Harry didn't know what had gone wrong with the spell. He didn't think he really wanted to know, either.
"Maybe you paused wrong."
Not that Harry's wants kept Hermione from theorising.
"Maybe it was You-Know-Who's plan."
Or Ron from making up conspiracy theories.
Or the man who appeared where the horcrux had sat from waking up.
The three friends traded looks, then turned to the man in silence.
The man who had appeared was muscular, but thin, with shoulder-length black hair and tanned skin. He was dressed all in dark green, trimmed in silver. His tunic and cloak were in perfect condition and a sword hung from the plain leather belt around his waist.
The man groaned again and opened stunning pale green eyes. Then he asked something in a language that sounded vaguely Gaelic, which Hermione had studied briefly when they decided to escape Voldemort's people in Northern Ireland, where the political unrest made things difficult for even the magical government.
"Ní thuigim," Hermione tried, stumbling over the words she barely knew and never practised. "An bhfuil Béarla agat?"
"English?" the man replied with a heavy accent and a frown.
Hermione nodded, looking hopeful.
"I asked where I am," he said after a moment of silence. Hermione thought his accent sounded rather Scottish, though he'd spoken Gaelic.
"Northern Ireland," Ron replied coolly. "Where do you think you are?"
The man looked around with disbelief for a long moment, ignoring Ron, who was turning red with anger. Suddenly, the man's eyes widened and he froze.
"Uhm, are you okay?" Hermione, ever the compassionate one, asked.
The man turned to stare at her, horror and excitement warring in his eyes. "What is today's date?"
"The twenty-fourth of September, 1997," Hermione replied, frowning.
"It worked," the man whispered.
"What did?" Hermione requested.
The man smiled at the three best friends. "My name is Salazar Slytherin and I'm from the year 797."
Ron and Harry gaped at him in disbelief. Hermione fainted.
Hotel in County Armagh, Northern Ireland
"Okay," Hermione started once they'd all settled down in the room the three friends had been staying in, "somehow, destroying that horcrux summoned Salazar Slytherin. And you meant to time travel?" she asked the Founder.
Slytherin sighed. "I went to a Seer, after I fell out with Godric, and she told me a prophecy–"
"I'm getting really sick of these prophecies," Harry muttered to himself.
"–which stated that I should arrange myself on the Moon's Stone on the eve of the moon's dark, so I might be sent to those students who needed me most." He eyed the three teens critically. "I would assume that would mean you three."
"We don't need a slimy snake's help," Ron growled. "Especially not You-Know-Who's ancestor. Probably side with the man the second he gets the chance."
"I'm still here," Slytherin commented drily. "And I have no idea what you're talking about. For that matter, you haven't even introduced yourselves." He eyed them meaningfully.
"Oh!" Hermione squeaked. "I'm so sorry! I'm Hermione Granger, this is Ron Weasley, and that's Harry Potter."
Slytherin considered the children. The red-headed boy was clearly of Godric's house, judging by how rude he was. He'd guess the girl would have been in Ravenclaw, as she seemed to have all the smarts. As for the last boy... "I was under the impression that Godric's House despised mine."
"We do," Ron assured him, glaring.
Slytherin eyed Harry with even more curiosity. "Then why..."
"I'm a Gryffindor," Harry offered abruptly, knowing what the man was going to say.
Slytherin narrowed his eyes. "I think I can spot my own House, young man."
Ron looked offended. "Harry's no Slytherin! He's the quidditch captain for Gryffindor and everything."
"Quidditch?" Slytherin repeated, no comprehension on his face.
"Sport?" Ron replied, looking disbelieving. "Played on broomsticks?"
Harry coughed. "Ron, quidditch wasn't created until after Slytherin's time. Remember, the Pitch wasn't added until the twelve hundreds."
Hermione huffed. "If only you had paid attention to your schoolbooks as much as you did that stupid quidditch book!"
Harry rolled his eyes and looked back at Slytherin. "It's a sport that's really popular in the wizarding world today; practically every country in Europe has at least one team. The Houses each have their own team, and I'm captain for Gryffindor's team."
Slytherin snorted, but changed the topic by asking, "Who is this... 'You-Know-Who'?"
"Voldemort," Harry supplied, rolling his eyes again when Ron shuddered. "Oh, get over it, Ron. Anyway! He's your Heir. Carrying out your life's work of wiping out all.... Why are you looking at me like that?" he asked Slytherin, seeing the 'you're mad' look in the man's eyes.
"I never had children," the Founder replied.
"You sure you didn't accidentally have a moment with a woman that would have resulted in kids?" Hermione asked.
"Bloody hell, Hermione."
"Impossible," Slytherin said. "I never slept with any women."
Harry's eyes narrowed at the wording, and Hermione blinked. Ron just grinned and said, "The evil Slytherin's a virgin?"
"I said I've never slept with a woman, boy, not that I'm a virgin."
"Then who would you have..." Ron's eyes widened as he made the connection. "Oh."
"Yes, Ron," Hermione commented drily. "Oh."
"If that's the case, then why would Voldemort think he was your Heir?" Harry enquired, ignoring Ron and Hermione with practised ease. "I mean, he's a Parselmouth and everything."
Slytherin sneered. "Just because I was the better known Parselmouth doesn't mean I was the only one, little serpent."
Harry frowned at the label the Founder had given him, but chose to ignore it in favour of saying, "So that means Voldemort isn't a Slytherin?"
The Founder sighed. "I didn't say that. My father often... how did the girl put it? Ah, he often 'had moments' with women, as it was quite common at the time for men to do so. I have something like three brothers and two sisters, though I've only met one of my brothers, personally. Parseltongue was my father's gift, and all my brothers would have been named Slytherin, so it is feasible that this 'Voldemort' is related in that way."
"Wouldn't want to go to one of those family reunions," Ron muttered.
"Probably would end up looking a lot like your own," Hermione retorted, then looked at Slytherin and asked, "So, were you a muggle-hater?"
Slytherin blinked. "Muggle?"
"People without magic," Hermione explained.
"Oh!" Slytherin shrugged. "I wasn't fond of them, but few of us were, what with them burning or drowning people left and right for the slightest infractions. My own mother was a non-magical, and she was burned at the stake for my accidental magic."
"You're a halfblood?!" Ron squeaked at the same time as Hermione said, "I'm sorry, sir."
Slytherin sighed. "This supposed heir; he goes around killing non-magicals?"
Harry nodded. "Anyone who's not a pureblood. Erm... Anyone who's not able to trace their magical ancestry back through how-ever many generations."
Slytherin shook his head. "Sounds like one of my sisters."
"Well, now we know where his line came from," Ron joked weakly.
"But why would it be attributed to you?" Harry asked of Slytherin.
Slytherin shrugged. "I would assume I was the best know of my family's line?" When the three teens nodded, he said, "That would be why. History tends to twist itself in myths over the centuries. Godric may also have had a hand in it."
"Wait," Ron interrupted, "if you and Gryffindor didn't fight over blood purity, why did you leave?"
Slytherin looked mildly uncomfortable, but said, "He found out I preferred men. Magicals viewed the refusal to bear offspring just as non-magicals did at the time. It was either leave, or be lynched."
"I'm sorry," Hermione said again.
Slytherin shook his head. "It's in the past." He smiled grimly. "Over a thousand years in the past, in fact." He cleared his throat. "Now! Did I hear someone mention horcruxes?"
Harry nodded. "Voldemort made a few."
Slytherin cocked an eyebrow at him. "A few?"
"Six, so far as we know," Hermione supplied.
Slytherin just blinked for a long moment, then sighed and rubbed at his eyes, muttering something in Gaelic.
Hermione thought she caught something about 'children' and possibly some form of 'fool', but she wasn't certain. When Harry and Ron glanced at her, she just shrugged.
"Ignoring the question of why he would do something like that," Slytherin said in English, "what do you know of them?"
"Horcruxes in general, or Voldemort's specifically?" Harry asked, ignoring Ron's shudder at the Dark Lord's name.
Slytherin considered him. "Both."
"Horcruxes are the container for a piece of soul, which is split during the act of killing someone in cold blood," Harry replied firmly while Hermione hesitated over discussing the Dark magic. "And we know two – three now, since that one that helped bring you here is gone – are destroyed. Of the other three we know for sure two: Voldemort's pet snake and a cup said to belong to Helga Hufflepuff. The last is an unknown, but we believe it to be something that belonged to Rowena Ravenclaw."
Slytherin nodded. "That would likely be her diadem." He glanced at Hermione. "Surely you would know it? There is a bust of Rowena in the Ravenclaw common room."
Hermione blinked. "I'm a Gryffindor."
Slytherin blinked at her in disbelief. "What has that hat been doing?" he complained. "I told Godric a hat would never be able to properly sort students into Houses..."
Hermione laughed a little, sounding nervous. "I, uhm... I asked it to put me in Gryffindor. It said I was better suited to Ravenclaw, but I'd heard so much good about Gryffindor, and always been teased for being clever in primary school..."
Slytherin sighed and looked at Harry. "And you? You argued with that ratty thing too?"
"Harry's not a Slytherin!" Ron insisted.
Harry turned to watch Ron for a moment, waiting for the redhead to quiet down before he looked back at Slytherin. "Yes," he said.
"Harry!" Ron cried, scandalised.
Harry cocked an eyebrow at his best friend. "Parselmouth," he reminded him drily. "Certain propensity for breaking the rules and getting away with it."
Slytherin chuckled. "A Parselmouth?"
Harry grimaced and nodded, pointing to the scar on his forehead. "Voldemort tried to kill me when I was a baby, but it didn't work. Bounced off and hit him. Left me with this. I get visions from him, sometimes, and I can speak Parseltongue because of it," he explained.
Slytherin's eyes narrowed and he jerked forward to touch the scar before any of the others had the chance to react. Ron was just pulling out his wand when the Founder sat back in his chair, frowning. "That scar is a horcrux," he reported.
"What?!" Ron shouted. "Harry's not–"
"You seem very certain about what your friend is not, little lion cub," Slytherin replied. "I have seen horcruxes before, I know what they feel like. That scar is one."
Hermione took a deep breath, glancing over at where Harry was sitting, very still and a little pale. "Is there a way to remove it without hurting Harry?" she asked.
Slytherin looked over at the girl speculatively, then to Harry. "You said he tried to kill you and the spell rebounded?" Harry nodded stiffly. "What spell was it?"
"The Killing Curse," Harry replied quietly.
Slytherin snorted. "Figures. Very well." Then he turned his wand on Harry and intoned, "Avada Kedavra."
"Harry!" Hermione and Ron shouted, jumping to their feet.
Harry just blinked as the spell hit his scar. He felt a brief, blinding flash of pain, and then it was over. He reached up, very slowly, and touched the now smooth surface of his forehead. "It's gone," he murmured.
Slytherin looked quite smug and put his wand away.
"H-Harry?" Hermione whispered, reaching out and not quite touching his arm. Next to her, Ron's freckles stood out sharply on his pale face.
"I'm okay," the boy said, offering his two best friends a smile. "Hermione, have we got any Headache Potions left?"
Hermione and Ron both turned as one to get Harry the requested potion, tripping over each other.
Harry sighed and glanced back at Slytherin, who raised an eyebrow at him. "Some warning would have been appreciated," the teen commented.
Slytherin raised his other eyebrow. "And then you would have flinched or tried to duck. Or your friends would have tried to talk one of us out of it."
"Of course we would have!" Ron snapped.
Hermione handed Harry the requested potion. "I would have rather there'd been another way," she commented as Harry downed the potion.
Slytherin shrugged. "Voldemort could have regretted making it. But the horcrux had become too entwined in his soul to simply cut off the scar that was imbued with it. Perhaps when it had first occurred..."
Harry once again touched the now bare skin of his forehead while Hermione took the potion bottle away. "Voldemort would never regret trying to kill me," he said with certainty. "But, what do you mean, it had become entwined in my soul?"
Slytherin sighed. "You said you could speak Parseltongue?" Harry nodded. "That wouldn't have been true when the horcrux was just formed, because it would have been separate. Over time, that bit of soul would have attached itself to the greater piece of soul in your own body. If that soul had been any more powerful, or you any less determined to remain your own person, you would have become another Voldemort."
Harry shuddered. "Thanks," he said, not quite certain why he was thanking the Founder.
"Is that... like what almost happened to Ginny?" Ron asked, mouth dry.
At Slytherin's curious look, Harry explained, "The first horcrux we met was living in a diary. Ginny, Ron's sister, started writing in the diary. It possessed her slowly, over the year, and let out a basilisk on the school. Eventually, she was left down in the Chamber of Secrets and he was going to use her soul or some-such to make a new body."
"In answer to your question, then, yes. That's exactly what would have happened. Except the horcrux in the little serpent's scar wasn't powerful enough to make its own body; it would have made do with his," Slytherin said, and all three teens shuddered at the thought. "Now, explain why there was a basilisk in my school."
"Didn't you put it there?" Ron snapped.
"Ronald!" Hermione hissed. "He wasn't trying to kill off the muggleborns!"
"So he says," Ron grumbled back.
Slytherin looked at Harry, who was rolling his eyes at his best friends. "A translation?" the Founder requested.
Harry coughed, but his two friends continued bickering, so he shrugged and said, "Legend tells of a secret chamber under the school you built which contained a basilisk. Supposedly, when the true Heir of Slytherin came, he would release the basilisk and kill all the muggleborns in the school, thereby purifying our world. Or some such."
Slytherin blinked. "I didn't leave a basilisk in the school."
"I believe you," Harry said as Ron turned to snap about how Slytherin most certainly had.
"Harry!" Ron complained.
Harry just eyed him with amusement.
"And the chamber, if it's the one I'm thinking of, was built to keep the students safe if there was ever an attack on the school," Slytherin continued, ignoring the redhead. "The professors should have had a password to open it in such an event."
"It had a Parseltongue password," Harry said.
Slytherin blinked. "Someone changed it, then. We never would have made it a language that only a minority could use." He shrugged. "There was a large statue of Merlin in there."
Harry nodded, recalling the statue he'd once thought was Slytherin himself. Though, seeing the man in person, he had to admit that the statue looked nothing like him. "There were also snakes everywhere."
Slytherin sighed. "Changed the password and redecorated, then. I must assume this to have been the work of one of my siblings or their offspring. It is not to Godric's taste, although he was disgusted enough that he might well have tried to drag my name through the mud."
Harry nodded, knowing full-well how cruel people could be under the right conditions.
Hermione cleared her throat. "I don't suppose you know where Ravenclaw's diadem would be? Or the Cup?"
Slytherin rubbed his chin and nodded. "The diadem is, itself, quite magical, so finding it shouldn't be too much trouble, since I know what I'm looking for. This cup could prove more trouble; Helga had quite a collection."
"Hufflepuff collected cups?" Ron asked, disbelieving.
"Helga collected pretty things," Slytherin corrected, lips twisting with a fond smile. "Her favourite thing was to work with the earth, and the best part, she always told us, was seeing the finished product. Gems and precious metals are finished products, same as plants, just with a bit more shine."
