Chapter 26 Epilogue – A Promise Kept

Hogwarts

Harry Potter sighed as he placed the ancient book back in its place on the shelves. It was times like this that he wished he could take the books out of Salazar's private study in the Chamber of Secrets but the stasis charm within the room maintained the ancient books and if they left the room they would all but disintegrate. He was tired and would have preferred to do this research in his office or in his quarters as he had gotten very little sleep the previous night due to his toddler son's dislike of sleeping when it was dark out. He felt old and just a bit creaky despite the fact that he wasn't yet thirty.

"I could bite the horrible little human," his king cobra Set, named for the Egyptian god, offered gleefully. Shiva had insisted on gifting Harry one of her offspring a little over ten years ago and unfortunately for him, the one that chosen him was the most annoying snake of the bunch.

"We have talked about this, Set. If you harm my children, I will give you to Severus so he can use you for potions ingredients."

"For a 'Royal' snake, you have a remarkably poor ability to remember very simple things." Harry's youngest snake, Lulu (named by his five-year-old daughter who had inherited his Parseltongue gift) was an adder and loved to poke fun at the self-important cobra. Lulu was actually bonded to his daughter Iris, but he refused to allow a five-year-old to control a venomous snake, even if it was a common breed in their homeland and the snake was extremely protective of the precocious little girl.

"Enough," Harry sighed before any of the others could join in. "I am too tired to deal with your bickering. One would think that serpents of such renown would act less like dunderheads."

Harry had collected quite a few snakes over the years. The first, of course, was Rhiannon the Basilisk but she had told Harry that she wanted some company for when Harry was in class. Rhiannon had spent the entirety of her life with her mother and did not like being alone in the chamber. Because Harry could not spend all his time there, she had asked him if he would acquire another snake to keep her company. That was where his boomslang Zulu came in. Zulu was from Africa, captured because he was magical, and was lucky that Harry had walked into the magical menagerie when he did. Harry and the snake had already bonded when another man, intending to use him for potions ingredients, tried to buy him. Even if Sirius wasn't a dark man, he still had the Black reputation at his back, so the man quickly relented.

After Zulu, came Nefertiti, the Egyptian Asp, or more commonly known as the Egyptian Cobra. Nefertiti was just as headstrong and proud as Shiva had been and was the only reason that Harry was able to keep Set under control despite his Parseltongue abilities. Nefertiti had instantly loved Harry's children while Set had not. Nefertiti was four years older that the king cobra so Set was forced to bow to her authority.

Harry had also saved a blood red bush viper from traders while in Egypt visiting Bill Weasley one year. The bush viper had insisted on joining him because he was a speaker and was owed a debt for saving the viper's life. Apparently, when you saved a viper, they served you until they repaid the life debt. Scarlet was fiercely protective of Harry's family.

He lowered his hand down to the desk so the Lulu could climb up his arm to rest on his shoulder. She was currently the smallest of his snakes so it took her a great deal of time to travel the tunnels. Harry also stooped and picked up Scarlet. Vipers were typically smaller than cobras and Scarlet was young enough that she wasn't near average size for a magical viper. She preferred to ride in his pockets. The other three, Zulu, Nefertiti and Set were far too dignified to require assistance.

"Rhiannon," Harry called as he stepped into the tunnel, "We are headed back up to the office. If you need anything send Rikki and I will come." The last of his collection of snakes was Rikki, the green anaconda. Rikki was already over three hundred pounds, and because of her magic, she was only going to continue to grow. She had come to Harry through Luna. Luna had found the fifty-six-year-old snake in the jungles of Africa. She had been injured in a trap but ate anyone who came near her. Luna had somehow managed to get Rikki to understand that she knew a speaker and the rest was history.

As always, Rhiannon did not answer. Theirs was a bond that did not need words. He could feel her acceptance and her desire for him to come back and bring the children. Rhiannon felt his kids were her own. Harry was her nest mate, his children her hatchlings.

Harry had kept his promise to Hebe.

His time at school had been much changed after the ancient basilisk had died. The very afternoon she died there was an incident that showed Harry's very unique connection to the school and their combined dedication to work toward saving those who needed them most.

Severus Snape walked into the Great Hall a little late for lunch that day. Harry like many of the students, had heard the door open and turned to see who was late in arriving. The potions master had visibly scanned the hall, his eyes traveling down each table as though taking role of all students and ensuring no one new was missing.

Harry Potter turned in his seat, smiling at the Potions master as he neared where he was sitting. He had opened his mouth to ask if Severus needed any help with brewing when he felt it. The castle and Rhiannon wept when Hebe breathed her last breath and that feeling ran through Harry as well. He had felt the tears welling in his eyes, sorrow overwhelming him at the knowledge that she was gone. Harry would miss her for the rest of his days despite the shortness of their time together.

