In the morning, with their bruises freshly balmed and Harry's glassed once again repaired, the four Slytherin boys and Ginny Weasley walked down to the Great Hall. There was an awkward moment at the door, when Ginny blushed and hesitated and finally mumbled, "thanks," before running off to her own table. Harry was glad to be spared the need to reply. Rescuing someone from having her soul sucked out by the adolescent Dark Lord was a bit different than letting someone copy one's notes for class, after all. Harry didn't know quite what to say.

They followed Ginny into the Great Hall, where the rest of the student body was already assembled. Fortunately everyone was too busy exchanging rumors to pay attention to the late-comers, so Harry and his friends slipped in quietly. They found a free space at the Slytherin table between Pansy and Theodore, and looked around. Half of the students were wearing traveling cloaks, ready to board the train for home after breakfast. The rest were either better informed, or just more hopeful: many were still dressed in bathrobes and slippers.

The Great Hall was buzzing with curious speculation. The professors hadn't said much while escorting their students to breakfast, and now misinformation ran rampant. Harry heard several Hufflepuffs insisting that Dumbledore had overthrown the whole Ministry and was planning to conscript the students of Hogwarts into his personal army. That was argued against by a group of Ravenclaws, who seemed to think that the Heir of Slytherin had been Cornelius Fudge all along, and he had just been apprehended by a secret plot between Dumbledore and his goblin allies.

Harry snorted. Some people would believe anything.

He scanned the ranks of teachers sitting at the high table. Every one was in attendance, even a few that Harry didn't recognize. Hagrid, back from Azkaban at last and looking pale and cheerful and, as usual when he was indoors, too large to be allowed, sat grinning at the very end of the table. He caught Harry looking at him and waved. The only person missing was the bright, flamboyant figure of Gilderoy Lockhart.

"Where's Lockhart?" Harry asked.

"Didn't you hear?" Theodore Nott said, smirking. "He's done a bunk."

"What do you mean?" asked Draco.

"Ran off," Theodore explained. "Last night, during all of the...ruckus," he said delicately. "Packed his bags and fled. Didn't even stop to resign properly, just left a note in his office and hightailed it. Snape was griping about him the whole way up here."

Harry's jaw dropped. "No way," he said.

"Did he give any excuse?" Draco asked.

"Not a good one, at least according to Snape," said Theodore.

A fourth year Slytherin leaned across the table toward them, her long brown braid trailing between the empty dishes. "My aunt works for the Daily Prophet," she said breathlessly. "Wait until she hears about the great Gilderoy Lockhart running away from a monster! I wouldn't be surprised if the story makes the front page, the way his books have been selling. Ought to be quite the scandal," she told them, grinning.

"That should be a blow to his reputation all right," said Draco, smirking nastily.

"Well," said Harry, in his best imitation of Lockhart's pompous tones, "celebrity is as celebrity does."

They all laughed.

Pansy Parkinson turned around to see what was so funny, and she frowned. "Where were you?" she asked them all, although she was staring at Draco. Her tone accusatory, Pansy continued, "I didn't see you when Snape came to collect everyone; you weren't off sneaking around again were you? If you've lost us points this close to the Cup, no one will be pleased..."

Draco started to brush Pansy off with a glib explanation, but a sudden commotion interrupted. There was a buzz of excitement near the large double doors that led to the entrance hall. Harry craned his neck to see what was happening. The noise spread in a ripple, keeping pace with the tall, long-bearded figure walking down the long aisle between the tables: Professor Dumbledore. When Dumbledore climbed onto the dais, a hush fell over the hall. The headmaster scanned the assembled students for a long moment before he started to speak.

"Greetings, Hogwarts," Dumbledore said. "Let me start by saying, first of all, how glad I am to be back among you all. Before we can be derailed by sentiment, however, let me set your minds at ease: the crisis is over. The Chamber of Secrets has been closed—quite violently, as some of you no doubt noticed"—a few people at the Slytherin and Hufflepuff tables chuckled; the students from the towers looked confused —"and the Heir of Slytherin has been, at long last, defeated." Dumbledore smiled, and his twinkling eyes came to rest on Harry and his friends. "We have some of our own to thank for this," Dumbledore said, "and a few house points to award to those brave students who broke so very many rules in their efforts to save this school." A few more people laughed, McGonagall not among them. Several Slytherins grumbled, and Harry squirmed in his seat. For once, Draco didn't preen and bask at the prospect of attention, but ducked his head, looking uncomfortable.