"Oh," Hermione breathed, eyes shining.
Slytherin shook his memories away and looked the three teens over. "I don't suppose any of you know what the cup looks like? I might recognise it."
"Gold, two handles and a badger engraved on one side," Harry replied promptly. "About this big." He cupped his hands to show the size he remembered it being.
"Were the handles curved, or straight?" Slytherin requested, frowning.
"Curved," Harry recalled.
"Any gems? In the badger's eye, perhaps?"
Harry frowned in thought for a moment, then shook his head. "I didn't see any."
"We shall assume there were none, then," Slytherin decided. "I believe I know the one you're speaking of. Helga had one fairly plain cup very much like the one you described which she often used to store wildflowers in, insisting the natural beauty of the flowers enhanced the plain beauty of the gold cup." He smiled at Hermione's enthralled expression. "It had a couple spells on it to keep the flowers alive longer and keep the water full; not as uncommon as the spells on Rowena's diadem, but I should be able to locate it with minor difficulty."
"How are you going to locate them?" Hermione wondered, more than a little excited. "Some obscure spell?"
"I couldn't say if it's obscure or not," Slytherin pointed out as be pulled a small hand mirror with a silver snake twining around the tarnished handle from a small pouch on his belt. "I intend to scry for them."
"Oh. Divination," Ron muttered while Hermione grimaced.
"We had a bit of a fraud for a Divination professor," Harry explained to Slytherin's raised eyebrow. "Her favourite pastime was finding someone each year and regularly predicting their death. I was it for our year."
Slytherin grimaced. "You have my sympathies," he offered before shaking his head. "I am no Seer, however, so I make no predictions. I only scry the present."
"Is that divination, then?" Hermione wondered. "Trelawney seemed pretty intent on looking into the future."
"Future divination is the most well known," Slytherin allowed, glancing down at his mirror with a frown, "but hardly the only divination out there. It's also the most difficult to master, for you must be willing to open yourself to the movements of time to See anything, and you must also keep in mind that what you See may not come to pass, depending on the choices of the present. Present divination is much simpler, though there remain restrictions on it, as well, such as a familiarity with whatever you're attempting to scry. For example, I could not scry this Voldemort, for all that we share similar blood, though one of you could find him."
"Harry's the only one who could scry him, if it's familiarity you need," Hermione replied quietly. When Slytherin looked up at her with a frown, she explained, "Ron and I have never encountered him."
"His horcrux may have been enough," Slytherin replied, shaking his head. "Perhaps not the one in the little serpent, given how much a part of him it was, but you have handled another horcrux recently, correct? The one you destroyed to call me?"
"You would manage," Slytherin said, looking back at his mirror and frowning. "A room filled with things?" he suggested, glancing back up at them. "The diadem is rested on the sculpture of a man's head, which is resting atop a damaged cupboard."
"That's the Room of Requirement!" Harry realised, sitting up. "I hid the Potions book in that cupboard!" He grimaced, then added, "I had the diadem in my hands."
"At least we know where it is?" Ron suggested while Hermione sniffed at the mention of Snape's old book.
"A room which changes shape depending on what you need?" Slytherin enquired, expression closed.
Harry nodded. "Yeah. On the seventh floor. You have to walk back and forth in front of the door three times, thinking hard about what you need."
Slytherin nodded. "So, they finished it," he murmured before looking back down at the mirror again. The three students held their tongues as the man frowned into the image only he could see before saying, "Piles of gold and silver." He glanced up at them. "I believe I see Godric's sword in there, but there's something wrong with it."
" 'Something wrong'?" Hermione repeated while Ron turned to Harry and hissed, "That sword was supposed to be yours."
Slytherin shook his head. "I can't tell for sure from a scrying, but I know there's something different about it, something not quite right. If I touched it, I could tell you what's wrong."
"So it's in a vault?" Harry suggested, rubbing absently at the spot his scar had once been.
Slytherin nodded. "Very likely. Is there a centralised money depository?"
"Gringotts," Hermione said before Ron could open his mouth and say something insulting or stupid. "But it's run by goblins and they guard the vaults with everything they can. We don't even know which vault it's in!"
"Voldemort doesn't have one?"
"I very much doubt it," Harry murmured, shaking his head. "But he's bequeathed a horcrux to one of his Death Eaters before, so it's not outside the realm of possibility that he might do it again."
"The last time didn't go so well for him, though, did it?" Ron said with a smile.
"You think he'd trust someone else with one of his horcruxes?" Hermione wondered, ignoring Ron.
"As much as he trusted Malfoy, yeah." Harry nodded. "Tell them to keep it safe, but don't tell them what it is. He gave the diary to Malfoy, who was one of his favourites, so I'd say he gave the cup to Snape or one of the Lestranges, most likely Bellatrix." He grimaced as he made his suggestions, not liking their options in the least.
"Would he trust Snape, though?" Hermione wondered. "He was so close to Dumbledore..."
"Bellatrix, then," Harry decided, and sighed. "So, all we have to do is steal the cup from the Lestrange vault, sneak into Hogwarts without being killed, and find Nagini. Brilliant."
"Isn't there some way you can, I dunno, call the horcruxes to you?" Ron asked Slytherin.
"Not without a claim of ownership," Slytherin replied, shaking his head and slipping his mirror away.
Hermione, however, was staring at Slytherin, something devious glinting in her eyes. "You're Salazar Slytherin," she said quietly.
Slytherin raised an eyebrow. "Indeed."
Hermione looked down at Ron. "You'd do anything Gryffindor asked if he was here, wouldn't you?"
"Yeah," Ron agreed, looking uncertain. "Why?"
"So a Slytherin might do something they wouldn't otherwise consider doing if it was for their Founder," Harry realised, turning to Slytherin. "Do you think, if we pointed her out, you could talk Bellatrix into giving you the cup? Or, at the least, showing you to the vault? Perhaps for Gryffindor's sword."
Slytherin cocked his head. "I might, yes. But I've no certainty that she'd believe it was me."
"It's worth a shot, though," Hermione insisted. "It's all we've got, really. And tricking her would be easier than sneaking into Gringotts."
"I would have one of you come with me," Slytherin commented. "Invisible, if possible."
"We could all go," Ron suggested.
Harry shook his head. "The Cloak can only fit two, at the most. Ron, why don't you and Hermione see about getting into Hogwarts for the diadem? Owl Ginny and see if she or one of the others knows about a way inside the wards that the Death Eaters aren't watching. We can meet back up here or at a previous camp site."
"The Death Eaters still seem to be having trouble in Northern Ireland, so this hotel should still be safe," Hermione commented. "If you see someone when you get back, leave a sign and apparate back to our last site; we can meet up there."
Harry nodded and glanced out the gap in the window covering. "Let's all get some sleep while we can, then, and head out first thing in the morning."
"How're we setting up the beds?" Ron wondered, shooting Slytherin a suspicious look.
Slytherin snorted while Harry closed his eyes and rubbed carefully at the bridge of his nose. Hermione let out an irritated sound. "Honestly, Ron!"
The room had two full-size beds. Hermione had been taking one while Harry and Ron kicked each other in their sleep on the other. Hermione had commented once that she didn't mind if Ron shared with her, but the ginger had turned bright red and stuttered out a no before making his escape to the grocery down the way for bread that they hadn't needed.
"Ron, you can sleep with Hermione and I'll share with Slytherin," Harry said. When Ron opened his mouth to refuse, Harry added, "Unless you'd prefer to sleep with him? Or I suppose Hermione could; she doesn't seem to mind."
"It wouldn't be a problem, n–" Hermione agreed.
"Fine!" Ron glowered between his girlfriend and best friend, both of whom were grinning, then glared at the Founder. "If you do anything to Harry–"
"Calm down, lion cub," Slytherin replied, lips curled with amusement. "Until one of you give me a reason to cause you harm, I won't. I am not your enemy."
"So you say," Ron muttered, but subsided.
Hermione pulled out their stash of food and handed out servings to everyone. Once they'd eaten, they took turns in the toilet, then all turned in.
Harry and Hermione were, as usual, up first. They gathered together in a corner and Hermione put up a silencing ward so they could speak as they divided out the things Harry might need while they were separated into a second bag that Hermione had quickly spelled.
"Are you sure about this?" Hermione asked once she'd finished her spells on the new bag. "I mean, I've got nothing against Slytherin – he's nothing like in the stories – but going to meet and trick Bellatrix with someone we've only just met?"
"I know," Harry agreed, "but we need the horcruxes, and I think this is our best chance. If there was another way, I'd take it in a heartbeat, but this is it." He sighed and shook his head, brushing his fingers over his Cloak. "If you haven't heard from us by Wednesday, assume the worst and try to find another way to get the cup. Involve the Order if you absolutely have to, but make getting the horcruxes a priority over me."
"I know," Hermione whispered, tears in her eyes. "You'll be careful, though, right?"
"Aren't I always?" Harry flashed her a smile.
Hermione reached over and smacked him. "Don't think you can fool me, Harry Potter! I know you too well."
They shared smiles before returning to sorting out their things.
"You'll try to be careful, though," Hermione said, making it more an order than a question.
"Yeah, I'll try," Harry promised. "But I won't leave Slytherin behind in a bad spot. You know that."
"I know," Hermione agreed and smiled sadly. "Just remember that he's likely able to take care of himself, okay? That sword's not just for decoration, and he did help build Hogwarts."
"And if there's anyone the Death Eaters will pause to kill, it's him," Harry agreed. "I know."
They were just finishing their sorting and closing the two bags up when Hermione asked, "How do we destroy them? I mean, we got lucky with that spell; I don't know that it would have worked if Slytherin hadn't appeared."
Harry rubbed at his forehead, frowning. "Well, Nagini should be easy, just kill her, but the others..." He sighed. "I should have asked Professor Dumbledore how he destroyed the ring."
Slytherin stirred from the bed he and Harry had shared, making the two teens look over. "We could ask Slytherin," Hermione said. "He appears to know quite a bit about them."
"Don't point that out to Ron," Harry suggested tiredly. "He'll start in on how Slytherin is clearly a Dark wizard and he's planning to kill us all and join Voldemort..."
Hermione laughed and shook her head. "He's not that bad." Harry gave her a look. "He has his moments," she allowed.
Harry's lips twitched. "Harry can't possibly be a Slytherin!" he cried in a fair approximation of Ron's voice.
"Stop that!" Hermione reached over and smacked Harry's arm, making him laugh. "Oh, you're terrible," she said, covering a smile.
Slytherin stepped past the ward, eyebrow raised at the two. "I begin to see how you've both managed in Gryffindor," he commented neutrally.
"We're a fun-loving bunch," Harry replied as Hermione reached into her purse for some bread for the oldest wizard. "Morning, Slytherin."
"Little serpent. Eaglet."
The two Gryffindors rolled their eyes and Hermione held out the food she'd found. "Here you are, sir."
"I'm not a professor, and nor have I been for..." He considered that for a moment as he settled on his knees in front of the teens. "A very long time," he settled on. "Calling me 'sir' is unnecessary. You're also welcome to use my first name, lest we start to confuse me with my House."
"Feel free to use our first names," Harry retorted. "I can give you a refresher, if you need it."
Slytherin chuckled. "Fair point. Harry, then. And...Hermione, correct?"
"Yes, si–ah. Salazar," Hermione said, flushing. "Sorry."
Slytherin shook his head, then glanced at Harry. "When did you wish to leave?"
"When you're done, I suppose," Harry decided, scratching his head. "Also, I don't suppose you know how to destroy horcruxes?"
Slytherin paused in the process of chewing and gave the two teens a disbelieving look. After a moment, he hurriedly swallowed and asked, "You don't know how to destroy them? Why are you hunting them, then?"
"There wasn't anyone else," Harry said quietly, expression torn. "Professor Dumbledore told me all he could before Snape killed him last year, and I guess he forgot to tell me how to destroy them."
Slytherin sighed. "Of course it would be something like that," he muttered before shaking his head. "Horcruxes can only be destroyed by something that can destroy the soul, as well as the receptacle. You said there is a basilisk in Hogwarts?"
"Was," Harry replied. "I killed it."
Slytherin raised an eyebrow at him. "Indeed. Well, basilisk venom would suffice. So, too, would Fiendfyre, though the ability to control that spell is rare." He shook his head. "There are a couple of potions that could do it, though they would take time to brew. The Killing Curse would work, even on inanimate containers. You said one is his snake?" The teens nodded, watching wide-eyed. "Anything that kills the snake should also get rid of the soul piece, then."
"Basilisk venom," Hermione said, turning to Harry. "If we can get into the Chamber, Ron and I can destroy the diadem as soon as we find it."
"But neither of you speak Parseltongue," Harry replied, grimacing. "I doubt I do, any more, with my scar gone."
"You may be able to create an alternate entrance from the – what did you call it? Room of Requirement," Slytherin offered. "Assuming the magic was set right, you should be able to use that room to get anywhere, including out of the school."
"An alternate secret passage?" Hermione breathed, looking at Harry.
"Good thing Fred and George didn't know about it, then," Harry said with a grin.
Hermione shook her head. "If Ginny can open it from inside the school, we can sneak in that way, once we know where it comes out."
"Oh." Harry grimaced. "Good point. Put it in the owl, then. Maybe see about staying in Hogsmeade; it'll probably come out there somewhere, anyway."
"I'll see about the Shrieking Shack," Hermione decided. "They should only have the passage guarded, not the Shack itself."
"And you can protect the Shack against them," Harry agreed. "Not a bad plan. If you can make it secure enough, leave a note for us back here at the hotel and Sly– Salazar and I will join you there when we've collected the cup. It'll be nice to have a spot closer to the school, especially if it'll let us get in contact with everyone inside for updates."
"And once we're rid of the cup and diadem, it's only Nagini and Voldemort himself left," Hermione agreed. "At that point, we're almost best off if he comes to us."
"Maybe," Harry said, shaking his head. "I'd rather keep any fighting away from the school, but if it comes down to it, it's as good a place as any to make a stand, and enough of the Order works there that we should be able to hold our ground."
Slytherin stood, brushing his hands against his tunic. "If you can't get into the Chamber through the Room," he offered, "try saying Godric, Rowena, Helga, and my first names, in English, to the entrance. I'm not sure of the exact order or if it will even work, but it was supposed to be something of an override."
Hermione nodded as she and Harry stood. "Got it. Thanks, Salazar."
"Certainly." Slytherin picked up his sword and cloak, which had been left on his chair from the night before, and put them both on. "Harry, to where are we headed?"
"I'm not completely sure," Harry admitted, grimacing when Slytherin frowned. "I figure Bellatrix is probably still staying with the Malfoys, and their manor is in Wiltshire, from what Mr Weasley said."
Slytherin let out an irritated noise. "Is this how you three always do things? Hope you get lucky?"
