Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Crumbling Pedestal :: 12 :: Unexpected Reactions

12 • Unexpected Reactions

Heru and Mark were preparing to walk back to Hogsmeade when a rich, deep voice stopped them. Severus was approaching, so they waited for him to catch up.

“I did not expect to see the two of you here,” Severus stated when he was close enough.

Heru smiled easily. “We came to see the first task as well. An amazing bunch of kids, really. Of course, it meant Mark started nagging me for a broom once he saw the Potter boy zooming around,” he said blandly.

Severus’s eye twitched ever so slightly in response. “Indeed. As you are here, I thought I might ask if you’d be willing to show me more of your collection. I found the first two books quite informative. Even Albus was fascinated by my description of them.”

Is that so? thought Heru with a mental smirk. Come closer, little fishy. I’ve got a nice baited hook for you. He said out loud, “Sure. I don’t see why not, and you seem to be the kind of man who can appreciate them. When would be a good time?” He noted that Severus’s eyes would occasionally flick down to Mark, then back up.

“If you’d care to follow me to my office, I can check.”

“Certainly. We can spare the time for that, can’t we, Mark?”

Mark whipped his head around from where he’d been watching the departing spectators and said, “Of course, father.”

As they followed Severus to the castle and down into the dungeons, Mark’s head was nearly a blur as he tried to take in everything and nearly stumbled several times before Heru placed a hand on his shoulder to help guide him. “You’ll see a great deal more, I expect, when you come here for your own schooling,” he said in a low voice.

Mark also seemed awed at the potions classroom and Severus’s office, prompting the professor to ask if the boy was any good at potions.

“I have no idea,” confessed Heru, “though he’s been a huge help to me with the texts. But now that you mention it, I should ask if there are any laws against him working on them before he comes to Hogwarts. I know he isn’t allowed a wand just yet, but it seemed to me that potions ought not to be an issue. I’d hate to deliver him into your capable hands as a rank tyro in terms of practical work.”

Severus seemed mildly surprised at the question. “There are not. And if you are as good at teaching him as you are at writing on the subject, I would expect him to start school well in hand.”

“Splendid!” Heru began, then was interrupted by his sleeve being tugged on.

“Can we start as soon as we get home?” asked Mark excitedly.

“If you like,” Heru replied indulgently. “Now behave and let the professor check his schedule.”

Severus crossed to his desk and behind, pulling open a drawer and taking a book from inside. Flipping it open, he paged through it, then stopped to skim the contents. After a moment he looked up and said, “This Saturday morning appears to be open. Would ten suit?”

Heru nodded. “I can manage that with no problem.”

Severus grabbed a quill as he set the book down, then made a notation before putting it away. “Very well. Let me show you out then. It is easy to get lost down here.”

“Ah . . . do you think we could visit that portrait again before we go?” Heru asked.

If Severus thought the request was odd, he made no indication of it. He inclined his head briefly then led the way. On arrival, Heru said to Mark, “This is the portrait I told you about. Interesting, eh?”

“You’re right. It looks a lot like you, just much younger. This is really neat.”

The portrait opened its eyes and smirked. “You again?” he hissed. “One might start to think you missed me or something.”

Heru laughed as Mark’s eyes widened. “Hello,” Mark hissed. “My name is Marcus Slytherin. What’s yours?”

The portrait moved its gaze from the boy to Heru and arched a brow. “Adopting more strays?” Heru gazed innocently at the ceiling, so the portrait returned its eyes to Mark and hissed, “Is that so. My name is Heru Slytherin, but you should already know that.”

“I should?” asked Mark, turning an accusing gaze on his father.

“Hey, don’t look at me. He said it.”

“Said what?” inquired Severus smoothly.

Mark glanced over his shoulder and said, “He says his name is Heru Slytherin, and that I should have already known that, sir.”

Severus’s eyes narrowed.

“Hey now, just because we look a great deal alike is no reason a person should assume we have the same name,” protested Heru, casting a pointed look at the portrait.

