Author Notes: Hello everyone and thank you once more for your wonderfully encouraging reviews! I had wanted to post this chapter on 31 March to mark the 6th year anniversary of JD's last update, but alas, time flies faster than a snitch.
Conversely, time passes very slowly in this continuation, but I promise the plot will pick up much faster after this. We just had to put the pieces in place first. Enjoy this chapter and I look forward to your feedback.
Appreciation: Thank you, thank you and thank you to Vine Verrine, my very busy but very fantastic beta and co-writer. Without her eagle eye and high standards, all the characters would lose their snap and spark and I would be writing nothing but sappy Snarry. Which I still will... if it isn't TMS! :)
- Chapter Start -
Charlie cleared his throat, drawing everyone's attention to himself, and away from Harry and Sirius.
"It is strange that Voldemort hasn't tried anything over the past ten days," he said, "and stranger still that there has been no news of him at all."
"I think he is biding his time, perhaps planning something else," Shacklebolt suggested. "After all, his grand plan to kill the entire world's population has been thwarted and the Light," he gestured around the room, "is still thriving."
Lucius' lips twisted a bit at that. He didn't know if he should feel gratified to be included, even if it was only implied, or if he should scoff at that same fact.
"Maybe the Elder Demon did destroy him that night," Black insisted, giving Severus a defiant look.
Were it not for the uncomfortable leap his heart gave at the words, Lucius would have smirked at Black's paltry dig at Severus, likely because Potter had brushed aside his concerns about Severus helping him control his magic. Severus didn't seem to have noticed, his eyes going to Lucius who recognised the bitter truth in those black depths at once. The two of them, better than anyone else in this room, knew the Dark Lord was still alive.
When Severus broke their gazes to look down, Lucius saw his fingers were now entwined with Potter's. A small part of him was surprised at the acceptance he saw in the Potions Master's face at this obvious public display of affection - who would have thought it, old Severus was going soft! The bigger part of him noted Potter's reassuring and determined expression, the boy's body turned towards Severus as if trying to convince him of something.
Coming right after he and Severus had acknowledged their Dark Marks, it made Lucius wonder if perhaps a solution had been… found. He inhaled sharply at that, the very idea of getting rid of the Dark Mark was one so wild and so impossible that the merest suggestion was enough to make something twist inside his stomach. He almost leapt up to demand to know what it was, but stopped himself just in time. He would ask Severus as soon as the meeting ended.
Controlling his features, he leaned back in his chair and crossed his legs with casual elegance. He felt another pair of eyes on him and turned his head to see Aventine looking at him across the cluttered surface of Dumbledore's desk, the speculative look in his eyes almost masked by a friendly smile.
Lucius was glad to turn away when Bill Weasley spoke next, saying that if Voldemort wasn't dead and yet hadn't shown his hand until now, the Demon must have caused him serious injury. His unspoken words were what they all were likely thinking – that they might have a chance at destroying him now.
Dumbledore just smiled. "If we can find him," he agreed quietly.
Almost as one, everyone turned to Potter as if just only realizing that he was their only hope of locating Voldemort.
Again, it was Bill who broke the silence.
"I know your resources have been turning both the Wizarding and Muggle worlds upside down searching for him," he told Albus, his tone respectful, "but I believe it wouldn't hurt to share this with the goblins I work with. They have an underground network that covers almost every part of the Wizarding World as well."
Moody gave a grunt that that, looking skeptical. "The question is, will they tell us anything?"
"I will do my best to persuade them," Bill promised, his eyes gleaming.
Having contacts amongst the leaders of the banking world, Lucius knew of Bill's connections and how they lent credence to his promises. Still, he couldn't help a mental sneer at Dumbledore's approving nod and Weasley senior's proud smile. The Gryffindors in them might appreciate such impulsive promises, but he for one would have Draco's head if the boy said such things without thinking things through first.
"In that case," Lupin said, looking a bit unsure when everyone's eyes turned to him. "I too... will do the same on my travels."
Before anyone could respond to that, Harry reached across Sirius' lap to grasp Lupin's arm with his free hand.
"That would be great, Remus!" he exclaimed with a smile.
"The more, the merrier," Black grinned at him.
Lucius was relieved to note Severus' only response to even more Gryffindor optimism was just a raised eyebrow, especially when Potter's endorsement had everyone else straightening up and looking more purposeful, as if suddenly aware of the urgency to locate Voldemort's whereabouts.
Really, was Potter foolish enough to think Lupin would be capable of obtaining information inside those circles, or was he just looking to give a much needed boost and inspiration the Light needed?
