Strange Visitors From Another Century


Chapter Twenty-Five: The Oncoming Storm

This story officially has over a million hits! Thank you so much for all the reviews, favourites and alerts everyone! On a less pleasant note, all my deadlines are in the next few weeks, which is why I'm switching to slightly shorter updates for the remaining six chapters. Thanks again for all the support, and I hope you enjoy this chapter.

Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, and am not affiliated with Bloomsbury or Scholastic Inc.

Time seemed to stop in the Chamber of Secrets.

Harry stood frozen in place, staring at the tableau before him. At the very centre stood Salazar Slytherin and Godric Gryffindor. No-one would know for looking at them at that moment that they were the very closest of friends. Slytherin's face was completely blank, and there was nothing but pain in Gryffindor's eyes.

Neither Helga Hufflepuff, nor Rowena Ravenclaw were any better off. Both were staring at their friends, but not even the bonds of close companionship spanning decades was enough to break the stillness. Myrddin stood to one side, silent and watchful, and Ron and Hermione didn't look capable of moving, even if they had wanted to.

As for Harry...

Frozen he might be, but on the inside his thoughts were spinning so fast he could barely track them.

Slytherin had removed the Horcrux. Slytherin was family. Slytherin had been glad that they were family.

Slytherin was thinking of accompanying them to the future.

Hufflepuff reacted first, though not in the way Harry had expected. She let out a soft, wordless cry, then there was a crack like a thundercloud and she was gone.

Slytherin visibly jumped at the noise and started forwards, but before he could follow Gryffindor caught his arm.

"Give her a moment," he said quietly.

Slytherin stared at him, and for a moment there was such desperation in his eyes that Harry thought he would hex himself free, but the gleam faded abruptly, and Slytherin sagged in Gryffindor's grip.

"I never wanted her to find out like that."

Gryffindor twitched, his already ashen face paling further. "Salazar-"

"You knew."

From the way Gryffindor and Slytherin both jumped, it was clear they had forgotten about the presence of their other friend. Ravenclaw shot the two of them a look that would have sent Harry running for the hills, and Disapparated without another word.

Gryffindor swore loudly. He ran a hand through his hair and glared at Slytherin. "I will talk to her. You-"

"I know," Slytherin interrupted. "As soon as we are done here."

He shot a pointed glance at where Harry and the others were standing. Gryffindor nodded once, shot a final, unreadable look at Harry, and disappeared after Ravenclaw. Slytherin's shoulders slumped, but just as he opened his mouth, Myrddin cleared his throat loudly.

"I have business to attend to. Urgent business. On the other side of the island." He paused. "Please don't break anything we can't fix."

On that note he vanished too, leaving Harry, Ron and Hermione alone in the Chamber with Slytherin.

Harry had no idea what to say. If finding out that Slytherin was related to him had been a shock, this latest revelation left him completely dumbstruck. He knew how much Slytherin cared about him, but he'd also seen his devotion to Hogwarts, and his friends and students. The idea of him leaving was impossible to comprehend.

But he had taken Voldemort's actions personally. He had been devastated by what had been done in his name, to his school and everything that he loved. His reaction to the Horcruxes alone, and what they would have to do to be free of Voldemort, had confirmed that. And Harry knew beyond a doubt that there was nothing Slytherin wouldn't do to protect the people he cared about.

But to even consider this...

"Is it true?"

It was Hermione who voiced the question. Her voice cracked halfway through, but she didn't look away. Slytherin seemed to brace himself before meeting her gaze.

"I have been considering it."

The words were nearly lost in the great Chamber, but the expression on his face was all that Harry needed.

"But you can't leave," Ron blurted out. His freckles stood out sharply against his pale face. "They need you here."

"I know," Slytherin quietly. "But there are no Horcruxes here. And I trust that my fellow teachers have the students' best interests at heart." He looked up at Harry, silver eyes blazing. "I am not expecting any of them to risk their lives fighting a Dark Lord."

Harry felt like he had been punched in the stomach. His mouth was bone dry, and he had to swallow hard before replying. " can't leave just for me. Us."