“So this is Salazar’s alleged brother,” Severus stated.

The portrait gave him a snooty look and lifted its chin. “Alleged my ass,” he hissed.

Mark giggled and glanced at Severus again.

“Dare I even ask?”

“Um . . . it doesn’t translate directly,” said Mark with another giggle. “But he does say he’s Salazar’s brother.”

Heru had to wonder why Severus didn’t ask the obvious question, which was why the portrait refused to speak in English.

“How very interesting. It appears your family lore is correct,” said Severus redundantly. “Well, as fascinating as this is, I’m afraid there are things I need to be taking care of. May I escort you to the entrance?”

“Oh, yes. Sorry about taking up so much of your time.” Heru placed a hand on Mark’s shoulder and firmly turned him around. The journey out was short and silent, broken by a perfectly polite parting exchange at the doors.

On the walk back down to the village, Mark asked, “What did he mean about adopting strays?”

Heru resolved to have a long chat with the portraits very soon. “Family lore has it that Heru adopted a son well before he married and had children of his own,” he explained. Luckily, Mark said no more on the subject, and when they arrived at the house Heru took him downstairs for a beginning lesson on making potions.

After a late lunch, Heru warded the basement so Mark couldn’t get into any trouble while he was out, then apparated directly into his underlake rooms. There were several things he wanted to do, but he started with the portrait in his entrance hall. A lengthy discussion ensued and Heru finally got across the notion that people of this time should not be able to make a definite conclusion that the portrait Heru and the real Heru were actually the same person. He hadn’t realized what a pain in the ass he could be until now, even if it was his painted self being such a thorn in his side. He did not worry about the portraits in his study—the younger set probably thought their Heru was dead, and Caedryn and the founders knew better than to reveal anything to anyone.

Instead, Heru stood in the middle of his lounge and voiced a question to the castle. “Dear lady, are you aware of anything Caedryn might have left for me here before he died?” Several minutes later he was graced with another vision. He apparated to the room it showed and picked up a wooden crate, gave his sincere thanks, then apparated back to his home in Hogsmeade. He barricaded himself in his study and wrenched the cover off to reveal a stack of journals in near perfect condition. Each was stamped with his son’s name and a number in silver. Either Caedryn had thought ahead, or the castle had preserved them of her own volition.

Heru picked up the first and opened it.

Dear Father,

I know now that you are gone, much to my regret, and it is because of this that I have decided to keep journals in the hopes that one day you will think to ask the castle about me and my life. Obviously, if you are reading this, you did.

We told my brothers and cousins that you died as you requested, though we refused to explain the circumstances. The news hit them very hard, I’m sorry to say. It was weeks before we could get even a tiny smile out of any of them.

I was forcibly reminded of the day my own parents died, but then I recalled how you spoke with me and welcomed me into your life, how you cared for me as if I were your son from birth. Have I ever told you how much I love you, and how grateful I still am?

Heru had to stop for a moment to wipe away the tears that had begun to slide down his cheeks. Memories he had subconsciously repressed came crashing back over him, and he felt the deep and abiding pain of not having seen his children grow up into men.

I do not mean to cause you any pain, father, please believe that. I miss you very much and wish you had not had to leave us, though I understand it was ordained. I hope that your years here have given you whatever it is you need in your own time. I must believe that it has, for there is no other reason for you to have been taken from us, right?

I will record anything of interest that happens so that you may understand how our lives have gone, and the lives of those around us. I should add that Godric, Rowena, and Helga also seem quite despondent, but they are much more resilient having known from the start. I have taken to visiting your portrait on occasion. The only people it will speak to intelligibly are me and the founders. For anyone else it stoically pretends it only speaks Parseltongue, which I find moderately amusing. For now let me say that I pray you are doing well, and that you are happy wherever you are.

