Strange Visitors from Another Century
Chapter Fourteen: Truth
I'm so sorry for the delay everyone. This chapter was supposed to be up last week, but a number of personal problems meant that I wasn't able to work on it as much as I'd hoped. Things still aren't completely sorted, so please be patient with me for a bit. I've had quite enough panic attacks in the past couple of weeks, thank you; I really don't need any extra stress right now.
However, thank you so much for all the reviews, alerts and favourites. I can't tell you how much they've cheered me up when I really needed it. I hope you all enjoy this chapter.
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, and am not affiliated with Bloomsbury or Scholastic Inc.
Harry suppressed a yawn with a considerable effort. It wasn't particularly late but after all that physical training on top of their regular lessons he was already looking forward to a good night's rest. After a good meal of course.
"I'm starving," Ron muttered as they entered the Great Hall.
"What a momentous occasion," said Hermione dryly.
"You are too."
Harry tuned out the bickering. He loved his friends but they really could be exasperating. Instead he scanned the room. Helena, to his complete lack of surprise, was absent, as was Edmund. The other students seemed to have chosen to eat down in Hogsmeade again, and the only other person missing...
"Professor Slytherin isn't here."
Ron and Hermione paused their arguing long enough to look around.
"He must not be back from visiting his friend," said Hermione.
Ron frowned. "He's taking quite a long time."
Harry didn't answer. The memory of the fear in Hufflepuff's eyes was suddenly very vivid. If something had happened... He was woken abruptly from his thoughts when Ron nudged him.
"You know he can take care of himself."
Harry forced a smile. "Yeah, you're right." The battle a few days ago had more than proven that. Shaking the thought from his mind, Harry followed Ron and Hermione across to where the rest of the Founders were sitting. Gryffindor smiled at them.
"Ah, there you are. Have you recovered?"
Ron pulled a face. "I don't know if that's possible."
Gryffindor's eyes twinkled. "Don't worry. A few weeks of this and you'll find it easy."
"I don't know if I'll survive one week, let alone several," said Hermione wryly.
Ravenclaw smiled at her. "You will. For now though, you can relax."
Harry took a seat next to Hufflepuff. "No sign of Professor Slytherin yet then?"
Hufflepuff shook her head. "Not yet, but it is not unusual for the two of them to lose track of time. They do not see each other often."
"Thankfully," Ravenclaw muttered.
Hermione glanced at her. "Is he really that bad?"
"He is tolerable," Ravenclaw allowed. "But he is not the sort of person one would prefer to associate with."
"You should, however, bear in mind that she once said the same thing about Salazar," said Gryffindor. His grin only widened at the disparaging look Ravenclaw shot him, but the expected retort never came. Instead, Harry watched in surprise as all three of them drew in a sharp breath.
"Salazar," Hufflepuff gasped.
Harry's head shot up. "What-"
"He's in trouble," Gryffindor snapped. His left hand closed about his right, a gesture Harry saw that Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw were mimicking, but his attention was caught by the words.
"How do you know?"
"We took precautions," said Ravenclaw. "Could Zalasta-"
"Salazar could handle Zalasta," Gryffindor interrupted. "But he did say he would visit the apothecary afterwards."
Hufflepuff closed her eyes for a moment. "The apothecary everybody knows he visits."
"Precisely." He turned to the trio. "We will be back shortly."
"Wait," Harry began, but it was too late. "All three Founders disappeared, leaving Harry and the others standing alone. Ron stared after them open-mouthed.
"Where did they go?"
"To help," said Harry quietly. He pushed back his chair and stood up. "Come on."
Ron dropped his knife with a clatter. "What? Where are we going?"
Harry had already started moving. "To the infirmary," he called over his shoulder. "That's where they'll be when they get back."
He just hoped Slytherin would be with them, and in one piece.
People who did not know Godric always made the same assumption. They assumed that he lost his temper quickly and charged into situations without considering the consequences. To a certain extent they were right. Godric did have a quick temper, and it took very little to stir him up. But those who let their emotions rule them did not often live to see old age. Godric had learned long ago that anger, though a useful tool, must be controlled.
So when he realised that his brother in all but blood was in danger, he did not immediately succumb to thoughts of vengeance. Godric took the anger, controlled it, and used it, so that when he Apparated to the apothecary and saw Salazar slumped against the opposite building, one hand clenched against his head, the other fumbling for his wand, he was able to react calmly and logically.
By blasting his closest attacker through a wall.
"I'll take the two on the left. You handle the other pair."
"Understood," Helga growled. Her wand was in her hand and her expression murderous.
Rowena looked equally grim. "It would be a genuine pleasure."
Godric did not like wasting time. His curses were flying before they had even finished speaking. Terror dawned on his opponents' faces, but any pity in him had died at the sight of Salazar's blood. There was no need to hold back to look after students now; all he had to do was fight.
Godric was good at fighting.
It wasn't a fair match. Godric was more than capable of defeating two opponents even on a bad day, and anger only leant strength. But five against one hadn't been fair either. Godric blocked a curse without batting an eyelid, and his retaliation sent one of his attackers crashing to the floor. He didn't get up. His other opponent recognised the danger; he threw a series of spells designed to delay, but Godric had no intention of letting him escape. Salazar wasn't the only one who could use Apparition in duels. One well-aimed curse to the back and the second wizard hit the floor.
Godric straightened and turned to see if Helga or Rowena needed assistance, but there was no need. They might not enjoy duelling, but that didn't mean they couldn't do it. Hurting Salazar was the perfect way to prove that.
A faint smile touched Godric's lips. Ron had mentioned that Helga was seen as the least dangerous of the four of them, and hadn't understood why Godric had burst out laughing at the thought. She might not like causing pain, but injure her loved ones… Even as Godric watched, a Cutting Curse sent blood spurting from her opponent's thigh, moments before his wand went flying through the air. Godric winced; a healer was the last person you ever wanted to get on the wrong side of.
Rowena was also more than living up to expectations. She was the weakest duellist of the four of them, lacking the ruthlessness that even Helga possessed, but her encyclopaedic knowledge of spells helped to compensate. She had a knack for using basic spells in unique ways, or else using such rare, or original, spells that they enemy never knew how to counter them. Her opponent currently sported wings instead of arms, making retaliation somewhat problematic. Godric had to smile. She was glorious.
Helga's cry broke him from his thoughts, and he spun to see her hurrying to Salazar's side. Godric's stomach lurched.
"Salazar." He ran forwards and dropped to his knees next to him. "How bad is it?"
Salazar blinked blearily up at him. "Godric…"
"I'm here," said Godric soothingly. "We all are." He had to fight to keep his voice from shaking; he had seen Salazar hurt plenty of times before, but this was the worst it had been for a long time. Salazar's hand brushed his sleeve.
"Not now," said Godric. "We need to get back to Hogwarts."
