Title: S is for Slytherin: the apprentice
Pairing: SS/HH and SS/HP
Disclaimer: Not mine, although after the last book I have to wonder if it isn't possible that I could do a better job very disgruntled with OotP
Betas: Val, MogsyCat and Finyda
Archive: Part of the From Dusk till Dawn Severus Snape/Harry Potter Fuh-Q-Fest at
105. Harry and Snape are slowly easing into a relationship. They are incredibly attracted to one another, but they don't have that much in common - at first glance - and they disagree on a lot of things, but ... slowly they come to realize what they do have in common, which is more than what you might think, such as ... (Kira)
113. Snape and Harry through something else's "eyes". (Kira)
150. Incorporate the quote "Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war" into the fic. (KC)
Word count: (ignoring this details bit) 10,000
Notes: Forget OotP, it didn't happen, at all, ever. This is the second history lesson and sequel to H is for Helga. There will be a third and final history lesson (S is for Slytherin: the master) at some point.
"A young woman seeking to attain Mastery must first apprentice herself to an acknowledged Master until such a time that her chosen Master feels that she can learn no more from him."
Harry James Potter did not need to hear this. Not again. He knew it all too intimately already. It was the reason he was currently standing here bare-bloody-butt naked!
"To seal the Master-apprentice bond, the apprentice surrenders control of power and self to her Master and the Master takes the apprentice into his thrall. This provides the apprentice and Master both a measure of safety where, should the apprentice lose control through error or inexperience, the Master may rein her power in, imposing his own control upon the apprentice."
Harry knew that as well. In fact, upon hearing it the first time, he had broadcast his disgust with the idea loudly and widely. He was still disgruntled about having no choice but to undergo an apprenticeship for precisely that reason. Five years before, if anyone had told him that he'd willingly allow a Slytherin such complete power over him, he'd have laughed in their face. Hermione was so going to pay for putting Harry in a situation where he'd had no other viable option but to apprentice himself to Salazar bloody Slytherin.
"When the Master believes the apprentice is prepared, he will, by ancient and honoured tradition, present his apprentice before the Spirits. There, she will be set three trials to prove that she has reached the level of a Master. Should she fail the first trial, the Master-apprentice bond will be broken but the enthrallment will remain. The apprentice would have proven that she lacks the discipline necessary to be left unsupervised."
Oh joy, the life of a thrall. Harry was thrilled at the idea – not! His bloody Master had better not be setting him up. It was definitely not unheard of. There was more than one Master who decided that the shame of a failed apprentice was worth gaining a lifetime thrall. In Salazar's case, it would be to keep Harry cleaning his bloody castle! Harry scowled and then sighed. Truthfully, when he wasn't aggravated beyond measure by his Master's idiosyncrasies, Harry didn't believe Salazar to be so reprehensible… but if it turned out that he wasn't ready, Salazar was going to replace Voldemort on The List of Those Who Must Be Punished.
"Should the first trial be passed but the second failed, both bond and enthrallment are negated and the apprentice is free to exist as a mediocre witch for she would lack the will to be more. Should all but the third trial be successfully completed, the apprentice will be given the opportunity to retain the bond with her Master and continue her training as a journeywoman or to cleave the bond and settle for becoming one of the mediocre spellcasters, albeit one with greater skill. It is power she is deficient in, no more."
Blah, blah, blah. Would he just get on with it already? Harry was freezing his tits off here!
"For an apprentice to undergo all three trials and triumph over each is to demonstrate that she has attainted a superior command and understanding of the power that is magic. Discipline, will and power proven, the bonds tying her to her Master's authority will be annulled. Then, the Spirits will imprint upon her the mark of her Master, proof of the level she has reached. Apprentice no longer, but Master in her own right."
Harry's Master was leisurely setting up the final circle of wards, humming to himself cheerfully now that his lecture was complete and totally ignoring the rather unflattering shade of blue currently overtaking his apprentice's skin. Harry rubbed his arms and scowled darkly at his over-ripe chest. He bet that his damned Master would be moving faster if he was the one standing starkers in a field on a Scottish Samhain.
Hell, Harry bet that, if Hermione's bloody jinx wasn't there, and it was the dangly bits between his legs, rather than those on his chest that were in danger of being frostbitten, then Salazar would get a move on. Of course that meant Harry would need to be even more suspicious than he currently was. Would Salazar be 'interested' in a young male aware of the older man's inclinations and yet still rash enough to apprentice himself? Hell, yeah. Although, there was no way his bloody Master could blame Harry for his own indiscretion, Harry had no doubt that the Slytherin would let him go, knowing what he did. Liking one's own sex was not a popular lifestyle choice in this time and self-preservation combined with a sharp eye for opportunity would have seen a male Harry enthralled for life and then ensconced in his Master's bed.
As it was, Harry was fairly certain… mostly, that Salazar wasn't setting him up for a fall and, since he personally wanted the safety of absolute equality with the man, he was willing to do this.
However, chilled, miserable and feeling the onset of a cold, Harry would almost have happily offered himself up for Salazar's enjoyment, provided the man found a way through Hermione's lock.
Damn Hermione for sending him here.
Damn Salazar for taking so long.
And damn Scotland in October! Why the hell couldn't the castle have been built somewhere warm? What the hell was wrong with Bali?
"You wanted this, remember Helga?"
Harry looked up and at his Master again. Eyes with obsidian irises stared at him in what could only be called amusement. Harry's verdant glare deepened. "I want this over with, Master! I swear, being an apprentice around the three of you makes the life of a house-elf look good. And why did we have to do this here? And who the Hell said I had to do this without clothes?"
The man had the nerve to chuckle. "It is tradition, my dear child. You will complete each trial with nothing but that which is a part of you. Be grateful that perfect vision is not a requirement or you would have been in real trouble."
Harry's scowl deepened at the reminder and he stopped himself from rubbing his nose where his glasses should have been. "You are so lucky that that perv Gryffindor isn't here!" he muttered sulkily.
Black eyes darkened until they were pools of deepest shadow. "Worry not, Helga, you are yet mine to protect and I will not fail you in that. Most especially not to the likes of Godric Gryffindor!"
