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Season of Warmth by Snapegirl
Chapter 18 : Resolutions
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 11


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Finally Harry drew away from his guardian's embrace, though he longed to linger there, he didn't want to make Severus feel awkward or uncomfortable. He had a funny feeling that Snape wasn't used to getting hugged much, Harry hadn't been either until he had met Hermione and Mrs. Weasley, who liked hugging people. Thinking of Hermione reminded him of the post script at the end of her letter and he said, "Professor? Hermione had a question she wanted to ask you. She's been studying some over break and wanted to know why you need to stir the cauldron seven and a half times when you're brewing a Deflating Draft? Isn't that agitating the solution too much? It doesn't tell you in our book."

To Harry's surprise, Snape did not seem annoyed. "I shall write her with the answer. I shouldn't be surprised Miss Granger is using her free time to study. Do you know the answer to that question?"

Harry shook his head.

"Ah. The answer to why is because the solution must be well blended and anything less than seven and a half times won't be enough. Some solutions need to be agitated more than usual in order to brew properly. Remember that, won't you?"

"I will, sir." Harry went to sit down again on the couch.

They sat quietly for a few moments before Severus said, "Now that you know the truth of my past, I would ask you use your discretion and do not mention anything about this to any more of your friends or acquaintances. I trust that Granger and the serpents will keep their mouths shut, but I cannot say the same about Ron Weasley."

"I understand. But Ron already knows you were a Death Eater."

"I was never convicted as one, at my trial, Dumbledore vouched for me and I was given a verdict of not guilty. It's all there in the transcripts in the Auror Department. So Weasley suspects, he does not know the truth. And I am ordering you not to tell him. I trust you to keep my past where it belongs . . . in the past."

"What if he asks me again about it?"

"You tell him about the trial transcript and say the subject is closed." Severus said firmly.

"Not a problem, sir." Harry sighed. "I just wish that Ron wasn't so . . ."

Snape raised an eyebrow. "So indiscreet?"

"Well, yes, but it's not just that. He . . .when he found out that you were my guardian he . . . it was almost as if he were looking for reasons to make me hate you. He kept saying that I couldn't trust a Slytherin and even after I told him why I trusted you, he still couldn't accept it. That's when he told me about you being a Death Eater."

"The rivalry between Gryffindors and Slytherins is long and bitter, Harry. It only grew worse with the rise of Voldemort and now it has become almost expected for Gryffindor to despise Slytherin and vice versa. Weasley's whole family have been Gryffindors, and they were marked as blood traitors by Voldemort because they were purebloods who supported and tolerated Muggleborns. So it comes as no surprise that young Weasley regards me as the worst possible guardian for you. No doubt he would prefer it if you lived with him at the Burrow, among others of your kind."

Harry was astonished. How had Snape known that? "He did offer me that, but I told him it'd be no good. I mean, I like his family and all, but . . .there's no privacy there and I know money's tight with them and I need . . .I just need some space to myself."

"You couldn't expect that over there, not with five children still at home," Severus agreed.

"I know. But Ron doesn't want to understand. I think he's jealous that now I have somebody besides him that I want to spend time with, somebody who's a wizard and knows more than he does."

"That may very well be. As the youngest son, he is perhaps overlooked at times, and may feel that I would advise you to spend less time with him, or even forbid you to be friends with him."

"You wouldn't, would you?"

"No. Your friends are your own choice . . . unless they are the sort of friends who will lead you astray. Then I would tell you not to see them again. Weasley might get up to foolish pranks, but he is not one to dabble in forbidden magic. His parents raised him right. However, while I understand his antipathy towards me, I'll not tolerate any disrespect from him. Am I clear?"

"Yes, sir. I wouldn't let him badmouth you. He might not like you, but that doesn't make it okay to be smart with you. After all, you're like my father now, and I would never do that to Mr. Weasley."

Harry's loyalty touched Snape profoundly. "That is well, for should you ever do so, you would be in serious trouble with me."

"You don't need to tell me that. I just wish I could make him see past his prejudice."

"That is a difficult thing to do, and I will tell you this, you cannot make a person change, Harry, unless that person wants to change."

Harry thought about that. He supposed Severus was right, and Ron had to make up his own mind about Harry and Snape. All Harry could do was hope the other boy saw reason. And if not . . . Harry decided he'd cross that bridge when he came to it. Right then he had a few other things to discuss with his guardian.

"What about me being a Parselmouth? And the two of us being Slytherin's Heirs? People are bound to find out now. What should we do about it?"

"We can go on as we did before. And people will either accept us for who and what we are, or not. If not, and they attempt to harass you, come and see me immediately. Though I doubt that will be the case, not once they know the true story of Salazar and the basilisk, who killed Voldemort. I plan to publish Salazar's journals in a special edition for a limited time. So the true story of our ancestor shall be known, and the misconceptions and lies erased forever. I believe he would want that."

"What about the Wise One and Icefyre?"

"They are old enough to look out for themselves, and I highly doubt even the most rabid snake hater will try and attack them. Besides which, the forest is a preserve for magical animals, and any wizard who sets foot in there knows not to hunt the animals. Only one ever broke that rule, and he is dead. Hopefully, what Icefyre did will counteract the usual fear towards serpents and make him a kind of hero."

"And if it doesn't, then they'll have us to deal with."

Severus smiled wolfishly. "Just so, young apprentice."

Harry's next item was a bit awkward, but he persevered. "Umm . . .sir . . .now that you're my guardian . . .should I call you something besides professor? Outside of class, I mean?"

Severus hadn't considered that, but now that he thought about it, Harry had a point. "You may use my given name, Severus, when we are in private. Use it in class and you'll have detention for a week."

"Okay . . . Severus." Harry said, trying it out. It slid rather easily off his tongue. "Does your name mean something, sir?"

"Yes. It is Latin, and means "severe", it is the name of both a Roman Emperor and a saint. My mother chose it because it was a family name, my great grandfather was named Severus."

"Oh. I wonder why I was named Harry?"

"Your grandfather was named that. On your mother's side. Only he was Henry, and your grandmother called him Hal for short. Your mother always said that if her firstborn were a son, he would be named after her father. And if it were a girl, she would call her Eleanor, or Nell for short."

"Then I'm glad I was born a boy. You sure had some odd conversations."

"We were eight, and eight-year-old girls discuss anything and everything with their best friends." Severus remarked. "Believe me, I did not bring that topic up." He abruptly changed the subject. "When we leave for the summer, we can discuss your summer chores. They won't be anything like what you were accustomed to with your relatives, but I do not believe you should be allowed to wallow away your summer holidays. Since I do not have a house elf, household chores are done by the both of us."

"That makes sense. Speaking of house elves . . . there was a house elf named Dobby that came to me at the beginning of the year and insisted I not go back to Hogwarts, that it wasn't safe . . ." Harry quickly detailed all of the things Dobby had done to prevent him from coming and later encourage him to leave early. "I don't know why he was like that, Severus. Is that normal behavior for one of them?"

"No. Normally a house elf will not act without permission from his master. And that particular elf . . . belongs to an old pureblood family, who has no love for you."

"Who are they?"

"The Malfoys."

Harry gaped at his mentor. "The Malfoys house elf wanted to save my life?"

"It would appear so. Though the manner in which he tried to do so might have ended it instead." Severus shook his head.

"Yeah, tell me about it. Hermione told me that house elves are like slaves. But slavery's illegal here."