Godric stared at him. "What? Who?"
"Not dead," Salazar mumbled. "He's not – ah!" His back arched and he let out a low hiss.
"Salazar?" Salazar only hissed again and Godric turned frantic eyes to Helga. "What's wrong with him?"
Helga's wand was racing over Salazar's body and her face was very grim. "Three fractured ribs. The splinters were driven forwards. There's some internal bleeding." She looked up at Godric, her eyes dark with barely controlled fear. "I need to stabilise him before we can risk taking him back."
It took all Godric's years of experience to fight back his fear at those words. "Is there anything I can do?"
"Not with this," said Rowena. She was kneeling opposite Helga, her wand flicking in complimentary patterns. "We will see you back at the castle."
It was a clear dismissal and Godric knew better than to argue. He had plenty of experience with basic healing, but with something like this he would only be in the way. Salazar caught his eye as he rose, but when he opened his mouth his words were interrupted by a low moan as his body convulsed.
"Stay still," said Helga. Her voice was gentle but very firm. Salazar subsided immediately, but Godric saw how his fists tightened convulsively and had to turn away. He hated this more than he could even begin to describe, but there was nothing he could do.
Despite the warmth of the day Godric suddenly felt very cold. If Salazar was talking about who he thought he was… But that was impossible. No one could have survived that.
But no one else would plan something like this. No one else would come so close to succeeding.
Godric took a deep breath. There was no point in worrying over a possibility. He would wait until Salazar could confirm or deny it. And then…
His gaze fell on the two surviving attackers and a predatory smile spread across his face. It was a good thing after all that the witches had been unable to kill them. Someone was going to pay for this.
"Where are they?"
Harry had never been very good at waiting. Given a dangerous situation and he would react without hesitation, but when there was nothing to do but sit around he found it much harder to cope. And when someone he cared about was in danger...
"They haven't been gone long," said Hermione. "Just give them a bit more time."
"Why don't you sit down, mate?" Ron advised. "All that pacing's just going to make your legs ache more."
Harry ignored both of them. "Do you really think Slytherin's in trouble?"
Hermione sighed. "They seemed to think so."
Harry's hands clenched into fists. "Why didn't they take us with them? We could have helped."
Ron stared at him. "Are you mental? If they were good enough to cause Slytherin trouble, what good do you think we'd be able to do?"
"It's be better than sitting around here doing nothing," Harry shot back.
"Slytherin wouldn't want you to put yourself in danger, Harry," Hermione pointed out. "Besides, now that they're all there, I'm sure they'll be back in no time."
Harry just grunted. He knew that Gryffindor alone was more than capable of dealing with the threat, never mind when accompanied by Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw, but he was simply incapable of sitting still when others were in trouble. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Ron and Hermione exchange a long look, and he had to bite back a sharp retort. They didn't deserve his temper. He reached the wall and whirled round again, but before he could begin again the silence was broken by a sharp crack.
Harry started forwards, but stopped in his tracks when he saw Gryffindor's expression. All traces of geniality were gone as if they had never been there. Harry drew back. The man in front of him was a warrior, a killer, but even more disturbing was the complete lack of emotion in his eyes as he pushed two unconscious men to the floor.
"Move away, Harry."
Harry didn't even think of disobeying. Both men were bound, and bore clear traces of having come off worse in a fight. Gryffindor levitated them over to the wall and dropped them, heedless of causing further injury. Hermione looked like she wanted to protest the rough treatment but, like Harry, the pure danger radiating from Gryffindor was enough to check her. Ron swallowed.
"Um, Professor? What's going on?"
Gryffindor twitched, started from his contemplation of the fallen men, and Ron took an involuntary step back. Gryffindor's expression softened slightly, but his eyes remained hard. "They made a mistake. One that will cost them."
Not even after the battle in Hogsmeade had Harry seen him like this. He could think of only one thing that could provoke such a reaction. "Sir, is Professor Slytherin all right?"
He knew his guess was correct when Gryffindor's jaw clenched, but Gryffindor was spared from answering by another loud crack. Harry whirled round and his mouth fell open.
Slytherin was on his feet, but his face was ashen, and he was leaning far too heavily on Hufflepuff for Harry's liking. Hufflepuff too was pale, and Harry's stomach lurched as he saw that her green dress was stained with blood. Ravenclaw stood next to them, her face like stone, and Slytherin's wand and staff in her hands. Barely had they reappeared before Hufflepuff was ushering Slytherin to the nearest bed.
"Be careful. We don't want to aggravate anything. Rowena, I need potions."
"Professor," Harry began, but Gryffindor gripped his shoulder.
There was no arguing with that tone. Harry watched in rising dismay as Ravenclaw set Slytherin's staff carefully against the wall and Summoned a bunch of potions, even as Hufflepuff began waving her wand in silent patterns over Slytherin's body.
"What happened?" Ron whispered. His freckles were suddenly very prominent against his pale face. "Is he all right?"
Gryffindor gave a smile that didn't reach his eyes. "He will be."
Hermione frowned, and Harry was hard-pressed to hold back his own scepticism. Slytherin's eyes were closed, and his face was drawn with pain.
"But what happened?" Ron demanded. "What did they do?" The last was said with a jerk of his head towards the unconscious prisoners.
"He was ambushed," said Gryffindor quietly.
Harry looked at the men, then at Slytherin and back again. "How many?" There was no way two were capable of this.
Gryffindor scowled. "He killed two. I killed three more."
Harry swallowed. Seven against one. No wonder Slytherin was in such a bad state. Hermione however, was staring at Gryffindor.
"You killed them?"
Gryffindor met her gaze, and in the end it was she who had to look away. "This is war. He had no choice. And I was...upset."
Harry made a mental note to never ever get on Gryffindor's bad side. He'd rather take an angry Dumbledore, McGonagall and Snape all together than have that rage and ruthlessness focused on him.
"Good," said Ron viciously.
Hermione glared at him, but Harry looked at the blood on Hufflepuff's robes and couldn't bring himself to feel sorry for the deaths. The intensity of the thought made him pause, since when had he been that cold? He shivered. They were learning more than magic from the Founders, they were learning how to win a war. Harry couldn't say he was entirely comfortable with it, but he kept silent. This was hardly the time for that particular debate. Hermione had evidently had the same thought, for she pursed her lips but didn't argue further. Gryffindor looked at the pair of them and sighed.
"Some threats cannot be ignored," he said. "In battle you do not always have the luxury of taking prisoners." His gaze flickered to the prisoners. "Fortunately, Helga and Rowena had other tactics."
Harry frowned at him. "Fortunately? What are you going to do?"
Gryffindor's smile was one of pure menace. "They will be answering a few questions for us." His fists clenched. "We need to know if they are planning any more such attacks."
Any protests Harry might have made died at those words. "Do you think they will?"
