Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Crumbling Pedestal :: 39 :: Slytherin Solution

39 • Slytherin Solution

It took several minutes, but less time than Heru actually expected. After the first of the Death Eaters appeared, they began arriving in clusters, almost as though there was some obscure protocol that Heru wasn’t aware of when it came to who was allowed to come when. None of those thoughts showed on his face, though; he wore a lazy little smile as he lounged sideways in his chair and idly kicked one of his feet as though bored.

They arrayed themselves in semi-circles, though not one of them took their place until they had knelt before their lord and kissed his robes. A disgusting display of obeisance, but one that Heru had expected. All of them had cast badly hidden looks at him before returning their attention to their master and waiting for him to speak. Heru was a little surprised, to be sure, that there weren’t more of them. The second they had begun apparating in he had flung threads of his power toward one and started the process of finessing the man’s Dark Mark. By the time they stopped appearing, Heru had managed to deal with five of them from that distance.

“How delightful of you all to join us,” Voldemort said smoothly. “As you can see, we have a guest this evening. I have every expectation that you will be as courteous to him as you are to me.”

A mass of heads dipped in ready agreement.

“Splendid. We are coming up on the anniversary of the death of Harry Potter, so I think it only fitting that we should begin again with our plans to overcome those fools who defy us on that date. Speaking of which. . . .” Voldemort turned to Heru and hissed, “Do you know where they interred his body?

Heru raised his brows and smirked. “On the grounds of Hogwarts. East side of the lake. There are enchantments protecting it so that the unwashed masses cannot get at his corpse.

Voldemort smiled faintly and turned back to his people. “However, as we do have a guest, this will not be a meeting in the classic sense.”

Heru did not frown; there was no need to. He had been divided in his opinion on whether or not the meeting would be normal, or something much lighter in nature. As he had not declared himself, it was no real surprise to him that Voldemort wasn’t willing to divulge anything much in the way of plans while he was present.

“You will,” Voldemort said casually, “mingle.”

Heru thought that was just fine. Assuming he was able to walk around and talk to people, he could be assured of fiddling with every last Dark Mark aside from Lucius’s. The best of it was that the modification did not actually take all that much effort. The Dark Mark could already kill them; all he had to do was make sure that if the connection back to Voldemort disappeared, they would die.

Voldemort rose from his throne and half turned to Heru, smiling slightly, so Heru stood as well and stepped forward, allowing himself to be led to the first of the many people he would meet over the course of the evening. A buffet of drinks and food had appeared at some unseen or unheard signal, and as they passed it, Heru got himself a glass of wine to carry around and sip from. It did not hurt that he was able to slip a replenishing potion into it, though in truth, he was not yet very fatigued.

Heru smiled a great deal, smirked some, and generally made out as though he was highly amused by the reactions of the men in Voldemort’s service as he charmed his way through the crowd. He was also full of praise for the obvious magical strength of Bellatrix, the only female Death Eater, and her loyalty, though he kept his comments about her to Parseltongue. He did not in the least care for the fanatical gleam in her eyes, nor her very tenuous hold on sanity, and kept those thoughts strictly to himself.

Once Heru had met everyone the entertainment portion of the evening began. Avery was still out of favor for his mistakes, it seemed, and it was him that Heru got to play with.

“Avery, front and center,” commanded Voldemort, once again sitting on his throne. Heru, who had been talking with Lucius in a careful manner, turned when he heard Voldemort hiss, “Heru, would you care to amuse yourself?

He smirked and strode up toward the throne, then hissed, “Would that be to the pain, or to the death?

He’s already felt pain.

Heru furrowed his brow, then glanced at Avery speculatively. “All right,” he hissed. A bare shake of his arm saw his wand drop into his hand, and he pointed it at Avery in a negligent gesture. A second later red lines began to appear on the man’s exposed skin, then split as his flesh began to peel away from his body. Though Avery could most certainly scream, he could not, apparently, move. His clothing started to bunch up oddly and took on a wet gleam as his screams became more tortured; then Heru cast again.

