"I still don't think you comprehend the enormity of what you're setting out to do, Harry."
Hermione's words broke the silence, but not the ideological gridlock, as she, Ron, and Harry sat in his room at the Burrow, each one moved to the opposite corners of the room, each being of a slightly different opinion, as they found themselves in something of a stalemate, trying half-heartedly to reach a compromise.
Harry wanted to proceed as planned, that is—as he had planned, which was to set off for Godric's Hollow the morning after the wedding and begin his quests for the Horcruxes. It was, after all, his quest. He wanted to do something. Ron and Hermione, it seemed to him, just wanted to talk, and he was only a grudging participant of the discussion.
Ron was more or less in agreement with Harry, but he, like Hermione, thought they ought to devise some sort of plan before they went tearing across the country. This caution and restraint had less to do with maturity (though he certainly had matured) and more to do with wanting to stay in the safety and comfort of the Burrow for just a little longer. He wasn't afraid, but he also wasn't stupid, and he knew the incredible difficulty they were facing. It unnerved him to observe the carelessness with which Harry viewed the danger, and if he didn't know any better, he'd think his best friend was a little suicidal.
Both Harry and Ron reckoned that though she wouldn't say it right out, Hermione wanted to go back to Hogwarts, and it annoyed them that she kept denying it. Being the shrewd woman that she was, Hermione determined from the verbal traps the two of them kept laying that they were waiting for her to suggest a return to school, and she wasn't going to do it. She didn't want to go back to Hogwarts, and she found it rather interesting that they seemed so intent on projecting this notion. If she didn't know any better, she'd think they were the ones who wished, deep down inside, that they could retreat to the illusion of safety in those sturdy castle walls.
"I get it, Hermione," said Harry dully, and his voice held the maddening insinuation that he was humoring her.
She ignored the insinuation, however, and continued. "Suppose you find all the Horcruxes—" she paused, almost as if to allow for an audience to laugh at the absurdity of that possibility, "you have no idea how to destroy them."
"We've been over this," he said stiffly. "We'll cross that bridge when we get to it."
"Right, and we never will because we don't even know what we're looking for!"
"Well thank you, Captain Sunshine." He gave her a cold, reproachful stare, under which she softened some. "If you think I'm an idiot—or if you've got a better idea to kill Voldemort, you can leave me the hell alone and—"
"Harry, I didn't say it was impossible!"
"No—just that I can't do it!"
There was another silence as each retreated into themselves, Harry to brood, and Hermione to choose her words more carefully. It wound up being Ron who spoke next.
"We just want you to be aware of the situation, is all. Lately you've been acting like—"
"Like you can just do this, without taking precautions, and without planning, and..."
"We've got a plan," he said.
Hermione raised her eyebrows at him in response.
"We're pretty sure R.A.B. Was Regulus Black, that the locket we found in the drawing room two years ago was a Horcrux, and that it's either still in the house or it's been sold by Mundungus Fletcher. So we search the house, and if we don't find it there we track down Dung and make him help us find it. He'll be out of Azkaban in two weeks, we'll meet up with him right away, and tell him he can either cooperate or we'll tell the ministry about any one of his other offenses and he'll be sent back to Azkaban. He knows we will, we've no use for him now with Dumbledore gone—Dumbledore was the only one linking him to our side."
Hermione gave him an appraising look, and gave a small concession. "Alright. Then what?"
"I dunno, we destroy it."
"Come on, Hermione," said Ron, "you could figure it out. Find it in a book or something."
"But we can't use the Hogwarts library," she said, carefully sidestepping the implication that they ought to.
"Look," said Harry, fed up at last, "You can't come if all you're going to is point out what we're doing wrong. I'm doing the best I can, so you can either shut up and help me, or you can stay here." He stood up to leave, and catching the expression on her face, added simply, "I don't need nagging, okay? I'm not stupid, I know it's dangerous. I don't need you to tell me that, I need you to help me."
By the following morning, Hermione had awoken Harry and Ron with the announcement that she had been thinking.
"They can be destroyed," she said firmly.
"Well that's good news," said Ron blearily, "But I think we'd kind of assumed that already."
"Dumbledore's done it, and Harry's done it," she continued. "Supposing we're as powerful as Dumbledore," she paused for a moment, with the expectation that everyone reflect on the complete impossibility of that, "we'll have four blackened hands, and that's assuming we figure out how he did it in the first place." Harry and Ron looked bleakly at her, as Hermione took a breath and said, "So I say, we do it Harry's way."
There was a beat.
"I'd say you were joking," croaked Ron morosely, "but you don't do that."
Harry stared blankly at her. "What are you talking about?"
"Basilisk venom," she said simply.
Ron wiped sleep from his eyes thoughtfully for a moment, and then shrugged, "I suppose we can add that to the list of things to ask Mundungus about."
Hermione shook her head. "There's probably not a single living Basilisk on the planet as we speak. We'll have to breed one."
