A/N: For SiriusMarauderFan's Time for Love challenge on the HPFC forum. My pairing was MollySalazar, and I've gone for Molly(II) rather than the original. Just to make that clear from the start. Also for the prompt of the day on the Hogwarts Online forum: leaving.
A massive shout-out and thank you to all those who nurtured my baby with me, putting up with my ranting and panicking and whinging. To Double Caramel, who checked it all through and really helped. To La Paige, who encouraged me and dealt brilliantly with my moaning and complaining and personally swelled my ego by several notches. To Val-Creative, who is always there to be the Doctor to my Master and provide me with inspiration and encouragement. To never-ending nights with you, who was amazing despite all her exams.
This is for all of you. You are the best.
For the record (and to make this ridiculously long A/N ever), this is the most nervous I have been about posting a one-shot. In all my near-on four years of fanfiction. And that's saying something.
you are the solace of impossibility
to live is the rarest thing.
most people exist. that is all.
- Oscar Wilde
He summons the girl by mistake. Or maybe she summons herself, although neither can really be true because he's Salazar Slytherin, for Merlin's sake, and he does nothing by mistake.
All he knows is that he's in his Chamber one cloudy day, bored out of his mind, and the basilisk is lying at his side, still young and relatively small. He is absently running his fingers along its snout, a miniscule smile twisting his lips as it submits to his caress like a cat.
And then a girl lands in the water around the edge of the chamber with a massive splash that echoes off the walls and resounds around the room. Her swearing accompanies the sound of water sloshing as she struggles to her feet.
"What the – oh, for the love of Merlin," she says crossly, and Salazar watches with an amused and intrigued smirk as her gaze travels around the space, wide-eyed and sufficiently annoyed. Her scowl deepens as her eyes settle on him, his basilisk by his side, submissive under his touch.
"Great," she mutters, apparently to herself, "a creepy man with a creepy snake in a creepy room. My day is just getting better and better."
The basilisk twitches and rears, but at a hissed command from him it keeps its eyes obediently shut, though its nose scents the air and its reptilian nostrils flare at the smell of her. It sends a whispered thought to him. She is young and she smells like sunshine, it announces. It would prefer not to eat her.
Another smile plays across his face as he understands this, and he turns his attention towards the girl. She is studying him challengingly, her chin up and her blue eyes fixed on his face.
"Who are you?" she asks eventually, breaking the silence that is louder than any storm he's ever experienced. Her red hair shimmers in the half-light from the torches on the walls, and Salazar's eyes follow the play of the glimmers through her tangled, damp curls.
"My name is Salazar," he replies eventually, after leaving her to wait uncomfortably for a long while. "Salazar Slytherin."
"Bullshit," she says instantly, crossing her arms and frowning at where he's sitting on his marble bench. "Salazar Slytherin's been dead for over a thousand years."
He takes his hand off the basilisk's scaly neck and leans forward to rest his elbows on his knees, regarding her intently.
"Most engaging," he says, his chin resting absently on his hands. "What year is it now, girl?"
"Don't you 'girl' me," she growls, stalking closer to him. "I was just minding my own business on the way to lessons, I stopped for two minutes to wash my hands after bloody Hagrid made us look after flobberworms for the whole double lesson, I reach to turn on the tap and the next thing I know I'm underwater in a weird, cold chamber. With a snake and a … man."
"Charmed," he replies, quite unable to control his smile. "It's actually a basilisk, and you should be more courteous to it. You're the first person aside from me it hasn't expressed an instant desire to kill and eat."
"Basilisk?" she gulps, her gaze snapping instantly towards the reptile, taking a small step back before swallowing firmly and fixing her eyes back on him. "Well that doesn't explain where I am or what I'm doing … here."
She doesn't know quite what to make of his Chamber, of that he is certain, but her determined face and clenched fists make him chuckle patronisingly for her attempted ferocity.
"Well, I'm Salazar," he responds, his hand reaching to make contact with the basilisk as it unconcernedly lets its head drop back down to the ground, still with its eyes firmly shut. "And as to where you are – well, if I told you, my Chamber of Secrets would be considerably less secret, would it not?"
"I'm in the Chamber of Secrets?" she inquires with a deliriously impressed expression creeping onto her face. "No freaking way!"
She is off like a shot, making him flinch automatically, but she is only crossing the chamber to examine his statue, flitting around from pillar to pillar in her excitement.
He watches her calmly, his brain whirling, as her graceful fingers trace along the lines in the stone walls, her white shirt almost entirely see-through and clinging to her in the most sinfully delicious way that Salazar almost finds himself … attracted to her.
"I feel it's only fair that I receive a name in return," he calls to her as she hoists herself up onto a ledge to examine a carved snake more closely. "Wouldn't you agree?"
"Molly," she says to him, glancing over her shoulder briefly, her wet red curls spilling down her back like a picture. "So how did I get down here?"
"Believe me when I say, Molly, that I simply do not have the faintest idea."