Tiny bubbles formed in Avery’s blood that burst almost immediately, only to be replaced instantly. Heru lowered his wand to watch with a faint smirk as the poor man’s blood literally boiled, then slipped it back up his sleeve as Avery suddenly stopped screaming, his eyes gone completely blank. Heru gave Voldemort a sidelong glance and hissed, “That was mildly amusing. Thanks.

Interesting,” hissed Voldemort, an undisguised look of pleasure in his slit-pupiled eyes. To Lucius he said, “Do clean that up, my good man.” There was a long pause while that was being taken care of, then Voldemort hissed, “Feel like amusing yourself more quickly on one other?

Are you suggesting the simple route?” Heru asked with raised brows.

Naturally.

If you insist,” Heru hissed with a petulant expression, “though I’m afraid it’s not very creative.

Voldemort smirked and barked out, “Crabbe!”

Said man stumbled up, shaking and casting glances back over his shoulder at Goyle, then stopped several feet away. Heru looked him up and down, made a moue of distaste at the look of vacant stupidity on the man’s face, then shook his wand into his hand again. A heartbeat later a blinding green light shot out and enveloped Crabbe, who fell over, quite dead.

Heru turned and made a mocking little salute to Voldemort, then flopped into his chair again. “Definitely not creative.

I’m sure if you agree to ally with me, you can be as creative as you like,” hissed Voldemort.

Indubitably. I allow that you do have some very interesting people under your command. Perhaps”—Heru gave Voldemort a speculative look and shook back his hair—“you’ll stop by in a few days and explain to me just what you plan to do. This little get together has been very charming, but I think I’d need to know a little more before I would be able to come to a decision.

I think I could be persuaded to do so.

Heru gave Voldemort a dazzling smile and wrinkled his nose playfully. “I knew I liked you for some reason. Well, I really must get back. Wednesday or Thursday is fine, unless you prefer to wait ‘til the weekend. You can always have Lucius drop me a note. He’s so deliciously obsequious at times—delightful, really.

Of course.

Heru leapt to his feet and vanished his chair, smiled sweetly, then apparated to Albus’s office, where he immediately sagged to the floor with a groan of pain, not caring who saw him collapse. Severus was at his side in an instant, slipping one hand under his neck to support his head and holding a vial to his lips.

“Come on,” he coaxed. Heru drank, then closed his eyes. He felt his mate pluck the wand from his fingers and slip it into the holster hidden beneath the sleeve of his robe. “All right, Heru. Let’s get you into a chair.”

Heru groaned again in protest and tried to sit up; the pain made him dizzy. Severus started to lift him, but stopped when Heru abruptly rolled to the side and vomited. Severus made a noise that was half distress and half annoyance, which made Heru chuckle weakly. “Sorry,” he whispered.

“It’s all right, my dear Heru. If you feel well enough to try this again, just nod.” Several moments later Severus gently lifted him off the floor and backed into one of the chairs, sitting down with Heru sprawled across his lap. “Do you think you can keep a pain potion down this time?” he asked.

“Give me a minute.” Heru opened his eyes to give his mate a pained look. A whisper of noise made him turn his head, then wince for having done so; it was only Albus cleaning up the mess he had made.

“Severus, is this normal?” asked Albus softly.

His mate nodded. “It is like. . . .” A soft sigh, then, “One comparison would be a migraine, Albus. This is a reaction from direct manipulation of dark magic, and of course, overexertion.” Severus looked down at Heru and added, “I doubt having to kill two people directly to maintain this charade has helped matters any.”

“Perhaps now I understand what happened the first time,” Albus said with a sigh.

Heru rolled his eyes, then bit his lip at the stupidity of his action and promptly closed his eyes again.

“I won’t move you again, Heru, at least not for some time. Shall we try another potion?” When Heru mouthed an affirmative, Severus produced another vial and held it to his mate’s lips, making sure none of it spilled. When it was down, he began to smooth the hair back from Heru’s forehead soothingly. “Judging from the way Tonks is looking at us, I would say our secret is out,” Severus said with quiet amusement.

