The Best Revenge: Time of the Basilisk

Chapter 30: An Epilogue, three years later...

The doors and windows were open at Lacewing Cottage. It was one of those perfect summer days, just right for reading or potions brewing or walking about or simply sitting and thinking.

Snape was actually engaged in a combination of all the above, with a few other tasks thrown in. It seemed he worked harder during the summer holidays than at any other time. He leaned against the wall of the cottage by the door, waiting.

In only a few seconds, a tanned and fit-looking boy made his appearance and alighted on the path, stumbling a little.

"I hate portkeys," he complained.

"So glad to see you survived the week with Black, Harry," Snape said snidely. For all the sarcasm, he was genuinely happy to see the boy. Harry enjoyed his visits to Unicorn Key, but always seemed pleased to return home.

"Oh, I survived, and I brought presents!"

"Then I suppose you're allowed to come in."

With a mug of tea before him, Harry talked and talked about his adventures, while Snape enlarged the trunk and parcels.

"-Then we swam down to the reef. Did you know about gillyweed? I had gills! I could swim anywhere! We had a great time. I'll have to tell Cedric about gillyweed. It would have worked better than a Bubble-head charm during the tournament..." He paused to take a breath, and laughed at himself. "I'm babbling like Hermione. Here," he said, "these are for you."

Snape unwrapped the parcel, and admired the contents. The stomatolite and the Sargasso Sea Grass were wonderful ingredients, and very hard to put one's hands on.

"Thank you, Harry. You must have gathered these yourself."

"I did! And I found this for Charity..." With great excitement, Harry opened a little box. "Do you think she'll like it?"

It was a rare Caribbean pearl, the product of a queen conch: opaque and delicately pink, swirled with traces of white. "A large one," Snape said. "Ground up, it would be worth a great deal for use in skin treatm-"

Harry laughed. "Oh, no! This is not meant for potions ingredients. It was too hard to find, and I was nearly eaten by a shark then and there! This is for Charity, and I think she'd like to have it set in a piece of jewelry."

"I know she'll love it. She'll be in from the garden shortly." He gave Harry a critical look. "You should be more careful about excessive exposure to the sun," Snape said. "You used the No-Burn cream I gave you, I hope?"

"I did," Harry laughed, exasperated. "I really did! It was great! We were just out all the time." He drank his tea, smiling to himself. He had found out that Sirius was an animagus: a dog. It was so incredibly neat. Sirius promised to teach Harry how to transform, on the condition that Harry never, ever tell anyone (especially Professor Snape) about Sirius' ability. Remus knew, but nobody else. Harry wondered what he might transform into. Something exciting, he hoped. A bird would be best, but anything would be wonderful.

"Now that you're home," Snape said, "perhaps we can begin to prepare for next year. Not that I anticipate any problems, but your O.W.L. year is a serious matter!"

"Meaning this year wasn't?" Harry shook his head. "I do see your point. It was a really strange year, but I worked pretty hard." He grinned pointedly. "The rest of Hufflepuff did, too."

Snape grimaced. "I hope," he said acidly, "that you're not going to do yet another victory dance because the Badgers won the House Cup. It was hardly a surprise this year, since Diggory was Tri-Wizard Champion"

"It sort of put a hole in the whole month of May," Harry confessed. "Nobody could think about anything else!"

"Bad as it was, it would have been far worse if we'd gone with the original plan. The events would have been spaced out over an entire year! Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed."

"That would have been weird," Harry agreed. "And it would have been really hard to schedule the quidditch matches."

"The Headmaster was planning on canceling quidditch entirely," Snape said dryly. "I can tell from the look of mute horror on your face that that would not have gone down well."

"Cancel quidditch?" Harry gasped. "When I was going to start as Seeker?" As captain, Cedric had decided that he needed to be paying more attention to game tactics, and had switched position to Chaser. Most students agreed that was sensible, since it was largely thought that Cedric was getting simply too big to play the position any longer. And there was lean and eager Harry Potter, ready to step in. With some regret Cedric surrendered the position to Harry, deciding that it was the best thing for succession planning, and the team as a whole.

And there was no doubt that Harry was a brilliant Seeker. So brilliant, in fact, that sometimes Snape worried that the boy would go quidditch-mad and decide to play professionally after he finished school. With all Harry's talent for Potions and Defense, that would be a horrendous waste.

