Drops fell on her head. She walked forward. Her feet splashed in puddles. Wooden door. She pushed it open. Up the stairs. Down the hall. She seemed to glide towards her destination. She stopped. Room 3B, the door declared. She knocked. Door opened. She stepped in.
A shadowed figure. Somehow she knew him. She spoke. Dark figure stayed still, not looking at her. She spoke some more, yet somehow did not understand her words. She continued speaking. Shadowed person's eyes suddenly met hers.
Black fog. Scene changed. She stood in a hall; body form still surrounded by dark next to her. They faced two others silently. Clock ticked. Other footsteps clattered. Eyes darted around. They waited.
All four suddenly grasped hands. Circle was formed between them. Hands gripped hard, a promise of a bond, an everlasting chain.
Her eyes flew open. She found herself short of breath, and placed a hand over her forehead, rubbing it lightly. Why did this dream keep reoccurring? She'd never dwelled on the past before. She was not bothered by this past, this history, she was not haunted by it. Yes, it invaded her thoughts often, but she had moved on. Over fifty years had passed, for Merlin's sake! So why did this dream, for months now, continue to plague her nightly like this?
Though while dreaming she never quite knew who the figure absorbed in darkness was, instantly upon awakening she would. But she could not dwell on them, nor him. She could not remain in the past, wherever dreams may lead her. This is what she reminded herself night after night.
And yet, at the same time, night after night she began thinking about this dream more and more often. Perhaps…maybe…was this really just a dream? Could it possibly be…something else? Maybe it meant something…was trying to tell her something that would happen in the future…
She rolled over carefully onto her side, and closed her eyes. Though she tried to fall back asleep, her eyelids danced with images from her dream. Through the door…up the stairs…down the hall…to Room 3B…right to him…
Distraught and angered with herself, she covered her eyes with her hands, even though they were already squeezed shut; as though this extra barrier could somehow block the pictures she was seeing again. She was worn out from witnessing this dream over and over, and then running it through her head over and over. She wanted this to end. She wanted to go back to her life, and stop residing in this world that did not exist. Could she perhaps trick her sub-conscious mind, the part of her responsible for these silly fantasies, to stop these dreams?
If this dream were some sort of fake foretelling that my mind has designed for amusement purposes, she mused to herself, then perhaps following its footsteps would put my mind at ease – to prove that it is meaningless, to prove that it's nothing more than a dream.
The idea was silly, but if it could put her weary body and mind at ease, then so be it. She would follow the footsteps of this dream, wherever it lead her to truth or lie.
Pushing gently on the door, she stepped inside the tavern, allowing its warmth to seep pleasantly into her rain-soaked garments and skin. The door creaked as it closed behind her. She walked towards the counter where the barman stood, lazily wiping down the wood surface.
"Can I help yeh?" he asked when she approached.
"I was wondering if you would be able to give me the room number of – a friend of mine."
"And yer friend's name?"
"Slytherin. Salazar Slytherin."
The man's brow lifted slightly. "And yer – friend Mr. Slytherin – he knows yer're comin'?"
She did not break his gaze. "He is aware of a future visit, yes."
She did not think the barman was trying to use Legilimency on her as he stared skeptically into her eyes, but she kept her Occlumency barriers up regardless. You could never be too sure where to place your trust anymore.
The man made a grunting noise. "Alright. He's in room 3B."
Her stomach lurched at the room number, but outwardly she remained apathetic. "Thank you," she said politely.
"I hear any complaints from yer friend an' yeh go straight out," the bartender warned.
"Yes sir, thank you." She pulled her hood more securely around her head, then journeyed down the hallway where the pub's rooms were located. Drawing a deep breath to make sure she looked calm, she knocked on the door.
"Who is it?"
She shivered involuntarily at hearing his voice. "An acquaintance of yours," she replied.
There was a hint of a snort from behind the door. "Thank you for that introduction, dear acquaintance."
She waited for a moment with baited breath, praying he would open the door. He did. Her head bowed, she looked up at him from beneath her hood. He stood in shadows, but even so she could see he had aged very little; the only noticeable difference was that his dark hair was sprinkled with gray, along with his stubble.