She eyes him up for a further moment or two, her gaze narrowed and suspicious, and then she turns back to the carving of the snake, her fingers travelling up it wonderingly.
"This place is beautiful," she announces in awe, turning back to face him. He thinks that she is far more beautiful, and that she complements his Chamber wonderfully. He doesn't say it aloud, though. No need for her to realise how attracted he finds himself to her.
She looks for a moment as though she will come over to him, but then her eyes come to rest on the basilisk and she hesitates.
He watches her curiously as she stands there, her absurdly short skirt dripping water as she regards the basilisk with … interest, he thinks. He cannot fathom her lack of fear. But then she shivers mightily, a shudder passing right the way up her spine to her head and making her teeth chatter. The sound is absurdly loud in the silence.
The Molly girl is cold, the basilisk thinks to him. She will become ill.
"Allow me to help you," Salazar says charmingly, rising to his feet and moving over to her. She takes a step backwards, staring up at him nervously. He raises an eyebrow as he moves to within four inches of her, challenging her to hold her ground.
She does, and he cannot fathom why his mood lifts instantly.
He slides his wand out of his pocket, holding it firmly in one hand. He murmurs the incantation, watching with interest as her chest heaves with a little relief as her clothes instantly dry, steam rising gently from the material before disappearing entirely. A small stab of disappointment shoots through him as her thin shirt stops clinging to all her enticing curves.
"I believe I inquired as to the date?" he says, breaking the familiar silence, moving a fraction of an inch closer. She stares up at him, wide-eyed, her blue eyes swirling with indecision. She cannot be more than seventeen, he decides, her young body resilient to the cold, but she is many more shades of naïve than the women of her age he is acquainted with.
"It's April the twelfth," she informs him. "Twenty-twenty one."
"The year is two thousand and twenty one?" he repeats slowly, a newfound interest sparking in him as she rolls her eyes.
"Well, duh," she says petulantly. "What are you, living down here with no human contact?"
"Sadly, no," he replies with a slight grin, reaching one bold finger out to glide down her arm. "Despite my being the youngest of my fellow founders, I am the least sociable. I should like to live down here, but alas they insist I remain among them. And so I shall – for the time being, at least."
She frowns for a moment, not moving away from his gentle caress but not particularly seeming to even notice it. He calculates that in this girl's time, men and women must stay closer together. Indeed, if the shortness of her skirt is anything to go by, they enjoy parading around each other in little more than rags.
"How old are you?" she asks curiously, her gaze travelling over his dark hair and piercing green eyes and the white scar that is exposed under his white shirt, the ties at his neck hanging open.
"I am twenty-four," he replies as charmingly as he can, withdrawing his hand as it does not seem to be having any measurable effect. "I trust that you are magical?"
She does not seem to notice him, instead staring at a point a little way above his head, her eyes wide with fear and incredulousness. He turns to see where she is looking, and encounters the basilisk reared above him, eyes shut, its nose gently seeking Molly out. She raises her hand, then stares at it as though it had been an involuntary movement, but then the basilisk pushes its nose into her hand and her face lights up with joy as it allows her to stroke it.
The girl is like light, the basilisk decides, its tail flicking along Salazar's ankle. It wants her to stay.
"You know," Salazar says, watching her guardedly, his mind whirring with ways to persuade her up to his bedchamber, "you'll probably catch a cold if you remain down here for too long."
"Well, you're Salazar bloody Slytherin," she retorts, peeking at him from under her raised arm, an impish grin written across her features. "Make it warmer."
He sighs and reaches to tug her hand away from the basilisk, wrapping his own around it naturally.
"Molly," he says firmly. "You should adjourn with me and I will attempt to discover a manner in which to send you back to your own time."
It's a lie, but he's the Slytherin, after all, and he does not feel even a twinge of guilt.
"What do you mean, 'my own time'?" she asks in bewilderment, turning back to blow a kiss to the basilisk, making no attempt to remove her hand from his. "What time are we in now?"
"Molly," he says gently, leading her through the entrance to his Chamber, allowing the door to lock itself behind them. "I'm Salazar Slytherin. What time do you think we are in?"
She studies his face as they pause briefly, and then she shows nothing but shock.
"But – that means … Merlin almighty," she exclaims. "This must be … nine hundred and ninety-something AD. This is absurd. Is this Fred and Roxie playing another joke?"
"There is no joke, Molly," he tells her gravely, tugging her hand gently to get her to continue walking. "Congratulations. You just time-travelled."
"But … how? Time travel is impossible!"
He smiles for her naïveté, drawing to a halt beneath the chute that will return them to the main part of the castle. "Improbable, my dear. Evidently not impossible, or you would not be standing next me now, hm?"
She stares at him, her blue eyes wide with disbelief, and then he grins down at her and waves his wand once. She squeals and clutches tightly to his arm as they rocket up towards the surface, and he laughs deliriously as she clings to him desperately, determined not to scream but unable to entirely hide her fear.
"That was not so bad, was it?" he asks as he leads her out of the bathroom. She is shaking and her hands are like a vice around his right arm, but she shakes her head obstinately.