"Without a doubt. And next time we might not get there fast enough." His expression darkened. "We were barely in time today."
"How did you even know what was happening?" Hermione asked. "You didn't receive a message, but you all seemed to know something was wrong."
"We did," said Gryffindor simply. He held up his hand. "With these."
Harry blinked. On Gryffindor's middle finger lay a thick silver band. It had no stone, but carried a number of intricate carvings. That wasn't the confusing part though.
"How did we never notice that before?" Ron demanded.
Gryffindor gave a slight shrug. "You were not supposed to. It is a simple enough spell." He looked at it. "We have discovered that it is better to be prepared."
"Are those Runes?" asked Hermione.
Gryffindor nodded. "Rowena and Salazar created the spell together. Activating one causes the others to activate simultaneously."
"Fascinating," Hermione breathed. "We have something similar in our time. I never knew it was first developed here."
Harry had noticed the similarity too, but he was more interested in Gryffindor's words. "So you've all got one?"
Gryffindor inclined his head. "It seemed like a sensible precaution." He grimaced. "Though Salazar does seem to get more use out of his than anyone else does."
"You are hardly one to talk," said Ravenclaw dryly. Her attention was still on Slytherin, but she looked up long enough to give Gryffindor a small smile.
Harry's attention however was on Slytherin. He was lying on the bed with his eyes closed, and he looked, if possible, even worse than he had previously. Cold dread settled in the pit of Harry's stomach; there was more to this than they were being told. He missed the pointed look that passed between Gryffindor and Ravenclaw, and so started when Gryffindor's hand rested on his shoulder.
"Come, Harry. Let's give them some privacy."
Harry wanted to protest, but he saw the way Hufflepuff's face was drawn in concentration, and knew that there was nothing he could do. Casting one final look back, he allowed Gryffindor to guide him gently, but firmly from the room.
Surprisingly, it was Ron who broke the silence. "What else is going on?"
Gryffindor released Harry's shoulder and tilted his head back. "Nothing for you to worry about."
"That doesn't answer the question," said Harry flatly. "How bad is it?"
Gryffindor studied him for a long moment, but Harry refused to look away. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Ron and Hermione, both looking pale, but equally determined to find out the truth. Eventually Gryffindor gave a long sigh.
"Stubborn children." There were more resignation than genuine anger in his voice as he looked round at them. "How much has Helga taught you about internal injuries?"
Harry's breath caught in his throat. Hermione paled. "Nothing, but I've read things at home..." Her voice trailed off.
Gryffindor sighed. "The direction of the impact may have caused more damage than we initially thought. It is treatable, but it will take him some time to recover."
"Are you sure?"
"She has treated him for much worse in the past," Gryffindor assured them.
From the looks on Ron and Hermione's faces that news wasn't quite as reassuring as Gryffindor ha intended, but another thought came to Harry. "Were they waiting for him?"
Gryffindor nodded. "It looks that way." His eyes narrowed. "Why do you ask?"
Harry didn't answer. He couldn't. Slytherin had only left the castle to help him. If Harry hadn't been so persistent about getting the Horcrux removed, then Slytherin wouldn't have had an opportunity to be hurt.
Harry looked up to find Gryffindor staring at him, and the open concern only made Harry feel worse. How could Gryffindor be worried about him when this whole mess was his fault? "He wouldn't have been hurt if he hadn't left the school," he whispered.
Ron frowned. "What are you talking about?"
Irritation suddenly rushed through Harry; why were they all being nice when this was all his fault? "He only left because I asked him to."
"Harry," Hermione began, but Harry couldn't stop.
"I asked him to go to see his friend, and he did and they were waiting for him, and this wouldn't have happened if I hadn't kept going on about this stupid Horcrux."
"I think you're allowed to be worried about the Horcrux, mate," said Ron.
Harry glared at him. "This isn't funny! He could have been killed."
Gryffindor raised an eyebrow. "Are you quite finished?"
Harry blinked. "What?"
Gryffindor sighed. "Hard as it may be for you to believe, Harry, but not everything is your fault," he said dryly.
"How is can this not be my fault?" Harry demanded. "I asked him to talk to his friend."
"As I recall, he offered," Gryffindor corrected. "Besides, the actual attack did not take place at his friend's home."
Harry paused. "What?"
"We asked Salazar to place an order for new ingredients with the apothecary after he was finished," said Gryffindor. "It is there that he was ambushed."
"But how did they know he was going to be there?" asked Hermione.
Gryffindor shook his head. "We do not know yet. However, he has used the same apothecary for decades, and he makes frequent trips. It is not unreasonable to assume that they were keeping a watch for him." He fixed Harry with a sharp gaze. "He would have visited there at some point in the next few days. That he happened to do so after dealing with your request was simply a matter of convenience."
Harry didn't reply. When it was explained that way, his previous words didn't make a lot of sense. Ron rolled his eyes. "Mate, you really need to stop blaming yourself for everything that goes wrong."
Harry stared at the floor. "Well, usually I'm right." Everyone he cared about always ended up getting hurt.
"Oh not this again," said Hermione in exasperation. "Harry, you might be rush into things, but it's our choice to follow. "
"Yeah," said Ron. "Don't go taking credit for our mistakes."
The corner of Harry's mouth twitched involuntarily at that. "Right."
Gryffindor shook his head. "They have a point. None of us had even considered blaming you, and I can assure you that Salazar certainly will not. These things happen."
Harry shivered. The matter of fact tone made the words seem all the more chilling. How could anyone be used to things like this happening? Hermione paled at the reminder, and Ron shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot. Gryffindor sighed and rubbed his eyes. "We did warn you that these are people unlike any you have encountered before."
Harry looked down. "We know. I guess we just weren't expecting them to be so daring."
"Nothing was ever gained with caution." He frowned. "Do not the Death Eaters of your time act in a similar way?"
"Not at the moment," said Ron. "At the moment nobody believes that he's back, so they're avoiding any big attacks." He sighed. "It was different during the first war."
Gryffindor nodded. "And it is likely then that he will return to that strategy once he has built up his forces."
"And with the way the Ministry's going, it'll be too late for anyone to do anything about it," Harry growled.
"Voldemort isn't stupid," said Hermione quietly. "He knows the situation is different from the last time, and he isn't going to make the mistakes he did then either."
Harry's fists clenched. He had been so preoccupied with the Founders and all their enemies that he had almost forgotten about Voldemort. The reminder was a sobering one; no matter how much they might learn here, Voldemort was still someone they couldn't hope to defeat, at least not by themselves. And without the support of Fudge and the Aurors, Harry honestly didn't know how they were going to manage. The Order would fight, and fight well, but there simply weren't enough of them to stand against Voldemort, and his Death Eaters and whatever other allies he might find.