Harry and Hermione traded helpless smiles. "Yes," Hermione admitted. "Strangely, it always seems to work out in our favour."
"For the most part," Harry corrected, eyes dark with the memories of Dumbledore, Cedric, and Sirius dying in front of him.
"For the most part," Hermione agreed sadly, gently touching Harry's arm.
Harry offered her a pained smile in return, then looked to Slytherin. "I'll see how close I can get us," he offered, holding out an arm. "If it comes down to it, I can look around on my broom; figure Malfoy Manor's going to stick out a bit, knowing them."
"Good luck," Hermione offered as Slytherin took Harry's arm.
"Yeah, you too. Try to keep Ron from doing anything stupid?"
"I will," Hermione promised.
Harry nodded and apparated himself and Slytherin. The appeared in an empty field and Harry turned to hunt down his Cloak in his bag while Slytherin looked around. "We're in Wiltshire?" he asked.
Harry shrugged and pulled his Cloak out. "A bit south of it, I think, actually. I've flown over this area a couple of times, so I can't be completely sure where we are in regards to Malfoy Manor, but I know we're in the right area."
"So certain?" Slytherin replied, gazing across the field.
"Yeah. I read a map," Harry retorted before tossing his Cloak over his head. "You want me to try flying up and looking around?"
Slytherin shook his head and pulled out his wand. "Point me Malfoy Manor." His wand spun and pointed north-west of their position. "It appears we should go this way."
Harry groaned, but they both turned and started moving north-west. After a good ten minutes of silence, Harry said, "Tell me about the other Founders?"
"Hm." Slytherin rubbed at his chin. "I told you of Helga's interest in pretty things. I suppose you must know some of Rowena's love of the written word?"
"Yeah, that bit managed to remain through history."
Slytherin allowed a flash of a smile. "Rowena didn't care for pretty things, as Helga did, preferring to spend her time collecting and reading her books, or trading things for information. She liked to wear simpler clothing, as it was easier to slip in and out of, giving her more time for the gaining of knowledge. She was also quite the insomniac; I can't count how many times I would catch her up, reading, in some corner of the castle."
"But she had the diadem," Harry commented.
Slytherin nodded. "She created the diadem, actually, before I met her. She told us that she'd made it shortly after her home was burnt by witch hunters, taking all her books with it. She'd wanted a way to learn things faster, to retain more knowledge, so if her books were destroyed again, it wouldn't be such a loss. Her husband had a tiara that had been handed down in his family for generations, and it had managed to survive the fire, so she used it to house her spell." He sighed a bit sadly. "It was a beautiful piece; I'm saddened that it's become so tarnished, though I can't say if that's due to the passage of time, or Voldemort using–"
Slytherin's mouth snapped shut as cracks of apparation sounded around the two of them. Both Slytherin and Harry had pulled out their wands and pointed them at the circle of wizards surrounding them, though Harry took care to keep his Cloak covering him, even as he touched backs with the Founder.
"What 'ave we got 'ere, then? Another one o' them Order blokes."
"Order?" Slytherin snapped, glaring about the circle and holding himself in a way that Harry thought seemed very much like he would have expected of the Salazar Slytherin of history. "The only ordering going around here is me ordering you to refrain from pointing your wands at my person."
One of the men snorted and pulled out a bit of parchment. "Yeah, sure thing. What's your name, then?"
"Salazar Slytherin," Slytherin replied, voice like a whip.
The wizards surrounding them all froze for one long, silent moment, then the one who had asked his name let out a strained cough and snapped, "Your real name, boy!"
"That is my real name, you dirty cur," Slytherin spat. "And I'll thank you not to call me 'boy', unless you'd like to lose the rest of your fingers."
Harry peered around Slytherin and looked at the man who had the parchment. He was, indeed, missing two fingers on his left hand. "Parseltongue," he whispered before he turned back to watch the three men behind the Founder.
"Prove it!" one of the men Harry was facing demanded, waving his wand around erratically. "Prove you're Slytherin!"
Slytherin sniffed, then hissed, :Is this really necessary?:
Harry jerked in surprise when he understood what Slytherin had said.
"Little serpent?" Slytherin whispered.
Harry shook his head and touched the Founder's arm in a silent sign that he was fine. He had no explanation for his understanding of the serpent tongue, but this was hardly the time or place to debate it.
"I'd say that's pretty good proof, Sian," the man who'd told Slytherin to prove his claim was saying. "The Dark Lord and Potter are the only two Parselmouths, aren't they?"
"What says he's not Potter, then?" another man Harry was watching said.
The one with the parchment sniffed. "I don't much care who you are," he informed Slytherin. "The Dark Lord's name is Taboo; them that says it are up to no good."
"I couldn't care less what little tricks my Heir chooses to use against his opponents," Slytherin informed them coolly. "I need to reach Bellatrix Lestrange; I've been told she has access to something I require."
There was silence again at that, then the man who'd suggested Slytherin was Harry said, "If it is Potter, we're supposed to take him to Malfoy Manor anyway, aren't we?"
"Very well," the man with the parchment agreed. "But he's handing over his wand, first."
Slytherin looked for a moment like he might prefer cursing them all and continuing his walk, but he did eventually turn his wand in his hand and hold it out to the man with the parchment. Once the other man had it, Slytherin reached back and grabbed for Harry. The teen took his hand just before one of the wizards surrounding them took a hold of the Founder and apparated them outside a set of large, wrought-iron gates.
The iron contorted into a frightening face than demanded, "State your purpose!"
The man with the missing fingers stepped forward and announced, "Wizard here for Madam Lestrange. Says he's Salazar Slytherin."
There was a moment's silence, then the gates creaked open.
Harry stuck close to Slytherin's side as they started towards the large white manor, taking care to keep from touching any of the men surrounding them. They were met at the entrance by a tall woman with long blonde hair and a pinched face. "Narcissa Malfoy," Harry breathed to Slytherin as the woman demanded what they were there for.
"This man claims he's Salazar Slytherin," the man with the missing fingers explained, jerking his thumb at Slytherin. "And he says he's looking for Bellatrix."
"Slytherin?" Narcissa repeated, looking the Founder over and frowning at his unusual clothing. She looked back at the man with the missing fingers. "He could easily be lying."
:I'm getting tired of proving myself to these children,: Slytherin hissed, eyes narrowing when Narcissa looked around with a spark of fear in her eyes.
Narcissa took a careful breath. "Where is his wand?" she asked and the man with the missing fingers held it up. "Very well. Come in and I'll have Bella sent for." She turned and led the way inside, snapping her fingers for a house-elf as she went.
They met up with Bellatrix in a large drawing room. "You called me, Cissy?"
"Bellatrix," Harry whispered, though he doubted Slytherin needed it that time.
Bellatrix stepped forward, Narcissa having explained everything to her, and said, "Anyone can pretend to speak Parseltongue. Say my name: Bellatrix."
Slytherin cocked an eyebrow at her. :Bellatrix.: "I am not a sideshow for your amusement," he added, un-amused. "I had heard that you have access to Godric's sword; I require it."
Bellatrix cackled. "Require it, do you?"
Slytherin narrowed his eyes. Moving only the corner of his mouth, he whispered, "Little serpent, down." Harry had just reached the bottom of his crouch when Bellatrix pulled out her wand and pointed it at Slytherin. Before she could think to cast, Slytherin had drawn his sword in a smooth movement and spun on the spot, leaving violent red gashes across the chests of the men that had come to collect him and slicing Bellatrix's wand in half.
Bellatrix, Narcissa, and Harry stared at the Founder in disbelief as the five wizards crumpled to the ground, two of them grabbing for their chests, one of them gurgling.
"Yes," Slytherin said coolly, "I require it."
Bellatrix let out a screech and tossed her useless wand to one side, pulling a dagger out of her robes with her free hand. "Bella, no!" Narcissa cried, grabbing her sister's arm.
It was Slytherin that stopped Bellatrix, rather than Narcissa, by pressing the tip of his sword to her throat. "I wouldn't push me," he quietly commented, voice no less a warning for its volume. "If I didn't require you to get Godric's sword, you would already be dead. If I must, I will find another way into your Gringotts vault, but I still love my House enough to give you a chance. Put the dagger away."
"Bella, please," Narcissa whispered, tightening her grip on her sister's arm.
Bellatrix slowly slipped her dagger back into her robes, then held out her hands to show she was unarmed. "What do you want with that sword?"
Slytherin lowered his sword, but didn't sheath it. "There is a ritual I need it for, to curse those who have been sorted into Godric's House. It requires something of his, and the Sorting Hat has too much of Helga, Rowena, and myself to keep from affecting our Houses. That leaves the sword."
"It's my job to keep the sword safe," Bellatrix spat.
"I must assume that to be an order from my Heir?"
Bellatrix nodded, eyes narrowed.
"Indeed. Keep it safe for what, I wonder? A similar ritual later, or out of the hands of this 'Order' those fools–" he motioned to the dead and dying wizards behind him, "–mentioned?"
"...I don't know," Bellatrix admitted.
"The ritual will destroy the sword, so you will be following his will either way," Slytherin commented smoothly as he stepped away from Harry and plucked his wand from the fingers of the man who'd been missing fingers. The man twitched as Slytherin straightened and he stared down at the body for a moment before returning to his original position. There, he cast a silent cleaning charm at his blade, then slid it back into its scabbard at his waist.
Bellatrix and Narcissa watched his actions with sharp, wary eyes. Once the sword was properly away, Bellatrix said, "Very well, Lord Slytherin."
Slytherin raised an eyebrow, but didn't move to correct the title.
"We'll have to apparate to the Leaky, assuming you know it?" Bellatrix said with a barely concealed sneer.
"I am familiar with it," Slytherin agreed, reaching out behind him with the hand that didn't have his wand for Harry. Harry grabbed his hand and squeezed it, a silent promise that he could get them wherever they needed to go.
Bellatrix nodded and took the wand Narcissa held out to her with a sharp nod before apparating away. Before the sound of her crack had completely faded, Harry turned and apparated with Slytherin to the designated spot inside the Leaky Cauldron.
Bellatrix led the way from the inn to the white building at the far end of Diagon Alley. People scurried out of her way as she strode forward, glaring at everyone. Those that dared to look past her considered Slytherin's tunic and cloak oddly, and Harry made a mental note to get the Founder new clothing at their first opportunity.
For his part, Slytherin took in the Alley with sharp eyes. He looked over the dirty people hunched against walls with terror in their eyes and the boarded windows of the shops they passed. He saw, too, the posters with Harry's face on them, labelling him 'Undesirable Number One', and wondered what the boy at his back had done to earn Voldemort's wrath.
Getting down to Bellatrix's vault took little trouble, with her sharp insistence that they take her without asking questions. Fitting Harry in the cart without Bellatrix or the goblin noticing proved interesting, but they managed it without too much obvious fuss, Harry perching uncomfortably on Slytherin's lap and clutching the side of the cart with more force than he otherwise might have as they took the multitude of sharp turns.
At the vault, Bellatrix started to say, "I will retrieve–"
"Indeed?" Slytherin replied, expression cold and unyielding as Harry slipped past both humans and stood directly behind the goblin that was working on the door. As soon as it was open, Harry dashed inside and cast his eyes around for the cup. He finally spotted it on a high shelf as Slytherin and Bellatrix stepped into the vault, the witch looking quite cross. Slytherin's eyes flickered towards the cup, then towards a jewel encrusted staff resting under the shelf. He silently directed the staff to shift even as he turned his attention to Bellatrix, who was pulling the required sword from off another high shelf.
Harry grabbed the staff that had moved and, with some minor difficulty, snagged one of the handles of the cup. As he lowered the staff so he could collect the cup, Bellatrix knocked into something, startling him and almost causing him to drop the staff and jolting the cup off its precarious perch. It was only thanks to years of seeker training that he was able to catch the falling cup before it hit the ground and gave him away.
Once the cup was safely in his pouch, Harry carefully set the staff back against the wall, then brushed pointedly against Slytherin as he hurried out of the vault. The Founder finally stopped studying the sword and nodded. "Fine," he said. "It certainly appears to be the real thing."
"I told you it was," Bellatrix spat, leading the way out of her vault.
Slytherin sniffed, unimpressed, and they climbed back into the cart, Harry once again perched on Slytherin's lap.
Once they reached the surface, Slytherin inclined his head to the witch and said, "You have my thanks," before turning and striding towards the exit.
Bellatrix hurried to catch up, demanding, "I will watch this ritual!"
"Indeed?" Slytherin said, unimpressed. "Not with your head attached, I should think."
"I will!" Bellatrix insisted and grabbed for him as he stopped for Harry to apparate them.
As soon as they landed in the hotel room, Slytherin commented, "Little serpent, we appear to have brought a guest along." He touched Gryffindor's sword to Bellatrix's throat even as her dagger kissed his.
"Go ahead," Bellatrix hissed to him.
Harry pulled off his Cloak and smiled as Bellatrix's eyes widened, then cast a silent Body-Bind Curse before she could act. "Did you have to kill all those men?" he asked Slytherin as the Founder lowered Gryffindor's sword and stepped away from the dagger at his throat.
"No," Slytherin admitted, "but it made me feel better." He held out the sword to Harry as the teen frowned. "Here. This sword's a fake."
Harry took the sword and considered it. "That's what was wrong with it when you scryed it?"
"Yes. I figured it was something like that, but, as I said, I couldn't be sure until I saw it in person. It's an excellent replica, but it is made by magic, not goblins."
"Interesting." Harry set the sword against a nearby wall and looked at Bellatrix. "I'm a little torn about what to do with her," he admitted. "Letting her live is dangerous, since she could report us back to Vol– Him," he corrected, recalling what the group of wizards had said about the Taboo and having no interest in bringing more wizards down around them, even if it had never happened before while they were in Ireland. "On the other hand, killing her could warn him just the same, since Narcissa knows where she was going."
"Hermione did say it would be easier if he came to you," Slytherin pointed out and Harry shrugged and nodded. The Founder looked back at Bellatrix, who was watching them with wide eyes. "Well, I'm all for killing her–"
"Blood thirsty savage," Harry muttered and Slytherin flashed him a cruel little smile. "But?"
"But, I would like to see what information we can get from her, first. Like what my supposed Heir is up to."
"He's looking for something that was stolen from the wandmaker Gregorovitch," Harry replied promptly. At Slytherin's raised eyebrow, he tapped his clear forehead and explained, "I'd get visions of what he was up to. Good way to keep tabs on him, but a literal headache. No, I'd like to know more about this Taboo, and why it didn't affect us until we'd crossed back over to Britain. Also, anything she knows about the status of the Order, since that lot mentioned capturing some of them."
"What is this Order?" Slytherin asked.
"The Order of the Phoenix. It's a group put together by Professor Dumbledore to oppose Vo– him. Bollocks."
Slytherin snorted. "See if the eaglet left you a note about our next destination while I question Bellatrix. Unless you want to watch?"
"You're so many kinds of disturbing," Harry informed him. "Yeah, okay. Want me to pick us up some lunch, too?"