The potions master had leaned toward him, visibly concerned, most likely due to the tears that started to stream down Harry's face. Before he could say anything though he had gasped in pain, gripped his arm, and folded himself around that arm as if to shield it.

Before he even realized what he was doing, Harry was at the potion master's side, pushing Severus's hand away from his arm, away from the brand under his sleeve. His attention was completely on the professor, eye to eye.

"You must make a choice, with no time to think," Harry spoke, completely unsure where the words were coming from. "The shade drains the magic of those who would follow him in a desperate effort to cheat death. He will not succeed in this endeavor, but he will continue to try until there is nothing left to drain. Should he drain you, the chance of life is slim, should you survive, you will have no magic left within you." The young boy could tell his voice was not truly his own; there was something there that spoke of ancient wisdom and power. Something else was speaking through him. "Hogwarts can save your life and magic but requires a promise, a vow. A promise to serve her and the students she is duty-bound to protect. A vow to continue your service for as long as you are physically able. Will you serve Hogwarts? Or will you choose to let fate decide whether you live or die?"

"I will serve," Severus Snape managed to gasp out as his knees nearly gave out beneath him, conceivably due to immense pain.

There was a flash of light and time seemed to stand still.

Unknown to him, Harry's eyes glowed bright with power and ageless knowledge.

Harry felt the pain stop spreading through his professor. What once was drowned in pain was now bathed in a comfortable warmth.

Darkness that had clung to the potions master without his knowledge cleared for the first time, leaving him lighter than he had been since he was a student himself.

The pair had looked at each other for a moment before both of them collapsed.

Neither of them had been out for long after collapsing that day. Madam Pomfrey had inspected them there and claimed they were fine, just recovering from the shock of higher magics using them and then leaving them.

That day marked the start of a new life for magical Britain. Purebloods around the British Isles, and a few on the continent, had either died or lost their magic. A large number of Slytherin students lost at least one family member when the Dark Lord officially died, a handful of other students lost family as well. Some were lucky enough that their father or mother just lost their magic, Lucius Malfoy for one had survived the drain, most were not so fortunate. Theo Nott, Greg Goyle and Pansy Parkinson had all lost their fathers. Millicent Bulstrode and Vincent Crabbe had lost both of their parents.

All the death eaters in Azkaban had died from the shock of the loss of their magic combined with the poor conditions that living with the Dementors created.

Wizarding Britain was in chaos in the weeks following the drain. Many of the most influential men and women in the country were either dead or without magic. As per their own laws, those once powerful individuals now had as much power as a cat, deemed only slightly above a house elf or a muggle. For those fighting for equality and revision, this was a lucky occurrence. With those most entrenched in the pureblood movement effectively silenced, they were able to work toward a more equal society. At the very least, they were able to make it impossible for purebloods to avoid questioning just because of their blood status. Additionally, Minister Cornelius Fudge lost all his bluster. The man was incapable of coming up with his own ideas so he became nothing more than a figure head listening to the department heads at the ministry; luckily for the people of magical Britain, Amelia Bones scared him more than anyone else so he was incapable of doing anything illegal. He did not win when he ran for reelection and was replaced by former Auror Rufus Scrimgeour.

Harry had been quick to reassure everyone that the basilisk was no longer a threat, going so far as to show some of the professors and Aurors the body of the enormous creature. Seeing that alone had allowed the rest of the adults to breathe a sigh of relief.

Not wanting the body to go to waste, Harry and Rhiannon had offered some of Hebe's body to potions research. Severus had been thrilled to receive some basilisk parts for his brewing, including venom and parts of organs. He and Remus had taken Harry aside to ask more about his experience and it was during this conversation that the continued life of the young basilisk was revealed. Learning of her abilities and her devotion to Harry allowed them to keep the serpents secret.

During summer break Minerva, with Hogwarts insistence, had hired Gringotts ward masters to examine and fix the school's wards. It seemed the centuries of headmasters altering the ward scheme had damaged it, leaving a lot of holes, which is why Voldemort was able to do all he had done. They had also discovered a curse on the office of the defense professor, which was the main reason that they never lasted more than a year. With the curse removed, Remus was allowed to continue to teach at Hogwarts and still did.