A faint smile curled the edges of Heru’s lips before he whispered, “S’okay.”

“Just try to sleep.” Severus stroked his hair for several minutes before he spoke again, this time to the other inhabitants of the room. “I think that went well. Voldemort seems very happy with the way the evening progressed.”

Heru simply listened as they talked, absently pleased that no one seemed to be angry or unduly upset at what he had done. They seemed far more concerned with his current state of health. He wasn’t really sure when he actually fell asleep.

*

He awoke in his own bed—in their quarters, not underlake. That failed to surprise him. Praecino and Fawkes were trilling softly off to one side, somehow managing to be soothing while carrying on a conversation with each other. Heru smiled crookedly; they must really be worried about him if both phoenixes were present. Severus entered the room on the heels of that thought and sat on the edge of the bed.

“I’m glad to see you’re awake. As the castle says you’re hungry, I thought perhaps you’d like to move into the lounge. The others are here, though, so if you’d rather eat in here. . . .”

Heru shook his head tentatively. “S’okay. Just find me a robe or something.”

Several minutes later Heru was tucked into a chair with a blanket wrapped around him and a tray hovering over his lap. He smiled in appreciation of the fact that he had been given real food, not a convalescent’s. Severus was in his usual chair, while the couch was taken up with Sirius, Remus, Tonks, and Albus. Praecino and Fawkes followed him and continued to sing softly.

Heru looked at them, almost shyly—and it was not entirely for effect—and said, “Sorry I collapsed. Didn’t mean to.” Bright, understanding smiles greeted that statement, so Heru looked at his tray and picked up the fork to eat.

They remained remarkably quiet while he ate, and Severus levitated the tray away as soon as he finished. Heru gave another crooked smile. “Both phoenixes?”

Severus smirked. “Of course. And if they don’t work, I will. Now, are you able to report?”

Heru sighed slightly. “I managed to change all the Dark Marks. I left Lucius’s alone. Do you think Voldemort was convinced?”

“We could not understand most of what went on, Heru,” Albus pointed out, “but if his expressions were anything to go by, then yes.”

Heru looked over at his mate, who gave a tiny nod. “All right, then all we need to do is wait for Lucius to contact me.”

“Are either of you going to explain this plan?”

Heru dropped his chin and gaze, then looked up through his lashes. “No, I think not. In fact, any of you could have come up with it based on available information.” Heru paused significantly. “But you didn’t. So you’ll find out when Voldemort does. I think you’ll enjoy the show. Just be prepared to have someone take Lucius into custody, and believe me when I say I will rise from exhaustion to deal with matters if that man is killed, or even harmed. I’d like for Draco to have a father to visit once this is over.”

*

Everything was ready. Everything was set. Lucius and Voldemort (he was wearing his Xavier disguise) arrived on time and were ushered into Heru’s lounge in much the same manner as they had been on previous visits. And, as before, a number of people were watching them, holed up in Albus’s office in front of several mirrors, and absently noshing from a tray of edibles.

Heru was sporting a dazzling smile comprised partly of genuine pleasure and partly of a decided smirk that quirked the corner of his mouth. Truth was a funny thing, and any good liar knew that truth was what lent a good lie verisimilitude. Heru had very rarely been caught in falsehoods, if ever. That Potter child might have been another story, though. It was much easier to be honest in word but not in meaning, or to shade the truth, or conceal aspects of it.

So it was that Lucius and Xavier took seats in the lounge, and Voldemort’s reaction to Heru’s welcome spoke promises of sadistic pleasures yet to come from a glorious union of family. Severus was once again silent and forbidding, taking care to sit only after Heru had, but letting his lips twist in a mockery of a smile. His eyes on Lucius were distant, and on Voldemort revealed simply respect, but for Heru they shone with unwavering loyalty and devotion.

When everyone was settled, Heru spoke. “Absolutely delightful to see you again, my dear fellow,” he said warmly, then added as an afterthought, “and you, Lucius.”

“I trust after this evening that we will become much better friends.”

