"You wanted to see me, Professor?" Harry asked as he stepped into Dumbledore's office.
"Ah, yes, Harry. Have a seat," he said, gesturing towards the chair in front of his desk. Harry obliged.
"Severus told me what happened down in the chamber, do you have anything to add?" Dumbledore asked kindly.
"Nothing except for the fact that I would be dead without Fawkes," Harry replied. "Did you send him?"
Dumbledore shook his head. "Fawkes was called by your extreme loyalty to me. For that, I thank you."
Harry smiled, embarrassed. "Was that really Voldemort?"
The old professor sighed. "In a way. Voldemort... preserved his sixteen year old self in this diary," he said as he held up the punctured book, "so that he would be able to come back at a later date and reopen the chamber. It seems that he entrusted it to Lucius Malfoy who gave it to Draco."
"So I didn't really kill him?"
"No, but you destroyed the device through which he was carrying out his evil acts. That is a feat worthy of commendation," Dumbledore said with a twinkle in his eye.
Harry flushed and looked down. His eyes landed on a sword that sat at the edge of Dumbledore's desk. "What's this?"
"That is the sword with which you killed the basilisk," the Headmaster replied. "Only a true Gryffindor could have pulled that from the hat."
Harry ran his fingers over the engraved "Godric Gryffindor". He removed his hand and looked up. "Sir, what happened to Mr. Malfoy?"
"He is in Azkaban. Why do you ask?"
Harry considered lying but settled for the truth. "He almost ruined my life. I don't want him to get the chance to do that to anyone else. Also, Draco is anxious to see his mother."
Dumbledore smiled. "You can tell him that I will arrange that. And Lucius Malfoy will not be going anywhere soon."
Harry felt reassured. An idea popped into his head and Harry longed for this conversation to be over so that he could speak to Draco. He answered the Headmaster's questions about how he was doing then excused himself. Dumbledore didn't seem to mind.
When at last he found Draco in the great Hall, he sat down beside him.
"Hey, Draco," Harry said.
"Hi, Harry," he responded a little unenthusiastic.
"Are you feeling guilty again?" Harry asked bluntly.
Harry turned in his seat to face Draco. "Draco, can I ask a favor of you?"
"Sure, Harry. Anything," he responded.
"Will you promise to stop feeling guilty if you do this?" Harry asked while tossing a scoop of mashed potatoes on his plate.
Draco looked at him. "Yeah, I guess."
"Will you pass the gravy?" Harry asked absentmindedly.
Draco's eyes narrowed and he hesitated. "Um, was that the favor?"
"What? Oh, no," Harry replied, realizing what he had said. He laughed.
Draco passed the gravy. "So what's the favor?"
"If this isn't something that you can do, I understand," Harry warned. "I would like you to free your house elf."
"What?" Draco asked, surprised. "Dobby?"
"Yes. He tried to protect me and I appreciate that. He was really miserable last I saw him," Harry explained. "And if you get a new one, promise to treat him nicely?"
Draco nodded with a smile. "Of course. I'll talk to my mother; I'm sure she will agree."
"Oh!" Harry said, remembering. "Dumbledore told me that he would arrange a meeting for the two of you soon."
"Great, thanks," Draco replied, lightening up.
Harry smiled. "Glad to help."
As the door closed behind Harry, Dumbledore studied the diary that lay on his desk. On a whim, he opened the locked drawer of his desk and sifted through its contents. He pulled out a tarnished brass chain that held the decorative locket. He remembered what Severus had said about this being like no dark object he had ever seen.
I wonder... Dumbledore thought.
The guard closed the door and took up his position beside it.
"Leave," Severus ordered. "I can handle myself, even amongst vermin."
He bowed his head and left the two of them alone. Severus saw him watching through the barred glass window in the heavy iron door.
"A little cocky, don't you think? For someone who spent the last six months lying in bed," Lucius sneered.