"How are we going to do that if there are none alive?"
Hermione smiled slightly. "A chicken egg, hatched beneath a toad."
"This is insane," said Harry, swinging his legs out of bed, "you've actually gone insane."
"We'll hatch it ourselves, you're a parselmouth—you can raise it, and we'll collect the venom, and then when we find the Horcruxes we'll just break them up a bit and throw them in. You know it'll work, and Basilisks are known to grow really fast, that's one thing historians know from the journals of Herpus the Foul." There was a pause. "We'll blind him in infancy," she added, "since we only need his venom, and that way he can't accidentally look at one of us."
"Alright," said Harry, giving her a taste of her own, dubious medicine, "Even say we do manage that, I don't think we should. Creating a monster to destroy another monster is... it's just wrong. Dumbledore said the strongest weapon I have is love—not vicious, deadly dark creatures."
"Well, what do you have in mind, Harry?" she shot, throwing up her hands. "What, are we going to stumble across some ancient medallion, are we going to brew a potion and think about our loved ones and chant? Are we going to come across some ancient Celtic love spell that will just destroy them?" Her shoulders relaxed as she finished exhaling, and her expression softened, "Harry, this isn't a fairytale."
She was right, and they all knew it. Harry looked up after a long silence. He still didn't think it was a good idea, but he had no alternative solution.
"So, are you saying that for the next stage in our plan to save the world, I'm going to need to go get groceries?"
"Actually no, it'll have to be a fertilized egg."
Ron sighed, swinging his legs out of bed. "I'll go put a rooster in with the hens. They should be ready in about two weeks."
Two weeks later, Ginny Weasley was summoned down from her room by a knock on the front door.
"Who is it?"
There was a beat. "What are you up to at the moment?"
"Trying to destroy Voldemort," he answered, playing along. "What did you tell me before I left?"
The door swung open, revealing her to him. "That I'd do anything to help you."
There was a romantic pause, as he drank in the sight of her, before he said, rather anti-climatically, "I need to borrow an egg."
She raised her eyebrows at him. "In order to destroy Voldemort you need to borrow an egg?"
"Well actually I'm not planning on returning it, so I suppose taking would be more like it," he said, as she opened the screen door and he followed her inside.
"What are you going to do?" she said, smirking over her shoulder as she led him through to the kitchen. "Bake him a cake? Kill him with kindness?"
He laughed. "Something like that."
"So... Hermione says I'm supposed to talk to you."
Harry looked dubiously at the tiny, hissing creature in the bucket on the table in front of him. It was barely the size of a shoestring. He, Ron, and Hermione had just finished binding the eyelids together and placing a minuscule fold of cloth over them with a permanent sticking charm on it to ensure that it's yellow eyes would never be seen.
"You're a Basilisk... I dunno, I suppose maybe you know that already."
There was a long pause. He felt ridiculous.
"This is ridiculous."
Just then, Hermione poked her head in from the other room.
"We're trying to talk here, Hermione," said Harry quickly. "What do you want?"
"Right—sorry," she said, looking from Harry to the snake with a grin. Harry scowled. "I just wanted to remind you to ask—"
"What she eats," Harry finished for her, "I know. Now would you mind?"
As soon as the door closed with a snap, Harry sighed. "I'm supposed to ask you what you want to eat," he said, giving an almost grudging glance to the little snake.
There was a long pause before he heard it. A faint whisper. "Waaater."
He reached wordlessly for the small dish of water Hermione had set up, and nudged the Basilisk's nose with it, supposing to himself that he ought to help her as she couldn't see.
"Here," he said after a moment, bringing the tray of different food choices over and setting it in front of her. "Knock yourself out."
When the snake appeared to have had her fill, Harry took the leftovers out to Hermione, and then left her to deduce for herself what had been eaten. Then he went back and sat back down at the table and stared into the bucket in which they were raising the little monster.
"So," he said, concentrating on it now so as to make sure that he spoke in Parseltongue, "I'm Harry."
The snake seemed to nod her head in acknowledgment, and the two of them were silent for the remainder of the afternoon.
"What do you think we should name her?" asked Hermione conversationally as the three of them ate their dinner that evening.
"I've already given her a name," said Harry, which was a lie. The fact of the matter was that though he had asked for her help, he was feeling rather miffed at the way Hermione had simply assumed charge of the Horcrux hunt, and found himself taking every opportunity to reassert some leadership in the affair, as it was supposed to be his job in the first place.
She raised her eyebrows at him. "You have?"
"Yes—her name's Hissy."
Hermione's eyebrows climbed higher still. "Hissy?"
"Well okay," said Hermione, giving Ron a look as she returned her attention to her dinner. She chewed a thoughtful bite, and then added, "But you know, if all goes well this snake is going to destroy Voldemort's Horcruxes." Harry looked up. "Don't you think her name should have a little more—er—significance?"