But the immense wave of magic that had swept the courtroom when Potter named Lucius Aventine's champion three weeks ago was very real, as real as the compelling power in those green eyes when he had spoken of his Path of Destiny. Lucius found himself suppressing a sudden shiver as he stared at Potter.
Was he merely underestimating the boy?
He almost didn't hear Dumbledore thanking everyone for coming and suggesting that they reconvene in a week's time. The old wizard also requested to be notified immediately if anyone had any news that could be related to Voldemort.
Charlie was the first one out the door after a quick word with his father and brother, likely going to find Draco before returning to the Dragon Reserve. Lucius remained seated since Severus appeared to be in no hurry, and only rose to his feet when Aventine and Volpine stood up to take their leave.
It would not go amiss to exchange a few cordial words with Aventine in front of Potter and Dumbledore. Lucius waited with a polite smile on his face while Potter came forward to shake the two Dark Creatures' hands right after Dumbledore did, noting that both of them were already on first name basis with the boy. Then he stepped forward, right hand casually occupied with holding his silver topped cane.
"It was good to see you again, Lord Aventine," he remarked with a courteous nod, paying no heed to Potter's pleased smile on one side and Dumbledore's benevolent one on the other.
"Likewise, Lord Malfoy," Aventine replied, returning the nod.
"Excuse me, gentlemen," Dumbledore said, coming out from behind his desk and nodding at someone behind Lucius. "I must have a word with Kingsley before he leaves."
"And I need a word with Harry here."
A smiling Black appeared and threw an arm around Harry's shoulders. He gave polite nods to Aventine and Volpine before drawing his godson away, ignoring Lucius.
"Pray excuse me for a moment."
When Volpine moved away, Lucius looked over his shoulder to see the old werewolf joining Lupin at the door. A soft throat clearing drew his attention and he turned back, meeting hypnotic red eyes. There was a part of him that was still tense around Aventine, something borne of the long prejudice against vampires and something unidentifiable that he would rather not think about.
"About Ventus' notes..."
Other than the very slight tightening of his lips, Lucius did not reveal his annoyance. He had received the urgent owl from Dumbledore about this meeting just over an hour ago and of course had not had the opportunity to even speak to Severus or Potter yet.
"I merely wanted to inform you not to trouble yourself or Harry Potter on the translation for the moment," Aventine continued in his soft, deep voice. "In light of what Dumbledore has said, a few more weeks' delay would not matter much after so many years of waiting. The fight against Voldemort is of a far higher priority."
Then he smiled.
"After all, we will not have the chance to worry about any form of research if we are dead, don't you think?"
Lucius found himself staring at the self-mocking tilt to those red lips.
"You are right, of course," he agreed although the unexpected reprieve made him uneasy, relief that he needn't meet Aventine in the near future mixed with annoyance that he had also lost his main reason for talking to Severus. Glancing over his shoulder once more, he saw that he had lost more than that; Severus was now leaving the room with Potter.
Damnit! He had planned to ask the Potions Master to take him to Salazar's portrait...
"However, I hope I may still call upon my champion?"
"Of course," Lucius replied at once, still deliberating on a suitable excuse to call out to Severus. By the time he realised what he had promised, Aventine had a pleased smile on his face and the two remaining Weasleys had come over, preventing him from taking back his words.
"Shall we walk down together, Lucius?" Arthur invited him with a genial smile. "And how is Narcissa?"
"She is fine," Lucius said curtly, his lips curling in a tiny sneer despite himself.
Sparing only a curt nod for Aventine who bowed back with vampire grace, he spun around and made for the door, ignoring the two Marauders and Volpine who stood nearby. Despite the watchful gaze he felt at the back of his head, he refused to look back this time, knowing they were coming from a pair of knowing red orbs.
- o -
Harry wasn't surprised when Sirius appeared by his side as soon as Dumbledore moved away. He suspected Dumbledore didn't want to leave him alone with Malfoy even with Aventine and Volpine present. His suspicions were confirmed when Sirius and Remus excused themselves at the door and waved him off with fond smiles, Sirius reaching out to ruffle his hair.
Trying to smooth it back down, Harry turned to Severus and smiled, hoping he didn't look as lost as he had felt for just a moment there.
"Are we going back to our rooms now?" he asked.
Severus shook his head and gestured to the spiral staircase, inviting Harry to step onto it and then following suit.
"Not yet. Albus remembered there is a portrait of the four Founders near the main staff lounge, but its occupants were missing when we went there this morning," he explained.
Harry nodded, remembering what Severus had told him earlier and the questions he had wanted to ask then.