There hadn't been any drama at the school after that; well, no life-threatening drama, where teenagers were, emotional drama ensued. Harry and his friends continued to be absurdly mature, dedicated students throughout their schooling. All but Blaise ended up becoming Prefects in their fifth year; there really wasn't anyone else the professors could have chosen. When they were seventh years, the staff decided to choose Harry and Daphne to become Head Boy and Girl. They had admitted to Harry that they had honestly tried not to choose him as head boy because of the Heir thing, but they agreed that he deserved it more than any other boy in the school. Their choice of Daphne as his counterpart was because Hermione still struggled with stress and forgot to relax from time to time; she did not need the additional responsibilities of Head Girl added to her plate.

After school Hermione had ended up working for the ministry for a few years before deciding that she absolutely hated the politics that ruled there despite the changes since the drain. When Minerva McGonagall decided that she would like to retire, she approached Hermione about taking over the position. Hermione had studied under her for a few years, getting her Mastery and training as a teacher. She had taken over full time only a year before and was doing a wonderful job. Minerva visited the castle once a month to give instruction to approved individuals who wanted to attempt the animagus transformation. On a personal front, Hermione had ended up marrying Cedric Diggory. While she had found him attractive even at an early age, what endeared him to her most was his kindness. They had started dating after his very public breakup with Cho Change; Hermione had been in the room when Cho had publicly admitted that she had been cheating on him and he was too stupid to notice. Cho had yet to marry but Cedric and Hermione were going strong and both doted on their two-year-old daughter Rose. The fact that Hermione was pregnant with their second irritated Cho to no end.

Filius was still teaching and had become the deputy headmaster. He had passed on his position as head of Ravenclaw to Septima Vector when he took the deputy post five years ago.

Professor Sprout was in the process of retiring and was finishing up her training with Neville Longbottom. Neville, being the Herbology prodigy that he was, had stayed at Hogwarts directly after graduation to attain his mastery. He had started teaching the first and second years after two years of study and had slowly been taking over more and more of the teaching. Professor Sprout had been reluctant to retire, which is why it had taken so long. The only class Neville wasn't teaching this year was fifth year. Pomona Sprout would probably talk Harry into allowing her to stay on for a year or two just to work in the green houses and offer her services as a tutor when she finally did decide to retire from teaching.

Hannah had changed slowly after the chamber incident. By the end of their time at Hogwarts she was a constant in their group. She and Neville started dating in fifth year and had married over the Yule holiday the year after they left Hogwarts. Three years ago, she bought the Leaky Cauldron and had turned it into something more than just a seedy pub. They had two children, a boy and girl. Frank was six, while Alice was three.

Susan, like she had always wanted, had joined the DMLE and was quickly rising up the ranks. Rumor was that she was a shoo-in for the position of head in a few years' time. She had married Dean Thomas three years ago after a five-year courtship. The muggleborn boy had a bit of a crisis of faith after the chamber incident. As the years went by, he spent less time with Seamus and Ron and more time with Neville and Harry, finding that he appreciated their ability to buckled down when needed but still knowing how to have fun over Ron and Seamus's desire to have fun all the time and study the night before tests. Dean became an Auror and had no problem working for his wife.

Unsurprisingly, Luna had become a magi-zoologist. She traveled the world with her husband Rolf Scamander.

Fred and George had an equally obvious career path. When they graduated Hogwarts, completing their NEWTs with 5 a piece, all at least EE but most of them Os, they opened a joke shop. Sirius and Harry had put money down for the endeavor as silent partners, and were reaping the benefits. Weasley's Wizard Wheezes had put Zonko's out of business in less than six months and they had opened four additional stores since. There were two in Britain, Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. Two in America, the magical portion of the French Quarter in Louisiana and in California. The last was in Italy. Rumor was that France would be the next store opening, probably just in time for Holiday shopping. Fred had married Angelina, while George had married an American witch, one with connections in Louisiana.

Draco had become a healer. This had surprised a great many people but had not surprised his friends. The Slytherin had started searching careers with an eye out for occupations that helped people as opposed to oppressing them like his father had done. He hoped that one day people would not think of the Malfoy family as pureblood bigots. Healing was the answer to that and thankfully, he loved it. He had eventually opened his own practice, with his wife and partner, Nicole. Nicole was an American muggleborn witch who had gone through healer training with him. His parents had threatened to disown him, but his mother eventually came around, after their first children was born. Draco brewed all the potions for the practice, having studied for his potions mastery with Professor Snape before going into the healer program. Draco and Nicole had the most children of their group. Nicole was a triplet and to Draco's surprise and terror, they had triplets first. Abigail, Hailey and Sophie Malfoy were five. Their younger brothers, Liam and Caleb, were both one.