“Oh, I don’t doubt that,” replied Heru enigmatically. “Do you remember,” he said casually, “when I told you that you had health problems?” Without looking or gesturing, he cast a wandless spell of binding on Lucius. He would be able to talk and move a bit, but not rise from his chair.

“Vaguely. Why?”

“Something isn’t quite right about you, my dear fellow.” Heru had something a little different in mind for Voldemort.

“Really. And why do you say that?”

“Because it’s the truth.” Heru gave him a look of mingled disbelief and confusion. “Why would I lie? You aren’t healthy. Whatever it is you’ve done wasn’t done properly, or was a mistake, and you’re suffering because of it.”

Voldemort gave him a penetrating stare, then said, “Let me rephrase. How are you able to tell? Surely this isn’t some aspect of divination.”

Heru arched a brow and cocked his head to the side, feigning concern. “At first, yes. But you’re right, this isn’t about divination. There’s something about you that makes me ill.” He didn’t bother to hide his distaste.

Voldemort appeared startled by that, showing it plainly.

“Very ill. Something foreign, something that fights within your body, something that makes me want to heave. Quite frankly, I can’t stand to be around you for long periods of time.” Heru glanced at Severus and held out his hand. His mate flipped aside his robes to get a vial from his thigh case and pass it over. Heru opened it and knocked it back without a second thought, then stared at Voldemort again. “What did you do? How can you stand this?”

Voldemort appeared to consider his words, his brow furrowing in thought. “It is true that I have not quite felt like myself since I was reborn.”

“This is connected to whatever you did to regain your corporeal form?”

“Perhaps,” Voldemort said vaguely.

“Will you tell me? Because, my dear fellow, I can hardly make a decision of this magnitude when all I can think about when I’m near you is how sick I feel. I’d rather not be forced into a decision against you because of it. I’d like to be able to choose freely.”

Voldemort’s face tightened, his eyes narrowing slightly. “And how do I know what you say is true?”

Heru smiled faintly and flipped the empty vial at him. “Look for yourself. Smell it.” Voldemort caught it handily and checked the label, then held it to his nose. “You know very well that if I were to take that without symptoms that I would be hunched over right now emptying my stomach the hard way. I would not be able to help myself.”

Voldemort turned his gaze back to Heru and nodded. “True enough.” He placed the vial on the table beside him and said slowly, “The ritual I used required three things: the bones of my father; the flesh of a servant; and the blood of my enemy. I chose to use Wormtail’s flesh and the Potter boy’s blood. And it worked.”

Heru sighed heavily and slumped a bit in his chair. “Of course—the trial. Did you not know that the Potter brat was a descendant of Gryffindor?”

“What!?”

“You’ve poisoned yourself, Voldemort. You live, obviously, but you are tainted with that bloodline now. I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this.”

“You’re mad.”

“Am I?” Heru stood and wandered back to the cabinets where he stored his divination tools. He knelt and flipped up a wide, low door and pulled out a case, then stood and returned to where they were all seated. He had worked on this for some time, ever since Severus had explained his plan and he had gone to Godric’s portrait for help. It had not been easy to duplicate the original Gryffindor tapestry and force it to cut off at Harry Potter with a date of death. Wordlessly Heru stripped away the case and revealed a tapestry, then conjured up a stand near Voldemort’s chair and hung it. “See for yourself. Trace down Godric’s line,” he said, then took his seat.

A half hour later Voldemort was seething in anger.

“I’d appreciate if you didn’t rip my furniture to shreds, dear fellow,” Heru said with a pointed glance at Voldemort’s hands where they gripped the arms of his chair. “As I said, you’ve poisoned yourself.”

“Where did you get that abomination?”

Heru gave him an amused look. “The castle of Hogwarts holds many secrets if one has the knowledge of where to seek. It was to my benefit that the family passed down many things for me to learn from. But, it was unfortunate that the family was not aware of you, dear fellow, or you would have been brought properly into the fold.”

“And what do you propose?”

“What I propose is not something you may agree with. I may be family, but that doesn’t mean you trust me.”

“Why don’t you tell me and I will decide that,” Voldemort grated.