"Why does Dumbledore want to look for other portraits of Salazar Slytherin? Don't they all have the same knowledge, the same memories?"
Severus shook his head, giving him an amused if slightly exasperated look.
"I would be disappointed if someone like Salazar Slytherin stored the same memories in every portrait he has."
"So we're going to ask this Salazar if he knows anything other than what his other portrait told us?" Harry persisted.
Severus shook his head again, now regarding him with an amused look.
"I would be surprised if the Salazar in a group portrait knows even half as much as the one guarding our quarters."
Harry frowned, not liking the way Severus was looking at him now, as if he were indulging a child asking tiresome questions. "Then why are we going to see him?"
"To see if he knows the existence of any other individual portraits of Salazar Slytherin here in Hogwarts," Severus explained at last. "I for one have better things to occupy my Sunday evening with than to go traipsing all over the castle."
The brief sideways glance he gave Harry hinted at one such preferred activity.
Smiling, Harry nodded and reached out to hold his hand. "So where is this group portrait located?"
"In the small room next to the main staff lounge. You have been in there before," Severus reminded him with a small smile. "Twice."
When they reached the room in question, Harry realised why he hadn't noticed any portrait hanging there before. The two times he had been in here, he had had to deal with far more pressing things such as being told he had to marry his Potions Professor on the first day of his sixth year, and declaring Sirius Black a free man after banishing the Elder Demon on the Quidditch pitch recently.
Severus opened the door and the two of them went inside. This time, Harry's eyes were immediately drawn to a large portrait hanging on the adjacent wall. All four Founders were present now and gently snoozing in their frame. Helga Hufflepuff and Rowena Ravenclaw were seated while Godric Gryffindor and Salazar Slytherin stood behind them, using each other's head and shoulder as pillows.
Harry had to suppress a grin at that.
"Good evening," Severus greeted, his resonant voice louder than usual as he addressed the portrait.
The four Founders opened their eyes. Rowena and Helga blinked a few times while the two wizards behind them quickly straightened up and moved apart as if they hadn't been leaning against each other.
"Good evening, Professor Snape," Godric replied.
"And Harry Potter, of course," Helga added with a bright smile.
"We were hoping you could assist us in a small matter," Severus said. "Could you tell us the location of all your individual portraits in Hogwarts?"
"Of course!" Godric replied before the others could open their mouths. "Aside from this group portrait, there are two other individual portraits of each Founder."
"One hangs above the inside entrance of the common room of each House," Rowena continued, "while the other hangs in our favourite rooms in this school. Mine is in the library."
"Mine is in the Mediwitch's office," Helga added.
"You will find mine on the seventh floor landing of the Grand Staircase," Godric said.
Salazar hadn't said a word, but his painted grey eyes fixed upon Severus in an expectant manner.
"And yours guards our quarters," Severus told him with a slight bow.
"That portrait used to hang in the Potions Professor's office, but was moved when the Professor at that time could not tolerate my... suggestions," he replied, the slight lift of one eyebrow speaking volumes.
"Are there any more individual portraits of any of you?" Harry asked.
Godric, Rowena and Helga shook their heads, but Salazar nodded.
"Salazar commissioned one more portrait of himself and had it brought to Hogwarts just before he left."
"Where is it?" Severus asked.
Salazar's grey eyes flicked to his painted counterparts before returning to Severus, green clad shoulders lifting in a tiny shrug.
"In a chamber far below this castle, hidden in a place only he could access, revealed only to one who speaks his tongue."
Severus and Harry turned to each other at once. They both knew where that was.
"Thank you very much for all your help," Severus replied with a formal bow.
"You are welcome!" Godric replied.
"Do come and visit us again," Helga invited with another smile.
- o -
As soon as they left the room, Harry turned to Severus, a bemused smile on his face.
"I wonder why no one ever bothered to ask the portraits before. We're finally getting some answers," he said. "Or at least where to look for them," he amended after remembering Salazar's penchant for cryptic statements.
Severus nodded, but made no comment as they started walking back to their quarters.
"It's great!" Harry continued after a few moments, his voice filled with noticeable enthusiasm, his pace faster than before. "We know what we have to do now, compared to a couple of weeks ago."
He meant when he had found out he was King of the Wizarding World with huge problems to solve and not the slightest inkling of how to go about doing that. Not that he had gained much wisdom since then, but he was grateful for Salazar's advice even though it was served with snarky, vague words.
When Severus' footsteps slowed down, Harry shot him a questioning look, his own steps faltering. Severus looked like he was about to say something, but then he shook his head and gestured for Harry to continue walking.