"True, but many customs of the wizarding world are outdated. Centuries ago, most pureblood families bound their house elves, to keep their servants in perpetuity. Some say that the elves agreed to this, for they needed to work for a family, it was an integral part of their nature. Others disagreed and said that binding a house elf was inhumane and house elves should be freed. The debate raged for years, until one of the Ministers of Magic declared the bonding of house elves to be a private matter. So it remains to this day."

"But don't you think it's wrong? I do."

"I have never agreed with the practice, however there is little I can do to change the customs of generations at this time."

"But can't they be freed, somehow?"

"Yes. If their master gives them clothing. Then the bond is broken."

"Clothing? Like a shirt or trousers?"

"Anything. It could be socks, a tie, a glove, even underwear."

Harry started giggling at the thought of giving Dobby a pair of Draco's boxers. But he soon sobered and asked, "Does it have to be their master who gives it, or can it be anyone with an article of the master's clothing?"

Severus' eyes narrowed. "Harry James Potter, what are you up to?"

Harry gave him an innocent look. "Up to? Nothing. I was just curious."

"Curious my silver cauldron!" snorted the Potions Master. "You are plotting something in that head of yours and I am warning you now, it's never wise to interfere with the Malfoys. Especially Lucius. He is not one to cross."

"I'll be careful, sir."

Severus sighed. "The article of clothing does not have to be the master's though it's more effective if it belongs to a family member. But it does have to be a family member who gives it. And Lucius Malfoy would be boiled in oil before he freed Dobby. That elf has served his family for centuries."

Harry scowled. "Yeah, he told me about how he has to iron his hands and beat himself if he speaks badly about his master's family. That's just sick. There ought to be a law against it."

"Yes. Perhaps someday there will be." Severus laid a hand upon his ward's shoulder. "Harry, there are many injustices in the wizarding world. Don't attempt to fight them alone. You'll lose."

"I wasn't going to. I was going to ask if you'd help me."

Both eyebrows rose. "You wish me to help you con Lucius Malfoy out of his house elf?"

Harry smirked. "Will you, Severus? It'll be a perfect Slytherin revenge, seeing as how he was the one who tried to make you Voldemort's slave all those years ago by joining the Death Eaters."

Severus' eyes gleamed. "You know, snakeling . . . you are right. Lucius owes me one. It would be most satisfying to know that Mr. High and Mighty Malfoy has to sweep his own floor and wash his own clothes for once. Very well. I shall write and invite him here, you procure the article of clothing and we shall hide it inside of something."

"How will we get Dobby to come with him?"

"I shall request that Lucius bring the elf with him, tell him I'm conducting a potions experiment and need a taster."

"Severus, that's awful!"

"I know. But Lucius won't think anything of it. Many purebloods often used their house elves like lab rats. If they die, they can always bond another." The Potions Master said matter-of-factly.

"Then what? We give Dobby the bag or whatever?"

"No, we give it to Lucius, who will then give it to Dobby to carry, since it's not done for a master to carry his own parcels when his elf is around." Severus corrected.

"And then Dobby will be free! Severus, you're bloody brilliant!"

"No, but the day I can't outsmart an arrogant aristocrat like Lucius will be the day I quit Hogwarts." The professor said, then added, "Mind your language, Mr. Potter. The Heir of Slytherin shouldn't swear like a sergeant."

"Sorry, sir." Harry apologized, but he couldn't stop grinning, imagining the Malfoys getting their due.

By then it was noon and Harry was starving. Severus called one of the Hogwarts elves and they ate lunch in their quarters. Over their Cornish pasties, Harry asked Severus when they could pull off the deception on Lucius.

Severus suggested that they wait until New Year's Eve, Lucius always had big New Year's party and tended to imbibe more than was good for him.

Once again, Harry marveled at how fiendishly clever his guardian was. He hoped everything would go according to plan.

SWSWSWSW

While Severus was having his heart to heart talk with Harry, Dumbledore decided to go and check on the Dursleys, make sure that the wheels of Muggle justice were turning. He had promised himself that he would make certain the Dursleys were made to pay for their crimes, one way or another. What they had done to Harry was unforgivable, they had had no reason to treat the boy that way, even if they were predisposed to dislike magic. Albus had paid Petunia a handsome stipend for Harry's upkeep, so they would have no cause to come whining that he cost them too much to live with them. And they had squandered the money on themselves and made Harry into a charity case, wearing his cousin's cast offs and living in a cupboard, bullied and treated like a slave.

The more he thought about it, the more distressed and guilty and angry he felt. He had thought he was doing the best for Harry, only to discover it had been the worst. Thank Merlin he had finally listened to Severus. Now he would make certain those responsible for hurting the boy were punished properly. He waved his wand and Transfigured his long robes into more suitable Muggle attire—a purple suit with a paisley tie and shiny spats and black sunglasses. He glanced at himself in the mirror and smiled. "Now I look like a cool cat, as they used to say. Time to make some noise."

He walked out of his office and down to the gates, then once he was past them, Apparated away to Privet Drive.

He discovered a For Sale sign on the house, and when he knocked on the door, Petunia opened it warily. She gasped when she saw him and slammed the door shut in his face. "Just go away!" she cried.

"Petunia, let me in."

"No! Haven't you done enough to us?" she said, her voice cracking.

Dumbledore knocked again. "Petunia, I suggest you let me in, unless you wish the neighbors to learn all of your private secrets."

The door was yanked open.

"Come in then, you bloody meddler! But don't expect me to offer you tea and biscuits!"

Dumbledore stepped inside.

The house was a wreck, dust everywhere and it looked as though no one had taken a mop or a broom to the floor in over a week. Petunia herself looked oddly worn and unkempt and then Dumbledore squinted, for overlaying her normal appearance was the image of a buzzard. Hmm . . .it seems Severus did have a last bit of revenge. Not that I blame him. He eyed Petunia sternly. "Where is your husband?"

"My husband?" she shrilled. "You dare ask about him after what you did?"

"What I did? Madam, I have done nothing."

"Don't lie to me, you black warlock! I know you and your kind and your sneaky ways!" she spat. "You put a spell on us. You or that bloody Snape! The day after you left, the police came here and they arrested Vernon, said there was proof of child abuse! They took him . . . away in handcuffs! Like he was a bloody criminal!" she wailed.

"He was a criminal, Petunia. What he did to that boy, your nephew, was inexcusable!" said the old wizard sternly. "I take it he's in jail?"

"Yes, and they've scheduled the trial for next week. But . . .they were all disgusted when they took him away, they kept saying he was a loathsome pig and he ought to have been carved up like a side of beef!" Petunia began sobbing. "It's all that wretched boy's fault! We should have given him to the orphan asylum after he started with his freaky tricks!"

"And why didn't you?" asked Dumbledore coldly. "Was it because you feared me, or because you feared losing the money he brought to you?"

"What do you care?" she snapped. "I want you to remove whatever foul spell you put on us, old man!"

Albus crossed his arms over his chest. "You are hardly in a position to make demands, Petunia. The spell shows you to be as selfish and cruel and wicked on the outside as you are on the inside. Quite fitting. What of your son?"

At that Petunia started crying again. "They came and . . . and took my Dudders away! Put him in some vile . . . foster home! They . . .they said I w-was an unfit mother . . .that I c-couldn't be t-t-trusted . . .poor Diddykins, he's all alone . . . probably wasting away . . .missing his family . . .Oh, how I wish I had never set eyes on Lily's brat! It's a pity he didn't blow up with the rest of them!"

Dumbledore's eyes hardened. "And that, madam, is why you wear the visage of a buzzard, the carrion eater of the bird world, for you treat your own flesh and blood no better than rubbish!"