Blaise ended up buying the Balley Castle Bats. They went through a string of bad luck, their record for five years straight was worse than the cannons, so Blaise made an offer the owner could not refuse. The Italian worked closely with the coach, shelling out a lot of extra money from his own pocket to entice players to his team. Under the leadership of their captain, Oliver Wood, they managed to win the league after only two years of Blaise's owner ship. Beyond that, Blaise invested. He had a gift for finding up and coming business and giving them just enough advice and support that they flourished. Blaise was essentially the new Lucius Malfoy of magical Britain, except he had morals. Blaise was the only member of their group that remained unmarried.

Harry had decided to study both Runes and Defense directly after school. He studied those with Remus and Bathsheda, achieving masteries in both subjects in record time. After that, he had gone to study with Gringotts warders to attain a mastery in warding. It was after that, at twenty-three, he returned to Hogwarts to learn what it meant to be a professor and headmaster. Harry ended up teaching NEWT level defense and third year Runes to begin with, under the guidance of the professors of course. Minerva and Hogwarts gave him lessons on running the school between classes. He had taken over as headmaster just over three years ago but still continued to teach at least two classes a year, and acted as a sub, to stay more connected to the students. At twenty-six, he took over officially as headmaster and was the youngest headmaster in history.

Daphne and Harry had married when they were twenty. They had three children and had agreed that three was enough. First was their son, Alexander James Potter, had just turned six but despite his young age, he absorbed books. Iris Lily was five and was far too mischievous for someone so cute. Charles Evan was two and was apparently against sleeping at night. Daphne had gone into healing like Draco but with a different goal in mind. She had decided that she would one day take over for Madam Pomfrey so she could work with the man she loved. Poppy had not yet retired but she was scaling back; the more time Daphne spent in the hospital wing, the more time Poppy spent spoiling Harry and Daphne's kids.

Harry sighed when he found his office occupied. He had an open-door policy but most left when they found the office empty. The only exceptions were his wife and Severus Snape. More often than not, it was not his wife lounging in one of his office chairs when he returned to his office.

Severus was an odd case. The death of Voldemort's shade had caused quite a few problems for the man. Because of his bond to Hogwarts he could not leave his position as professor. Harry knew that teaching had never been his ultimate goal, so he had been working with Bathsheda and Septima to see if it was possible to remove the mark. Sometimes he considered dropping his research because the potions master loved to irritate him.

"Is that a carpet python?" Harry asked the older man when he spotted a yellow and black snake slithering around the floor while his daughter laughed, delighted by the whole thing.

"It is. I believe it is called the jaguar carpet python."

Harry felt his eye twitch. "And why is it in my office, slithering around my daughter, who, if I am not mistaken, is small enough for the snake to eat?"

Severus smirked, "You know very well that no snake would ever eat her, she is a speaker after all."

"While that may be true," Harry agreed, depositing Lulu on his desk and placing Scarlet on the top shelf of the closest bookshelf, her favorite spot, "that does not answer the question of where he came from."

"One of my contacts discovered him in a shipment of potions ingredients. Knowing that it is illegal to not only transport but sell African magical snakes, he called on me. The rest is history."

This was true. African countries did not like their magical snakes leaving the continent. Even stranger though, they did not want them back if the did leave the country. Bill was able to get enough out of a man in Egypt to ascertain that they thought any snake who left mother African was somehow tainted or something like that. Harry rubbed his face tiredly, "So you're saying that I have to explain to Daphne that I have adopted yet another dangerous, magical snake, and this one is big enough to eat two of my children?"

"Precisely."

Harry crouched down and picked his daughter up, causing her to squeal, "Did you name the snake, munchkin?"

"No, daddy," she grinned at him, wrapping her little arms around his neck. Iris was all Daphne. White blonde hair, ice blue eyes and she could melt his heart when she smiled. "He told me his name is Shango."

"Greetings Shango," Harry hissed quietly, "does your name mean anything specific?"

"I was named for the god of Thunder in my homeland."

"Of course, it would be another god," Harry muttered under his breath in English. "You are welcome to stay as long as you can get along with all of the others. I will warn you; Set irritates just about everyone and Nefertiti does not answer to anyone but Rhiannon and myself." He sat in his chair, placing Iris on his knee. "Oh, and if you hurt my kids, I will make you into a very nice pair of shoes for my wife, maybe even a purse, and allow Severus to harvest the rest of your body for potions ingredients."

"I agree to your terms, speaker. Word of your greatness has reached far and wide and I am honored to be housed with you and the queen. The little speaker is quite amusing and I would not dream of harming one of your blood." His large head swung around the room, taking in the other snakes and they introduced themselves one by one. "Honorable bloodlines. Many are young yet and their youth makes them prone to haughty attitudes, this will not bother me."