Heru gave a slight shrug and smiled. “Fair enough. I propose to leech the tainted blood from you on the theory that its removal will allow you to recover from the ordeal of your rebirth and allow you to regain your former strength and prominence.” Heru held out his hand to Severus again without looking, and knocked back the vial placed in it moments later.

Voldemort gave him an incredulous look.

“You didn’t really think that the creation of tapestries was the only blood magic I was proficient in, did you? At least now I understand why your presence affects me so.” After a pause he said, “If you wish to think about it, that’s fine. We can always meet again at some other time, or not, as you decide. I offer my help on this out of familial obligation, not as a sign of my personal affiliation. As I said, I would prefer to choose freely, and right now I would be unable to choose anything but against you.”

“Removal of the taint poses no complications?” Voldemort asked finally.

“That depends. Why Potter’s blood specifically?”

“I chose him so that I would enjoy the same protections he did.”

“He’s dead. Do those protections matter any longer?” Heru countered.

“I suppose not,” Voldemort admitted.

“Then I see no complication. Besides, you have already proven that you cannot be killed.” Heru smirked, ostensibly in admiration for the feat.

“True enough.” Voldemort considered again, then nodded sharply. “Proceed.”

“Splendid. But first. . . .” Heru shook out his wand and knocked Lucius out with a swift spell. “I don’t think he needs to see this. In fact, you might want to consider obliviating him later.”

Voldemort gave Heru a faintly suspicious look. “And Severus?”

“I need him to keep me upright, remember? I can obliviate him afterward. Now, if you would be so kind, please do not move, though you should try to relax if that’s possible. This may end up feeling quite odd. Severus, fetch me a basin.”

Heru waited until Severus had returned and placed the basin—it was pure silver—on the table. “Lovely.” Without being asked, Severus also handed over strengthening and replenishing potions, which Heru knocked back quickly. “Please turn your hands palm up, if you would, and I shall begin.”

Heru pointed his wand at Voldemort and focused, mouthing a string of Latin words. Nothing happened at first, but that was to be expected. As he continued to chant soundlessly, a droplet of blood formed in the center of Voldemort’s left hand, and a cut slashed open in his right. The droplet grew larger, filling the depression of the left palm, and they watched as a pure white light appeared in the air just above it.

Heru focused, his brows drawn together in concentration, and made a odd little movement with his wand. The pool of blood arced up into the light, then split, the majority of it continuing over to Voldemort’s right palm and sinking into the open wound, while a hair-thin stream went to the basin.

Partway into the process Heru spoke absently. “You were raised in the muggle world, weren’t you? Think of this as dialysis, though it’s much, much faster.” His eyes never left the arcing streams of blood, and a smile of satisfaction slowly curved his mouth at the sight. By the time the process ended—the arc to the basin disappeared—Heru was sweating heavily. Severus rose and came to kneel at his side, offering up several vials.

Heru made another peculiar gesture with his wand and chanted under his breath, then slumped back. He noticed that Voldemort did not look much better as he took the vials and drank them. “Severus, please take care of that.” And his mate did, picking up the basin and disappearing with it, then returning a few minutes later to take his customary seat.

It was then, when Voldemort was still recovering from having his blood filtered, that Heru slapped him with a very subtle binding spell and smiled. “Well, I’m very glad that part is over. I should not like to do that again any time soon.”

“Why,” Voldemort asked, “do I feel like utter hell?”

Heru tucked his wand behind his ear and smiled lazily. “Recovery isn’t an immediate thing, dear fellow. You’ve had that poison in you for quite some time I expect, and even I can’t work miracles. Those silly muggles feel like hell, too, after having their blood purified.”

“We are not muggles.”

“No, and thank goodness for that. I’ve done some research,” Heru said casually. “I learned some very interesting things about you, my dear fellow. For instance, I know why you did not die when you attempted to kill the Potter brat the first time.”

“Is that so?”