Harry shook his head and left the hotel room. Hermione had left a message at the front desk for them to come along to the Shrieking Shack once they could. Harry thanked the lady at the desk, then left for the café down the street.
Twenty-five minutes later, Harry returned to the hotel room with two sandwiches for Slytherin. He was sitting on one of the beds, examining the fake sword; there was no trace of Bellatrix. "Here," he offered, holding out the sandwiches.
"I vanished her," Slytherin said as he set the sword aside and accepted the sandwiches. When Harry sat next to him on the bed, he offered his findings between bites, telling the teen about the Taboo and the five Order members that had been caught, none of whom Harry knew personally.
Slytherin had also learned, though he didn't mention it, the history of the war, needing to know what he was fighting for. After he'd killed and vanished the witch, he'd sat and considered things for a while before deciding that fighting with the three students was more to his liking than Voldemort's side, for all that he felt the same about non-magicals as his supposed Heir. He couldn't agree with the idea that those born of non-magicals were somehow worth less than those whose grandparents were magical, and he didn't much care for the heavy hand Voldemort used on his troops and his enemies.
In the end, Slytherin had spent too much time protecting and nurturing those of magical blood, no matter their parentage, to throw his lot in with Voldemort.
As he finished his second sandwich, Slytherin recalled one of his curiosities which Bellatrix hadn't been able to answer. "With the Snatchers, you jumped."
Harry frowned in thought for a moment, then his expression cleared as he understood the question. "Yeah. When you spoke in Parseltongue, I could understand you, even though the horcrux is gone."
Slytherin blinked. :You understand me even now?:
"Yeah. I mean, I can actually tell you're speaking Parseltongue – the hisses are more obvious to me than they've been in the past – but I definitely know what you're saying."
"It's possible the horcrux was with you for so long that, despite its removal, you still retain some of the skills it granted you," Slytherin suggested. "Can you still speak Parseltongue?"
Harry closed his eyes and concentrated for a moment before asking, "Parseltongue?"
Slytherin shook his head. "No."
Harry sighed. "Oh well. At least I can still understand it; that's more than anyone else can say." He stood and stretched. "Hermione left a note saying the Shack should be safe. We'll have to go by the front desk and check out, but we can head over whenever you're ready." He paused to consider the fake sword at Slytherin's side. "What are we going to do with the sword, by the way?"
Slytherin glanced down at it and shrugged. "It's not a bad sword; the heft is acceptable and it's sharp enough to use in battle, for all that it lacks the strength of its goblin-made brother." He picked it up and stood, considering Harry. "I must assume, by the lack of openly worn swords, that they are not common in this time?"
Harry's lips twitched. "No," he allowed. "Muggle authorities tend to look poorly upon those wearing blades on their person, and most witches and wizards consider muggle weaponry to be barbarian and less than a wand."
Slytherin sniffed. "More the fool, them. Non-magical weapons are plenty dangerous, and most shield spells don't guard against them. In my day, everyone wore some sort of blade, even if it was just some sort of dagger. It was not uncommon to see a duel with both magic and weapons."
Harry considered the sword. "I admit that I know nothing of swordcraft, other than the few programmes I saw on the telly while cleaning the living room, but it might be interesting to learn some." He paused for a moment, then glanced up into Slytherin's pale green eyes, which were watching him. "If you'd be willing to teach me?"
Slytherin stared at him for a moment longer before coolly stating, "If you're going to learn the sword, you're going to kill someone. Can you do that, my little serpent in a lion's fur?"
Harry reached up and touched the unmarked skin where his scar used to lay and said, with quiet certainty, "I don't have a choice."
Slytherin sighed, remembering Bellatrix's tortured explanation that Harry was prophesied to defeat Voldemort, hence his status as the most hunted man in the United Kingdom. "Indeed. Very well, Harry. Let us move on to this shack of yours and meet up with Ron and Hermione. If there is an acceptable space, I will teach you the sword."
"Thank you, Salazar," Harry replied quietly before turning and leading the way out of the room.
When they got to the Shrieking Shack, Ron and Hermione weren't in, but there were wards up that Harry recognised from their time in the wilds of Britain, and some of Hermione's books were spread out on a table. The trapdoor to the Whomping Willow had an anvil holding it shut, which left Harry laughing for a good five minutes while Slytherin wondered if he was mad. There was also a door on the wall of the house that Harry didn't remember from his previous visits, which opened to a darkened passageway that led in the direction of Hogwarts, so it was assumed to lead to the Room of Requirement.
Slytherin added a few more wards to Hermione's set-up, ensuring they wouldn't be found by any of their enemies, then the two wizards hunted down a sufficient room for learning swordcraft, which they set to for about two hours before Harry, exhausted, called a halt.
They were at the table on the main floor – Slytherin flipping through one of Hermione's books while Harry snacked on some crisps Hermione had packed him that morning – when the passage door opened to admit Ron, Hermione, and Ginny. There was a long moment of stillness as the three newcomers stared at the two wands pointed at them, then everyone relaxed and Ginny ran forward to hug Harry.
"The diadem is destroyed," Hermione told Slytherin as Ron stormed over to separate Harry and Ginny. "We brought back the basilisk fang we used for the cup, if you got it."
Slytherin nodded, relaxing back in his chair and waving towards the confrontation taking place on the other side of the table. "Harry has it. Who's the girl?"
"The–? Oh, that's Ginny. She's Ron's sister, and she and Harry are kind of not dating."
" 'Not dating'?" Slytherin repeated drily.
Hermione grimaced and dropped into the open chair next to the Founder after shooting a quick spell at it to make sure it would hold her weight. "They would be dating, but when we decided to spend the year hunting the horcruxes instead of returning to school, Harry insisted that there wouldn't be any sort of formal relationship between them, because of the danger. Not that Ginny's not already in danger, considering her brother's on the run and her family are all members of the Order, but she's also not yet of age, so she can't cast magic outside of school."
Slytherin raised an eyebrow at that. "Why not?"
Hermione blinked, then sighed. "You probably didn't have laws about that, did you? Well, British magical law states that any wizard or witch under age – that's seventeen – cannot use magic outside of their school unless they have yet to attend said school. The first time a child breaks the law, they're sent a warning letter, the second time they face a hearing in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and might lose their spot at the school and their wand snapped if they're found to be purposefully breaking the law."
"What if you're defending yourself from someone trying to kill you?" Slytherin wondered, frowning. He supposed, once magical schooling was more common, that it would make sense to keep young wizards and witches from using their magic indiscriminately at home, but it still seems impossible to him, having grown up using magic whenever and wherever he so pleased.
"There's a self-defence clause," Hermione explained, "but things can get a little sticky if you or your family has enemies in the Ministry. Harry almost had his wand snapped the summer before fifth year because the Ministry was smearing his name through the mud, even though he'd been protecting himself and his cousin when he cast magic."
Slytherin looked over at where Harry was laughing at something Ginny was saying to her brother. He watched them in silence for a long moment before calling, "Harry, the cup?"
Harry and the two Weasleys looked over at him, surprised, then Harry's expression cleared and he reached for his pouch at his side. "Yeah, hold on..."
"Still here?" Ron snarked at Slytherin and received a kick to the shin from Harry and a smack from Ginny. "Ow!"
Hermione sighed and rubbed at her forehead. "Ron..."
Slytherin considered the boy for a moment before asking, "Did you expect me to throw my lot in with my supposed Heir and his servants?"
Ron shuffled out of range of his sister and best friend before admitting, "Well, yeah."
"Why?" Slytherin wondered.
Ron opened his mouth to answer, but Harry snapped, "It doesn't matter," and glared at Ron.
"I should like to hear his response anyway," Slytherin replied calmly.
Harry frowned, but didn't move to stop Ron again when the redhead opened his mouth, so Ron said, "Well, just..." He floundered for a moment, then snapped, "All Slytherins are bad! And they're all hung up on that purity of blood nonsense and killing muggles!"
Slytherin considered Ron's flushed face in silence for a moment, ensuring he'd said his part, then commented, "I am not a pureblood."
"Well... Neither is You-Know-Who," Ron muttered, scowling.
Slytherin raised an eyebrow at that and looked towards Harry for verification.
"His father was a muggle," Harry agreed, "and his mum was a near squib. He was raised in a muggle orphanage, though, 'cause his mum died giving birth to him and his father wanted nothing to do with him."
Slytherin nodded and looked back at Ron. "My mother was non-magical. She raised me, and was killed for it. Do I like non-magicals? No, not particularly. Do I believe in murdering them indiscriminately? No." He nodded as Ron looked away, mouth tight. "Do you wish to know the blood status of the first Slytherin year?"
"All purebloods, I'd bet," Ron muttered, but there was no feeling to his words.
Slytherin's lips twisted with a smile. "About half what you would call 'muggleborns'. Of the other half, most of them were halfbloods. There were only two purebloods." He snorted at the four surprised looks he got. "Most of the purebloods ended up with Rowena or Helga."
"What I don't get," Ginny said, shaking her head, "is why, if you're so okay with muggleborns, those rumours about you would be so widespread. I mean, shouldn't it be a matter of public record that you allowed muggleborns in your House?"
"Records from the Founding are scarce," Hermione offered. "There wasn't really any form of magical government until the formation of the Wizards' Council in 947 – over one hundred years after Hogwarts' first opened – so there wasn't anyone to keep up with historical records. There are some records saved from the first century, written by students and professors, but they conflict with each other a lot, and they don't really say what the makeup of each House was, beyond the occasional number of students."
Slytherin shook his head. "Should have been in Rowena's House." Hermione flushed and slouched in her chair while the other three teens laughed. "As for why I am attributed with all of this blood purity nonsense? It could have been Godric being difficult, or it could have been the doing of one of my siblings, who took up their cause under my name; it's not like I was around to refute any claims as to my preference."
"That's true," Harry chimed in, looking towards Ginny and Ron. "Imagine what the world might think of the Weasley family a thousand years from now if Percy was the only one left to speak for you."
The two Weasleys grimaced. "Okay, yeah," Ron agreed before turning to Slytherin. "Okay, so maybe you're not onboard with You-Know-Who's view of the world. You're planning to stick around, then?"
Slytherin shrugged. "Where else would I go?" he asked, leaving Ron to blink dumbly while he turned to Harry and said, "Let's see about destroying that cup."
Harry took the cup from his pouch and Hermione slid a basilisk fang across the table. Not giving the soul in the cup time to fight back, Harry stabbed the fang into the engraved badger and they all winced as a wail came up from it before the cup cracked in half and fell silent.
They were all still for a moment before Harry cleared his throat and said, "So. Nagini and You-Know-Who left."
Ron let out a strangled laugh. "You did hear about the Taboo. Good."
"We meant to mention it," Hermione offered.
"We were caught by the Taboo," Harry admitted, "when Salazar and I were walking towards Malfoy Manor. It did make the trip a bit quicker, but, yeah, we've heard."
"Useful, that luck of yours," Slytherin added drily and Harry and Hermione both laughed while the two Weasleys grinned.
Hermione shook her head and her expression darkened. "How are we supposed to go about finding Nagini, anyway?"
Harry bit his lower lip, then looked at Slytherin. "If you could show me how to, I can scry for her. Could probably do that to keep an eye on You-Know-Who, too, now I'm without my scar."
"It is gone," Ginny realised, reaching out to touch Harry's unmarked forehead. "But, how?"
"You don't want to know," Ron insisted, shaking his head.
"And you should probably get back," Hermione agreed. "It's bad enough that you've missed classes today; best not to miss dinner."
"Yeah, okay," Ginny agreed. She and Harry shared a quick kiss, ignoring Ron's shout of, "Oiy!" She stopped next to the open door and asked, "Should I see about having food sent to you?"
"Yes please," Ron replied, eyes hopeful.
"Only if you can do it without arousing suspicion," Hermione insisted, shooting Ron an irritated look.
"You could use one of the house-elves," Slytherin pointed out drily. "I very much doubt they'd deny any student food, whether they're taking classes or not."
"But they might tell Snape," Ron muttered.
"There's one that won't," Harry realised, straightening in his seat. "Dobby!"
"Harry Potter has called Dobby!" the house-elf exclaimed as soon as he'd appeared next to Harry.
"Hey, Dobby," Harry said, grinning at the elf. "It's good to see you again."
Dobby's eyes went quite wide and looked suspiciously wet. "Harry Potter does Dobby great honour," he said, bowing his head.
"Stop that," Harry ordered, slipping from his chair so he could kneel in front of the house-elf. "We were wondering if you could get us some of whatever they're serving in the Great Hall."
Dobby looked up at Harry with wide eyes, then looked around the table – Ginny had left once Dobby appeared, shaking her head. His eyes paused at Slytherin and seemed to go even wider before he said, "Master Slytherin?"
Slytherin straightened in his seat, frowning. "You know me?"
"All Hogwarts house-elves know the Founders," Dobby replied, using Harry's abandoned chair to climb onto the table and get a better look at the wizard. He stood there for a moment, staring at Slytherin, then bowed deeply. "Dobby is honoured," he said solemnly.
Slytherin rested back in his chair. "The honour is mine, Dobby," he murmured.
Dobby squeaked and peeked up at the Founder. "Master Slytherin is a great wizard," he breathed before turning to look at where Harry was standing behind him, "just like Harry Potter."
"Dobby–" Harry started.
"Dobby brings food!" he declared and popped away.
"That was unexpected," Slytherin commented.
"He was being weirdly serious," Ron agreed, looking towards Harry. "He's never done that before, has he?"
"No," Harry agreed, re-taking his seat. "I'm usually lucky if I can stop him from bouncing in place for two seconds."
Dobby returned with a small feast and the humans hurried to clear the books, basilisk fang, and halves of the cup from the table, then settled in to eat. Dobby stayed with them, making sure they enjoyed the food and sharing Hogwarts gossip with the three teenagers, all of whom were interested in knowing how life was going, beyond what little Hermione and Ron had seen or what little Ginny had been willing to tell them.
In all, the picture painted was grim; students were tortured in classes and detentions by the Carrows. The original professors did what they could, but even they had to bow to the demands of the Death Eaters. Surprisingly, Snape had stopped a few punishments, from what Dobby said, though Harry and Ron had trouble believing that.
When they were finished, before Dobby could pop away, Slytherin finally spoke up to ask, "How are the house-elves being treated?"
The students all blinked in surprise, but Dobby offered, "Dobby has no complaints. Some of the other elves have had trouble with the Carrows, but Dobby was told to stay out of their way."
"By?" Harry asked, frowning.
"Headmaster Snape," Dobby answered. "Dobby attracts trouble, he told Dobby, and Dobby must not attract trouble from the Carrows. So Dobby doesn't."
"What sort of trouble are the other house-elves having with these Carrows?" Slytherin asked, eyes sharp with a quiet darkness.
Dobby hesitated to answer, but eventually admitted, "Theys getting kicked or hit. Manny was put under the Cruciatus for cleaning the sister's room wrong."