"Rhiannon, the queen resides under the school and with her is Rikki, a green anaconda. Rikki is nearing sixty years and is not prone to childishness. If you ever wish to join them, you can open the panel I entered the room with at any time."

"Thank you, Speaker Harry Potter."

A moment later, Shango had disappeared down the passageway, intent on introducing himself to the queen of snakes.

"Your mom is going to kill me," he whispered into his daughter's hair, causing her to giggle again. Harry looked up and over at his former teacher and friend. "Do you regret it, Severus?"

The older man blinked, "Do I regret what?"

"It was no secret that you never planned on teaching and that you dislike teaching. Do you regret making the vow to serve Hogwarts?"

Severus sighed and stood, starting to pace in front of Harry's desk. They had never actually discussed this before, both of them avoiding it. "I thought I might. In the moment all I wanted was to live, which was surprising enough, but eventually, I was grateful."

"I never wanted to trap you here, but I also didn't want you to die when I could do something to stop it. Hogwarts was in complete agreement with me on that."

"You said Hogwarts was sure I would live."

"While that is true, for you, to live without magic would be a death sentence."

That was true. Without magic, Severus could not brew the way he needed to. He would be able to brew the most basic of potions only. The ones that required magic, inventing, healing, all of that would be gone. "Despite tying me to the school, you have made it remarkably easy to endure. Hiring a second teacher was brilliant and allowed me to focus on students who don't irritate me every second of every day; I actually like teaching fifth through seventh year now. Not to mention it allows me to take on a mastery student or two if I find any I can tolerate. Allowing Aurora and I to share as head of Slytherin worked out even better. Harry," he smiled slightly, "had I not stayed on to continue teaching, I would not have met Anya."

Horace Slughorn had returned to teach the first through fourth year students for three years. During that time, Minerva and Horace looked for someone to replace him. That is where Anya came in. Anya Ivanov was a talented potions mistress from Russia who struggled to achieve much of anything simply because she was female. When she took the post, she had just turned twenty-eight and she was eager to please. The two had argued relentlessly for about three months before Severus kissed her out of sheer frustration. A kiss did not fix everything but they did stop fighting whenever they saw each other after that. Their courtship was long, they married two years after Harry and Daphne but their only child was born three months before Harry's oldest. Mikhail Snape, named after Anya's father, loved potions just as much as his parents and spent a great deal of time with Alex Potter and Frank Longbottom.

"Hogwarts is my home, Harry. Why do you ask now, after so many years?"

"I think I could do it," Harry admitted. "I think I could break your tie to the school and allow you to have another career without killing you in the process. I have been working with Septima and Bathsheda on the theory. Draco found some notes hidden away in a chest in his family vault that talked about the creation of the Dark Mark. The fact that I am a Parselmouth looks like it is the key to reversing the consequences of breaking the vow and would allow me to remove it entirely."

The potions master pushed his sleeve back and looked at his changed tattoo. He no longer sported the disturbing snake and skull on his arm; instead, the Hogwarts crest covered his forearm. "While I appreciate the thought, I do not see the point in taking the chance when I have no desire to leave."

Harry nodded slowly, "If that ever changes, let me know. Hogwarts and I don't want to keep you prisoner here. The school just didn't see any other way to keep you whole when she tied you to her. Had there been more time, we may have been able to change the agreement."

"You have nothing to worry about in that department, Harry." He surveyed the office, smirking at all the snakes draped on the furniture. "The snakes, however, may get you killed one day."

"And who's fault is that?" Harry rolled his eyes. "The only snake I purposely acquired was Zulu, long before Daphne and I got together. I blame you, Bill and Luna for the rest of them."

"As do I," Daphne said from the doorway, Charlie on her hip.

"I didn't do it!" Harry said quickly.

"Oh, I know," Daphne shook her head with a smirk. "Severus let me know about the carpet python before he came up here." She set the toddler down, and he instantly made his wobbly way over to Severus, "At least this one didn't bond with our daughter." Daphne snatched Iris from his arms and spun her, "Are you ready to hang out with your grandparents?"

The two Potter children in the room cheered. Charlie wiggled, announcing that he wanted to be put down again, despite just being picked up by the potions master, and raced back to Daphne as fast as his chubby little legs would carry him. Daphne put Iris down and scooped the little boy up. "I'll be back after I drop the little demons off with my parents, alright?"

Harry nodded, "I've some paperwork to finish; I'll be here when you get back."

Severus walked toward the door, scooping Iris up and depositing her on his shoulders, "I will walk down to the green houses with you," they all knew that Alex and Frank were with Neville, his own son was probably there as well. "Perhaps I will find another snake on the way," he smirked at Harry over his shoulder, causing the younger man to roll his eyes.