Petunia fell to her knees. "Take the spell off, please! They sneered at my poor son, called him a fat hog, and heaven only knows what will become of us now! They might even press charges against me of neglect. They even questioned Marge and declared Ripper a public menace and put him down! Vernon lost his job and none of the neighbors will speak to us anymore. We used to be respectable. N-Now they point at me in the street and look down their noses and s-sneer at me."

"It's a hard thing, isn't it, to be known for what you truly are? But just remember, you brought this upon yourself, Petunia. Try and learn from it." He turned and made leave to go.

"Wait! Where are you going? Don't leave! I . . . I need you to take this spell off. Please!"

Dumbledore gave her a cursory glance. "I cannot. For I was not the one who cast it," he lied glibly.

"Then make that bastard Snape do it!"

"Severus does not obey me, madam. The curse will stick unless you change your ways. The choice, as always, is yours. Good day." And with that, he Apparated back to the school gates. Justice had been served.

SWSWSWSW

The next day at breakfast, Hedwig delivered a copy of the Daily Prophet to Harry and Severus and Dumbledore received one as well from the school owls. So had most of the rest of the students staying over break. Harry opened his copy.

Two headlines vied for attention on the front page and both of them had him as a subject. That in itself was not unusual, Harry had been the subject of rabid gossip before, especially after the incident with the Sorcerer's Stone. What was unusual was that for once he was not being painted as the "poor orphan who's a little delusional". The first article read:

Basilisk Not Monster, But Hero!

By Charles Arthur Weasley

Everyone's heard of the big bad basilisk, right? The monster whose gaze petrifies everyone and eats little children who are bad? Who's synonymous with evil and darkness, whose venom is the most potent poison known to the wizarding world? For centuries the basilisk has borne the reputation of a wicked monster, and it was rumored that one was trapped in the Chamber of Secrets beneath Hogwarts school by the evil sorcerer known as . . . Voldemort.

Yes, I have spoken HIS name. Why? Because he is dead, and can no longer be summoned by it. In fact, he was killed by the very monster we were discussing—a basilisk who calls itself Icefyre.

Icefyre was Salazar Slytherin's familiar long ago, and unlike the monster of legend, dwelled peaceably with humans and even protected them. The basilisk even had a special hood made by its master in order to be "safe" when playing with Salazar's children and students. Salazar, as you know, was a Parselmouth, as were his descendants—Tom Riddle, Severus Snape, and Harry Potter. Yes, the same Harry Potter who was made famous by surviving the Killing Curse can also speak to snakes.

When the basilisk Icefyre was released from the Chamber by Voldemort, it was Harry who discovered that the dark wizard had tricked it into believing that all Muggleborns were evil and out to kill it and all the purebloods. Harry managed to convince Icefyre that Voldemort had lied and the basilisk, who is highly intelligent, felt ashamed of what it had been made to do and vowed to go and hunt down the traitor heir.

I'm sure you've all heard the story where a basilisk saved the life of my sister and myself and was a direct cause of the demise of the most evil wizard the world has ever known. Harry Potter has confirmed that story, according to his mentor, Severus Snape, and has declared the basilisk a hero for its deeds.

I for one would love to meet this amazing serpent, who has honor and courage and cunning fit to rival the strongest wizards.

Basilisks are an endangered species, with many of them hunted and killed because they were thought to be dangerous and evil and their scales, fangs, venom and other parts used as potion ingredients. While some basilisks do have a taste for human flesh, by and large, their reputation as a man-eater is undeserved. Most of them would rather eat deer or wild game than people.

Icefyre has said that many of its kind have fled Britain for a more remote place, where they can live in peace, but that there are only about five hundred of them left. There are no known basilisks in captivity. So much about this creature has been mistaken that it is a relief, especially to a known wildlife preservationist, to set the record straight. The basilisk is not a monster, though a dangerous magical creature, and it wishes only to live undisturbed. If we continue to hunt and kill them, soon our children and children's children will know of them only in storybooks and legends, and that would be a shame.

I am starting a "Save the Basilisk" group, and any donations and members are welcome. Our goal is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of this brilliant creature, and to allow the basilisk to continue to live in peace. Won't you please help save a hero? To help please write me at the following address—Charles Weasley, the Burrow, or alternatively, the Romanian Dragon Reserve.

Harry grinned. He had known that Charlie was going to write an article about the basilisk, but not that it would be printed in the newspaper. He was happy that the dragon tamer was helping everyone to see Icefyre in a good light. He wondered when the other article about both of the serpents would be published in the magical creatures journal.

There was also an article about the true heirs of Slytherin, and that one stated that the basilisk helped to discover that Harry and Severus were both descendants of Salazar himself and it told Salazar's story in part, mentioned that a publication of the old wizard's private journals was soon to be available, and how the basilisk had declared Voldemort to be a rogue and not the true Heir of Slytherin after all.

A New Inheritance

By Anna Longtree

Once again, Harry Potter takes center stage as he learns of his secret Slytherin heritage, a heritage unknown to him until recently, when the basilisk Icefyre revealed it to him. The basilisk always knows those of Salazar's blood, and it told him that he was a descendant of the famous Founder through his mother's side of the family, from Salazar's daughter, Morgana. Interestingly enough, Potter is the only descendant not to be Sorted into Slytherin.

Another shock was that Professor Severus Snape, Potions Master of Hogwarts, is also a descendant. Snape is a Prince on his mother's side, and the Princes have descended from Salazar's eldest daughter Theodora, he is the Head of Slytherin House. He has also become guardian to one Harry James Potter.

According to the basilisk, Tom Riddle is not Salazar's true heir, he is a traitor because he tricked the basilisk into harming innocents and lied to him, and used dark magic to manipulate and harm people. Such a thing would have been heinous to Salazar, and since Voldemort betrayed his heritage, he is no longer counted among the heirs by Icefyre.

Theirs is a legacy of power and cunning and sorrow, but also a great opportunity. Slytherin had many secrets and is widely renowned as one of the most powerful sorcerers of all time. His descendants seem to have inherited his magical aptitude. Inside Salazar's journals is the true story of the legendary Founder, his hopes and dreams, and how he dedicated his life to protecting those with magic, even to the last, told in his own words. This account is written in Salazar's own hand and verified by a spell as the original journals. According to Professor Snape, Theodora took the journals after her father's death for safekeeping, and they were passed down to the eldest Prince child of each generation. The information in them was kept safe and secret for it was thought no one would believe them if they revealed the truth about their ancestor, who was more commonly known as a pureblood supremacist and hater of Muggleborns. But due to recent events, Professor Snape had graciously allowed copies to be made of the originals and circulated for a brief period of time at a special collector's price. Buy yours on January 9th at Flourish and Blotts. Reservations suggested, as quantities are limited.

Harry noticed that neither article mentioned Severus was also a Parselmouth and nearly asked his guardian about the omission, before stopping and thinking that maybe Severus didn't wish anyone to know about his ability. The Potions Master seemed to want to keep that a secret and Harry was not a blabbermouth like Ron, so he held his tongue. As Icefyre said, Snape was a Slytherin and Slytherins always had secrets.

Harry was getting sidelong glances from the Ravenclaws and the Hufflepuffs seated at the other tables in the hall. He could feel himself start to blush at the scrutiny and wondered when they were going to approach him and start asking questions, or if they would avoid him, thinking he was evil because he was both Parselmouth and Slytherin's descendant.

But he forced himself to hold his head up, he was not ashamed of his heritage or magical gifts, and he would not act like he was. He scanned the rest of the newspaper, finding another article of interest on page two.