"First of all," said Dumbledore, "to Mr. Harry Potter, for sheer nerve and stubborn morality, I award one hundred points. To Mr. Draco Malfoy, for clever lies under pressure, another one hundred points. To Mr. Gregory Goyle, for stout shoulders and unwavering loyalty, one hundred points. And finally," Dumbledore said to the ringing silence that filled the Great Hall, "to Mr. Vincent Crabbe, for his swift feet and determined presence of mind, twenty-five points. Well done, gentlemen. Hogwarts owes you a debt—as do I. Thank you."

The silence was broken with a roar. Cheering erupted from all four tables, and amongst the teachers as well. Even those Slytherins who had most enthusiastically supported the actions of the Heir couldn't help but be delighted by such a massive allotment of house points. Snape clapped as hard as anyone, and Harry thought he saw a smile flicker across the dour Potions Master's face, but it could have been just a trick of the light.

Harry beamed, looking around happily. Draco seemed a lot m more cheerful, now that he had won a hundred points for their house. Crabbe and Goyle both looked dumbfounded, but pleased. Several people leaned across the table for congratulatory handshakes. "Brilliant work!" "That's the House Cup pretty much in the bag, don't you think?" "That'll make it nine years in a row—pretty good streak!" they said. A few people at the other tables looked confused, and Harry heard a few whispers like, "But I thought he was the Heir," and, "I thought it was the other one—but either way..." and even, "Was it all a game to rig the Cup?" but for the most part, the cheering drowned everything else out.

Dumbledore finally waved them all to silence, his expression sober. "Yes, well done students, well done. You have the thanks not only of Hogwarts, but my own personal gratitude as well." He nodded to Harry, who flushed with pride, and to his friends; Draco avoided Dumbledore's eye while Crabbe and Goyle, as usual, just looked blank.

"However, as is the case with many victories, this one was not without its share of sorrow." Dumbledore stared out at the students, his lined face tired. "Madame Pomfrey assures me that the Mandrakes are coming along well, and we can expect the monster's Petrified victims to be returned to us within the month. But there is one who can not return." Dumbledore's gaze found the Ravenclaw table. The students there had gone very quiet, and clustered together. "I would like you to take a moment, please, and reflect upon Miss Penelope Clearwater. She was a clever and thoughtful girl, who was always happy to help others, be it through her Prefect duties or in informal study-sessions with struggling students. We will miss her, and must deeply regret that she was taken from us so early, her potential never to be fulfilled.

"But Penelope Clearwater was taken from us—not lost. She was murdered, not by a monster, but by the man who controlled that monster and was thus, himself, a far greater monster than any mere creature can ever aspire to be. That is the true nature of evil: a thinking, scheming, speaking monster, who lies and manipulates and frightens. When you face evil in your lives—and I will not coddle you with lies of my own, and say that you will never have to endure such a thing—when you face evil, you must face it bravely, straight-on, because to allow yourself to be co-opted, even for an instant, is to say that you, too, would be willing to kill innocents like Penelope Clearwater, whose only crime was in failing to close her eyes when faced with something unfamiliar. We must never close our eyes, because that is where true evil lurks: in the shadows, behind the monsters."

Dumbledore's eyes seemed to be boring straight into Harry. "And there are monsters in this world, students," the headmaster continued quietly. "They are not always scaled and fanged, either; often they hide behind charming smiles. It is only through vigilance, and awareness, and our own desire to do the right thing no matter the cost, that we can attempt to prevent further tragedies like this one."

He stood then, holding his goblet high. Harry noticed that his own goblet had filled itself magically while Dumbledore was talking. "I would like you all to join me in raising a toast to Penelope Clearwater," Dumbledore said, "a girl who saw far and looked farther; a girl who sought knowledge, and shared it, freely. Remember Penelope Clearwater, and remember monsters."

. . . .

The next few weeks passed slowly for Harry. It seemed wrong for the victims of the Heir of Slytherin to still lie Petrified after Riddle had been defeated. Harry thought that they should have awakened at once, like Ginny Weasley, but they had to wait for the Mandrakes to mature. Harry checked in at the hospital nearly every other day, and kept walking down by the greenhouses to see if Professor Sprout had started getting ready to cut and stew the noisy plants yet.

