And here comes the sixteenth chapter, folks! Enjoy!

* Review Response:
Calypto, Darth-Vulturnus, FailedKeikaku, monkiepawn, and others, who think that Harry was off during the previous chapter. You might be right, but remember, what he had discovered. I really doubt that you would've been completely unfazed by the revelation that you are likely related to the worst terrorist of your country and the killer of your parents. And most people now hate you because of that. Once such shock wears off, Harry will be back to norm.
wahyubison, mwinter1, Wyrtha, rickyrules1998, Dzerx, magitech, The Sinful, KnowPein, geekymom, The Shadows Mistress, kent-jensen, ObsessedWithHPFanFic, richard333, Guest #1, Guest #2, DarkRavie, OldMasterMage, JPElles, thank you for your reviews, folks.
Gabriel Herrol, Vixen Uchiha, Guest #3, it's a mistake that evaded both myself and my 'beta' somehow. Has been fixed since then. Thank you for pointing it out.
The Richmaster, what has a poor crow done to deserve such a terrible fate?
mizzrazz72, this chapter should hold the answers.
setokayba2n, perhaps, one should really inform him about that.
monkiepawn, traumatic experiences are often a trigger to awakening some special powers, both in and out of 'verse. And what can more traumatic that being hit with the Killing Curse?
Harriverse, hehe.
ThunderSphinx, nope, sorry, but this Harry won't be on the Slytherin team. He likes flying, but has no interest in playing Quidditch.

* AN: Great thanks to my friend Remilia - The Scarlet Moon for his help in polishing this chapter.

Disclaimer: I DO NOT own "Harry Potter" franchise. No profit is being made. Same goes for any books, video games, anime or manga I may or may not use for ideas.

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A Year Too Soon
Chapter XVI: A Conversation with Salazar Slytherin

Having finished all of his homework by Saturday mid-afternoon, Harry chose to devote the rest of the day to finding a way to master his gift of parseltongue. He had come up with a few ideas, but none of them were all that great. The best one he managed to invent actually boiled down to him getting a bunch of snakes and talking to them until he somehow knew how to switch between speaking English and parseltongue at will… Yeah, not the greatest of ideas, but the young Potter decided to go with it anyway since he really couldn't think of anything better.

Thus, he found himself in need of live snakes. Or, at least, ones that could talk. And since he'd rather avoid going into the Forbidden Forest, Harry decided that he needed a spell of some sort that would let him summon a snake whenever he needed one. And so, he was off to the Hogwarts Library.

Madam Pince raised an eyebrow when he asked for books on inanimate-to-animate transfiguration and animal conjuration - apparently, she thought that those were a bit too advanced for a second-year student like him - but nevertheless gave him the books he requested. Thanking her for her help, Harry took the tomes and retired into the reading-room.

Finding the necessary spells turned out to be not at all hard. There actually was a spell specifically for summoning snakes, Serpensortia. Researching a couple of alternatives so that he had some fallback in case the Serpensortia spell turned out to be ill-suited for his idea for whatever reason took him a little longer, but by the dinner time Harry was pretty sure he had everything he needed to start working on his gift of parseltongue.

Harry peeked into the classroom he had appropriated as his personal hideout and Potions laboratory the previous year. It looked exactly like he remembered it to be, meaning that the rather-primitive wards he had set up were doing their job well and kept the people randomly wandering through the castle from finding this place. Good. Waving his wand to vanish the dust that has gathered over the past few months, the scion of House Potter plopped down on a sofa. A few seconds of gathering his thoughts later, he raised his wand again and tried the snake-summoning spell…

"Serpensortia!" Much to his surprise it worked perfectly right away and now there was a fairly-large, dirty-brown adder sitting in the middle of the room. The snake tasted the air with its forked tongue a couple of times, before turning its head towards its summoner.

"Stupid human, what have you summoned this one for?" It hissed.

"Hey!" Harry hissed indignantly, his pre-prepared greeting for the summoned serpent instantly forgotten. In response, the snake made something that could've been a bow.

"A speaker? Please forgive this one for its rudeness. How can this one be of an assistance to you?" It was quite fortunate that this snake held those who can speak parseltongue in esteem - otherwise, convincing it to help him master his gift would have been quite a task if its original 'greeting' was of any indication.