“Oh, indeed. I had always been curious about that, you see. But in time, the answer came. It was when I learned of the diary you made as a boy that I understood. You poured a part of your soul into that. It was a part of you that was safe, and with it safe, the killing curse was unable to properly finish you off when it reflected. It would be like trying to use it on a vampire, you see? You cannot use conventional methods to kill what isn’t exactly alive in the first place.”

Voldemort looked vaguely interested, so Heru continued.

“So you were able to stick around until the right time and regain your physical body. The thing is, that diary was destroyed, and with it, that part of your soul. The Weasley girl regained what you had taken from her, but what you left behind was lost. She was too pure, despite what you had done to her, to absorb it, and the Potter boy’s actions made sure it could not return to you. You are, in effect, a half-souled creature.”

“Not something easily proved,” commented Voldemort.

“Indeed not, but I have a few special talents, cousin. The only thing that’s been keeping you alive after that ritual is magic.” Heru reached out silently with his power and began his manipulations. “The Potter blood, poisonous as it was, was also helping, though it hurt you just as much. I am well aware that you’ve been near to helpless, relying on your former glory to keep your people in line. You’ve been relying on the Dark Mark and what it can do to maintain your people’s fear of you.”

“But that will change now.”

“Oh, yes.” Heru gave Voldemort a dazzling smile. “It will indeed. You see, a half soul isn’t such a terrible thing, but it does have some disadvantages.” He paused to smirk. “Without your magic, you would die, unlike others.”

A faint cast of suspicion crossed Voldemort’s face as the glamour that had been masking his features collapsed. Anger appeared as he attempted to move and realized he could not.

“Problems, dear fellow?” Heru reached out a hand and curled it around the vials Severus placed there a heartbeat later. “Perhaps you begin to understand what I’m getting at.” Without taking his eyes off Voldemort he drank the potions and tossed the vials on the floor. “You see, I do have a number of interesting talents, as I said. One of those happens to be spell weaving, though I should probably clarify and say that I can weave and unweave at my discretion. It’s how I removed Severus’s Dark Mark, Tom. It’s how I released a man from the curse of being a werewolf. It’s how I’m releasing you from the burden of being a wizard right at this moment.”

Heru smirked again and said, “Don’t bother trying to speak. It’s not like I care what you have to say. You’re a disgrace to the name of Slytherin. The gods know you allowed yourself to be outmaneuvered, but then, I am a pure-blooded Slytherin, unlike you. Did you know that Salazar was a very kind, loving person, Tom? Very set in his ways, though. He feared and despised muggles because they hate us and would do anything to be rid of us. But, he would have been happy enough to live apart from them and let them destroy the muggle-borns with their own hands. He thought it would help keep them away from us. But really, I doubt a history lesson at this point will benefit you much.”

Heru gave a mock sigh of regret. “You might be interested to know that you never could do magic here. I’m surprised you never bothered to test that, but it’s just as well, because here you are now, under my control. Honestly, I must be a better actor than I imagined to have fooled you.” Again without turning his head away, he said, “Severus, love, are you enjoying this?”

“Exceedingly,” came the rich voice, then a chuckle.

“That’s good. It was an excellent plan you came up with and I’m glad you’re here personally to see it in action.” Heru smiled gently as the fire in Voldemort’s eyes reached new heights of anger and panic. “I did tell you that Severus is blindingly intelligent. Anyway, from what I can tell, Tom, when Salazar left the school he obtained a new identity and started a second family. You came from that line, as well as many others, though not all of you had all of the family talents. I’m so very glad that I do have the Slytherin family tapestry, and yours, because I do know who they are. You’re the only one who went bad, did you know that? Salazar would be very, very displeased with you. I just hope that somewhere, somehow, he’s able to see this.”

Heru chuckled. “Actually, I hope that when you’re finally, truly dead, that he can tell you himself. You look a bit drawn, my dear fellow. Not feeling well? We’ve only got a handful more strands to go, so I think if you feel any remorse for what you’ve done with your life, you better start praying now.”

Long moments passed before Heru spoke seemingly to no one. “The wards are adjusted. You can come in now.”