Slytherin shook his head. "It is complicated."

"Damn right it is," said Ron flatly. "You'd hate it there! Then? They all think you're a bigoted murderer, remember?"

"Ron!" Hermione hissed, but Slytherin just inclined his head.

"All the more reason for me to redeem my reputation."

Harry wasn't the only one to open his mouth to continue arguing, but when Slytherin raised a hand all three of them fell silent. Slytherin looked at them, and his grim expression softened.

"Nothing has been decided yet. We will continue this discussion later, but in the meantime I suggest you take advantage of the rest of your free day."

Harry didn't want to leave. He wanted to stay and argue, though what for he was too confused to say, but there was no denying Slytherin when his mind was made up, so Harry swallowed down his frustration and jerked his head in a nod.

"Fine, but we do need to talk. About...about everything."

Slytherin met his gaze and nodded. "I know, and we will." He hesitated a moment, before continuing more quietly. "Whatever happens, Harry, nothing changes what we discussed earlier."

Harry let out a breath he hadn't realised he had been holding. He had lost Sirius and his offer of a home minutes after it had been made once. He didn't think he could have borne it happening again.

Slytherin gave him a rather forced smile, then beckoned the three of them closer.

"Come, I will return you to the main castle."

Apparation was even more uncomfortable than usual with all three of them, but everyone was too preoccupied to comment on it. Harry could practically feel Slytherin's desperation to search out his friends, but he lingered long enough to catch Harry's eye.

"This was not how I wanted to tell you," he said quietly. "Remember that nothing has been decided yet."

Harry just nodded. He had so many questions that he had no idea where to even begin. Some time to organise his thoughts before they talked about everything would be very welcome. Slytherin gave him a final reassuring squeeze to the shoulder and disappeared, leaving the three of them standing in the Entrance Hall.

"Well," said Hermione, after they had spent a good few minutes staring at each other. "That's one way of explaining why Slytherin would leave the school."

Ron's jaw dropped. "Bloody hell...does it even work like that?"

Hermione spread her hands in a helpless shrug. Harry leaned against a pillar, his mind racing. "Can you imagine him in the future?"

Hermione's eyes went very wide. "Facing down Voldemort..."

"The Malfoys," said Ron at the same time. A slow grin was spreading across his face. "All their blather about blood purity and Slytherin superiority...Merlin, that would be fantastic!"

Harry's own grin was probably just as vicious. "Potions with Snape."

Hermione rolled her eyes. "And what about everyone who hates him? Or the fact that he would be leaving everyone and everything he knows?"

Harry's glee faded abruptly. As much as he would love for Slytherin to come with him, he could only imagine what it would be like to leave his own time. Harry was struggling enough knowing that the Founders were working to get him home. Thinking he might be stuck in a different time for good was enough to make him feel queasy.

Selfish as it was though, Harry couldn't help but wish that Slytherin would come with them. Not because of how he would deal with Voldemort and Snape, as brilliant as that would be, but because he was one of the few adults Harry had met that had never let him down. More than that, he was someone that Harry had learned to trust and confide in, and who had helped in ways that not even Sirius had managed. He had promised to help, and so far he had actually kept his promise. Even the thought of facing Voldemort didn't seem so daunting with Slytherin by his side.

But Slytherin had his own life, and Harry had no good reason for him to abandon everyone. He hated himself for even thinking about it. He firmly squashed down his budding hope, and shook his head.

"He can't. They need him. He needs them."

He himself would never be able to abandon Ron and Hermione, and Slytherin's bonds with his friends were even stronger. Hermione was nodding in agreement, but Ron wore a faint frown.

"I don't know, mate. He might think that you need him more."

He did, a treacherous part of Harry insisted. The Founders at least had each other. Harry just had a bunch of adults who were more interested in keeping their secrets than in telling him the truth.

And that thought really wasn't helping. Harry groaned and rubbed at his eyes.

"Maybe. I don't know." He shook his head sharply, and was reminded that he'd just gone through a crazy ritual when the pounding in his skull increased. "I need to get out of here."

