Note: The chapter is also posted as Chapter 46 of Book 1. In response to the request that I start a new story, I shall leave 46 and 47 up as preview chapters, but will continue the story here. Book 1 will be designated as complete. Book 2 will not be nearly as long as Book 1.

The Best Revenge: Time of the Basilisk

Chapter 1

"Professor?" Harry asked uncertainly. "Are you all right?"

Snape scowled. His fury was so great that it was in danger of boiling over and scalding innocent bystanders. He attacked his sandwich ravenously, and did not answer straightaway.

He would have preferred to enjoy their next to last lunch before the return of the rest of the students. The intimacy of the single table would be gone, and everyone would return to the rigid separation of student and teacher, of house against house.

But Harry was still looking at him in concern. Snape swallowed, and tried to compose himself.

"Professor Quirrell is unable to continue teaching this year. He will need considerable time for rest and recuperation. The Headmaster has found a substitute instructor for Defense."

"Hmmm..." Harry considered. "And--it's somebody you don't like." He smirked. "You're eating that sandwich like you'd like to bite someone."

Snape muttered, "It's not I who am likely to do the biting."

Dumbledore had at least warned him before the staff meeting. Otherwise, very unpleasant things might have happened. He had four hours to pull himself together before the blast from his past was in his face and personal space.

Charity arrived and sat down by him. After a brief glance, she asked, "Severus? Are you all right?"

The staff meeting went smoothly enough. Remus Lupin had gone rather grey, Snape smirked. More a true wolf-colour than the disguise of youthful humanity he had worn as a teen.

Minerva stood by Lupin as if sponsoring him--or protecting him from Snape. He cast her a level look. How could she expect him to be happy about this? He understood the difficulty of finding a substitute at short notice, but Lupin?

Once again, were the students to be put in danger unnecessarily? Or if they were not to be in danger, was that to be because Snape himself was asked to take additional duties upon himself?

The rest of the staff was welcoming enough. Who else knew his secret?

Not Sprout or Flitwick, who remembered Lupin as a diligent student. Not Kettleburn or Sinistra or Vector. Certainly not Trelawney, who was not only as clueless as usual, but three sheets to the wind on the Headmaster's sherry.

And not Charity, alas, who looked over at Snape with a smile, after the introductions.

"How nice! There'll be someone else our age on staff."

Snape growled, and casually put his hand on Charity's waist. He caught Lupin's eyes, and narrowed his own.

Just so there's no mistake, wolf.

He might be sworn to silence, but Harry could surely draw his own conclusions when they began work together on the Wolfsbane Potion. Even more so, when the boy realized they were making it every month.

One more thing to do. They had been busy enough in the past few days, between going through the owlery presents and dealing with Hagrid's dragon.

Was Hagrid out of his mind? Of course, after getting away with bringing a Cerberus into Hogwarts, no doubt he thought a guardian dragon would be equally welcome. Harry had eventually remembered about the dragon's egg, and told Snape, and Snape had told Dumbledore.

And it was in fact, the next subject of the staff meeting.

Dumbledore put the best possible face on it.

"Our own Hagrid happened upon a dragon's egg, and has managed to keep it viable. Professor Kettleburn has determined that the hatching is not imminent. Therefore, the egg is a wonderful educational opportunity--even for our youngest."

There was a murmur of interest.

"--How did he find an egg?"

"--What breed of dragon?"

"--Will we keep it for the hatching?"

Dumbledore beamed.

"Indeed yes. Our Norwegian Ridgeback will hatch here at Hogwarts. I have obtained Ministry leave, since Professor Kettleburn will be overseeing the process. All the students will be given the opportunity to see the egg and the hatchling--something I daresay that will extremely well-received. Afterward, a Hogwarts alumnus, Charles Weasley, will take the hatchling to the Romanian dragon reserve where he works. A special event indeed!"

"Can't wait to tell my N.E.W.T class!" Kettleburn agreed. "A dragon! They'll all want to help!"

"Yes--well--" Dumbledore's smile grew a bit forced, "Do see that your N.E.W.T. class ends the project with the same number of fingers with which they began it."

