A Strange Turn of Events
Harry watched in morose silence as Ron, Hermione, and a few of the other Gryffindors climbed the great staircase after dinner, heading back to their dormitory in the Tower. He would have given anything if only he could be going with them.
For a moment he imagined settling down in the common room, where a cozy fire would be blazing in the grate to help keep away the winter chill that never could be entirely banished from the castle. He imagined spending the evening studying and completing homework assignments, the peaceful silence broken by the occasional comments and laughter of his dorm mates. He imagined sitting at a table with Ron and Hermione, sharing notes and the bag of sweets that Ron always saved from the Hogsmeade weekends.
At that moment, it seemed like Heaven.
But he couldn't join his friends. Snape had scheduled an Occlumency lesson for that evening and then he had another one of those dreadful detentions with Umbridge. Harry didn't even know what he'd done to earn this one. He'd been careful not to contradict her idiotic lies anymore. He pretty much kept his mouth shut during Defense, at least he tried to. It was hard, but he'd finally accepted that there was simply no point in arguing with Toad Lady. She wasn't going to change her mind and all it did was cause him trouble.
Anyway, a lot of the students and other professors believed him now, even if they did have to keep quiet about it. In spite of his gloomy mood, Harry smiled slightly as he thought of how he and his friends had formed the DA. It really gave him a feeling of accomplishment, that he was doing something to fight against Voldemort, even if it was in a rather limited way.
As they crossed the landing and turned the corner, Ron and Hermione looked down at Harry. Ron grimaced sympathetically and Hermione gave him an encouraging smile and a little wave. Harry sighed and turned towards another staircase that led down to the dungeons, his smile fading. At least most of the Slytherins were still at dinner so he shouldn't run into any of them on the way.
Sure enough, the route to Snape's office was silent and lonely. Harry trudged along, head down, until he came to Snape's door. He hesitated a second before squaring his shoulders, lifting his chin, and resolutely knocking.
"Enter," a stern voice called. Harry opened the door and stepped inside, closing it behind him.
Snape was waiting, standing beside his desk. His office was always dimly lit and his dark clothes and lank, greasy hair blended into the gloom. His pale face was a sharp contrast. "You're late, Potter."
Harry bristled inside, both at Snape's cool scornful tone and at the injustice of his rebuke. He wasn't late. Snape had said to come after dinner and Harry had. Most of the other students were still in the Great Hall, finishing dessert. So there was no way he was late. But arguing with Snape was like arguing with Umbridge, pointless and sure to bring trouble down on his own head.
Still, he just couldn't bring himself to apologize when he knew he had done nothing wrong. So he simply stood there in silence, trying to hide his resentment.
"Arrogant as always, just like your father," The Potions Master sneered in soft derision.
Harry couldn't keep quiet at that. "Don't talk about my father! He was a great man!"
Snape's black eyes flashed. "I could tell you things about your father…" he began, his voice sounding more dangerous in its quiet menace than if he had shouted. But then he stopped abruptly and clenched his jaw.
Snape and Harry stared at each other for a long moment before the professor finally spoke again.
"Take out your wand," he said in a voice as cold as ice.
For a second Harry seriously considered turning around and leaving. But Snape would be sure to give him detention for the next one hundred years if he did and even worse, it would disappoint Dumbledore. The headmaster was still being aloof and distant for the most part, which hurt more than Harry wanted to admit, but he had pulled Harry aside just the other day to remind him of how important Occlumency was and that Harry needed to give it his best effort. Part of Harry was angry with Dumbledore and tempted to refuse to try at all, but a bigger part of him wanted to please the headmaster and learn to occlude. Perhaps if he could, then Dumbledore would like him again.
So Harry pulled his wand from his sleeve and tried to brace himself against Snape's mental attack.
And then Snape was in his mind and Harry's memories were flashing by…burning breakfast at Privet Drive and Aunt Petunia throwing the frying pan at him; six-year-old Harry had just barely avoided it…a red-faced Uncle Vernon shouting and shaking him fiercely by the shoulders…Dudley and his friends chasing a ten-year-old Harry through the park and cornering him in a tree for hours…Umbridge smiling sweetly as bloody lines scratched deep through the skin of Harry's hand.
Harry tried desperately to push Snape out of his mind, and for a moment he thought perhaps he was succeeding, but then he realized it was something else entirely. Images kept whirling through his head, but they weren't his memories any longer, and they didn't seem to be Snape's either.
Two witches and two wizards in colourful robes stood on the lawn of Hogwarts, looking up at the castle.
"Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry," one of the witches said softly. She was short and slightly plump. Pretty in a kind, wholesome way with a sweet round face, blue eyes, and thick golden hair piled high on her head in a braided coronet.
Her eyes filled with tears as she stared at the castle. "We truly did it!"
"Why do you speak in the past tense, Helga? Our work has only begun," the other witch spoke. She was taller and breathtakingly beautiful, with long dark hair that fell in loose curls to her waist. Her face was a lovely smooth oval dominated by large grey eyes.
