Strange Visitors From Another Century
Chapter Twenty-One: Sparks
Apologies for the delay, a combination of an increasing workload and ill health meant that I couldn't work on this as much as I wanted to. Thank you again for all the reviews, favourites and alerts, and I hope you enjoy this chapter.
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, and am not affiliated with Bloomsbury or Scholastic Inc.
The next few weeks passed pleasantly enough. Harry, Ron and Hermione settled into their new houses and classes, and everything seemed to be going fairly well. Apparently risking their lives for the school was enough to make Helena completely drop the icy façade, and she, William, Pollux and Castor welcomed them into the group with open arms.
It didn't take Harry long to realise that the four of them were incapable of keeping secrets from each other though. By the end of their first day, all of them knew that not only had Edmund challenged Harry to a duel, but that Gryffindor, Slytherin and Safdar had all given the idea their support. Helena had been delighted by the news, but as much as Harry wanted to win, he had to be realistic. He knew he had improved a lot over the last few months, but Edmund was a very good duellist; he had been training intensively for years, and had proven himself many times over. Harry's chances were not looking good.
It was Helena who came up with a way to even the odds.
They were sitting at the Ravenclaw table at the time. Harry liked it there, mainly because the discussions around them ranged from the basic (but what's the difference between a swish and a flick, and a wave and a jab?) to the advanced (no no no, inverting the third and twelfth runes completely disrupts the protective energies) to the simply bizarre (so what would happen if an Animagus got pregnant while in animal form?), and could never be called dull. Hermione was engaged in the runes debate with a passion that Harry had only ever seen back home when she had quizzed the sixth and seventh years in the Common Room, and the ease with which she had settled into her new house would have been disconcerting if she didn't look so happy.
Then again, Harry and Ron had slipped into Slytherin and Hufflepuff with far fewer problems than either of them had anticipated. Ron had taken to showing the young, and old, first years the easiest way to their classes, all the while muttering about how being a prefect was surprisingly useful, while Harry's willingness to be William's partner in Potions had won him the gratitude of his own housemates.
Unlike Hermione though, Helena was showing no interest in her housemates' discussions.
"You have to win, Harry."
Harry just sighed and picked up another roll. "He's got years more experience than me."
"So did those Dark wizards," William pointed out, with his mouth full. "And you did fine against them."
Harry winced, but Helena just shook her head. "You've got three weeks. That's plenty of time to improve." Her dark eyes gleamed. "Especially since we are going to be helping you."
Harry blinked. "You are?"
"We are?" William echoed.
"Yes," said Helena firmly. She fixed the three boys with a sharp look. "We all are."
The twins looked at her, at Harry, and then at each other, and gave identical shrugs. "Fine by us," said Pollux. He and Castor, Harry had noticed, were generally good-natured enough to let Helena decide on a course of action.
William though, was frowning. "Aren't you getting a little carried away?"
Harry glared at him, but Ron nodded. "He's got a point. It's just a bit of practice."
"It is not just practice," Helena ground out through gritted teeth. "It is a chance to show that arrogant, insufferable, self-obsessed swine that the world is not always going to bend to his will."
Harry could only stare at her. Twin spots of red blazed in her pale cheeks, and he felt a sudden rush of sympathy. He hadn't liked the way Edmund pursued Helena, but only because he was attracted to her himself. Harry had never even considered dealing with that much unwanted attention would be like. No wonder she was keen to see the man defeated.
William just sighed. "Helena-"
"And don't you dare tell me to give him a chance," Helena snarled.
"But you should," William protested. "I know he can be full of himself, but he's really not that bad. He always stops by the Common Room to help us out when he visits, and he always comes when Slytherin asks him to."
"I know he's a good man," said Helena flatly. "I know he's a powerful wizard from an important family, and that I could do a lot worse. That doesn't change the fact that I don't love him, and I'm not going to marry him."
Castor snorted. "You do remember that if your mother had married for love then you wouldn't be here."
Helena shot him a glare of utmost contempt. Ron opened his mouth with a frown, but Harry kicked him under the table and turned to Helena. "What did you mean when you said you could help?"
"Precisely that." She dismissed Castor with a final disgusted scowl, and fixed flashing eyes on Harry. "As William said, he is always very happy to show everyone how good he is." William rolled his eyes, but Helena didn't even look at him. "We have all seen him fight on numerous occasions."
Ron leaned forward, the remnants of his dinner temporarily forgotten. "So you know exactly what his strengths are."
Harry hesitated, but if he had learned anything in Slytherin, it was that not taking advantage of an opportunity was stupid. Besides, Edmund had seen him fight a few times now. He looked at Helena and smiled.
"When do we start?"
Helga set aside yet another heavy book and rubbed at her eyes. Under normal circumstances, spending her time researching magical ailments and healing techniques was no hardship at all, but this was different. Not only was the subject matter darker than anything she had ever studied, but the stakes were the life, and quite possibly the soul, of an innocent boy.
They couldn't afford to fail, but so far things had not been going well.
There was a tap of wood on the stone floor, then a soft voice reached Helga's ears.
"I see you are having as much luck as I am."
Helga looked up in time to see Salazar ease himself into the seat opposite her. The flickering candlelight sent shadows dancing across the sharp planes of his face, and Helga ran an appraising eye over him out of habit. He looked exhausted, but then they all did at the start of the year so Helga could hardly say anything. Instead, she just sighed.
"Nothing so far. Even the Ravenclaw family library proved unhelpful." She hadn't really been surprised, it was hardly the sort of subject Rowena's parents would have any interest in, but it was rare for a search there to prove so utterly futile. "Was there nothing in any of your books?"
Salazar grimaced. "There is very little on Horcruxes, and even less on how to destroy them. As for destroying one without damaging the vessel…" He broke off, and shook his head. "I do not see how it can be done."
The despair in his voice had Helga's resolve hardening. "We will find a way," she said firmly. She reached out to cover his hand with her own. "We must."