And that, in the end, was why Harry had placed himself in this man's power. In an unfamiliar time, with a name not his own and a body he did not recognise, Harry had needed a place of sanctuary and had found it under the wing of Salazar Slytherin… despite his occasional suspect motives.
Of course, it meant that he was subjected to the man's antiquated notions of propriety. Who the Hell did Salazar bloody Slytherin think he was to say that Harry… Helga could not fly a broom! And, during the building of the castle that would become Hogwarts, who got stuck with the cooking and cleaning and every aggravating and grotty job known to magic? And if Godric bloody Gryffindor said one more word about the duties and station of females, Harry was going to take his sword and ram it where the sun didn't shine! He was offended on behalf of all women and he wasn't even a real bloody girl!
Harry had spent the last four and a bit years perpetually cranky for more reasons than that he had suddenly found himself menstruating monthly… although that was a major issue. Hermione was going to suffer for that.
Perhaps he could set a timed spell up now to activate in the future and give him his revenge from beyond the grave. His scowl twisted into a small smirk. Interesting idea that. He'd have to think about it.
"Very well, child, it is time we began. Are you prepared?" Salazar had finished with his arrangements and stood in a small circle of warding, just outside the larger ring that Harry waited within.
Harry bit back his irate reply about exactly how long he had been ready and started a breathing exercise. Calm fell over him almost immediately and he heard Salazar begin chanting the petition. He would not see the 'Spirits' that his Master summoned, they would commandeer Salazar's voice and body for anything their incorporeal presences could not accomplish. The circle of wards lit up around him and the world fell away until all that existed was Harry, the wards and never ending darkness.
He stared around, waiting to be told what he was supposed to do. On the upside, he wasn't freezing to death any more. He wondered if he could tell these 'Spirits' to get a move on though. It was all very well to huff at Salazar, he was surprisingly tolerant of Harry's irritability, but he supposed he should be more courteous to beings that were supposedly the sources of all magic. Still, he was standing in the middle of a rather large spell-working utterly starkers, if that wasn't a reason to be a little out of sorts then he'd kiss Godric.
How did he get himself into these ridiculous situations?
That was the last coherent thought he had for quite some time. Whatever he had been waiting for, happened and his focus narrowed and broadened all at once. It seemed that the universe opened up to him. It was overwhelming.
Harry had never been one to let that stop him.
Eventually, the world resolved into something approaching order – not quite reaching it though. Seeing, hearing, tasting the magic around him, Harry thought it would never be the same again. He was male once more, which he vaguely remembered as having something to do with his first trial. The observation cheered him up until he noticed the way Salazar was observing him speculatively. That should have worried him, and it did, a bit, but right then, he was too tired to give a damn.
His left hand was clenched around something. Absently, he rubbed his thumb over it, taking note of the prickling of latent power inherent in the object. A talisman then, one that he had made… but not used?
A searing shock brought him back to himself, breaking his distraction and he reached up to his breastbone in reflex. His empty hand slowed as he looked down and saw the intricate sigil now engraved into flesh. Tentatively, he touched it. There was no pain but there was a hum of distinctive power. Surprised despite himself, Harry looked at Salazar incredulously. His Master… former Master's calculating expression changed into one of pride as he gave a nod acknowledging Harry's accomplishment.
It was his Mark of Mastery.
"Well done, Harry." It was Salazar's voice but it resonated with dimensions that the man, himself, did not possess. Harry bowed respectfully and gratefully. He might not be able to see them, but he could feel them and had no doubt of their presence. Perhaps they really were the wellsprings of magic, these 'Spirits' or perhaps they weren't. Either way, they'd led Harry to a level of magic he would never have reached on his own.
It wasn't until they had departed, taking with them much of the energy that kept Harry upright, that he realised that they and Salazar had addressed him by name.
His knees threatened to buckle and the older man hastily broke the circles as he moved to Harry's side. Harry accepted his former Master's support gratefully. Drained as he felt, Harry decided to leave closer examination of Salazar's reactions until his brain was no longer tottering on the edge of unconsciousness. For the moment, it seemed that Salazar was willing to let him avoid the topic.
He shivered suddenly, the cold of the chilly night starting to creep back into him, and a warm weight dropped over his shoulders. He blinked rather dumbly at the black cloak now draped over him and then up into warm black eyes.
Salazar was talking to him as he gently but firmly guided Harry away from the clearing and back to the almost completed castle. For a moment, Harry wondered if they should stop and clean up after themselves and then he decided it could wait.
"…ast stones are placed, we shall complete what you have begun. Using the spell matrix you have created and instilled into the grounds and buildings, we should be able to raise wards well nigh unbreakable. With your skill and the combined power of all four of us, the school will be protected for as long as it stands."
Harry frowned and forced his fuzzy mind to concentrate. What… oh!
Hadn't Hermione said something about Helga Hufflepuff specialising in wards and so on? Harry hadn't considered it before, not even when Salazar had directed him into deeper studies of defensive magic. Helga… Harry had designed and created the wards that made Hogwarts one of the safest, if not the safest, places in the world. Heh, proof… the second trial. A Master work, so to speak, and one that would last at least a thousand years. How cool was that?
"You look most satisfied with yourself, and so you should. Not even five years as an apprentice and you've attained Mastery. I expect that the ordeals of the adept candidate will be well within your ability when the time comes."
Ordeals? Adept? Huh?
"Of course, I suspect you will have done what you needed to here and returned to your own time."
Harry stumbled in shock and looked up at his former Master with wide eyes. Salazar caught him easily and kept them moving.
"I witnessed your trials, Harry."
Harry winced at Salazar helplessly before quickly glancing around. They had reached Salazar's tower and so were guaranteed a reasonable chance of privacy – the intrusive interrogation about tonight's outcome would wait until the next morning when they joined Rowena and Godric for breakfast.
"You lied to me!"
Harry huffed. "Technically, I just didn't correct your faulty assumptions."
Black eyes glared at him balefully. "You did not think to tell me you were a boy enchanted into female form when you became my apprentice?"