"Hear, hear!" McGonagall added, shooting Kettleburn a dark look.

Something had shifted between Snape and the Malfoys. He was enjoying himself at their New Year's Eve party.

He found himself unintimidated and at ease in the midst of the self-promoting grandeur. And in part, he admitted, because the Malfoys themselves were more at ease than he had ever seen them.

Was it the untainted friendship between Draco and Harry? It was astonishing what the boys had achieved together in only a few months. They had largely united their yearsmates behind them, defied years of bad old school traditions, and defeated a Dark Lord, not once but several times. And they had defeated him convincingly. The Dark Lord was gone--gone for good--or at least as gone as such creatures could be.

Snape was not surprised that his Dark Mark remained, though it was nearly invisible. There was the horcrux in Harry, of course, and the fact that Tom Riddle had not precisely ceased to exist. He did exist, though in a different dimension. Snape felt more confidence in the mirror prison when he heard from Nicholas Flamel that the alchemist had taken a hand in the disposal of the mirror.

Lucius' Dark Mark must remain as well, a secret reproach to him for the rest of his days, or until the horcrux was removed from Harry. That might indeed rid Riddle's remaining flunkeys of that most distinguishing of marks.

I must remember to tell Harry why he must never get a tattoo. One grows up and changes one's mind, and then there is that reminder of a time when one was daft and stupid and utterly bereft of taste...

He no longer felt that Lucius held any power over him. More than that, he no longer felt that Lucius wished to hold any power over him. Without the fearful favour of a Dark Lord to vie for, there was nothing left but to be--friends. Yes: he supposed they really were friends, after all, since they had shared unique experiences and understood each other's follies in a way few others could.

And Narcissa, too, seemed very relaxed. Her smile was warmer, less measured. Snape suspected that she had always feared that some day the Dark Lord would return, and with him her dreaded sister Bellatrix. He supposed that Narcissa might even love Bellatrix, after a fashion; but it was a love mixed with terror and apprehension and pain. Bellatrix had loved Draco when he was a baby--very much, apparently--but she had been a danger to him, even then, mad as she was. It was one of those unaccountable mercies that she had had no children of her own. Dark Magic poisoning, he supposed. She had done more than dabble, and while her outward appearance had not altered like Riddle's, Snape knew the dire consequences to anyone who used magic to torture children for pleasure. She had boasted of it, time and again, and magic had exacted its own punishment.

Not that the Malfoys had changed entirely. That would be too much to hope for. The guest list was much the same as in years past, though Snape wondered if that was because the invitations had been sent out weeks ago. Next year might see a very different cast of characters--especially among the youngsters.

But enough of reflection, he finally decided. Charity was looking at him, brows raised, waiting for him to join her as she spoke to the Australian Magical Ambassador. Perhaps he was enjoying himself this year simply because he had a date.

Draco downed another ginger wine in between dances. The adults had decided watching the "children" dancing was just the dearest thing ever. Next they had to perform the Solstice Circle, and Harry cringed, wondering if he would trip on the girls trailing scarves. Maybe if they hid here in the corner behind the plants, the girls would just do the dance without them...

"Are you going to ride the Hogwarts Express tomorrow, Harry?"

"I suppose. It would be fun. I won't have any luggage, though I might bring a picnic hamper--"

"No need! My turn this time! Look here, let's grab a lot of compartments close together for our club and we can have a regular party. I could bring heaps of food, and we can play games and hear about the holidays. I'll send Hermione an owl about that stealing the Crown Jewels game. That's fun." He whispered, "I wish we could tell everyone what we did. Defeating the Dark Lord! I'd be Minister for Magic straight out of Hogwarts!"

"Boys!" screeched Pansy, "I see you, malingering behind those potted palms! We need you here and now!"

Harry asked Draco, "So we defeated the Dark Lord. What are we going to do about the Dark Witch of the Dance, I wonder?"

"Obey her, for now," Draco advised. "Her power is too great."

Though the whole story of Voldemort was to remain a secret, Snape agreed that Harry was going to have to tell his Hufflepuff friends something. Harry had warned them that Quirrell was dangerous. Now that Quirrell was no longer dangerous, an explanation must be given.

