The Slytherins were on their feet instantly.
"What do you mean Bertie is gone?" asked Scorpius.
James rolled his eyes dramatically. "You Slytherins have to suspect hidden meanings in the simplest statements," he sighed. "I mean 'Bertie is gone.' They can't find him. Dad is here."
The Potters and Scorpius hurried up to the headmistress's office and to Al's surprise they were admitted in immediately.
"Al," Dad gave his younger son a short hug before he was all business. "You and your friends are closest to Mr Slytherin. Do you know anything about his whereabouts?"
Al shook his head. "When we asked him on Wednesday whether he wanted us to fetch him for our soccer game today, he declined. We assumed he had another appointment, but he didn't tell us with whom."
The headmistress, who looked very worried, sighed. "It would have been too simple."
Dad nodded. "We had to try," he stated. "Al, Scorpius, I need you to give me all the names of students you know to have befriended Mr Slytherin."
Al understood. Bertie had to raise the protective spells himself if he was to be taken out of his classroom. Or not? "Are you sure he was taken from his classroom? He could have been out with a student. Something could have happened while they were out on the grounds."
"Good thinking," grinned Dad. Thank Merlin he didn't ruffle up Al's hair in public. "But no student is missing. The protective magic of the school would have informed the headmistress of mind magic being performed, so we can assume that the student who took Mr Slytherin out of the classroom is responsible for his absence."
Al nodded. He, James and Scorpius spent the next half hour making a list of people they knew had taken Bertie outside at least once. Most of Slytherin house, at least the upper years, was on the list since Dad insisted they name every single member of groups if Bertie had gone with a group of students. All the Gryffindor fifth and fourth years were on the list, as well as some older students from that house as was every single Ravenclaw from third year up. The ravens had taken Bertie to their house at least once to learn everything about the founders. Bertie had been flattered to be asked for a lecture. The house with the fewest people on the list was Hufflepuff. Onle a half dozen of Hufflepuffs had befriended the bottled wizard.
Dad seemed glad about that. He'd have to interrogate half of the student body as it was. Determined, Dad took a small brown paper bag from his pocket and unfolded it. "Sloe," he barked into the bag. "We need a good dozen aurors here for interrogation. Why don't you bring those academy foals over? We could give them a bit of field experience."
"On our way, boss," answered a voice out of the bag.
Dad folded the bag and put it back in his pocket. "Our new means of communications," he told the headmistress. "Auror Nightmair went to Austria last summer and they have that expression 'talk it into a bag'; that gave him the idea. It's a quite simple spell."
"Ingenious," nodded the headmistress. "Easier than a patronus."
"A lot," Dad agreed. "Everybody can use it, even a kid, and with a distance like from here to London it's faster, too."
"Not to mention the fact that muggles can't see it." The headmistress poured tea for Dad and the three boys while they waited. Al was just reaching for his second chocolate chip cookie when the fire in the hearth turned green and a group of about 20 young people in auror trainee robes (burgundy with yellow hems) stepped out of the fireplace. They were followed by Dad's second in command, Mercury Sloe.
Dad briefed the group on the situation. The headmistress led the group downstairs to a corridor which was barely used anymore. Most students referred to it as the voodoo corridor; they were sure that this corridor had once been dedicated to a form of magic that was no longer taught at Hogwarts, but nobody knew which. The headmistress performed some spells and each classroom was parted into several interrogation chambers.
"Come boys, you first," grinned Dad. He ushered his sons and Scorpius to a chamber each.
"I will not be interrogated by aurors without my father present," stated the blond. He stood in front of the door he had been pointed at.
"Anything to hide, boy?" asked a stout blonde witch. She glared down at Scorpius. Al thought he'd have been scared, but the Malfoy heir stood his ground. "I'm under age. You will not interrogate me without my parents' consent."
"This will be a long investigation if we have to contact all the parents," said Auror Sloe. He looked at Dad for orders.
"We will try to contact the parents. If they can't be reached, and only then, I will declare this an emergency." Al knew that the Aurors had the power to interview minors immediately in case of an emergency. It was rarely done though, because parents usually didn't react too well when they learned about the emergency interviews.
Luckily Mr Malfoy was only a firecall away and gave permission for the interrogation once Dad had explained the situation and that Scorpius was by no means a suspect, but a witness. Although the interview was harmless enough, Mr Malfoy insisted on coming to Hogwarts.
Al was interviewed by two female trainees. One had bushy brown hair like Auntie Mione and the other was the tallest woman Al had ever seen.
"I'm Melinda Bower," said the bushy-haired, "and this is Muse Anderson."
"Albus Potter." Al felt uncomfortable although he hadn't done anything wrong.
"So, Mr Potter," the trainee said. "What do you know about Mr Slytherin's whereabouts?"