He paused at that, or attempted to, but Salazar was implacable and, still, larger and stronger. He was propelled into their private quarters, the door slamming rather ominously behind them.
"It's not like you could have done anything. Hermione locked the spell as tightly as she could and she's nothing if not thorough." All too thorough as it appeared that undoing her lock had been one of his trials. He frowned, wasn't that impossible? How the Hell had he done it? He thought a moment and, although a few ideas came to him, he couldn't remember anything other than a few annoyingly vague flashes.
He was pushed down firmly and he found himself seated on one of the makeshift beds being glared down at. "Harry…"
Harry sighed. He was too tired for this crap. Resentfully, he scowled back. "Helga," he stressed wearily. "Here I am Helga bloody Hufflepuff, a bloody girl and I'm bloody well going to have to adopt a bloody glamourie aren't I? All the bloody time! Damn bloody Hermione for putting me in this bloody situation." He started grumbling curses under his breath. If… when he got back, he was so going to start taking care of The List.
"Helga, then…" Familiarity with Salazar allowed Harry to see amusement at the absurdity of the situation they found themselves in creeping onto the other's expression. Conversely, it only annoyed Harry more.
"What?" he growled.
A slow, mildly terrifying smirk spread across Salazar's face. "So you cannot tell anyone who you are?"
"Isn't that rather obvious?" If Salazar didn't stop looking at him like that, Harry was going to make him, magical exhaustion or no.
"Hmm," Salazar murmured too agreeably. "It was a temporal portal that delivered you into my garden, was it not? You are from the future then?"
Alarmed, Harry hissed at him. "You can't ask about it! How did you know about it anyway? We've never talked about it!"
Salazar shrugged lazily, his eyes hooded as they rested on Harry. "Your third trial was an education." He knelt on the floor before Harry and pried the clenched fingers open to reveal a small, translucent disc made of nothing that Harry had ever seen before. "Masterful work, 'Helga'," Salazar remarked with approval as he took the disc from Harry and placed it carefully on the clothes chest at the foot of the bed.
Despite his better judgement, Harry felt himself being soothed as Salazar began tending to him. "I don't remember," he told the man who had starting combing the tangles out of Harry's now long mane of hair.
"It will come back to you," he was assured, "After you have recovered your energy. It is always thus for newborn Masters. The third trial is the test of power and, to overcome it, you must not only prove that you possessed it, but also that you were willing to call upon even the most hidden reserves you did not even realise you possessed. Just accept that you have succeeded and have created a talisman that will cross the barrier of time in the blink of an eye when you wish."
"A way home?" To be honest, Harry had almost given up on the idea. Even timeturners did not exist yet and they were simple compared to what he needed. His remembered lessons in history told of Hufflepuff's many years at Hogwarts and only reinforced that unacknowledged belief.
"Yesss." Salazar switched to parseltongue. "One that you did not use because you claimed that you were Helga Hufflepuff and she was still supposed to be here."
Automatically, Harry replied in the same language, but with considerably more bitterness, "Well, she is."
Salazar finished with Harry and ran the brush quickly through his own long tail of hair before setting it beside Harry's talisman. "And you cannot tell anyone of this…" He pulled the blankets down and removed his cloak from Harry's shoulders before pushing the naked youth back until he was lying down.
Tired he might have been, but stupid he was not. Harry struggled to sit up but Salazar's weight pressed down on him via a large hand placed directly over his Master's Mark. Said Mark prickled strangely. Salazar's palm was warm and his long fingers rubbed at Harry still chilled skin.
"What are you doing?" Harry whispered numbly."
Thin lips set in a familiar face quirked. "I think you already know." Those lips grew nearer to Harry's face as their owner leaned down and arranged himself at his former apprentice's side.
"I'm not gay!" Harry protested. Damn Salazar for doing this now! Couldn't he at least wait until Harry had the ability to fight back? The next century would not be unreasonable.
"Gay?" the older man hissed into his ear in soft and seductive parseltongue. "I do not understand why your lack of cheer should make a difference. You are never merry, indeed, you are possibly the most consistently irritable individual that I have ever encountered."
Harry struggled to put some distance between him and the disturbing press of another body. "It's a wonder that you can bring yourself to contemplate what you seem to be proposing then."
Salazar hissed softly in amusement. "I had come to enjoy your practical and cynical personality, indeed, it was often that I regretted that you seemed to meet all bar one of my… requirements." Unspoken was what exactly that last requirement was, they both knew anyway. "And now you have given me the opportunity to enjoy your nature intimately."
Harry could hear the smug satisfaction in the man's voice and summoned the energy for a tired scowl. "I don't bed males, Salazar. Whether I'm male or female, they're not my choice of partner!"
"You said otherwise the very first day we met," Salazar argued persistently.
Harry frowned at him and tried to push away from the bigger man again. "I did not mean it like that!"
"It sounded so."
"You try watching your words for doubled meaning when you find yourself being coddled by someone who's basically a dead ringer for your most despised and loathed potions master!"
"There seems to be a lot of emotion there."
"All of it hate." Merlin, he sounded sulky. He was going to lose argument though, he could see it coming. If that was not a reason to sulk then what was? Almost clinically, he wondered when his former Master was going to bring out the big guns. And he would, Salazar Slytherin wouldn't let that be one to go to waste.
"Perhaps." Scepticism in parseltongue was surprisingly liquid. "But, in the end, it makes no difference. Unless you wish to have Godric waving his little knife at you, you would be well served to keep me amenable." There was no malice in that dark and velvety voice, a lot of glee but no malice. An unhealthy dose of seduction too but Harry was studiously ignoring that for as long as he could. Damn the man. It was the reason he had expected and the one he could not argue aside, not while his brain was slowly turning into cobwebs.
He stopped resisting then and knew the man accepted it for the surrender it was. "You cheated though," he insisted sourly, "Don't you think it would have been more honourable to have waited until I'd rested and was thinking clearly?"
A muffled laugh ruffled his hair. "Do not mistake me for the noble nitwit in the north tower, my dear boy. I will do almost anything to get what I desire and you will not find this unpleasant. Anything but." As if to prove that fact, the hand on Harry's chest began to take liberties.