With love,

Heru flipped the journal shut and sniffled loudly. A glance in the mirror showed that his eyes and nose were red and swollen, but he didn’t care. If he couldn’t express his loss in some fashion he might scream. Not feeling up to reading more at the moment, he placed the book back into the crate and sealed it, warding it against intrusion before shoving it under his desk. He was glad he’d thought to ask, but needed more time to get himself and his feelings under control before he attempted to see what more Caedryn had written. An hour or so later, when he could reasonably show his face again, he emerged from his study and headed for the library to go back to work on the sixth year text.

Over the next few days he alternated between instructing Mark in the art of Potions, working on the texts, and reading more of the journals. Aside from the first page, Caedryn had made no more references to his knowledge of Heru’s origins or departure, and instead wrote as though he were composing letters to his dead father. If it came to it, Heru knew he could excise that page and be able to show them to anyone if he wished.

Early Saturday morning he returned underlake and selected a book from his collection, one he had written himself regarding his and Salazar’s ability to change their appearance, though he had not gone into exactly how it was possible. That secret—Salazar’s original notes—were safely tucked away in his vault. That his handwriting had changed over the years was just as well.

So it was that when Severus arrived promptly at ten, Heru was there to usher him in and lead the way to his study. Not bothering to ask this time, he summoned a house-elf and requested tea, then picked up his selections to show to his guest.

“One of these is purportedly written by Salazar’s brother Heru and contains some rather interesting information. The other is written by Heru’s eldest son, Caedryn. You seemed quite interested in him, so I made my selection based on that.”

Severus arched a brow at him and actually smiled faintly. As he reached out to accept the books, Guin popped in with a tray and poured two cups of tea before disappearing. Heru fixed one to his liking and sat down, watching as Severus ignored the tea in favor of opening one of the books. Heru could tell by the cover that it was the one he had written.

Over the next few minutes he watched as Severus’s brows raised higher and higher with every page he turned, until finally he looked up and said, “Yes, very interesting, considering it is an account of the origins of metamorphmagi. I find it extremely intriguing that it was a potions accident, and quite disappointed that there is no record of how to recreate the circumstances.”

So that’s what they decided to call it, thought Heru. Now I don’t have to appear appallingly ignorant on the subject. He nodded at Severus and smiled. “It seems to run in the family, much like being a parselmouth,” he confided. He was rewarded with a slight quirk at the corner of Severus’s mouth. His guest carefully closed the book and placed it on the table, then started on the journal. Heru had selected it quite deliberately, for it held an accounting of the first year after his departure and thus was full of comments about his other sons, nephews, and the remaining founders. But more importantly, it mentioned, much as the excised page had, that Heru’s portrait was quite stubborn about who it spoke to.

Eventually—it was frightfully clear that the man was a fast reader—Severus closed the book and looked at him again with those burning black eyes. “I am honored to have had the opportunity to read these,” he said. “You are fortunate to have such an intimate link to your past.”

Heru couldn’t help but smile.

“My own family was not so careful, to my eternal regret, though I know my line reaches back quite far.”

“That is unfortunate, I agree,” he said. “It is always a shame when the past becomes nothing more than a collection of myths.”

“If I may ask, how many more journals are there?”

Heru shrugged. “I’m not sure. I only just recently started reading them, and haven’t bothered to count yet.”

“I would,” said Severus, “be interested to read more of them. They provide a fascinating insight into that time period. Even Albus would be overjoyed to see these.”

Heru made a noncommittal noise. “I suppose that might be true, but I don’t feel quite the same sense of rapport with your headmaster,” he replied. “One must assume that he is quite intelligent and capable of being crafty—in the best sense of the word, that is—but I somehow doubt he shares some of the qualities you appear to possess.”

Severus responded with a look of mild incredulity and the question, “And those would be?”

Heru gave him an artless smile—it was entirely calculated for effect—and said, “You were a Slytherin as a student, were you not?” At Severus’s nod he continued, “As I understand it, Slytherins tend to be sly, ambitious, and cunning creatures who very carefully weigh their opportunities for risk versus reward. The headmaster strikes me more as the type who would sacrifice much for his desired results while remaining fairly straightforward about his motives and reasoning. As such, he would be far more caught up in thinking on a global scale rather than from a more personal point of view. All very upright and aboveboard.”