His dark eyes met hers intently, and they looked at each for a long moment.
"That hood may mean to disguise you, Rowena, but it does a shoddy job indeed."
She lifted her head higher, but did not remove the hood. "May I come in?"
He searched her expression closely, but not as though he were trying to break into her mind: he knew, even after all those years, that she was still wiser than that.
"We can talk out here," he said.
"Correct you are, Salazar. But we can also talk in there."
"What's there to talk about?"
She took the rim of her hood between two fingers and pulled it off her head. "What isn't there to talk about?"
The corners of his mouth twitched downward slightly, but he held the door open wider for her to pass through. She brushed past him and into the tiny room. He shut the door behind them both, then positioned himself to lean against the dresser.
"I am rather curious as to your purpose here, I must admit," Salazar said. "But first, what I want to know even more: how did you find me here?"
Rowena smiled slightly, and lifted her eyebrows. "What, were you in hiding?"
"No, but…you'd never come after me before…"
"Because I never tried. You were not terribly difficult to locate, though." All it took was my dreams, she thought, still trying to wrap her mind around the fact that these night visions had been real. But she could not tell him this, and he looked dissatisfied and suspicious with her vague answer, so she added, "Gossip travels fast when the esteemed Salazar Slytherin is staying at a dirty inn."
"'Tis not dirty, in fact I've never seen a cleaner bathing room."
She gave him a meaningful look. "I meant the people stopping here, Salazar, not the building itself."
There was an uneasy silence at the implied reference to the long ago disputes.
"So tell me, Rowena," Salazar interrupted the still air. "What brought you here tonight?"
She could not reveal her purpose upfront, he would take more time to persuade. So she tilted her head slightly to one side, remaining distantly nonchalant. "Should I not be curious as to how my former colleague is fairing?"
"You've never been curious before, but I am fairing quite well, in fact." He rubbed a hand over his graying stubble. "And yourself?"
"Managing," Rowena replied evenly. "Hogwarts has been flourishing; I've traveled abroad a bit to recruit some more students and further my research…"
"Ah," said Salazar. "And where have you been traveling?"
"Are you curious about me as well, then?"
"Should I not be? It's been over fifty years since I last saw you."
"Don't act so remorseful," she said scornfully. "You ran away, not I."
He smiled slightly. "Can't differ with that one, can I?"
She smiled stiffly back at him. "What have you been doing since you left Hogwarts, then?" she asked, trying not to seem as interested as she felt.
"Research, mostly," he said nebulously, picking up a newspaper from the dresser and examining it idly while speaking. "Moved my place of residence to a small town where I could do such studies in peace…converse with local snakes as often as I can…I stopped in this area of town for a brief break, a strong drink can help tear one away from devoted research, when I start to become too involved in it…"
"You seem to be happy, then."
"I am," he said simply.
"I'm glad you have found yourself content," she said.
His gaze moved away from the paper and focused on her instead. "There's no need to make fabrications to cover the truth, Rowena."
"It's not a fabrication," she said flatly. "I am glad that you are happy now. No matter what sort of pain you've brought everyone else."
Salazar's expression did not change, though he did say quietly, "That's a very gallant thing to say."
"Godric's the brave one, not I."
"One could argue that, in a way, it was brave to come and visit the power hungry Slytherin."
Despite his words being in some twisted fashion complimentary, they only seemed to anger her further. "You've got to have some amount of courage and strength, or else we'd all be cowards who run away from our promises."
One dark eyebrow heightened. "Was that a mildly subtle reference to myself?"
"It was indeed."
"'Tis reassuring to know that I am thought of so highly in your opinion," Salazar said wryly.
Seething slightly, Rowena breathed in deeply, trying to make her mind to take control of her heart. She was going to remain level-headed. But such an idea was difficult when the man standing in the same room as she happened to be everything and nothing to her.
"How is your son?" she inquired civilly.
For the first time that night, Salazar's eyes flickered slightly with emotion. She had finally gotten through to him. "Our son, you mean?"
"He is known as your son to most," she said tonelessly. "He ran off with you. Only Helga, Godric, and several others know the identity of the mother."