Slytherin nodded and pushed back from the table. "I see," he said before walking over to the door to the passage between the Shack and Hogwarts.
"Salazar, what are you up to?" Harry asked quietly, his voice tight with anger for his fellow students and the others at Hogwarts.
Slytherin stopped, hand on the edge of the half-opened door, and said, "I'm kicking those monsters out of my school," he said, voice like ice.
"They'll go back and tell You-Know-Who we're here!" Hermione shouted, standing.
"Then I'll take care of them before they can leave the school," Slytherin replied before stepping into the passage.
"What's he going to do, kill them?" Ron asked dumbly as Harry shoved back from the table.
"Yeah, I think he will," Harry replied before vanishing down the passage after the Founder. "Salazar!" he shouted at the retreating back as he ran to catch up. Once he reached him, he grabbed the man's arm and pulled him to a stop. "Look, none of us like what's been going on at Hogwarts, but anything we do is going to alert him that we're here."
Slytherin turned icy green eyes on the teen at his side. "I am not going to sit there while my students are tortured by their professors," he spat.
"But they're not your students," Hermione said as she and Ron caught up.
"They're in my school – they're my students," Slytherin replied. "You're not stopping me," he added as Harry opened his mouth to speak. "I understand the delicacy of the situation with my supposed Heir, but I will not sit back while those who seek safety within the walls I helped build suffer; I cannot. If he learns you are at Hogwarts, then we will make our stand here, where the wards can hold him back."
"Let's go, then," Ron said, face a mask of determination.
"Wait," Hermione ordered, then turned to the side and called, "Dobby?"
"Missy Hermy?" Dobby replied, appearing at her feet and looking up at her with wide eyes.
"Could you and the other house-elves make sure no one leaves the grounds?"
"Dobby will!" the house-elf declared before popping away.
"An excellent idea," Slytherin allowed before shaking Harry's hand off his arm. "Let's go."
The three teenagers made no further complaints, falling into step with the Founder like it was only natural. They met no opposition in the halls, though the portraits were sent into a tizzy when they caught sight of the four, and whispers of their names followed them from the seventh floor to the entrance hall.
Outside the closed doors of the Great Hall, Slytherin stopped and looked over the students. They all looked determined, though there was a light of fear in Hermione's eyes, while anger burned within Ron's. Slytherin nodded to himself and ordered, "Ron and Harry, stay outside these doors and keep an eye out for any students thinking to run away. Hermione, around that corner, at the end of the hall, is the alternate door; guard that for me."
"Of course," Hermione agreed, relief in her eyes.
"Only stunning," Harry added, giving Ron a look. "No matter their House or our personal feelings towards them."
Ron grunted, but some of the anger in his eyes cooled under Harry's knowing gaze. "Yeah, I know," he agreed at last.
"You'll be okay on your own?" Harry asked Slytherin as Hermione ducked around the corner.
Slytherin touched his sword and smirked when the teen grimaced. "I'm more than capable of handling these Death Eaters. And if I do, for some reason, require assistance, I trust yourself or Ron will rush to my aid like any fool lion would."
"No Gryffindor would rescue a Slytherin," Ron declared.
Harry rolled his eyes. "Even when that Slytherin's putting himself on the line for other Gryffindors?"
"Oh. Well, yeah, maybe then. I guess."
Slytherin snorted, then waved his wand at the double doors. They slammed open and he strode in, leaving Ron and Harry to peer around the doorway at his back, watching for anyone who thought it smart to try attacking the Founder when he wasn't looking.
Snape got to his feet first and waved the Carrows back as they pointed their wands at the intruder with curses on their lips. "State your name and purpose," the Headmaster ordered.
Before Slytherin could respond, a ghost soared in through the wall behind the Slytherin table and came to a stop over the Ravenclaw table, staring at the man in the centre of the Great Hall. "Salazar?" she breathed.
Slytherin blinked. "Helena." He shook his head. "We'll speak later," he ordered and she nodded. "My name," he said for the whole Hall, looking back at Snape, "is Salazar Slytherin, and I'm here to remove my Heir's servants from my school."
There was a moment's stillness, then the two Carrows both stood, roaring, "Liar!"
:Sit down!: Slytherin hissed, figuring that if it worked on the Snatchers, Narcissa, and Bellatrix, it would quite likely work on these two.
The two Death Eaters froze and many of the students leaned away from Slytherin, looking far more wary of him than when he'd first given his name. Snape appeared momentarily taken aback before recovering to ask, "What's to say you're not Potter, playing some ridi–"
"I'm right here, Snape," Harry called from the doorway of the Hall, arms crossed over his chest.
"The idea was to keep you out of sight while his people were still in the school," Slytherin told the teen.
Harry shrugged. "Because he wouldn't come running the moment he heard you were here."
"He doesn't want me dead."
"Slytherin!" Ginny shouted from the Gryffindor table and the Founder spun back to the Head table, where the male Carrow was snapping a Dark curse at him.
Slytherin drew his sword and held it up, letting the curse dissipate against it. As soon as the spell had faded, Slytherin turned his wand on the Death Eater and hissed, "Avada Kedavra."
The male Carrow took the curse in the arm and fell, dead.
The female Carrow let out a roar and jumped over the Head table, ducking Snape's reaching hand, and ran at Slytherin. He met her with the tip of his sword and watched grimly as the light left her eyes before kicking the corpse off the blade. To his left, he sensed movement, but twin flashes of spellfire from the door told him that Harry and Ron had things under control.
Slytherin met the black eyes of the Headmaster, who was surrounded by the wands of other professors. "You do not intend to fight?"
"He's too much a coward," Harry spat, coming to stand next to Slytherin.
Snape's eyes flared with anger and his hand twitched, as if towards a wand, but he made no further reaction to Harry's words, choosing, instead, to say, "I know when a battle is lost."
"Harry," Slytherin interrupted. When the teen glared up at him, he hissed, :Only the dishonourable continue to insult one who has surrendered.:
Harry looked away, frowning, but didn't say anything further to antagonise the Headmaster.
Slytherin looked back up at the Head table, where an older woman in green was taking Snape's wand. "Heads of Houses?" he asked and the woman with Snape's wand, a large man in a fine green robes, a plump woman with dirt and leaves in her hair, and a small man with white hair all looked at him, nodding. "Please see to it that the students make it to their dormitories, then join me in the Head office?"
"What about those students working with You-Know-Who?" the large man in the green robes asked, eyes flickering towards the Slytherin table.
"It's taken care of," Slytherin assured them before looking at Harry. "Collect Hermione and Ron and meet me outside the Head office?"
"Yeah. Want me to make sure Dobby and them know to stop any owls, too?"
"I'm sure he already knows, but it pays to be certain," Slytherin agreed.
Harry nodded and waved towards Ron, then pointed towards where Hermione was. The ginger nodded before disappearing out the doors and Harry made his way to the door, ducking a professor and grinning at those students who called his name.
Slytherin absently vanished the dead Carrow at his feet and cleaned his blade before sheathing it and stepping past the rising students to the Head table. A few teachers had moved to help the Heads of House in directing their students to their dorms, leaving two stern witches on either side of Snape, who had retaken his seat and was watching the movements of the members of his school with calm eyes.
Slytherin vanished the other Carrow once he reached the Head table, then looked at the two witches. "Forgive me, but I'm afraid I don't know anyone's name."
"I am Irma Pince, librarian," the thinner woman offered in a cool voice.
"Poppy Pomfrey," the other woman offered, smoothing a hand over her apron. "I'm the school mediwitch. And this is Severus Snape, as I doubt Mr Potter and his friends gave you a proper introduction."
"No. Harry and Ron are more interested in smearing his name whilst Hermione avoids all mention of him, if possible," Slytherin allowed, looking down at the calm Headmaster. Or ex-Headmaster, considering. He shook his head and looked up at the two witches. "Poppy, I believe Harry and Ron may have stunned a few Slytherins, and I'm not sure that anyone will think to check them. Could you...?"
"Certainly," the mediwitch agreed before gathering her skirt and hurrying off towards the Slytherin table.
"Irma, I'm not sure if you intend to join us in the Head office?"
The librarian shook her head. "Thank you, but no. If you have Severus in hand, I'll return to my rooms."
Slytherin inclined his head. "I believe we will manage. Thank you."
The witch nodded and walked away, taking care to step around the space where the male Carrow had been laying, though he was gone.
Slytherin considered Snape for a long moment before commenting, "If you would? I've some questions for you that I'd rather not ask in front of the students."
Snape gave a sharp nod of his head and joined Slytherin in walking to the alternate exit. Hermione and Harry were both gone, likely making for the Head office on the seventh floor, so Snape and Slytherin were left to walk alone, the sounds of hundreds of students making their ways towards their dorms echoing down the corridors. Slytherin took them a back way to their destination, avoiding the students, but not making it to the gargoyle before Harry, Ron, and Hermione, who lounged against the wall across from it.
"Move," Slytherin ordered the gargoyle and it slid to one side, allowing access to the spiral staircase beyond.
"Couldn't you have done him like you did the Carrows?" Ron complained as Slytherin motioned Snape to precede him.
"I don't kill in cold-blood," Slytherin replied. "Also, I have questions for him that I doubt any of the other professors could have answered. Come along."
As soon as Slytherin stepped into the office, a voice called, "Well, I'll be. Salazar, we'd wondered where you'd gone to."
Slytherin turned to glare at the object that had spoken to him, ignoring the whispering portraits above his head and Snape's brief startled look. "Indeed? Was Godric looking to curse me some more, then? Perhaps cure me properly of my unnaturalness?"
"Salazar," Harry whispered while Hermione let out a quiet whimper.
The hat sighed. "I believe he wanted to apologise, but he may well have been lying about that to see if someone knew where you'd disappeared to," it admitted. "He was...difficult after you left."
"Godric was always difficult," Slytherin snapped, then waved a hand. "Never mind that. You and I need to have a talk about sorting students." He pinned the hat with a chilled look.
The hat laughed. "You would complain. Admit it, you just want Harry in your House!"
"I want the students in the Houses they belong in, not in the ones they think are more to their liking," the Founder spat. "You weren't told to give them choices, but to sort them, you useless piece of headwear!"
"But then they whine," the hat complained. "Have you ever had an eleven-year-old whine at you because they didn't end up in the House they wanted?"
"Incidentally," Slytherin snarked, "yes. Multiple times."
Hermione cleared her throat. "Salazar, perhaps you can have this argument later?" she suggested while Ron and Harry lost the fight against their laughter and cracked up.
Slytherin cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Of course." He glanced towards the hat. "We'll speak later," he told it and it laughed. "Harry, Ron, shut up."
"Sorry, Salazar," Harry breathed, straightening. "It's just, you're arguing with a hat."
Slytherin decided ignoring the teenager was the safer bet and turned to Snape, who was watching everything with cautious eyes. "Severus, I was wondering if you could tell me where Godric's sword is. The real one," he added as Snape's mouth opened, "not the fake one that Bellatrix had in her vault."
"What makes you think Snape knows?" Ron demanded, dropping into a plush chair that Hermione had conjured for each of the teens.
"Bellatrix told Salazar it was Snape who put the sword in her vault," Harry explained.
"What makes you think that one was a fake?" Snape asked smoothly.
"I know Godric's sword, and that wasn't it. Not a bad fake, admittedly, but not good enough it could fool me. The real one?"
"Perhaps I don't know where it is."
"You try my patience, boy," Slytherin warned, motioning towards the teenagers as Ron opened his mouth to comment. Hermione smacked the boy and shook her head when he gave her a hurt look.
Snape's expression darkened at being called boy, but he nodded towards one of the portraits. "Dumbledore has it."
The three students all craned around to look, eyes wide, and the elderly man in the frame smiled at them. "So I do."
Slytherin glanced back at the teens, taking it the pained glimmers in their eyes at the sight of the elderly man. "Harry," he called and the boy looked at him. "It's yours to wield."
"Thanks, Salazar," the teen replied and got up to walk over to the portrait. "Sir," he said to the man inside.
"Harry, my boy," Dumbledore replied. "How goes your search?"
Harry smiled sadly. "Only Nagini and him left, now."
Dumbledore blinked in surprise. "Truly? You've found all the others?"
Harry nodded. "The cup was in Bellatrix's vault, with the fake sword, and Ravenclaw's diadem with in the Room of Requirement. Salazar scryed them for us." He paused for a moment, then carefully pulled his hair to one side, baring his forehead. "And me."
Snape let out a sharp breath, bringing the other four living humans to look at him suspiciously.
"Harry," Dumbledore interrupted, "how did you find out? And how did you remove it without facing Tom?"
"I know a horcrux when I see one, no matter its container," Slytherin offered the portrait, still watching Snape with narrowed eyes; the man's eyes had widened at the word horcrux, and some quick connections were forming behind the black eyes. "Who is 'Tom'?" Slytherin added, glancing towards Harry before returning his attention to Snape.
"Tom Riddle," Harry explained. "That's You-Know-Who's birth name. He hates it, thinks it's common and muggle, 'cause he shares it with his father."
Slytherin snorted. "Indeed." He turned his attention to Dumbledore, since Snape seemed to have once again mastered his expression. "My supposed Heir didn't have to be the one to remove the horcrux; any Killing Curse would do." Seeing the connections the deceased Headmaster was making before he could even get there himself, Slytherin added, "I focussed the spell on the physical representation of the horcrux, the scar; the spell never touched Harry."
Harry shook his head. "A slight headache, but otherwise I was unaffected."
Slytherin shook his head. "Dumbledore, perhaps you can help me with a riddle?" he asked as the professors started appearing at the top of the stairs into the office.
Dumbledore blinked and nodded to Slytherin. "Certainly."
"Why is it, that a man who is loyal to my supposed Heir would place a copy of Godric's sword in the vault of one of his fellows?" Slytherin wondered, smiling at Snape, who tensed. "More importantly, why would that same man go to lengths to protect the students, staff, and house-elves of my school when his master could care less about their health or happiness?"
There was a long silence as the teens and group of staff that had stopped in the entrance to the office digested that. Snape stood stiffly through the silence, giving nothing away.
Finally, Harry said, "I saw him kill Dumbledore, Salazar."
Snape glanced towards the portrait Harry still stood in front of and Dumbledore sighed. "Something he did on my orders, my boy," the elderly man admitted. "I was already dying from the curse in my hand; better Severus kill me than Bellatrix or Fenrir Greyback."
"Albus," the woman in the green robes breathed, stepping further into the room so she could better see the portrait. "This is true? He's not a traitor?"
Dumbledore sighed and nodded. "He is not, Minerva," he agreed.
"He cut off George's ear!" Ron shouted, standing and glaring at Snape. "And don't tell me lies about how you set that up with him before!"
"That was an accident," Snape allowed stiffly. "I was not aiming at Mr Weasley."
"Oh, an accident, was it?" Ron spat. "How about I acciden–"
"Ron, no!" Hermione shouted, grabbing for his arm as he pulled his wand from a pocket.