Rare Magical Serpent Discovered in Forest

By Deborah Jane Goodall

If you thought you knew every magical beast that lived in Great Britain, think again. A recent discovery by wizards Harry Potter and Severus Snape have revealed an ancient magical serpent called a ruffed golden serpent, a nearly immortal creature who was once the advisor of the Greek god Apollo, and the daughter of the Mayan god Quetzalcoatl. She is known as the Wise One, and bears the most extensive healing magic known to mankind, but will only share her knowledge with those wizards she deems worthy.

Fleeing persecution from her native Delphi, the Wise One took shelter in the Forbidden Forest, where she remains to this day, watching and observing the wizards in the vicinity. She is huge, almost thirty-five feet in length, and possesses formidable abilities and a very keen intelligence. She can comprehend over a dozen languages and has a soporific mist she produces that will knock out even the most magic resistant creature, like a troll or even a basilisk. Her venom will kill any with a dark taint, but will heal anyone else of the most dire illnesses and wounds. She is the wise counselor and teacher, and was once revered as a sacred animal.

Charlie Weasley has told me that he was privileged enough to meet the great ruffed serpent and actually conversed with her, with Harry translating. He has expressed his wish to do so again sometime and is interested in speaking as well with Icefyre, Salazar's basilisk.

The Wise One is very shy and will only consent to speak with those who are willing to be openminded about her former master, snakes, and Parselmouths. She will show herself only to those she trusts and they are barely a handful.

It is a miracle that such a lovely serpent has been dwelling here all this time, incognito until Harry and Professor Snape happened upon her cave during a snowstorm. What a fortunate coincidence, as it saved Harry from frostbite and pneumonia. Members of the Greek Magicians Association wish to petition the Wise One to come back to Greece, her native home, and have talked about sending a representative to the forest to persuade her. But it is the Wise One's choice to go or stay, though I personally prefer if she stays here. It is a great honor to host such a brilliant snake.

Harry had to smile at the tone of the article, unabashedly curious and awed. Of course some things had been left out or substituted, since Severus did not want his ability as a Parselmouth to be widely known. He finished his breakfast at Severus' urging, then went to take a walk about the grounds, he needed to get out of the stuffy castle.

He was soon joined by the other students, all of whom badgered him with questions.

"Is it true that you're Salazar's true heir?"

"Yes. But I never knew that till I met Icefyre and he could smell the scent of Salazar's bloodline on me."

"Is it hard to speak Parseltongue?"

"No, not for me. I didn't even know I was doing it or hearing it until Professor Snape told me."

"How come Professor Snape's your guardian?" asked Hannah Abbot softly.

"Because my relatives are jerks and my uncle got arrested," Harry replied honestly. Dumbledore had told him of his last visit to Privet Drive, and Harry was secretly glad Vernon was behind bars, where he belonged. He silently thanked Hannah's tact when she asked no more questions about his family or Severus.

More questions followed and he answered them as best he could. To their credit, the Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs weren't disgusted or fearful of him, just rabidly curious. They seemed to accept his new ability and his guardian without rancor.

Harry could only hope more of the students, as well as Ron, would react that way.

He spent a pleasant fifteen to twenty minutes speaking with them before continuing to walk about the grounds. He could only imagine what Ron's face looked like when he read the paper and expected to get a visit any day now from Charlie. He also chuckled imagining Malfoy's face, and how green with envy it probably was to discover his archrival not only as Slytherin's heir, but Snape's ward. Malfoy wouldn't dare try anything next term in potions, not with Snape keeping an eye out.

SWSWSWSW

Over the next two days there was much buzz and discussions about the two serpents and the two heirs of Slytherin, as well as Snape's guardianship over Harry. Most people were skeptical about the serpents and some were openly hostile about the basilisk, writing hate mail to Charlie, Severus, and Harry saying they were abominable and ought to be ashamed of themselves, lauding such a deadly creature. One person even threatened to get together a posse and hunt the basilisk down, it was a menace. Others were in awe of the great snake and grateful that it had destroyed Voldemort.

People were surprised and astonished that the dour Potions professor had actually become a legal guardian to the Boy Who Lived. A few expressed displeasure, saying that a Slytherin had no right to raise a Gryffindor, but most people were ambivalent about it, since the Ministry had approved it.

Cornelius Fudge sent a note to Dumbledore expressing his annoyance that he had not been consulted before Severus Snape became Potter's guardian. "If the Muggles were unfit, then Harry Potter would have been a Ministry Ward and I should have had a say in who became his guardian." The Minister wrote.

Dumbledore invited him for tea and talked to him, soothing Fudge's ruffled feathers and taking him to see Severus and Harry working together upon a few potions in companionable silence.

The two men watched unnoticed in the doorway as the professor assisted his apprentice with a draft, quietly explaining the procedure and directing Harry to watch the way he stirred. Seeing the two bending over a cauldron, with Severus' face lacking its characteristic sneer, and Harry biting his lip in concentration, made Albus smile.

"There, you see, Cornelius? Nothing to worry about. The two shall rub along splendidly. Come along now, let's leave them to their brewing. They wouldn't appreciate our interrupting them, potions is an exacting art, you know."

"Actually I wouldn't. I always made a hash out of any potion I brewed," the Minister admitted ruefully, but he followed Dumbledore back upstairs, having to admit that the two really did look like they belonged together. "It's just hard to imagine Severus as a father figure."

"People change, Cornelius. Harry brings out the best in all of us," was all Dumbledore said, before he passed the plate of scones and biscuits to his old friend, who gave him a skeptical look.

SWSWSWSW

The potion Harry and Severus had been brewing was one that would give the imbiber the ability to understand Parseltongue for two hours, and even though it was experimental, Charlie was eager to try it. Since both the Wise One and Icefyre understood human speech, all that was needed was to be able to understand their replies. Once the potion was ready, Severus contacted Charlie, who returned to Hogwarts on dragonback, along with Ron.

Both brothers greeted Harry cordially, and Snape too, except Ron was a little stiff, but Charlie more than made up for his brother by being extremely excited. Severus told him that Icefyre was willing to have a brief conversation, but one at a time, and gave Charlie the potion, leading him a little ways into the forest, for privacy.

Ron and Harry lingered beside Charlie's dragon, and Ron cast Snape a look of distrust as the two strode off, calling, "Be careful, Charlie!"

Charlie gave a dismissive laugh, thinking Ron was worried about the basilisk.

Harry, however, knew better. He sighed. "Don't worry so much."

Ron turned, scowling. "Why not? I don't trust the bloody git and neither should you."

"Ron, don't."

"Don't what? Don't tell you that you're making a huge mistake?" he taunted. "Did you ask him?"

Harry felt himself go hot and then cold. "Listen. It's none of your business about what he did or didn't do eleven years ago. You have no right to judge anyone. I've made my peace with him and that ought to be enough for you. End of story."

Ron gaped at him. "He was a Death Eater and you're okay with that?"

"He was never a Death Eater, but he did make a mistake, which he's paid for and I've forgiven him for."

"What mistake?"

"You don't need to know."

"Now you're keeping secrets from me? I thought I was your best mate!"

"It has nothing to do with you, dammit!" Harry snapped. "Now just let it go! When you have an argument with your father, do I ask you for every little detail like a girl? No."

"Snape's not your father."

"He's my guardian. Same difference."

Ron threw up his hands. "I don't believe this! Ever since you learned you were a Parselmouth, you've been going off the deep end. Supporting Slytherins, cozying up to Snape, who couldn't give a damn about you at school—"

"Tell me something, Ron. What bothers you more, that Snape's my guardian or that I'm Slytherin's Heir? Or that I can talk to snakes?"