The good news was that Defense Against the Dark Arts was canceled, which gave all the students plenty of time to enjoy the warm sunshine. The Quidditch season was not restarted ("There's not enough time to properly fit it all in," Flint unhappily explained to the team), but with all the restrictions and rules lifted, the students were allowed to wander at will again, and Harry found himself in several pick-up matches on the pitch, because all the rest of the players were just as disappointed. It was strange flying with Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs against members of his own house, but oddly fun as well. Harry found that he much preferred the Weasley twins when they were on his team, instead of trying to crack his skull with their Bludgers.

All the Weasleys had been more polite to Harry since he rescued their little sister. The oldest one, Percy the Prefect, had even hugged him. Harry was pretty sure that counted as the most surreal moment of his life, at least so far. Pansy still giggled every time she saw Percy walk past.

Ernie Macmillan and the rest of the Hufflepuffs had given Harry a very stiff and formal apology, and Seamus Finnegan had admitted that "maybe Harry wasn't so bad, after all," although only after prompting from Neville Longbottom. Ron Weasley still wasn't speaking to Harry, but at least he was now doing it with shame-faced glances and apologetic grunts, instead of glares and threats. Best of all, Hagrid was back at Hogwarts. Harry had gone down to see him right after the celebratory breakfast, and Hagrid had hugged both Harry and Draco so hard that their ribs creaked. Crabbe and Goyle, who had gone along to visit the gamekeeper for the first time, actually hid behind Fang to escape embraces of their own, but they had gotten so covered in slobber from the boarhound's enthusiastic greeting that they probably would have been better off letting Hagrid hug them.

All in all, even with the Heir's victims still Petrified in the hospital wing, Harry was enjoying May. He got some especially good news on the morning on the 30th, when he flipped through a forgotten copy of the Sunday morning Daily Prophet, and saw that Gilderoy Lockhart was wanted by the Ministry.

Harry grinned as he read the exposé. It turned out that Lockhart's reputation had not been justly earned, and his flight from the Chamber of Secrets had been all the excuse that the reporters at the Daily Prophet hadneeded to go digging. It seemed Lockhart liked to take credit for other people's deeds, and he was currently being sought by the Ministry of Magic for questioning in regards to several cases of illegal Obliviation.

It couldn't have happened to a more annoying person, Harry thought. He folded the newspaper with grim satisfaction.

"I wonder who they'll get to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts next year," Harry mused.

"I bet I know someone who'd volunteer," said Draco.

Harry looked up at the teacher's table. Snape had spent the last month looking exceptionally smug. Whether that was because it had been his students who had stopped the Heir and saved the school, because Slytherin was definitely going to win the House Cup again, or because Gilderoy Lockhart had resigned in disgrace, was anyone's guess. All Harry knew was that Snape had been acting uncharacteristically pleasant, and Harry wasn't about to jinx that by questioning it too much.

"Yeah," said Harry, "but then who would they find to teach Potions?"

Draco shrugged. "Bet Snape could do both," he said.

Harry snorted. "Only if there's some kind of magic spell that lets someone be in two places at once," he pointed out with a grin. "There's no way he could fit in all the classes otherwise."

"Pity," said Draco distractedly; he was sorting through yet another box of sweets from his mother, and Crabbe and Goyle were watching the growing piles of goodies with salivating greed. Harry swiped a sherbet lemon and popped it in his mouth when nobody was looking.

Then Hermione Granger walked into the Great Hall. The rest of the formerly-Petrified victims followed her, and all over the room people turned to shout greetings (Seamus Finnegan actually jumped over the Gryffindor table to smother his friend Dean Thomas in a hug), but Harry only had eyes for Hermione. She ran straight to Ron Weasley and Neville Longbottom and the rest of the Gryffindors, who welcomed her back with lots of shouts and hugging.

Finally she pulled free of her friends, and looked over at the Slytherin table. Harry crossed his fingers. He watched Hermione take a deep breath, toss her bushy hair back out of her face, square her shoulders, and walk across the Great Hall. Ron Weasley, looking sullen, trailed behind her; Neville Longbottom, his round face nervous, followed behind him.

Harry stood up when Hermione reached the Slytherin table.