"No," she squeaks. "Not so bad at all."
"One moment, pray," he says suddenly, gently prying her hands off his arm and holding her an arm's length away from himself. "I'm afraid that this may be appropriate attire for your time, but in mine if you are seen like this it will be assumed that I have been … ravishing you."
"Nice rephrase," she teases, blushing (although she tries to hide it) and he raises an eyebrow. This girl is bold and stubborn and perhaps obtuse but she is extremely, unattainably different from the other cowering females he knows and she intrigues him unbearably. Intrigues him so much that, for some reason, he finds himself more eager to know her as a person than to talk her into his bed.
"Please stand still," he says, and it's more of an order than a question, so she folds her arms and taps a foot as she stares up at him.
"Get on with it, then."
He smiles and begins a long incantation. She laughs with delight as her clothes transform, weaving themselves into a long blue gown spun from dreams as she twirls with delight.
"Thank you," she breathes, throwing her arms around his neck and pressing a soft-lipped kiss to his cheek. "It's beautiful."
"As are you, Madame," he replies, his arms wrapping about her waist quite naturally. Her comfortableness with closeness is infectious, he thinks, as his face buries itself in her wonderful red hair absolutely of its own accord.
She releases him eventually, giving him a self-conscious smile, her blush clashing with her hair, before twirling off down the hall, laughing like an angel as the skirt of her dress swirls around her ankles.
"Slow down," he calls, having to run to keep up with her as she dances through the school.
"I can't believe I'm in Hogwarts so soon after it was founded," she announces, skipping as her fingers trace along the walls. "Lucy is going to be so jealous!"
"Lucy?" he inquires, watching her fondly as her hair shimmers in the torchlight.
"My twin," she explains, tossing a grin over her shoulder before rounding a corner. He puts on a burst of speed and catches up with her, taking her hand and leading her down behind a tapestry as a shortcut.
"I'm not sure it would be sensible for you to tell anyone of this," he says cautiously, his thumb tracing her knuckles delicately. "Perhaps it could just be our secret?"
She regards him pensively for a while, and then he flashes her his best smile and she colours prettily and shrugs.
"I guess I can keep it secret," she replies, and then her eye is caught by the sparkles of the silver in her dress and she runs her hand over her hip and beams up at him.
"Welcome to my chambers," he says suddenly, mostly to distract himself from the unexpected flood of affection and desire for her, and gestures towards the green door they have halted in front of. She smiles and reaches out to open the door, glancing up at him briefly before moving to step inside.
"Oh, god," she exclaims, and he rushes in after her to find her slowly fading from view, her eyes terrified. He hurries to her and she flings her arms around his neck and her lips meet his blazingly, impossibly, as his arms clutch around her waist reflexively and he tries to deny the wave of red-hot passion for her that threatens to overwhelm him.
"I really like you, Salazar," she whispers, as though this is the greatest secret in the world, and then she is gone and he is clutching empty air and he feels like a fool for allowing this phantasm from the future to worm her way into his heart in such a short space of time.
He does not expect to see her again. He wakes up from tangled dreams where girls with red hair clutch his heart in small hands and smile up at him until he reaches for them. Then they disappear abruptly, leaving him to wake sweating and feeling the loss as though she has died and taken his heart with her.
"Merlin, Salazar, you look as though death is standing right behind you," Godric says to him one morning at breakfast as they sit at the Head Table surveying the mass of students chattering away beneath them. "Have you an illness?"
"Only of the romantic sort," Helga chips in from Godric's other side with a mischievous grin. Salazar drops his head into his hands and sighs mightily.
"It is of no consequence," he replies shortly, using his this-conversation-is-over tone and rising abruptly from the table, sweeping from the hall.
Rowena follows him out, reaching out to touch his arm gently.
"Be careful, Salazar," she warns, her grey eyes holding his firmly. "I saw you with the red-headed halfblood girl not three months back. I have checked our registers and no such girl can be found. Was she a phantom?"
"No," he replies tersely, pulling his arm away. "She was from the future. She must have walked through a temporal displacement by accident, such as one created by the destruction of very dark magic. You know how these things work."
"Indeed," Rowena replies gravely. "There was that child who vanished for a week and came back claiming to have seen metal birds in the sky, do you remember? He had accidentally stepped through a temporal displacement caused by the slaughter of the Renwood vampires."
"I found her," he explains shortly. Rowena has this knack for getting him to speak when he does not want to, and he cannot help but admire her for it. "I dried her off and intended to give her food but she disappeared before I could."
"It's not logical for you to have fallen in love with her," Rowena says with considerable puzzlement, beginning to walk down the corridor beside him, her expression thoughtful. "I thought such feelings were not possible when meeting someone through a time gap."
"In love?" Salazar splutters, his green eyes bright with surprise. "Rowena, my dear, I can assure you that I have no such feelings for this … halfblood."
Rowena smiles suddenly, one of those rare smiles that lights up her twenty-six-year-old face and makes her look like Aphrodite incarnate. "If you believe it, Salazar, I will keep the truth to myself."
