Strange Visitors From Another Century
Chapter Twenty-Three: The Best Laid Plans
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It was a bitterly cold morning when Salazar left Hogwarts. Snow had fallen during the night, painting the castle and grounds in white, but Salazar was in no mood to appreciate the view. Life at Hogwarts had become somewhat difficult over the past few weeks.
It wasn't entirely Godric's fault. His friend hadn't mentioned the possibility of him leaving since their last discussion on the subject. Things were as close to normal as they ever were, but Salazar could feel Godric's eyes on him whenever he thought Salazar wasn't paying attention. It might have been frustrating, if his concern wasn't so understandable.
Helga and Rowena were also watching, though at least they were watching Godric as well. Neither of them had pressed for an explanation after seeing that they had reconciled, but only a fool could have missed their concern and curiosity.
Salazar shook his head. After all the complications with his best friends, a relatively friendly chat with a not-quite reformed Dark wizard would be quite a pleasant change.
"I still do not understand why you need an escort."
Although even that had required additional precautions. Salazar bit back the first reply that came to mind, and instead raised an eyebrow. "Other than the fact that a large number of very dangerous people want us all dead?"
"Something which is hardly unusual, and has never concerned you to this extent in the past," Edmund shot back. He tugged his cloak more securely around himself with a shiver. "Besides, normally Professor Gryffindor would accompany you."
"Dark wizards tend to be rather wary of being within ten leagues of Godric, let alone the same room," said Salazar dryly. "And this one has information that I need."
Edmund gave him a look that said quite clearly he knew there was more to it than that, but he let the matter drop, much to Salazar's relief. Asking Rowena or Helga would have been almost as bad an idea as bringing Godric, but with the Order a constant threat, making this particular visit alone would have been foolish. Edmund, though, was pragmatic enough to accept the company Salazar kept without question.
Which made his refusal to accept far more agreeable company rather absurd.
Salazar had also needed a chance to speak to the Baron alone. His behaviour had been a concern for some time, but ever since his duel with Harry he had been even more erratic than usual. Rowena hadn't quite reached the point of barring him from Helena's presence, but she was coming close and none of them wanted the situation to deteriorate to that extent. Edmund had been a good student, and a good friend to them all, and Salazar welcomed the chance to speak to him, once their business was complete.
At least, that had been the plan. Seeing the expression on Edmund's face at the sight of the snowball fight that had sprawled across the grounds in front of them, Salazar acknowledged that there might have to be a slight alteration.
Naturally, Harry was the first to notice them, and he paused in the act of hurling a snowball at Castor to wave.
"Morning, Profess – Gah!"
"Foul play!" William howled, as Harry spat out snow.
"Not according to the rules!" Ron yelled back, sticking his head over a rough barricade. "'Either side may take advantage of anything that might happen at any time', remember?"
Helena planted her hands on her hips and glared at her teammates. "I told you we shouldn't have insisted on that going in!"
Salazar had to laugh, and not even the sound of Edmund's teeth grinding could stop him. "It was a fair play," he agreed. Ron and the twins beamed, and Harry and William sent him pleading looks, and he shook his head. "But please, do not let us interrupt."
He ignored the good-natured grumbling and gloating, and was pleased when he didn't have to block any snowballs while they made their way through the danger zone. Not that he thought any student would dare target him, but Harry and Helena were both scowling at Edmund, and Salazar was quite relieved when William dragged the two of them back to the rest of their team for a quick conference. Edmund wasn't blind to the hostility; he said nothing, but his hand was twitching in the direction of his wand, and his face was like stone. His expression only darkened as the sounds of battle started up again, and Salazar suppressed a sigh.
"Little good comes of holding grudges," he murmured. "For anyone."
Edmund's head snapped up, his mouth opening, but at Salazar's raised eyebrow he visibly checked himself. After a moment he blew out a sharp breath. "She approves of him."
It was impossible to miss the bitterness in his voice. Salazar came to a halt, and fixed his former student with the look that still made him take a step back. "That is her prerogative," he said. "You have always known that it would be her choice."
"The wrong choice," Edmund spat. "What can he offer her that I cannot? I have lands, money, power, skill…"
Salazar swallowed the urge to add the word 'humility' to the list, and held up a hand. "But she does not love you. At this point, I doubt she ever will." Edmund jerked back, eyes flashing, but Salazar didn't relent. This had gone on for far too long. "Enough, Edmund. You have made your feelings clear, and so has she. She is not for you."
Edmund's hands had clenched into fists, and his face was very pale but for twin spots of colour that burned in his cheeks. Salazar sighed. "Enough," he repeated. "You will find a bride, one that is worthy of you, but it will not be Helena."
"But I love her!"
Salazar once again bit back his first response, and rubbed at his eyes. "And I sympathise, but she does not love you."
Gods, what more would it take? Edmund was shaking with barely suppressed emotion, and Salazar silently berated himself for not taking this step sooner. He had hoped that it would not come to this, but he should have known better. He took a step forward and rested a hand on Edmund's shoulder. "Let her go, Edmund," he said gently. "Neither of you deserve this."
Edmund was silent for a second, then wrenched his arm away and straightened. "We should go. Your friend is expecting us."
Salazar eyed him, but all traces of anger were gone, hidden behind a well-practiced mask. A distant bang, followed by laughter, echoed behind them, and finally Salazar nodded. "Indeed."
They walked the rest of the way to the gate in silence. Salazar felt the wards brush over him in a familiar caress as he stepped off the grounds, and waited just long enough to confirm that all was well before turning to his companion.
"Remember, he may be my friend, but he is not to be trusted. He will try to aggravate you. Say as little as possible, and stay alert."
Edmund jerked his head in acknowledgement, but didn't speak. Salazar raised his eyes to the sky and wished for patience. Even as a student, Edmund had had the irritating habit of sulking when things did not go exactly the way he wanted. They had hoped he would grow out of it.
"This is no time to be distracted," he said sharply. "Or must I go by myself?"
Edmund twitched, and straightened. "No, sir. My apologies." He took a deep breath. "And…I will think on what you have said."