"Harry," she said, "I just wanted to—well, to thank you. And apologize. I should never have suspected you to be the Heir of Slytherin, or thought you would ever do such—such awful things, or believed any of the horrible rumors that people were spreading about you and, well, and I'm really, really sorry." Hermione looked like she was on the brink of tears. "I'm your friend, and I should have known better. I should have trusted you. Can you ever forgive me?"

Harry grinned. "Of course," he said.

Hermione's miserable expression broke into a smile. "Really?" she asked.

"Sure," said Harry. "If I thought someone tried to get a giant snake to eat me, I probably wouldn't think too highly of them, either. Er—I didn't, you know," he added quickly. "Tell the snake to eat you, I mean. I was actually telling it not to—"

Hermione laughed nervously. "No, of course," she said. "I should have realized, only I was—well—upset, and...anyway, I'm sorry."

"No harm done," Harry said magnanimously, and held out his hand.

Hermione shook it gratefully, beaming. "Thanks, Harry," she said. "And, um, thanks for, you know, for going into the Chamber and fighting the Heir and all that...Ron was just filling me in on everything I missed while I was, er, you know—and it sounds, frankly, pretty heroic..."

"Oh, well." Harry shrugged. "It's not like I did it alone..."

"No, right." Hermione took a deep breath, and turned to face Draco, Crabbe, and Goyle, who had been silently watching the three Gryffindors with baleful expressions on their faces (or at least, Draco's expression had been baleful; Crabbe and Goyle, of course, were waiting for their cue to react). "Thank you," Hermione said stiffly, "and I apologize for anything nasty that I said about you—all three of you. I obviously made an error in judgment, and I'm sorry about that."

Draco's eyebrows shot up.

Hermione elbowed Weasley in the side, and he quickly muttered, "yeah, thanks," while staring at his feet. His face was red all the way to the tips of his ears. Longbottom just nodded, but very fervently.

"You all were very brave and, well—I appreciate it," Hermione continued. "We all appreciate it, I mean." Longbottom nodded again. Weasley just grunted.

"Don't mention it, Granger," Draco said. "Really."

"Right." She turned quickly back to Harry. "Well,'ll see you later, I guess?"

"Yeah," said Harry, "brilliant. In the library, probably—I guess you have a lot of studying to catch up on."

"Exams are only three days away, Granger," Draco added, smirking. "What are you going to do?"

Hermione's face fell. "Professor Dumbledore says that all of us who were Petrified, we're excused from having to take any exams this year." She looked disappointed.

"Gee," said Harry, not meaning it at all, "that's really too bad."

Hermione sighed. "I suppose it's just as well," she said reluctantly. "I'd never be able to catch up...not in just three days...but still. I'd like to try."

"Well, if you need to borrow any notes—"

"Oh Harry! That would be great! How lovely of you!"

"—I take horrible ones," Harry finished quickly. "You don't want mine, really. But Draco—"

Draco was looking at Harry like he had just snapped his Nimbus in half and presented him with the broken pieces.

The rest of Harry's words trailed off in a mumble: "takes...pretty...good"

Hermione looked doubtful. "Oh, well...that would, nice, if I could borrow those, I guess...thanks, Malfoy..."

"Sure, Granger," Draco said, between gritted teeth. "Always happy to offer charity to the less fortunate, you know." He glared at Harry, who quickly changed the subject:

"So! Did you hear about Lockhart yet?" Harry asked loudly.

Hermione shook her head. "What about him?" she said. Her cheeks were pink.

"He's under investigation by the Ministry!" said Harry cheerfully.

"What!" Hermione cried.

Harry handed over the newspaper. "Yep," he said happily, "turns out he was a fraud."

"Oh no!" Hermione exclaimed, "that's horrible!"

Behind her, Weasley was trying hard to hide his grin. He caught Harry's eye, and the two of them had to quickly look away from one another, so as not to laugh.

"Come on Hermione," Weasley said, "you've got to be hungry, after spending three months as a statue. You can read all about Lockhart while you eat."

"Okay," Hermione replied, distractedly pouring over the newspaper article. "Thanks, Harry," she said, "I'll see you later..."

Harry watched the Gryffindors return to their table. He felt strangely light, like an invisible weight had been lifted off his shoulders. "Wan t to go play some Quidditch?" he asked his friends.

"What about the library?" Draco said sourly.

"Plenty of time to study," Harry said, waving his friend's concerns away. "It's too nice a day outside to waste it all in the library. Exams aren't until Tuesday, anyway."

. . . .