"The truth …" Salazar can barely speak. "Merlin, Rowena, I knew her for all of forty minutes. She was a silly child from the future. I feel nothing but curiosity towards her."
Rowena nods with a somewhat patronising smirk on her face, gesturing towards her diadem. "I'm the wisest person alive, Salazar," she reminds him with amusement. "I am never wrong."
"Well neither am I," Salazar counters determinedly, and they size up to each other for a few seconds before Godric bursts upon them.
"Oh, good morning," he says with a broad grin. "Are we discussing Sal's feelings towards the little redhead?"
Rowena bursts out laughing as Salazar fumes and turns on his heel, storming away to the bathroom that will take him to his Chamber. He slides down the tunnel easily, gracefully, and stalks through to the main room with all the elegance of a captured wildcat, dangerous and coiled and ready to pounce any second.
He paces around the room when he arrives, the basilisk watching him with its unblinking yellow eyes that it obediently shuts whenever he turns towards it.
"Why do I feel like this?" he inquires of it in parseltongue, striking his fist into his palm furiously. "She's a silly little girl from the future and I knew her for such a short time."
There is magic in the world, the basilisk responds philosophically, so why should there not be such a thing as love at first sight?
He glares at it for several seconds, hoping it can smell his irritation even though it cannot see it.
"You infuriate me," he informs it curtly, and he really hopes he is imagining its chuckle.
"I miss her," he says quietly, after a short, silent pause, as though it pains him to admit it. "And I feel ridiculous about it."
The basilisk reassures him that it is sure she misses him too, and with an angry hiss he storms out and gets all the way to the end of the tunnel before allowing his cool mask of logic to descend again and his temper to dissipate.
Under control, he decides to return to the Chamber and spend a couple of hours teaching the basilisk to kill people.
He arrives to find the basilisk curled up, submitting blissfully to the caresses of an achingly familiar girl.
"Salazar!" she exclaims with delight, sprinting across the room to throw herself into his arms. His veneer of iciness slips and his arms wrap around her slim waist tightly, his face buried in her hair.
"I thought I'd never see you again," he murmurs, and she tightens her embrace on him and presses her face into the side of his neck.
"I thought so too, and I just couldn't bear it. So I went back to the bathroom and ran up and down for hours until I managed to fall through the … portal, or whatever it is. And I didn't fall in the water this time!"
He sets her down very gently on her feet and his fingers ghost under her chin, raising her face so he can study it.
"Molly, I wish you to know that I feel a very inappropriate desire for you," he says, feeling that being truthful is perhaps the best way forward with her. "But I also wish you to know that I should not and I shall try to not, because you belong one thousand years in the future and my time is not safe for you."
"Well that's nice," she whinges, stepping away and crossing her arms, glaring at him. "I pine after you for three months, then spend hours running up and down a bathroom, and then I crash land on this bloody hard stone floor! And you're not even happy to see me!"
"Oh, my Molly," he murmurs, gathering her close and ignoring her protests. "You cannot know how happy I am to see you again."
She tries to push him away but he draws her in for a kiss and she almost immediately relaxes against him, her hands tangling in his hair and pulling him closer, claiming him fully and completely.
"I would not have thought it possible to feel this deeply for someone in such a short time," he whispers with his forehead resting against hers when they part, staring into her eyes as his palm cups her cheek. "I feel like a foolish milkmaid."
"Oh, where's the romantic in you?" she exclaims, parting from him and twirling deliriously around the Chamber, her fingers skating all along the basilisk's back as it wriggles in delight. "You are such a Slytherin," she complains as she halts on the other side of the room, her expression teasing. "All calculation and pretend and logic."
"And I am to assume that you were not placed in my house?" he asks, moving towards her with sinuous, snakelike grace.
"Yup," she confirms happily, dancing out of his reach with a laugh. "I'm a Gryffindor, through-and-through. And I hate to break it to you but we wiped the floor with you lot in last year's Quidditch."
"Is that so?" he chuckles, finally ensnaring her in his arms and pulling her flush against him in her short skirt and thin shirt and laughing eyes. "Well, then I shall have to discover some other way with which to make you mine."
Her eyes are full of stars and desire and dreams as he reaches in to kiss her tenderly again, but then she is fading and he is crying out with frustration as her lips ghost against his.
"I'll be back," she promises, and behind him the basilisk hisses in dismay as she vanishes. It likes her, it wants him to know. It wants her to return.
"You're not the only one," he replies to it in parselmouth. "I am a fool for feeling this!"
He's not, the basilisk promises. She is very easy to love.
"Great," he mutters to himself, running his hand along the basilisk's nose. "I'm taking love advice from a snake."
That night he and Godric are collapsed on sofas in his rooms, halfway into the Leadworth ale he'd stolen off some Muggles a week or so previously, and Godric is teasing him mercilessly about his future-love.