"Good." The Baron still looked disgruntled, and Salazar anticipated a long conversation with Rowena and Helena when they returned to Hogwarts, but they had other things to worry about for the moment. He gripped the younger man's shoulder, concentrated on his destination, and the two of them disappeared with a faint pop.
As usual, Salazar arrived a short distance away from Zalasta's cottage. He shot a final warning look at Edmund, but all traces of his former student's temper were hidden again, and he met Salazar's gaze steadily. Salazar nodded, and led the way through the trees. He saw Edmund tense as they crossed the ward boundaries, and automatically reached out to assess them himself. He wasn't too surprised to find that they had been enhanced since his last visit. Under the circumstances, only a fool would take chances with their home, and Zalasta was no fool.
Zalasta was tending to his herb garden when the cottage finally came in sight. His back was to them, but Salazar wasn't at all surprised when he called a greeting.
"Don't you have students to teach?"
"Not today," Salazar called. He walked forward until he could feel the Warming Charms Zalasta had layered around his garden, and leaned on his staff. "You know there are more efficient ways of doing that."
Zalasta shot him a smirk. "Ah, but this way is more satisfying." He rose to his feet, banishing dirt from his robe with a careless wave of his hand, and raised an eyebrow at Edmund. "And who might this be?"
"My name is Edmund," the Baron said, before Salazar could open his mouth. "It is a pleasure to meet you, sir."
At least he'd remembered some of Salazar's warnings. Zalasta looked at him, then at Salazar. "Do they all come out this polite?"
"Most people consider it a virtue," said Salazar dryly.
Zalasta grunted, and turned another appraising look on Edmund. "You'd be better off teaching them how to poison people without getting caught."
Edmund's eyes widened to an almost comical degree, and Salazar raised an eyebrow. "I believe we agreed against emulating our master in any way."
"One of our better decisions, considering," Zalasta agreed cheerfully.
"Considering what?" Edmund asked, then immediately snapped his mouth shut when Salazar frowned at him.
Zalasta's smirk just widened. "Well, we were his last students."
Edmund blinked, then he abruptly jerked round to stare at Salazar, his face draining of colour. Zalasta clapped him on the shoulder and turned back to the house. "So, you both hungry?"
Salazar rolled his eyes and followed. Zalasta would never change. A moment later he heard Edmund follow them, and suppressed a sigh. Maybe he should have given the younger man a few more warnings.
Zalasta had cleared two more chairs of clutter by the time Salazar stepped inside. Salazar sank into one gratefully, propping his staff against the arm of the chair, but Edmund remained standing at his shoulder. Zalasta's dark eyes were gleaming with barely-suppressed glee, but he sobered when Salazar shot him a scathing look.
"You never let me have any fun," he muttered.
Salazar felt a headache coming on. "I believe you said you might have something useful."
"So I did." He tossed a handful of herbs into a cauldron that Salazar had no intention of going anywhere near, and retrieved a pair of scrolls from the top of a teetering pile. "The most thorough guide I could put together on how to actually make one."
Edmund shifted, and Salazar could almost feel the curiosity radiating from him, but he had the sense to keep his mouth shut. Salazar shrunk the scrolls with a thought and placed them in an inside pocket. "Thank you. And the other matter?"
Zalasta pulled a face. "I still say it's impossible. Just kill them and be done with it."
"I will keep that in mind."
"You asked my opinion, and there it is." He flicked his wand at the cauldron, causing it to emit a thick cloud of orange smoke, and leaned back against the wall. "I would have thought you would put this on hold while your precious charges are in the castle."
"They are safe enough," said Salazar evenly. He sniffed, and shook his head. "Mandrake root."
Zalasta glanced at the potion, then grunted and grabbed the root down from a hook. "I never did understand how you do that. And your friends are fine with this?"
"They understand. Chop it finer."
"I have done this before, you know." He added the sliced root into the potion, and Salazar nodded as the smell sharpened. Zalasta rolled his eyes, then glanced at Edmund. "You're in a bad mood, aren't you?"
Salazar stiffened, but not nearly as obviously as Edmund did. At least the Baron took a moment before replying. "I do not see how that is any of your concern."
Zalasta peered at him, then grinned. "It's a witch, isn't it?"
"And you are far more interested in her than she is in you." He cocked his head to one side. "But there is someone she approves of."
Edmund's face flushed. "Everyone seems to approve of Harry," he muttered, and the look he shot at Salazar held clear resentment. It cleared a moment later, probably due to the glare Salazar was giving him, but Zalasta leaned back with a contented hum.
This had been a very bad idea. Salazar forced down the urge to hex the pair of them, and rose to his feet. "If you don't start concentrating, that will be ruined," he said, with a nod at the cauldron. "So Edmund and I will leave you in peace."
"No fun at all," Zalasta muttered, but he moved to hold the door open for them. "You will come and visit soon, won't you?"
"We'll see. As you have pointed out, I do have students to teach."
"Bring them too. I'm sure they'd learn something."
Edmund's face would have been amusing in any other circumstances. As it was, Salazar just raised an eyebrow. "I'm sure they would."
Zalasta snorted, then his expression suddenly turned serious. "He's still aiming for you, you know."
Salazar's grip tightened on his staff. "I am aware."
"Good. I'll let you know if I hear anything."
"Thank you." He paused as a familiar crackle met his ears, and nodded back into the hut. "You have six seconds before that is ruined."
Zalasta swore and darted back inside. The door slammed shut behind him. Salazar shook his head, and started for the Apparation point. Edmund caught up a moment later, but when he opened his mouth, Salazar shook his head.
"Not here," he murmured.
Edmund snapped his mouth shut immediately. Still too late, of course, and Salazar clamped down on his anger before it could give away anything else. He Disapparated the moment he cleared the wards, and took the minute it took Edmund to join him to collect himself.
So when the Baron did join him at the gates of Hogwarts, Salazar was able to fix him with a flat glare and say nothing.
To his credit, Edmund met that look steadily.
"I apologise. I forgot myself."
"Yes, you did."
Edmund shifted. "I told him nothing he could not have learned just by observing everyone," he muttered.