"That doesn't make it any less true." Was it wishful thinking, or could she see a hint of longing in his eyes?
"Please answer the question, Salazar."
"I do not actually know, I haven't seen him recently. He is getting on in his years as well, in the middle of his fifties, you realize."
"I know how old your child is, thank you."
"Well, rest assured, last I spoke to him at least, that our child is quite fine."
Rowena suddenly found herself unable to speak, and merely nodded. While she struggled to form a sentence in her head to speak aloud, she looked upon his face for the first time in over fifty years. As she studied his features, she realized how much she had missed him. Granted, their interaction thus far this evening had been all but comfortable and pleasant, but regardless: this was the man she had formed bonds with; built a school with; laughed with; cried with; learned with; grown with; loved with. Did he remember that? Did he ever remember the four of them anymore, recall what used to be? Or had they all been so insignificant to him that he never looked back, never cared enough to think back on the memories? Somehow, she did not think he would have forgotten. No matter how Godric spoke of him these days, Salazar was not inhuman. He was just…different.
But so were they. Godric and Helga and she were all varied as well. So what should it matter of their contrasts? Their diversity had been what made them strong. Could that not hold true now? Could the four of them once again unite under their similarities and their differences?
"Come," she said abruptly.
He gave her a quizzical look, though part of him seemed to have an inkling of what she was asking. "Come?" he repeated.
"Come back to Hogwarts."
He inhaled as though about to speak, then appeared to change his mind and exhaled quietly, keeping words in his thoughts only.
"Return to Hogwarts with me," said Rowena. She held out her hand to him, palm up, an open invitation.
His stare dropped from her eyes to her hand. "Rowena…" He stopped speaking, and his head rocked back and forth once to signal no.
"Salazar, please. For…me." She considered that, and then shook her head violently. "No, not for me. For all of us."
"I won't be wanted there," he stated.
"Yes, you will – "
"And I don't want to be there either," Salazar continued, meeting her attentive dark eyes again. "I don't belong, Rowena."
"Do not present me with such lies. Of course you belong. We used to live in such happiness – "
"What is done is done," he said. "I cannot change the past. And…I don't want to," he added in a softer tone. "But all of that is done with now, and we continue on with our lives, no matter what we choose to do with it. You, Godric, and Helga have chosen your paths – I have chosen mine."
Tears were brewing behind her lids, but she did all that she could to hold them back. "What if the life I've chosen involves you?" she rasped.
He did not answer, did not move.
Her hand crumbled into a fist, and she let her arm fall without poise to her side. Knowing she had failed, she dropped her head down and closed her eyes, fighting against her torrent of emotions. She allowed several seconds to collect herself, then raised her head determinedly and met his gaze. "Good luck with whatever happenings shall come upon you, and all that you choose to pursue in the future." She padded lightly across the room, opened the door, and stepped out. Shutting it carefully behind her, she walked down the staircase and out through the pub. She had the sensation that she was stepping back into the real world and out of a dreamland as she did so.
Pulling her hood over her head, she began the walk down the sidewalk. Lost in her thoughts, she was not immediately sure if the sudden touch on her hand was her imagination or not. Glancing towards said hand, she saw another linked with it. Her gaze lifted up slowly and traveled across an arm, a shoulder, a neck…up to his head.
He smiled faintly as their eyes met. "It's worth a stop, at the very least."
She broke into a smile herself, and moved closer to him. He placed a firm hand on her shoulder to hold her back. "No promises on anything that may or may not take place."
She halted her steps. "None?"
He looked down at her. "None," he said seriously. "If it does not work, I am committing myself to nothing."
She nodded, understanding she could not expect more. With a gentle tug to his hand, she persisted in walking down the street, and they then continued down the road ahead together.
She didn't know if her dream would end up telling the future. Perhaps it would, no matter where this twisted and bumpy road would lead her. Perhaps it wouldn't, and she'd end this road on a particularly large bump. Because whatever the heavens, or the stars, or her dreams foretold, they could never predict a very important part of the future: choice. Whatever lay ahead would be determined by choices. The choice to reaccept. The choice to reject. The choice to listen. The choice to turn away. The choice to rejoin. The choice to reunite. The choice to love.