"It's time to wake, young master,"
"Thank you, Tinker," Salazar opened his eyes, and gasped as they fell on the calendar across the room. "By the stars! It's…"
Salazar bounced out of bed in a most inelegant manner, apologizing to the poor elf when he narrowly missed landing on him. Mother and father would scold him to no ends if they could see him now, but who cared! "It's…"
Best count the check marks again to be sure. Make certain this is real…
"It's the thirty-first day! That means I get to go down to the village!"
"Tinker will tell Master Solomon for young master," said Tinker before disapparating with a pop, leaving Salazar to beam widely to himself.
He'd done it! It was taking him so long that he'd thought he'd have to wait for as long as his twelfth birthday or something, but he'd done it at last! He'd finally gone thirty days without accidental magic!
Father had told him it was too risky to go near muggles before his magic becomes more controllable, and had given him a list of exercises to do to gain control of his power faster. Simply itching to see the village - or just some people other than the occasional visitors, really, Salazar had been following the routine religiously while counting the days. And for the last entire month, there had been no shattering windows, no explosions, no in-door lightning storms, no spontaneous combustions, no anything! He was finally going to the village!
Giddy, Salazar skipped to his closet and dressed, laughing. The calendar page ripped itself as he reached to tear it out.
Salazar promptly tossed it into the fireplace - because that absolutely didn't count - and carefully raked apart the ashes.
"Tinker informs me that you've been able to control your magic for thirty days already?" Father's grey eyes examined Salazar from head to toe when he entered the dining room. They were a shade darker than the cool mist over the fen and a shade lighter than storm clouds. Sometimes, Salazar thought they gleamed like silver. "You've been following the daily exercises still, of course?"
Salazar bobbed his head, trying (but failing, he feared) to resemble a dignified lord rather than an excited puppy.
"And the nightly meditation?" asked mother.
"Then you may visit the village with us today, Salazar, if you promise to behave and stay close to us."
And Salazar leapt into his chair, eating quickly and just barely managing not to wolf down his food. Finally, he was seated in the carriage beside mother and father, and they were off.
The streets in the village was bustling with people, so busy that it was easier to walk in on foot and leave the carriage outside. Salazar looked around with wide eyes as the muggles brisked to and fro. Some of the muggles saw father and bowed, and father nodded back in return. Many were haggling in front of shops and stands with the people who must be the merchants. One building was particularly busy - father said it was called a "tavern". Salazar thought the people who came out of it, mostly men, seemed to be stumbling a bit. Maybe they'd been drinking wine? Father had said once that it could happen if one drank too much. In front of the tavern, one man slapped another and was punched in the eye in return. And all the others, who had been standing around, gathered into a circle and clapped and sniggered loudly as the two fighting men began to roll on the ground in an attempt to break each other's nose. Salazar wondered why they would do that - it wasn't very nice of them, but father pulled him along before he could get another look.
"Lord Slytherin," someone called.
"Ah, him. This'll take some time, I believe," father muttered, "I'll meet you at the carriage, Elaine. Salazar, stay with your mother."
Salazar knew that father wouldn't request something of him without good reason, so he dutifully held mother's hand as they moved with the stream of muggles deeper into the village. Sometimes they would stop at some of the shops, in which case the shop owner would hurry out to greet mother with as much merchandise as they could quickly gather and carry in two arms - be it linen, clay pots, or chains of moldy garlic, knowing that she could afford anything they had.
Salazar wasn't sure he wanted to visit the village that much anymore, in the future. The curiosity was wearing off, and now he was starting to find it a little too loud, a little too disorderly. The people here didn't seem very nice either. No one bothered Salazar and mother because they were accompanied by the muggle soldier who drove them here, but Salazar could swear he'd spotted at least ten thieves in the act. He'd seen some children his age, but they didn't seem like the kind of people whose company he'd appreciate either. And so Salazar was not at all unhappy when mother started to turn back.
Then, someone screamed.
This was followed by another, then indistinguishable yelling from some distance away.
"Come along, Sal," mother murmured, and picked up her pace. Salazar jogged to keep up as they threaded through the crowd, against the current. "Do you know what's happening, mother?"
"No, but it doesn't sound pleasant," mother said simply, "do you, Peter?"
"I've no idea either, my lady," said the soldier, confused, "Make way for the Lady Slytherin!"
This, unfortunately, had little effect in parting the crowd. In fact, people seemed to have started running, seemingly in all directions now. The shouting was coming closer, drowning out Peter's voice. What by Hecate was causing all this?
Suddenly, a woman knocked into Salazar head-first. As he stumbled back, he felt mother's hand slip out of his. "Mother!" he yelled, disoriented, but the crowd had already closed around him, blocking out any sight of her and the soldier, as well as anything that could tell him which way was which. And the people kept running, jostling him and forcing him to move with them or fall and get trampled. He wasn't sure how far he went, as all he could see around him was forests of legs. Eventually, he found himself in a large clearing that must've been the village square, and realized with horror that he must've gone the wrong way after all.