"He does not get the chance to observe anyone, and that is beside the point. What part of 'tell the very dangerous Dark wizard nothing' was unclear to you?"
Edmund looked down, pale cheeks flushing, and Salazar shook his head. "This is why you must let your resentment go. If nothing else, it interferes with your Occlumency."
Edmund jerked back. "What? But that's impossible, I would have felt him-"
"Clearly you didn't," Salazar snapped. "Or did you think he was merely good at guessing? Oh yes, the first one was probably was," he said, when Edmund opened his mouth, "and after that you played right into his hands."
Edmund's hands clenched into fists. He opened his mouth, then closed it again, and shook his head. Salazar rubbed wearily at his eyes and wished for a Pain-Relieving Potion.
"There isn't much he can do with the information," Edmund finally mumbled. "And he is your friend."
Salazar sighed. "A friend who I do not trust. There is a reason I have never divulged any information about Hogwarts, or our students." Especially not the ones he was particularly interested in, and considering just how important Harry and his friends were…
But there was nothing to be done now. If only those Memory Charms Harry had mentioned had been invented yet… Unfortunately, Salazar had no intention of experimenting on Zalasta of all people, and so he just drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly.
"But you may be correct. Either way, there is nothing we can do about it." He fixed Edmund with a look, and was gratified to see his former student pale. "I trust you will remember this for the future."
Edmund nodded vigorously, and Salazar suppressed another sigh. That had not gone according to plan.
"Your dedication is commendable, my dear, but are you sure you would not rather be with your friends?"
Hermione settled herself more comfortably in the chair, and smiled at her mentor. "Snowball fights were never my favourite activity," she said. "And Professor Slytherin said he would only teach me Legilimency when my Occlumency skills were better."
Hufflepuff only nodded at that. "As it should be. It is not a talent to be developed lightly." She looked at Hermione, and gave a slight smile. "Not that you have ever been one to make such decisions lightly."
Hermione shook her head. She had talked to both Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw about her studies with Slytherin, and although neither of them had been particularly happy, they hadn't tried to talk her out of it. They understood the necessity.
Hopefully Harry and Ron would too. Hermione was not looking forward to that conversation.
A gentle hand covered hers, and Hermione looked up to find Hufflepuff watching her, her blue eyes dark with concern.
"There is no shame in wishing to protect your friends, Hermione. Nor in desiring to spare them the decisions you make yourself."
Hermione closed her eyes for a moment. She had made her choice, and he didn't regret it, but the support was very welcome indeed. Hufflepuff nodded to her, and sat back.
"Now, shall we begin?"
Half an hour later, Hermione's head was aching, but not nearly as much as it had when they first started these lessons, and Hufflepuff was beaming.
"Excellent work, my dear. You have an exceptionally organised mind."
"Thank you," Hermione managed. She drained the glass of water the house-elves had brought, and Hufflepuff refilled it without another word. "It's still tiring."
Hufflepuff raised an eyebrow. "Did you not find even simple charms tiring during your first year?" When Hermione acknowledged the point, she smiled. "It will become easier with practice. I hardly notice the effort now." She studied Hermione for a long moment, then nodded. "I do not believe Salazar will insist on waiting much longer."
Hermione smiled back. "Good." Legilimency was too useful a skill for them to ignore. They would need every advantage they could get. "Can we try once more?"
Hufflepuff just looked at her, and Hermione sighed. "It was worth a try."
"Indeed," said Hufflepuff dryly. "No wonder Salazar speaks so highly of your attitude."
Hermione brightened at the compliment, and not for the first time marvelled at the fact that she considered being compared to Slytherin to be a compliment. Hufflepuff tapped a finger thoughtfully against her chin.
"Actually, Salazar will have to be involved in your training soon anyway." Hermione shot her a questioning look, and she smiled. "My skill at Legilimency is passable at best, and Godric's is not much better. Salazar is the one who will be able to develop your skills further, and I suspect Ron will soon be in the same situation."
"I see," said Hermione slowly. She wasn't particularly worried about Slytherin seeing her memories; he had done it before, and now that they had gotten to know him it would be even easier, but she would miss the time she spent with Hufflepuff. After spending so much time with Ron and Harry, the peaceful evenings with the motherly witch had been a welcome change.
Hufflepuff caught her eye, and her eyes softened. "I never require students to have a purpose for visiting, dear."
Hermione blushed, but couldn't help smiling back. Hufflepuff's eyes twinkled. "And you would certainly not be the first student to do so."
"Thank you," said Hermione quietly.
"Oh, no need for that. Now, why don't you tell me how the rest of your studies are going?"
That was a topic that Hermione was more than happy to move on to. Unlike Harry and Ron, Hufflepuff was always willing to listen to her thoughts on all the new things they were learning, and she was far better at giving advice. It reminded Hermione of talking things over with her parents, back when she was still in primary school.
"…And Professor Slytherin says he might start introducing us to Warding soon."
"That is excellent news," said Hufflepuff, with a nod. "William will be delighted."
Hermione smiled. Harry's housemate was nearly as enthusiastic about Runes as she was, and they had had a number of discussions on the subject, much to Slytherin's approval. Harry had joined the beginner's class while Ron elected for further Healing lessons, so having someone she knew in her group had been very welcome. She hadn't been particularly surprised to find Helena and a couple of her other housemates were far ahead of her. The girl had inherited more than her mother's looks.
She was about to comment on her friend's enthusiasm, when Hufflepuff suddenly raised a hand. Her head cocked to the side, as though she was listening to something, as Hermione found her hand drifting towards her wand. They had all picked up a bit of paranoia over the last few months.
"I think we are going to have company," Hufflepuff murmured. Her eyes held more amusement than anything else though, so Hermione let herself relax.
Of course, a second later she jumped as the door was flung open hard enough to bounce off against the wall. Hermione's wand was in her hand before she was even aware of it, but all thought of casting any sort of magic fled at the pure fury on Ravenclaw's face.
"I am going to kill him!"
Hermione stared. It was hardly unusual to see Ravenclaw irritated, the witch was rather more prickly than her friend, but this sort of display was something else. Hufflepuff raised an eyebrow, and set aside her goblet with a sigh.