One of the wizards… a tall fellow with sparkling green eyes and bright chestnut hair…laughed heartily, slipped his arm about her waist and danced her around in a circle. "Of course, Rowena. We all know that. But we've been dreaming of this since we were children ourselves. And finally we have our school. A place where we can guide and protect the next generation. Just think…every youngster can have a chance to develop their talents. We can guide and protect them, teach and nurture them. This is definitely a moment to celebrate!"
He let go of Rowena and flicked his wand. Four glasses of sparkling amber liquid appeared. The man and the two witches both reached up to claim one, leaving one glass still hovering in the hair.
The three looked to their companion, the only wizard who had remained silent so far. He was the tallest, with a solemn saturnine face, thick black hair and a beard, and watchful dark eyes.
"Come on, Sal," the bright-haired wizard said with a teasing smile. "You're not still sulking, are you?"
"Sulking? No, but I am concerned," Salazar Slytherin replied quietly. "I am not convinced that admitting Muggle-borns is a good idea. Indeed, it seems like a very poor idea to me, fraught with peril and difficulty."
"Always the pessimist, aren't you, Salazar?" the other wizard said lightly.
"And you, Godric, always insist on sticking your head in the sand as if you were an ostrich," Salazar retorted. "You willingly blind yourself to the dangers of interacting with the Muggle world."
"I don't blind myself. I simply believe that your fears are greatly exaggerated. Muggles pose little threat to a true wizard," Godric told him.
Salazar shook his head. "I think that's debatable, but rather than get into all that again, have you actually considered… any of you… how difficult it is going to be attempting to teach Muggle-born students along with our own? Most of them won't know even the most rudimentary skills."
Helga walked over to him and patted his arm. "Now, Sal, I've already offered to teach the remedial courses and help the Muggle-borns adjust."
"That's my point, Helga. A talented witch with your power and skill stuck teaching the Muggle-borns their letters and numbers and how to scratch their names with a quill, things our own children learned years ago. It's a great waste of your abilities, and at a time when we desperately need you to be instructing according to the magical curriculum. It's not as if we have an overabundance of professors, you know," Salazar said, shaking his head.
"We've already discussed this, Sal," Helga replied firmly. "We'll manage somehow."
"Yes, I know. Just remember, the Muggle-borns are here on a trial basis only. At the end of the year we re-evaluate and decide if that policy is still sensible," Salazar insisted.
"Agreed. Now will you please take your glass so we can drink our champagne?" Rowena asked dryly as Godric pulled a face at Salazar and rolled his eyes.
Salazar sighed, but plucked his glass from the air. The four Founders held their glasses together, clinking them softly in a toast.
"To Hogwarts! Long may it stand!" Godric called.
The images faded to darkness, but instead of coming back to awareness in Snape's office, Harry felt a sudden violent jerk and then everything was spinning. He felt himself falling through the air, as if from a great height and reached out wildly. His fingers closed around something warm and solid, wrapped in cloth, and Harry gripped it desperately.
He landed with a force that drove all the air from his lungs. There was sharp pain as the back of his head struck the ground and for a terrible moment Harry was sure he was dying as he faded in and out of darkness and struggled desperately to draw breath. He pulled frantically at whatever it was he'd been holding onto.
"Let go of my arm, Potter." Beneath Snape's anger, there was a thread of concern.
And all of a sudden, the pain in Harry's head vanished and he managed to take a breath. He became aware that Snape was holding his wand over him, flourishing it quickly in a complicated series of moves.
"Are you all right, Potter?" Snape asked, and his tone was less hostile than Harry had heard before, at least when the professor was addressing him.
It was the civil tone or the hint of worry that Harry had noted before, but he found himself speaking more politely than usual, too. "Yes, sir." He paused, but felt compelled to add, "Thank you."
Snape ignored him though, which Harry found vaguely irritating. How hard would it have been to say 'You're welcome', after all? But Snape was looking around, holding his wand at the ready.
Harry sat up and drew his own wand as terrifying memories of the end of the Triwizard Tournament raced through his mind…the cup portkeying Cedric and himself away to an unknown location, being surrounded by Voldemort and Death Eaters, Cedric's lifeless body lying on the ground.
Could it have somehow happened again?
But they were still at Hogwarts. Harry felt a great rush of relief as he twisted his head and saw the castle at the other end of the sweeping lawn…but wait.
It wasn't evening anymore. The sun shone high in a bright sky. It wasn't winter. The blanket of snow had vanished and the grass was green. Flowers were blooming and in the silence, Harry could hear the trilling of distant songbirds. It was warm, too, warm enough for summer. The trees of the Forbidden Forest weren't nearly so tall or thick as they ought to be, and Hagrid's cottage at the edge of the Forest had vanished.
The Whomping Willow was gone, too, but there were several tall trees in different places on the grounds. Harry looked about with wide disbelieving eyes.
"What…?" He began in a whisper.
Beside him Snape stiffened and was on his feet in one fluid motion. "On your feet, Potter. Wand ready."
Harry scrambled up and turned to see two witches hurrying towards them from the castle. He recognized them from that odd scene that had played through his mind earlier and he had to wonder if Snape had seen it too.
Could they really be Rowena Ravenclaw and Helga Hufflepuff?
The two witches drew closer and Helga turned to her companion excitedly, "Oh, Rowena! It worked!"