Ron and Hermione looked at each other, then turned identical expressions of worry on him. "You should probably lie down," said Hermione. "You've had a lot of magic going through you, and then everything else."

"I know, but staying here isn't going to help. I need some fresh air."

He didn't bother adding that he really didn't want to run into any of the Founders right now. Based on Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw's reactions, there were going to be fireworks. Harry was desperate to talk to Slytherin, but his teacher had more than enough on his plate. Better to wait until they had a better idea of what was happening.

Hermione still didn't look happy, but Ron was nodding.

"We could go and join the others in Hogsmeade," he suggested. "Just be normal students for once."

Harry snorted, but the more he thought about it the more he liked the idea. If nothing else. Helena and the others would be a good distraction.

Speaking of which, he really needed to talk to her and William. Neither of them had mentioned his blow up over the scar questions, but things hadn't been quite as easy as they had been. It was time he cleared the air.

"Sounds good to me," he said. He caught Hermione's eye, and gave her a reassuring smile. "If I do start feeling bad I'll come back up."

Hermione held his gaze for a moment, then nodded. "I'll hold you to that."

Harry smiled, but inside he was still a whirl of emotions. What would Slytherin do? What did Harry want him to do?

Harry wasn't sure he wanted to know the answers.

"I am sorry."

Helga didn't look up, but Salazar saw her flinch and hated himself for it. He wanted to go to her, but even his good leg wouldn't move.

Despite the warmth in Helga's cosy office, Salazar felt like he was standing in a horde of Dementors. Thinking was impossible, let alone finding the right words.

Helga still wouldn't look at him.

It took everything he had, but Salazar took a step closer.

"I...That was not how I would have told you."

Helga stiffened but didn't turn, but Salazar knew she was listening and continued anyway, "Helga. I never wanted to hurt you. Gods, that was the last thing I wanted."

"You say that," said Helga quietly. "Yet you still plan on leaving."

The desolation in her words struck harder than her silence had. Salazar had to grip his staff tight to keep from staggering. "Helga, I-"

"Don't say that you don't know!"

Salazar did jerk back at that. Helga was glaring at him now, her sweet face white with emotion. "You would not have said something to Godric if you did not know. You would not look at Harry the way you do." She took a step towards him, her blue eyes flashing. "You would have denied it by now."

For the first time in a very long time, Salazar found himself at an utter loss of what to say. Helga stared at him, then her face suddenly crumpled and she looked away.

"How can you think of leaving us? What are we supposed to do without you?"

Salazar reached for her, but froze when she flinched away. He swallowed, and lowered his hand. "I am sorry," he whispered. "I am so sorry."

He could explain his actions. He could explain why the need to go was burning brighter and fiercer within him.

But Helga was intelligent and she knew him better than anyone and she didn't need his explanations.

Salazar stared at the woman in loved, and knew that her heart was breaking too.

Harry pulled his cloak tighter around himself and scowled at the grey sky.

"I'm beginning to regret this idea."

Ron grumbled agreement. Hermione just rolled her eyes. "Well, we're here now, so there's not much point in complaining. Where do we think they'll be?"

Ron pulled his scarf down enough to reply. "Hengist's tavern, if they've got any sense. C'mon, at least it's warm in there."

There were no arguments. Hengist knew how to look after his guests, and mulled wine was a more than adequate substitute for butterbeer. Harry kept an eye out as they made their way through the streets, but the few witches and wizards about seemed more interested in doing their shopping and getting out of the snow than causing trouble. Even the Order wasn't daft enough to be out in this weather.

Still, it was a relief when they finally reached the safety of the pub. They barely had time to catch their breath and collect their drinks before a shout rang out over the babble of voices.

"Hey, over here!"

Hermione shook her head, even as a faint smile touched her lips. "I think a healthy set of lungs runs in the family."

Harry snorted. They'd heard Sirius' mother's portrait enough time to know that. Pollux and Castor wore identical grins as the three of them finally forced their way through to their table.