"You cannot kill him," she said in the tone of someone who had this conversation far too many times. "Murder makes such a mess."
"I could transfigure him into a rat and feed him to Issa."
"That would give Issa a stomach-ache," said Hufflepuff easily, as she poured another goblet of wine.
Ravenclaw scowled, and took a seat with less than her usual poise. "I could hold the transfiguration long enough for the digestive process to take place."
Hermione couldn't help but imagine it, and felt the blood drain from her face. Hufflepuff coughed, and Ravenclaw glanced at her. Her cheeks flushed slightly. "My apologies. I did not realise you had company."
"We were seeing if Hermione was ready to move on to Salazar's tutelage." She smiled at Hermione. "I am pleased to say that she is more than capable."
Ravenclaw's glower lightened somewhat, and she nodded. "That is excellent news, Hermione. Though I hope you will not take his teachings to heart as some do," she added, in an undertone.
"That is hardly fair," said Hufflepuff reproachfully. "Myrddin was already…eccentric when he came to us."
Hermione had to bite down on her cheek to hide her grin. She should have known. Ravenclaw threw her friend an incredulous look. "Eccentric?"
Hufflepuff's eyes were sparkling with amusement, but she somehow managed to keep a straight face. "He did learn a great deal from Salazar. And Godric."
"He was impossible! He still is impossible, and will forever be impossible!"
"How has he been impossible now?" Hermione asked. Part of her thought she didn't want to know, but she couldn't help herself. It was Merlin.
"He has spent the entire morning pestering me about time-travel! Can you imagine the possibilities of him with the ability to travel through time? I wouldn't be surprised if he went back in time and tried to take over a kingdom!"
Hermione tried to resist. She really did. "That sounds like a lot of work. He'd be more likely to find some young warrior and train them up so that they could take over a kingdom for him instead."
Harry and Ron had definitely been a bad influence.
"I don't think you're helping," Hufflepuff murmured. Ravenclaw's eyes were wide with dismay. Hermione blushed a little, but couldn't quite suppress a grin, and Hufflepuff winked at her before pressing the goblet of wine into Ravenclaw's hand.
"I am sure he wouldn't be that irresponsible," she said more loudly. "Now, why don't you tell us about your research?"
Ravenclaw brightened a little, and Hermione leaned forward in hr chair. Listening to any of the Founders discuss something they loved was a treat, but Ravenclaw's work was beyond fascinating.
Naturally, that was the moment when someone knocked on the door. Ravenclaw scowled at the piece of wood like it had personally offended her, and Hufflepuff quickly turned a snort into a cough.
"Come in," she called.
Considering the way the morning had gone, Hermione wasn't completely surprise when Myrddin stuck his head round the door.
"There you are," he said cheerfully. "I've been looking for you."
Ravenclaw stiffened, but Myrddin, in a rare dismay of self-preservation, was actually addressing Hufflepuff, who just looked at him.
"And my office was the last place you looked?"
"Yes?" He shook his head, and bounced into the room. "Anyway, I need your advice on some things. Scar-related things."
Hermione's head snapped round. "You're helping research a way to remove the Horcrux from Harry?"
Myrddin folded his arms. "You could have told me I didn't need to be secretive."
"I didn't know what you wanted," Hufflepuff pointed out patiently. She set her goblet down, and crossed the room to join him. "You have something new?"
"Possibly. I borrowed a few books from Salazar."
Hufflepuff eyed him. "Is it still borrowing if he doesn't know about it?"
Myrddin cocked his head to one side, then waved a hand. "It is if I return them, which of course I will. Eventually."
Hermione wondered if she looked as outraged as Ravenclaw currently did when people said similar things about her books back home. If so, she could understand why Fred and George found teasing her so entertaining. Myrddin's eyes were sparkling as he looked at Ravenclaw.
"And I would certainly never act in such a way with anyone else's books."
Hermione had to bite her lip to keep from grinning. Ravenclaw closed her eyes and seemed to be counting to ten, or maybe a hundred, and Hufflepuff placed a firm hand on Myrddin's arm.
"And I think we have work to do," she said. Ravenclaw made to stand, and she waved a hand. "Oh no, we will leave you in peace. I think this conversation requires somewhere with a few more wards."
"I have no idea what you're talking about," said Myrddin cheerfully. "They shouldn't be that destructive."
"They should not be destructive at all," Ravenclaw snapped. Hufflepuff patted her arm, then refilled her glass of wine.
"Leave it to me," she said. She directed an unusually sharp look at Myrddin, who grinned and gave elaborate bows to both Ravenclaw and Hermione before vanishing with a faint pop. Hufflepuff raised her eyes to the ceiling, muttered something under her breath, and disappeared after him.
Hermione could only shake her head. Even after all this time, part of her was still convinced that nobody should be able to Apparate within Hogwarts.
"I'm going to have so much reading to do."
Ravenclaw shot her a quizzical look, and she elaborated, "I don't understand how the knowledge of being able to Apparate inside Hogwarts was lost. Even after so long, it's something that would be so useful to Headmasters that I can't see why it wouldn't be passed on. And then there are so many other details about the wards that we don't know, like the translation aspects, and the ability to detect Dark creatures…" She trailed off, shaking her head. "I hope Professor Slytherin goes into sufficient detail. I'll have to make notes."
Ravenclaw laughed, her exasperation with Myrddin finally fading. "He will be only too happy to oblige, I assure you." She looked at Hermione, and her smile faded slightly. "We are doing everything we can to get you home."
"I know," said Hermione quickly. "We all knew it was never going to be easy. But we're learning so much here, so it's been worth it."
She didn't want to imagine how the confrontation with the Death Eaters in the Department of Mysteries would have gone in their previous state, let alone the rest of the war. They had had no idea what they were getting into. It was going to be hard enough to survive as it was.
Still, she did miss home. She missed Neville and Ginny, and all their friends. She would even be happy to see Lavender and Parvati again. And Hogwarts itself was so different in their time. She missed the portraits, and the suits of armour, and the hundreds of students. Hogwarts felt so empty with less than two hundred students.