Salazar stared at their hands, then gave her a very small smile. "Indeed." His gaze travelled to the stack of books covering her desk, and sighed. "But as yet, I do not have an answer." His voice dropped until it was barely audible. "I fear it may be impossible."
Helga couldn't deny that she had had the same thought. However… "Twelve years ago, everyone said that building a school where everyone could learn magic in safety was impossible."
Salazar stared at her. Helga squeezed his hand. "You once told me to believe in myself," she said quietly. "Now it is your turn to believe in us."
Salazar continued to stare, and though Helga knew he would never use Legilimency on her, it still felt like he was looking into her very soul. She held his gaze, letting him feel the strength of her conviction. The four of them had always been able to do what needed to be done. This would be no different.
"Yes," said Salazar softly. "We never let the odds deter us in the past." He smiled at her, not his usual smirk, but one of the rare, soft smiles that lit up his face. "Thank you."
Helga just smiled back. "You have done the same for me."
Salazar sat back in his chair, and Helga was pleased to see that some of the tension had left his shoulders. "We cannot fail them," he said quietly. "Harry does not deserve this."
There was clear pain in his voice, and Helga's stomach clenched. They had all come to care for their visitors, but the bond between Harry and Salazar was something else. "I know." She looked down at the pile of books. There had to be a way of separating a soul from its vessel…
Salazar straightened, grey eyes gleaming in the candlelight, but Helga barely saw him. "Souls," she breathed.
Helga focused on him, hope surging almost painfully through her chest. "We need a way to remove the soul fragment from Harry without harming him. The Dementor's Kiss extracts the soul, but does no physical damage."
What little colour he had drained completely from Salazar's face. "You cannot be suggesting what I think you are."
"Oh no, exposing Harry to a Dementor would be much too dangerous," said Helga quickly. "But if we could examine the technique-"
"Examine the technique? How, by all the gods, are we supposed to do that?"
He was looking more agitated than he had been when they found out the Order had returned. Helga leaned forward to take both his hands in hers. "I think it could be done," she insisted, then frowned. "Of course, we still could not be sure that only the soul fragment would be removed."
Salazar ran a shaky hand through his hair. "I am no expert on soul magics, but I believe the fragment is only loosely attached to Harry. Voldemort did not intend to make him a Horcrux, and the fact that it happened at all appears to be a complete accident."
Helga nodded slowly. "So it should take less effort to remove." She took a deep breath. "Do you think it is possible?"
Salazar was silent for several long moments. Helga could see terror and revulsion warring with hope in his eyes, before finally his shoulders slumped. "It is a better idea than any I have had."
Helga couldn't keep the smile from spreading across her face. It would be dangerous, and they didn't even know for sure if it would work, but it was a chance. "Then we can try." A thought came to her, and her smile faded. "Though we still need to investigate the Dementors."
She grimaced at the idea. The creatures themselves were horrible, but that wasn't the only problem. Their time was already limited now that the students were back, and this would not be an easy task. Salazar just waved a hand.
"I will ask Myrddin to go. He has fewer demons than the rest of us, and far more free time. If he is taught the Patronus Charm, I doubt he will have any difficulties." He gave a wry smile. "And he is the most likely of all of us to see something useful."
Helga rolled her eyes fondly. Their former pupil was certainly unique. "Let's just hope he doesn't find them too interesting. He does have a tendency to lose track of time."
Salazar smirked. "Not this time. I strongly suspect he won't be any longer than two weeks before at least returning for a visit."
Helga frowned, then nodded. "Ah, that duel."
She still didn't know why Edmund had proposed such a challenge, but Harry and his friends had thrown themselves into preparations with a fervour that had impressed even Safdar. "What do you will be the outcome?"
Salazar hummed thoughtfully. "It is difficult to say. Ordinarily Edmund would be the clear favourite, but Harry's progress over the past months has been extraordinary." His expression darkened slightly. "And he has Helena's support."
Helga grimaced. No wonder Edmund had had a face like a storm cloud every time she had seen him. "Why can he not let her go? She has made it clear that she is not interested, and he knows Rowena will not gainsay that."
"Because pride is not the sole province of Gryffindors," said Salazar with a sigh. "I believe he has come to see her rejection as a personal insult."
"And she has managed a few of those as well," said Helga dryly. "Perhaps you should talk to him again."
"I can try. Whether or not he will listen is another matter entirely."
Helga smiled at him. "If he will listen to anyone in the world it is you. Your opinion matters a great deal to him."
Salazar met her gaze for a moment, and the emotion in his eyes took her breath away before he shook his head. "I will try," he promised. He shook himself and gave a wry smile. "It will be good practice for Harry, at least."
"And for Ron and Hermione too," Helga agreed. "They have been working very hard." Everything that had happened had only made them even more determined to help their friend. Neither of them wanted to see Harry, or each other, in that position again. "I wish it were not necessary."
"As do I," said Salazar quietly. "But they would not have it any other way. Together, they are a truly formidable team."
He fell silent, staring into the bright candlelight, and Helga knew his hopes and fears were her own.
They sat in silence for several minutes, each appreciating the comfort that was the other's company, before Salazar sighed and straightened up. "Even if we can remove the Horcrux from Harry, it will need to be trapped in a suitable container before it can be destroyed."
Helga frowned. "Do you know how to create such a vessel?" Certainly none of the rest of them would have the faintest idea where to begin.
Salazar rubbed at his eyes. "Some of my books contain some guidance, but I will need to speak to Zalasta again."
Helga's feelings of security vanished immediately. "Why?"
Salazar looked at her somewhat quizzically. "You know his knowledge in some fields exceeds my own."
"Yes, but that does not mean I trust him," said Helga flatly. "You should not go alone."
"I have never trusted him," Salazar assured her. "I know better, and I promise that I will be careful." He grimaced. "In any case, there is much to be done before then."
Helga eyed him, but decided against pressing the matter. There would be time enough for that particular battle later. Instead she sat back in her chair and gave her friend a small smile.
"So who gets to tell Myrddin that we want him to track down some Dementors?"
Deep in the forest, Myrddin sneezed.