"Maybe one of your descendants will end up marrying her!" Godric proclaims, almost paralytic with laughter. "And then she'll have to explain that she had a thing with his great-great-great-great-great-great – "
"Yes, Godric, I understand your point," Salazar replies, tossing a bottle across the room at his old friend. Godric waves it away with his wand casually, and it smashes against the doorframe just as it is tentatively pushed open.
"Salazar?" an ohsofamiliar voice says puzzedly, and then Molly's head appears round the door and she bounds into the room excitedly before catching sight of Godric and stopping short.
"It's alright, love," Salazar says gently, crossing the room towards her and taking her hand, raising it to his lips. "Godric was just on his way out."
"Oh my Merlin," she exclaims reverently. "Godric Gryffindor?"
"See, that's the sort of reaction I deserve," Godric says, getting to his feet and swaying only marginally. "Pretty girls looking at me like I'm a god or something. It is an absolute pleasure to make your acquaintance, Molly," he continues, addressing this last to Molly, who blushes and grins shyly.
"We won the House Cup last year," she informs him proudly. "And the Quidditch."
"Ah, one of mine!" he grins, grabbing her off Salazar and swinging her round wildly once before dumping her back on her feet. "Good on you, girl. Keep winning them for me."
"Yes, alright, Godric," Salazar says, moving forward to rest his hands on Molly's hips. She turns her face to stare up at him and smiles dreamily, her eyes full of love.
"Before I leave," Godric says, looking remarkably sober for someone who can barely stand up straight, "I wish you to have this, my dear."
He holds out a tiny gold necklace, pressing it into her hands despite her protests.
"I meant to give it to my first daughter," he explains gently, making sure she closes her hands over it, "but it has been foretold that I won't have children."
"And he complains about this," Salazar whispers into Molly's ear. She giggles and studies the necklace closely. The ruby lion's eyes wink at her in the torchlight, each detail minutely and perfectly crafted.
"It's strange of me to give you this, I know," Godric says as he crosses the threshold, turning back to grin at the pair of them. "But I think a girl who can capture our Sal's heart in such a short time deserves something really special."
"Oh, get out," Salazar shouts at his friend's disappearing back, waving his wand to slam the door behind him. "I must apologise for him."
Molly laughs and turns in his arms, resting her head on his chest and clasping the necklace around her neck.
"I like him. He's cool."
"Cool?" Salazar inquires, bewildered, and Molly laughs and then suddenly her mouth is moving towards his and her legs are wrapping around his waist and it has been too long, far too long, since he felt this right with a girl this close.
"I'll explain later," she breathes against his mouth as he carries her through into his bedchamber, lying her down on his green-canopied bed. "It's slang from my time."
"Slang?" he asks, still confused, and she laughs as she pulls his shirt off him.
"I'll explain that too."
And then her lips meet his again, and there is no need for any more words.
She watches him sleep next to her as she toys absently with his hair. His sleeping face is relaxed and Molly feels utterly overwhelmed by the fact that she may be (is) in love with this man whom she should never have met.
She smoothes his hair over his forehead and smiles fondly as he frowns slightly and mutters something, rolling over and draping his arm possessively over her waist.
"Love you," she murmurs with a smile, kissing his temple and then sliding out of bed. She pulls one of his shirts on and then pads out of the room into his sitting room. After shuffling through some of the papers on his desk she collapses onto his desk chair and reaches for a quill because she's sure it will not be long before she is required to return to her own time.
She doesn't know how any of this works, that's for sure, but she knows her time is borrowed and she's trying not to think about it.
Salazar, she begins, her quill scratching against the parchment. She hesitates for a brief moment, and then begins to write more firmly, the ink making bold lines against the blank sheet.
"What are you doing?" a voice asks from the doorway, and she whirls to see him leaning against it, trousers hastily pulled on and his hair rumpled with sleep.
"I just wanted to let you know some things," she explains, waving the parchment and then tucking it into an envelope and padding over to him, leaving the envelope on the desk.
"What do you want me to know?" he inquires in a low voice, wrapping his arms around her waist and drawing her close. She sighs against his chest, her arms gliding around his neck as she breathes him in with his delicious scent of forbiddenness and darkness and possibilities.
"Open it when I'm gone," she orders, breaking apart from him a little so she can see his face. "'Cause I don't think I'm coming back again."
"The temporal displacement is gone?" he asks, already feeling his heart shake at the possibility of the loss of her.
"It's getting weaker," she confirms, splaying her fingertips over his heart and letting him pull his head down to rest against hers. "But it's not just that."
"Then what?" he inquires, his hand sliding up to tangle in her hair, kissing her gently and sweetly just once.
"I have to start being realistic," she tells him, her eyes glazed with desire and love and loss. "You've been dead for a thousand years in my time, and besides you're a Slytherin. In fact, the Slytherin. I think my parents would have a heart attack if they knew how I felt about you."
He doesn't say a word to her reasoning, just stares at her face and memorises every tiny detail.
"I'm going to miss you," he murmurs, and she suddenly lets out a sob and hugs him tightly, her body plastered to every inch of his and her lips fastened to his like she will die without the taste of them.