Harry shook his head, wrenching his thoughts away from that subject. There was nothing they can do about Voldemort except learn all they could, and they were already doing that. They would be better prepared. Of course, it would help even more if Slytherin recovered... No. He would be fine. He would teach Harry everything he had promised, and he would help Ron and Hermione, and when they got back to the future they would show everyone just how wrong they had been.
But, try as he might, Harry couldn't suppress the fear that Slytherin's injuries might prove too much for even someone as skilled as Hufflepuff to handle.
Harry looked up to meet Ron's gaze. "I'm fine," he said automatically.
Ron just sighed. "Of course you are." After a moment he added more quietly, "He will be too."
Harry shot him a half-hearted glare, but he couldn't find it in him to be annoyed. He was almost touched that Ron knew him that well. He glanced at Hermione and saw exasperation mingled with fondness in her gaze, and knew she had guessed his mind too. Gryffindor glanced between them, the slightest trace of a smile touching his lips.
"I would listen to him," he said gently. "Helga knows what she is doing."
Harry opened his mouth but, as if on cue, the door swung open and Ravenclaw stepped out. Her face was very pale, but she gave them a small smile. "He's going to be fine," she said gently.
It was exactly what Gryffindor had been telling them from the start, but Harry's knees still shook from the relief that rushed through him. Part of him had been sure that Slytherin's condition, especially with the more primitive medicine available to them, might be more serious than they had thought. From the looks on Ron and Hermione's faces they felt much the same way, and even Gryffindor's shoulders slumped at the news.
"Good." He straightened up, the weakness hidden as quickly as it had come. "It wasn't as bad as Helga thought then?"
Ravenclaw shook her head. "Some of the bone splinters had come loose and there was some internal bleeding, but Helga's gift was enough to fix that." She grimaced. "He won't be moving very much for a few days, and he has a splitting headache, but he is going to be all right in time."
"Can we see him?" Harry asked.
Gryffindor and Ravenclaw exchanged one of their long looks, the ones that always reminded Harry of how Fred and George would seem to communicate without even speaking. Somehow, he wasn't surprised that Gryffindor and Ravenclaw were that close. He forced his mind away from the distraction as Gryffindor turned to them.
"You will not excite him." It wasn't a question, but all three of them shook their heads vigorously.
"We'll be quiet," Ron promised. "We're used to hospitals." He caught himself in time to keep from glancing at Harry. Gryffindor and Ravenclaw exchanged another look, but to Harry's relief neither of them commented. Instead, Ravenclaw beckoned them forward. Heart pounding, Harry stepped inside.
He was momentarily taken aback by how normal everything looked. They had only been gone about fifteen minutes, but Harry had somehow expected there to be signs of the healers' struggles, bandages, blood, anything. But the room was as clean and tidy as he had ever seen it. Harry gave himself a mental shake. Of all the times to develop Aunt Petunia's penchant for cleanliness. Recognising the delaying for tactic for what it was, he turned to the bed where Slytherin lay.
It was at the same time better than he had hoped and worse than he had feared. There was no blood, only clean white bandages wrapped around his head, with more showing at the neck of his fresh shirt. But no bandages could disguise the bone grey pallor of Slytherin's skin or the deep lines of pain etched into his face. Despite his visible exhaustion, Slytherin gave a small smile at their entrance.
"Ah, there you are." His voice was hoarse, and he had to stop for breath before continuing. "I apologise for worrying you. That was not how that was supposed to go."
"We never would have guessed," said Hufflepuff dryly. She was drying her hands on a fluffy towel, and though she too smiled at them, her drawn face told them just how draining these events had been. Slytherin inclined his head ever so slightly at her words.
Harry took a deep breath and took a step closer, but found he had to fight back a shiver; Slytherin only looked worse closer up.
"It looks worse than it is," said Slytherin quietly.
Hufflepuff muttered something under her breath. Harry couldn't catch the words, but the expression on her face conveyed her feelings more than adequately. Gryffindor sighed.
"It never is." He sounded very tired but Harry still had to supress a shiver at the darkness in his eyes. Slytherin's paltry attempt at a smile died completely.
"There is nothing more to be done about it."
Gryffindor's gaze flickered to the two bound prisoners still lying against the opposite wall. "Oh, I don't know about that."
Hermione swallowed. "So you're really going to...to..." Her voice trailed off.
Gryffindor's face was like stone. "We will do whatever it takes to protect this school."
This time Harry couldn't stop his shivers. He had heard Gryffindor say that before, had heard all of them say it in fact. It was only now, after seeing their reactions to the attack and listening to Gryffindor's words, that he genuinely believed them. Looking round now Harry saw the same resolution on each of their faces. Even Hufflepuff, gentle Hufflepuff who had always been the most sympathetic towards them, currently looked like one of the last people Harry ever wanted to be on the wrong side of.
"We will indeed," said Ravenclaw quietly. "But that particular task can wait a little longer." There was no mistaking the distaste in her eyes.
Gryffindor nodded. "Agreed." If he saw her reluctance he made no mention of it, turning instead to Slytherin. "Rest. We will discuss this later."
Slytherin's face twisted into a grimace, but he nodded. "Thank you."
Gryffindor's hand rested on his shoulder for a brief moment. "Any time." He looked at Harry and the others. "In the meantime, I think we all need to eat."
He was right, and Harry realised with a start that he was starving. Hufflepuff nodded. "I'll stay here. You all go on down now."
Harry hesitated, but Slytherin's breathing was becoming harsher and Harry doubted he would want them to be around for this. "Get well soon," he said quietly. He just had time to see Slytherin give him a small smile before Gryffindor led them from the room again.
The food was as good as ever, but Harry couldn't manage more than a few mouthfuls. The terror, and his lasting concern, made that impossible. He knew perfectly well that Slytherin was fine, but the fact that he had been attacked in the first place made him sick to his stomach. The others, even Gryffindor and Ravenclaw seemed similarly affected, and only Ron was able to finish his food. Gryffindor looked at them and gave a small smile.
"I apologise for that. Such a thing has not happened in some time."
"Do you think it will happen again?" asked Harry quietly. He kept his eyes on his half-full bowl, unwilling to see the answer in Gryffindor's eyes, but the long sigh he received was enough.
"They will try. But whether they will succeed is another matter entirely."
Harry looked up. Gryffindor's knuckles were white, and there was no trace of doubt in his voice. Ravenclaw took his hand in hers. "We will make sure of that."
Gryffindor's flinty expression softened, and he gave her a small smile. "I know."
Ravenclaw smiled back and then released his hand. "I should speak to Helena. She is likely to have realised that something is wrong by now."
Godric nodded, but before he could reply there was a crack and Hufflepuff appeared. Harry looked up, but his question died on his lips at the expression on her face. "Professor?"
Exasperation was the predominant expression on Hufflepuff's usually cheerful face. "That man is going to be the death of me."