"I have a sudden urge to be far away," he told the nearest oak tree. "And I hate the cold. Gets into your very soul."
The oak tree didn't care.
"You really should eat something, Harry."
Harry appreciated the concern, but his duel was less than two hours away, and his stomach was in too many knots to make any of the food in front of him appealing.
"She's right, mate," said Ron from his other side. "Remember how hungry you used to get during Quidditch matches when you didn't eat before?"
"On the other hand, eating now might just slow him down," William pointed out. "And what's Quidditch?"
"Just a game we used to play back home," said Hermione quickly, when Ron froze. William shook his head in bemusement.
"Where do you three come from?" he asked. "I've never even heard of half the things you talk about."
Harry opened his mouth, then closed it again, his mind blank. They really needed to get better at this. Hermione, though, answered promptly. "It's just a little settlement down in the south," she told William. "Our parents used to travel a lot, and they picked up some new ideas."
"I see," said William slowly, but Harry knew him well enough to see that his curiosity had only increased and cast desperately around for a change of subject.
"The ravens are late today, aren't they?"
That had been another thing to get used to. It had been a bit of a shock to see a dozen ravens carrying the post every morning. Hermione had theorised that as the wizarding population had increased they had switched to owls in an attempt to avoid attracting attention, and neither Harry nor Ron had really cared enough to argue. They had all gotten used to the birds arriving around noon each day, and had gone back to trying to look like they belonged in the eleventh century.
Though judging by the expression on William's face, they really hadn't been doing such a great job of that. Nor did he look impressed by Harry's efforts to distract him.
Fortunately, the ravens chose that moment to make their entrance. One skimmed low enough over Harry's head to brush his hair with its feathers before dropping a roll of parchment in front of Castor. The Gryffindor picked it up and scanned it.
"Well, it looks like we're getting another brother or sister."
William grinned at him. "Congratulations. Any preference?"
"A sister," said Pollux, as he peered over Castor's shoulder. "Brothers are too much trouble."
"And our parents are running out of names for boys," Castor agreed, jabbing an elbow into his twin's ribs as he read the rest of the letter. He rolled his eyes at Harry. "Our family has an obsession with classical mythology."
William glanced up. "Maybe they'll move on to star names or something. That already works with yours."
The twins snorted in unison. "Wouldn't surprise me if they'd planned it that way," Pollux admitted.
Harry, though, was staring at the twins. Next to him, Hermione too was gaping, but she recovered quickly. "Gryffindor and Hufflepuff… And you're the first in your family to come here, aren't you?"
Castor and Pollux exchanged a bemused look. "Well, yes," said Castor after a moment. "We are the eldest, after all. Our siblings won't be joining us for another few years." His eyes narrowed. "Why do you ask?"
"No reason," said Harry quickly. He very carefully didn't look at Hermione. They were going to have to remember this. A couple of people back home would be very interested. Ron looked between the two of them in confusion, but before he could say anything an imperious voice rang out.
"Excuse me, please."
Harry was shuffling along the bench before he realised what he was doing, and he just had time to see Ron doing the same before Helena settled herself between them. She set a stack of books on the table and fixed Harry with a sharp look.
"Are you ready?"
Harry eyed her somewhat warily. Over the past two weeks she had proven to be as fierce a taskmaster as Oliver Wood. "I think so."
Her eyes narrowed. "You think so?"
"He'll be fine," Ron jumped in. "He's had loads of practice."
"Then he should be sure he can win. Isn't that right, Harry?"
"Er…" Harry glanced desperately at his grinning friends until William took pity on him.
"Oh, you haven't heard the news, Helena," he called. He jerked a thumb at the twins. "These two are going to be big brothers."
"Congratulations," said Helena shortly. "Now, Harry, I was thinking-"
"Is that all we get?" Pollux demanded.
Helena frowned at him. "Well, you do already have three younger siblings."
"Well yes, but that's not the point!"
Helena paused, and her pale cheeks flushed slightly. "Yes, perhaps that was a little rude of me. My apologies."
"Accepted," said Castor dryly. "But please, don't let us keep you."
Harry just had time to scowl at him, and receive a bright innocent smile in reply, before Helena was flicking through the first of the books.
"Yes, as I was saying, I've been doing a little more research into more unorthodox strategies…"
Harry looked around, but Hermione looked as intrigued as Helena, and Ron and the twins were barely stifling their laughter. William gave him a sympathetic look but no actual help, and Harry turned back to the book with a sigh.
"…so if he does use it might be worth using this instead one of your usual combinations, just to catch him off guard-"
"The duel's in less than an hour," Harry interrupted. "I can't learn all this by then."
"That's no reason not to try," said Helena shortly. "And there are one or two others that I think you should have a look at too."
Harry was silently bidding farewell to any chance of some time to himself before the match when someone spoke from behind him.
Helena fell silent as Slytherin's clear voice cut through the chatter at the table, and Harry shot him a relieved look. "Professor?"
"Would you come with me for a moment?"
"Yes, sir." He tried to contain his eagerness, but he still saw William cover a grin with his hand. Helena looked slightly disappointed, but a warning look from Slytherin kept her quiet, and Harry waited until he was well out of earshot before letting out a relieved breath.
Slytherin smirked at him. "You looked like you needed rescuing."
"She's worse than my old Quidditch captain," Harry complained. "And he'd rather die than lose a match. Not literally," he added quickly, as Slytherin raised an eyebrow. "He was just very passionate." Helena's fierce, almost desperate expression filled his mind, and he sighed. "And I guess Helena has good reason to be too."
"Indeed," said Slytherin quietly. "She used to respect him, but his attentions over the past two years have not been welcome." He shook his head. "In any case, she should not be putting that resentment on you."
"I don't mind too much," said Harry with a shrug. "She's been brilliant over the past couple of weeks, and so have the others."
"I'm glad to hear it. She can be somewhat obsessive."
Harry grimaced. He had worked that one out for himself. They came to a stop in the draughty Entrance Hall, and Slytherin looked Harry up and down. "Do you think it will be enough?"
