Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Crumbling Pedestal :: 05 :: Things Change

05 • Things Change

It was a very private bonding; the only attendees were Godric, Rowena and Helga, Heru and Caedryn, and of course, Salazar and Ethelinda. The bride was dressed in forest green silk embroidered with delicate silver thread. Her robes were form fitting above the waist, then flaring out over her hips, split down the front to reveal a chemise of pale green. Had Heru not known better, he would have sworn it was a dress. Salazar was dressed similarly, though he looked eminently masculine in his attire.

In less than an hour the ceremony was complete and everyone made for the refreshments. Less than an hour after that Salazar and Ethelinda had disappeared. Shortly thereafter the group dispersed.

*

Heru thought it was a good thing, having come back here and learning things long since forgotten. Whether no one had bothered to write things down, or the books had eventually turned to dust, or even if those with the knowledge had died without issue or capable apprentices, Heru did not know. But his personal library held the wisdom of the age, and every book in his collection was protected by enchantments. So long as they were kept stored in their cases, time could not erase their lore.

He was especially glad of the knowledge he had obtained when he decided to rework the external entrance to his quarters. It was warded, certainly, but not in a way he was happy with for the long term. No one had figured out the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets for centuries, and he wanted something as innocuous, or at least better protected than it was now.

The forest would get larger, he knew; it was currently nowhere near the size it was in his time. He hovered overhead, the broom he was riding a far cry from what he considered to be minimally decent, and sighted landmarks to triangulate by. He assumed, given what he’d chosen, that they would stand the test of time. If not, he would be remembering the location the hard way.

Once he had the locations fixed in his mind, he landed at the entrance and began to work. The entrance currently was a simple descent into the earth, lined with stone, and covered with obfuscation and repelling charms. Further in was a password-protected door, much in the same style as the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets. But the present arrangement wasn’t good enough.

It took him hours, but when he was done he had a new, unobtrusive entrance a short distance away from the original. In looks it was simple enough; it greatly resembled a milestone pillar. Surrounding it was an innocent looking disc of flat stones with the occasional weed or spot of grass growing from the mortar that bound them together.

In reality, it was far more complicated. The pillar was imbued with magic to create a control mechanism which would activate when the password was given, but only if the person attempting it had Heru’s own magical signature.

The stones he had so painstakingly arranged would drop into a circular staircase which led down to the second gateway, a door which was also password-protected like the pillar. The redundancy was tedious, but Heru decided that one couldn’t be too careful. Only once you were past the door would you enter the passageway to his private quarters.

The pillar would both raise and lower the stairs, as would similar mechanism on the passage side of the door. After testing his efforts a dozen times over, Heru decided to rework the original entrance as it was no longer needed, and covered it after converting it into a small storage room.

The last thing he did was to add in spells which would allow him to spy on the surrounding area to see if anyone was present. All this work would be of little use otherwise if he opened the entrance while someone was present to see it happen.

Eventually pleased with the results, Heru wandered around the forest for a while, making non-functional replicas of the pillar and its surrounding ring of stone. Each had the approximate distance to the castle incised in bas-relief. Absolutely nothing set them apart from the original in appearance except the distance marking.

When he was done making decoys, Heru returned to his private entrance, descended and closed it back up. After he carefully made his way to his quarters, Heru choked down some food, stripped and cast a cleansing charm on himself, then passed out in bed.

*

The next morning after breakfast, Heru and Caedryn took their daily constitutional around the grounds, skirting the lake and forest, and even down to the village and back. The past year had been a good one for their relationship, and Heru had come to realize how emotionally rewarding it was for him to have a son, though he understood that he had missed much having acquired a child of that age.

As they walked past the forest for the second time, their discussion was interrupted by trilling. It was rather far off at first, but it continued to draw closer, causing them to stop and wait to see if the songmaker would appear. Out of the forest flew a brilliantly scarlet and gold phoenix, its beak open to let loose liquid sound that soothed and invigorated at the same time.

The bird swooped in and landed on Heru’s shoulder, flipped its wings back and finished its song.