"What bothers me is that you're a Gryffindor and you trust them! How can you trust people who are selfish, greedy, lying, evil bastards?"

"Because they're not all like that. You only think they are. Because you've never taken the time to get to know any of them except Malfoy and his puppets."

"And I don't want to."

Harry set his jaw. "I'm a Slytherin, Ron. Descended from Salazar himself. Am I like that?"

"You were Sorted into Gryffindor."

"But the Hat wanted to put me in Slytherin first. I begged it not to, because you told me nothing good ever comes out of there and they were all dark wizards. And that was a lie! There were dark wizards in every House, including Gryffindor."

"Name me one."

"Sirius Black. He was a Gryffindor, and he betrayed my whole family to Voldemort. Can't you see that you're letting prejudice color your opinion? Severus cares for me, he's saved my arse loads of times, and not just because Dumbledore ordered him to. You might not like him very much, but all you have to do is accept him as my guardian and leave it alone."

"I can't. You want to be friends with a basilisk and talk to snakes, okay. That's kind of neat. But don't ask me to respect the dungeon bat as your foster father or whatever. You had a real father, a hero—"

"He's dead, Ron. And he wasn't as much of a perfect person as you think! In school he was a bully and a braggart, just like Dudley or Malfoy—"

"Where'd you hear that? Snape?"

"Dumbledore," Harry shot back, and had the satisfaction of seeing Ron totally deflate. "He told me the truth about a lot of things, things people would rather be forgotten, because it's more convenient for people to point fingers at Slytherins and say they're all evil. You know all that crap we learned in History of Magic about Salazar hating Muggleborns? It was all lies. I read the man's private journals, spoke to his familiar. You want to know how Salazar died? He died saving a family of Muggles from the Inquisition. They arrested and tortured him to death. Now does that sound like someone who hated Muggles? The only evil wizards in Slytherin were Voldemort and his followers. Severus might be snarky and strict, but he's not evil. People change, Ron."

" You certainly have. You've become a Slytherin."

Harry met Ron's angry eyes squarely. "I always was a Slytherin. I simply didn't know it. But you're right. I have changed. I learned things I never knew about myself, about my past, and about Severus. I learned about basilisks and wise serpents and that the world's not black and white. People aren't all good or all evil. There's always shades of gray, in everything and everyone. And it's the circumstances we're placed in that define our choices."

"You sound like a bloody professor."

"Do I? Guess I can't help but be influenced by the Wise One and Professor Snape."

"You didn't have to choose him as your guardian." Ron said petulantly.

"We understand each other, Ron. More than anyone else ever will. It's done. This is what I wanted, I wasn't forced into it. Accept it, okay?" He hoped that he had at last managed to reach through the wall of blind prejudice.

But Ron stiffened. "I can't. It's wrong. You're a Gryffindor, your parents were Gryffindors. Next thing you know, you'll be kissing Malfoy's arse."

"Not unless he changes into a girl," Harry joked, but there was a bitter edge to the humor. "Why can't you just give Severus a chance?"

Ron snorted. "I'm not stupid. He's playing you for a fool. I'm sorry you can't see that."

"I'm sorry too. That you're too stubborn to see the truth."

They stared at each other, and their eyes met. There was nothing more to say. They had reached an impasse. Neither would bend and Ron refused to compromise. The tenuous bond of their friendship had begun to unravel.

"So, that's it, huh?" Ron said, the ghost of regret lingering in his voice. "You're just going to forget about everything because you signed some paper."

"No. I won't forget. But I won't give up the first real family I've ever had because of your blindness. This who and what I am now. When you can accept that, come and find me." Harry said firmly. Then he turned and walked away, a lump in his throat. It hurt, but he knew he had done the right thing.

Ron stared after him in disbelief. Then he turned and kicked at a rock hard. It wasn't supposed to end this way. Harry was supposed to have seen the error of his ways and rejected Snape. Instead, Harry had chosen the slimy professor over him. I can't accept that. I'll never accept it. He and Snape can go to hell! He thought savagely. He wished the tall professor was dead. His fists clenched, he stalked off towards the greenhouse. He knew he was right, it was Harry who was blind. One day he'd regret it. A snake might shed his skin, but it was still a snake. And Snape was still a Death Eater. He lifted a hand and brushed it across his eyes. His former best friend was a fool, but that didn't stop a part of him mourning the death of their friendship.

SWSWSWSW

Harry skipped lunch that day, preferring to stay and brood in his room in Severus' quarters. That brought Severus down to check on him, for he disliked when Harry skipped meals, the boy still was undernourished and needed the calories, vitamins and minerals.

"What's the matter? Are you sick?" he asked, finding Harry curled on his side in bed, facing the wall.

Harry didn't bother to turn around. "No. I'm just not hungry."

The flat tone of voice spoke volumes to Severus' ears. "Did something happen between you and Weasley today?"

"We had a fight."

"I see. Would you like to talk about it?" Severus asked, trying to coax him out of his bleak mood.

"Not really. It won't do any good."

"Why not?"

"Because no matter what I say, he won't accept the truth."

"The truth? About me?"

"You, Slytherins, me. He keeps insisting we're all deceitful and evil. Well, I've had it. If he's too damn stupid to trust me, then he can go jump in the lake. That's all."

"I see." Severus shook his head. He felt a surge of anger at Ron, for causing Harry to be hurt and upset. He reached out and squeezed the other's shoulder comfortingly. "Perhaps he'll come round eventually."

"When pigs fly, sure."

"Starving yourself won't make you feel better."

"I only missed lunch. It's not like I went a whole day without food."

"It's not good for you to skip meals. Sets a bad precedent. Come, sit up. You'll give yourself an ulcer, fretting on an empty stomach. I'll have Bree send down a tray."

Harry groaned. "If I eat, I might sick up."

"Then at least you'll have something in there to vomit." Severus said implacably.

"You're mean."

"Practical." He gave his ward a light swat on the bottom. "Your stomach hurts because there's nothing in it. Trust me."

Harry rolled over and sat up.

Severus noted the weary sorrow in the green eyes. But Harry did not look as if he had been crying. He turned and summoned Bree, one of the Hogwarts elves, giving Harry time to compose himself.

Bree returned with a plate of Cornish pasties and mashed potatoes with gravy, one of Harry's favorites. There was even a treacle tart and a large glass of pumpkin juice.

Harry tried to pretend he wasn't hungry, but his stomach betrayed him, letting out a very loud growl as the aroma of the pasties reached his nostrils.

Severus smirked slightly. "From the sound of things, your stomach is staging a rebellion."

He carried the tray into the sitting room, setting it down on the small table in front of the couch.

Harry followed, and despite his misgivings, sat down and took a forkful of the pasty. The crust was buttery crisp and the beef and potatoes and carrots were savory, hot, and delicious. He found that Severus was right. Once he started, he couldn't stop eating. He finished the tray and burped. "Excuse me. Guess you were right."

"I usually am," said his guardian, and smirked knowingly.

Harry rolled his eyes. He was still upset, but Severus had made him feel somewhat better. Ron had made his choice. Now they would both have to live with it.

SWSWSWSW

New Years Eve:

The whole school had been decked out with sparkling fairy lights, some hung upon strings and some just hovering in colorful groupings. There was a large banner proclaiming the new year hung right across the hall, in the back of the platform where the staff table was. There were noise makers and sparklers placed at every House table, and Dumbledore had told Harry there was to be a great feast later on, and a mild sparkling wine toast just before midnight.