Hermione shook herself and looked up. "Sorry. I was just thinking about how much Hogwarts has changed in the future."
Ravenclaw's expression turned wistful. "I would love to see it as it is in your time. You have told us how things have changed, and how our legacy has grown, but to see it…" She trailed off, and shook her head. "But that cannot be, and it is enough to know that our dream survives." She paused. "Though I must ask, has anyone found a way to get rid of that poltergeist?"
Hermione blinked. "Peeves?"
Ravenclaw groaned. "I will take that as a no."
"He's still around," said Hermione with a sigh. "He's a menace, but he's scared of the Headmaster, and doesn't do anything really bad enough to get himself exorcised." She frowned. "But I thought he must have come to Hogwarts later. We've been here for months and haven't seen him."
Ravenclaw shook his head. "He inhabited the castle long before we took ownership of it. We have spent the last two decades trying to banish him, but he always returns. Helga and Godric last tried shortly before you arrived, and as this is the longest he has been away, we were hoping they had finally succeeded." She sighed. "But clearly we were mistaken."
"At least he hasn't been around to see us," said Hermione fervently. "He would never keep his mouth shut."
Ravenclaw grimaced at the thought. "That might cause one or two problems, yes." She shook herself and smiled. "But enough of that creature. What about the other entities who come to inhabit our home?"
Hermione took another sip of her wine and sat back. "Well, there are the four ghosts," she began. "One for each house. We, the Gryffindors that is, have Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington." She grinned. "Or as everyone calls him, Nearly Headless Nick."
Ravenclaw blinked, then shook her head. "Oh dear."
"He's very nice," Hermione told her. "So's the Fat Friar, the Hufflepuff ghost. They're both very good with the first years."
"At least they will get some good experiences with spirits," said Ravenclaw dryly. "And what of the Ravenclaw and Slytherin ghosts?" There was no mistaking the curiosity in her eyes.
"I don't actually know much about them," Hermione admitted. "I've never spoken to either of them. The Bloody Baron only ever talks to the Slytherins, and not even they like it when he does. I don't think I've ever seen the Ravenclaw ghost properly." She thought back. "Padma, one of our friends in Ravenclaw, told me that she's called the Grey Lady," she said, after a moment. "But as far as I know she's never spoken to anyone who wasn't a Ravenclaw." She frowned. "Not even at the Deathday Party, which was strange. Most of the ghosts were only too happy to tell us how they died. In great detail." If she hadn't known better she'd say the ghost had been avoiding them. Then again, she did seem to avoid three-quarters of the school as a matter of principle.
Ravenclaw gave a delicate shudder. "That does seem to be every spirit's favourite topic." She tilted her head to one side, and then smiled. "Perhaps this Grey Lady will be more willing to talk to you when you return. You are a Ravenclaw now, after all."
Hermione smiled at the thought. No-one back home would be surprised by her new Sorting, though Harry's was another matter. Part of her was looking forward to seeing just how everyone reacted to the changes the three of them had undergone. People like Snape and Malfoy were certain to be entertaining.
Others though, well. Terrifying was a more appropriate term.
Once again Hermione looked up to find Ravenclaw watching her with open concern. The older witch frowned. "Is something wrong?"
Hermione hesitated, but the matter had been on her mind for some time. She hadn't managed to bring it up with anyone yet, even Hufflepuff, but now that the opportunity had arisen, wasting it would be foolish. Besides, Ravenclaw was about as likely to let something worrying go as she was.
"It's my parents," she said quietly. "I…I don't know how they're going to react to all this."
Ravenclaw's frown deepened, and she sat back in her chair. "Yes, I see. Even for magical parents, this situation would be difficult to accept."
"Mrs Weasley isn't going to be happy," Hermione agreed. "And mine…" She hesitated, but Ravenclaw's eyes held nothing but encouragement, and she took a deep breath. "They feel excluded from my life as it is."
It wasn't something she had meant to happen. She had been close to both her parents growing up, and that hadn't changed when they first learned about magic. They had accompanied her to Diagon Alley before first and second year, and they had been delighted to hear all her stories and to see what sort of things she had been learning.
But she had been attacked by a troll, and accompanied two other first years to try to stop the most powerful Dark wizard in the world, and then she had been Petrified, and nearly killed by a sixty-foot Basilisk, and then she had been attacked by a hundred Dementors, and those were not the sort of things her parents would have liked to hear about. Hermione knew her parents, knew that they loved her dearly, and so she had known how they would react to the news that their only child had been in so much danger. She would have been lucky to have kept her wand, let alone remain in Hogwarts.
So Hermione hadn't told them. She had told them about her lessons, and her friends, and had carefully made no mention of any of their more exciting extra-curricular activities, and she had been able to return to Hogwarts each year.
The trouble was, neither of her parents were stupid. They knew she was hiding something, and over time, those secrets had come between them. Hermione had taken to spending more time with the Weasleys over the holidays, and while both her mother and father said that they understood, she could see how much it pained them. Hermione had tried to justify it to herself, it was safer for them if she wasn't there, she was a Muggle-born and Harry Potter's friend and a target, but she couldn't ignore the uncomfortable silences between her mother and herself, or the increasing distance from her father.
"I never meant for it to happen," she whispered. "But so many things happened, and I didn't want them to worry, and everything just…" Tears pricked at her eyes, and she looked down. "I miss them."
She missed the way she would curl up next to her father and listen to tales of Greek mythology. She missed the way her mother would talk about biology and chemistry over knitting. She missed their hugs and encouragement and wonder at what she was capable of.
She only had herself to blame for losing it all.
There was a moment's pause, then a gentle hand cupped her cheek, and Hermione looked up just in time to see open compassion in Ravenclaw's dark eyes before her mentor pulled her into a hug. Hermione stiffened in surprise, but it had been so long since she had been the one receiving comfort, and she soon found herself hugging back.
"It's all right, Hermione," Ravenclaw whispered. "It will all be all right."
For a long moment Hermione let herself believe it, then she drew back. Ravenclaw waved a hand, and the armchair expanded enough for her to sit next to Hermione.