There was a rustling in the far corner of the room, like a small and timid mouse. Snape and Harry sat still, waiting. Another rustle, and a squeak, and quick, light footsteps.

"Who is that?" Harry asked, peering theatrically around the edge of the table. "Is that Chloe?"

The toddler, awakened from her nap, squealed in delight. She ducked back out of sight, then slowly peeked out again. Harry made a face at her, and she laughed uproariously. Without any ceremony, she put her hands on his knees, and demanded, "Up."

Once successfully in Harry's lap, she reached for his mug, kicked at the table, and grinned at her father. Snape looked at her, as he always did, with awed astonishment that he had produced anything so pretty. She certainly did not look much like him, other than having very dark eyes.

He had been a little taken aback by Charity's ardent desire to have a child as soon as possible, but given their ages, there was good reason to start immediately. She had planned carefully to have Chloe in early August, to allow her to finish one term and then start the next after a few weeks of recovery.

He had been rather surprised at how he took to Chloe, once she was on the scene. He did not care much for babies as a rule, but Chloe was no ordinary child. She was uncommonly attractive-very pretty, in fact, and had been from her earliest days. She was exceptionally intelligent, too. Charity laughed at him, and teased him about fatherly partiality, but it was clear to him that Chloe was special. He wondered what she would think of the sibling her parents planned to present her with next year. Charity wanted a boy, and already had chosen a Princely Roman name: Sebastian. Snape did not object. The idea of one more child (though no more than one) was not unbearable, and he simply did not care if it was named Sebastian or Celia. Charity liked both names, and she agreed they could definitely forget about naming any daughters, Smethwyk-style, after virtues.

The problem with having a family, is that you had a family. Snape now found himself invited to birthday parties and holiday dinners. They had spent two weeks in New Zealand last year. An interesting experience, but not one calculated to make Snape throw everything over and permanently move to the Antipodes. Furthermore, he now had so many families: his own family he had created with Charity and Harry and Chloe; the family he had been born into; the family he had married into; the family of friends and colleagues he had chosen for himself, which now, most wonderfully, included the Flamels. The things he was learning from Nicholas and Perenelle...

Harry was still going on about his holiday in the Caribbean. Snape supposed he should be glad that the boy and that idiot Black were getting on better now. However...

"Lupin did not join you, after all?" he asked.

"Just for a few days. He's pretty busy in the summers tutoring Sally."

Snape snorted. "And flirting with the girl's mother." He suspected there was a great deal more than flirting going on there, but he was happy to say that it was None of His Business. They had seen the girl in the Nutcracker at Covent Garden last Christmas, and she had looked very pretty and danced very well. And they had seen her again, only last month. Whether her strange half-magical, half-muggle life was sustainable was a question not yet answered. There was too much going on in their own lives to worry much about it.

Charity was incredibly busy with her book. The latest draft was back, and it looked like it might actually be done and printed before next term. It was far longer than she had originally projected, and would be infinitely superior to the tripe currently in use. He hoped this draft was the last. Revising drafts made even the sweet-tempered Charity a little crazed. She would be too busy to deal with it when school began, now that every new class was forming its own Explorers' Club.

Charity had insisted on that. Aside from the fact that a club that included all years would be ridiculously unwieldy, the younger children would be in awe of their elders and not have the opportunities for leadership and creativity that they experienced when associating only with their peers. These clubs were also a good opportunity to spot problems early on, and deal with them. Snape would never forget the amount of concern and work Charity and Flitwick had put into helping Luna Lovegood adjust to Hogwarts. Or, more accurately, helping Hogwarts adjust to Luna Lovegood. Of course, a great deal of the credit there was due to Hermione Granger.

"Are there any biscuits?" Harry asked, bouncing Chloe on his lap.

"Ginger." Snape summoned them over.

"Great!" Harry and Chloe each had a biscuit in seconds. She was very messy with hers: he, thankfully, much less so.

"I thought I'd owl Draco," Harry said, after swallowing. "It might be fun to have him and Theo visit." Theodore Nott had been living with the Malfoys for over a year, ever since his father's suicide. He was doing better, but was still sometimes sad. Snape wondered why Theo regretted that vicious, drunken fool, but he had been all the boy had, for so long. The Malfoys and Notts were not very closely related: only fifth cousins, but the boys were classmates, and the Malfoys certainly had no lack of space. At least he and Draco got on well enough, and the arrangement gave Draco the experience of a sibling, and some awareness that the needs of others ought sometimes to be considered. Draco could be overbearing, especially now that he had inherited all of his late Aunt Bellatrix's money.