Harry was looking forward to it, he had been rather melancholy ever since his split with Ron. But Severus had done his best to keep him occupied, so he didn't brood, and the Wise One was teaching him a new healing elixir. Icefyre had gone into a semi-hibernation sleep, as it was too cold even for him during the winter. Charlie was lucky that he had gotten to talk with Icefyre before then. The dragon keeper had thanked Severus and Harry repeatedly for allowing him the opportunity to meet with the famous basilisk, until Severus had told him not to mention it. Harry wished Ron could be so openminded about things. It didn't occur to him that Charlie's acceptance came from being older and having seen more of the world and the people in it. Ron had been sheltered and so hadn't had a chance to really see that people were not all good or all evil.

But now it was New Year's Eve, and just before midnight, Severus was going to summon Lucius Malfoy and Dobby to him and they would put their plan to free the elf into action. Harry prayed it would work. He thought it was a good plan.

Severus had already set up the lab, with a half-finished potion, he would tell Lucius it was a potion to make a person's innards shrivel or something sufficiently nasty and tell him the elf would be healed once the potion was tasted and they saw the effects it had upon Dobby. In actuality, the potion would be honey, water, and an extract of hyssop.

Harry had opted to use a sock as the vehicle of clothing, and they hid it inside a scroll cylinder which would hold both sock and the fake potions recipe.

Harry could hardly wait for the big moment, but he did make himself eat some of the tasty food that was on the table at supper. He spent some of the time with Severus at the staff table, where Dumbledore insisted they all wear ridiculous glittery pointed party hats. That made his mentor scowl, but he did put one on—for about two minutes and then said that was enough of that nonsense.

Harry chuckled and continued to wear his. He went down among the other students, Ravenclaws Analise and Steven, and Hufflepuffs Hannah and Justin, and they spent time playing silly card games, like Three Witches, and Truth or Dare with the spinning potions vial. Sweets appeared, and they stuffed themselves, all except Harry, who knew better. He had to be ready to help Severus with Lucius Malfoy and didn't dare risk an upset stomach. Or his guardian's displeasure.

At eleven o'clock, Severus sent a letter to Lucius, telling him about the potions experiment and asking that Lucius bring the house elf. He knew that the elder Malfoy was most likely sloshed by now, he would have had a lot of toasts to drink given the number of important people at the banquet he had probably thrown.

In the letter, Snape told Lucius to meet him in the potions lab at school at quarter to twelve.

Then he sent a note to Harry and waited. Soon enough, Severus excused himself and went down to the lab.

Harry waited till eleven thirty, told his friends he needed to go and use the bathroom, and escaped from the hall, where the rest of the students were listening to WWN's Rockin' New Year's Eve with the Weird Sisters. He quickly raced down the stairs to the lab.

He found Severus diligently stirring the "potion". The Potions Master indicated he should start scrubbing the cauldrons, so it would look like he was in trouble, and therefore have a reason to be down in the dungeon when Lucius arrived. The scroll case sat on top of Snape's desk.

Harry rolled up his sleeves and filled a cauldron with water and soap and began scrubbing away. Bubbles soon frothed about his hands and up to his elbows.

At almost a quarter to twelve, the fireplace in Snape's office, adjacent to the lab, flared and soon they heard Lucius' footsteps on the stone floor. Harry kept his head down and pretended to scrub, but he felt his heart start to beat faster.

"Lucius. Good, you've arrived," Snape greeted the elder Malfoy.

Harry slid his gaze up. Lucius was still impeccably dressed, wearing a black robe and white linen shirt, black trousers and high black boots with a silver snake coiling about the tops. He was holding his dragon headed cane in one hand and Dobby was standing behind him, his huge eyes like saucers in his pointed face.

Huh. He doesn't look drunk, Harry thought worriedly. But then he saw Lucius shift slightly and tilt unsteadily.

The elder Malfoy quickly put a hand out to steady himself on the corner of Snape's desk.

"What's this I hear, Severus, about you becoming Potter's guardian?"

Severus smiled grimly. "It's way to keep tabs on the boy," he hissed. Then he whipped about and snapped, "Eyes on your work and no dawdling, boy!"

Harry immediately ducked his head and started pretending to scrub again.

But he was watching the two through his lashes.

"Is the potion ready?" asked Lucius.

"Yes," Severus responded, giving the potion one last stir. "Shall we get on with it?"

"Of course."

Severus ladled up some of the potion and handed the cup to Dobby.

"For me?" Dobby cried pathetically. "No one has ever given Dobby a gift before!"

"Drink it! Do you think the professor cares about you, you stupid elf?" snarled Lucius, prodding Dobby with his cane.

Dobby obediently gulped the potion. He had been informed about the fake potion and therefore started to groan and stagger about soon after he had imbibed it.

Lucius chuckled, a low wicked sound.

Harry glared at him, hating how the other wizard seemed to revel in the sufferings of others.

"That's some potion y'got there Sev'rus," he slurred, smiling a cold smile.

Dobby wailed and thrashed about so realistically that if Harry didn't know better, he would have thought the elf really was in pain.

"But y' better give him the antidote, Cissy won' like it if the bloody elf dies."

"Of course. I just needed to test it and make sure it was working properly," Severus said, then he reached out and plucked a vial off the shelf behind his desk and went over to Dobby. He knelt down pulled out the cork and pretended to give Dobby the potion.

Dobby swallowed the chocolate-flavored energy draught, and stopped acting. He winked at Snape before getting to his feet. "Master, Dobby is all better!"

Lucius gave the elf a withering stare. "How do you make that potion, Severus? it seems like it would be useful to persuade some of my business associates to talk."

"I have the recipe written down already." He turned to Harry. "Potter, give Mr. Malfoy the scroll case."

Harry quickly wiped his hands on a towel and hurried up to hand Malfoy the case.

Lucius took it. Then he wiped a hand on his trousers and muttered something. "Here, Dobby. Carry this home for me."

"Yes, Master." Dobby said. He took the cylinder reverently.

Harry pretended to trip and banged into the elf. The cylinder fell on the floor and the lid popped open, revealing the parchment and a lone blue sock. Dobby lifted the sock from the case reverently.

Dobby gasped and cried, "Master has given Dobby a sock! Dobby is FREE!"

"Huh?" Lucius looked down at the elf, his aristocratic face drawn in horror and fury. "No!"

"Oops, so that was where I put it," Harry grinned.

Lucius turned on him. "You stupid dunderhead! Do you have any idea what you've done?" He lifted his cane and looked as though he were about to strike Harry with it.

He was so menacing that Harry instinctively ducked and put an arm up to shield his face.

Severus was about to grab Lucius' arm, but Dobby interfered before he had a chance to do so.

"You shall not hurt Harry Potter!" shouted Dobby, and with that he slammed Lucius with a power bolt so strong that the man was knocked off his feet and sent skidding across the floor on his rear, to crash headlong into the soapy cauldron Harry had been scrubbing.

CLONK!

Lucius felt his head start to spin around.

Then the cauldron tilted and soapy water cascaded all over him.

Harry started laughing uncontrollably.

Dobby grinned. "Oh, such a shame. Master is all wet."

"Bring me a towel!" bellowed Lucius, his long hair dripping all in his face and making him look like a drowned Afghan hound.

"Sorry, Master. Dobby is free elf now. So . . .get your own towel, Lucius Malfoy!" the elf snapped. Then he cringed away at his own temerity, but he was well and truly free and did not feel compelled to punish himself.

Just then the clock upstairs struck twelve and there came a huge cacophony of noise as the fireworks went off outside and the students began blowing noise makers and cheering.

"Happy New Year!" Harry crowed, waving about a tiny sparkler.