"What is it?" Harry asked.
"It's nothing," Severus replied. "Just bear in mind that we may very well come up against some obstacles soon."
The wry expression in his eyes said he fully expected Harry to rebut his words as being typical of Slytherin caution, and that in itself made Harry swallow the words that had already jumped to the tip of his tongue. Instead, he just nodded and reached for Severus' hand again, smiling when those warm fingers closed around his.
Severus was likely right, but Harry decided there was nothing wrong with enjoying the sense of purpose and excitement filling him right now. It was a lot better than the miserable desolation that had swamped him just two weeks ago.
- o -
As soon as they entered their quarters, Harry caught up the two brooms he kept in the corner of the living room by the door.
"Let's go," he said, eager to find out what the third portrait would be able to tell them.
When Severus didn't reply, he looked up to find the man standing at their bedroom door with an expectant look on his face.
"Why do you..." Harry trailed off, confused. Surely Severus didn't intend for him to practise his magic right now, when they were supposed to go down to the Chamber of Secrets?
Of course, they could technically wait a little before going there since no one else could get in except for him and a few minutes' delay wouldn't – no. First things first, Harry told himself firmly, ignoring the familiar fluttering inside his stomach at the thought of more practice.
Severus raised an eyebrow at him, perhaps wondering at his hesitation.
"I know you have a wardrobe full of clothes now, Harry, but I don't intend for us to get our formal robes dirty."
"Oh. Oh!" Harry's exclamation was followed by a very sheepish smile. He quickly brushed past Severus and went inside the bedroom, ducking his head at the amused chuckle above him and turning around in surprise when his bond mate followed him in.
"I am sure you won't mind if we change our robes together," Severus said smoothly. "Just to save time, of course."
The contrast between those reasonable words, a serious expression and wickedly gleaming black eyes sent a pleasant shiver through Harry, lips parting and green eyes doing an involuntary sweep of those long blue robes. By now, he was quite familiar with the strong and muscled chest beneath those robes, but he wouldn't mind catching a glimpse of the narrow hips he had grabbed during their make out sessions, or the powerful thighs that had pressed against his own.
Squashing down his wayward thoughts, Harry gave a deprecating shrug.
"I'm not sure if that will save us any time," he replied, his red cheeks and the persistent smile tugging at his lips telling Severus he wasn't protesting.
- o -
Salazar's private library looked rather incongruous now with its empty bookshelves, Sirius' Gryffindor themed décor and the bed Remus had slept in while under the influence of the Draught of the Living Death. There was a filled bookcase, but Harry knew for a fact that it was only for show and that all the books there were blank.
He turned around on the spot, scanning the walls above the empty shelves in the dim light from the lantern still burning on the bedside table. All the walls were blank.
"Show me the portrait of Salazar Slytherin," he hissed in Parseltongue.
On the wall facing the door, a small picture frame materialised and the face of Salazar Slytherin stared down at him. He looked a lot older here than in the group painting with the other Founders or in the portrait guarding their quarters.
Harry cleared his throat, suddenly aware that he hadn't thought of what to say, let alone consider it would be that easy to reveal Salazar's portrait.
"Good evening, Lord Slytherin," he greeted in English, aware that Severus had moved to stand beside him.
"So you are the one responsible for all the visitors traipsing into my secret chamber of late."
Like the portrait guarding their quarters, this one also appeared to understand English, but spoke in Parseltongue.
"Oh, yeah. I mean yes," Harry admitted with a sheepish smile.
Painted grey eyes swept the room before pinning Harry again.
"And this ghastly decor? And bed? This is a library, boy, not a bedchamber."
Again, like that other portrait, this one wasn't lacking in snark either.
"My apologies," Harry said at once, his smile growing painful. "I can remove the bed and the, er, furnishings if you like."
He didn't dare look at Severus beside him, whom he was sure had one eyebrow well raised.
"Do I need to answer that? And what about putting back all the books you removed?"
Harry glanced around at the empty shelves before shooting Severus a guilty look and murmuring a quick translation.
"Lord Slytherin," Severus spoke up with a formal bow. "I assure you that all your books are in good hands and will be treated with the utmost respect and care."
Salazar's expression didn't change one bit. "They have done very well here over the centuries with the strong preservation charms put in place."
Severus inclined his head in agreement as soon as Harry had translated for him. "That is so, but wouldn't such a vast store of knowledge be better shared amongst those who would appreciate and benefit from it?"
Despite his persuasive tone, Salazar didn't seem to agree, thick white eyebrows pulling together in a disapproving frown. "There are many other well stocked libraries all over the world."