"We were beginning to think you weren't coming," said Pollux.

"We had to see Professor Slytherin about something," said Harry, with a shrug. He sat down in a free chair, and nodded to William and Helena. "You having a good day?"

William grinned at him. "It's better than Transfiguration."

"In your opinion," Helena muttered. Unlike William, the look she gave Harry was decidedly frosty. Harry grimaced, checked to see that Ron and Hermione were occupying the twins, and shuffled his chair closer.

"Look, I'm sorry about the other day," he said quietly. William stilled, and Helena's eyes narrowed, and Harry had to resist the urge to hide his scar. "I really don't like talking about it, or where and how I got it, but I shouldn't have snapped at you and I'm sorry."

His friends looked at him, then at each other, then William promptly relaxed. "Good enough for me." His eyes locked on Harry's. "But we both know there's more to it. If you ever do need help, you know where to find me."

Taken aback by the sincerity in his voice, Harry could only nod. He took a sip of his wine to steady himself, then took a deep breath and looked up at Helena.

Not for the first time, Harry reflected that facing Helena was much like being the subject of a particularly interesting experiment. Her eyes were narrowed, and he could read the tension in the set of her shoulders, and it was another minute before she replied.

"Does that mean that you will tell us why your scar currently looks more inflamed than I have ever seen it?"

Harry bit back a curse with an effort. He should have realised that having the Horcrux ripped out would leave a mark. William stiffened.

"She has a point, you know."

His tone was light, but Harry had been in Slytherin long enough to read the undertones. He stared at the table, wondering what to possibly say. He didn't have the energy to tell them to mind their own business, especially not just after apologising for snapping before.

Besides, there had been far too many secrets in Hogwarts lately.

"When that wizard tried to kill me, he used a really Dark curse," he said quietly. "When Professor Slytherin looked at it, he said there were some traces of Dark magic still there." William drew in a breath, but Harry ignored him in favour of taking another drink. The warm wine seemed to chase away some of the chill of thinking about the Horcruxes. "Today, he and Professor Hufflepuff helped get rid of it. That's probably why it looks a bit worse than normal."

There was a very pregnant pause, then William sighed and leaned back in his chair. "I don't blame you for not wanting to talk about it."

Harry gave him a small smile. William showed no indication of pressing the matter, and that was really all Harry could have hoped for for his reaction. He was clearly curious, he was a Slytherin after all, but he seemed content to wait.

Helena, though, was a Ravenclaw through and through.

"Dark magic? What did they do?" She paused, lips thinning. "Are you all right?"

Harry blinked. He had expected questions, but not that last one. "I...Yeah. Just a headache."

Helena leaned forwards, and Harry had to resist the urge to shove his hair back a bit. "You should really be resting, Harry. Purification rituals can be extremely demanding for both the subject and the caster."

Harry's aching head completely agreed with her. He looked rather ruefully at his empty glass. "Yeah, but we're heading back soon hopefully, so we had to get it done."

There was a slight pause before Helena replied. "Back?"

Harry covered a yawn with a hand. Everything was starting to catch up with him. "Back to our own-"

"To our home," said Ron loudly.

At the same time he stamped hard on Harry's feet, but any irritation Harry might have felt fled as he realised just what he had been about to say. Merlin, he was being careless. He shook his head sharply, and reflected that the wine might not have been such a great idea as the throbbing increased. Maybe he should have stayed in the castle.

A single glance at Helena's face confirmed that impression. She was looking between him and Ron with the almost hostile suspicion he hadn't seen since their first few meetings. Ron coughed loudly.

"So, William, how's the not blowing things up in Potions going?"

William paused before replying, and his eyes didn't leave Harry. "Better than I expected, thanks to Harry. Even if he was considered incompetent by his previous instructor." His voice hardened just enough to set Harry's instincts screaming. "Something I still can't understand, considering Slytherin is one of the best Potions Masters in the country, and he has nothing but compliments for Harry's work."

Harry didn't dare look at Helena. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Ron looking as trapped as he felt, and Hermione and the twins had fallen silent.