Lucius began to climb to his feet, casting baleful glances at both Harry and his newly freed elf. "You need to discipline that brat of yours, Snape!" he growled. "A few whacks with a cane would do wonders for his attitude."

"Happy New Year, Lucius." Severus said coldly. "Leave the discipline of my ward up to me. Now, get on home, why don't you?"

Lucius staggered out the door and Severus followed, making sure the elder Malfoy got back home.

Meanwhile Harry and Dobby twirled round and round, drunk on happiness and celebrating a new milestone.

Together they toasted the new year, Dobby with a small glass of butterbeer and Harry with some of the sparkling wine from the table upstairs.

Dobby wept great tears of joy. "Master Harry Potter sir! Dobby is forever grateful to you and Master Severus Snape sir for freeing me. Dobby shall serve you faithfully—"

"Whoa! Wait a minute! I set you free so you didn't have to do that anymore, Dobby. Now that you're free you can choose what you want to do and even get paid for it. You don't have to serve me."

"Master Harry Potter is Dobby's best friend." The elf bowed.

"Thanks, Dobby."

Just then Severus walked in and Dobby began the whole thing about thanks and service again.

Severus had no better luck than Harry convincing Dobby not to serve him, and in the end he told the elf that he could scrub the dungeon floor after his class for 25 Sickles. Then he picked up the glass of sparkling wine he had placed on his desk an hour before, and lifted the glass to his ward. "Happy New Year, Harry. Let's hope it's filled with more hope than sorrow."

Harry chuckled and clinked his glass with Severus, all his melancholy faded away.

SWSWSWSW

" . . .you should have seen it, Fred. He skidded along on his bum like a waterbug and smashed right into the cauldron!" Harry was relating the incident to the twins and the rest of his yearmates at the new beginning of term feast. While this feast was not as elaborate as the beginning of term one, it was still a great deal of food.

The twins erupted in laughter, as did the rest of their Gryffindor yearmates, all except Ron, who was steadily shoveling food into his mouth and doing his best to ignore Harry.

Hermione had tried to talk sense into him, but he refused to listen. She was delighted that house elves could be freed, she found the house elf bond as morally repugnant and disgraceful. She told Harry she intended to free as many house elves as she could by knitting them socks and hats.

Harry found most of the rest of the students regarding him with either awe, alarm, suspicion, and in some cases sheer adoration, at least from the younger girls.

Even so, he still felt uncomfortable, for some of the Slytherins, especially Draco, were shooting him hostile looks. And even a few Gryffindors were eyeing him distrustfully. Harry looked down at his plate, wishing Dumbledore would make the announcement already.

"Attention, everyone! May I have your attention, please!" Dumbledore called, and everyone hushed and looked up at the podium where the old mage was standing. "Due to recent events over Christmas, you all should know that Voldemort has been defeated. While that is wonderful news, you should also know that one of your classmates has been discovered to be the long lost Heir of Slytherin. That one is Harry Potter. Because of his unusual heritage, Harry has asked the Sorting Hat to Re-Sort him. Such a request is extremely rare. But in this case, I felt it was justified. Harry, come up here."

Dumbledore held the Sorting Hat up.

Harry walked up and placed the Hat on his head.

Immediately the brim opened and it sang,

"Child of serpents, found once again,

In the House of Lions your courage was tested,

Yet courage is not all your forte.

You are more than courage, more than ambition,

More than any wizard that has gone before

To you I grant a special place—neither one nor the other,

But a melding of sorts, to promote peace, not war

Better be—Slythindor!"

Harry stood, stunned, as he removed the Hat from his head. This was not what he had expected when he had asked Dumbledore to let the Hat Re-Sort him.

"Slythindor?" cried someone. "That's not even a House."

"It is now." The Headmaster declared. "And Harry is its founding member. Neither snake nor lion, but a mixture of both, he is both Gryffindor by choice and Slytherin by blood. In him the two combine." Dumbledore clapped his hands, and a new banner appeared in the hall.

This banner was divided in half, red and silver, with a ruffed serpent rampant and framed by a green and gold border. Harry looked down at his robes, which now bore this new device. He glanced up at Dumbledore, confused.

Dumbledore patted Harry on the back. "Don't look like that, my boy. Did I not say it would all work out?"

"By giving me my own House?"

"Yes, a House you can make your own, and soon there will be more of you, Harry. Never doubt it. You're not the only one with both Gryffindor and Slytherin traits, only the first who has ever admitted it. I believe you were meant to bring Slytherin and Gryffindor together. To foster tolerance and understanding. As you did with the basilisk." He patted Harry on the back, then turned back to the students. "Today is the dawning of a new era. The dark wizard who has cast a long shadow over so much of our lives is no more—"

Loud cheers followed this statement.

"—and with his demise must come a new age of peace and tolerance. You all have heard the story of Salazar Slytherin's basilisk familiar, Icefyre, and how he redeemed himself by slaying Voldemort. That never would have happened if not for Harry and his mentor, Professor Snape. Soon Salazar's memoirs will be published and required reading for you all in History of Magic. For centuries we have labored under a misconception, and only now will Slytherin's name be cleared and his true motives revealed."

Now the Slytherins cheered and clapped.

Dumbledore held up a hand and the room grew quiet again. "I have seen for years how the rivalry between Gryffindor and Slytherin has grown more and more intense, and filled with hate. It grieved me to see, but nothing I said seemed to have an effect.

Perhaps now that you have a leader here in Harry, you will all realize an important truth—no matter what House you are, you are all bound by a common gift, the magic within you. The Founders believed that by creating the Houses they could better focus on the special traits within each wizard, but they never intended for the Houses to become bitter rivals and tear each other apart. We all need each other in order to survive.

"Today is the dawn of a new world, a world not dominated by Voldemort's shadow. Let us go forth with an open mind, and learn to respect both similarities and differences. The Sorting Hat has created a new House, and more will soon follow. At next year's Sorting you will have classmates who may be Sorted into Slythindor or even Griffinclaw or Hufflelin or Ravenpuff. Like Harry, they are the best representatives of traits of two houses and can be bridges from one House to another. For now, Slythindor will be advised by both Professor Snape and Professor McGonagall, and should have more members by next term. Let us all celebrate the beginning of a new year . . .and a new beginning for Hogwarts!"

Everyone clapped and hooted. Everyone, it seemed, save for Ron. Even Draco clapped and eyed Harry curiously, as if trying to figure out a new species of magical creature.

Harry longed to go and hide under the table, he had never been comfortable with his status as a celebrity and was even less comfortable with it now. But he supposed he had to learn to deal with it, since he was the charter member of Slythindor now. So he held up his head and met the stares of his peers, he was overwhelmed but not going to show it, he had to earn their respect and cowering in a corner wasn't going to do it. He was proud of both his heritages and determined to show the other students that you could have the best traits of both Houses to draw on. As Dumbledore had said, this was a chance to develop inter-House unity like never before. It was a goal he thought he could achieve, and a far better one than killing a dark wizard.

Finally, the hubbub died down and Harry returned to his seat. He looked over at Severus and their eyes met. The Potions Master gave him a nod and a half-smile of approval. Harry rubbed his hand over his new crest and smiled. With Severus to help, he knew he could face anything the new term might bring.

His tablemates were peering at the new crest and asking Harry how he felt being Sorted into a brand new House.

"Kind of weird," was all he could think of to say. "But I'm sure I'll get used to it."

"I think you'll do fine, Harry," said Hermione. She smiled at him and he smiled back.

He was grateful for her unflagging support and always had been. He glanced over at Ron, who refused to look at him.