"Can this at least wait until morning? I am bloody tired and am really not in the mood."
Another grin, the man had taken it as a challenge. Dammit!
"I ssssusssspect that I will ssssspend much of my time in the coming yearsssss convincsssssing you that that isssss not ssssssso…."
Harry was unamused at the exaggerated hissing. "I am not the one that gets a hard on from snake language." Then he could have hexed himself. Damned Slytherin, he'd had Harry talking in parseltongue the whole time. And he was the one who said Godric had sex on the brain!
Suddenly Salazar got creative and a lot less clothed. Harry gasped.
"I told you," came the self-satisfied murmur from the crook of Harry's neck.
Harry was not gay… but, under Salazar's onslaught, he had to wonder if his sexuality wasn't more malleable than he'd always thought.
"I did not really need to see that," an amused, voice told Harry, drawing him out of his memories.
He chuckled wryly and looked up at the brim of the battered hat that was squatting on his head. "This coming from something that Godric Gryffindor used to wear on an almost daily basis? I'm not going to believe you if you try to pretend that you haven't seen worse!"
"It's been a thousand years!" the sorting hat protested.
Harry snorted. "Yeah and every year you have to perch on the heads of several dozen little monsters on the cusp of puberty. I still say you've seen too much to be traumatised by a memory of Salazar being, well, Slytherin."
It was the hat's turn to snort. "Pot calling kettle there, Potter. Of all his students, you were his favourite. I told you that you would have done well in Slytherin!"
"And, yet, you never mentioned Hufflepuff at all," Harry said and smirked as the hat mumbled something unintelligible. Harry wouldn't have been surprised if it was something uncomplimentary, he'd aggravated more people than just the sorting hat recently. Ron and Hermione were still glaring at him, over a week after the incident.
And since his next target was gone, Harry was left at loose ends.
Merlin, he was bored.
"Bored? You mean you've avenged yourself of everyone on you list?"
Harry's lips twitched slightly. "Only Ron and Hermione so far," he admitted, leaning back in the chair and letting the hat slip further down his forehead. Something clinked on the desk and he carefully nudged it off to the side with the toe of his left boot before it got broken. Then, he stretched his legs out again and relaxed, uncaring of whether Albus would appreciate Harry using his desk as a foot rest.
After all, Albus was on The List as well. If only the wily old coot hadn't taken off…
"I think you're deliberately trying to aggravate people," the hat commented, referring to Harry's earlier thought.
Harry shrugged. "Probably. It's habit now."
"Very different from the eager-to-please boy I first sorted."
"Yeah, well," Harry snorted, "I spent two decades with a chronic bad mood. If I hadn't vented, I'd've gone nuts. And, notice, I never take my moods out on those who can't fight back."
"Fine line, that."
"The difference between a grouch and a bully."
He felt the hat concede the point.
"It's not like it helps me now anyway. All my usual victims are busy or in class or both."
The hat chuckled. "How long are you going to let young Weasley suffer, by the way? I hear he's not adjusting gracefully."
"Four years, seven months, three weeks and two days," Harry responded without thought. "Although they've done six days of it already." It wouldn't have been a tenth of that except Severus had let slip, deliberately no doubt, exactly why Hermione had seen fit to set Harry up like she had. Finding that out had been… fun. He was sure Severus was still laughing his arse off.
"Imagine how he'd laugh if you told him about having a sexuality identity crisis while losing your virginity to a buggering blackmailer who happened to be his house founder. And don't you think that's a little severe?"
"No I don't. I was going to end the spell before the end of the year, but, after I found out about Valentine's Day, I decided to be a little more vindictive. For everyday I spent jinxed, so will they. Maybe if they beg enough in September I might have mercy." Harry fell pensively silent for a few minutes and then he surprised the hat by snickering. Revenge was sweet.
"Your informant is coming," the hat suddenly commented.
"Oh?" Harry blinked but, otherwise, did not move from his comfortable position. "The gargoyle told you I suppose."
"We enchanted objects need to stick together," the hat responded airily.
Harry didn't get the chance to reply as the door to the headmaster's offices opened. "Ambitious aren't we, Harry? Not back a week and already plotting a coup. Couldn't have the office in the past, so you plan to steal it now?"
"I'll have you know that this was an empty tower at the time of the founding, an oversized storeroom if anything," Harry drawled lazily, not looking out from under the hat. "And, if you are insinuating that I want to put Albus out of a job, then think again. Why the Hell would I want that headache? The paperwork alone would drive me mad… and then there's Fudge…" The loathing in his voice was in no way feigned.
"Why? You could replace Binns, fire Trelawney and order me around."
Harry pursed his lips and used one hand to tip the sorting hat back so that he could look Severus in the eye. "Now that does sound interesting. You make a very good point there sssSeverus." He hissed a little but did not slip into parseltongue. "Let's test how I'd do shall we?" He nudged a small bowl on the desk with a boot. "Lemon drop?" He let his eyes twinkle mockingly.
One elegant brow arched up eloquently.
"No? I think I'll stick to defence professor then." His scowl returned. "If the old coot'll ever let me teach."
A thoughtful frown crossed the other's thin lips. "I must admit that his actions, or lack thereof, surprise me. I would have wagered that you would have been 'Professor Potter' within the hour." Oily black hair brushed over a black-clad shoulder as the professor scanned the office for its owner.
"Don't ask me," Harry replied to the unvoiced question. "If I knew, I'd be harassing him rather than kicking my heels up here. The contrary, old bugger nicked off before I got here."
"He knew you were coming, Potter," the hat cackled and Severus looked at it in mild surprise. He probably hadn't even considered Harry wearing it simply so they could chat.
"That's what I think," he agreed with the hat and then rolled his eyes. "I reckon I've got him more than a little freaked. I feel kinda proud."
Severus' black gaze was level, his voice was bland. "You would have reason to, if it were so. However, this is Albus we speak of."
Harry wondered if he imagined the challenging glitter in Severus' eyes despite the man's very deliberate non-expression. "He is still human," he replied mildly.