Al repeated what he had told Dad and the headmistress earlier. Ms Anderson took notes while Ms Bower asked for more details here and there. All in all the interview was not very long. After what could hardly have been a half hour, Al was ushered out of the room.
Scorpius was already finished, too. He was talking to his father in front of the classroom. Somebody had put up chairs in the corridor and a good dozen of students were already waiting for their interviews.
By dinner time Hogwarts was buzzing with activity. Dozens of worried parents had hurried to Hogwarts and Dad had brought in more aurors. The headmistress had added a table in the Great Hall for the guests.
Al was halfway through his main course – shepherd's pie – when a dishevelled witch stormed into the Hall.
"Aurors!" cried the woman. "I need aurors! Help me! Won't anybody help?"
Dad was up in an instant. "Inform Sloe," he barked at the girl sitting beside him. "Madame, I'm Auror Potter. What can I do for you?"
"It's my son! Please, come quickly!"
Al hurried to the doors as fast as he could. He had no doubt that the headmistress was going to order the students to stay put any moment. If he wanted to know what had happened, he had to be quick.
The woman hurried back out of the hall as soon as she could be sure that she had an auror's attention. The sight that met the eye in the entrance hall was horrible. "An auror is coming Alfred!" the witch cried.
Alfred, a balding wizard with a gray goatie was wrestling with a boy of maybe fifteen.
"Leave me alone!" cried the boy. He struggled against the wizard. "Leave me alone!"
"Calm down, Eric!" cried the wizard. "We will help you! Calm down!"
"I don't need help, you idiot!" screeched the boy. "Leave me alone!"
There was a gasp beside Al. The boy had not realised that another student had tiptoed out of the hall. Beside him, Alice Dearborn was pale as a piece of chalk. "Eric!" she whispered.
"Is this your brother?" asked Al.
For a moment Alice seemed surprised that Al knew about her twin, but then she nodded and turned back to the fight going on in the middle of the hall. The witch, Mrs Dearborn, had joined her husband in his fight with the young boy.
"Eric," she pleaded. "Stop struggling."
"Let go, you witch!" screamed the boy. He doubled his efforts to break free of his parents. "Leave me alone!"
And then Al was in for a surprise. Suddenly magic crackled around the boy! Auntie Minerva had told him that Alice's brother was a squib! Al gasped, as did Alice beside him. He was startled by a stronger jolt of magic.
Dad had stunned the struggling boy. "Explain!" he demanded.
It was a strange group around the hospital bed while Madame Slope took care of the still unconscious squib. The Dearborns, the headmistress, Dad, Auror Sloe and Al, whom Dad had taken with him "in order to avoid gossip about the situation". As if Al had walked around spreading rumours! He'd not have told anybody but perhaps Scorpius; certainly Scorpius and perhaps Vern. And maybe Enrico. Maybe Dad had been right about taking Al with him.
"What happened?" Dad asked sternly.
"We don't know!" cried Mr Dearborn, who worked as an accountant at Gringott's. "Eric has been a normal boy so far. Today he suddenly displayed signs of magic! First we were thrilled, but then his magic became more and more erratic. He killed our cat by accident!"
"Please, you have to help him! I don't want him locked away because he can't control his magic!" cried Mrs Dearborn. "It can't be normal that a child doesn't display any magic for so long that he's taken for a squib and then all of a sudden has more magic than he can control! It must be an illness!" The witch looked at Madame Slope pleadingly.
The matron didn't notice. She was getting more and more frantic while she worked on the boy. She cast spell after spell in quick succession, then sent off a patronus, which had her husband hurry in some minutes later.
The Dearborns, all three of them, looked scared and worried. The aurors looked earnest as if they knew already something dangerous, illegal was going on. The headmistress's expression changed from worried to stern and back to worried every few seconds.
"Jeremia, I need you to brew Exorshnaps again! This boy is possessed!"
"How long do I have?" asked the potions master.
"You better take young Mr Potter with you. The faster you brew the better. This spirit is not as malevolent as the one we had last year, but better be safe than sorry. Hurry as much as you can."
"Possessed?" cried Mrs Dearborn. "How can he be possessed?"
"I have an idea how he can," said Dad. "Alice, is there anything you wish to tell us?"
Alice was sobbing by now. "I didn't mean to hurt him! Mr Slytherin said he could help Eric become a real wizard!"
"What did you do?" Mr Dearborn asked sternly. "Did you perform any dangerous magic on your brother? And who is Mr Slytherin?"
"The bottled wizard who was on the papers. He said if Eric drank him, he'd become a real wizard! I just wanted Eric to be able to come to Hogwarts!"
"I guess you sent Mr Slytherin home via owl post?" asked Dad.
Alice nodded, howling with misery.