Heru gave Caedryn a sidelong look then turned his head at an angle to gaze at the phoenix, which clicked its beak at him. Caedryn, eyes wide with astonishment, stepped around to face his father, carefully tucking his hands behind him and leaning forward slightly.

“Greetings, my fine friend,” Heru said, not knowing what else to do, but knowing that, like Fawkes, this phoenix would likely appreciate being treated courteously.

The bird gave a short, happy trill and nudged his cheek with its beak.

“Has it chosen you, father?” asked Caedryn breathlessly.

“It?” he replied, still gazing at the phoenix. “I don’t know, Caedryn. Though why—my dear fellow, would that be right? Have you chosen me, or are you just in the mood for company?”

The phoenix trilled again, sending a shiver of warmth down Heru’s spine, then nuzzled against his face. Heru flicked his eyes toward his son, arched a brow, then looked back at the bird.

“How about we head back to the castle? If our friend here would like to accompany us, perhaps the others could assist us with that question. And if he chooses to fly away, we shall be grateful that we were visited by such a delightful creature even for such a short time.”

Caedryn nodded eagerly so Heru turned carefully so as not to disturb the phoenix’s perch, and started the walk back up, his son tagging along at his side. When they reached the main doors the bird was still perfectly content to remain so they continued on in to search out the founders.

They found them in the kitchen, clustered around one of the tables discussing the rising number of students and what should be done to handle the increase. Heru’s appearance with a phoenix on his shoulder stopped everyone cold, causing them to stare at him with varying degrees of surprise on their faces.

“Isn’t it wonderful!” crowed Caedryn, who was bouncing up and down.

“Heru, what have we here?” asked Rowena, tilting her head to the side and giving him an intense look.

“Well, that’s what I was hoping to find out. I’ve only ever met one phoenix before, and he was the familiar of, um—well, anyway, I’m not really sure what’s going on, but Caedryn seems to think I’ve been chosen.”

“And you have,” spoke Salazar with no small amount of smugness. Heru did not doubt that his brother counted this as coup for the family name. After Heru gave him a quizzical look, Salazar said, “You merely need to accept. Formally, that is. They very rarely choose the company of a wizard, or witch for that matter.”

As Heru stood there feeling a bit lost—it wasn’t as though anyone had ever explained this formal acceptance thing to him—Godric began to smile widely. “Go on, then. Say something along the lines of ‘I accept your offer of companionship’.”

“Er, right.” Heru angled his head again so he could look the phoenix in the eye. “Though I know not why, I am very honored that you have come, and would be pleased if you would remain with me to be my companion and guard my back should it be needful.”

The phoenix seemed to think that was suitable and let loose another glorious trilling sequence. Heru felt the bird’s acceptance of his words settle over him like a warm, comfortable mist, and grinned rather foolishly.

After several suggestions were tossed at Heru as to a name for his new friend, Heru said, “Would you like Praecino as your name, perhaps?”

The phoenix nodded and nudged him, so Heru took it as given. “Right. I should show you where I live, no? And find you a nice place to rest when you like.” Heru turned back to his companions and smiled, saying, “Thank you for your guidance.”

As he turned to go Caedryn was already by the door, pulling it open. Back in his private quarters, Heru watched as Praecino flew over to perch on the back of a chair, then started looking for something handy to transfigure into a stand—something vaguely similar to the one that Professor Dumbledore used.

Heru suddenly felt tired, watching his son acting with all the exuberance of youth, and gave a half smile to Caedryn when he had a chance to sit down and Praecino was testing out his new perch.

“I wonder what phoenixes eat?” he mused.

That afternoon he sat with the founders to bring himself up to speed on the discussion he had interrupted that morning. Helga was advocating the hire of additional staff. People were needed to teach, to tend to the castle, to cook, and so forth. While Salazar agreed, he found it hard to believe that they would be able to find enough people to meet their growing needs.

So Heru said, “What about more house-elves? Not for teaching, of course, but for everything else. They’re small, loyal, and just love to work. I think if it were a given that any in service to the school continue to be well treated. . . .”