"Are we certain?" Severus snorted wryly and Harry knew he hadn't imagined it. The glitter was there as was the possibility of a new round in their game.
Harry made a show of thinking it over. "Yes, I do believe we are. Maddening he might be, quixotic, brilliant, absurd and paradoxical as well, yet, all of those are human traits. Albus just possesses them in spades."
They shared a look of complete accord and the hat chuckled quietly. "How remarkable. A Snape and a Potter, agreeing!"
Severus sneered at it, his eyes flickering from the battered headwear to the eyes of the man who wore it. "Why are you wearing that thing anyway, Potter?"
Harry rolled his eyes. He admitted that he was a prickly bastard. Hell, he was proud of it, but Severus took it to new levels. He was being entirely unsubtle about his disdain and Harry wondered if he realised exactly how unwise that could end up being. Luckily for Severus, the hat's characteristics included an unusual tolerance for obnoxious individuals along with the wards of magical moderation. It was either a deliberate design, to enable it to endure countless generations of brats, or it was a leftover from having to put up with Godric Gryffindor. Harry knew which theory he found more probable.
"Then again, it could be you," the hat whispered directly into his ear.
Hush, you, Harry thought clearly. Then he smirked at Severus. "The conversation of course." Lethargically, he waved a hand in the air. "Everyone interesting was otherwise occupied and what else is a man to do?"
"Ignoring this disturbingly foppish posturing of yours…"
"Why sssSeverus, I didn't think you had noticed!" The twitch in the man's jaw was the only reaction to Harry's mocking flirtation.
"I must wonder if you have in fact matured as much as I initially believed."
Disappointment stole his good humour. Harry took his feet from the desk and straightened in the chair. Automatically, he ordered his mind, shelving the hurt that the man he had come to not only respect but like could misjudge him so. That had been no witty sally in their little contest, instead an unconscious but significant slip.
Harry re-examined the man standing across from him. Tall, almost head and shoulders over Harry when he was standing and taller even than Salazar had been. He was not a slender man but neither was he a bulky one. His long frame was spare and rangy and he looked as though he could stand to gain a few kilos. Perhaps it had something to do with the deep lines in his gaunt face. Even at twice Severus' age, Salazar had never seemed so worn down in everyday life.
His previous mischief was now gone irretrievably, concern replacing it. Thinking back, Harry admitted that he had hardly been the most observant individual where this man was concerned, but he could not ever remember Severus being so obviously beset. So what was different now, that had not been present in the past years? Harry's memory may have been dulled by time but he could think of only one thing.
Soberly, he took the hat off his head, stood and placed the battered thing carefully on the desk, all the while being watched unreadably by Severus. Harry gestured at the quartet of lounge chairs near the fireplace. "You might want to take a seat. We sort of need to talk and clear the air between us." He walked around the desk and waited for the other man to sit.
"I don't see…" Severus started to object and Harry sighed.
Bloody minded git.
"Professor Snape, please." Harry realise that he had slipped into what he privately thought as his Master-mode of thinking. The irritable, cranky young man that he usually showed people was replaced by the focussed control of a tested mage. As Master Potter, a title he had only ever heard aloud spoken in parseltongue in the privacy of his or Salazar's chambers, he regarded the potions master and, with Master Potter, Severus complied peacefully.
When both were seated, Harry stared into space for a moment, watching the currents of magic as they flowed through the enchanted paraphernalia and trying to decide how to begin this conversation. He looked displeased with the delay, but Severus waited with a stillness that at least feigned patience.
"I had only been there a week when Salazar offered to take me on as his apprentice," he said suddenly. Severus blinked at what must have seemed like a totally unrelated statement and Harry bit back a small smile as he continued, "I don't think I need to tell you that I was reluctant to accept. I was even more so after he explained exactly what was involved…" He paused and tried to find a word what he had to say.
Severus sneered. "Work?"
Harry shook his head once. The shock of events was finally wearing off and his former teacher was backsliding into old attitudes. This conversation was just in time. "No," he corrected softly, "Enthrallment." He had the pleasure of seeing Severus Snape's face go slack in shock.
Disbelief flickered in shadowed eyes before their owner's formidable control stole all emotion from his face. "Impossible," he returned flatly. "It is considered… no, it is a dark art. It could never have been incorporated into a magical education. Taking a thrall is… it's a theft of free will. It is an abomination!" Despite himself, he could not help but reveal the depth of his loathing for the practice. Harry deliberately kept his eyes from darting to Severus' arm. He did not need to look to understand the cause of Severus' fervour.
"And, once upon a time, it was a fundamental part of a witch or wizard's magical training. Any who wished to learn magic underwent enthrallment." Harry held the other's onyx eyes as he went on, "It was a time where literacy was rare. Not even all Masters could read with any fluency and it was more common for a witch or wizard to simply mould raw magic to do what they wanted, inefficient, tiring and dangerous though it was even with the use of staffs and wands, rather than use formed and generic spells. After all, where could they learn them? Even if they could read, it didn't mean they had access to books."
Severus snorted but said nothing. What could he say? It was the truth. It was the reason wandless magic was banned by the Ministry.
"As soon as a young witch or wizard has been given the means to tap into their magic consciously, this danger becomes relevant. Enthrallment provides a Master with a way of subduing their apprentice if he or she ever loses it and, trust me, if an untrained magic user loses it you want some safeguards in place."
"I don't care! The opportunity for abuse…"
Harry tilted his head in acknowledgement of the very accurate point. "Yes. There were unscrupulous Masters who coerced, by one method or another, children or their parents into taking apprenticeships that weren't advantageous for them. Once there, they could misuse the child as they would without true care as to their side of the bargain implicit in taking an apprentice. And then there were those who seemed upstanding and, yet, behind respectable fronts were Masters who sabotaged their apprentices' learning so that they would fail even the most basic of trials and so have the enthrallment become permanent."
Severus understood immediately. To such Masters, apprentices were a source of ready slaves and, if they schemed enough, lifelong thralls. "That's heinous," he snarled.