An innocent man under the Imperius curse was the obvious solution. A malicious foreign wizard had wished to cause trouble at Hogwarts. Quirrell had been his victim, but had at last escaped his influence. The situation would be kept quiet to salvage the poor man's life and career.

And Quirrell himself would have to be apprised of the decision of his colleagues. Dumbledore and the Heads of Houses came to visit him on New Year's Day. Charity came along, as one privy to events. Poppy Pomfrey stood watch, ready to remove anyone who caused too much distress to her patient.

"I must say," Quirinius managed, "you're all being awfully generous about all this. It's not like I just made an ass of myself. I made a monster of myself. I tried to kill students. I really could have. It was purest luck that I didn't. If you gave me the boot, Albus, or had me arrested, it would be no more than I deserve."

"Quirinius," Dumbledore replied in his kindest tones, "I've always believed in second chances. It was made clear to me that the possession was not your doing. Wiser heads than mine prevailed, thank Heaven, and your life has been spared to us. I want you to make the most of it."

Quirrell sighed and studied his pale hands. "You do know my magic has been damaged."

Poppy was nodding regretfully. The professors glanced unhappily at one another.

"Yes," Dumbledore. "We are aware that it will be somewhat--limited--in future. But you will have your extended holiday with your family. Take strength from that--and them. I will find a solution. I am sure there will be something for you next September."

Greatly daring, Charity spoke up. "Perhaps Quirinius could take over the History position. We could use a highly motivated teacher there."

"My dear child!" Dumbledore answered, a little scandalised, "would you ask me to sack poor Binns?"

"Binns needs to go, Albus," Snape declared. Charity would never forgive him if he didn't back her. Besides, she was absolutely right. "He's dead, Albus. He's incapable of adapting his material to the needs of the students. They need to know the past, if there's to be any hope that they won't repeat it."

"Professor Binns might be the given the position of Professor Emeritus, Albus," Minerva suggested. "He would be welcome to advise us at staff meetings, if he wishes. It is indeed time. Our History scores on the O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s have become a scandal!"

"I am--rather fond--of history," Quirrell agreed timidly. He clutched the idea like a drowning man grasps at a piece of flotsam. "You wouldn't regret it. There's a great deal I could do..."

"No doubt, no doubt." Dumbledore looked at the faces about him and saw their determination. "Perhaps the position needs someone who will bring new life to it--"

"--Or any," Snape muttered.

"Where's Sally?" Harry asked, looking around the compartment. The train was pulling out at last, and he was set to enjoy a few hours with his best friends.

They had squeezed in like sardines in a tin: Justin and Ernie, Susan and Hannah, Hermione and Neville and Draco and Harry. Next door were Greg and Vince and Theo and Blaise with the Ravenclaw lads. Pansy and Daphne were sitting quite amicably with Lavender Brown and the Patel twins. Lisa Turpin was there as well, and had encouraged Millicent Bulstrode to join them. Lisa's father knew Millie's from work, and he had asked her to make an effort there. Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnegan were in the corridor, making a tremendous racket as they acted out part of a film they had seen together over the holiday.

Justin shifted uncomfortably at Harry's question, and gradually all eyes were fixed on him.

Finally he said, "Sally's not coming back to Hogwarts."

A stunned moment, followed by a half-dozen "Whats?" and two goggling stares of disbelief.

Justin took a deep breath and told them the whole story. "You knew my family was getting together with Sally and her mother to see The Nutcracker. So--there we were and we all got on awfully well. I wish you all could have been there. The ballet was gorgeous and we had a super time. Sally's mother had been a dancer, you see, and she and my mother knew some of the same people. And my mother took a look at Sally and got all interested in her. She had Sally and her mother over for tea, and Sally danced for her. And my mother started calling people. You've got to understand, my mother doesn't just like ballet--she gives quite a bit to different companies, and she knows people."

Draco was already nodding sagely, understanding better than the rest the concept of personal influence.

"Well" Justin went on. "She got Sally a special audition at the Royal Ballet School. And there was an opening. And Sally got it. And she's going there from now on."