The rest of the final term passed in a haze of blazing sunshine. Hogwarts was finally back to normal—save for the lack of Defense Against the Dark Arts classes ("although I don't know how much better we could do there, after facing down the Dark Lord himself," Draco said, shuddering). And, in a quiet moment when Draco wasn't looking, Colin Creevey finally got his signed photograph. Harry's friends were finally all getting along (more or less), Slytherin again won the House Cup (with all due accolades given to Harry and his friends), people were no longer skirting around Harry in the hallways, and Ginny Weasley looked perfectly happy again.

To Harry's guilty surprise, he managed to scrape decent marks in all his exams, even in History which he had been sure he'd failed. He wondered if Dumbledore had stepped in and insisted that the teachers cut Harry a break, because of the Chamber of Secrets. If so, Harry thought, this heroism stuff really paid off. One hundred points for Slytherin, and easy grades, too. No wonder Lockhart had tried to make a career out of it.

. . . .

Too soon, it was time for the journey home on the Hogwarts Express. Harry, Draco, Crabbe, and Goyle got a compartment to themselves. They made the most of the last few hours in which they were allowed to do magic before the holidays. They played with Draco's miniature Quidditch pitch, had a few games of Exploding Snap (Crabbe would be going home without his eyebrows), and practiced dueling—or at least, Harry and Draco did, while Crabbe and Goyle applauded their spellwork. Harry was getting much better at jinxes.

They were almost at King's Cross when Hermione Granger knocked on the compartment door.

"I just wanted to wish you—well, all of you—a good summer," she said.

"I doubt it," Harry said grimly, "but thanks anyway."

"Right—well—all right then—"

"Hermione, wait!"

Hermione's bushy head peered back into their compartment.

Harry pulled out his quill and a bit of parchment. "It's a shame you lot don't have telephones," he said to his fellow Slytherins, "but—"

"A what?"

"A Muggle thing for talking to people far away," Harry distractedly explained to Goyle. He scribbled his number down and handed the parchment to Hermione. "I can't stand another two months with only Dudley to talk to, and the Dursleys won't let me use Hedwig. Call me there, okay?"

"Of course, Harry," said Hermione. "My parents are planning a trip, but that obviously won't be all summer, so—"

"Father can take care of the Muggles for you," Draco interrupted. "He'll make sure they understand that you need to be able to send post."

"I don't know," said Harry, "the Dursleys are pretty stubborn..."

"You said they were scared of him, right?" Draco smirked. "Don't worry about it."

Harry grinned. He didn't think even Lucius Malfoy could convince Uncle Vernon to allow wizarding letters into the house, but he could hope. "Cool," he said, "thanks."

The Hogwarts Express slowed and finally stopped.

Hermione ran off to collect her things, and Harry and his friends joined the crowd thronging toward the enchanted barrier. Draco leaned over to Crabbe and Goyle, and whispered last-minute instructions for the summer: "Pretend you don't know what they're talking about, if your parents try asking you any questions about the Chamber, or the Heir—that shouldn't be too hard for you to do."

"Do you think your parents will be mad at you?" Harry asked. "For doing something so dangerous?"

"They certainly won't be proud," Draco replied darkly.

"Still...we all made it out okay..." Harry ventured.

Draco's grim expression didn't lighten. "Well what about your Muggles?" he asked. "You think they'll be proud?"

"Are you crazy?" said Harry. "All those times I could've died, and I didn't manage it? They'll be furious."

And together they walked back through the gateway to the Muggle world.

Thank you for once again joining me on this rather different version of Harry Potter and his adventures. And thank you, especially, to everyone who reviewed; your questions, excitement, interest, and encouragement were greatly appreciated. To those of you who helped me ponder the question of Peter Pettigrew, you have my most heartfelt gratitude.

I hope you will all come along with me to see where Harry's new life takes him next, in Harry Potter and the Secret Keeper, although I should warn you in advance-it will be quite some time before I have enough of that story hashed out to begin posting anything. In the meantime, I have a little place-holder chapter posted, so that anyone who wants to add it to their alerts may do so. It is, unfortunately, not actually the first chapter; think of it rather as a teaser-trailer, or a behind-the-scenes glimpse that is only available to those who come early. This can be found at: FFnet/s/9276782/1/Green-Eyed-Snake-III-The-Secret- Keeper

Again, many thanks, and I hope you enjoyed!