The others mulled that over for a bit, casting speculative glances at each other. “We wouldn’t be able to bring in that many at first,” said Rowena, “but Heru is right. They work very hard, and do excellent work.”

Heru spared a moment to send up a prayer for forgiveness to Hermione for such a betrayal of her ideals. Realistically, however, he knew very well it would have happened regardless, so he didn’t feel all that bad about having suggested it.

“And, if they take on the mantle of most of the domestic work, that leaves only a few people to be hired on for teaching duties,” Heru added in a reasonable tone. “However, I think it makes sense to say that we should specialize more if we’ve more people. Salazar already does.”

More nods followed, along with talk of who might be suitable. Heru eventually became bored and slipped off to admire Praecino; they were bogged down in a discussion of various candidates, none of which Heru knew or could comment intelligently on.

*

Though it had not occurred to him at the time of his change, it was when Caedryn complained that the entrance portrait didn’t look like Heru that he decided it would be the better part of discretion to have it updated. He really should have thought of it earlier. It was not until well after Salazar had proudly announced that Ethelinda was expecting that Heru managed to secure the services of the same artist who had painted it to come to the castle and begin the delicate work.

That he needed to do both portraits was something that profoundly disturbed Heru, as it meant either letting the man inside his quarters, or adding an alternate method of entrance to the rooms. In the end he let the man complete the first portrait, then had them switched, and let the man finish the second. The portraits didn’t care which one was outside, after all, and they often switched frames. In the end both pictures looked a great deal more like he was presently.

By then Salazar’s wife was starting to show her condition—that is, when anyone actually saw her. Salazar seemed rather happy about the fact that she was a retiring, rather shy creature. Heru simply rolled his eyes a lot when her name came up—out of Salazar’s sight, naturally—and declined to comment whenever possible.

It was easy enough to do when Salazar insisted on extolling the supposed virtues of his Ethelinda, those being the very kinds of things that Heru considered to be incredibly sexist and archaic. And as he knew without question that Salazar was not about to change—and Heru had no business thinking he would—he held his tongue, nodded a great deal, and hoped his brother would forget about his own lack of a wife.

After all, he did genuinely like Salazar and enjoy his company, just not when it came to discussing any female aside from Rowena or Helga. Partly in the hopes that it would keep his brother too busy to remember certain details he would prefer Salazar forget, Heru suggested that his brother begin writing down his doctrines, along with anything else he felt relevant.

Heru himself was interested to see what Salazar would commit to paper, and had hopes that he could read his brother’s writings in the future. How far into the future that would be he had no idea of knowing, though.

He also took the time to ask Salazar about the basilisk. Salazar was rather offhand about the entire subject, insisting it was really nothing special.

“Look here. She’s just a pet, dear brother. A bit on the large side, I admit, but still a pet. What’s to worry about?”

“But, Salazar, knowing what I know, your answer doesn’t tell me much of anything,” he protested.

“Well, you’ve never been very forthcoming on the subject yourself.”

Heru came to the conclusion after several minutes of circular arguments that Salazar would never admit to anything. He could only conclude that the basilisk was a failsafe of some kind. It was not something he could actively interfere with, much as it pained him. He did feel that he had won something, though, when Salazar agreed to keep a journal.

The school year continued on; the new teachers were settling into their positions, and Heru was happy to be teaching the Defense classes, though he felt some loss at not having as close a relationship with a year group. Had things been like this when Caedryn had lost his family, he might not have a son.

Spring arrived in due time and Ethelinda was blooming along with the early flowers. Unfortunately, she was not the type to attain that special glow some women did. Instead she was even more rarely seen due to her increasingly cranky mood and erratic behavior. Shortly thereafter, she delivered up a healthy son, which Salazar promptly named Salvalus.

It was a bad day for Heru when he realized that the birth of Salazar’s son meant his brother’s mind could now switch focus from that happy event to the scandalizing lack of a wife on Heru’s part. Salazar became increasingly persistent on the subject, going so far as to grab the arm of passing girls in the school and subject them to numerous questions about their parentage, then look at Heru questioningly.