"No," he said blankly. "It's what she does—she hisses. I hiss. We hiss together." He gestured with his hand. Ron looked for a moment as though he was going to laugh, but didn't. They ate in silence for several more moments, and it came as something of a surprise to the other two when Harry spoke again. "It's got plenty of meaning," he said. "In fact—I think it speaks volumes."
"About what?" asked Hermione, apparently unable to contain herself.
"Me," he said evenly, still staring at his spaghetti as he wound it around his fork. "I think it really underlines the fact that I'm not Tom Riddle and not everything I touch has to be steeped in legendary import attesting to my glory."
Ron snorted, and gave Harry a grin. "Touche."
"Hello Hissy," said Harry, rather mournfully later that evening.
"Hello," she said in a small voice. It was only the second word she'd spoken.
He watched her for a moment. "I suppose I could tell you anything," he mused, hearing Parseltongue as he spoke, but still understanding it somehow.
"I can't understand your friends," said Hissy, lifting her head automatically and smelling for him.
"No—you can't," he said, reaching into the bucket and allowing her to wrap herself around his finger. He lifted her out of the bucket as she slithered into the palm of his hand. "And I'm the only human who can understand you. Or at least I'm the only good human who can understand you."
"It's so c-cold in there," she hissed.
He sat back in his chair with her and watched, rather fascinated, as she slithered around, hand over hand, without ever going anywhere, until she coiled up and settled at last in his left palm, as though she'd finally found the perfect spot to rest. "Are you my mother?" she asked.
Though he felt far from maternal at this moment, he grudgingly remembered what Hermione had said to him about the importance of raising the beast with kindness, so as to inspire loyalty. "Sure," he said, not quite gently, but not altogether unkindly either.
Hissy had not been alive for three whole days before she asked Harry the inevitable.
"Where did I come from, mother?"
She lay coiled in his lap as he sat reading the paper, the afternoon sun streaming through the window and making both of them rather warm. Harry folded the paper with a sigh, and picked up the snake in his right hand. He found it easier to speak to his hands than to speak to his lap, for some reason.
"We—Hermione, Ron, and I—hatched you."
"From a chicken egg, under a toad."
"You're making that up."
"I'm not—I swear," he said, chuckling a little. "You could have been a chicken, living in Mrs. Weasley's coop—I picked you out myself."
"Who is Mrs. Weasley?" rasped Hissy, now making a sort of figure eight around his thumb and forefinger.
"Ron's mother," he answered. He knew he should be talking to her about something, that Hermione had stressed the importance of bonding early in the snake's life, but this plan hadn't been his idea, and there was a tiny, horrible part of him that was half hoping that it wouldn't work out as Hermione had predicted.
A long silence then passed, and ended when Hissy desisted in her snaking, as if in thought, and asked almost timidly, "But why was I born, and why can't I see?"
Harry took a deep breath, let it out, and took another one, but neither seemed deep enough, and he still felt a quiet sort of panic in spite of himself. He pushed it out of the way: he couldn't care less about this stupid reptile's innocence. "We need you to help us kill this evil wizard called Lord Voldemort."
"Because he's evil and he needs killing." Hissy was silent in response to this, and Harry felt an annoying obligation to elaborate. "He killed my parents, my godfather, my mentor, and hundreds of other people besides. And he wants to take over the world, and devote it to the Dark Arts—because he doesn't think muggles deserve to live and he thinks some wizards are better than others. He wants to kill me too, because I'm trying to stop him."
By the time he stopped there was a rather savage tone in his voice, and he glared at the snake, his hands almost trembling with gall and indignation. Here was another terrible half hope: he half hoped that the thing wouldn't understand—that she'd express some natural, irresistible attraction to the Dark Arts, and that he'd call Ron and Hermione in here and they'd all agree to kill it before it grew fangs big enough to bite them. But Hissy just wound herself tighter, and asked wonderingly, "How can I help you?"
And yet, remarkably, he was hardly taken aback by her reply, and couldn't register more than the dispassionate thought that he'd never tell Hermione about this conversation—he could tolerate smugness from very few people, and she wasn't one of them.
"You're a Basilisk—you're like, the snake to end all snakes." He shifted the arm that was holding her, and Hissy made a noise but said nothing. "You can't see because when you look people in the eye you kill them." Leaving her no room to regret the loss, he added rather sharply, "Do you want to kill people?"
"Well we don't want that either, that's why we blinded you."
"Yes." This wasn't entirely true—they had refrained from removing her eyes entirely: Hermione didn't think it wise to traumatize her more than was absolutely necessary, but Harry wasn't about to let her know it.
"Then how can I help you kill him?"
He felt rather harried, to be honest. "Don't worry about that now, you'll understand when you grow, er... really long. Just er—don't bite anything that isn't already dead."
"Will I kill it?"
A rational part of him thought that it might be best if Hissy not know of her capacity to kill until they had known her at least a week—or a year, and so Harry lied. "No... but, you'll die."