"Serious encounters with Dark wizards," said Helena finally, and the venom in her voice made Harry look up. "Experience fighting them, and having been a victim at some indeterminate time. You know as much magic as we do, despite having spent most of your lives being tutored by unheard of family members. You seem to be completely bewildered by the most common everyday events, and constantly refer to things that none of us have ever heard of."

"Helena," Hermione tried, but Helena remained completely focused on Harry.

"You are not normal students. What are you hiding, Harry Potter?"

Godric knew Rowena would retreat to her workroom. It was her sanctuary, the place where she could lose herself in magical theory and experimentation and forget the outside world completely. Often he or Helga would come looking for her, only to find that she was utterly oblivious to how much time had passed. She and Salazar were remarkably similar in many respects.

Including the inability to talk about their emotions.

He knew Rowena noticed his entrance, but she continued to stare at the parchment covering her desk. Godric waited, content to let her organise her feelings, and when she did finally speak it was without looking at him.

"This morning I made a breakthrough with the time travel magic."

It took all Godric's considerable self-control to keep his jaw from dropping. Rowena didn't give him a chance to speak. "I should have been reviewing the Horcrux ritual, but an idea came to me, and it had promise. I was planning to tell our young friends once we were certain that Harry was out of danger. I thought it would give them hope."

She looked up then, her brown eyes blazing. "Now I wish I had never attempted this enterprise."

Godric's heart ached for her, for himself, for all of them, but he managed a step forward. "You don't mean that."

Rowena gave him a bitter smile. "No, I suppose not. And yet it will still be my fault that Salazar leaves us."

"Don't be absurd," said Godric sharply. "It is Salazar's choice-"

"A choice which would be irrelevant had I not provided the means!"

Godric could see her trembling and longed to soothe her, but that wasn't what she needed right now. Rowena had never found refuge in emotional displays. "You would not condemn our guests to live out their lives in a time which is not their own," he said. "We swore we would do everything in our power to send them home."

"To send them home, yes! Not to let Salazar abandon his!"

Logic was proving surprisingly ineffective, and Godric abandoned it. He stepped forward and caught her hands in his. "We don't know that yet. It is only a thought in his mind."

Rowena stared at him. "A thought? Godric, you know as well as I do that Salazar will never let one of his blood face such a threat alone."

Godric had no answer for that. He had been thinking the same thing. Before today, Salazar had cared for Harry certainly, but as for a dear student. Now the boy was family, and Salazar had lost too much to risk him.

Selene and her family had more support than two other students. The choice might tear Salazar apart, but Godric already knew what it would be.

Rowena's grip tightened, and he looked up in time to see her beautiful face pale.

"You know him better than anyone," she whispered. "You know that he will choose them."

Godric opened his mouth, then closed it again. He wanted to deny it, but he had long ago sworn never to lie to her. Anyone else, but not her.

His silence was answer enough. Rowena's face lost what little remaining colour it held, and she took a step back.

"It's true. He will go, and travel a thousand years into the future, and we will never see him again."

"We don't know that," said Godric immediately. He gestured to the calculations covering her desk. "You know how to send them there. What is stopping them from sending him back?"

"Do you really think it is that simple, Godric? Gods, do you have any idea how much power is required for this spell? It will take all of us to get them back, and even if by some miracle they can replicate the necessary conditions in the future, how can we know that Salazar will even survive to use it? He is going to fight a war, his allies will hate him as much as they do their common enemy, and the only people he can rely on are three students!

"Don't you understand? If he leaves, we will never see him again! He will leave us, and Helga, and no matter what we say history will come to see him as a traitor, a fanatic who left the school, and we will never be able to set things right!"

Her voice was rising with her panic, a loss of control Godric hadn't seen from her since they were children. Every word she spoke echoed his own fears, but Godric was suddenly more preoccupied by the shaking that was overtaking her body. He stepped closer but she barely seemed to see him, and he noted with alarm that her breathing was coming fast and shallow.