"Excuse me, sirs, could you let me pass please?" Salazar tried to somehow maneuver back into the street he'd lost mother in, to no avail. And then he saw them.
Tall, wooden stakes, erected in a cluster in the middle of the square with a pile of carelessly gathered sticks and firewood at their base. To their left sat a very large, ominous looking wooden cage, but it was not empty. A woman and an infant were inside, sobbing and screaming to be let out. Two men had hoisted a boy - just older than Salazar - into the air, so that his feet dangled over the ground. He was fighting them tooth and nail, but they threw him inside too, raising their torches in victory.
And Salazar froze, stunned, because he suddenly realised what they were doing.
Salazar gulped. He had to get away. Where was mother? Where was father? To make matters worse, he could feel magic bubbling within him with his anxiety. He mustn't let it break out. If they see him doing magic, trapped here, of all places…
Hastily, Salazar tried to clear his mind. Thinking of consequences wasn't helping. He could do this. He'd held back his magic for thirty days, what was one or two hours more to him?
But this morning, the calendar… The bubbling came back in full force. Was he really ready?
And Salazar started running, no longer caring which street. Any street that would take him away from here, away from the stakes, the mob, the torches -
"Hey! What have we here?" A hand closed around his collar, jerking him back.
Salazar shrieked, and suddenly found himself being forced to stare upward into the face of a young man with blue eyes and a terrible grin. "Nervous little brat, aren't you? We're just burning all the witches and devilspawns. Why so frightened, hmm? Guilty conscience, perhaps?"
"Hey Andrew, got another one?"
"Good job! And how many years do you think this one's been alive for, huh? Five? Four?"
"I - " Salazar struggled to speak. The man - Andrew - was cutting off his air. "I can't find my parents -"
"That's five years too long then! You know, we should buy ourselves a drink for every devilspawn we caught today. I think if we sit outside the tavern, we can just about smell them burn!"
"- Please! My father is -"
"I say, the kid looks an awful lot like someone," the other young man, Andrew's friend, squinted at Salazar as if he was a curious specimen. "Those eyes, for example."
"You're right," grunted Andrew, and Salazar was helpless as he was turned this way and that. "Can't say who, though… Lost your parents, you say? Need to get home, you say?" Andrew suddenly smiled, deceptively sweetly, and pulled Salazar up to eye level.
Salazar nodded warily, no longer trusting himself to speak. He knew that keeping his magic in check was priority. With so many witnesses here, father would have to kill the whole village to save him if he let it slip -
"Well you're in luck, because I think we might've seen them… Oh right! We probably already put them in there! Go back to hell, you little devilspawn!" and the two muggles guffawed, as if they'd said something very funny. They fortunately hadn't noticed the flames in their torches flicker. Salazar gasped for air, hastily stopping it. Breathe. Just breathe. Don't think of the flame. Don't think of consequences. Don't think at all just breathe - 'Father… Where are you?'
"Unhand my son. And I hope for your sssake that you did not refer to him by 'devilspawn'."
Father was rushing toward them, followed by his distraught-looking mother, followed by the muggle soldier Peter. A small band of muggles with torches scrambled after them. Andrew jumped, and Salazar was dropped like hot coal before he was caught in strong arms. Looking up, Salazar saw that father's eyes were definitely gleaming now, like the silver blade of a dagger.
"L-Lord Slytherin!" The two young men stuttered, horror dawning on them as their eyes flickered between father and son. "W-We didn't know... We've never met the young lord before -"
Father raised a hand to silence him, his face perfectly devoid of any expression. "Salazar," he whispered softly, searching his face. And Salazar, realizing that he was trying to determine how much the muggles saw by legilimency, made sure to look into the pair of silver eyes.
"I lost mother in the crowd, father. I was searching for her when they seized me by my neck. I was so frightened!"
Father glared at Andrew icily. Since the bubbling magic had settled the moment he was safely in father's arms, Salazar was now calm enough to notice that Andrew had soiled himself. "You two, explain yourselves."
"H-he seemed frightened...nervous..." Andrew and his friend stuttered out, but anything excuse they give now sounded laughably weak. Some of the muggles around them were shaking their head pityingly, Salazar noticed. Over the cracking of the torchfire, he caught snippets of tut-tutting and low murmurs:
"What happened? Why're we stopping?"