"I'm just learning how to speak in your language and needed someone to talk to." He explained. The adder flagged a little, apparently wishing it was summoned for another purpose. Still, it didn't ignore him or deny his request.

"Very well, speaker, this one is listening. What do you want to talk about?" And so Harry began conversing with the slithering reptile. And while he was doing that, he also tried his best to get a feeling of Magic that 'translated' whatever he wanted to say into parseltongue. He hoped that once he knew what this Magic felt was like, he might be able to invoke it - and, thus, speak the language of serpents - at will.

It took him a couple of days, but, eventually, Harry started to make some actual progress. At very least, he now could initiate conversations with the summoned snakes by himself and without needing to constantly keep the reptile in front of his eyes. And while he knew that he still had a long road ahead of him, the green-eyed wizard still believed that he had mastered his gift enough to move on to the step of his 'plan'. Which was learning to speak parseltongue to other people, eventually without any snakes involved.

Thankfully for him, Flora and Hestia were quite eager to help him there. And thus Harry brought them to his place the next afternoon.

"And here it is, my secret laboratory." Harry said dramatically as he showed the twins his hideout. There was a small pause, before he continued in a much more demure tone: "I know, it's not much, but..." The girls gave him a smile.

"Don't worry, Harry, it looks quite cozy." Hestia said. "You've done a great job renovating it." The young wizard responded with an embarrassed laugh.

"Anyway." He continued. "Shall we begin?" Once the girls nodded, Harry drew his wand and cast the summoning spell. In an instant, a large black snake appeared in front of him, startling the Flora and Hestia a little. "Ignore the girls." He ordered the reptile immediately, before it even had a chance do anything at all… Upon hearing his command, the snake turned its attention to him.

"As you wish, speaker." It finally hissed after a few moments.

"Wow, that was cool Harry." Flora said. Then, she added. "Still, hearing you hiss like that is a little creepy." Hestia nodded in hesitant agreement with her sister. The green-eyed wizard responded with an uneasy smile.

"Anyway." He spoke then, breaking the awkward silence that fell over the room. "Let's see if I can speak parseltongue when talking to you, shall we?" The Carrow twins nodded, eager to see the progress their friend has made in mastering his gift… Meanwhile, Harry closed his eyes and drew upon his Magic. "Am I speaking parseltongue now?" He asked hopefully. Though, by the time those words left his mouth, he could already tell that he didn't. The girls just confirmed his 'guess'.

"No, Harry." Hestia said. Letting out a small sigh, the green-eyed snake-speaker turned his attention to the summoned serpent.

"But I'm speaking the language right now, aren't I?" He asked the reptile.

"You do, speaker." The snake confirmed. Then, a moment later, it added: "Having some trouble introducing the other two-legged ones to the glory of the language, inept speaker?"

"Alright, one more time." Harry said, ignoring the reptile's witty remark for the moment. Falling silent for a few moments he concentrated hard on speaking parseltongue. Then, he tried again: "And what about now?" He asked.

"You are still speaking the language, speaker." The snake told him.

"You did it, Harry!" Hestia exclaimed, confirming that he indeed spoke parseltongue just now. The green-eyed wizard gave her and Flora a bright smile in response, happy that his hard work bore fruit. Still, he quietly acknowledged that he needed much more practice in using his gift, before he was ready to talk to Salazar Slytherin's portrait again. Oh well…

~/ *** \~

On Thursday morning, Harry received a missive from the DMLE. According to it, their investigation was progressing reasonably well and they've already caught the witch that sent him an envelope full of bubotuber pus. The young Potter wasn't sure he agreed with the punishment she was given - he felt that it wasn't serious enough - but it was still better than nothing. As for the authors of the cursed letters… Well, According to the same missive, the aurors were still trying to find them.

Suddenly, a commotion of some sort broke out at the Gryffindor table. Turning his attention away from the letter in his hands, Harry rose slightly out of his seat in hopes of having a better look at what was going on there. And what he saw didn't please him any: apparently, Malfoy thought that it was okay for him to pick on people from the other houses.

It was a bit hard to tell what exactly was happening from across the Great Hall, but to Harry it looked like Draco had taken something from the Longbottom heir and refused to return the object peacefully. And having being bullied like that more than a few times by Dudley and his gang throughout his days in the muggle primary school, Harry was silently cheering for the Gryffindors that rose to the defense of their housemate.