His kids loved Daphne's parents. Daphne's parents and Sirius took great pleasure in having the kids for sleepovers. Because of this, Harry and Daphne got two weekends a month with no children, as long as you didn't count the students. Sirius got one weekend, while Daphne's parents got the other.

Sirius had not married. He remained devoted to being Harry's godfather and running the Black family. Eventually, he planned to train one of Harry's kids to run the family since Harry had his hands full with Hogwarts.

Instead of getting to paperwork that one of the teachers had oh so lovingly left on his desk, he turned his attention to the portraits of those who served before him. They had been helpful to him over the years and had started helping him long before he took the position. In fact, they had insisted on speaking with him monthly at least while he was still a student. They didn't help with schoolwork or give him ideas about what to change, instead they wanted to know about the world outside.

Most of the previous headmasters were purebloods and had never spent time outside the world of magic. The earliest headmasters may have lived among non-magical people because the statute hadn't been written yet but that was long ago and the world was entirely different, alien in comparison. They thought it was best to understand the changes and differences so that one day they could better advise him in the future. In truth, telling them about the muggle world showed him a few things that could be improved at the school. Some of those things he discussed with Minerva and they applied before he had graduated. As he grew older, the portraits did start suggesting things.

Each and every former headmaster had an idea about what he should study after graduating. Most leaned toward potions or transfiguration. When he said he wanted to study Defense and Runes to then study warding they had conceded that he had a good enough plan. Vindictus still insisted that he become a potions master.

Harry scanned the wall, his eyes fixing on a man with long white hair in the top left corner. He was the one Headmaster that never spoke. There were a few others who rarely said anything but this one had never said anything to Harry or any other Headmaster; he had asked. It took him a while to figure out who it was and now was the time to confront him and a few others.

"Vindictus," his gaze returned to the most sarcastic and vocal portrait. "Has anyone ever figured out who you really are?"

The man who everyone assumed was Vindictus Veridian simply raised an eyebrow.

"Who he really is?" Dippet questioned.

"Yes, I know he isn't Headmaster Veridian. I looked it up and he looks nothing like the potions master." Harry had been looking for the silent man in the corner and found him in a book listing former headmasters. He was not where Harry expected. The white-haired silent man in the corner was actually listed as Vindictus Veridian. Not trusting the source, Harry had scoured other sources and each time the picture of Veridian match the silent man, not the overly opinionated, sarcastic, loudmouth that insulted everyone. "Vindictus is the portrait up in the corner, the one none of you seem to know."

"You've found me out," said portrait yawned. "This has been fun, but I am enjoying my century of napping." He promptly went back to sleep.

All heads turned to the portrait formerly known as Vindictus. One man, his beard was wild, and his hair resembled a lion's man, laughed. "It seems the jig is up my friend." He had previously identified himself as Fytherley Undercliffe, this was also false.

'Vindictus' rolled his eyes, "Must you be so obnoxious, Ric?"

"Here they go again," a dark-haired woman with glasses sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose.

Another woman giggled. "I do so enjoy them like this."

The two women had previously been known as Phyllida Spore and Heliotrope Wilkins respectively.

"I am getting the impression that those four are not who they claim to be," Phineas stroked his bearded chin thoughtfully.

"You are correct, Phineas." Harry grinned. His eyes went from one to the other in succession. "You see, I found a painting, not animated mind you, down Salazar Slytherin's office. The office in the Chamber of Secrets." Harry could have laughed at the expression that crossed the sarcastic man's face. "It was well hidden, which is why I didn't find it until a few days ago."

"Where did you find it?" Phineas asked, very interested.

"In a secret room hidden behind a bookshelf." Harry did laugh then. "If I wasn't fairly certain this was the first instance of creating a hidden door that opened when you lifted the correct book on a bookshelf, I would say this was entirely too cliché. Instead, I will say that you may have inspired a number of spy films." Most had at least some idea of what a film was, he had tried to describe them as best he could. "The subjects of this painting appear to be the founders; or at least that is what the title plate on the frame says. 'The Founders of Hogwarts.'"

"Are you trying to tell me," Dippet gulped, "That the man who insulted me constantly during my tenure as headmaster, was not Vindictus Veridian but was in fact, Salazar Slytherin?"

"I am indeed."

"And that would make the other three," Phineas waved his hand to indicate the three that had spoken earlier, "Godric Gryffindor, Rowena Ravenclaw and Helga Hufflepuff."

"Congratulations, my boy," Godric boomed, "You are the first to discover us!"