Al could no longer watch the scene. Professor Slope touched his shoulder gently and nudged him to follow him to the dungeons. On the way down, Al called his namesake, Severus Snape. By the time they had prepared the lab for their brewing, Dad and Mr Malfoy had arrived to assist with the cutting and slicing again.
They hurried, like they had a year earlier, but this time Al was much calmer and things went more smoothly. He had done this before and it was not his own sibling whose soul was at stake. That made a lot of difference.
Al didn't dare think of how Alice must be feeling. At least it had not been his fault that Lily was possessed.
It was a pleasure to be part of the brewing team. Professor Slope and Severus Snape worked together smoothly. Although this was only their second cooperation with a year in between, they seemed to guess what the other was thinking. The portrait, since it could not do anything but order Al what to do, was giving instructions in a calm voice all through the process. His tone changed only when he sent Al to the room where Dad and Mr Malfoy were working. At those two, the portrait barked orders as if they were recalcitrant students.
When the Exorshnaps was ready, Professor Slope took it upstairs to the hospital wing. Mr Malfoy and Dad followed him. Al didn't wait to be invited and just followed, too.
"Al," said Dad when they had reached the infirmary, "I think it'd be better if you stayed behind. You know what happened to you last time you witnessed the application of Exorshnaps."
Al shuddered, but stood his ground. "I have to bring Severus. You know that he won't agree that I hand the locket over to anybody else." Dad allowed him inside, but he didn't look too thrilled.
"Very Slytherin," whispered Severus. "Ten points to Slytherin."
"You can't give points to Slytherin," Al whispered back.
Severus snorted. "Of course I can. I'm a headmaster. I can give and take as many points as I want. Ten points from Gryffindor. See. It works."
Al made a face. "How am I supposed to see that it works?"
"You may take my cheery tone as an indicator." Had Severus Snape just giggled?
Although Al had been permitted inside, Dad was clearly not going to take any risk with him this time. He positioned himself between his son and the bed on which Eric Dearborn was lying, still unconscious. Madame Slope gave them all a warning before she ennervated the boy.
The adults had all their wands out; Al and Alice were both forced behind the group of grown witches and wizards.
"What have you done to me?"
Al shuddered when he heard Eric. The voice was foreign, but the tone was familiar. This was clearly Bertie speaking!
"Mr Slytherin," said Dad. "You are possessing this boy. If you know of a way to release the child from your influence, you have one minute to use it before we apply a potion to remove your spirit from the boy's body."
"But that would kill me!" protested Bertie.
"I just pointed out that we were willing to save you, but your possession of this body is not acceptable. You will leave it, one way or the other."
"Why would you want that?" growled the spirit. "This boy is worthless to the wizarding population, a waste! Thanks to me he has magic! With a little time I will learn to control it! The family should be grateful!"
"As you said," growled Dad, "YOU will learn how to control it, not Eric! You are trying to take his life away. We won't allow that. Do you wish to leave this body voluntarily?" There was a short pause. "Gentlemen, ladies, wands at the ready! Madame Slope, apply the potion now!"
Al and Alice couldn't see much. They were both smaller than the wall of adult bodies in front of them. Madame Slope must have applied the potion for there was a howling noise as if from a wounded animal and a scream. The howling, Al was sure, was Bertie. The scream must be Eric. One glance at Alice told the boy that he was right in that assumption. The girl looked horrified.
"Eric!" Al saw Mrs Dearborn move. The woman must have thrown herself on her son.
"Take her away! I have no clear shot!" Dad ordered. Al had never known Dad could sound so firm. This was not the voice of the loving father he knew, but the voice of a leader in battle, used to having his every word obeyed as if it was the law.
Professor Slope and Mr Malfoy rushed to obey, but too late. The spirit of Bertie had zoomed out of Eric's body and dodged Dad and the other adults. Unlike Bellatrix Lestrange, Bertie's spirit was not human-shaped. Al had heard Professor Slope and Severus Snape discuss that. There had been no way to get hands on a hair of Bertie or a close enough relative. As a result the spirit was fuzzy and more difficult to ban. They had agreed that it should not be a problem with a powerful wizard like Dad present.
But Dad could not use his power with Mrs Dearborn sprawled over Eric and Mr Malfoy and Professor Slope trying to get the woman away. There were only a few moments in which Dad could have banished the spirit, but those moments went unused. Bertie, the cloud, moved around the armed adults and towards the wandless children.
Alice screamed when the spirit entered her body through eyes, nose and ears and she didn't stop screaming when the spirit was inside her.
"Do something!" sobbed Mrs Dearborn. "My daughter! Do something!"
"He's trying to kill her spirit off!" cried Severus Snape. "There's no time to brew more Exorshnaps! We have five minutes to save her, not more!"
"How can we save her that quickly?" cried Mr Dearborn. "How can we remove the spirit so quickly?"
"It cannot be done," said Severus. "All we can do is remove any magic from her. Mr Slytherin is magical."