There were a thousand things he could have done to calm her, but as he had so often in the past, Godric acted on instinct.

He kissed her.

Rowena froze the moment his lips touched hers. Godric drew back before she had a chance to react, but only enough to cup her face in his hands.

"We do not know what will come to pass," he said fiercely. "If anyone can survive such an experience, it is Salazar."

And he wouldn't be alone. Salazar might care enough for Harry to do this, but Godric knew that Harry and his friends would repay that loyalty tenfold. The very idea still terrified him, but Godric refused to give up hope.

Then he realised that Rowena was staring at him like she had never seen him before. She raised a trembling hand to her lips.


Godric swallowed, all thoughts of their discussion forgotten. "You...I apologise. That was not proper of me."

Still, he didn't step back. Rowena's hair was silk against his hand, and her dark eyes captured him completely.

"It was not," Rowena whispered.

Godric stiffened, but when he made to step away she caught his hand. "And I have been waiting for you to do it for years."

The admission staggered him, and it took him several seconds to gather his wits. "I have been waiting longer for you to let me. But...Rowena we agreed-"

"We agreed to respect my marriage," Rowena interrupted. "But Robert has been dead these seven years past." She looked away, her expression turning bitter. "And we denied ourselves because we were too afraid of what might be."

Godric swallowed, but couldn't deny it. For all that his was the house of the brave, facing up to his own feelings had always been a very different matter. He could feel Rowena trembling slightly in his arms, but when she looked back her eyes were dry and glittering fiercely.

"We were afraid, just as Helga and Salazar were afraid, and now it is too late for them. Salazar will leave, and Helga..."

She broke off, and now Godric could see tears sparkling in her eyes. He drew her against him, burying his face in her hair.

"I know," he whispered. His own heart broke for the two of them, who treasured each other so much, and who might never find the peace they deserved. Bitterness filled his chest, and with it a flame of something else. He drew back, and looked Rowena straight in the eye.

"I know that we have all wasted the time we were given," he said. "And I know I don't want to waste any more."

This time it was Rowena who kissed him, and it was everything Godric had ever imagined. All the years of pain and heartbreak seemed to fall away until there was nothing but her.

This time it was Rowena who drew away, but her reluctance was as evident as Godric's. She looked up at him, a rare shy smile touching her lips.

"It's certainly different with the beard."

Godric had to laugh, and after a moment Rowena joined him. After everything that had happened, the release was desperately needed.

Eventually the laughter faded, and Godric rested his forehead against hers.

"I do not know what the future will hold," he whispered. "But I want to face it together."

Rowena's arms tightened around him. "As do I. I fear there is much still to come."

Godric had long ago learned never to doubt a Seer.

As crowded and noisy as Hengist's tavern was, Harry knew none of it. Helena's question rang in his ears, and when he tore his eyes from her it was to find watching the twins watching him in confusion, and William with undisguised wariness. Ron's freckles stood out sharply against his pale skin, and Hermione's hand was twitching toward her wand. Harry caught her eye and shook his head; the last thing they needed was to start throwing magic around. She didn't look happy about it but her hand relaxed in her lap and Harry saw Ron take it in his.

The byplay steadied him enough to meet Helena's gaze.

"We were in trouble," he said quietly. "We didn't mean to come here, but Professor Slytherin and the others gave us sanctuary, and have been teaching us what we need to know to survive."

Helena's eyes widened slightly, but it was William who spoke. "Then why not tell us that?"

The hurt in his words was hidden but definitely there, and Harry sighed. "It's complicated."

Ron snorted softly. "Understatement of the century."

Harry couldn't argue with that. William cocked his head to one side. "Even your speech is different. Would we understand a word you say without translation charms?"

"Probably not," Harry admitted. "We're...not from around here."

"But you must have been to Hogwarts before," Pollux interrupted. He looked hard at Ron. "You knew every shortcut I tried to show you, and there were a few I didn't know."

"They did spend the summer here," Castor pointed out, but Helena was already shaking her head.

"One summer isn't enough to know our home as well you do. Can you explain that?"