Harry shot an alarmed look at Ron and Hermione, but Gryffindor just sighed and pushed a bowl in front of her. "What did he do?"
She glared at her food but made no attempt to eat. "He said I shouldn't be so concerned about 'a little bit of bleeding'."
"He trusts you," Ravenclaw pointed out gently.
"I know, and he knows that, but he still needs to be careful and he needs rest." She rubbed wearily at her eyes. "You know how he is after an injury."
Harry stared at them. "What's going on? Is something wrong with him?"
Ravenclaw grimaced. "No more than usual."
That explained exactly nothing, so Harry turned to Gryffindor. The warrior sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Salazar is not the best of patients."
Hufflepuff snorted. "That, my friend, is the understatement of the century."
Harry blinked. He had never seen Hufflepuff like this before. She was so perpetually good-tempered that he and Ron had speculated whether it was even possible for her to get angry. To find out that she was was rather disconcerting. But, looking at the pallor of her skin and the deep frown lines on her face, Harry found he couldn't blame her in the slightest. Hufflepuff caught his eye and sighed.
"I am sorry."
Ravenclaw squeezed her hand. "We understand," she said gently. "And you know that Salazar means nothing by it."
Hufflepuff's smile held no trace of humour. "I suppose I should after all this time."
Gryffindor pushed her bowl closer to her. "You need to eat." His tone brooked no argument. "I'll talk to Salazar."
Harry bit his lip. While he recognised that Slytherin needed rest to fully recover, he also understood how maddening it was to be trapped in the hospital wing. "Is there anything that could distract him? That doesn't involve danger and Dark wizards?"
Ravenclaw raised an eyebrow. "Are you volunteering?"
Harry opened his mouth then paused. "I suppose I am," he said quietly.
"Harry," Hermione gasped. Ron just gaped at him, and Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw exchanged bemused looks. Gryffindor merely leaned back in his chair, his green eyes locked on Harry's.
"It isn't an easy job," he warned. "Are you sure?"
Harry shrugged. "I can be just as bad."
"Do you want us to come?" asked Ron. There was genuine concern in his eyes, but Harry shook his head.
"I don't even know if he'll want me there."
"He will," said Gryffindor firmly. "But he would prefer fewer people, at least to start with."
Ravenclaw nodded. "I am sure he would appreciate visitors in the morning."
Both Ron and Hermione looked slightly relieved at that, not that Harry could blame them. Slytherin did sound like the patient from hell. But Slytherin had been there for him when he had been feeling low. The least Harry could do was return the favour.
"What's he doing now?" he asked.
"He said he was going to try to rest," said Hufflepuff. "Which means he will do nothing of the sort." She let out a long sigh and the tension seemed to drain from her body. "He only said it so I would take a break."
"He knows you just as well as you know him," said Ravenclaw. For a moment it looked like she would say something else, but in the end she contented herself with just patting her friend's arm. Gryffindor seemed fascinated by the goblet he twirled between his fingers. Hermione watched the interaction with a slight frown on her face, and Harry was glad to see that Ron at least looked as lost as he felt. Shaking his head, he rose to his feet.
"I'll go and visit him now."
Gryffindor glanced at him. "If you need one of us, just call," he said. "Hogwarts will alert us."
Harry nodded, unable to suppress his relief. He had never dealt with anyone as badly hurt as Slytherin had seemed to be by himself. Or anyone as troublesome as Slytherin was likely to be for that matter. "Thanks."
"Thank you for doing this," said Hufflepuff quietly.
Harry looked away. "It's the least I can do."
He found Slytherin in a chair next to his bed, his hospital robe replaced by a dark green one and a decidedly mulish expression on his face. His eyes widened slightly as Harry entered. "Is everything all right?"
Harry just looked at him. "That was going to be my question."
Slytherin gave a very careful shrug. "A little sore in places. Nothing serious."
"You had broken bones and internal injuries," Harry protested. Not even he would have classified that as not serious.
"Had," Slytherin emphasised. "Helga is very good at what she does."
Harry nodded. "She told me you were trying to get some rest." He tried to keep his voice neutral but it was hard. As far as he knew, getting out of bed was not considered restful.
Slytherin looked away. "I've rested enough."
"Right," said Harry slowly. He didn't even try to hide his scepticism.
Slytherin raised an eyebrow. "I know my capabilities."
"That's what I always say," Harry muttered. Now he understood why Madam Pomfrey always got so exasperated. Slytherin's eyes narrowed and Harry decided it was time to change tack. "Professor Hufflepuff was upset."
Slytherin's glare faltered at that. "Oh."
Harry nodded. "She was worried."
"She always is," said Slytherin quietly. He rubbed a hand over his face, exhaustion clear to see. "This always happens."
The words were so quiet Harry had to strain to hear them. "Er, Professor?"
Slytherin shook his head. "Never mind." He fell silent, staring broodily out the window at the rapidly darkening grounds. Harry shifted uneasily, unsure of what to do next. He hadn't known what he was doing when he offered, and realised ruefully that he still didn't. This was all too different.
"I hate this place."
Harry wrenched his attention back. "So do I. I don't think anyone likes it."
"No one with any sense anyway," Slytherin muttered. He scowled and pushed himself to his feet. "I need to get out of here."
"Er, is that a good idea?" He regretted speaking almost immediately as Slytherin's eyes flashed.
"This room is suffocating." After a moment he added more quietly. "I have never liked being trapped, and that is what this place feels like."
Harry understood that too well to try to argue. "Where do you want to go?"
The gratitude that flashed in Slytherin's eyes erased any doubts he might have felt about the venture. "I would normally visit Issa, but under the circumstances, that might not be the best plan."
Harry wanted nothing more than to agree. The Chamber was the last place he wanted to go, but he recognised the desperate, almost haunted look in Slytherin's eyes. So he nodded. "The Chamber's fine."
Slytherin's eyes narrowed. "Are you sure? Your last visit was far from pleasant."
Harry forced the memories from his mind with an effort. "This might make up for it then." He attempted a smile. "As long as nothing tries to kill me, I'll be fine."
Slytherin studied him for a long moment. "Remarkable," he said quietly. Harry opened his mouth to question that when Slytherin's eyes unfocused, and Harry knew he was communicating with his fellow Founders though Hogwarts. After a minute he shook his head. "Helga is not pleased, but she agrees that it might do some good."
Harry had a sneaking suspicion that Hufflepuff had learned her patient's tendencies very early on. Slytherin gave a small smile and held out his arm. "We will Apparate there, unless you have any objections."
"Fine by me," said Harry fervently. "I didn't much like that bathroom."
Slytherin frowned at him. "Bathroom?"
"Yeah. You know, the one with the entrance."
"The entrance is located in an unused side chamber," said Slytherin slowly. "I certainly wouldn't place it in a bathroom."