Hermione was horrified. "But what about her magical education? That's very important, too!"

There was a storm of agreement. Harry didn't know what to say. If he were as good at something other than magic as Sally was at dancing, what would he choose?

Justin shrugged. "Sally's going to be a day student, and live at home. Her mother is going to write to Professor Dumbledore and ask if he can recommend a tutor for her magic. Maybe not right away, because she needs to get adjusted to the Royal Ballet School, but maybe by the summer. Sally knows that she needs to get some O.W.L.s in order to be a qualified witch and have a right to use a wand independently. Maybe Professor Sprout will go and talk to her mother. I don't know. All I know is that Sally was over the moon about going to the Royal Ballet School. That's what she wants, and I promised I would owl her and tell her what I'm doing and help her however I could."

"But what will she do after her dancing school?" Hannah asked, a little frightened. "How will she live? Can she make money dancing?"

"Of course she can," Justin assured her. "If she does well, they'll take her into the Royal Ballet, and she'll dance all the time. Look here," he said, thinking hard. "Why don't we all go to a ballet together sometime--like a field trip? We could get a box together. In the spring they'll be doing Giselle. Maybe if you saw what it's like, you'd feel better about it."

"Not everyone at that school becomes a ballerina," Hermione pointed out wisely, knowing more of the muggle world than the others.

"That's true," Justin agreed, "but Sally has a lot of talent, and if they felt that dancing wasn't going to work out for her, they'd let her know. She can get a tutor and keep up with her magic and maybe learn to do something else. I've heard of witches and wizards who never went to Hogwarts and still became qualified."

"She'll never work for the Ministry," Susan said darkly.

Harry considered. "That probably wouldn't be what she'd want, anyway. Maybe she can learn all about dance and then teach ballet to witches and wizards. Or teach a class in it at that Wizarding Theatre place. It might be something new and different. Imagine if there were a theatre in Diagon Alley, and it could show plays and films and even have music and dance, too. Why not?"

"That's a great idea, Harry!" Neville was entranced. "I loved that show you Puffs put on! I wish I could see something like that all the time!"

Draco considered bringing up magical theatre in Paris, but decided that would not be tactful. Not everyone was fluent in French, after all. Sally's dance had been very pretty, and a whole entertainment of dancing with nice costumes and music might be novel and diverting. It would be an adventure. And a box--just as the Malfoys had in Paris--would mean they wouldn't have to mix quite as much with the muggles.

"Perhaps we should see what Professor Burbage would say about it," he suggested with his best Malfoy air of authority. He barely noticed Hermione and Harry rolling their eyes at each other. "Perhaps something might be arranged. Of course we'll miss Sally--she's so good at the magical dances--but it's not like she can get her ballet lessons at Hogwarts!"

Harry knew he'd miss Sally. She had been the Puff he had paired up with the most, since Ernie was usually with Justin, and Susan with Hannah. He'd be a bit of an odd-man-out, now, but Sally would love all the dancing...

There was certainly no accounting for tastes. He'd rather have needles stuck in his eyes than go to a dancing school, but looking at it realistically, he knew that Sally was not the most powerful or talented witch of her year. She was, however, certainly the best dancer.

The conversation moved on to other things--above all to the excellent luncheon in the bottomless picnic hamper Draco produced. There was wonderful white hot chocolate to drink, and some pastries from Summerisle's as a special treat. Hermione though they were almost too gorgeous to eat. Almost.

"Too bad about Sally," Draco remarked a little later, as he wiped his fingers. "A pretty girl. Even Father thought so. Well, we'll still have most of our year in the club. Millie will be coming regularly now, I'm told."

"And Ron Weasley, too," Harry said. "I spent some time with him in the past few weeks. He really wants to be friends, and he's a really good chess player."

"Smith won't like that," Draco smirked.

"Not at all. I wonder what he'll do while we're all at the club meeting?"

"Nothing of interest even to himself, I'm sure!"

The train pulled into Hogsmeade station, and the students milled about. No one noticed that one of them was still seated, and writing furiously in a second-hand diary.