The situation at the Gryffindor table, however, was quickly spiralling out of control and it looked like a fight could break out at any moment now. Thankfully, Professor McGonagall intervened before it could come to that. She quickly made Malfoy return the object he had taken and then gave him a well-deserved dressing down - at very least, Draco was quite unhappy with whatever the Transfiguration Mistress said to him - before sending him and his two flunkies back to the Slytherin table.

There was no warm welcome waiting for him there, however. Harry in particular was giving him a glare full of contempt. And he wasn't the only one. Indeed, for one reason or another, the majority of Slytherins were less than happy with the Malfoy heir right now. And if Draco thought that his whining about the detention Professor McGonagall gave him being totally unfair would earn him his housemates' sympathy, he was sorely mistaken.

By the time afternoon rolled around, Harry had mostly put the morning incident out of his mind. That, however, changed when the sixth-year male prefect stomped into the Slytherin common room cursing Malfoy's name loudly. Against his better judgement, Harry decided to ask him what was going on.

"That motherfucking idiot…" The prefect hissed irately. "I swear, he must have slug shit for brains!" Taking a deep breath to calm down a little, he continued: "Madam Hooch told everyone to fucking stay on the ground while she took Longbottom to the Hospital wing. And what does the blond shitstain do? He takes the remembrall Longbottom lost and fucking flies to hide it in a tree. And, like the utter retard he is, gets caught by a bloody professor while in the act." As the prefect explained the situation to him, Harry felt anger, hot like fiery lava, rise within him.

"I hope he somehow gets to the common room in one piece." He said in a low, dangerous voice. "I'd like to have words with him." The prefect gave him a crooked smile.

"You do that, Potter." He said. "Just don't go too far - I'd rather not explain Lord Malfoy why I was looking the other way while his dear son was cursed like the little shitstain he is." The young parselmouth raised an eyebrow in surprise when he heard this: he remembered this prefect to be among those who fought against his policy last year. The older boy noticed his confusion. "Listen, Potter." He said. "I may not like you very much, but you give your everything to Slytherin, and I appreciate that… Malfoy, meanwhile, is just a spoiled little boy. He is yet to do anything to earn his place in this house."

"T-Thank you." Harry breathed out, not knowing what else to say. He was about to return to his seat and get back to doing his homework, when common room's door opened and one disgruntled Draco Malfoy tromped in, complaining loudly about the punishment he got for the stunt he did during the flying lesson as well as cursing Weasley for getting him caught. "Malfoy, a word if you will." Harry said as moved to stand in the blonde's path.

"Out of my way, Potter. I'm in no mood to deal with the likes of you right now." The said blond wizard said, glaring at the boy in front of him.

"I think, you misunderstood me, Malfoy." Harry pressed. "This wasn't a request. It was an order."

"I don't take orders from the likes of you. Now get out of my way!" And with that Draco tried to push past the 'obstacle' in front of him. The green-eyed parselmouth, however, didn't let him to.

"You're going to make an exception then." He hissed angrily as he gave the blonde a glare potent enough to root him to the floor. There was a bit of a pause, before Harry continued: "You've been bad, Malfoy. Your actions today have brought great shame to the house of Slytherin. Thieves and idiots are not the people who deserve a place in these sacred halls." Harry actually hated talking pompously like that, but the circumstances called for it, so...

"How… How dare you?! I'll…" Draco exploded, his hand going for his wand. His plan to curse the stupid half-blood bastard in front of him, however, had to be put on hold when he saw the glowing tip of Potter's wand appeared just an inch away from his forehead.

"I dare very well." Harry hissed in response.

"You can't hurt me, Potter." Draco proclaimed, doing his best to sound as confident as he could with a wand pointed between his eyes. "Your debt to the Noble House of Malfoy will not let you."

"So..." The young parselmouth said, giving him a rather terrifying smile. "Not only you are a thief and an idiotic bully, Malfoy, but a liar as well?" Before the terrified blonde could ask what he was talking about, Harry continued: "There are no outstanding debts between myself and the House Malfoy; that's what the letter with the seal of the Lord Malfoy - your father's seal - tells me."

"I…" Draco began, desperately trying to think of something that could save his hide.