Harry paused. That made sense, but... "Then how did it get there?"
Slytherin rolled his eyes. "It appears someone has a sense of humour." The last was directed not at Harry, but at the surrounding walls.
Harry's eyes widened. "You think Hogwarts did it?"
"There are likely to have been structural changes as modern technologies developed," Slytherin pointed out. "And she has more than enough magic to adapt to them."
Harry nodded slowly. He had wondered ever since arriving how the Chamber had been so conveniently connected to the bathroom that certainly wasn't present now. The castle would have had to have changed with new plumbing innovations; it only made sense that it-she would adapted to it. Though the thought that it was capable of such a thing was mind-boggling. Slytherin, however, was still frowning.
"A bathroom," he muttered. "Of all the places it could have been."
Harry had to bite his lip to keep from smiling. "Sliding down the pipe really wasn't fun." He and Ron had burned their robes after that. The house-elves certainly didn't deserve to deal with that.
Slytherin looked at him. "You slid down the pipe."
"Well, yeah. What else were we supposed to do?"
Slytherin placed both hands on his staff, his expression unreadable. "Harry, do you really think I would design a chamber that you could only reach by sliding down a pipe?" He looked very pointedly at his leg, and now it was Harry's turn to frown.
"No, but..." His voice trailed off. A thought had just occurred to him. "You mean-"
"You do speak Parseltongue, do you not?"
"You mean all I had to do was ask for stairs?"
Slytherin's eyes sparkled. "I'm sure your way was more entertaining."
Harry closed his eyes in mortification. "Please don't mention this to Ron." He would never hear the end of it."
Slytherin chuckled, but broke off with a muffled hiss as his body protested. Harry took an involuntary step closer. "Sir?"
Slytherin gave a tight smile. "Nothing to worry about." He straightened up slowly and held out his arm. "Are you ready?"
Harry was beginning to doubt the wisdom of this particular course of action, but he could guess how well any argument would be received. Taking a deep breath, he took Slytherin's arm. "Yes, sir."
Slytherin gave him a small smile and then the world dissolved into a now-familiar vortex of colour and pressure. As usual Harry staggered slightly on landing, but this time was surprised to find Slytherin swaying too. He tightened his grip automatically but carefully avoided looking at him. After a moment Slytherin relaxed, and Harry released him.
"Thanks, sir," he said quietly. "I don't think I'm ever going to get the hang of that."
Slytherin smiled at him, properly this time. "I know you will."
Harry ducked his head, taken aback by the genuine fondness in his eyes. Instead, he looked around. The chamber was much as he remembered, with enormous pillars reaching to the ceiling and numerous carved serpents, though there were no signs of wear on either, and no traces of flooding. At the end of the room stood the statue. Harry stared at it, at the ancient face and long beard, and then at Slytherin, slender and clean shaven, and looking to be in his fifties at most.
"I'm not really seeing the resemblance."
"I would be worried if you could considering that that is my grandfather," said Slytherin dryly. "Godric did suggest using my likeness, but we eventually agreed on a compromise." He gave the statue a critical look. "He may have exaggerated some of the features."
"Why your grandfather?" asked Harry.
Slytherin gave a slight shrug. "He was the one who first explained to me what I could do. He died when I was very young."
Harry nodded, but his attention was diverted when he saw Slytherin's grip tighten convulsively on his staff. "Professor?"
Slytherin shook his head. "Never mind." He began to walk towards the statue. "Issa's chamber is located past there. We soon discovered that she preferred a less open space."
Harry swallowed, but followed him. "I remember her coming out from the statue when I was here." Despite his care he couldn't quite keep the tension from his voice. Being back in this place was bringing back more memories than he had expected. Slytherin glanced back at him, his eyes narrowing.
"We do not need to disturb her. She spends most of her time asleep at the moment." A fond smile touched his lips. "Not that that is surprising. She is growing even faster than I expected."
Harry's shoulders slumped. "Thanks."
Slytherin sighed. "I am sorry."
"It wasn't your fault," said Harry firmly. "You couldn't have known what Voldemort would do."
Slytherin set his lips, but he didn't argue. Instead he turned down a side passage. "This way then."
Harry followed, glad to be away from the main chamber. "I never went down here."
"I am glad," said Slytherin quietly. "We wanted a place to store some of our more valuable possessions." He gave a forced smile. "A Basilisk is quite an effective guardian."
"Even better than a three-headed dog," Harry agreed.
"Indeed." His expression darkened. "I hope that Voldemort did not find it, but if he was as intelligent as you say he was then it is unlikely he only made a cursory search."
Harry frowned. The thought of Voldemort touching something the Founders deemed precious was not a pleasant one. "I'll investigate when we get back," he promised.
Slytherin inclined his head. "Thank you. Here we are."
They had stopped outside an elaborately carved wooden door. Harry was expecting more Parseltongue, and so was surprised when Slytherin merely set his palm against the wood. "The others also needed to be able to access it at will," he explained at Harry's questioning look. "There are wards tuned to our magical signatures." On cue, the wood beneath his hand blazed silver.
Harry nodded. "I really need to learn how to do that."
"I would be more than happy to teach you," said Slytherin. He pushed open the door, and Harry followed him inside.
The room was very similar to the antechamber that Harry and the others frequented so often. It was comfortably furnished and surprisingly cosy; the walls were hung with tapestries, and at a gesture from Slytherin a small fire sprang up in the grate. Harry's attention however was drawn to the shelves around them.
"These are all yours?"
Slytherin nodded. "Heirlooms mostly." Barely concealed relief flashed across his face as he eased himself into a chair, and his voice was less strained when he continued. "And some mementos Godric and I collected on our travels."
Harry tore his gaze from a jewel encrusted dagger with an effort. "What do they all do?"
"It varies. Some heal, some harm." He nodded at the knife. "That particular knife has the unique ability to kill vampires."
Harry stared at it. "That must be worth a fortune."
"Hence why we keep it down here." He nodded to a necklace on the next shelf. "In contrast, that item forces the wearer to speak in rhyming couplets until it is removed."
Harry blinked. "Really?"
Slytherin nodded. "It was a gift from a grateful scholar. Though personally I think he was just trying to get rid of the thing."
"Why is it down here?" Harry asked. It didn't look particularly valuable, and he couldn't see how rhyming couplets could be dangerous.
To his surprise, Slytherin appeared embarrassed by the question. "Helga and Rowena insisted."
Harry sat down opposite him, his interest successfully diverted. "Why? What happened?"
Slytherin coughed then pulled a face. "Godric and I found some rather entertaining uses for it. Helga and Rowena did not agree."
A slow smile spread across Harry's face. "I think I can see where this is going."
"It may have escalated when a couple of my students discovered its properties."
Harry had to laugh. "That must have been brilliant."
"We thought so," said Slytherin with a smirk. "Unfortunately, we were outvoted."