He wrested another faint smile from his guest at his carefully worded opinion. “Perhaps,” Severus said. “Are you attempting to flatter me, Mr Slytherin?”

Heru widened his eyes to falsely innocent proportions and said, “Am I? And here I thought I was simply being honest.”

Severus snorted. “Your lunch with us up at the castle raised more than a few brows. The staff were all very interested in you, as were the students of my house.”

“I have no particular interest in satisfying their curiosity about me,” Heru pointed out. “I just want to live my life, raise my son—if it’s bad, though, I’ll have to reconsider sending him to Hogwarts. I’m more than capable of teaching him everything he needs to know personally.”

“I notice you do not seem to have a wife in residence.”

Heru blinked. “That’s rather impertinent of you. Mark’s mother is deceased, and she wasn’t my wife in the first place. I would not care to repeat the experience, but I am grateful for having Mark in my life.” Never mind that he was twisting the truth like pretzel dough.

“Curious,” said Severus mildly. “I also notice you live quite simply despite having such an exalted lineage.”

Heru was so agitated by the implications that sparks flew from his fingertips, shattering the empty cup he was still holding. Aiming a glare at Severus he said, “Are you trying to irritate me, or are you just morbidly curious?” Without waiting for a response Heru glanced down at the shards and gestured. A moment later he placed the repaired cup on the table. “If you must know,” he resumed after noting how pale Severus had become, “I don’t much see the point in flaunting anything—not my life, my power, or my lifestyle choices. I trust that answers your question adequately.”

When Severus didn’t respond after a minute Heru reached out with his power. What he ended up sensing was a feeling of awe that verged on worship, making his mood deteriorate even further. “Stop that,” he snapped. “What in Merlin’s name do you think I am, anyway? Thank the powers that blot on my family name doesn’t actually share it. I could never live down the shame if that were the case.”

Severus started and dropped his eyes, placing the book he held on the table. Slowly, very slowly, he said, “The resemblance is un—”

“Don’t you dare compare me to that pathetic excuse for a man,” Heru interrupted heatedly. “You know what? I have an idea, Mr Snape.”

Severus raised his eyes, his face blank of all expression once more.

“Let us, you and I, go on a little trip. Would you like to see a place of legend? I’m sure you do. So how about we toddle on up to the castle so I can show you what a real Slytherin accomplished, and what one bastard used for his own twisted and disgusting desires.”

Heru rose to his feet, followed by Severus. Once outside the study Heru warded the door and stalked off down the hall. By the time they had reached the castle doors Heru was much calmer, and mentally kicking himself for reacting so violently. Apparently some habits were harder to break than others. Still not speaking, he unerringly led the professor to the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets, not giving a damn if his companion thought it was peculiar that he knew exactly where to go.

After slapping a set of wards on the bathroom door, he turned to the sinks and hissed, “Open up.”

When the entrance was opened he gestured sharply for Severus to precede him, then jumped into the pipe himself. At the bottom he brushed off his robes with a mild feeling of disgust and stalked off, climbing over the remains of the rockfall, past the remains of the skin the basilisk had shed, to stop in front of a solid wall carved with two entwined serpents with glittering emerald eyes.

“How’s this for family lore?” he asked sarcastically, then turned and hissed, “Open.” After the wall split he stalked through, then watched as Severus entered and began to look around. The corpse of the basilisk was still there, slowly decaying, but not yet entirely gone. Eventually Severus stood in front of the statue of Salazar, staring upward at the stone face.

Heru snorted as he saw it again, causing Severus to look back over his shoulder in confusion. “Family lore has it that Salazar looked a great deal like his brother, so this statue is a bit of a mystery to me. However, I understand that it also opens. Care to take a look inside? This is the first opportunity I’ve had myself so we can explore together.”

Severus nodded and looked back at the statue, so Heru sent out a mental call for Praecino. Moments later he appeared in a burst of flame and came to rest on his shoulder with a short trill of inquiry. Heru took a second to give the phoenix an affectionate pat, then looked up at the statue and hissed, “Speak to me, Slytherin, greatest of the Hogwarts Four.”