"Expelliarmus," Harry intoned, catching Ron's wand as it flew across the room.
"Harry!" Ron shouted.
"Ron," Slytherin cut in coolly, "you will cease with these theatrics and sit down, or I will banish you to your tower."
"He cut off my brother's ear!" Ron insisted, turning to the Founder with fury in his eyes.
"And what do you intend to do to him in return? Cut off his ear? Perhaps you will be the one to miss this time and take off his whole head, instead?" Slytherin wondered. Ron blanched and the older wizard nodded. "Sit." As Ron dropped back into his chair, pale, Slytherin looked at the professors clustered at the top of the stairs. "Please, take seats. I'm sure you'll have your fair share of questions, as I have mine, and we need to decide how to handle the students, considering the current situation. Severus, you as well. And perhaps someone could return his wand?"
As the professors filed in and found or conjured seats, Slytherin joined Harry by Dumbledore's portrait, where the deceased Headmaster was warning, "It's been infused with basilisk venom from when you killed the one in the Chamber, so use it with care."
"Yes, sir," Harry agreed before opening the portrait and taking the sword out of the hidden cavity behind it.
"May I?" Slytherin asked once the portrait was closed, and Harry handed the sword over without complaint. Slytherin considered the sword with sharp eyes for a long moment before turning to the hat. "Who cast the Curse of Recall on this?"
"Helga," the hat replied. "After Godric's death, the goblins demanded it back, insisting it had been stolen or some such."
"Of course they did," Slytherin replied. "Rowena warned him that would happen, no matter what Ragnuk said when he gifted it to Godric." He shook his head and conjured a sheath for the sword before handing it back to Harry. "It's spelled to return to the hat unless owned by a magical human that Godric would have found worthy of wielding it; the sword never would have stayed in Bellatrix's vault, had the real one been placed there."
"It'll stay with me, then?" Harry asked quietly.
"For so long as you fight to protect the magical world, it should," Slytherin agreed. "Take care, however, that you only wield it against that which you wish to kill, as a single cut with this blade will inject basilisk venom into your opponent."
Harry looked at the sword uncertainly. "Maybe I should stick with the fake one."
Slytherin snorted. "This is the better blade, by far. I would offer you my sword in trade, but I don't know that that sword would accept me."
"Why wouldn't– Oh." Harry grimaced. "Gryffindor was a real jerk, wasn't he?"
Slytherin chuckled. "He had his moments. Now, come, let's sort this mess out so we can all get some sleep."
Harry returned to his conjured chair and they all settled in for three hours' worth of discussion, starting with a quick round of introduction and assurances from Slytherin, Harry, Hermione, and Ron that the Founder wanted nothing to do with Voldemort and his people beyond seeing the end of them. This was followed by trying to figure out what to do when Voldemort finally cottoned on and came down on Hogwarts. Slytherin was certain he could power the wards to keep the school free of Death Eaters, and he promised to change the password on the Chamber to act as a hiding place for the fifth years and below when it came to it. The teens also let everyone know about the secret passage from the Shrieking Shack and McGonagall agreed to send out the call to the rest of the Order, telling them to gather at Hogwarts, so they'd have a fighting force on hand.
As for anyone trying to warn the Death Eaters about the change in the school's ownership, Dobby was called and he agreed that the house-elves would continue to watch for students attempting to leave or send owls to anyone connected to the Death Eaters. Snape would continue to send reports to his compatriots on the outside, hopefully keeping them from warning Voldemort. Harry was the one to suggest they allow the Death Eaters to know that Slytherin was in residence, but make it seem as though he was onboard with Voldemort's way of doing things, so there would be less questions about the change in contact with those outside Hogwarts.
Once that was sorted, they turned to talking about classes. It was agreed, after a great deal of back-and-forth, that classes would resume the next day, with Snape returning to the Defence position and Muggle Studies discontinued for the year. Slytherin would take over the Headmaster's duties, while McGonagall returned to her position as deputy. Harry, Ron, and Hermione would return to classes – much to Ron's horror, Harry's sadness, and Hermione's glee. Things would be explained to the students at breakfast the next morning.
Slytherin finally dismissed them when he felt everything important had been covered and remained in his seat while everyone slowly dispersed. Snape retreated to the bedroom attached to the office – Slytherin had offered to let him keep it, having no preference for one bed or another, but Snape insisted he would be more comfortable in his old quarters – and McGonagall stopped by the teens to tell them the Gryffindor common password before leaving.
Harry waved his friends on before stepping over to Slytherin, grimacing when the sword at his side caught on a chair someone had forgotten to vanish. "Salazar?"
Slytherin glanced up and smiled at the teen. "What is it, Harry?"
"I'd like to try scrying Vol– sorry, You-Know-Who before I head up to the dorm. Maybe Nagini, as well."
Slytherin nodded and shifted in his chair so he could pull out his mirror, saying, "I'd like you to stay in the school tonight and tomorrow, however. The students might well appreciate seeing your face around."
"You mean they'll trust you more if I show I trust you," Harry replied, motioning for a chair to move next to the older wizard and sitting in it. "Yeah, okay, I can do that. Probably easier if I wait until Saturday to go Nagini-hunting, anyway."
"You won't miss any classes that way," Slytherin agreed, handing over his mirror.
"Sometimes, I forget you're a teacher," Harry commented with a grimace and the Founder chuckled. "Okay, how do I scry in the present?"
"It's not hard," Slytherin promised, resting back in his chair. "Focus all your thoughts on the thing you wish to scry. Try not to expect it to be in a particular place or with a particular person, just focus on the object – or person – itself."
Harry nodded and turned his thoughts to Voldemort as he knew the man: cold, uncaring, afraid of death, and searching for something. Although, Harry amended, he might well have found the thing already. He looked down at the mirror and let out a quiet, "Oh," as an image formed. It took him a moment to figure out what was happening, then he shook his head. "He's flying again. Without a direct connection to his thoughts, I can't say if he's still looking for that blond thief or headed here."
"Blond thief?" Dumbledore interrupted.
Harry turned and blinked at Dumbledore, thoughts jumbled for a long moment before he recognised the question and said, "Yeah. He went to Gregorovitch, looking for something, but Gregorovitch said it had been stolen a long time ago. By a blond boy. I saw a memory of him." Harry shook his head. "He seemed familiar."
"Curly blond hair?" Dumbledore asked, something very like suspicion lurking in his blue eyes.
"Huh? Yeah! How'd you know?" Harry asked.
"It is very likely Gellert Grindelwald that Tom is searching for," Dumbledore explained. "He stole his wand from Gregorovitch and had blond, curly hair."
"What's so great about this wand, though? I mean, why would Vol– erm, You-Know–"
"Call him Tom, my boy," Dumbledore suggested with a fond, though troubled, smile. "That name does not have a Taboo on it."
"Yeah, alright," Harry agreed. "Why's Tom looking for this wand, then? I mean, I get that he's trying to find a wand that can beat mine, but it's just a wand, right?"
"It’s more difficult than that," Dumbledore replied, shaking his head. "As I have explained to you previously, your wand and Tom's share a similar core, which keeps you from effectively duelling each other."
"Yeah. But when we faced each other when I left my relatives, he had another wand and it snapped when faced with mine."
"So I've heard," Dumbledore agreed. "I am sure, when you first met him, that Ollivander told you that it is the wand that chooses the wizard?" Harry nodded. "This is true even for wands that belong to a wizard or witch already; they choose for whom they truly work, and they will never work quite as well as the wand that chose you first."
"So, wait," Harry interrupted, shaking his head. "You're saying wands are sentient?"
"Magic has a way of making even the most mundane objects sentient," Slytherin commented drily. "You've met the hat, I'm sure."
"An excellent example," Dumbledore agreed. "I do believe that the wand Tom borrowed did not recognise him as its wielder, and, as such, was not as strong as your wand, which chose you. So, your wand won."
Harry nodded his understanding. "Okay, I suppose that makes sense. But, then, why is Tom looking for a particular wand?"
"There are many legends surrounding this wand," Dumbledore explained. "It has been called the Deathstick, for its tendency to pass from wielder to wielder upon the death of the one who laid claim to it last. It has also been known as the Elder Wand and the Wand of Destiny. It is, legend has it, the most powerful wand in the world."
"Oh," Harry said, understanding dawning. "Yeah, he'd like that, wouldn't he? So, Grindelwald had it last?"
"I had it last," Dumbledore corrected.
Harry blinked a few times, then let out a long breath and rubbed at his eyes. "Bollocks."
"One must, then, wonder who this wand considers its chosen," Slytherin commented. "If Severus killed you on your own orders, it might not consider him an acceptable replacement."
Dumbledore sighed. "I had wondered about that," he admitted, "and there's no way to tell for certain unless Severus tries wielding it, which he has refused."
"Who else would it have picked, if not Snape?" Harry wondered.
"Professor Snape, Harry," Dumbledore corrected.
"Yeah, him." Harry waved his hand negligently.
"Young Mr Malfoy, I believe," Dumbledore offered. "He disarmed me before Severus arrived, did he not?"
"Oh." Harry rubbed at his chin. "Yeah, I guess he did." He shook his head. "That could be problematic."
"Not necessarily," Dumbledore disagreed, "but I suppose only time will tell."
They were silent for a moment before Harry asked, "If Tom gets his hands on this wand, could he defeat my wand?"
"I don't know," Dumbledore admitted. "If it doesn't accept him as its master, I very much doubt it, but if he does manage to earn its loyalty, it is very likely that he could defeat you."
"Another excellent reason for you to learn how to wield a sword," Slytherin insisted. "Wizards today put too much emphasis on magic and not enough on physical attacks."
"We're rather set in our ways that way," Dumbledore agreed cheerfully. "You intend to teach Harry to wield Gryffindor's sword."
"We're attempting it," Slytherin agreed and Harry let out a sigh. "Which reminds me: Every evening after dinner, I want you to meet me in the Room of Requirement for a couple hours to practise."
"Okay," Harry agreed.
"If nothing else, I should at least be able to teach you how to keep from cutting yourself on that blade," Slytherin added, shaking his head and glancing at a clock hanging above the door to the stairs. "It's getting late; let's see if you can't find this snake."
"Oh, yeah." Harry picked the mirror up from his lap and focussed his thoughts on the large serpent. After a few minutes – longer than it had taken for Voldemort – an image finally appeared, but it wasn't Nagini in the vision, but an elderly woman moving around what was likely her home. "I don't see Nagini," he said to Slytherin, frowning. "Just an old woman."
Slytherin nodded. "It may be that you're too tired; head for bed and you can try scrying again tomorrow."
"Okay." Harry rose to his feet and held out the mirror. "Here."
But Slytherin shook his head. "Keep it. I get the sense that you'll be doing more scrying than I will, and this way you won't have to hunt me down to do so. Just–" he smiled, "–try to keep the scrying in class to a minimum?"
Harry laughed. "I'll do my best. Well, good night, Salazar. Sir," he added, nodding to Dumbledore's portrait.
"Good night, my boy," Dumbledore replied.
"Good night, Harry," Slytherin said, then set about vanishing the extra chairs that had been left as Harry vanished down the stairs.
"Ooh, is now when you return to calling me a useless piece of headwear?" the hat wondered, perking up on its shelf.
Slytherin shot it an unamused look. "No, you ragged scrap of fabric, now is when I go to bed. I'll happily inform you how useless you are tomorrow, however, if that's your wish?" Then he turned and slipped into the attached bedroom, the hat's laughter following.
The next day was a test of everyone's patience. Slytherin found himself receiving as many distrustful looks as he did ones of awe – sometimes both from the same people – and while having the trust of the staff, Harry, Ron, and Hermione did seem to keep the students from being particularly outspoken about his position of authority, it did not stop the whispers. Equally, Snape faced distrust and uncertainty, though the students did seem to relax as much as they ever had around him when he returned to his curriculum for Defence for the year previous, rather than continuing to teach them the Dark Arts.
For the staff, they found their students more unruly than usual as they tried to remember how to live without Death Eaters breathing down their necks. There were also questions about Slytherin – was he trustworthy? Was he really Salazar Slytherin, the Founder? – which the professors answered if they could, if only to move the lessons along.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione found themselves struggling to remember how to be students after a month on the run. They, too, were questioned about Slytherin, and all of them were firm in their answers that the Founder was trustworthy, even Ron. The three friends also found themselves being asked about their time away, what they'd been doing, and those were questions they had to brush away.
It wasn't until lunch that someone realised that Harry's scar was missing, and if the lower year who'd noticed hadn't made such a fuss about it, they might have managed to keep things relatively normal, but, instead, things devolved into a minor riot as people believed the girl's insistence that Harry was not, in fact, Harry Potter, due to his missing scar.
Professors were just moving to quell the panic when the first spell was cast and Slytherin stood from his seat in the centre of the Head table and roared, "All of you, sit DOWN!"
The benches around the Hall grabbed for the students and forced them down, sometimes in awkward positions, but the end result was that every student was on a bench, most unable to move their wand and cast any spells.
In the following silence, Slytherin requested, "What's going on?"
Six people from the Gryffindor table and two from Hufflepuff all started talking all at once until Slytherin held up his hand. Once they'd all shut up, he requested, "Hermione, please."
"Demelza noticed that Harry's scar is missing," Hermione explained calmly, seemingly not bothered by the bits of bench keeping her hands trapped against her legs. "She's decided that means he's an imposter."
"Of course she does," Slytherin muttered.
"He's not," Ron added, irritated.
"How do we know you're not an imposter too?" one of the Gryffindors demanded. "You've been missing for a month."
"I'll vouch for them," Ginny snapped, glaring around the table.
"As will I," McGonagall added coolly as she frowned at her House.
The students wilted under McGonagall's gaze and, sensing it was safe to do so, Slytherin silently directed the benches to free their captives. Those students who had been in awkward positions slowly resettled themselves comfortably.
"As for Mr Potter's scar," Slytherin commented, "I'm the one who got rid of it. There was Dark magic left in it from the attack on him as a baby. In removing that magic, the scar was removed."
"Oh," a couple of the Gryffindors said, looking down at their plates.
Slytherin sighed and sat back in his seat, rubbing at the bridge of his nose.
McGonagall and Sprout returned to their places at the Head table and conversation in the Great Hall slowly started back up. By the time they were leaving for afternoon classes, it was as if the spectacle had never happened.
"I'm still not having any luck scrying Nagini," Harry said as he started some warm-up exercises.
"And my supposed Heir?" Slytherin asked.
"Still flying around. I think he might have landed for a bit this morning, but all I saw was him taking off again."
"We'll see if we can't figure out what's wrong with the snake after we've gone through a couple forms," Slytherin decided and Harry nodded.
After a little over an hour and a half of working with the fake Gryffindor sword – Slytherin wasn't going to let Harry handle the real one until he was certain the teen wouldn't cut himself – the two wizards retired to the Head office, where Slytherin called for tea and biscuits from the kitchens before settling into a chair next to Harry.