"I will not say that you have not made mistakes," she said gently. "Your parents deserved to know the truth."
Hermione flinched, but couldn't argue. If it had been her daughter… "I haven't even talked to them properly for months," she admitted. "I spent most of the summer with Ron because it was safer, and there was so much to do, and I interrupted our trip at Christmas because I wanted to be with Harry and Ron." The memory of the disappointment in her parents' eyes sent another sharp pang of guilt through her heart, and she closed her eyes. "I never meant for it to get so bad."
Ravenclaw sighed. "I confess, I do not understand how it did. From what you have told me, they were very supportive of your magic."
"They were," said Hermione quickly. "They were nothing like Harry's relatives. They were so excited when Professor McGonagall came and explained all about magic." She remembered their first trip to Diagon Alley, and smiled. "They were very proud."
Ravenclaw nodded but said nothing, and Hermione thought back. "I-I think things started to go wrong in second year. We went to get my school things with Harry and the Weasleys, and that was fine, but we bumped into Malfoy." She grimaced. "And his father."
Ravenclaw's eyes narrowed. She had heard enough stories of Hogwarts to recognise the names. "Ah. Yes, I can see how that might have influenced them."
Hermione bit her lip. "They didn't know anything about pure-blood prejudice. Neither did I back then. But we learned over that year, and that tarnished their view of the magical world." She shifted in the magically expanded sofa. "And that was the year I started keeping more secrets from them, and well…" She trailed off with another grimace.
Ravenclaw was silent for a long minute, then sighed and took Hermione's hands in hers. "You will have a great deal of work to do," she said gently. "Though you had the best of intentions, it will not be easy for them to accept your silence over the past years." Hermione's stomach twisted, but Ravenclaw wasn't finished, "But things are not irreparable between you. Your parents love you, Hermione, and I can see that you love them. You still have a chance to make things right." She paused, dark eyes clouding. "And if they cannot accept who you are, and what you have become, then you will have some decisions to make."
Despite the warmth of the fire, Hermione suddenly felt very cold. She had always known that being a Muggle-born might have to mean choosing between her magic and her old life, but she had never given it serious consideration. She loved magic, loved her friends and the wizarding world, but she couldn't just abandon everything she had grown up with.
But if it kept her parents safe…
Hermione shook her head. First she would talk to them. After that, they would see.
The silence was broken by a knock at the door. Ravenclaw started, and her expression turned slightly rueful.
"They will be looking for Helga," she murmured, then added in a louder voice, "Come in."
The door swung open, and Hermione was surprised when Ron entered the room, and even more surprised to see he had his arm wrapped around a young boy Hermione remembered getting Sorted with them. Ron looked at the two of them, then scratched his head and stepped back out into the corridor to peer around in a highly exaggerated manner.
"No, I definitely got the right room."
The boy giggled, and Ron winked at Hermione before turning to Ravenclaw. "I'm sorry to bother you, Professor, but is Professor Hufflepuff around?"
Ravenclaw's dark eyes were bright with amusement as she shook her head. "I'm afraid Myrddin asked her to assist him with some ideas."
Ron winced. "Then I'm almost glad she's not here. At last with her around we know he's not going to blow up the castle or anything." The boy shot him a startled look, and Ron ruffled his hair. "Don't worry," he said, in a loud whisper. "The professors will protect us from the crazy wizard."
The boy laughed again, and Hermione found herself smiling too. Ron had gotten a lot better at dealing with first years since the start of the year. Ravenclaw raised an eyebrow.
"Indeed we will," she said. "In the meantime, was there something I can help you with?"
Ron nodded, his expression turning serious. "Yes, actually. You see, Edgar here has been feeling a bit homesick." The boy ducked his head, and Ron gave him a gentle nudge. "Now come on, what did I say?"
"That everyone gets homesick sometimes," Edgar mumbled.
"Exactly. I get homesick, even Hermione here gets homesick."
Hermione had to swallow hard before she could reply. "He's right. I miss my parents a lot." She smiled at the boy, who managed to meet her eyes this time. "It's absolutely nothing to be ashamed of."
Ron beamed at her, and Hermione was surprised by just how much better it made her feel. Ravenclaw rose to her feet, and walked over to crouch in front of Edgar.
"Your parents are Muggles, I believe?" Edgar nodded shyly, and Ravenclaw nodded. "And so you haven't been able to write to them." She gave him a warm smile, and placed a hand on his shoulder to guide him to a chair. "I know that Helga is your head of house, but I am sure she won't mind arranging a visit in the very near future."
Edgar's eyes lit up, and Hermione quietly moved to the door. She knew when it was time to make a discreet exit. Ravenclaw caught her eye and smiled, and Hermione followed Ron out the room feeling far better than she had. Ron shut the door quietly and blew out a breath.
"I nearly asked him if he wanted to Floo home," he muttered, as they set off down the corridor. "Probably wouldn't have gone down well."
"Probably not, considering Floo Powder won't be invented for another few hundred years," Hermione agreed. Ron nodded ruefully, and she smiled. "But did you see the way he was looking at you?"
Ron's ears blazed red, and he ducked his head. "Well, I couldn't just leave him all upset, could I?"
Hermione gave him a fond look. He had really grown over the past few months, and not just in the physical sense. Although he had filled out very nicely thanks to all the physical training they had been doing. That thought made her cheeks heat up, and she looked away.
"Who won the snowball fight?"
Ron blinked, then grinned. "Depends how you define winning. In terms of having fun, us. In terms of covering the opposition in a ton of snow? Still us."
Hermione had to laugh. Ron had always been good at that. She glanced around, and frowned. "Where's Harry?"
Ron's grin widened. "Helena and William realised how hard he's been finding Runes."
"Why didn't you tell us you were having problems?"
Harry blushed as his two friends pored over his rolls of parchment. "I was getting through it." Just very slowly. Hermione had often talked about how hard Arithmancy was, but he had always gotten the impression that Runes wasn't as horrible. Then again, it was Hermione.
William was shaking his head. "You do realise that learning new languages isn't supposed to be easy, don't you? We spent most of our first few years on this asking for help."