Harry opened his mouth, then paused to actually consider his answer. "I don't know," he admitted. "We've been working hard, and I've got a good idea of what to do, but I know he's very good too." He shrugged, and pushed back the strands of hair that persisted in falling into his eyes. "I'll do my best. Hopefully it'll be enough."
"That's all we can ask," Slytherin agreed.
Harry hesitated, but in the end couldn't resist. "Of course, if you wanted to give me any tips…"
Slytherin shot him a startled blink, then his mouth curved into a slow smirk. "Well, he does have one weakness that Helena may not have considered."
Harry waited, then sighed. "Which you're not going to tell me." The smirk widened, and Harry frowned again. "Not even a hint?"
Slytherin raised an eyebrow. "You only asked for a tip. But it is a weakness that you may very well share."
Harry considered that. From what he'd gathered, the only thing they had in common was finding Helena attractive. His hair fell forward into his face again, and he pushed it away irritably. "At least I've got an hour to figure it out then."
Slytherin eyed him. "Indeed. Of course, your other weakness will be not being able to see what he is doing."
Harry fought back the urge to tidy his hair again. "I'm not used to it being this long," he muttered. "And I've never been able to control it anyway."
Slytherin just looked at him. "You realise it is long enough to tie back?"
Harry flushed. "I guess so." He'd never really thought about it, but he clearly did need to do something with it. "With what?"
Slytherin raised an eyebrow and flicked his wand, and Harry caught the dark green ribbon that knit itself together from thin air. "Oh, thanks."
Harry tried to tie it up, only to find himself with rather more hair than he had realised. Slytherin gave a faint wince and held out a hand. "If I may?"
Harry surrendered the ribbon with more relief than embarrassment. He didn't need to go out in front of half the student population looking like a complete idiot. Slytherin tied his hair at the nape of his neck with quick, practiced movements, and Harry felt a rush of nostalgia. The last time someone had tried to tidy his hair for him it had been Mrs Weasley before his hearing. This was rather different, but Harry felt just as comfortable with Slytherin as he ever had with Ron's family. Slytherin moved round to consider his handiwork and nodded.
Harry twisted round to try to spot something reflective, and grinned when the motion didn't result in a mouthful of hair. "It feels much better," he agreed. "Thank you." It was definitely better than trying to mess around with it in a duel.
Slytherin merely nodded, but Harry recognised the affection in his eyes, and another pang shot through his heart. He really was going to miss Slytherin when this whole crazy adventure was over. The Founder looked at him and opened his mouth, but before he could say anything Hufflepuff stepped out from the Great Hall. She looked at the two of them, and her face broke into a bright smile.
"I like it."
"Really?" Harry asked. It wasn't exactly his usual style.
"Really," Hufflepuff assured him. "It suits you." She glanced at Slytherin, eyes dancing, and the wizard frowned.
"What is it?"
Hufflepuff's smile widened, but she shook her head. "Never mind." She looked at him, all traces of amusement fading. "Myrddin has returned."
Slytherin tensed, but Harry was too busy backing up to wonder why. "Where?" he asked urgently.
Hufflepuff blinked. "Talking to Rowena…He's really not that bad, Harry."
"He's weird," said Harry flatly. "And he knows everything. It's not a good combination."
"That is true," Hufflepuff allowed. "But he does mean well."
Slytherin nodded. "And he may have some useful information for us."
Harry perked up at that. "Useful information?" That sounded promising. The two Founders exchanged a long look before Slytherin turned back to Harry.
"We may have an idea as to how we can remove that Horcrux," he said. "But I would like to hear what Myrddin has discovered before we go any further."
For a moment Harry wanted to demand to know what was going on, but he forced that impulse down. If Slytherin wasn't telling him something, Harry knew that there had to be a good reason.
As if sensing Harry's thoughts, Slytherin rested a hand on his shoulder. "I will tell you everything when I can," he said gently.
Harry breathed out the last of his frustration and looked his teacher straight in the eye. "I know, sir."
Slytherin gave him a warm smile, then squeezed his shoulder and stepped back. "You concentrate on your duel. We will sort this out."
Harry nodded. At least the conversation had settled his nerves. "You'll be there, right? For the duel?"
"I have no intention of being anywhere else."
Hufflepuff nodded agreement with a smile, and as Harry watched them head back into the Great Hall he found himself smiling so hard his cheeks ached. Helena might not be happy if he lost later, but hers wasn't the opinion that mattered the most to him.
Harry looked up in time to see Ron heading for him. His friend didn't stop, but caught his arm on the way past. "Come on. William's helping Hermione stall Helena, but the twins are having too much fun to be any use."
Harry grinned, and let Ron drag him up the stairs. "Better escape while we can then."
The energetic climb left both of them breathing hard, despite all the physical training Gryffindor had had them doing, but the exercise cleared Harry's head. Ron looked him over once they got to the second landing and nodded to his hair.
"I might have to give that a go."
Harry nodded, feeling the weight at the back of his neck. "It's a lot easier." A memory came to him and he smirked. "And I know Hermione always liked the look on Bill."
"Dunno what that's got to do with anything," Ron muttered, but his cheeks and ears had blazed red and Harry fought back a grin. Ron glared at him. "So, did Slytherin have anything else to say?"
They turned down towards the Armoury, and Harry shrugged. "Just that I should do my best." He'd already decided not to say anything about Myrddin. There was no point in getting everyone's hopes up just yet. "Oh, and that we both have the same weakness."
"Huh. Don't suppose he said what that weakness was?"
"Course not," said Harry with a snort. "That would be far too easy."
Ron raised an eyebrow. "As if either of you would have it any other way."
That was a pretty good point, not that Harry had any intention of admitting it. The challenge, when it didn't involve life-threatening danger, was part of what he liked about duelling.
The Armoury was deserted when they entered. The usual training equipment had been cleared, and the room suddenly looked very large, and very empty. An arena had been marked out, but there was plenty of room for spectators, and Harry swallowed.
"How many people do you reckon will come?"