"Oh yes," Harry agreed readily, sharing the sentiments completely. "That is why we built Hogwarts. Here, all students would gain the knowledge and training necessary to ensure that, no matter what further training or lack thereof they went through, the student would be able to pass the first trial of Mastery if necessary. With that almost guaranteed, the less honourable Masters found taking apprentices less desirable and so the occurrence of abuse decreased."
The young Master sighed and shook his head. "We never intended for Hogwarts to replace the apprentice system, only to supplement and augment it." Harry stopped, frowning. The other wizard seemed ominously silent. Severus was looking at him with the strangest expression in his eyes. Really, he was behaving even more strangely than usual. "Severus?"
"You really are one of the founders…" He sounded almost awed and he definitely sounded shocked.
Harry's frown deepened. Severus knew that already. He'd been alluding to it subtly at every chance he had and trying to get Harry chasing his tail in the effort to see that no one else learned of it. Why would he act so strangely now? Unless… "You didn't really believe it, did you Severus? You might have known it up here." Harry tapped his forehead. "But not here," and then he thumped his gut with his fist.
Severus scowled defensively. "Why in the world should I find it difficult to believe that the Boy-who-lived was one of the greatest wizards, sorry, witches who ever lived?" He snapped with venomous sarcasm and then stood up and began to pace as he continued to rant. "I mean, it's not like I even had reason to expect that you would do anything but follow in your father's footsteps as the Gryffindor hero…"
"I AM NOT MY FATHER!" Harry yelled over him abruptly, his irritation returning full force. On the other side of the room, Fawkes was startled awake on his perch and chirped at them curiously. Harry jumped to his feet, stalked across to the bigger wizard and poked at his chest. "I am not my father," he repeated in a growl, "And I never was! For Merlin's sake, can't you stop stewing over the bloody past and put it behind you already? Look and, for the first bloody time in your bloody life, see me instead of my bloody father!" He took another step closer until they were almost pressed up against each other.
Severus glowered down at him darkly, not bothering to put any more space between them. "Trust me, Harry, I loathed you entirely on your own merits. You were a foolhardy little idiot without an iota of self-preservation."
Harry deflated somewhat and shrugged irritably. "Well, yeah," he admitted. He'd been a self-righteous little idiot but who the Hell was Professor I-joined-a-mass-murdering-megalomaniac to talk? And, bloody Hell, if any of the adults around him had been even half-way observant then he wouldn't have gotten into a quarter as many life and death situations. "But it wasn't always my fault! You can't blame me for Quirrel jinxing my broom! How the Hell could I have predicted he'd do that?"
"First years shouldn't play quidditch!" Severus sniffed in a superior fashion and Harry realised he'd lost some of the advantage with even his partial admission of wrong doing.
"Blame Minerva for that," he protested, "I didn't even know what it was until she dragged me off and handed me over to Oliver!"
"Like you argued with her little plot."
"Considering that I thought I was about to be expelled, I wasn't going to."
"And trying for the philosopher's stone…"
"Minerva didn't believe me when I said it was vulnerable. Albus had taken off and I thought you were the guilty party. Besides, if three first years could get to it, I'd say it was pretty bloody vulnerable!"
"Flying that car…"
"Was stupid, I admit it, but Dobby had bloody well blocked off the bloody platform and I was panicking too much to argue with Ron when he suggested it."
"Your third year with Black…"
"You were wrong."
"Was an idiot for forgetting his potion but you were still wrong."
Severus growled and bent slightly so that he could level the full weight of his glare upon Harry. "All that matters not. You were…"
"A kid," Harry interrupted firmly, "A stupid, naïve, little kid. One that grew up and you know it. Otherwise, you wouldn't be so attracted to me." Severus looked about to protest and Harry, mischief taking him, was determined to make his point.
Holding a surprised onyx gaze, he stood on his toes and leaned even closer to Severus. For several seconds, they stood like that, chests barely touching and faces almost but not quite while their breaths mixed. It was only when he saw that Severus' pale complexion was a little more flushed than usual that Harry broke the tableau and stepped back.
"See?" he quipped with a smirk.
Severus huffed, refusing to give an inch. "It'd happen with any parselmouth," he stated flatly.
Harry raised an eyebrow. Really, couldn't the older wizard do any better than that? He had expected more of the head of Slytherin house. Severus had practically cut himself off at the knees, he'd made it so easy for Harry.
Harry sighed and decided not to take the glaringly obvious opening. "I wasn't speaking in parseltongue," he said mildly instead.
Severus looked at him as if questioning his intelligence. "Do you honestly think that makes the slightest amount of difference now? The association has been made. You have seen to that at ever opportunity since your return."
Like he had complained! "Does that mean that you now equate me with sex?" Harry asked innocuously.
A part of him, the infinitesimal part that remained of his teen self, reminded him that that it was this kind of behaviour that had provoked Salazar into steam-rolling Harry into his bed for fifteen plus years. If he was not careful, this little game was going to put him in the same position with Severus. The current head of Slytherin house was no more a pushover than the house founder had been. If they continued in this manner, Harry was going to end up in Severus' bed.
Slimy, slippery Severus Snape… who was Harry kidding? Insinuating himself into the Severus' life had been his goal from the moment he had deliberately let loose the first syllable of parseltongue in the wizard's presence. Sirius was going to pitch a fit. Harry made a mental note to start preparing his godfather for that eventuality when he saw Sirius to tell him about his little trip down the timeline. That was going to be fun. Really.
Idly, he wondered what Severus would give him for the opportunity to watch.
Severus who was sneering down at Harry at that very moment, apparently not deigning to answer his question, or perhaps still thinking of a good comeback. Harry grinned slightly. So like Salazar, from the nose right on to the compulsive need to have the last word. It was a comforting constant for him. No matter what era he was in, it seemed that there would be a solid Slytherin presence there to challenge and spur him on. All he was required to give was the sole rights to the rather pleasurable use of his body for as long as said Slytherin was around…
Ah well, it wasn't like he could have kids anyway. Settling down with a pretty witch was now completely pointless. He might as well play this game to its inevitable end, Sirius' blood pressure be damned.