Snape considered Harry's proposal, and said, "Actually, we are invited to dine with the Malfoys on Saturday, but if you want to see him before that, by all means invite him. You need to start thinking about your birthday, too. Charity keeps saying that, so I'll say it for her this time."

"I was thinking about another trip to muggle London. We could go to the cinema together and then come back here for dinner. Muffy makes the best cakes!"

Snape groaned to himself, thinking of what it would be like to herd two dozen teenagers for a day. "Tell me you're not going to invite the Weasley twins!"

"I think they're brilliant!" Harry defended them. "If I had money, I'd invest in the joke shop they're planning. They've already sold some of their ideas. Besides, if I invite Ron, I ought to invite them, because they're really more my friends than he is."

Snape was not amused. "And the entire Hufflepuff quidditch team, too, I suppose."

Harry grinned slyly. "Nobody can accuse me of not being a team player! The cinema idea is good though: better than having a dance, like Cedric's mother insisted on!" He grinned more widely. "A quidditch game, followed by a dance. What a concept! Lucky for us you were there!"

The Diggorys had thrown an enormous party to celebrate their son's victory in the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Cedric's birthday was during term, and thus he could not have a party then, so the Diggorys had overcompensated on a very grand scale. There had indeed been numerous injuries, and Snape himself had been called to treat some of them. The young crowd seemed to have had good time, at least. Harry had danced with all his-what to call them?- "girlfriends" was not the right word, really, but Harry did have a lot of friends who were girls.

Of course, there had also been the dance at Hogwarts to celebrate the Tournament. Harry had wanted to ask Hermione, but had been too late off the mark, and she had gone with Neville instead. She had looked quite nice, too. Charity thought Hermione the sort of girl who would grow into her looks, as she herself had. Draco had wanted to ask Hermione himself, and had sounded Snape about it, but he, like Harry, had been too late. Perhaps it was just as well. Snape was not sure that Lucius and Narcissa were really ready to see pictures of their son in the Daily Prophet: pictures in which the muggleborn witch beside him would inevitably be described as his "girlfriend." The day might come, however, when they would just have to get over it.

Susan and Hannah had been snapped up early by Justin and Ernie, and Harry had been maneuvered into asking Tansy Prince, of all people. Tansy was nice-looking enough, and a decent student, but she was such a fan. And then there had been the business of the incredibly loud Howler, full of embarrassing information, which arrived in the middle of the dance, sent by her little sister Marigold.

So, just to avoid that situation, Harry invited Sally-Anne Perks to the Diggory dance, and told no one about it beforehand. They seemed to have had a very good time, though the situation involved Lupin having to bring her and fetch her back.

The Daily Prophet did indeed send photographers, and there had been a particularly annoying one of Harry and Cedric together, describing the Diggory boy as "Wizarding Britain's Newest Hero!" If that were not ludicrous enough, Harry was labeled, "Yesterday's Hero, The Boy-Who-Lived!"

Sometimes Snape thought of starting his own paper, filled entirely with verified, incontrovertible facts, as a corrective to the sleazy lies and insinuations of The Daily Prophet and the utter insanity of The Quibbler.

He sighed. "Whatever you decide, make up your mind and put it on the calendar. We're going to be extremely busy for the next month."

It was something a relief, really, that the world had moved on and had stopped revolving around Harry. The number of fan letters had markedly decreased, as had the requests for autographed pictures. Harry did not seem bothered by it, saying that he would rather have people talk about him for doing something he could actually remember. Snape had always known that the prophecy that had Albus so concerned was bunk: or at the very least, had already been fulfilled when Harry was a baby.

And now Albus knew about Lacewing Cottage. He had found out, in his nosy Dumbledorish way, during the spring holidays last term. He had not been angry, but had come to the cottage and examined the wards very carefully. He was a distinguished old wizard, so Snape forbore to complain...much. Really, while protecting oneself and one's family was certainly a sound scheme, Albus persisted in acting as if Lord Voldemort would someday pop back into their lives.