"Two poor idiots spooked the lord's son, then grabbed the boy for being scared. His Eminence caught them red-handed…"
"Jesus! What were they thinking? They're doomed! And going after the young lord, of all people…"
"Yeah! Dunno how they made that mistake either. The boy's a spittin' image of his father, see…"
And, of course, there were the sniggers and smirks. Some of the torch carriers were even laughing at Andrew openly, yet Salazar had no doubt that they would've laughed just as gleefully at himself as fire slowly licks up his sides and as he burns to a crisp. Many people delighted in seeing someone suffer, Salazar realized sadly. It didn't matter if it was a man, a child, a wizard, a muggle, two drunkards in front of a tavern, or one of their own accomplices. There would be no sympathy, only jeers at your expense.
Salazar wondered if it was just the dirty, uncouth muggles, or if wizards acted the same way? Salazar had yet to meet another one apart from his father and mother, but they wouldn't right? Surely they knew better?
Or was it simply human nature? Because if it was, then the world was really not a friendly place.
Still clinging onto father's neck, Salazar resolved never to put himself at anyone's mercy ever again. Ever.
Father arched a hard eyebrow and gave Salazar's captors, then the crowd around them, a sweeping, searching glance. "The conventional penalty for attempts on the life of a lord's heir is death."
At this point, Andrew and his friend fell to their knees. "Please, Lord Slytherin! It's the first time we've joined a witchhunt, and we got… got carried away! Have mercy! Please!"
But father ignored them. Instead, he whirled around to face the group of muggles who had been following him, and who were now looking decidedly uncomfortable. "And you! How many other children do you plan to burn because they are frightened of you? How can you ascertain their guilt? How do you know if some jealous men had not thrown a young woman in that cage in a drunken rage, for rejecting their advances? How do you know if a stepmother had not declared her husband's oldest child a devilspawn, to increase her own child's inheritance? How would you know if what you call 'suspicious', is but mere coincidences?" By now, the soldiers among the villagers had finally succeeded in ushering everyone to freeze, at Lord Slytherin's orders. "Look to your sons. Look to your daughters. Where are they?"
A good many torch-wielding muggles actually started to look around, half fearing to find their children in the grasps of one of their accomplices.
"Open the cage. Let the people go. From this point on, those who kill anyone for 'witchcraft' without evidence approved by myself shall be charged with murder. Those two, decapitation at noon."
No one was surprised by the verdict.
And Salazar watched as the assembled crowd slowly shuffled off, as the people inside the cage scrambled out, and as Salazar's captors were locked inside in their place. Some of them knelt and thanked father profusely, saying that God knew they were innocent and must've sent him to save them, while others darted away with their children as soon as they humanly could. Those were the real witches and wizards, Salazar realized.
And father took Salazar to a shadowed, secluded corner of the square, where they sat and waited for noon.
"I've been looking for the opportunity to say that for a very long time. One could almost say those two did us a favour," Father muttered, staring hard at the wooden cage. "Almost."
Salazar understood. Father had tried to talk the muggles into reconsidering the burnings in the past, but to give an order of this magnitude was another matter. If father appeared too sympathetic with the accused "devilspawns", the lynch mob would be at their castle door in no time.
"It was a mistake to bring you here today. Normally they do this in the middle of the night on a solstice, but something occurred that made them reschedule. I'm glad you're safe."
Salazar nodded, and leaned closer into his father's chest.
"Do those young men have to die?" asked mother.
"I would've liked to let them live, but unfortunately in their desperation they've become insistent that they're right. I saw it in their minds. Even if they saw nothing, they will have convinced themselves before long that perhaps they glimpsed the torch flare, or perhaps the wind suddenly began to blow harder, or that perhaps Salazar muttered something suspicious under his breath, or some other nonsense. We cannot have that," father's silver eyes blazed. "And they brought this onto themssselves. An eye for an eye,"
Mother gently touched his shoulders. "Careful, Solomon, you're doing it again."
"Ah, sorry. My apologies." Father took a deep breath, visibly calming himself. Salazar knew that he must be unprecedentedly infuriated, to nearly lapse into parseltongue twice in the same hour. Had father not gotten to him in time…
"Father," Salazar realized something, "We can't really make them stop, can we?"
"Unfortunately not, Salazar. I can discredit their evidence. I can discredit their witnesses. I might even be able to buy people some time to escape. But if a child is caught performing obvious magic…we won't be able to free them from that cage again. If only there is a way to find them before the muggles do, and teach them to take care of themselves, we would be able to end this for ever."
Perhaps because blood was still rushing in his ears, or perhaps because of the shock, Salazar was content to sit silently on father's lap and let that thought wash over him like rhythmic, lapping waves.
'To find the other witches and wizards before the muggles do, and then teach them,'
Yes, if only…
A.N.: Haha these have relatively little plot, so there's nothing to compensate for my weakness in descriptive writing anymore. Sorry if I disappoint you guys.
I'd originally wanted to have this as a flash back when Sal was lying in the hospital (and then relate it to being dependent on one's parents), but it just didn't work out.