"But she would lose her magic, too?" asked Mr Dearborn.
"She would live," replied the portrait.
"You already know how to deal with a squib child," said Mr Malfoy. "I'd prefer my child being a squib over him dying and his body be kept alive by an intruder."
"Do it." Mr Dearborn sounded shaken, but determined. "Please!"
Dad confered with the portrait in Al's locket. Severus Snape told him the spell – a litany of rapid Latin – and then Dad cast it. Al could never remember the words. Alice's screams were too distracting. Dad looked pained. Normally, it would be considered a severe crime to extinguish a witch's magic, but it could not be helped.
When the last word had left Dad's lips, Alice fell quiet. She lay motionless for an instant and then she started shaking with sobs. Madame Slope hurried to cast several diagnostic spells on the crying girl. "Is Eric all right?" The question was asked so softly that the assembled witches and wizards nearly overheard it.
"Yes, child. Your brother is unharmed." Madame Slope smiled weakly.
The Dearborns knelt by Alice and embraced the girl.
"I need you as witnesses that he asked me to do it," Dad whispered to Mr Malfoy and Professor Slope. Both men nodded.
Two hours later, the group was to be found at the headmistress's office. Everybody was assembled around the coffee table. Two ministry officials wearing the typical robes of magical law inforcement stood in front of the fireplace while everybody else sipped tea.
"Is it true," asked the older of the two, "that you, Mr Dearborn, asked Auror Potter to extinguish your daughter's magic?"
The wizard, who was holding his daughter in a tight embrace, nodded. "It had to be done or her soul would have been killed. Slytherin would have used her body. I couldn't have stood it if her body would have lived on with her spirit gone. Mr Potter saved my little girl."
"It was my fault," hiccuped Mrs Dearborn. The witch was still very distraught. "If I had stayed back for a moment longer, Mr Potter could have banished the spirit and both my children had been safe. By trying to protect one child, I endangered the other. I was so foolish."
"It's nobody's fault but mine," Alice chimed in. "I believed him when he said he could give Eric his magic. I wanted my brother in my world so badly! It never occurred to me that I could be together with him if I just went to his world! Now we can be together, so I got my wish, if in a different way than I thought." She reached over to her brother and squeezed his hand. Eric smiled at her weakly. The young squib looked uncomfortable among so many magical people.
The ministry officials asked everybody who was present for their confirmation that Mr Dearborn had asked Dad to perform the spell. When every witness told the same story, the younger official wrote a report and had them sign it. Al was very nervous. This was the first time he had to sign an official document.
When the officials were gone, Dad hugged Al and thanked him for his cooperation with the potion. Then Al was sent back to his house.
Al slept in late the next day. When he woke, he found breakfast under a preservation spell on his bedside table. He propped up his pillow and put the tray on his lap.
"Ah, finally awake!" Scorpius entered the dorm when Al was halfway through his cup of tea. "Hurry up, mate! Everybody wants to know what happened! Juliet told Vern that Alice Dearborn didn't turn up for the meeting of the gobstone club! She thinks that that woman yesterday was Alice's mother."
Al spent all afternoon telling and retelling the story of Alice and how Bertie had tricked her. He was sad that the bottled wizard was gone. Bertie had been a nice guy, or so the boy had thought. In the evening he called Severus, because he felt he needed to discuss the matter with an adult.
"I'm sure he was nice enough," said the portrait. "But thousand years of isolation probably didn't leave his mind unaffected."
Al nodded. "There's one thing I don't understand," he sighed. "Why did he chose Alice? I was defenseless, just like she. Wouldn't he prefer a male body? Why did he go for the girl?"
Severus snickered. "I guess this was another wizard whose heart you won without trying. Salbert Slytherin knew a lot about mind magic. He must have known that the person he attacked would end up either dead or without magic, depending on whether anybody present knew how to kill him off. He wouldn't harm you. You saved him from the chamber. He must have been very grateful."
Al bit his lip. "I will miss him although he nearly killed Alice. Is that wrong?"
Severus tsked. "Even bad people need friends. That he did evil doesn't mean that you are bad. It's alright to miss your friend. It's alright to mourn him."
After the exams – Al did reasonably well – Professor Slope and the Slytherins put up a small memorial to Salbert Slytherin in a corner of the Common Room. It was not much, only a photo in a small frame.
Historians all over the magical world were looking for information on Salazar Slytherin's brother. Perhaps one day, there would be a real portrait of the forgotten co-founder. Until then the picture of the bottle would have to do.
End of year four.
There will, I hope, be more but I haven't written any of it yet. I'm still conferring with Fate what to throw at my favourite Potter next. The story will be continued as soon as we agree on something. It may take a little time though.
Meanwhile, you have time to leave a review. I did mention that I love reviews, didn't I?