Lupin took Granger back to her dormitory and Poppy came to take the boys to the Infirmary, leaving Severus and the Headmaster staring at the book on the desk.
"Do you know what it is?" Snape could stand the silence no longer.
"I'm not sure. I certainly hope it's not what I fear it is." The Headmaster being his usually cryptic self.
"Are you going to tell me?"
There was a long pause as the Headmaster apparently thought through the ramifications of his answer.
"You may as well tell me. You know I can't go back to His service now, even if I wanted to - which I most certainly do not."
"It is not that, Severus. It is merely that I do not want to believe that this is what I fear it is - a Horcrux."
There was no blasphemy strong enough, so they sat in silence for a long moment. "So He is vulnerable? We can get rid of Him once and for all."
"You are assuming that he made only one. Not an assumption I am comfortable making." The headmaster shook his head and sighed. "Which means the first thing I shall have to do is find out how many Voldemort has made and I have no idea how to go about doing so. There is very little information about them, and what little there is, is correspondingly hard to discover. I don't suppose anything was ever mentioned in His gatherings?"
Snape shook his head.
"Then I confess, I am for the moment at a loss." Another long silence. "Do you think young Draco knew what he was handing over?"
"I doubt it. He's a self-important little snot, but I don't think he has it in him to be Lucius, let alone Abraxus. Indeed, I have been asking myself if Lucius knew what his son was up to. I suspect he's too wily a plotter to risk alienating a supporter of the Dark Lord, even a junior one like Jasper Mulciber."
"Do you want me to confront the boy?"
"Not yet, why don't you inform young Mulciber's parents and older sister first. You never know, we might drive a wedge between the Mulciber's and the Death Eaters."
Snape got heavily to his feet. "I don't think..."
"Neither do I, but the attempt must be made."
Tomorrow came all too early for Snape and he awoke tired and sore from his trip down the access pipe. A hot shower and a potion took care of his muscles but the stench on the dead basilisk seemed to linger in his nostrils, tainting his early morning tea and souring his mood.
The only bright spot was Poppy's confirmation that Harry (and Mulciber) were still asleep and had received no physical hurt she could not deal with.
Janice Mulciber was horrified when he told her what had happened to her little brother. "I thought he were acting odd," she said, her vowels broadening into a more Yorkshire accent than she usually permitted herself. "I just thought it were... you know... puberty. Our Jacobus were a right maungy beggar when it happened to him. And when he called me a... well never mind that. How is he?"
"Physically he's fine. Mentally, well you'd need to see someone who specialises in the mind and dark magic after-effects to be sure. I suspect he will need help and you might have to be the one who sees he gets it."
An unpleasant smile crossed the girl's face. "Oh no, it won't be me. I'll tell our Mam. She'll sort it all out."
And there was still school and the pupils to deal with. He had to inform the parents that the danger was passed and that term was going to continue as normal. Unbelievably, some of the parents had the nerve to complain about the sudden change in arrangements. Some of the purer bloods employed their full arsenal of condescension and subtle insult and his only revenge was to appear not to notice. Neither party to the conversation was fooled by that. As he worked down his list, his temper got shorter and shorter. He couldn't get hold of the Mulcibers at all and was reduced to leaving a message with a battered-looking house elf.
Harry came to see him, which was very probably the only reason why Snape calmed down enough to get to sleep that night. Harry was so apologetic that Snape had to reassure that boy that he wasn't in trouble. At least he could be sure that his warning about looking before leaping had been understood and taken to heart. Now all he had to do was get the Harry to apply his teaching at the moment of danger and not afterwards.
Later, he'd do it later. Now all he wanted to do was sit and listen while the boy talked. It didn't matter to Snape what he was saying, he was alive, that was what counted.
Next day Madam Camille Mulciber arrived at the school, dressed in black, and announced that Jasper Mulciber had died of a heart attack and that she was taking her children home, with a view to relocating to her family home in France.
Snape and Dumbledore exchanged looks behind her back as Snape left the headmaster's office to escort her down to the dungeons to inform her children. Neither of the two men had any illusions as to what had happened. Madame Mulciber was a Bathory by birth and such were not to be crossed.
She accepted a cup of coffee and a seat in Snape's ante-room as her children packed their trunks. Neither of them seemed particularly distressed, which was hardly surprising given the conversations Snape had had with both of them.