George saw and said softly, "Don't mind our little brother, Harry. He's just—"

"—being an arse right now," finished Fred. "But we'll straighten him out eventually."

"No," Harry said, pitching his voice for their ears alone. "Better just let him be. I'd rather not have a friend at all than have one who's been bullied into being with me."

"Okay. It's your call, Harry," Fred agreed.

"And we're still your friends, even if you are Slytherin's heir," George said. "You should have heard Charlie when he came home the other day. Merlin, but all he could talk about was the basilisk and how wicked cool it was. It's like his new love interest."

Harry laughed at that, but Hermione grimaced. "Eew! That's just sick!"

"That's my brothers," Ginny said, rolling her eyes.

"Girls!" the twins chorused, grinning.

"I'll always be grateful for the basilisk. I wish I could meet him and say thank you," she continued.

"He's sleeping right now, but once he wakes, I could invite him over," Harry offered.

"That would be grand!" cried the youngest Weasley.

"Oooh, Gin! Maybe you could wake the beastie with a kiss." Teased Fred.

"Like Sleeping Beauty, only it's the Sleeping Beastie," George hooted.

"Honestly, you two!" Ginny stuck her tongue out at them.

Hermione made a face at them. "Harry, do you think I might ask the Hat to Re-Sort me? Remember, I told you it had a hard time deciding whether or not to put me in Ravenclaw? So maybe I'm a hybrid too."

"A what?"

"A hybrid. You know, it's a creature or a plant that's made by combining two different species, like a wolf-dog."

"Could be, Hermione. Why don't you ask Dumbledore?"

"Maybe I will," she said speculatively. "Err . . .Harry? Do you think maybe one day I could . . .speak with the Wise One? She sounds like she could answer so many questions and it would be like . . . like meeting Cleopatra or . . .or Helen of Troy or something."

"I'll have to ask her, but I'm sure she wouldn't mind. She likes to answer questions, especially if they're intelligent ones. Just try not to ask anything too . . . err . . . personal because I have to translate her answers, okay?"

"Sure, Harry. I won't mention anything about the sex lives of serpents," the little witch said, giggling.

Half the boys at the table gagged upon hearing that.

"Boys!" Hermione shot back and the other girls sniggered.

Finally the feast was over and the students all rose and headed back to their common rooms to unpack or chat with each other about how wonderful or awful their holiday had been. Harry told Hermione he would be along soon but he needed to speak to Snape.

He headed down to the dungeons, following the Slytherins.

He waited until almost all of them had entered the portrait hole before heading on to Snape's quarters. He had almost reached them when he heard a familiar voice call, "Potter!"

He turned, wondering why Draco wanted to speak with him. He hoped it wasn't to pick a fight, he couldn't imagine the other boy being too happy with him after freeing his house elf and humiliating his father.

"Malfoy. What do you want?"

Draco bit his lip. "I . . .I want to call a truce."

Harry was suspicious. "A truce? Why?"

"Because you're the heir of Slytherin, among other things."

Harry studied the blond boy intently. "And you figure it'd be better for you to be my ally than my enemy."

"Exactly. You do understand," the other said, radiating approval.

"I understand you only do something if it's in your best interest, Malfoy."

"Of course I do," Draco smirked. "Well?"

Harry thought for a long moment. He had never enjoyed being Malfoy's rival, he had always wished the Slytherin would leave him alone. "I'll accept your truce . . . but only if you promise never to tease Ron again."

Draco's eyebrows rose. "What's in it for me if I do?"

"You get your truce and I don't tell the basilisk to eat you."

Draco blanched. "You wouldn't!"

"You never know, Malfoy. Icefyre is very protective of me and he doesn't like bullies and liars."

"Okay, I'll leave Weasley alone in his shack with his family. It was getting too easy to bait him anyhow." He stuck out a hand and Harry shook it. "I have to go, Potter. See you in potions. Don't forget to chop the orris root up fine!"

"Keep your hands out of my cauldron, Malfoy," warned Harry.

Draco laughed softly and kept walking.

Harry didn't trust the blond boy, he knew full well that Malfoy did nothing that wouldn't benefit himself or his family, but he also didn't want to spend the rest of this term dodging Malfoy and his toadies, and besides, this was why he was chosen to be a Slythindor, so he could make peace between both the Houses. A truce with Malfoy was only the beginning.

He knocked softly at Severus' quarters.

"Come in, Harry," came the professor's voice.

Harry entered. "Hi, Severus." He didn't bother asking how Snape knew it was him, the professor always had an uncanny perception when it came to knowing where Harry was.

"Hello. I take it you're here to transfer all your things back up to Gryffindor Tower for the time being?"

"Yeah. For this week, so they don't think I'm snubbing them. I'm going to alternate weeks, spend some here in the dungeons and some there."

"That sounds very sensible. Perhaps I can arrange some time in the evenings for you to meet with my Slytherins and get to know them better."

Harry nodded. "I'd like that. Thank you."

"No thanks are necessary." Severus set his hands on Harry's shoulders. "You handled that scene in the hall very maturely, Harry. I'm proud of you."

The words were spoken quietly, but Harry felt as if he had won a million Galleons. Severus rarely said those words, but when he did say them, Harry knew he meant them. He looked up at the black-robed professor and gave him an impish grin. "Really?"

"I wouldn't say so unless I meant it. You've been given a tough job to do, but I believe, as does Dumbledore, that you are the only one who can do it right. However, if you ever need me, I will be here."

"Thank Merlin," Harry said, he had a feeling that in the months to come he was going to need Severus' advice, and the Wise One's, and Icefyre's. "Guess I'd better go and pack."

But he found himself reluctant to do so right then, and he leaned against his guardian for a long moment, allowing himself to be sheltered in Snape's arms. He breathed in the scent of cloth and spices and thought about how far he had come from the terrified boy who had fled the castle believing he was going mad, into the teeth of a blizzard, only to be rescued by the most unlikely person of all.

He shut his eyes briefly, picturing the Wise One in his mind, his cheek nestled against Snape's robe. 'Tis the season of warmth and light, and anything is possible, so long as you believe in yourself and trust your heart, the ruffed serpent had told him.

She had been right, Harry thought, for despite all odds he had at last what he always wanted, a place to call home, and a father-figure to share it with, and friends he would trust with his life. Granted, much was still expected of him, and his friends and family were not at all normal, but Harry could care less. They were all his and that was all he had ever asked for, each and every Christmas, for as far back as he could remember.

Someday, I'll be telling this whole crazy tale to my kids and grandkids, Harry thought wryly. Or Severus will. That thought, accompanied by a salt-and-pepper haired Snape, sitting with a grandkid on both knees, made Harry laugh.

"What is so funny?"

"Nothing. I was just . . . thinking about something," Harry hedged.

Suddenly there came a loud pop and Dobby appeared, wearing mismatched socks and a long tunic-like shirt. "Harry Potter sir, Dobby wishes to know if you would like help in packing your things?" the elf cried, as eager as a hound puppy to please his master.

"That would be great, Dobby," Harry agreed, then withdrew from Severus and followed the elf down the hall to his room, leaving a bemused Potions Master wondering what Harry had found so funny. Severus had a feeling it concerned him.

The Potions Master shook his head. Let the boy keep his secrets. Harry was happy and that was enough for him, an unlooked for miracle, like forgiveness and understanding, that warmed him through and through.

This is the final chapter of this story. I hope you all enjoyed reading it.

Will there be a sequel?

I am considering it, but right now cannot say yes definitely, as I have so many other stories I need to finish.

If I do make one, I shall post an alert here.

Thank you everyone!
 


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