"How can you be outvoted when there are two of you and two of them?"
Slytherin raised an eyebrow. "We are taking about Helga and Rowena. Let us just say that the consequences would not have been pleasant."
Harry only laughed harder. It seemed some things would never change. Slytherin leaned carefully back in his chair, a satisfied smile on his face as he watched. Eventually Harry pulled himself together enough to look round again.
"So, does Issa come in here?" As nice as the room was, it was hard to relax when he knew that there was a giant killer snake on the loose.
"On occasion," Slytherin replied. "But not when we do not wish her to."
Harry allowed himself to relax a little more at that news. "Thanks."
Slytherin's smile faded. "It is the least I could do."
Harry scuffed at the floor with his trainer. "I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I just can't help remembering."
"Perfectly understandable," said Slytherin equally softly. "I have not been comfortable around dragons for a long time." His grip tightened on his staff. "It is hard to imagine her doing something like that."
"She couldn't help it," Harry insisted. "Voldemort was the one who forced her to do those things."
Slytherin looked away. "I know. But it is yet another thing of mine that he has taken and twisted into something that it was never meant to be."
The genuine bitterness in his voice made Harry frown. "Yeah, but it's not your fault. You never did anything to make people think you hate Muggle-borns, right?"
He was expecting an instant agreement, and so was startled when Slytherin looked away. "Professor?"
Slytherin let out a long sigh. "I wish that was the case?"
Despite the warmth, Harry suddenly felt very cold. "What do you mean?"
Slytherin turned back, and though his face was expressionless, there was no disguising the pain in his eyes. "I lost everything to Muggles, Harry. Do you think I could simply forget that?"
Harry stared at him. "But you said all wizards should be taught magic. Were you lying?"
"No," Slytherin hissed, and the vehemence in his voice made Harry pause. "An untrained wizard is as much at risk as a trained one, but unlike them, they have no way to defend themselves from that threat." His grip tightened around his staff. "I have seen too many murders to ever countenance leaving Muggle-borns to fend for themselves."
"Then why all the hostility?" Harry demanded. "If they need training, then what does it matter who their parents are?"
"Of course it matters," Slytherin shot back. "How many Muggles would happy to send their child to a school to learn magic? A magical parent would welcome the opportunity, but the Muggles? Half of them believe they are condemning their children to a life of sin, and the other half are too foolish to think even that far." He took a deep breath, and when he continued his voice was calmer. "And then there are those who are so militant that they would not hesitate to use the opportunity to further their cause."
Harry frowned. "What do you mean?"
Slytherin sighed again. "Do you know why, before Hogwarts, most wizards would refuse to take on a Muggle-born apprentice?"
"I didn't know they did that," said Harry honestly. "I guess it was that stupid idea that Muggle-borns are inferior." He didn't even try to hide his contempt for that thought.
"There may be some with that opinion," Slytherin allowed. "The majority, however, were motivated more by caution than bigotry."
Harry said nothing, waiting for Slytherin to continue. His voice was soft, but carried easily in the silent chamber. "About fifty years ago, wizards were starting to become more open to the idea of having Muggle-born students. It was still rare, and most would prefer a child from a magical family, but it was starting to become more common."
"Good," said Harry firmly.
"Indeed it was, and most Muggle-borns were happy to take advantage of the opportunity." His expression darkened. "But there were exceptions."
Harry swallowed. "What happened?"
Slytherin stared straight ahead of him. "A Muggle-born entered into service with a wizard under the agreement typical of the time. He remained there for a year, learning everything he could about magic, and his master and fellow students. At the end of the year, he left without warning."
There was a long pause. When Slytherin continued his voice was colder than Harry had ever heard it. "He returned in the dark of the night with a group of villagers. They took them by surprise. The master, and three students, all under the age of twelve, were murdered."
Harry felt like he had been punched in the chest. He couldn't reply, couldn't think. How could anyone do something like that?
"Gaining your enemy's trust in order to destroy them has been a standard tactic of war for centuries," said Slytherin quietly. "And make no mistake, some Muggles do see this as a war."
Harry had to fight back a swell of nausea. Learning about witch burnings in the 14th century had been treated as a bit of a joke, a complete waste of time on the part of stupid Muggles. They had never learned about the centuries prior to that, when Muggles had been a genuine threat, and secrecy had truly been a matter of life and death. Slytherin turned again to meet his gaze.
"That is why Muggle-borns are feared. They are thrown into our culture without choice or warning. Many want nothing more than to return to their old lives." He rubbed his eyes, and the strain of the day showed clearly in his drawn face. "I knew Hogwarts was too strong to be assaulted like that. We were too strong. But our students... Not all of them live here. They would be vulnerable. I could not risk putting them in danger."
The words were enough to jolt Harry's dazed brain from its shock. "But they need training," he insisted. "You said that yourself. What were you going to do?"
"I had thought to open a separate school, one that would be for Muggle-borns only. It was not intended as a slight," he said quickly, seeing Harry open his mouth. "The fact remains that Muggle-borns are at a disadvantage when they come here, not only because they know nothing of magic, but because most of them cannot even write their own names. If they were taught separately, they could be sure of getting the attention they need." He paused. "And, of course, there would be no risk to other students."
Harry scowled. He understood the point Slytherin was trying to make, but he still couldn't say he agreed with it. "Then what changed? Why did you agree to let all the Muggle-borns come here?"
Slytherin sighed. "Godric and Rowena disagreed. They believed that separating the students like that would only lead to further division, and I did come to understand their reasoning." He hesitated. "And there was Helga."
Harry shot him a quizzical look. "What does Professor Hufflepuff have to do with it?"
For the first time, Harry saw Slytherin actually look uncertain. "She was the first Muggle-born I had ever really known, as opposed to speaking to in passing. And she was nothing like I expected." His eyes seemed to lose their focus, and his voice was more distant when he spoke. "She was nearly killed for doing nothing more than using her gift to help other people, yet she never let that stop her. She had every reason to hate us for separating her from her family and her old way of life, but she chose to learn everything that we could teach her, and then went on to learn even more. She embraced her magic and its potential, and she never once gave us reason to doubt her."
As Harry listened, he felt everything becoming clear. The clues had been there all the time, every time the two of them spoke in fact. Hufflepuff was open enough for even a boy like him to read, but Slytherin had always been an enigma. Until now. Now he understood. Slytherin looked up then, and the expression on his face cemented Harry's suspicions once and for all.
"We gave her a chance, and look what happened. It only seemed right to give others the same."
Harry nodded. "And what do you think now?" He thought he knew what the answer would be, but he wanted to hear it from Slytherin's own lips. From the raised eyebrow he received, Slytherin seemed to realise that but he answered readily enough.