"You what?" Harry interrupted him, still too angry to actually listen to what the blonde in front of him had to say. "Going to threaten me with your father? Or, perhaps, Professor Snape? I wonder, how thrilled they'll be to save your sorry ass from the mess you yourself created by being a thieving, lying, idiot…"

At this point, Draco became painfully aware of two things. One, Potter had him cornered and none of his usual ways to weasel out of trouble worked on him. And, two, the people in the Slytherin common room were not on his side. If anything, they were laughing at him.

"So…" Harry continued. "Are you going to think on the errors of your behavior yourself, Malfoy? Or, do you, perhaps, require some encouragement?" He asked, reminding the blonde of the fact that he still had a wand pointed between his eyes.

"Fine, you win, Potter. Now, get out of my way." Draco growled, reluctantly accepting his defeat, before stepping around Harry and quickly disappearing into the boys' dormitories. Letting out a sigh, the green-eyed parselmouth holstered his wand: for whatever reason, giving Malfoy the well-deserved dressing down didn't feel anywhere as good as he thought it would.

~/ *** \~

Another couple of days passed before Harry felt like he had mastered his gift of parseltongue enough to attempt another conversation with Salazar Slytherin's portrait. Even then, he'd rather do it without a big audience listening to every word he'd say. Thus, he waiting until most people retired for the night, before approaching the portrait.

"Good evening, M'Lord." Harry greeted the Hogwarts' Founder.

"Welcome back, young speaker." Salazar greeted him back. "I see, you've managed to greatly improve your skill in parseltongue since the last time we spoke." The green-eyed wizard gave him a nod of confirmation. "I imagine, you have quite a few questions you'd like to ask." The painting said next, receiving another nod from its interlocutor.

"I'd like to know more about my gift of parseltongue, sir. How do I have it?" Harry asked. "I know that neither my parents, nor my grandparents weren't speakers… Is it possible that parseltongue skipped a few generations before suddenly resurfacing in me?" The Lord Slytherin looked thoughtful for a couple of seconds, before replying:

"Yes, that is possible." After a moment, he added: "However, given what I have observed about you, I find that to be a rather unlikely possibility. In my experience, those born a parselmouth never have this much trouble mastering the gift. It is more likely that you, Mr. Potter, got it some other way."

"How so? I thought that parseltongue was a trait unique to the Ancient and Noble House of Slytherin." Harry asked, making the portrait let out a laugh.

"Only in England." Salazar replied. "There was a fairly large wizarding clan in the Buwayhid Emirates [1], the members of which too could speak parseltongue. One of them actually was my Master when I was learning the art of Alchemy. Then, there was a family of speakers that lived in Southern parts of the Umayyad Caliphate [2]. I've also heard rumors about several parselmouths living in Volga Bulgaria [3] and in Bana [4]. And, I'm sure, there were others as well."

"Oh." Was all that Harry could say in response to this. "The books never mentioned that."

"That's hardly surprising. People always glorify their homeland, praising it with or without a reason while neglecting to mention its failings. Claiming famous magical abilities to be unique to native bloodlines is simply another way of doing that." Lord Slytherin explained.

"I see..." The young Potter breathed out. "But if you're right and I wasn't born with the gift, then how come I can speak parseltongue, Sir?" He asked then.

"I might have a few ideas, young speaker." The painting replied after being quiet for a couple of seconds. "Changeling-mages - I believe, they are called animagi nowadays - often gain traits or abilities of their animal. One, whose animal is a snake of some kind, might gain the ability to speak parseltongue." Harry shook his head.

"But I'm not an animagus, Sir." He said.

"Well..." Salazar's portrait continued without missing a beat. "It is also said that a long-term possession by an especially-powerful magical entity might result in the host gaining watered down versions of that entity's abilities." Hearing this made the young parselmouth frown: the thought that he might have shared his body with some alien spirit was ...unsettling to say the least.

"I'm not being possessed either, Sir." He replied. Then, a moment later, he added in a slightly-quieter voice: "At least, I don't think I am. If I were, wouldn't I not be in control of my body or something?"