"You're still seeing that woman?" Slytherin asked once the food and drinks had popped in next to them.
Harry nodded. "Yeah. She spends all day in that house. For the most part, she sits in one place, but I've seen her moving around a couple times."
"And there's nothing about the house that stands out to you?"
Harry considered that for a moment, then shook his head. "It's rather dark, other than the fireplace, but nothing else seems obvious."
Slytherin sighed. "Keep an eye on her, then, I suppose. Maybe you'll get lucky."
"I will," Harry promised. And, once he'd finished his tea, he wished the Founder a good night and left for his common room.
Harry caught a break the last Friday of October. He'd been watching the mirror in Defence – Snape was oddly lenient about Harry's use of it in his class – when he caught sight of a picture frame with a photo of a young man he recognised. "Oh," he breathed, sitting up straight.
"Problem, Potter?" Snape snapped, black eyes boring into Harry's bare forehead.
Harry glanced up, momentarily caught off guard, before he nodded and moved to shove his things in his school bag. "Permission to go see the Headmaster, sir?"
Snape's eyes narrowed. "Granted," he allowed.
"Thanks." The Harry was gone, Gryffindor's sword – which he wore everywhere at Slytherin's direction – knocking loudly as the doorframe on the way out.
"You may not follow him, Weasley," Snape added when Ron opened his mouth and the redhead subsided, grumbling under his breath, for which Snape took points.
Harry barely paused long enough outside the gargoyle for it to open at the password before he was up the stairs, shouting, "Salazar! Salazar!"
Slytherin was stepping around his desk, face a mask of concern, when Harry reached the top of the stairs. "What's wrong?" he asked, voice falsely steady.
Harry shook his head and took a moment to regain his breath before saying, "Not wrong. In the mirror; I saw a photo of Grindelwald! As a boy!"
Slytherin immediately looked to Dumbledore's portrait. "An old woman with a photo of Grindelwald?"
Dumbledore frowned in thought. "This woman," he said to Harry, "did she wear silver earrings in the shapes of teardrops?"
Harry frowned and thought back to the woman he'd been watching for almost a month, then nodded. "Yeah, actually, I think she did. They had little gems at the top, where they met with the metal hanger."
Dumbledore gave a heavy sigh. "Bathilda Bagshot. Her home is in Godric's Hollow."
"Godric's Hollow?" Slytherin repeated, suspicious.
"It is said to be the birthplace of Godric Gryffindor, and was renamed for him," Dumbledore offered.
Slytherin's mouth tightened. "I know the area," he allowed before looking back at Harry. "I assume you want to go immediately?"
Harry considered that for a moment before setting his school bag in the chair he usually occupied on the rare occasions that he stopped by Slytherin's office for tea after their sword lessons. "Ron'll probably throw a fit, but if you're not busy..."
"I am not," Slytherin agreed. "Let me send a message to Minerva, telling her we're leaving the school for a brief trip, then we can head out."
Fleur was in the Shrieking Shack when Harry and Slytherin stepped out of the passage, and smiled when she saw them. " 'Ello, 'Arry," Fleur said, stepping forward and kissing Harry's cheeks. "Monsieur Slytherin."
"Madam Weasley," Slytherin replied coolly. "You'll forgive us for leaving as soon as we've arrived, but we have business to attend to."
"Certainly," the witch agreed with a smile.
Harry grinned at her as he took Slytherin's offered arm. "See you, Fleur!" he called before Slytherin apparated them away.
They landed in a quiet corner looking over a small square with a few shoppers. "I'm not sure where to start," Slytherin admitted, looking around at the church and graveyard beyond. "I could show you the place where Godric's home stood, but I'm uncertain where this Bathilda Bagshot lives."
Harry shook his head and pulled out his wand. "Point me Bathilda Bagshot," he whispered and his wand spun in place on his palm. The two stared at it for a long moment as it continued to spin, then Harry frowned and cancelled the spell before saying, "Point me Nagini."
The wand turned immediately towards a road to the left of the church.
"Well, that's ominous," Slytherin decided. As Harry made to step out from cover, the Founder grabbed his shoulder. "A disguise, I think," he commented, quickly casting a glamour over the teen to darken his eyes and turn his hair blond. "You're still a hunted man."
Harry grimaced. "Going to classes all normal-like's made me forget," he admitted as they stepped out into the square.
They earned some odd looks for Harry's black robe, Slytherin's cloak, and the flashes of their swords under them; Harry had managed to talk Slytherin into wearing trousers and shortening his tunics a bit, so at least they weren't attracting attention for that fashion faux pas.
They followed the wand to a building that needed some care and stepped up to knock on the door. It took a few minutes for anyone to answer, but when she did, it was the old woman from Harry's scrying. "Bathilda Bagshot?" Harry asked and the woman nodded. "I'm Harry Potter."
The woman nodded and motioned them in. Trading suspicious glances, Slytherin and Harry stepped inside, Slytherin closing the door behind them. They followed her into the sitting room that Harry had often watched her sit in. There, she paused, looking thoughtful.
Slytherin pulled out his wand and whispered, "Point me Nagini," and his wand pointed directly at the old woman. "Harry," he murmured.
"Yeah, I know," Harry replied, pointing his wand at the woman. "Nagini, lovely to see you again."
The woman let out an angry hiss. :How do you know me, boy?:
"We came here looking for you," Harry said.
:You've found me, then,: she spat and the skin at her throat cracked and split, letting the large serpent free.
"Back!" Slytherin ordered and Harry quickly moved out of the way as the Founder drew his sword and cut off the serpent's head in one smooth motion. The body tumbled to the ground, halfway out of Bathilda Bagshot's corpse. Slytherin cleared his throat and said, "That should have finished her, but stick her head with Godric's sword to make sure the horcrux is truly gone."
"Okay," Harry agreed and did so. A wisp of black curled around the blade and sizzled quietly before vanishing. "Good call."
"Indeed." Slytherin shot a quick cleaning charm at his sword, then sheathed it. "Now, let's leave before my supposed Heir shows up. I've no doubt she warned him."
"Yeah, I know," Harry agreed as he slipped his own sword away.
There was a loud crack outside the front door and, not even taking a moment to trade looks, Harry and Slytherin apparated back to the Shrieking Shack.
"Scry him," Slytherin ordered and Harry pulled out the mirror Slytherin had given him to use for scrying.
It took only a moment for the image to clear and Harry winced with remembered pain to see Voldemort blasting things in the house in his fury. "He's very much not happy," he commented, looking away from the destruction. "You think he'll make his way here?"
"Only once he realises you're here," Slytherin replied, then turned to Fleur. "Call together whatever stragglers there are and have everyone inside the castle wards within the hour. Harry, we need to start the evacuation of the younger years into the Chamber."
"Better safe than sorry," Harry agreed grimly and the two wizards hurried out of the Shack while Fleur sat down with the radio equipment the members of Potterwatch had brought and started sending a coded message to those Order operatives outside the school.
The evacuation went remarkably smoothly, thanks to weeks of explanations about what would happen once they got warning that Voldemort was on his way. The sixth years saw to it that those in fifth year and below made it into the Chamber while the professors and seventh years made certain the castle protections were in place. After that, those sixth and seventh years who didn't wish to fight – about half of the sixth years and a quarter of the seventh years – made their way down to the Chamber with Irma Pince and Argus Filch to help keep the younger years calm and safe.
With the protections in place, everyone worked to set up a medical station and Poppy Pomfrey, as well as the four trained medics in the Order, reigned over the area and made certain everything was to their liking.
Harry stayed with Slytherin and McGonagall while the medical station was set up, watching Voldemort race to check the hiding locations for his horcruxes. "He knows," he murmured to the Founder as McGonagall directed a group of students moving one of the tables from the Great Hall to use as a barricade. "He's checking his hiding places."
"Took him long enough," Slytherin muttered, unimpressed. "If he hadn't been so foolish as to split his soul so many times, he'd have noticed when the first one went."
"Tom gives a whole new meaning to the word 'paranoia'," Harry replied. "You know, I kind of wish I knew how he did that flying thing."
"You're better off remaining ignorant," Snape said as he joined the other two dark-haired wizards in their out-of-the-way corner.
Slytherin raised an eyebrow at that, but asked, "Is all of the Order inside the wards?"
"Yes," Snape agreed. "Lupin and his wife just came through, and they're the last safe house."
Slytherin nodded and moved so he was standing in the centre of the open doors of the school. He drew his sword and used it to touch the stone at the very centre of the arch, then started chanting in Gaelic. Those in the entrance hall stopped what they were doing and turned to watch as the stone his sword touched lit with a bright, pale green light, which slowly travelled along the rest of the arch until it reached the flagstones. There, the light spread out, sweeping under their feet and up the walls and doors. The tables and benches and students had set down to watch lit with the light and it travelled quickly up the stairs, making the banisters glow as the moving staircases ground to a halt.
Harry glanced down at the mirror in his hands and was surprised to find it, too, glowing. He remembered Slytherin telling him, some weeks ago, that the best mirrors for scrying were those with no magic in them. He turned the mirror over and saw, stark against the glow, a scrawling inscription in another language.
Just as Harry reached out to touch the dark writing, everything the light had touched flared as bright as the sun for a blink of an eye, then faded back to its original state.
Harry blinked his eyes against the spots in his vision, then jerked his head up as he heard the sound of metal on stone, a sound he was well familiar with after a month of practices with Slytherin. Through the spots in his vision, he saw the Founder kneeling on the ground, bent over. "Salazar!" he shouted, shoving the mirror into his belt as he ran over to the man.
"Too much magic," Slytherin whispered as Harry crouched next to him.
"Let's get you to Madam Pomfrey."
Slytherin shook his head. "I'll be fine in a–"
"Uh-huh," Harry interrupted, not buying it. He looked over his shoulder and blinked past the spots in his eyes until he could see the gathered students well enough to make out a few faces, then called, "Ron! Help me with Salazar!"
Slytherin let out a sigh and rested against Harry. "I'm fine," he insisted, but it sounded weak even to his own ears.
"Madam Pomfrey?" Ron asked as he knelt on Slytherin's other side.
"Get his sword?"
Harry nodded and picked up the fallen sword while Ron helped the Founder to stand. As soon as Harry was up, Slytherin's sword stuck in his belt next to the mirror, they walked him towards where Madam Pomfrey and the others had set up for the probable overflow in rooms near the original infirmary, waving off students who asked what was wrong or tried to gush about the light show.
In the infirmary, Madam Pomfrey directed them to a bed while she turned towards her potions supply. Once they had the Founder on the bed, Harry set his sword near the head of the bed and pulled out the mirror to watch Voldemort's mad dash across the countryside. "He's headed here," he whispered, recognising a few landmarks from their trip on the Knight Bus two years ago.
"Those wards should keep him busy for a time," Slytherin whispered, looking a little like every word hurt him to say.
Madam Pomfrey bustled over, then, a handful of potions held in one white-knuckled hand as she blinked a few times too many. "Move, Mr Weasley," she ordered and Ron darted out of her way.
Madam Pomfrey shot a cursory scan at him, then nodded and shuffled through her potions. "Right. Mr Potter, help me give him these."
Harry shoved the mirror back in his belt and helped the mediwitch feed the Founder the three potions she had for him. "He'll be alright, though, right?" he asked.
"With some rest," Madam Pomfrey agreed. "He won't be fighting in this fight, but he'll be back on his feet tomorrow."
Harry nodded and touched Slytherin's shoulder. The man blinked up at him through heavy eyelids and Harry smiled. "Hey. Get some sleep and leave the school to us, okay? We'll keep it safe."
Slytherin smiled back and reached up to touch the hand on his shoulder. "I know you will, my serpent," he whispered before closing his eyes and falling to sleep.
Harry squeezed the hand on his, then laid it back at Slytherin's side.
"Hey, Harry?" Ron interrupted uncertainly. When Harry glanced up at him, he said, "We should head for our positions."
Harry nodded and pulled out the mirror to check one last time – Voldemort had joined a group of his people outside the gates – then set it on the bed next to the pillow. "Okay, let's go."
"Next," Ron joked as they slipped from the infirmary, "you should learn how to scry with sound, so we know what he's planning."
"I'll get right on that," Harry replied drily and they traded too-sharp smiles. "Knowing Tom, he'll do a full-frontal attack and just keep hitting the wards until they go down."
"We'll be here all week if that's his only plan," McGonagall commented as she fell in step with the two teens. "Have you looked outside?"
Ron and Harry traded curious looks, then ran to the nearest window.
The sky above the castle was lit pale green with Slytherin's active wards, which reached past the Black Lake and into the Forbidden Forest. The grounds, lake, and trees also glowed green, turning everything outside the castle walls into a glowing fairy-land.
"Up for a game of chess?" Ron asked Harry.
It took three days of Voldemort and his people beating on the wards to bring them down. Slytherin woke mere hours before they fell, having been far more drained than they'd thought.
During their borrowed time, the professors and members of the Order taught the students any number of spells useful in battle, and the group of medics gave everyone a crash-course in keeping themselves and their allies alive long enough to make it back to the infirmary. Harry also practised with his sword, teaching an eager Ron a few tricks and giving him the fake Gryffindor's sword.
The students were all taking a lunch break when Slytherin slid into the open spot on Harry's right and commented, "They're failing."
"The wards?" Ron choked, setting down his sandwich.
Slytherin raised an eyebrow at him. "Did you think they would last forever, lion cub?"
"Oh, we're back to the pet names again," Harry said, rolling his eyes.
Slytherin flashed him a smirk and held out his mirror. "It feels like giants," he said.
Harry barely had to think about it to scry Voldemort any more, but it did take him an extra moment to get the image to back up. He stared at the bright, Slytherin-green curve of the wards that Voldemort's forces were attacking for a long minute, awed by the solid strength of it that they couldn't see from the inside.
"Giants, Harry," Slytherin reminded him.
"Oh!" Harry turned his eyes to the forces attacking the shield and nodded. "Four of them. And I'd say about two hundred wizards and werewolves."
Ron moaned. "We're dead..."
"Is there any way to break the wards out on them?" Hermione asked, looking up from the book she'd borrowed from Slytherin's office while they waited for the wards to fail.
Slytherin considered that for a moment, head cocked to one side, then shrugged. "I can try, but everyone will want to be ready for the attack as soon as I break them."
Ron nodded and climbed onto their table, turning to look at the rest of the Hall. "OIY!" he shouted and everyone fell silent as they turned to look at him. "We're gonna try breaking the wards out on them, taking out as many as we can, but we need everyone in position before we do it. So let's MOVE!"
"Ron," Harry called with some amusement, "some encouragement?"
Ron let out a nervous laugh. "Oh, yeah." He looked back at the small sea of faces, many of whom now wore smiles. "Maybe we're not as old as You-Know-Who, or know as many spells, but we've got friendship on our side, which is the only thing he can't say he's ever had. And because we have friendship, because we can depend on each other, we can face any army, bring down any giant, destroy any and all snake-faced bastards without a nose!"