Ron shrugged. "Everyone in our Duelling class at least. They all know you're the best, and they want to see what you can do. And then there's all their friends, and the people they've told, and our teachers..."
"Thanks," said Harry sourly. His nerves we returning with a vengeance.
Ron's grin faded, and he clapped Harry on the shoulder. "Come on, you'll be fine. There's loads more people at Quidditch matches, and you always do fine there. Just concentrate on beating that git and don't worry about us."
Harry snorted, and Ron rocked back on his heels with a satisfied grin. "You'll be fine. You've fought V-Voldemort for goodness sake! You're not going to have any problems with some stuck-up idiot who can't take no for an answer."
"He's not that bad," said Harry half-heartedly. Ron raised an eyebrow, and he sighed. "Okay yeah, he hasn't been nice to Helena, but William likes him."
"William's weird," Ron muttered. "Even more than the rest of them," he added, when Harry opened his mouth.
"Well I like them."
"So do I. Doesn't mean they're not weird."
"I'm pretty sure they say the same about us," Harry pointed out.
Ron just shook his head, but there was a smirk dancing on his lips and Harry realised his nerves had faded. His best friend had always been good at that. Ron clapped him on the shoulder without speaking, and Harry nodded. He'd faced Voldemort and his Death Eaters. He could handle a friendly duel.
The two boys chatted easily for the next ten minutes, both avoiding any further discussion on the upcoming duel. Students started to trickle in, some of whom Harry had never spoken to, but the whole of Slytherin turned up, Sigrun informing him that since both duellists were Slytherins the house would be split equally in their support. She also added with a wink that she certainly wouldn't mind seeing the young nobleman taken down a peg or two.
Hermione and their close friends were some of the last to arrive, for which Harry gave her a grateful smile. Helena seemed a little subdued, but the boys were more than happy to bombard him with last minute advice.
"He likes to watch and wait before attacking, so be careful."
"And he's really good at countering tricky spells.
"But he's got a really bad temper, which is good if you can use it but he will get nasty."
"All right, that's enough," said Hermione firmly. She ignored their grins as she turned to Harry. "How are you feeling?"
Harry shrugged. "I just want to get it over with." Like with facing the Horntail, and the battle with the Order, it was the waiting he couldn't deal with, and he found himself glancing at the door every few seconds. What was keeping the Founders and his opponent?
"He may be doing it on purpose," said Helena softly. Harry glanced at her, and she elaborated, "He likes to put his opponents on edge."
Hermione flushed. "He can't do that."
Helena gave a rather half-hearted shrug. "It's a valid tactic, and he is a Slytherin." Her eyes glinted. "Though Uncle Salazar won't let him go too far."
Despite his annoyance, Harry had to admit that it was working. He closed his eyes and forced himself to breathe evenly. Even before coming to this time he had been good at Defence. Now that he had had proper training, and some more experience, it wouldn't be bragging to say that he was more than good.
There was a movement at the door, and Harry looked up in time to see his opponent finally enter. Edmund was dressed in formal black robes and, like Harry, his hair was tied back out of the way. His mouth curved into a sneer as he met Harry's gaze, and Harry had to force down the urge to reciprocate. He'd let his duelling speak for him.
He was glad of his restraint a moment later when Slytherin and the rest of the Founders appeared behind Safdar. The sneer disappeared at a single raised eyebrow, and Harry tried not to look too smug as the group made their way towards him. Hermione glanced between the two of them and sighed.
"Harry, you do remember that this is supposed to be a friendly practice duel, don't you?"
Ron and Helena snorted in unison, and the boys exchanged badly concealed smirks, but Harry just scowled. "It's not like I wanted all this." His exasperated wave encompassed the still-growing audience. Hermione bit her lip, but before she could say anything the rest of the group joined them.
"Good afternoon to you all," said Gryffindor brightly. "Are you ready, Harry?"
Harry swallowed, but every face save Edmund's showed only encouragement, and he managed a firm nod. "I think so, sir."
"Excellent. Safdar will be officiating, so I will leave the formalities to him." He smiled at the two duellists. "I am sure you will both do us proud."
"We will, sir," said Edmund. He turned to Harry, and held out his hand. "May we both fight well."
Harry had no idea what to say to that, but Edmund didn't seem offended. Actually, his attention was already back on Helena, and Harry couldn't decide whether to be amused or insulted. Safdar just rolled his eyes.
"Any time you two feel like taking your positions?"
Harry blushed, and after a quick hug and clap on the back from Ron and Hermione, and wishes of good luck at varying volumes from his friends, he walked to the far side of the marked area. Edmund stood opposite him, and the crowd fell silent as Safdar stopped exactly between the two of them. Harry caught Slytherin's eye, and the Founder gave a small smile that settled Harry's nerves before Safdar cleared his throat.
"This will be an informal duel between Edmund, Baron of Drake's How, and Harry Potter. One wand each is permitted only. There will be three bouts, each of which will end when one duellist is disarmed. Excessive or lethal force will result in immediate disqualification and judgement."
The Founders nodded grimly, and Harry swallowed. It would be a very brave, and very foolish, wizard who risked that. Safdar's eyes flashed as he turned to the crowd. "Likewise, any form of interference will not be tolerated."
Judging from their expressions, Harry was fairly sure that there wouldn't be any issues there.
Safdar nodded in satisfaction, and turned back to Harry and Edmund. "Are you prepared?"
Edmund's voice was clear and confident, and had Harry straightening.
"Then take your positions."
Harry took a breath, then turned so that he was standing at an angle to his opponent, and raised his wand. Across the field, Edmund had assumed a similar stance. Safdar nodded at the two of them and stepped back.
Harry was moving before the command had even registered. He threw up a shield, and his instincts were justified when two lightning fast spells smashed against it. Harry fired his own Stunning and Disarming spells but kept on the move. It was the style that came most naturally to him, and all of his friends found it difficult to counter.
Unfortunately, Edmund was rather better than fifth and sixth year students. He deflected both of Harry's attacks with ease, and countered with a hex that Harry chose to dodge rather than risk blocking. From the crackle it made as it went past, he was very glad he'd avoided a standard shield. That had felt nasty.