Harry was diverted, that almost sounded fond. He hoped Severus wasn't going soft.
Severus stepped around Harry and returned to his chair. "Incendio." At his command, a fire leapt to life in fireplace and his long, dark wand disappeared into a black sleeve again. "So," Severus said as he made himself comfortable, "Tell me of your apprenticeship."
Harry blinked. "You're interested?" He was genuinely surprised. Or perhaps he shouldn't be. His Master had been a wizard Severus would no doubt wish to know more of… warts and all.
Not that Salazar had had any warts. He'd had very nice lines, in and out of his robes.
Not that Harry had really cared, of course, but it was hardly as if he was blind or not going to notice after more than fifteen years.
And it was not like he was wondering if Severus was similarly unblemished or not. Personally, he rather hoped not, perfection was boring and imperfections could be so much fun as Salazar had demonstrated with Harry's freckles… Not a good thing to think about with another, all too observant, Slytherin present.
Severus gestured impatiently, miraculously oblivious to Harry's train of thought. "Why would I ask if I were not?"
Harry shrugged. "Dunno. You're setting me up for something?" He sank into his own chair and met Severus' amused eyes.
"I am not," Severus promised with a twitch of his thin lips. "What I have already is quite sufficient. You brought the subject and I merely wish to learn what the eduction would entail that coerced a Potter into growing up."
He wanted more blackmail material, Harry decided. It didn't really matter anyway, Harry didn't have anything else he really needed to hide. "So, what do you want to know?"
"You implied that the apprentice system was the only way to train a master. Tell me how your mastery differs from the one I earned."
Harry shrugged. "Well, you aren't a Master," he said simply.
Severus straightened in his chair, overcome with indignation. "Excuse me…"
Harry rolled his eyes impatiently. "Did you serve your time under an acknowledged Master?"
"I studied for eight years at the Imperial Academie of Alchemy in Rome. That was eight years of gruelling study in my chosen fields. How dare you say that I have not earned my masters?" Long fingers were blanched, so tightly did they clench the arms of his chair.
"A masters is not the same as Mastery," Harry retorted irately. "I have no idea what's involved in a masters but Mastery means learning under a true Master until you undergo and pass three trials judged by otherworldly beings completely unbiased by human preconceptions. You either meet their standards and gain your Mark or you don't. If you fail even the first trial…"
"Then you are enthralled for life," Severus finished sarcastically, virtually bristling with outrage. "So you said earlier. Hardly what I'd consider a superior system. You either, as you created Hogwarts to replace it."
"I never said that!" Harry argued instantly, "I actually said the complete opposite when concerning the reason we built Hogwarts! Don't twist my words!" He glared at the pinched face scowling at him. "Anyway, although you might know more theory than I do, Hell, that's very likely considering the level of literacy back then, but I bet you that I could whip your skinny arse from here to Surrey and back when it comes down to actual spell casting. Those trials I mentioned, they not only test your understanding and learning but force you to think in ways you never would consider if you're just learning from books. Not to mention that, unlike me, you won't have the chance to gain adept status."
"What the Hell do you mean by that?"
Harry's casual boasting aggravated Severus just as he knew it would. The other wizard was peeved and well on his way to livid because of the implied superiority in Harry's tone but that was not actually what Harry wanted. Indeed, he was regretting ever bringing up the possibility in the first place since the only way he could think about it was to trivialise it. He sniffed mockingly. "Having passed the three trials set for Mastery, I have the enviable opportunity to go before the almighty spirits that judge yet again and petition to undergo the ordeals of an adept."
In truth, Harry didn't have any say in the matter. Apparently he had passed his trials in such a spectacular fashion that they added the symbol of adept potential to his Mark. Will he, nil he, in thirty-three years, seven months, three weeks and two days, he was going to find himself abducted to another plane to complete another round of Hellish testing that would most likely see him condemned to eternal torment.
Still, he had thirty-three years plus, that was plenty of time for him to write his will and arrange a quiet and painless break with the realm of the breathing. Heh, maybe Severus would even save him the bother and poison him personally. It would be a Hell of a lot cleaner than slit wrists and a bloody site surer of working than the damned killing curse.
Probably more painful than either though…
"If you injected anymore scorn into that statement, Harry, It would be positively vitriolic. I'm sure it won't be that bad."
"Shut up Severus!" Harry snapped, his stomach still clenched with thoughts of his probably fate. "You have no bloody idea of what the Hell you're talking about. You haven't gone through the trials. You have no idea of the ordeals are about. You haven't been Marked for almost certain damnation!" His fist reached up and clenched in the fabric over his Mark.
"No," Severus returned venomously, "In my case there is no 'almost' about it!"
Harry paused and looked at the potions master with new eyes. He hadn't thought of the Dark Mark like that. It was a symbol of Voldemort's ownership but, in a very real way, wasn't his Mark the equivalent symbol of those mysterious bloody 'spirits'? Both were marks that cast shadows upon their bearers' futures and both were omens of what would undoubtedly be very painful demises.
Hell, he had more in common with the crotchety bastard opposite him than either of them knew. Harry's lips curled up in a hesitant smile and the other's bitterness subsided slightly. Maybe Severus would understand his reservations and, bloody Hell, outright dread, where Salazar had not.
"The trial of discipline simply had me undo Hermione's lock," he said, trying to explain himself. Severus settled back in his chair, watchful and quiet while Harry started tugging at his robes. "Difficult but simple. The trial of will had me design and create the wards that protect Hogwarts even now. The trick was in setting up the channels that formed the spell matrix so that it could be activated later under conditions that would see the wards powerful enough to stand the tests of time."
The remnants of Severus' foul mood had fled and, for the second time that day, he stared at Harry with something that resembled respect. It actually unnerved Harry, it was so unexpected.
"T… the third trial was my damnation. It was a test of power and with nothing else but my own, I created a talisman that could transport me the thousand years back to this time."