Harry shot a quick look at Ron and Hermione. Ron gave him a helpless shrug. Hermione took a deep breath, and leaned forward to look at Helena.

"Not really," she said honestly. "But we can tell you that we don't mean any harm to Hogwarts or any of its inhabitants."

Ron goggles at her. "What? They can't really think..." Then his voice trailed off as he took in the expressions on their friends' faces.

"Why not?" asked William evenly. "We know nothing about you. I doubt that you could deceive our teachers, but your lack of transparency does not inspire trust."

Harry winced. There were definitely some hurt feelings there. "I know, but we couldn't say anything. Not without sounding like lunatics, at least." William opened his mouth, but Harry wasn't finished, "You're right. Professor Slytherin and the others know everything. They found out the first time we met them. We asked for their help, and they have given us," memories of Gryffindor's training and Hufflepuff's kindness and Ravenclaw's teachings and the smile on Slytherin's face as he named them family flashed before his eyes and his breath caught for a moment, "they have given us so much more than we ever expected."

Silence met his words. Harry took a deep breath, and looked each of them in the eye. "Hogwarts is our home. I would die before doing anything to harm it."

He turned to Helena last. She had been the most reluctant to accept them in the first place, and was now the least likely to believe them but he had to try. There was no mistaking the doubt in her eyes.

Surprisingly though, she said nothing. Harry didn't dare look away. Whether they recognised it or not, William, Castor and Pollux all followed Helena's lead. Whatever happened next would depend on her.

Or it would have, if the next thing that happened hadn't been someone bursting through the door screaming at the top of their voice,

"Fire! Fire!"

There was immediate panic. Harry was on his feet before he had fully realised what was happening, but the moment he did he turned to Hermione. "You looked up the Flame-Freezing Charm in third year, didn't you?"

Hermione's eyes widened, and she bolted for the door, Ron close on her heels. Harry was about to follow when Helena caught his arm in a vice-like grip. "Flame-Freezing Charm?"

"Third year?" said William at the same time.

Harry wrenched his arm free and started for the door. "Later," he called over his shoulder. "We need to deal with this before it spreads through the whole village!"

He didn't wait for their reply. He forced his way through the panicking crowd, feeling a twinge of guilt for being relieved at being able to put off the awkward conversation, before the seriousness of the situation sank in. There was no way of getting out proper explanations now. Hopefully the Founders wouldn't be too annoyed at them.

But there was a fire to stop, and Harry put everything else out of his mind.

The icy wind left him momentarily stunned after the cramped tavern, but Harry barely had time to register the discomfort before he was racing after his friends. Ron and Hermione were nowhere in sight, but there was a steady stream of witches and wizards running to help and it was easy to join them. There were more than enough of them to handle a fire, but the risk was too great to ignore.

"Help! Help me!"

For a moment, Harry thought the cries were coming from ahead of him, but a glance round had him skidding to a halt. Across the street, a black-cloaked figure was dragging a boy half Harry's size towards an alley. In the chaos caused by the fire, the pair had gone unnoticed, and Harry's adrenaline-boosted fury came surging up.

Harry had been practicing hard over the last few months. His silent Stunning Spell was enough to send the boy's assailant flying several metres through the air. Harry ran over, and spared the downed wizard only a brief glance before turning to the boy.

"Are you all right?" he asked.

The boy just gaped at him. Harry crouched down and offered his best reassuring smile. "Are you a Hogwarts student?"

He looked a bit young, but he already knew the Founders accepted children of all ages. The boy continued to stare mutely at him though, and Harry felt his smile fade. "Can you understand me?" The translation charms should still be working, they reapplied them every time they left Hogwarts, but the boy's expression was completely blank.

Harry's instincts were screaming at him. He stood up, grip tightening on his wand, and scanned the alley again. The wizard was still incapacitated. There was no one in sight. The best thing would be to take the boy to Hengist, and then go and find the others.

He turned back to the boy and found himself facing a drawn wand. Unnaturally blank eyes bored into his, and Harry knew no more.

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