"Me too," she whispers, her voice thick with tears, and she kisses him as his fingers trail over the pale skin on her shoulder, weaving tales of impossibility and desperation and love and timelessness. She'll trace the thick, invisible lines later and cry because they are branded on her more surely than any tattoo, unwashable and permanent and full of memories.
Suddenly she screams with fear against his mouth, and her fingers brush through his hair as she clings to him desperately, starting to fade from view.
"No, Molly!" he cries, trying to hold on to her but feeling his arms slip through her like a ghost. "Don't go!"
"I love you," she tells him faintly, and her last view of him is him on his knees, his bare chest heaving with withheld tears, his hand stretching out towards her.
"Love you too," he whispers, and then she is blackness.
She comes to in a darkened room, a man holding a lit wand leaning over her.
"Miss Weasley?" he asks with considerable confusion, and she recognises Professor Longbottom.
"Sir …" she says blankly, trying to hold back the tears as she struggles into a sitting position and he goes around lighting the torches in the room. "I'm sorry."
"How on earth did you get in here?" he inquires curiously, crossing the room to kneel in front of her. She hugs her knees, still dressed in Salazar's shirt, her long legs prickled with goosebumps in the cold.
"I was …" she doesn't have an answer, so she gazes around the room and something about the shape of it is familiar and she suddenly darts to her feet, sprinting across the room and pushing open a small door.
"Molly, that's my bedroom!" he calls to her, scrambling to his feet and dashing after her. She pushes the door open and rushes into the room. It's messy and the hangings are red rather than green but it is familiar and something about the feel of it makes her hurt inside for reasons she cannot fathom.
"Molly," the professor says gently, moving round to stand in front of her as her eyes rove around the room, filling with tears without her noticing. "Molly, what's wrong?"
"He's gone," she murmurs. "He's gone. I'm gone. I thought I had more time!"
And then she falls to the floor as though she has no control over her body and Professor Longbottom rushes forward to catch her, supporting her in his arms as she starts to convulse with tears, sobbing into his chest and quite unaware of the fact that she is clinging to the lapels of his pyjama shirt as though she is a child.
"What's happened, Molly?" he asks gently, rubbing her back. He has two teenage daughters and he recognises the signs. "Is it a boy?"
"No," she replies, her face hidden against his shirt. "It's a man and I'm stupid."
"Okay," he says thoughtfully, easing her up onto her feet and leading her back through into the main room. He's known her since she was a child but he still doesn't feel comfortable with her in his bedroom. "Would you like to tell me about it?"
Her hands remain fastened to his pyjamas as he sits down on the sofa, letting her collapse into him. He's quite sure that the line between student and teacher can be blurred in this sort of situation, so he is not at all worried to see Minerva McGonagall's head appear in the fireplace.
"Neville?" she asks, staring up at where he is sitting on the sofa with Molly. "What's the matter? I got your message to say Miss Weasley had appeared in your chambers."
"I'm not sure, Headmistress," Professor Longbottom replies, his arm around Molly's shoulders. "I don't suppose you could fetch her cousin? I feel a female touch would not go amiss."
"Of course," McGonagall replies, and her head disappears instantly. The professor waits patiently, murmuring soothingly to Molly, until Victoire appears in his doorway, flushed and panting with the run from Gryffindor Tower to his rooms.
"Victoire," he says, and she hurries across the space to pry her cousin off him and into her arms.
"Thanks, Nev- professor," she says, and he nods and wisely retreats into his bedchamber, shutting the door behind himself. "Merlin alive, Moll, what's happened?"
She just bursts into a fresh wave of tears and Victoire, with a long-suffering sigh, gently pulls her to her feet and begins to lead her back out of Professor Longbottom's rooms and to Gryffindor Tower.
"I don't know what to do, Vic," Molly says quietly when Victoire has managed to get her into bed. Feeling desperately sorry for her cousin, whatever is going on, Victoire slips into bed next to her and lets her curl up against her.
"What happened, Moll?" she asks gently, and Molly takes a deep breath.
"It's sort of hard to explain."
"Try," Victoire commands, and so Molly does.
The next day Molly runs up and down the bathroom for hours. The displacement is gone, though, finally and completely, and the realisation of this results in another thirty minutes of fruitless, pointless sobs.
She hurries back to Gryffindor Tower, the little golden necklace bumping against her collarbone as she goes. She is wiping her face to clear the tears away when she rounds a corner and bashes extremely hard into somebody else. The somebody falls backwards, his papers exploding outwards in a flurrying whoosh.
"Oh, Merlin, I'm so sorry!" she exclaims, leaning down to extend a hand and help them to their feet.
"That's quite alright," he replies, accepting her hand and pulling himself up. Molly blushes as she recognises Professor Longbottom, her histrionics from the previous night dancing in the front of her mind and embarrassing her thoroughly.
"I – thank you," she says, changing tack mid-sentence. "Thank you for last night."