"Thanks but, every time I think of having done that, I kinda wish I'd failed." Harry smiled weakly and flicked open the fastenings on his robes. "I can't describe what the trials felt like, you have to have lived through them to understand. Simply let me say that, with my magic and any protection it could provide me exhausted, my mind refused to remember them. Ordeals are said to be a thousand times worse. When the trials were finished, I didn't even notice exactly what my Mark was, only that I had it." His robes fell open to reveal a bare chest.
Severus' eyes raptly fixed upon the Mark. To Harry's shock, the wizard left his chair and sank to one knee before Harry so that he was at eyelevel with the Mark. "I never believed the stories…" he murmured reverently.
"Stories?" Harry repeated faintly in surprise.
Severus' black gaze showed amusement at Harry's astonishment before he fixated on the Mark again. "The 'S' is a stylised snake, is it not?" he asked referring to the curving line at the centre of the Mark. "It signs that Slytherin was your Master, as it was his symbol like the wing representations are yours. The moon is your guiding celestial body but you have no elemental affinity… but the lines there…" He reached up but hesitated at the last moment. Slowly, when Harry didn't make a move to object, he brushed his fingers over it lightly and both of the gasped at the surge of magic that flooded over them when it burst into light.
It entangled them as it hung around them for a moment and then dispersed, leaving them breathless with the power of it.
"So," Severus rasped hoarsely, "This is who you are, Harry Potter… Not as much hair as I thought. Perhaps you were more affected by your time as a girl than you would have us believe.
Ignoring the professor's weak insinuation, Harry swallowed and attempted to find his voice, glad at lest that he wasn't the only one affected. "That's me," he admitted.
"I researched magical marks, once, in my youth." Long fingers continued to trace the intricate knot of lines, rousing prickles of reaction in Harry. "For obvious reasons…" Severus' hand fell away as shadows filled his rich voice. Harry caught the retreating hand and renewed the connection between them.
Neither of them was accustomed to being touched by others but, then and there, it was almost comforting. The hand turned in Harry's grasp until the forearm faced up. Given this unspoke permission, Harry's other hand pushed the long sleeve back.
So that was the Dark Mark.
Harry had never actually had the chance to examine one, let alone use his Mastery refined senses on one. He could literally see the tendrils of darkness as they wormed their way from it, weaving into Severus' being.
Well, Severus' eternal irritability was due to more than Gryffindors and Albus' eternally irritating optimism then.
"He aped the old traditions," Severus hissed sourly. "It supposedly showed his commitment to the pure-blooded ways of thinking and gained him many powerful followers. Stories of Marks like yours were remembered and wearing his seemed to be a proud and reasonable sign of allegiance."
"And now you know of the forgotten truth." Marks had been the signatures that bound contracts. An apprentice wore his Master's Mark until he was released, the enthrallment tied to it. Voldemort would not release those he had claimed.
"This," Harry judged, "Is still not a Master's Mark. There are none of the signs in this of anything other than the intention to enslave. It's nowhere near being his magical signature. Years ago, Albus told me that Tom Riddle underwent many dark rituals to become Voldemort. I suspect they served as something akin to an easy and fast shortcut to Mastery. He created a… crest rather than had his magical signature divined. There are advantages and disadvantages to this method, like with everything else. He gave up his humanity in exchange for gaining a great deal of power. Thing is, that power isn't really his which means he doesn't have true Mastery. He's never learned to utilise the full extent of his own abilities, preferring to steal strength from outside himself. He's never been presented to the powers-that-judge. Hell, despite his power, I…"
Harry's eyes widened as he realised what he had been about to say and inspiration thundered through him almost violently. There was a reason certain traditions existed in the first place and…
It was so simple… so simple it was bloody ridiculous.
"Well," he said after a moment of stunned silence. He looked into Severus' curious black eyes and felt his lips twist into a crooked smile. "Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war."
"Things are about to get interesting… I wonder how Slytherin Tom Riddle really is…" Severus scowled at him impatiently and Harry licked his lips. "I think I know of a way to put that upstart mutant in his place."
Better than any, it knew how the houses of Hogwarts worked and it wasn't quite what accepted wisdom might think. Sure, Gryffindors were brave, Ravenclaws were smart and, yes, Slytherins were cunning but, contrary to popular belief, Hufflepuff, home of the loyal and hardworking, was not the house of last resort. Oh no indeed!
Hufflepuff nurtured the foundations of society and that was the unseen truth. Behind every great Gryffindor hero was a Hufflepuff team that made certain the hero had everything he needed to survive each battle. Behind each great Ravenclaw scholar were the Hufflepuffs that reminded her to eat and restocked her lab. Behind all great Slytherin leaders were a support structure of Hufflepuffs that dug in and saw that the paperwork was done. That was the way it had been since young Harry had been the sole apprentice amidst three Masters attempting to change the world and that had not changed when he had become the fourth and final Master of their group of revolutionaries.
If it wasn't for Helga Hufflepuff, the other three would never have survived each other long enough to choose a site to start building.
Salazar had known it, even if he had never admitted it. Young Harry had been his favourite apprentice, his heir even, if the raising of Hogwarts' wards had not stolen the option of leaving a legacy to any one being along with all four founders' ability to have children. It had not been love, but the affection Salazar held for Helga, now Harry, had been deep and abiding. It had always been a regret of Slytherin's that he would never be able to see what his apprentice would do with himself, that it was not him who would stand at young Harry's side throughout the doing of it.
No, Hufflepuff was never the consolation prize.
Now, watching through the castle's eyes, the sorting hat thought he would be rather proud that it was one of his that would be. And there was no doubt in what passed for the Sorting Hat's mind that the young Snape would be at Harry Potter's side for as long as both breathed. There was a partnership being born there, even as it observed them. Not love, not yet, but there was attraction and, more importantly, a deep and profound understanding of each other in its birthing stage. Love, especially the romantic love of songs, might never grow between them but when that newborn understanding reached fruition…
The world was going to change again.
Helga had returned and embodied both founder and saviour in the form of the Gryffindor-raised, Slytherin-trained, Ravenclaw-guided Hufflepuff.
Young Snape would have his work cut out for him and young Dumbledore had better watch his step.
The sorting hat knew the truth
It wondered if young Harry would mind it mentioning something in next year's song…