As the house elf disappeared leaving the tray, Camille Mulciber stretched out a slender ankle and adjusted the strap of an elegant shoe. He handed her a cup of Beppo's excellent coffee and they sat in silence for a moment.
"He was not going to do anything," she said. "He was going to allow Malfoy to escape without retribution. I could not allow that and so..." She made an elegant, explanatory gesture.
He sipped his coffee and considered the information carefully. "I had suspected as much," he said eventually. "Although I do wonder why you have confided it to me."
"We are leaving. I do not wish to be 'ere," she dropped her first aitch and stopped for a moment to gather herself. "I do not wish my children to be here when Voldemort returns. I do not want to watch the man they made me marry grovel before that monster or sacrifice my children to an ambition I do not share. Rumour has it that you too have reconsidered your position."
He bowed his head.
"Therefore we are leaving. My family are ruthless but they look after their own: my widow's jointure under my marriage settlement is very generous. We will live comfortably until we can return, if that day ever comes."
She took a substantial velvet bag from an inside pocket of her robes. "I owe young M. Potter a great deal. Not I think a life-debt but still something. Julius does not know him well so I could not buy him anything which would be personally significant, but since my son tells me you have the boy under your protection, I would be grateful if you would use this money to buy him something that would reflect my gratitude."
He took the bag and hefted it. "I would be pleased to. Do you wish to know..."
"No, no, that will not be necessary." There was a knock at the door and Janice Mulciber entered at his command. To his surprise he found that he was considerably relieved at the obvious affection between mother and daughter, an odd relaxation of the knot in his stomach and a warming sensation in his chest. An unexpected drawback to re-entering the world of emotions was that emotions apparently spread. He had started out thinking he cared only for Harry and possibly Albus, and now... Something to think about another day.
Most of the lighter-inclined Slytherins were gathered in the Entrance Hall to say good-bye and then it was time for dinner.
The noise in the Great Hall was insufferable. The pupils were excited both at the sudden change in arrangements and at the lack of information as to why. Harry's part in it was known but not in any detail and the boy at least had the sense to keep his mouth shut. On the Slytherin table, Malfoy was trying to look unconcerned and doing a particularly bad job of it.
Silence fell as the Headmaster got to his feet. "Now that we have all filled our tummies, I should probably explain to you something of what has happened."
"Something, not everything," thought Snape sourly.
"The beast that was prowling the School has been killed and we are once more safe at Hogwarts. We also know how it got into the school, and who was responsible for it."
It scarcely seemed possible, but Malfoy went even more whey-faced.
"The person in question, was not either of the Mulciber's who have returned to their mother's family home following the death of their father."
That got the speculation buzzing. Over on the Gryffindor table, Harry was staring at the headmaster with a pleading look on his face and Albus seemed to see it for he finished by announcing that the following day would be a holiday and that, since tomorrow was a Friday that made a long weekend with Hogsmeade privileges for the upper years. The pupils cheered with unnecessary enthusiasm and left the Hall, half of them already plotting how they could advance their puerile, not to mention seedy, amours. Pah! He was sick of the sight of them - well, most of them anyway.
"Severus?" Lupin was leaning past Pince to talk to him. "I've been thinking. Basilisk venom is valuable, why don't we harvest it and sell some for enough to buy in some mandrake from Indonesia? Harry is making like he's unaffected but he would be pleased to have Ron back and it might take his mind off the events of the last few days."
That wasn't a bad idea at all. There was more than enough venom if they got to it in the next couple of days, might as well get some good out of the monster. According to Mandaville, the rest of the carcass was worthless and would be a pain in the rear to dispose of. Basilisk venom as a solvent hmmm that had possibilities, it would have to be heavily diluted of course and the containers would need to be carefully charmed but there were definite possibilities.
Harry was approaching the High Table and it was good for both of their peace of minds that Snape had just received some congenial food for thought, for he really looked impossibly like his blasted father. Lupin drew in a sharp breath. Ah, so he had noticed too.
A few minutes later he scampered away, reassured that he was still expected on Saturday and a wonderful idea suddenly formed in Snape's mind.
"Lupin," he said before the wolf could open his mouth and make a comment he had no desire to hear. "What do you know about the manufacture and filling of pensieve balls?"