"You are more than welcome," he responds with a smile, spelling his papers back into a pile in his arms and then digging around in his pocket until he finds a small envelope. "Here. I found this under my floorboards when I was searching for a suspected intruder of the rodential variety early this morning. It had your name on, so I thought I'd hand it over."
She accepts the letter giddily, the writing on the front unfamiliar but the personality of the man who wrote it evident from the impatiently spiky scrawl and the hurried flicks on the 'l's in her name.
"Thank you, Professor," she says, almost in a daze, and slits the envelope open eagerly, sliding down against the wall at the side of the corridor absently as her eyes scan the writing.
It is not the heartfelt goodbye she expected – in fact, it is barely a letter at all. Instead there are what look like … instructions. Little diagrams of a tap and a tunnel and a chamber and a snake.
She stares at it for a while longer, furious with herself for not understanding – and then a vaguely familiar memory of a tap with a snake engraved on it floats to the top of her mind and, with barely a second's pause, she is rocketing down the corridor to Moaning Myrtle's bathroom.
She hurries into it and searches ferociously for the tap, ignoring Myrtle's curious question from one of the toilets, and finally she catches sight of a crude snake scratched into the bronze edge of one of the taps.
There is no password written on the age-old piece of parchment, no clue as to what she is to do. With a sigh, she lets her fingers glide over the carving regretfully.
The whole bathroom begins to judder suddenly and, with a cry, she leaps back. A huge chute opens up in a way she cannot understand and, without a second thought, she sprints towards it and throws herself in.
Because all this is familiar – although last time she was coming out, not going in – she lets out a giddy cry as she plummets into the depths of the castle.
She lands in a stinking pile of sludge and gets up with a little 'ick' noise of disgust, pulling out her wand to first clean herself and then light up. She begins to pick her way down the dank corridor, speeding up as she rounds a corner and the turns begin to look familiar.
She stumbles to a halt as she finds the giant snake skin, and eagerness to see her old friend the basilisk again wells up inside her as she finally breaks into a run, scrambling through the gap in the top of the rockfall until she reaches the huge door, bolted with the heads of two huge metal snakes.
"Come on, door, open," she pleads, placing the flat of her palm against it desperately. Obediently, delicately responsive to her touch, the door unlocks itself and swings open.
She sees the dead basilisk and screams.
Not through fear, mind, though it is much bigger than when she last saw it.
No, she screams because her dear old friend is dead, and not just dead but mutilated. Its teeth are missing, its skull limp and weak and empty without them. Its eyes are hollow and bloody and Molly doesn't realise she's keening with loss until she falls down against its back and buries her face in its scaly hide, the odd sound so abruptly cut off that she realises it must be her.
"Oh, Merlin, no," she begs to it, her hand resting against its back where she once tickled it as Salazar smiled at her with those eyes and that mouth and it is just all too much.
She knows that she is ridiculous for being so very upset about a monster such as this, but this was her last tie to Salazar, her last tie to the man who came to mean ohsomuch in such a short time, and now it is gone and it is all so unbearable.
She stays in the Chamber for two days. She doesn't notice the passing of time. She spends most of it curled up in a ball against the basilisk's dead, cold side, unseeing eyes staring straight ahead.
She knows she's being melodramatic but she doesn't really give a fuck.
She doesn't know how long she's been down there when she finally gets up, uncurling from her self-protective ball, and begins to wander around the Chamber.
His touch is in everything – she can feel his very presence in the rocks in the walls and the carvings on the pillars and she traces the fingers of one hand over these while the fingers of her other hand follow the invisible lines he'd carved into her skin all that time ago.
"You're here," she announces to the empty air eventually, breaking a silence so thick it is like water. "I can feel you. You're still here."
There is no response, of course – she doesn't mean that his ghost has remained, because he died far from here and she shall probably never know where. But she can feel him and something draws her towards that marble bench he'd been sitting on when she first saw him.
What catches her eye first is what is scratched into the surface of the shiny stone.
Just her name. Nothing else. Her fingers wander over the lines and then she bends down to examine under the seat, finding a piece of parchment magically bound to the underside and kept fresh with the same spells that had preserved the letter in Professor Longbottom's rooms.
She hesitates even as she moves to tear it open. She tries to decide if she really, truly wants to know this, or if it would be better to just leave it and try to forget everything.
A Ravenclaw would probably leave it. Hell, a Hufflepuff would. The Gryffindor she once promised Godric she was certainly would.
But truthfully she's always belonged to Slytherin (man, house, the distinction has blurred in her mind) and so she tears the letter open and devours the letter like a blind man discovering colours.
His script is cramped yet flowing, professing his love for her in poetry that has her poor, damaged heart ripping just a little further. She cannot repress a smile when he makes a typically Slytherin comment about wanting to keep the school pure, but saves it by hoping that it does not make her think any less of him because he wants to do it all for her, so that when she attends it will be clean and suitable – only the best for his Molly, after all.