He was gone: quite gone. Flamel had disposed of the mirror, where Tom Riddle experienced eternal joy in another dimension as the master of the Philosopher's Stone. Snape's Dark Mark had vanished, and that meant that the last of the Dark Lord was gone from this world, didn't it? Certainly, all the horcruxes had been destroyed.

All but one, perhaps. Sometimes, in the dead of night, Snape woke, thinking about the curious diary that now was stored away in a locked and warded drawer of the Headmaster's Office. Had it been a horcrux, or merely enchanted? If it were merely enchanted, how had it spoken to Harry and shown him visions? If it had been a horcrux, what had happened to it?

No one had ever found Zacharias Smith. His disappearance was one of the mysteries of the British wizarding world, and a number of speculative books had been written about it, suggesting a number of scenarios, each more absurd than the last. Snape had a pet theory of his own, but it was so far-fetched, and so disturbing, that he had no wish to speak of it to anyone else, much less commit it to paper for publication.

It was just possible that a diary horcrux could have lured the boy back to Hogwarts, and that somewhere-perhaps in the Chamber of Secrets itself-it had consumed him. A body would have remained, certainly, but that could have been disposed of: by fire, or by the basilisk that they sometimes visited for potions ingredients.

What then? The resurrected Tom Riddle would have been a boy of sixteen, adrift in an alien world of fifty years in the future, with no money, no qualifications, no home and no family. He would have had no connection to the Dark Mark or to any of his previous followers. If he had managed to slip out of the school, he certainly would have attracted attention.

But then, Snape would think more on the matter, and imagine ways in which he himself could have successfully escaped. If he had no other virtues, the Dark Lord had been bold and resourceful, and very, very clever...

Always, with the first light of dawn, came the realization that such fantasies were ridiculous. Tom Riddle was gone.

Harry smirked at Snape. "I did learn something really neat from Professor Lupin, so it wasn't all playtime and potions ingredients!"

Snape regarded him skeptically. "And what would that be?"

Harry told Chloe, "I'm going to show you something amazing!" He drew his wand, took a deep breath, and incanted, "Expecto Patronem!"

White mist swirled from his wand and took shape before them: a snout lengthening, streaks of white fur smoothing along flanks, feet planted firmly in the earth. It was a creature fierce, truculent, and unintimidated by predators larger than itself. The badger patronus ran about the room, sniffing at Snape and then Chloe. She stared at it wide-eyed and reached out to pet the phantom. It bared sharp little teeth, and dissipated with a soft growl. Chloe screamed out, "More! More!"

"Too much sugar!" laughed Charity, peeling off her gardening gloves as she came through the door. "Oh, there you are, Harry! Did you have a good time?" She kissed the top of his head and took the wailing Chloe from him, "Oh dear! Somebody needs a change, I'd say! Tell me all about it in a minute!"

She vanished from the kitchen, and they could hear her soothing the overexcited baby.

"A patronus?" Snape said. "I'm impressed. Any particular reason Lupin decided to teach you that?"

Harry shrugged. "We had time. Sirius always sleeps really late. And there was the thing about Barty Crouch and the Dementors..."


Barty Crouch, Jr., whom everyone thought long dead, had not been. His father had hidden him at home, having somehow got him out of Azkaban. No one was certain about exactly what had happened. Perhaps the disappearance of the Dark Mark had lulled Barty Sr. into complacency. At any rate Barty the younger had messily killed his father, and then roamed at large for some weeks. There had been a panic of sorts, and as it was believed that Barty might go after Harry, the Ministry had insisted on stationing Dementors at Hogwarts.

Harry had reacted very badly to them, and it was a tremendous relief when Barty was caught and killed by the Aurors, ironically nowhere near Hogwarts at all. The situation had caused Snape weeks of anxiety.

He said, "All things considered, it's just as well that you know as much as you possibly can about defending yourself."

Harry grinned, "And Professor Lupin thought it would be good for extra points on the O.W.L.s."

"There is that."

"And it could come in handy if I ever have to save the world."

"How very droll you are. It must be Black's influence. I hardly think you need to worry about that! After all," Snape snorted, quoting their favorite caption from The Daily Prophet, "you're only Yesterday's Hero!"

Harry laughed, and took another biscuit. "Thank goodness!"

Yes, it's over and done. Thanks tremendously to JOdel for her encouragement and beta work. Keep yours eyes peeled for that illustrated version of the story she's creating.

Thanks to my readers and reviewers for your overwhelming support. This has been an amazing experience.