Harry shifted in his chair. He knew Hermione would have been happy to help him, and Slytherin had made it clear that he was willing to assist anyone who was finding the subject difficult, but he had wanted to do it himself. "I know, but this is the basic stuff, and you've got your own projects-"
"So? Harry, considering all the time you spend helping me not kill people in Potions, did you really think I wouldn't want to help?"
"Same goes for me," said Helena absently, as she flicked through the notes. "I'm not even in your potions class, but the Great Hall isn't that far from the classroom, and who knows what he might have come up with."
William's hand twitched towards his wand, and Harry was quick to intervene. "He's not that bad. You're not that bad," he corrected, turning to address William. "And you don't have to help me just because I helped you."
William blinked. "Well, no, but friends do tend to help each other out. And it is what Hogwarts is for in the first place."
Harry opened his mouth, then closed it again. Against one of them he might have won the argument, but both of them? He had no chance.
Besides, why was he even complaining?
"All right. So where have I been going wrong?"
The two exchanged an immensely satisfied look, and Helena leaned over. "Let's start from the beginning…"
Despite Harry's reservations, the next hour was surprisingly productive. Admittedly, Helena did have a tendency to go into far more detail than necessary, and William was easily distracted by more unconventional uses for the things they were studying, but between the two of them they were able to clear up most of Harry's confusion.
"...which is why Runes of the same element link so well together, like Tiwaz and Mannaz."
Harry frowned and flicked back through his notes. "So, you could link Answuz with them too?"
Helena beamed at him. "Exactly! Though you won't be linking more than two Runes for quite some time."
William snorted. "He won't be linking any Runes at all until Slytherin's happy they all know them all." He gave Harry a slightly sheepish smile. "Sorry, my friend. We might have gone a little bit ahead."
Harry grinned and shook his head. "It's fine. I'm usually better at understanding things once I know what they're used for anyway." Unlike Hermione, who could remember nothing just by reading about it, Harry needed some sort of practical context. He ran a hand through his hair, and reached for his pain-stakingly drawn out alphabet. "What about the next series?"
William immediately launched into another explanation, but when Harry looked up he found Helena staring at him. She blushed slightly when she realised he had caught her, but held his gaze. "My apologies, Harry, but I couldn't help noticing your scar."
Harry couldn't quite suppress a grimace. Even a thousand years in the past, his facial disfigurement was attracting attention. Hiding it had been easier since growing his hair out, but some people were annoyingly observant.
Helena rolled her eyes, but Harry sighed and pushed his fringe aside enough to let William see. The boy studied it for a moment, then his eyes grew wide and he glanced at Helena, who nodded. "Exactly."
"What?" Harry demanded. His stomach was twisting uncomfortably. Neither of his friends knew anything about his real past. They had no reason to think his stupid scar was anything out of the ordinary.
William, though, was still openly staring. "You don't know. Of, of course, you never studied this before." He grabbed Harry's notes before he could say anything and shuffled through them, before jabbing his finger at a particular rune. "Now, what does this remind you of?"
Harry opened his mouth, then closed it again. He'd drawn the rune out himself, and he couldn't deny that the symbols were identical.
"Sowilo," Helena murmured. "It symbolises victory, among other things." She looked up, and her dark eyes locked on Harry's. "How did you get that scar, Harry?"
Harry jerked back, stung by her bluntness. "That's none of your business."
Helena opened her mouth indignantly, but fell silent when William touched her arm. His expression was very serious. "You're right," he said. "It isn't. But I've only ever heard of serious curses leaving marks like that, and we've already established that friends are allowed to look out for each other."
Harry hesitated, still annoyed by their reactions, but the concern on their faces was genuine. Actually they both looked a lot more worried than he had expected, and it was that more than anything else that made him reply.
"A Dark wizard tried to kill me," he said shortly. William drew in a sharp breath, and Helena's eyes narrowed, until Harry scowled at them. "I'm fine now."
His friends exchanged a long look, then they both nodded.
"All right," said Helena. She hesitated a moment. "Is that why you came here? You and your friends?"
Harry paused. It was as good an excuse as any. Technically, it was even true. "I needed to get stronger. Everyone thought he would try again. Ron and Hermione wouldn't let me go alone."
They looked at each other again, and Harry's still simmering anger flared up. He shook his head, and began to stuff his notes back into his bag. "I need to go. Professor Slytherin wanted to see me, and he should be back by now."
That wasn't a lie either. They did have an Occlumency session scheduled, even if it was for that evening. Harry didn't think Slytherin would mind though. William bit his lip, but handed over the rest of the parchment without arguing.
"He should be, and you know where to find us if you have any questions." He caught and held Harry's gaze. "Or for any other reason."
Harry just nodded. William gave him a small smile and turned back to his own work, but Helena was still frowning. Harry squashed down an uncomfortable bundle of emotion, and left before either of them could make the situation even more awkward than it already was.
Harry did consider looking for Ron and Hermione, but the anger was still bubbling away in the pit of his stomach, and he'd taken his temper out on them enough times over the year, so he headed for the dungeons. He'd found that Potions was rather relaxing when Snape wasn't around, and Slytherin always had something brewing. He wasn't even sure why he was so angry though. His scar was unusual enough that he couldn't really blame his friends for asking about it, and he knew they hadn't meant any harm. They had just been curious. Considering the connection they had made, Harry was curious too.
Still, he had gotten used to not having people gaping at his forehead. He hadn't missed it. That was one nice thing about being in the past. Here he was known for his Duelling skills, and he had earned that attention. He wasn't famous for something he had done as a baby and barely remembered.
William and Helena hadn't meant to stir up the old resentment, but Harry knew himself well enough to stay away from them for a little while.
Fortunately, Slytherin was in his office when Harry knocked, though he seemed to be in just as much of a bad mood as Harry was himself. The tightness in his expression faded when he opened the door though, and he gave Harry a small smile.
Harry blinked, then remembered the morning's snowball fight and grinned. "You'll probably get a different answer from everyone you ask, but it was definitely us."
Slytherin snorted, and stepped aside to wave Harry in. Harry made his way through to the potions lab, and smiled at the array of ingredient laid out. He glanced back at Slytherin, who had joined him with his usual silent steps.