"I will always be wary of Muggle-borns. I cannot help that. But I will never stop them from learning magic, or from associating with those who do. They are wizards, just as we are and, despite what certain parties might have us believe, there is no evidence to suggest that Muggle-borns are in any way inferior." He gave a wry smile. "In fact, I suspect the opposite may be true in terms of strength."
Harry smiled at him. "Right." His smile faded and he looked down. "I'm sorry for earlier."
Slytherin shook his head. "I understand. Actually, I thought you responded with considerable restraint."
"Thanks. I still don't get why you didn't just tell us all this in the first place."
Slytherin raised an eyebrow. "You were having a hard enough time believing us as it was. Would telling you that I really did mistrust Muggle-borns have helped?"
"I guess not," Harry mumbled. He and Ron, and probably even Hermione, would have had problems with that.
Slytherin sighed and looked away. "In any case, it is of no consequence now."
"I know," said Harry quietly. He wasn't completely happy about only just learning the truth, but he did understand the reasoning behind it.
Harry frowned at the slight scratch to his voice. "Sir? Is everything all right?"
Slytherin gave a somewhat forced smile. "Well enough."
Harry looked at him, taking in his pale skin and far too stiff posture. "I'm not sure Professor Hufflepuff would agree with you, sir." He was sure that that would cause protests, and so was startled when Slytherin's smile turned wry.
"Probably not," he agreed. He stretched and grimaced. "I think it may be time for us to return."
"Yes, sir." He tried to hide his relief, but knew he had failed when Slytherin rolled his eyes good-naturedly.
"It is not so bad down here, is it?"
Harry considered. The main chamber still held far too many memories for comfort, but this room was to interesting to be avoided. "No," he admitted.
"I am glad to hear it. There are a number of others that are similar to this."
"You'll have to show me some time," said Harry. Preferably when he wasn't on the verge of collapsing. From the look Slytherin shot him, it was clear he could guess what Harry had refrained from saying.
"Gryffindors," he muttered.
Once Harry would have protested that. Now he just grinned as he took Slytherin's arm. "Would you want us any other way?"
Slytherin's reply was lost in the roar of Apparition, and the next thing Harry knew they were back in the infirmary.
"Not exactly what I had had in mind," came Hufflepuff's dry voice. "But he is conscious and not bleeding, so thank you, Harry."
Harry had to smile at that. "No problem."
Hufflepuff smiled back, but it faded as she turned to Slytherin. "How do you feel?"
Harry had to fight to keep from fidgeting at the slight coolness in her voice, but Slytherin met her gaze steadily. "Terrible."
Hufflepuff's expression softened immediately. "Sit down then. And maybe this time you'll stay put." Harry was only mildly surprised when Slytherin did so without protesting. Hufflepuff caught his eye. "Some people never learn."
Harry rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. "I wouldn't know anything about that."
Hufflepuff's eyes sparkled. "Of course not." She shook her head. "No wonder the two of you get along so well."
Slytherin glanced at Harry, the ghost of a smile touching his lips. "Your company was appreciated." He looked at Hufflepuff and his smile faded. "I am sorry that I made it necessary."
Hufflepuff smiled at him, properly this time. "I know. As I was reminded earlier, I should be used to it by now."
Slytherin ducked his head. "You should not have to be."
Hufflepuff reached out and tilted his chin so that he was looking at her. "Salazar, I know you," she said firmly. "And you should know me better than that too."
Slytherin held her gaze for so long that Harry had to look away. Any doubts he might have had about their feelings were gone now; the tension in the room was almost tangible. He began to wonder if he should leave, and was just on the verge of making an excuse when Slytherin gave a slight cough.
"I do." He cleared his throat. "Do you know if Godric has spoken to the prisoners yet?"
Hufflepuff shook his head. "Rowena convinced him to wait until he had calmed down a little."
"Very wise of her," Slytherin murmured. "Particularly since I would like to be there when he does."
Hufflepuff's eyes darkened. "You want to do what?"
Harry decided that that was his cue to leave.
The Great Hall was deserted, and he eventually found the others in their favourite antechamber.
"There you are, Harry," said Gryffindor cheerfully. "Did you enjoy your little trip?"
He certainly seemed in better spirits. Harry nodded as he took a seat between Ron and Hermione. "More than I expected, thanks."
"And how is Salazar?" asked Ravenclaw.
Harry grinned. "When I left he was trying to tell Professor Hufflepuff that he needed to help interrogate the prisoners."
Ravenclaw rolled her eyes. "Why does that not surprise me?"
"Because you've known him for more than ten minutes?" Godric suggested.
Hermione stared at them. "But he can't really be thinking of doing something like that so soon, can he?"
Gryffindor and Ravenclaw just looked at each other. "Yes," they chorused.
"He did say he hated sitting still," said Harry.
"But this isn't even that important," Hermione protested. "It's not like they're going to try anything so soon after this."
Harry nodded in agreement, but to his surprise, Gryffindor's expression turned grim. "I would not put it past them."
Ron frowned. "Are they really that dangerous?"
Gryffindor scowled at the floor. "If what Salazar told me is correct, then they may be even more so."
"What do you mean?" asked Harry.
Ravenclaw shook her head. "It is not important."
Harry had to bite back a choice comment. It wasn't the first time they had heard about this mysterious incident, and certainly not the first time that the topic had been disregarded. He didn't know what was going on, but he was getting tired of the secrecy. "Surely if they're going to try again we should know about it," he said. "The more we know about them the better, that's what you keep saying."
"He's right," said Hermione. "We want to help, and we need to know what's going on."
Gryffindor frowned at them. "I thought we agreed that these people were too dangerous."
"But you agreed that we needed practise," Ron pointed out. "We're not going to go chasing after them by ourselves, but we can help you out. We did before, didn't we?"
Gryffindor's eyes narrowed, but his glare faltered when Ravenclaw laid a hand on his arm. "It might be better if we do tell them," she said quietly.
Gryffindor paused. "Explain."
Ravenclaw took a deep breath. "It will not be long before they start hearing the rumours, particularly once the students return."
Gryffindor's eyes widened slightly. "I see."
"Better they get the truth from us than a distorted version from others," said Ravenclaw softly.
Harry glanced at Ron and Hermione, and was glad to see they looked as lost as he felt. Gryffindor and Ravenclaw seemed oblivious to their presence.
"Salazar won't like it," said Gryffindor.
Ravenclaw's reply was equally quiet. "I know. But they need to know what these people are capable of."
Gryffindor was silent for a long moment. "We will need to talk to the others."
Gryffindor rubbed a hand over his face. "They're really not going to like it." But his tone was one of resignation, not argument.
Ron stared at them. "You'll really tell us?"
Ravenclaw fixed him with a sharp look. "If the others agree."
Harry didn't even try to suppress his smile. He knew Slytherin well enough to know that he wouldn't keep anything from them that might keep them safe. Finally they were going to get some answers.
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