The students roared their agreement and everyone turned to file out the doors and take their designated positions.
"An excellent speech, Mr Weasley," McGonagall said as she stepped up to their table. "Salazar, are you sure breaking the wards out will work?"
"It's all we've got," Slytherin admitted. "They've only got a couple more hours on their own, and I'd rather see if we can't make the first move. If Harry can help direct me to the greatest concentration of their troops, I should be able to maximise the damage."
"I'll do what I can," Harry promised and conjured a 3D image of the outside of the wards as he looked back into the mirror, adding troop positions as he saw them.
Hermione and Ron hurried to follow McGonagall to their positions, but Ginny stopped to touch Harry's shoulder. "Good luck," she whispered and kissed his cheek.
"Hey." Harry set down the mirror a snagged her arm. They shared a proper kiss and he said, "Good luck to you, too."
As Ginny hurried off, Harry returned to his map-building. Slytherin sat silently next to him, watching the map of Voldemort's troops with a closed expression.
Finally, Harry sat back. "That should be it. Some minor fluctuation here–" he pointed at a section of the image he'd changed a few times, "–but, otherwise, it's pretty much static."
"Thanks," Slytherin said, looking over the image and placing the landmarks he saw with those he knew of outside the wards. "I should be able to take out two of the giants, and probably a large portion of this group," he commented, pointing to a cluster of maybe fifty human-sized figures.
Harry nodded and pushed away from the table. "I'll leave you to it, then. I need to be at the doors."
"What, no kiss for luck?" Slytherin asked.
Harry paused in his steps and looked back at the man, whose shoulders had tensed, as if expecting a blow or a curse. It barely took Harry a second to weigh his options before he leaned over a pressed a kiss to Slytherin's cheek, as Ginny had done for him. "Good luck, Salazar," he whispered, then turned and hurried from the Great Hall.
Slytherin sat still for a long moment, disbelieving, before he shook his surprise away and looked back at Harry's image. "Let's try for three of the giants..." he murmured before closing his eyes and focussing on the wards.
Harry had just reached his position in the doorway with the professors and his best friends when the wards gave a great groan, then shattered. They held still for a breath, then turned and slammed into the opposing forces. A scream of pain and fury came from across the lawn and three of the giants toppled over.
From the ramparts, windows, and the entrance hall, students, staff, and members of the Order let out a cheer, emboldened by the sight of the three large creatures falling back on their allies, still sparkling with the dual-coloured pieces of the wards.
"The nose knows," Ron said with mock seriousness and Hermione elbowed him. "Ow! You're supposed to be hitting them, not me!"
"Save the missing body parts jokes for your brothers," Harry suggested, tightening his grip on his wand.
"Here come the fliers," Kingsley's deep voice intoned from just behind Harry and they all looked up to watch the witches and wizards on brooms zipping ahead of the mess on the ground. As soon as they were in range, spellfire from the ramparts and upper windows shot out, downing more than a couple brooms before the fliers started shooting back.
Finally, the ground forces gathered themselves and started forward, across the lawn. Near the head of the group in the doorway, McGonagall shouted, "For our future!" before starting forward.
"FOR OUR FUTURE!" the rest of them shouted and then they were moving, spreading out as they reached the open lawn and shooting spells as soon as they were in range. Just before he got in sword-swinging range of the nearest opponent, Harry switched his wand to his left hand and drew his sword. He wasn't anywhere near what he would call proficient with left-handed casting, but Slytherin had taught him a few tricks and he could shoot off disarming and shield charms with his left hand while he wielded his sword with his right, so it worked out.
The battle turned into chaos as soon as the two armies reached each other. Harry quickly couldn't tell friend from foe, and he had to trust that his allies would heed his warning about his poisoned blade and stay away from any flashing swords. At one point, Harry swore he saw a flashing blade under black hair and he spared only a second's thought to hope Slytherin was okay before he was throwing up a shield against an incoming purple spell and cutting into the arm of an opponent on his right.
Twice, later, he saw flashes of red hair between traded spells, but when he looked again, they were gone. Similarly, he thought he saw bushy brown hair ducking under a curse of violent green and it took everything he had in him to continue fighting in his spot, because going to help Hermione could only end up with her getting hurt.
It was tens of opponents later, in the middle of a still patch, when he came face-to-face with Draco Malfoy. The other boy froze, but Harry didn't, shooting off a disarming charm with barely a second's thought. He stabbed someone behind him smiling grimly at their strangled cry of pain, a sound he'd become worryingly desensitised to over the course of the fight. Then he and Draco were nose-to-nose, and Harry said, "I don't want to kill you, Malfoy. If you go inside Hogwarts, unarmed, they'll see to it you're safe."
Draco stared at him for a long moment before inclining his head and darting past Harry, not bothering to pick up his fallen wand.
Harry continued on, disarming opponents on his left and cutting those on his right, leaving them to die.
Finally, finally, Harry caught sight of the pale head he'd been looking for. He cut through a couple of duelling wizards, only barely having the presence of mind to stop his sword before he cut one the the newer members of the Order. "Go," he ordered them and the witch fled with a gasped thanks.
"Harry Potter," Voldemort said and Harry looked up into red eyes as the sounds of the battle around them dimmed.
"Hello, Tom," Harry replied, smiling when the Dark Lord let out an angry hiss. "If you hadn't put a Taboo on your name, I wouldn't have had to find an alternative, you know."
"I will kill you, Potter," Voldemort spat, raising an unfamiliar wand.
"I very much doubt that," Harry replied, and then he was ducking three Killing Curses in a row and throwing up a shield against a cutting curse misaimed from behind him. He caught a fourth Killing Curse on the blade of his sword and it gleamed with sickly green light for a long moment before he turned and shoved it into Voldemort's stomach.
For a breath, all was still, then Harry pulled back his sword, whispering, "Goodbye, Tom."
And Lord Voldemort's lifeless body crumpled to the ground.
Harry stood there over the body of the man that had made his life hell, and around him, the battle still raged, no one yet having noticed that their leader had fallen.
Someone too far away to have seen Voldemort fall suddenly let out a cry and, as those around him started to look up, Harry did the same.
Above the battlefield, someone had cast the Dark Mark. And it was melting away.
Only a few steps away, someone gasped and Harry turned to look at one of the sixth year Hufflepuffs, who had a nasty gash dripping blood above her left eye. She was pointing at the body at Harry's feet and then she whispered, "He's dead..."
It was as if a switch had been flipped. The Dark Mark above their heads broke into pieces of Killing Curse-green light and was swept away on the wind. Around Harry, voices called, "He's dead!" and "Potter's done it!"
And Harry looked back down at the lifeless corpse, and he laughed.
Parvati Patil was the one who found him, pale and shaky and hobbling along on a crutch to support her broken leg. "Madam Pomfrey ran out," she explained as Harry moved to support her.
"You should be in bed," Harry replied, turning them back towards the castle and manoeuvring them around the dead and stunned; he wasn't looking forward to the clean-up.
"I know," Parvati agreed, "but we needed to find you."
"Find me?" Harry repeated, stopping them and twisting to give Parvati a look. "Why?"
"It's Ginny," Parvati said and Harry's world stopped.
"Ginny?" Harry croaked.
Parvati pulled away from his support and waved him on. "Go," she ordered, and Harry didn't need telling twice.
When Harry reached the infirmary, he found a huddle of redheads surrounding a bed in the back. Mrs Weasley's sobs carried to him where he'd frozen in the doorway, feeling like his world was falling in around him.
Fleur came up behind him, her pale hair shorn off and heavy bandaging wrapped around her head. "Come," she said, and guided him forward.
As they reached the wall of Weasleys, it parted and Harry was pushed forward until he was standing at the end of Ginny's bed, staring at her pale, still form. Mrs Weasley held one hand in hers, weeping over it like her world had just ended, and Harry thought he might know how she felt, because sounds and his periphery vision were fading away until all he could see was Ginny's bloodless face before that, too, vanished.
Harry woke to the quiet whispers of the infirmary. He blinked up at the ceiling a couple of times, unseeing, until a gentle hand reached over and slipped his glasses on. Harry looked over and found Slytherin smiling tiredly at him, left arm in a sling and a bright red cut standing out stark on his cheek. "Salazar?" Harry croaked and grimaced at how dry his throat was.
"You've been asleep for three days," Slytherin offered quietly as he picked up a glass with a straw and held it to Harry's lips. "Someone caught you in the back and none of us realised you'd lost so much blood until you passed out."
Harry's memories returned, then; the battle, killing Voldemort, walking back through the bodies, Ginny– "Ginny," he whispered.
Slytherin closed his eyes and shook his head. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "We tried. We tried so bloody hard." And when he met Harry's eyes, the teen could see the very real pain and misery in the pale green eyes and he looked away.
"I can't say for sure," Slytherin admitted quietly. "I had her in the corner of my eye for a while, but I lost track of her for a bit. I saw a pale purple spell go by me, in her general direction, and when I turned to look, she was already down. By the time I'd reached her, Lupin was feeding her a potion and casting a spell, so I turned and took care of anyone who thought it might be a good idea to try attacking them while they were down or while they were retreating, when he started back towards the school. I didn't find out until later, after the Dark Mark fell apart, that she'd died almost immediately upon spell impact; it crushed her lungs."
Harry nodded, remembering one of the Order healers telling them that crushed lungs were something that couldn't be healed without some pretty specialised spells, none of which it was suggested they use without training, lest they do more harm than good. Crushed lungs on the battlefield was a painful death, one that was as certain as a cutting curse to the throat.
Harry hadn't even realised he was clenching his fist until Slytherin carefully uncurled his fingers with his good hand.
"What happened to you?" Harry asked, opening his eyes to watch the older wizard as Slytherin looked down at his immobilised arm with a grimace.
"Cutting curse through to the bone, and a blasting curse to my hand when that didn't stop me. Finally finished the lot of them with my sword just before the Mark broke apart." Slytherin shrugged, then winced as it shifted his arm. "Good job, by the way. Even if it's not the end we'd hoped for."
Harry took a deep breath and shook his head. "Voldemort's dead," he said quietly, "that's the only part that matters."
"Voldemort's dead," Slytherin agreed, "but we still paid a heavy price. Of the sixty-four students that stood and battled, twenty-three are dead. Seventeen Order members are dead, as are Filius and Irma."
Harry choked and closed his eyes, folding his hand around the one Slytherin had yet to move away. "Who?" he whispered.
Slytherin watched him for a long moment, then started reciting names.
And Harry listened to each one of them, silently promising to remember them forever.
The memorial was massive. Held out by Dumbledore's white tomb, they read off the names of the deceased – defender of Hogwarts or member of Voldemort's troops – and floated little paper boats across the lake in remembrance. The last name on the list, at Harry's insistence, was Tom Riddle, and Harry placed the boat for the Dark Lord upon the water himself, Slytherin standing silently at his side.
The week after the memorial was declared a holiday, everyone having been too stunned by their losses to celebrate before. For the first day of the holiday, Harry joined the Weasleys and Hermione as they tried to make merry, but their hearts just weren't in it and he returned to Hogwarts for the rest of the week, trying to cheer up those students with no parents left to take care of them and spending his evening with Slytherin over a cup of tea, where he spoke of the old days and made Harry laugh over the escapades of the Founders.
The last day of the holiday, Harry entered the Great Hall to find the new Minister for Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt, speaking with Slytherin, whose mouth was tight with displeasure. When he spotted him, Kingsley offered his goodbyes to the Founder and walked over to meet Harry, "Harry," he greeted.
"Hello, Kingsley," Harry replied cautiously. "What can I do for you?"
"I'm not Scrimgeour," Kingsley pointed out, and Harry realised he'd tensed.
"Sorry," he said with a laugh. "You know I have a bad history with the Ministry; I'll work on it. What's up?" He offered a smile he didn't feel.
"We're trying to build the aurors back up," Kingsley explained, "and I know you had an interest in joining."
Harry stared at him for a moment, his dream at his fingertips. But then he remembered the kids he'd been spending the last week with, who would be remaining at Hogwarts over the summer unless a distant relative came to claim them. He remembered, too, Snape's unseeing eyes and the fact that they were, once again, without a Defence professor. He remembered evenings spent with Slytherin in his office over tea, remembering days that weren't marked in a history book, and the thrill that ran up Harry's spine when they brushed hands. He remembered how Ginny's death seemed so much easier to bear after even just the faintest of smiles in Slytherin's pale eyes.
And Harry shook his head. "No, but thank you," he said quietly.
Kingsley's eyebrows raised. "I can't promise this offer again, Harry. Ron's already said yes; you can be partners."
"I know," Harry replied, and he did know, because Ron would never turn down the aurors, not for anything. "But I'm needed more here."
Kingsley's expression smoothed out and he smiled, understanding bright in his dark eyes. "Of course. You know where we are if you ever need any help." He held out a hand to shake.
"Yeah, I know," Harry said, taking Kingsley's hand and feeling, for the first time in his life, that he might be able to stand a Minister. "Thanks."
"Just make sure you send us a couple aurors to make up for your lack," Kingsley joked and Harry laughed.
"I'll see what I can do," Harry promised and they passed each other, Kingsley going to leave, Harry headed towards where Slytherin sat with relief and confusion warring in his eyes at the Head table.
"You're not taking the job?" Slytherin asked as Harry slid into the open seat next to him, neither of them caring that he was still, technically, a student.
"I thought you might need a Defence teacher more than they need another decorated auror," Harry replied, shaking his head.
"But you told me becoming an auror was your dream," Slytherin insisted. "I can find another Defence teacher if you'd rather–"
"Salazar," Harry interrupted with a smile, "being an auror was my dream, but being a teacher is hardly second best. And Hogwarts is my home." He rested his hand over the one Slytherin had rested on the arm of his chair. "Will you have me?"
"Yes," Slytherin breathed before leaning forward and pressing his lips to Harry's, feather light.
When Slytherin drew back, Harry leaned forward, one hand coming up to catch in the older man's hair, his thumb tracing the fading mark on his cheek, and their lips met again, pressed together for a long breath.
"Does this mean we don't have to hunt down a new Defence professor after all?" McGonagall asked from Slytherin's other side as she sat down.
The two wizards quickly pulled apart, Harry bright red while Slytherin cleared his throat, looking slightly flushed. "It seems so," he agreed in a calm tone.
"Good," McGonagall decided before holding out the bowl of scrambled eggs she'd been serving herself from. "Eggs, gentlemen?"
"Yeah, thanks," Harry agreed and accepted the bowl.
The rest of breakfast passed with Harry and Slytherin catching each other's eyes and hiding smiles, much to McGonagall's amusement. When they left the Great Hall, Slytherin led the way up to his office and Harry signed the paperwork to become a professor.
Yes, Harry thought as Slytherin filed the papers before coming over to pick up where they'd left off at breakfast, staying at Hogwarts was far more to his liking.