If Slytherin was surprised by the request, he didn't show it. "Be my guest. You know how to handle the Malaclaw venom?"
"Very carefully," said Harry promptly.
Slytherin didn't laugh, but his eyes sparkled and that was enough. Harry grinned, and took his gloves from his bag. They weren't quite as good as his dragonhide gloves back home, but they were fine for this.
The two of them worked in companionable silence. By now Harry was confident enough with the various ingredients to work without supervision, and he found his mood improving as he worked his way across the table. The approving nods he received whenever he did something he wouldn't have had a clue about three months ago didn't hurt either.
So by the time he did decide to ask his question, Harry was quite calm.
"Sir, when did you realise that my scar was in the shape of the Sowilo rune?"
This time Slytherin did raise an eyebrow, but he otherwise remained completely calm. "The first time I saw it. Hermione also brought it up when I tested on her knowledge, the day after we met."
Harry stilled at that. "She knew?"
"It is fairly obvious for anyone with a more than passing understanding of runes," said Slytherin dryly. "Her conclusions agree with my own."
Harry set down his knife and turned to fully face his teacher. "And what were they?"
Slytherin met his gaze without flinching. "That Voldemort's curse meeting your mother's protection caused an extremely rare reaction."
Harry waited, then frowned. "That's it?"
Slytherin just looked at him. "There have been rather more pressing matters to research."
Harry couldn't exactly argue, but it was still frustrating. Slytherin sighed. "I expect Dumbledore knows more about it than either of us."
Harry grimaced. "Something else to ask him then." He was going to have to make a list at this rate. Hermione had probably already made one, come to think of it.
Slytherin's lips thinned, but he just inclined his head. He waved a hand and flames sprang to life beneath the cauldron, and only then did he speak, "May I ask what brought this on?"
Harry sighed. His earlier anger seemed rather childish now. "William and Helena noticed. I told them that someone tried to kill me." He shrugged, and added the dried Flobberworms to the cauldron. "They think that's why we came here."
"It's as good a story as any," said Slytherin quietly. He gave the potion three precise clockwise stirs, and set the glass rod on the table. "They worry about you."
"Yeah," said Harry, with a sigh. He thought about how they reacted. "But I think we'll be okay."
Slytherin gave him a faint smile. "I am pleased to hear it."
Harry nodded, already feeling better himself. He could clear things up with his friends later. He watched the potion simmer for a minute, then decided he might as well go for it. "How was your meeting?"
If he hadn't been watching, he would have missed the irritation that flickered across Slytherin's face. "It is exasperating when a Dark wizard is less troublesome than one's own ally."
Harry snorted, and hastily turned it into a cough when Slytherin looked at him. "Sorry, but that's hardly surprising."
He was half-expecting Slytherin to defend the Baron, but instead the Founder just grunted. Harry bit back his own grin with an effort. Maybe his new house was rubbing off on him, but he couldn't be upset that Edmund was irritating everyone instead of just Helena. The look Slytherin gave him said he was quite aware of his feelings, but before he could say anything there was a sharp crack, and Harry spun round to find Myrddin grinning at him.
Harry scowled, and replaced his wand. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Slytherin doing the same.
"Myrddin," the Founder said evenly. "What have I told you?"
Myrddin waved a hand. "You probably wouldn't have got me. At least not fatally."
Slytherin pinched the bridge of his nose. Harry eyed the door. He might be able to make it before Myrddin noticed him...
"And how is my favourite time-traveller?"
Harry sighed, and turned back to the wizard. "Fine, I think." He eyed the stack of books in Myrddin's arms rather warily. "What's all that?"
Myrddin's grin made him immediately regret that question, but at that moment there was a tap at the door. Slytherin waved a hand without looking, and Hufflepuff appeared in the doorway. She smiled at Harry, touched Slytherin's shoulder briefly, and fixed a sharp look at Myrddin.
"We have talked about this."
Myrddin muttered something under his breath, then added more loudly, "But developments have been made!"
Slytherin raised an eyebrow at Hufflepuff, who sighed. "Yes, but a few more seconds wouldn't have hurt."
Myrddin just waved a hand, dumped the books in his arms on the nearest clear surface started pulling even more out of a bag. Harry goggled at just how many volumes appeared, but Slytherin let out a low hiss.
"I'm returning them," said Myrddin immediately.
"You didn't tell me you had borrowed them at all," Slytherin growled. He stalked forward and shook his head as he glanced over the pile. "There is a reason I keep these hidden."
Myrddin pulled a face. "Can we tell you about the developments before you tell me off?"
Slytherin closed his eyes for a moment, and when he opened them again all visible traces of irritation had vanished. "I hope this is worth it. For your sake."
Myrddin smirked, but his expression abruptly turned serious. "I think we have something."
Slytherin's only reaction was a slight tightening of his grip on his staff, but Harry's breath caught in his throat. "Is this..." He trailed off, suddenly uncertain, but Hufflepuff gave him a somewhat strained smile.
"Yes, Harry," she said gently. "We may, and I emphasise the term may, have a solution for your...problem."
Harry had to lean against the desk. His mind was spinning, but he didn't miss the long searching look Slytherin gave the two. "Tell me everything."
"We will," Hufflepuff promised. She rubbed wearily at her eyes. "There is still some work to do, but it is the most promising lead we have yet come up with."
Harry had to close his eyes. After months of knowing he carried a piece of Voldemort's very soul, even the prospect of a solution was staggering. Even if it wasn't a complete answer, it was more hope than he had for longer than he was willing to admit.
Myrddin was still talking, and Harry dragged his attention back to the conversation.
"...and there shouldn't be much risk at all. Well, other than that if his soul being ripped out and devoured and him spending the rest of his days as a soulless husk."
Harry gaped. Hufflepuff pinched the bridge of her nose. Slytherin gave Myrddin the most impressive glare Harry had ever seen. Myrddin himself just blinked.
"What did I say?"
Thanks for reading! Any feedback would be even more appreciated than usual because having a birthday on the same day you start a placement in a notoriously tricky theatre is stressful. ;)