"He had an unfair advantage, of course," Rowena added. "Unlike the rest of them, he had access to Salazar's hidden chambers."

"I knew it would be him," Helga beamed. "He is of your house, Rowena, and a true example of your ideals at that. He strives for knowledge but not at the expense of experiences. Though I think the best reason it is him is that he would have done well in any house; I dare say there would have been quite the fight over him had he been a student when we were running things."

"Who else would have figured us out?" Salazar asked, sounding rather bored. "He is my heir after all. He is the one I said would come to bring Hogwarts out of the darkness and bring it back to what we always wanted it to be. He is my heir in magic, and heart."

"But he is my heir by blood," Godric interjected. This was true. Harry had managed to trace is line back and one of Godric's granddaughters married into the Peverell family, a family that eventually led to the Potters.

"How is it that no one has discovered this previously?" Dippet wondered. "Wouldn't the headmaster proceeding you took know that your identities were false?"

Rowena shrugged, "Phyllida, Fytherley and Heliotrope never had their portraits painted or enchanted so they could not grace the walls, so the castle helped us convince everyone that those were our identities. She even allowed us to alter the perception of the few who came before, so they didn't realize that we had already been hanging here."

"Vindictus hates people," Salazar added, "I am not sure why he decided to teach or become headmaster, but he asked that he be allowed to remain silent and not advise future headmasters. It was easy to convince him to allow me to use his name."

"I am guessing the fact that you are a founder is why little Albie couldn't shut you up?" Phineas asked, sounding extremely jealous. They did not speak of Albus Dumbledore often. He had disappeared not long after being barred from Hogwarts. His reputation in the wizarding world had been tarnished beyond belief resulting in him losing his positions worldwide. No one had seen him in over ten years. The last time harry had seen him was when he was eighteen. Albus had insisted that he had to sacrifice himself or Voldemort would take over his body and then rule the world. It was too bad the headmaster hadn't realized that they had removed Voldemort's taint from his scar when he was twelve.

"It is indeed," Rowena answered for the founder of Slytherin house. "Albus was actually incapable of quieting any of the four of us, Salazar was just the only one to make that fact known."

"If the four of you were here," Dippet wondered, "why did Albus get away with so much? And why did young Tom not get caught back when he first opened the chamber?"

"I will answer the first," Godric insisted. "Our portraits were meant as a failsafe for a case like Albus Dumbledore. The problem was the wards by that point were so muddied with changes made over the years that we had lost our connection to the safety measures we wrote into the original wards. We tried to get rid of him but could not. The only reason we were able to in the end was because Hogwarts had identified Harry as our Heir, partially clearing our connection."

"As for Tom and my Chamber, I was also bound by the wards and a promise. We are actually not allowed to tell our identities to the headmasters, the only way for a headmaster to know is for them to find the secret on their own. It was my idea and I regret it because of Tom. I had hoped that by not identifying ourselves, we would not be tempted to force change on the school that would not work for the times. Like with Albus, my connection to the wards was nearly cut so that I could not act."

"We all agreed, Salazar." Helga spoke softly. "When he commissioned our portraits, we were already revered as legends. Many sought us out for advice on their troubles. It came to the point that we were asked about things that should not need advice. We did not think that trend would lessen with time."

"While we planned to help when needed, we expected and wanted future headmasters to lead the school as the world changed. What worked for us would not work now," Rowena continued.

"Certainly not," Godric laughed, "I doubt swords would be welcome in a defense class, let alone expected these days."

Harry's eyes widened with an expression of dread, "Oh Merlin, I just got an image of Conrad Hinkley with a sword." He shuddered thinking of the clumsy twelve-year-old that managed to curse himself on an almost daily basis. "Someone would lose a limb in the first ten minutes of class. And actually, I am fairly certain Draco and Ron would have killed each other within a week our first year here."

Hedwig flew through the window at that moment, a letter on her leg. Harry smiled at her, stroking her soft feathers as he detached the letter from around her leg. She was getting older, but she was still the best owl in the world.

"Are you going to abandon our conversation for an owl?" Salazar asked with some disgust.

"Yes," Harry said simply, Hedwig puffed up her chest in pleasure as he continued to bathe her in attention. "Hedwig has been a friend and protector most of my life; she deserves my full attention."

"I like his dedication to his owl," Rowena smirked, "it shows true intelligence."

Harry chuckled as Hedwig flapped over to her perch. "Thanks, girl." Spying the handwriting a smile spread across Harry's face.

Harry,

How are things at Hogwarts? How are my grandkids? When can you come visit?