It occurred to Heru at the last moment that he was taking a huge risk. He had no way of knowing that Salazar had just the one basilisk. Fortunately, though, the only thing that happened was that the mouth smoothly swung open. “Praecino,” he asked quietly, “would you be willing to give us a lift up to that opening?”

The phoenix trilled agreement and flew over to the foot of the statue and hovered. Heru followed and grabbed Severus’s hand, then took hold of Praecino’s tail feathers. After a short but exhilarating flight they were standing inside a fairly large tunnel. Praecino perched in the opening and began to preen his feathers, so Heru forged on ahead, followed closely by Severus, eventually coming to a huge, high-ceilinged room that lit up as soon as he entered it.

“I always wondered what this place was like,” he murmured, spotting a desk and moving toward it. Laying on the surprisingly clean surface was a single sheet of parchment, which Heru picked up.

My Dearest Brother,

I can only hope that someday you will be able to read this. Perhaps I am wrong to do as I have done, but I made my decision when Ethelinda died at the hands of those muggles, realizing despite the evidence to support my arguments that the others would never be able to agree with my wishes. I’m sorry, Heru—I could make no other choice but to leave, knowing that I would always be at odds with them. My deepest regret is in leaving you and the children behind to wonder what has become of me.

I am also sorry for the things I forgot in the heat of the moment. I know the things I said must have wounded you deeply. It was truly insensitive of me, and I beg your forgiveness from the depths of my heart. You did not deserve to hear such things come from my mouth. I hope you know that I never once considered you in that light. If anything, you would have been the impetus for a change of heart, but that was not to be in the end.

I know that you have taken my sons into your home and begun to raise them with as much love as you have for your own, and for that you have my eternal thanks. And by now you will have realized that I left you one final gift in your vault. I also know that it has probably made you angry, or at least very annoyed with me. Please do not think too badly of me, Heru, and do not forget me.

All my love,

Heru struggled with himself, trying desperately to contain his reaction to the words of his brother, knowing that Severus was somewhere in the room with him. When he heard his companion quietly clear his throat somewhere off to the side, Heru thrust the parchment out blindly, keeping his eyes firmly on the surface of the desk. As ill-conceived as the idea had been, and as much as he wished he had not brought Severus with him, Heru would not have traded in this moment for the world.

After a span of time Heru didn’t even bother to try and make sense of, Severus cleared his throat again. Heru turned around and extended his hand.

Severus hesitated, then said, “Would you mind very much if Albus were to see this?”

Heru snapped his fingers expectantly and quickly took the parchment from Severus when he offered it back. “Fine,” he said in as normal a tone as he could manage. “But this is a piece of my family’s history. I have every intention of taking it home to be properly preserved.”

“Understood. Shall we go see him now?”

Heru spun on his heel and stalked off down the tunnel to Praecino, who carried the both of them not only out of it, but back up to Myrtle’s bathroom, then disappeared in another burst of flame. Heru closed the entrance and removed his earlier work from the door, then let Severus take the lead on the short trip to Albus’s office.

When he had greeted the headmaster tersely and was seated, Heru let his mind wander a bit as Albus read the letter. His eyes focused sharply when Albus said, rather perceptively, “You seem to be somewhat strongly affected by this, Mr Slytherin.”

Heru immediately produced an easy smile. “I simply wasn’t expecting to find anything of the sort. I find it quite intriguing, not to mention vastly illuminating.”

“Yes, I see,” responded Albus. “I’m grateful you were willing to let me read it. While it does not provide complete answers, it is at least some information as to why Salazar left the school.” He handed the letter to Severus, who handed it to Heru.

Heru nodded and stood abruptly. “If you don’t mind, I will return to my home. Don’t worry, I know my way out now. I’m sure we’ll speak again.” He inclined his head and left before either of them could respond. As soon as he was home he barricaded himself in his study, and finally gave vent to his feelings.