So Edmund could handle himself. Harry had expected as much. A grin stretched across his face. It was time to speed things up a bit. He took a deep breath and launched into his favourite combination. The field lit up in a rainbow of lights, and Harry saw with satisfaction that Edmund had been forced to concentrate solely on defence. Harry increased his rate of casting, taking care to keep on the move, until finally Edmund's shield faltered just enough for Harry's next spell to send him flying through the air.
"Yes!" Ron cheered. "Nice one, Harry."
Harry spared him a quick grin, and was pleased to find Helena beaming at him. Slytherin caught his eye and gave him an approving nod, and Harry smiled back before turning to face Edmund again. The Baron stretched out his bruised shoulder, giving Harry an appraising look as he did so. He didn't say anything, but it was better than disdain, so Harry just smiled and raised his wand.
"Ready?" Safdar asked.
Both wizards nodded, seconds later spells were once again flying through the air. Harry launched another blazingly fast series of spells, but his time Edmund was ready. He flicked his wand in a movement so fast Harry couldn't track it and was suddenly surrounded by a brilliant bronze dome. Every one of Harry's spells dissipated in a harmless shower of sparks, and Edmund took advantage of Harry's surprise to go on the offensive.
Harry darted sideways, only to have to throw up a shield as he nearly stumbled straight into the path of a nasty looking curse.
A quick assessment confirmed his fears. Edmund was spreading his spells out enough that simply avoiding his attacks was impossible if he didn't want to get herded into a trap. No doubt Ron was taking careful notes. Harry forced that thought aside and tried to counter-attack, but with his movements restricted he was forced to resort to shields and it was far more draining on his reserves. Taking back the initiative was impossible; Edmund's control of the battlefield was simply too great, and Harry was sure he was tiring more quickly than the older wizard.
That was confirmed when Edmund cast three spells in quick succession. Harry caught the first two, but the third shattered his shield and Harry couldn't suppress a cry as a line of white fire whipped across his leg. He stumbled, his injured leg abruptly unable to support him, and was unable to block the Bludgeoning Curse that lifted him off his feet and sent him flying across the room. He hit the floor with a crash, and through the explosion of pain he heard a sharp voice.
"Winner, Baron Edmund. Mind the excessive force."
"Of course, sir."
There was a grunt, and then Safdar's face swam into view. "Are you fit to continue?"
Harry gritted his teeth and forced himself to his feet. His injuries weren't debilitating, but there was no way he was backing down now. It still took a moment to catch his balance, and he could feel his face burning. Getting beaten like a first year was bad enough, but having it happen in front of his best friends, the Founders, and the girl he kind of liked...
Harry's head snapped up. As he'd suspected, Edmund's gaze was fixed not on him, but on Helena's slender figure, and Harry drew in a sharp breath. Of course. That was what Slytherin had meant.
His leg and ribs throbbed, but Harry felt a grin stretch across his face. He still had a chance to win. He wasn't going to waste it.
"If you're finished, Potter?"
Harry turned his attention back to Safdar and nodded. "Yes, sir."
His ribs ached, and putting pressure on his leg felt like a bad idea, but he had no intention of giving up now. He could feel Ron and Hermione's anxious eyes on him, but Harry didn't take his gaze from Edmund. The older man had surprised him, but if nothing else, Harry had learned to adapt. Safdar looked between the two of them and nodded.
Harry began with the expected barrage, but this time he had a plan. Edmund blocked the assault with a contemptuous smirk, but in doing so he missed the utterly inconspicuous jinx that slipped past his shield.
He did notice very quickly when his robes turned bright pink. Harry had never actually seen someone turn that red so fast.
There was silence for a split-second, before it was broken by a peal of laughter. Both Harry and Edmund recognised it, but while Edmund froze in place, Harry seized his chance.
"Harry, green and orange do not go with pink!" Ron yelled.
Harry thought he'd done rather a good job with the polkadots. Helena certainly seemed to think so; she was clutching her ribs, and laughing so hard that tears were streaming down her face. Edmund stood staring at her in utter mortification, and Harry felt a quick twinge of guilt, but the sympathy died when the Baron whirled on him with a face like a Basilisk.
He lashed out, word failing him, but Harry had already summoned his strongest shields, and the attack did nothing. Edmund paused at the sound of Helena's redoubled laughter, and Harry could see him desperately trying to cancel the charms on his robes, so took the opportunity for another whispered spell.
This time, he targeted his opponent's hair tie, and within seconds Edmund was stumbling back as his own hair wrapped itself several times around his face. He tripped and fell to the ground with a crash, and Harry jabbed his wand forward.
There was no resistance. Harry took three steps forward and plucked his opponent's wand from the air.
For a long moment there was complete silence. Harry stood still, breathing heavily as he stared at the wand in his hand. On the other side of the room, Edmund had regained control of his hair, and was sitting on the floor, open-mouthed with horror. Harry could feel the tension in the room, thick and suffocating as the calm before the storm, and fought back a sudden, very unsuitable urge to giggle. It was fairly safe to say that no one had been expecting that.
The moment was broken by a familiar voice.
"That was bloody brilliant!"
Harry looked round, and just caught sight of two beaming smiles before he was pulled into a bear hug that nearly knocked him off his feet.
"That was fantastic, Harry," Hermione squealed in his ear. "I admit that I was a little worried after that second bout, when he caught onto what you were doing, but you turned it around wonderfully! But how are you? I know your ribs took some damage, and you must let us take a look at your leg, and-"
"Let the man breathe, Hermione," said Ron in between his laughter. He let Harry go, but kept a supportive hand under his elbow, which was just as well when twin thumps on either shoulder sent Harry staggering.
"Where did you learn that?" Castor demanded. "And don't you dare say it was Safdar, because whoever came up with those actually has a sense of humour."
Pollux's eyes were gleaming with excitement. "You have got to teach us how to do that."