"It is better than spending the rest of my life on one of those prison beds," Severus shot back. "Tell me, have you made friends with any of the dementors yet? You have so much in common with them." Severus slowly began to circle Lucius who was chained to a steel table. "Sucking happiness from people's lives, causing pain and fear, and enjoying it." Severus uttered these last words in Lucius's ear.
"You hurt my son. For that, I shall never forgive you," Severus stated.
"Potter is weak. As weak as his fathers, real and adopted combined."
"You deserve worse than Azkaban," Severus said, ignoring the jibe. "I wish your punishment were up to me. I would show you weak."
Lucius still looked cocky. "You can't protect Potter forever. The Dark Lord will destroy him. He will crush him like the insignificant child that he is. And I will make sure you watch."
Severus shook his head as if admonishing a child. "He will do no such thing. Harry has beaten him three times now. I will make sure you are there to watch your master fall."
Lucius rolled his eyes. "Let's hope he is always there to save the day."
"Do not worry. He will be."
Severus spun on his heel and left the room. The guard escorted him back a different way than they had come. The dementors had been ordered away for the duration of the visit. Sunken eyes followed the pair and sent shivers up Severus's spine. He stared straight ahead to avoid the accusing and longing glares.
"Traitor!" A voice called wildly. "You'll pay!"Severus slowly turned his head to the all too familiar voice. "Hello, Bella. How is prison life treating you?"
She growled in the unsettling animalistic way of hers. "Adopting Potter? Wittle Baby Potter? Does he call you daddy?"
Severus sneered. "My son will defeat the Dark Lord once and for all. I do hope to see you there when he does."
Severus turned back to the guard with a nod as she leapt at the bars. Her hand swiped at Severus's robes.
"Traitor! He will murder you all! Potter too!" She screamed as they walked down the hallway. "He'll kill you!"
"Let him try," Severus muttered.
"Harry!" Hermione cried, enveloping Harry in a hug.
"Hermione! You're back!" he said happily.
She pulled back and smiled. "I am. Ron told me what happened in the chamber. I'm so glad you and Draco are okay!" She caught sight of the aforementioned boy. "Draco!"
As Hermione left to greet Draco, Harry was approached by Seamus.
"Hey, Harry," he said a little awkwardly. "I'm sorry that I thought it was you. I should have known better."
"It's okay," Harry said honestly. "I'm just glad you're back."
Seamus smiled and then moved on to greet his other friends. Harry went to join Draco, Ron and Hermione but was delayed by a familiar voice.
"Harry! Hey, Harry!" Colin said excitedly. "I heard about you and the giant snake - that is so cool!"
"Welcome back, Colin," Harry said with a slightly forced smile.
"Will you take me down to the chamber? I could get some awesome pictures!"
"NO," Harry said adamantly. "Now, excuse me, Colin, I have to go talk to Hermione..."
"Sure, Harry! See you later!" he said enthusiastically.
Harry sighed deeply and pushed through the crowd to his friends. He sat down beside Hermione.
"What do you mean Dumbledore cancelled classes for a week?" she was exclaiming.
Harry laughed. "It's good to have you back, Hermione."
Draco was coming back from the library when he was stopped by an older Hufflepuff.
"You're Draco Malfoy, right?" she asked.
"Yeah," he responded hesitantly.
She nodded. "Dumbledore is looking for you. The password is Candy Floss."
"Oh, okay, thanks."
She gave him a fleeting smile and walked away. Draco was nervous. Was he finally going to get punished for being so hopelessly stupid and allowing all this to happen?
Draco took his time walking to the headmaster's office. He drew in a deep breath before uttering the password. The ride to the top seemed to take less than a second and then he was faced with two heavy doors. He knocked.
"Come on in."
Draco pushed open the heavy doors and stepped inside. He took in the spacious office for the first time. The paintings on the walls stared at him curiously. They were unnerving. Dumbledore stood behind a large desk.
"Welcome, Draco," he said. "You have a visitor."