Heru finally appealed to Helga and Rowena for assistance. He spent several hours talking with them, all but coming out and saying that women did absolutely nothing for him, without quite making it plain. Whatever they thought of his diffidence was left unsaid. They did, however, take the time to winnow through the current student population in an attempt to find a girl of good breeding and suitable age, who was as indifferent as Heru to the idea, yet still willing to secure herself a good marriage if offered.

Heru took to spying up and down corridors in an effort to avoid his brother, and while that worked well enough, it did not prevent Salazar from entering his quarters to ambush him and inquire about his progress in the search. An offer to personally assist sent Heru flying back to the ladies for protection.

When they finally decided on the girl they deemed best, Heru was caught between relief and further anxiety. He met with her to talk, and to ascertain that she was actually willing—not that he distrusted the ladies—and that she was someone he could at least get along with. It was just as well she was in her last year. Once Salazar found out about her and had given his personal seal of approval, he would let nothing stop their joining come the summer.

That Caedryn seemed to be pleased with the idea of a step-mother was enough for Heru to strictly forbid himself from ever appearing anything but pleased by the whole venture. The boy got along with Regan far better than Heru did, but then he wasn’t the one who had to marry her. Even Praecino acted as though he approved of the girl.

A small distraction came in the form of the upcoming end of term. Another discussion broke out when the numbers were compiled for the next year; the people in the village had never been slow about producing children, nor had wizarding families living further away.

The problem was not so much that they were lacking personnel, but that the student housing was becoming an issue. All the girls were placed in one location, the boys in another; the founders knew that their population would continue to rise, and the current arrangement would not suit forever.

Add to that their differing opinions on who should be allowed to attend the school. Salazar was still against the idea of muggle-borns being accepted, but grudgingly gave way. Heru was wondering if he would have to remind his friends of what they had learned from seeing his memories or if they’d spontaneously recall how it was handled in later years.

They still had not decided by the time the students returned home and Heru was seriously considering giving his friends a sharp nudge. Anything to keep Salazar distracted from the upcoming wedding. Godric saved the day when he ambled into the kitchen and flung himself into a chair carelessly, tossed his hat down, and promptly squished it by swinging his legs up to rest on the table.

After an exclamation of dismay—Salazar chided him on his bad manners—Godric tried to rectify the damage, but the poor hat sat there bent and crumpled. When one looked at it right, it rather resembled a crotchety old man who’d had a little too much to drink, tilted over as though it couldn’t keep its balance.

Heru waited patiently for their minds to produce what he knew must be there, waiting to come to fruition, and heaved a sigh of relief when Helga said, “Oh, how charming! It looks like you after a night in the tavern, Godric.” She laughed merrily as she looked at the hat again.

“Hush,” he scolded.

“No, really. All it needs is a bit of your personality and we’d be all set.”

Something flickered across Rowena’s face, then subsided, but she gave the hat a closer look.

Helga snatched the hat off the table and placed it over one hand, playing with it like a puppet. Raising it in front of her face she used her fingers to move an impromptu mouth.

“Godric,” she had the hat say gruffly, “you should be more careful!”

Salazar began snickering quietly and Rowena covered her mouth hastily. Heru sat back with a slight smirk on his face.

“I ought to have said something sooner,” said the hat. “If I had half your brain I’d—”

Helga stopped and turned the hat around to face her with a frown on her face. “Now there’s an interesting thought. Don’t you think?”

She turned the hat back. “I would if I could,” said the hat.

Helga moved the hat to the side and raised her brows at Rowena in a silent question. Rowena in turn tilted her head down to the right for a moment, her forehead furrowed slightly, before looking up over at Salazar. He was tapping his chin with one long finger.

Heru felt almost sad. He would never know if the sorting hat was a paradoxical creation, or their own idea spun from the whole cloth of their imaginations.

It took a month for them to work out the details of the hat and how it would determine who went where, and to infuse it with their own thoughts and power. Once completed it enjoyed pride of place on the desk in Godric’s office.

Then, Salazar remembered about Regan.