"He certainly does," said a new voice, and Harry looked up to find that Helena had joined them. There was a very curious look in her eyes, but it vanished as Harry met her gaze and she gave him a warm smile. "Well done, Harry."
"Thanks," said Harry breathlessly. Between the stress of the duel, and the shock of actually winning, he was beginning to feel quite lightheaded. Ron eyed him.
"Seriously, mate, how are your ribs? That spell looked nasty."
"It felt nasty," Harry admitted. "But I'm all right for now." He still hadn't see William or the Founders, and he was starting to get worried. He had won, but it hadn't exactly been a conventional battle.
All doubts were erased though, when he turned to find Slytherin studying him with a small smile on his face. His eyes fairly glowed with pride, and Harry felt the last of his tension drain away. Helena followed his gaze and stepped aside, and Harry grinned as the Founder approached.
"I worked it out."
"So you did."
Harry could quite happily have basked in that quiet approval for longer, but Gryffindor was approaching, and while he didn't look upset, he wasn't exactly smiling either. Slytherin rested a hand on his shoulder, but kept quiet. Gryffindor came to a stop in front of them and shook his head.
"I probably should have expected that."
Harry swallowed. "I knew after the second bout that my normal strategy wasn't going to work again, but with Helena watching-" He broke off as Gryffindor raised and hand.
"It was a good strategy." He glanced at Slytherin and smiled. "Very cunning."
Slytherin squeezed Harry's shoulder, and Harry could practically feel his pride. "Thank you, sir."
Still, he couldn't help glancing over at Edmund. William was helping the Baron sort out his robes, though he did spare Harry a quick grin when their eyes met, but Edmund himself looked furious, and Harry couldn't blame him. It hadn't exactly been a nice tactic.
They weren't supposed to be nice in a duel, Harry reminded himself firmly. Besides, Edmund certainly hadn't gone easy on him. His ribs throbbed at the thought, and he had to bite back a groan.
"All right, time to let me have a look," Ron announced. He waved his wand silently over Harry's side, and Harry felt a fierce, cleansing heat burn through his chest before the pain faded completely. "How's that?"
Harry took a deep, careful breath and smiled at Ron. "Much better. Thanks, mate."
Ron clapped him on the shoulder, and crouched to repeat the process on his leg. Gryffindor eyed him approvingly. "You're getting very good at those spells."
Ron's ears blazed red, but he didn't look up from his work. "Thanks. They just come easier than the other stuff we've been learning."
"Good," said Harry fervently. Neither he nor Hermione had shown any aptitude for healing, and considering the amount of trouble they got into, it was very lucky that Ron had. The throbbing in his leg eased to a dull ache, and Ron pushed himself upright.
"You should take it easy for a bit, but there was no serious damage," he told him. "Good thing you didn't try anything too energetic for that last one."
Harry nodded, but at that moment Hermione grabbed his wrist.
Harry looked up in time to see a very unhappy looking Baron stalking towards him. William hovered back, shooting Harry an apologetic look, but Harry only had time to gather himself before Edmund drew himself up.
"That was not an honourable duel," he hissed.
Harry opened his mouth, but Slytherin's grip tightened slightly on his shoulder, and he took a moment to centre himself before replying. "I was trained to fight to win," he said evenly. "And I wasn't the one casting full strength Cutting and Bludgeoning Curses."
"You humiliated me," Edmund spat. "You-"
"You proved unable to avoid or dispel simple jinxes," Slytherin interrupted, and Harry flinched at the ice in his voice. Edmund paled, but Slytherin didn't give him a chance to interrupt. "Accept your loss. Your behaviour dishonours you."
Edmund glared at him, then at Harry, and Harry had to resist the urge to step back at the pure loathing in his eyes. For a moment he thought Edmund was going to protest, but the Baron just let out an incoherent snarl and stalked from the room.
"Good riddance," Helena muttered.
Slytherin shot her a reproving glance, but Harry couldn't help but agree with her. Gryffindor just let out a long sigh. "Salazar..."
"I will talk to him," said Slytherin softly. Harry saw clear concern in his grey eyes, before he shook himself. "You did well, Harry. I am very proud of you."
The words eased Harry's concerns, and he managed to smile back. That approval made the whole experience worth it. Helena's warm smile was just the icing on the cake.
The silence was broken by a familiar cheerful voice. "Well, that was fun. Does anyone-"
Myrddin huffed and folded his arms. Harry could only laugh.
Rowena shot him an amused look over her wine. "Repeating it isn't going to change anything."
"They're Dementors," said Godric flatly. His own drink had been abandoned in favour of pacing up and down the office. "I seem to be the only one reacting appropriately."
"They did tell us about their idea."
"I know, but I didn't think they would they would make this much progress so soon." He shook his head as he slumped down into the chair opposite his friend. "I still find it difficult to believe that it was Helga who brought it up."
"Why?" Rowena asked. "She has always been the most open to the possibilities of magic."
Godric acknowledged the point with a tilt of his head. As Muggleborn and raised, Helga had a different perspective on magic, and what it could it accomplish, than the rest of them. It was an invaluable ability, and this latest theory was proof of it. He closed his eyes, and forced back his initial reaction.
"Do you think it could work?"
Rowena was silent for a long minute before she replied. "It has potential. We know that they are capable of removing the soul without causing any physical harm, and Myrddin's report sounded promising."
Despite the words there was no mistaking the wariness in her voice and Godric sighed. "But it's still a Dementor."
Rowena grimaced. "I hope it is possible. If we work together, we may be able to do it, and Myrddin still has research to do." She set aside her wine and echoed his sigh. "Besides, the fact remains that we do not have any better ideas."
They kept coming back to that, Godric reflected ruefully. Damn Tom Riddle to hell for unleashing his madness on the world. He took a deep breath and rested his head back against the chair. "We will do what we can."
They fell into a silence made comfortable by decades of friendship. Godric had lessons to plan and research to do, but the room was pleasantly warm, and Rowena's company was a balm to his soul. After the day they had had, the peace was a blessing.