"Not necessarily." Lord Slytherin replied. "If the possessing entity only wishes to hide and, possibly, replenish its strength, then it won't reveal itself unless it is absolutely necessary." Harry's frown deepened. He really wanted to believe that he wasn't and had never been possessed, but, unfortunately, the idea that his ability to speak the language of serpents was a result of such event made a little too much sense to be discarded as unlikely… This didn't go unnoticed by the 'Greatest of the Hogwarts four'. "If you fear that possession by an entity unknown is indeed the reason why you have the gift of parseltongue, Mr. Potter, I suggest you pay healers or, perhaps, curse-breakers a visit as soon as you have a chance." He advised.

"I will." Harry agreed. For a little while neither of them said anything. Then, the young wizard spoke again, changing the topic of the conversation: "Can I ask you something, Sir? About what you said back on the first night of the academic year." The portrait raised an eyebrow, apparently not remember much about that incident. "It's about you saying that young Mr. Malfoy isn't someone you would've picked as your student." The young snake-speaker elaborated.

"Ah, I see..." Salazar replied. "It is certainly true that I favor students with ambitions and a sharp mind, but there are other qualities that I wish to see in those under my tutelage. And being able to move forward towards one's goals on one's own merits is, without a doubt, one such quality." Here he made a small pause, before continuing: "It is not widely-known, but the House of Slytherin had little more than its Noble status before I became its lord. What you have heard about its greatness is what I've strove for, worked for, and, ultimately, achieved. And this is something I want to see in my students as well: not just ambitions, but also the drive to do one's best to achieve them."

"And seeing others believe that the world owes them because of their name or the money their parents have makes you displeased, because it goes against what you've stood for, Sir?" Harry finished for him. The portrait gave him a nod.

"Yes. You can't truly be a great wizard if you personally have done nothing to earn this greatness."

"I see." Just a few moments after the green-eyed parselmouth said that, the clock struck eleven in the evening, reminding him that it was about the time for him to retire for the night… "And one more question, Sir. Does this all mean that you don't really believe those coming from old magical families to be better than everyone else?" In the light of what Salazar's portrait has just revealed, this question suddenly didn't look as dangerous to ask, so Harry decided he needed an answer to it.

"I never believed in something like that." Lord Slytherin replied, his voice suddenly colder than before.

"But it is said everywhere that you were against allowing muggle-borns into Hogwarts, and..." Harry began, but the portrait interrupted him:

"Yes, that is more or less true." Salazar confirmed. "But certainly not for the reason those fools think." The young Potter made an 'Oh' sound as he listened to what the 'Greatest of the Hogwarts Four' had to say: "Back when Godric, Helga, Rowena and I founded Hogwarts, almost all muggle-borns were peasants. They were dirty, uncultured and illiterate. Not to mention that quite a few of them were indoctrinated by Christianity and believed Magic to be Evil. The latter ones were a danger, while the former… Hogwarts is a school of Magic; don't you think that teaching the kids to wipe their arses instead of Magical Arts would have been a waste of my time? Perhaps, completely denying them indeed was wrong, but..." The portrait trailed off here. After a few moments, though, it continued: "Anyway, from what I hear, things have changed a lot since those days." Harry nodded.

"Yes, they did." He confirmed. "Everyone is taught to read and write now, and bad personal hygiene isn't tolerated well. As for the Church… Well, I don't think there will be any holy wars or witch hunts these days, though crazy fanatics still exist here and there, of course."

"I see… The world has indeed changed greatly since my days." Salazar said. And with that the conversation died down again… After a few long seconds of silence, the young Potter decided that this was a good moment to call it a day: it was getting quite late and he still had classes to attend tomorrow.

"Thank you for this very interesting conversation, Lord Slytherin, but I'm afraid, it's the time for me to retire for the night. I hope that we can speak again." He said while giving the portrait a polite bow.

"It was my pleasure and I'm looking forward to our future conversations; it looks like you have great many interesting things to tell me about the world. It's been such a long time since the last speaker has graced these halls." The painting of Salazar Slytherin replied. "Have a good night, Mr. Potter."

[1] Buwayhid Emirates in 10th century occupied territories of modern Kuwait, Iraq and Iran.

[2] Umayyad Caliphate in 10th century occupied territories of modern Portugal, Spain and Morocco.

[3] Volga Bulgaria is a Bulgar state that existed around the confluence of the Volga and Kama rivers (modern Russia, north of the Samara city).

[4] Bana Kingdom is a kingdom that occupied inland territories of India.

That's all, folks!
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