The Floo flared and a tall woman with long hair and dark robes stepped out.
"Mother," Draco breathed.
Dumbledore smiled. "I'll leave you two alone." He graciously stepped out of the office and closed the doors behind him.
"Draco," she said and rushed towards her son. She gave him a long hug then looked him up and down. "Are you truly alright?"
"Yes," he assured her. He stepped back. "Mother, how could you have let him do this?"
Narcissa sighed. "I wish I had a choice, Draco, honestly. I didn't know his plans until right before he assumed Severus's identity. I threatened to tell someone and he threatened you."
Draco nodded. "When I found out, I threatened the same thing. He said he would hurt you." She gave him a soft look. Draco continued, "How did no one notice he was missing?"Narcissa replied, "We passed it off as an extreme illness to the general public. To the other... Dark Lord sympathizers, we told the truth," she glanced at the paintings. "They found it amusing."
"So I can come home this summer?" Draco asked hopefully, changing the subject.
"Of course," she said.
They stood in silence for a moment.
"Did Harry Potter truly save your life?" she asked quietly.
"Yes. He saved my life and refuses to let me feel guilty," Draco said, almost annoyed. "Speaking of which, can you free Dobby?"
"Free Dobby? Why?" she asked, confused.
"It is the one thing that Harry asked of me. You can get another, if you want, but you have to treat him nicely."
Narcissa nodded. "Anything for the boy who saved my son."
"Is Severus here right now?" Narcissa asked.
"I think so," Draco replied.
"Would you take me to him?"
Draco nodded and led the way out of the office. He navigated the dungeons easily and they arrived at Severus's office in only a few minutes. Narcissa knocked. There were a few seconds of silence before an annoyed voice called.
Harry sat in front of Severus in his office. They had simply been catching up and talking of things of little importance. Quidditch, Lockhart, classes and other trivial matters. In the lulls of the conversation, however, Harry fell to brooding.
"What are you thinking, Harry?" Severus asked after the fourth time this had happened and Harry missed something that Severus had said.
Harry was reluctant to answer. "I was just thinking about how I should have known."
"Should have known what?" Severus asked.
"That it wasn't you. How did I miss that? Your whole attitude changed literally overnight and I didn't notice? I'm a horrible excuse for a son."
"Harry, you are no such thing. It is completely understandable that you did not notice. He obviously tried very hard to imitate me and on top of that, you were preoccupied to say the least," he said. "This was but one of the strange things happening at the time. It is not your fault in any way, shape or form."
Harry was still silent."I could not ask for a better son," Severus insisted.
"You're just saying that," Harry accused.
"I would never lie to you."
Harry opened his mouth to respond when there was a knock on the door. Severus rolled his eyes, irritated.
The door opened and in stepped Draco and a woman whom Harry assumed was his mother.
Severus inclined his head. "Narcissa. What an... interesting surprise."
"Severus," she greeted equally. Her gaze fell on Harry. "You must be the famous Harry Potter."
Harry nodded, still assessing whether she was more like her son or husband.
She turned to Severus first. "Severus, I want to apologize. I knew of Lucius's plan not long beforehand but he threatened my family. I assume that you can understand why I could not risk telling."
Surprisingly, Snape nodded. "I do not look upon this as a fault of anyone but Lucius's."
"Thank you," she said, turning to Harry. "Harry Potter. You saved my son's life. We will forever be in your debt."
"Er, it wasn't a problem," Harry said.
"I also feel the need to apologize to you. You may be the one most affected by my husband's escapades yet you did not take it out on Draco," she said, almost curiously. "You are a rare person."
Harry blushed. "Um, thanks."
She smiled slightly. "Come, Draco. I must be going soon."
Harry and Draco shared a look before the pair left the office.
"Well that was unexpected," Harry commented.
"Do you still feel like you are a waste of space?" Severus asked snidely.
"I never said that!" Harry said indignantly. "But, no."
Harry grinned and Severus's typically hard look softened.