As ever, Godric couldn't keep his attention from drifting to Rowena. The years had failed to touch her; her hair was still as dark as the night, free of the grey that touched Godric's, and her eyes were bright and clear. She was as beautiful as she was the day they had argued, and Godric's breath caught at the familiar pain of the what-could-have-beens.
Before all that though, they had been friends, and Godric valued that friendship more than almost anything. Even if things hadn't gone as they had planned he wouldn't change what had happened for the world. After all, if not for that argument he would never have met Salazar, and Godric couldn't bring himself to imagine the way Salazar's life would have gone. Without Salazar, Godric would never have made it back home, and Helga would have died without ever realising what she was capable of.
Strange that such small things could change the course of one's life so completely. Even a few unexpected visitors could throw the world into chaos.
"Harry did very well today," Rowena murmured.
Godric had no qualms about letting his pride show. "He did indeed. He made good use of all our teachings." It had been a long time since he had had such an adept student.
Rowena nodded. "Helena was very pleased."
They exchanged a knowing look, and Godric chuckled. "I cannot say that I was too disappointed in the result either." For all that Edmund had been an excellent student, his insistence on pursuing Helena had left Godric feeling rather indisposed towards him. "Even Salazar approved."
"Of course he did," sad Rowena quietly. "He will always support Harry."
Her voice turned distant, and Godric tensed but remained quiet. Rowena was silent for a long minute, then she let out a long shuddering sigh. "Nothing," she muttered. "Every path is clouded." She looked up, eyes dark with rare uncertainty. "Godric, nothing is clear."
Godric swallowed, and leaned forward to take her hands. "It is no fault of yours," he said. "A lot has happened recently. Your visions will return."
"That is precisely the point! This is not a good time to be blind, Godric."
"We will manage," Godric insisted. "We always have in the past." He gave her fingers a gentle squeeze. "We will not fail them."
Rowena didn't reply, but Godric felt a little of the tension leave her body and let out a shaky sigh of his own. Rowena had always found having such an unpredictable gift difficult. Under the circumstances, her concerns were well-founded.
Something she had said lingered in his mind though, and he had to put a voice to it.
"You said that Salazar will always support Harry."
Rowena raised an eyebrow. "But of course. You must have seen it."
Godric frowned. He had seen, and whole-heartedly approved of, Harry's increasing ease with Salazar, and he knew that Salazar was very protective of the boy, but thinking about it...
"He looks at Harry like he does Murtagh," he whispered. Rowena smiled, leaving Godric gaping at her. "Murtagh is his sister's son. They are family."
Rowena gave a very elegant shrug. "I rather suspect that Salazar considers Harry family too, even if neither of them fully realise it yet."
Godric slumped back into the chair, his mind whirling. Salazar didn't open up easily, and Godric could count on one hand the number of people he truly trusted. He cared deeply for all his students, Ron and Hermione included, but for Harry to become so close so quickly was extraordinary.
"It is no bad thing," said Rowena softly, and Godric looked up to see her staring thoughtfully into the fire. "They are good for each other."
Godric nodded. They all knew how much Harry needed support, support that had decidedly lacking from the adults of his time. If Salazar had taken on that role, and they had learned to trust one another, then it could only be a good thing.
Still, the thought refused to leave Godric's mind. He tried to concentrate on his work, but knew he hadn't been entirely successful when Ron started sending him concerned looks during their Occlumency sessions. The boy was getting far too perceptive, and Godric was relieved when Ron let him divert the conversation onto his progress with Healing.
There was really only one thing to do, and his was the house of the brave. Two hours later found Godric outside Salazar's office. The door opened at his touch, and Godric took a deep breath and stepped inside.
To his complete lack of surprise, Salazar was leaning over a bright purple potion. He glanced up at Godric's approach, and waved him inside.
"There is nothing more infuriating than hearing about a potion that sounds truly fascinating, but that you cannot make yourself because the necessary ingredients haven't been discovered yet."
Godric laughed. "I can see the problem." He peered at the brew and wrinkled his nose. "I see Harry has given you some ideas, though."
Salazar flashed him a mischievous grin. "One or two."
Godric gave an exaggerated groan. "I will have to speak to him. You hardly need any further encouragement."
"You are welcome to try," said Salazar dryly. "However, you will find that he is even more interested in the results than I am."
There was no mistaking the fondness in his voice, and it warmed it Godric's heart. Considering Harry's initial reaction, their progress really was remarkable.
That feeling still hadn't faded though, and Godric was unable to keep quiet.
"The two of you have become very close."
A small but genuine smile touched Salazar's lips. "We understand one another," he said simply. "He has not trusted me with all his secrets, and nor have I, but it is enough." His eyes darkened, and he looked away. "The way they treated him was appalling."
Godric didn't disagree in the slightest, but his unease was growing stronger with every word. "Things are not going to be easy for him."
Salazar stilled completely, and that was all the confirmation Godric needed. "Salazar-"
"I have not yet decided on a course of action," said Salazar curtly.
Godric's stomach lurched, but he managed to keep his voice level. "But you are planning something."
Salazar met his gaze steadily and said nothing. Godric swallowed, and walked forwards to grip his friend's shoulder. "Salazar," he said softly. "You are dearest friend. Please, tell me what is on your mind."
Salazar looked away. "I have not yet made a decision," he repeated.
Godric burned with questions, but he forced himself to stay quiet. Salazar glanced at him, and his shoulders slumped. "Harry is good," he said softly. "Very good, and Ron and Hermione have skills that complement his. They are a formidable team, and will only become stronger."
Godric scanned his face, and understood. "You don't think it will be enough." Salazar tilted his head, and the warm room suddenly felt very cold. "Salazar, what are you planning?"
Salazar met his gaze, and Godric knew with sickening certainty what he was about to say. He wanted to beg his friend to stay silent, to let things stay as they were, but the words lodged in his throat until he could barely breathe. Salazar's own eyes were shadowed with pain and indecision, but his voice was clear in the silence.
"I am considering going with them."
This is one of those chapters that's been planned for a very long time, so it's a massive relief to finally have it done. Any feedback would be very much appreciated.