. I might open my life to share with more people, but that's not the same as abandoning you. I thought you knew that." He breathed out and watched Severus carefully.
"I do know that," Severus whispered. "I am simply too used to seeing Black as a rival."
That might not be the whole of it, but Severus thought it was a large part. Even Lily, if he thought of it in a particular way, had preferred Black in the end, despite how malicious he was.
But that underplayed the extent of what Severus had done himself to force her away, and he didn't think he should do that. Not when Harry was standing in front of him and watching him with those bright eyes that saw so clearly.
"I love you," Harry repeated, and then he crossed the small distance between them and folded his arms around Severus's waist, leaning against his chest.
Severus held him close and tried to feel only the beating of Harry's heart, and not how easily that beat might stop. There were some people in the world very dedicated to ensuring that beat didn't stop. He should—think about that.
Harry lay with his head pillowed on Dash's flank, watching the sun set over the lake. Next to him, Draco had curled up, but he hadn't said anything since they'd come out here. Harry thought he was still a little dazed by the effort the OWLS had taken out of them.
So was Hermione, for that matter, but she was up in Gryffindor Tower revising her answers, as best as she could remember them, and obsessing over what she might have got wrong. Harry smiled and shook his head fondly. His friends were all different from his boyfriend, who was different from Severus, who was different from Dash, but he counted himself lucky to have them all in his life.
I should hope that I am different from melodramatic human teenagers, Dash said down the bond. Did you really assume that we would be the same?
The way you say that tells me that teenage basilisks get up to some drama, too, Harry said, and snuggled more firmly against Draco. Draco glanced at him and smiled.
"Is my father trying to pressure you into politics again?"
Harry snorted and rolled his neck so that a persistent pain that had been lurking there since the Transfiguration written exam would go away. Something hummed past him, and he didn't swat, just in case it was the kind of rare insect Hagrid would be upset with him for injuring. "No, just sending me letters about how much I could change if I wanted to."
"I would count that as pressure." Draco tensed under his arm. "Do you want me to speak to him?"
Harry turned his boyfriend's chin and kissed him, long and slow and deep. Draco arched up against him, and Harry felt again the love pulsing through him that he'd felt the night before the battle, the night he'd thought he'd die.
Part of him had been afraid that they'd never recapture that intensity once the battle was past, or even that they would fall apart from each other, that the only reason they'd come together was the pressure he'd been under from Voldemort seeking his life. But he knew now that he'd been silly to worry about that. This was the kind of love that led to marriage. He knew that. All Sirius's teasing about pretty Gryffindor girls—which Sirius only seemed to do because he thought it was some kind of obligation, anyway—didn't change that.
"I don't count it as pressure," Harry replied lazily. "Not the way telling me about actual abuses of power would be. And it's not your burden to fix, love. Your father is the way he is. If a war and being freed of his Dark Mark didn't change him, I don't think I can."
Draco coughed, then said, "I agree." And he hesitated. "They really do care about you, you know. Father and Mother."
"I know, and I appreciate it." It was Harry's turn to hesitate. "Severus does not, ah, think you're the worst option I could have chosen."
Draco laughed loudly enough to make people on the other side of the lake turn to stare at them and Dash stir beneath them. "I know he'll never act exactly like a normal parent would, and I don't hold that against him," he said. "Besides, I never want to fail or disappoint you. He's a good guarantee that I won't."
"Don't let him distress you," Harry said, a little lamely. The last time Draco had been visiting Harry in his quarters off Severus's rooms, Severus had been staring at the door when they came out as if he was calculating how many Potions ingredients Draco's body would make once it was chopped up.
"I understand who he is. I understand who I am, and who I want to be. There's still some distance between those two concepts. Don't worry. I want to bridge the gap."
Harry leaned harder on Draco. Draco leaned back, and together they watched the sun sink and felt the basilisk breathing beneath them.
It was deep night. Darkness ruled from the top of the towers in the castle to the underground Chamber that still ran with water and with the silent, mourning echoes of the stones for their basilisk.
The darkness sighed and slid. There were reaching fingers of it in the windows, looking out with glass on the night. There were sliding fingers that thrummed like souls in the dreams of the people in the beds.
But less darkness than there had been two months ago, when the one who called himself a Dark Lord had been destroyed.
The night sang, and there was one who listened to that song and understood it. Who could read the prophecies in it, if he concentrated. Who knew what was to come. About the Gate that led to the world goblins and wizards had first come from and the Serpents' Congress and the destinies that awaited the one who had decreed he was done with destinies.
Then again, none of them involved a Dark Lord, and many of them involved justice and light and peace.
He thought his human would be pleased to know that his future involved such things.
As he slid through the pipes inside the walls where he had walked as a human, as he rejoiced in the steady glow of the bond in the back of his mind and listened to the songs of the night, Dash was a bondmate and the soul of Salazar Slytherin and a triumphant warrior and a protective snake anticipating the future.
But most of all, he was a basilisk.
That would never change.
Dash touched his Harry's mind once more, and went back to the hunt.