I miss you, my Harry and wish we could spend more time together. Even though it has been years since you lived with us, it still feels strange not fixing breakfast with you or working with you in the garden. I actually turned around while cooking the bacon this morning (I know Vernon is on a diet, but he only gets two slices every few days) expecting you to be sitting at the table reading a book. The house seems so lonely without you and Dudley around every day.

Vernon is still beyond irritated that he is on a diet. His doctor continues to argue that his previous diet will only cause another heart attack. I am so grateful that he survived that and still can't thank you enough for being there. He has lost a little weight, but he has been very vocal about his displeasure.

Oh, so you know, Beans passed away three days ago. Dudley is devastated. Daisy and Robby are almost as crushed as their father. Monica is trying to convince them that it was her time, but the three won't listen to her. You and I both know that Beans was in pain due to age, the poor thing was nineteen after all. She spent most of the day sleeping and you could just here her groan when she got up. I know Dudley will eventually come around but right now he is not handling it well.

Don't forget, Robby's birthday party is next weekend. Dudley will hunt you down if you aren't there! Robby wants you to know that he wants a dragon, not a toy dragon but a real dragon. Daisy, though it is not her birthday for another five months, would like to request a unicorn for her birthday. Monica insists I remind you that they do not need live animals as Robby is only turning five and Daisy is seven.

One thing I do have to mention, Marge's funeral will be Sunday. I know she hated you and treated you horribly, but I thought you should know. Dudley is going but Monica and the kids aren't (you know Monica and Marge hated each other). I am going to support Vernon and Dudley, though I don't really think this will affect Dudley. If you do decide to come to anything, we are holding a small wake at the house. I don't expect many people to come so it might just be us.

I have to get going. Marge had very few friends, so I am planning everything for Vernon. I am sure she is gloating from her grave, laughing at the fact that I am still waiting on her hand and foot. The woman had some really ridiculous plans for her wake.

Send me patience,

Love

Aunt Petunia

Harry couldn't help the chuckle that bubble in his chest at the last line; Marge Dursley really did get under his aunt's skin. He did feel bad for Vernon, the man had always loved his sister, so Harry probably would force himself to make an appearance at the wake, even if it was a kid free weekend he would have preferred to spend with his wife.

Going to the wake would also give him an opportunity to check in on Dudley. His cousin had never handled loss well. It would be worse due to his attachment to Beans.

"Do you think he chuckles to himself when he reads all his correspondence?" Phineas Black asked, purposely speaking loudly.

"Perhaps it is a sign of insanity?" Salazar mused.

"I am starting to see why everyone said you were annoying," Harry rolled his eyes. Salazar had been a lot tamer with him than the previous headmasters, many of them complained about it. That did not mean he wasn't snarky. "What made me chuckle is of no consequence," he set the letter down and turned to the portraits. "I just remembered something I have been meaning to ask you, Salazar."

"Oh?" he raised an eyebrow.

"How did you knock Dumbledore unconscious?"

All portraits turned to the sarcastic man.

"I was actually wondering that myself," Rowena agreed while Helga nodded.

"Yes," Godric added, "and can I do it too?"

A terrifyingly evil grin spread across the man's face as he began to laugh. The laugh started off small but build until he was all but cackling. If he had a visible body, he would be holding his stomach he was laughing so hard.

Salazar's maniacal laugh caused ice to run down Harry's spine, "I'm not going to like the answer to this," he muttered, steeling himself for what was to come.

When his laughter subsided, Salazar's portrait wiped tears from his eyes, "It was something I added in, something I planned as a failsafe for if a headmaster needed to be removed. When Harry was recognized as the heir, my connection to the castle was partially repaired, as I already said. I can do that whenever needed should there be no other option."

The portraits all seemed to relax, but Harry did not. He did not like the look in Salazar's eyes.

"Or if I fell like." He focused in on Harry, "Do you want to take a nap?"

When Daphne returned to the office after dropping off the kids, she found her husband slumped over his desk, fast asleep, while 'Vindictus Veridian' chuckled.


And there it is ladies and gentlemen. I hope you enjoyed this story. I will apologize for the delay, I ended up rewriting this epilogue chapter four times but still came back to the original format.

I will be coming back to this periodically to edit and adjust so the flow is better, I will not be changing anything major. I am aware this is not perfect, but then again, I am not a professional author.

Thank you all of the loyal readers who stuck with me. Thank you for the kind words and encouragement, it definitely helped get me through.

I will be working on my other ongoing story, A Different Professor. That story should finish at the end of Harry's forth year (and it is currently in May) so hopefully my muse will be kind and allow me to pound out the remaining chapters. After that, who knows which project I will tackle next.

Thank you all again,

Wolf