She is crying again when she finishes (and know that I shall always love you, Molly. Everything I do will be in your name. I shall write your beauty in the stars and create monuments to proclaim your wonder and be the most powerful man alive, all for you) and she knows it's pointless and redundant, yes, but as she slips down and presses her heated cheek against the cool marble she is crying for the future she should have had with him and for the death of her friend the basilisk and for the agony of not knowing, of never knowing, how and where he died.
It is her father who finds her. Her darling, awkward father, who doesn't even like going outside in a rainstorm for fear of ruining his suit; he clambers through sludge and slime and old rocks, all for her.
"Oh, sweet Merlin, she's here," he yells, barrelling towards her and easily outdistancing all others with him, gathering her up into his arms and holding her so tightly she can barely breathe. But that's okay, because she was choking on tears anyway.
"Dad," she whimpers pathetically, her cold fingers clutching at his sleeves, staring up at him almost uncomprehendingly. "What are you doing here?"
He lets out a desperate sob and buries his face in her hair, squeezing her to him like he is afraid she will vanish. She reaches a slow hand up to touch his cheek, to reassure him that she is here and whole.
"What –" she begins, but another voice cuts her off and she glances up to find a whole gaggle of adults around her. Aunt Ginny, Uncle Charlie, Uncle Bill, Professor McGonagall, Professor Longbottom, Uncle Harry, more … they're all there and it makes her worried.
"We've been looking for you for two days, Molly," Ginny says, glancing nervously around at the scene of such terror for her all those years ago. "Nobody had any idea where you'd gone."
"I'm sorry," Molly replies, her brain feeling like it's not quite functioning right as Percy holds her vehemently, perhaps terrified she will vanish again. "I had to … check something."
As she expected, the storm and haranguing begins then as she is criticised on all sides for being thoughtless and inconsiderate and stupid and while all the adults are yelling over each other she whispers into her father's ear very gently.
"Where's mum?" she asks, and he sighs and draws back slightly to regard her, blue eyes into blue.
"She's with Lucy and Victoire. Most of the women decided to stay, apart from Ginny. Apparently her boys are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves and Lily."
"Lily doesn't need anyone taking care of her," Molly replies with a slight smile for the remembered belligerence and tenacity of her youngest cousin, and Percy draws her in close again as the level of noise around them increases several decibels.
"I'm just so glad you're safe," he murmurs, and she presses her face into the juncture of his neck and shoulder and sighs very softly.
"Please can we get out of here?"
He nods and gets to his feet, bending to pick her up. Charlie, Harry and Bill all rush to his aid but he shakes his head firmly, his glasses slipping down his nose, hefting her up with great effort and carrying her through the Chamber determinedly, all his muscles straining.
Molly fights to get down as they pass the basilisk, and to the disgust of the adults around her she runs to its poor, violated head and very gently runs her finger down its great snout before planting a very light kiss on it.
"You didn't deserve this," she promises it. "You were lonely and you didn't get a choice. I'm so sorry."
The adults are silent as they watch her say goodbye, and finally it is Harry who breaks the silence.
"Molly?" he asks tentatively, and she gives the basilisk one last gentle stroke before turning to him and straightening her shoulders and tilting her chin upwards.
"Yes?" she replies calmly, pacing back over to them measuredly, ohsodetermined to remain in control.
"I just … how did you get in? You can't speak parseltongue, unless I'm mistaken."
"Oh, you're not," she reassures him. "It opened for me. I suppose Salazar must have charmed it to recognise me."
"But why …"
The question is written over every single face in the room, not just Harry's, and Molly just shakes her head almost imperceptibly.
And her father rushes to help her again, his arm around her waist as her Uncle Charlie moves to take her other side and she cranes her head back over her shoulder as Harry closes the Chamber behind them sealing it up for the final time, and her last view is of the poor, dead basilisk, and nothing but grief seeps through her as she imagines the lonely, agonised centuries it spent down there waiting, wondering, loving two people it would never see again.
She knows exactly how it feels.
On her seventeenth birthday, she gets a basilisk tattooed onto the inside of her right ankle. She hates tattoos, but she wants to remember and besides there's all these patterns on her body where Salazar's fingers once traced that are as clear to her as day, even if others can't see them, so what's another line to add?
Percy goes mad, but she retreats into the white-faced silence that has become so characteristic of her since it all happened, and he gives up and doesn't press the matter.
She grows up and becomes a historian because she was always good with old things and she gets a reputation as the only human being who can approach a basilisk without being killed because, as they all comment to the parseltongues within earshot, she smells like sunshine.
And every one she finds reminds her painfully of her old friend and the man she misses every second of every day and she tries to resist making his disappearance her personal project and instead tracks the migrating patterns of unicorns over the years and tries to work out what event caused them all to retreat into forests and she has no luck.
At night her fingers toy with the golden lion necklace while moonlight plays across the silver-and-green basilisk on her ankle, twisting around as she regards it, and the tears have dried up now but she still sends wishes up on every star that she'll get to see him again one day.
She supposes the basilisk must have done the same thing.
A/N: You deserve a medal if you got to the end of this. Congratulations! Please don't favourite without reviewing now, thank you.