Harry couldn't help wondering if they were supposed to ask his permission before taking the books. He quickly explained the conversation they had had with the portrait of Salazar guarding their quarters, but the only reaction he received was the faint lift of one eyebrow when he mentioned the library at Athens.
"Do you have that book on shielding your mind?" Salazar asked, his eyebrow going a bit higher when Harry shook his head. "Why not?"
Replying with the words 'Because I just only found out about it yesterday afternoon' was a tempting thought, but Harry knew it wouldn't help their cause.
"The other portrait said I have to learn to control my magic first," he replied.
Both eyebrows went up at that.
"You must have misunderstood. So the book isn't in your possession?"
Salazar's eyes gleamed with thinly veiled impatience. "And what do you think would happen if after a few weeks' delay, you go to that library to find the book is no longer there?"
Harry swallowed, a swirl of uneasiness appearing in his stomach. He realised he had misinterpreted the other portrait's words.
"A careful wizard never leaves anything to chance," Salazar admonished, his gravelly voice still low except for the exasperation in his gaze. "Yes, you should not attempt that spell before you have perfected controlling your magic, but that does not mean you need to wait until you do to get that book. Especially after knowing it is the only one left in the world."
Harry nodded quickly. "We'll get it right away," he promised.
"The sooner the better," Salazar agreed.
There was a moment of rather awkward silence before Severus spoke again, his hand warm against the small of Harry's back.
"Before Harry opened the chamber, there was another student who gained access to this place," he said. "About fifty years ago."
Salazar nodded, his eyes narrowing.
"Tom Riddle. He took the Books of Dark along with several other books."
Harry translated and he and Severus exchanged a hopeful look.
"Is there anything you can tell us about the Books of Dark?" Harry asked. He didn't dare expect anything this time, but was still disappointed when Salazar shook his head.
"I am sure you know by now that only the creator of those books know the contents... as well as the one who holds them now."
- o -
Charlie made his way to the room he shared with Draco. Despite the gravity of the meeting he had just attended, his heart lightened at the prospect of spending a few more hours with his bond mate. When he went back to the Dragon Reserve yesterday afternoon, he hadn't expected to return here just a day later. Sirius and Remus' wedding invitation had been a welcome surprise.
Speaking the password, Charlie went inside, a discreet smile blossoming on his face at the sight of Draco sitting on the sofa and staring into the fireplace. Since he looked so deep in thought, Charlie took a small moment to admire the golden firelight playing over the fine blond hair and elegant features.
There was something in Draco's pensive profile that spoke volumes about his conflicting emotions despite not looking directly at Charlie. Being an impulsive person, he might be in denial right now about his brief encounter with Molly. If that were the case, Charlie wasn't going to let it deepen and fester inside him, not on top of all that old hurt, some of which had spilled out on Friday night. He went over to him, noting that Draco still didn't turn his head despite the sound of the door closing or his approaching footsteps on the carpeted floor or the dip in the sofa cushions when he sat down beside him.
"Did you see me talking to your mother earlier?" Draco's voice was low when he finally spoke, his gaze still on the leaping flames.
Charlie nodded and realised Draco didn't see. "Yes."
"Did you hear what we talked about?" Draco's voice was even lower.
"Yes, I did." Charlie saw no reason to lie about that.
Draco turned his head at Charlie's answer, not looking directly at him, but frowning as if trying to puzzle something out.
"She said that you all have your own characteristics and that each of you is special to her," he said slowly. His voice softened at the word 'special', blue grey eyes flicking over Charlie in a message that went deeper than words.
Charlie appreciated the warm thought and nodded encouragingly at him. What Draco said was something he and his siblings had known growing up, an unshakable knowledge ingrained in them through praise and punishment. He already knew that for most of his life, Draco didn't know how normal this was, but the sight of the deep pain in those eyes still squeezed his heart.
Draco turned back to gaze at the fire, thin shoulders hunching.
"My parents expect so much from me, but they don't even know a – a tenth of what your parents know about each of you. My father was prepared to marry me off to someone without bothering to tell me who it was or why. My... mother didn't know what I like to eat and had to ask a house elf to find out."
Each word dripped with pain, Draco swallowing hard at the end and grimacing as if something had lodged in his throat. He finally turned to look at Charlie, envy warring with exasperation in his features.
"But your mother doesn't expect much from you, from any of you. Nothing even, for the one she is carrying."
He shook his head slowly, as if in denial of Molly's unconditional love or of his own longing for the same.
"She expects too little from you all," he repeated.
- Chapter End -
A/N: Thank you for reading! Please review!