Seconds later the crack of multiple apparations could be heard. Albus, Minerva, Remus, Sirius, and Tonks appeared behind Voldemort and slowly walked around to face him, flanking the two chairs that Heru and Severus sat in. Tom’s eyes blazed again, but with less force; he probably could barely keep them open.

“And now, for the last,” Heru said as he reached out his right hand and made a strange hooking gesture, then moved it as though he was dashing something to the ground. The light in Voldemort’s eyes died and Heru let loose a heavy sigh.

“Heru?” Severus asked softly.

“It’s over.”

*

“What was that final gesture?” asked Tonks as she dropped into a seat in Albus’s office.

“The destruction of his magical core. What was left of it, anyway.”

“And the blood?” asked Remus. He was looking very relaxed now that his secret was out.

“I destroyed it,” said Severus.

“I still don’t understand why it made you sick, Heru,” protested Minerva.

Heru shrugged and settled back in his chair.

“You aren’t going to tell us, are you?” asked Albus with a twinkle in his eyes.

Heru shook his head and smirked. “No, I’m not. Someone once said you could be infuriatingly inquisitive, and I replied at the time that I could be infuriatingly reticent. That was between him and me.” Heru tapped his chest hard with his middle finger. “But it was important. It was part of what helped to keep him alive. Once it was gone, I could cut off Tom’s magic and destroy him utterly. I’m sure you noticed his glamour disappeared—it’s not like he could maintain it at that point.”

Several of them looked confused, so Severus spoke. “Some say that blood carries a bit of a person’s soul, and certainly a bit of their magic. However much of a disgusting brat the Potter boy was, even he didn’t deserve to have a part of himself swimming around in Riddle’s veins. Now that the blood is destroyed, what’s left of the child can return to ether.”

“In any case, he’s dead for good this time. And, being the suspicious person that I am, I did not tell him everything I knew, just in case something went wrong. I would not have given him ammunition to use against me later.”

“How is it that you’re so sure his soul is gone?” asked Sirius.

“I told you. A half soul cannot survive physical death. You heard what I said to him—the only thing that kept him around the first time was that diary. Tom only had half a soul, but the other half was still around. This time it wasn’t.”

“Then why didn’t you just use the killing curse and be done with it?” Albus asked.

“Do you honestly think I like using that? That I wanted to taint my home with it? My own soul? I’ve used it a grand total of once and you witnessed it. Look at it this way—yes, I killed him, but I did it indirectly. If I did to you what I did to him, you’d end up a squib, not dead. I killed every Death Eater but two indirectly as well. I’m quite sure there are a number of people out there still having hysterics right now. Yes, I could have used the killing curse and had it over with almost instantaneously, but frankly, that isn’t a very Slytherin thing to do.”

Severus started laughing softly and shaking his head.

“Oh, shut up,” said Heru with fond annoyance. “And the rest of you stop pestering me. I’ve dealt with my black sheep, that should be good enough. Now I can go back to my quiet life, right?”

“Does that mean you’re leaving us?” asked Albus.

“I don’t know. Do you really want someone here who can do what I can? Am I going to be faced with suspicion down the road? Are people going to start thinking I’ll turn on them, betray them? Am I going to be reviled for my power? People have a history of turning on their saviors, Albus. People have a history of being afraid of another’s power and trying to take them down so they cannot be enslaved to it or have to feel jealous or envious. People would rather honor a martyr than a living person, though, frankly, I’d just as soon my participation in this remain as under wraps as possible. I can and will disappear if I need to, and take my family with me.”

Albus held up his hands. “There is no need. If you wish to remain, I think you’ll find you are welcome. I’m also certain that the castle will make my life a living hell if you were to go.”

Heru smirked faintly. “I suppose so. Severus, I leave the decision in your hands.”

“I would like to stay.”

“All right, then. We’re staying. Someone other than me is going to have to go down and clean up the mess in my house, though.”

“It was rather gruesome how Riddle’s body just . . . disintegrated like that,” commented Tonks.

“That reminds me. . . .” Heru pondered for a moment and closed his eyes. A second later he was given a vision by the castle and grimaced. He sighed and opened his eyes. “Excuse us a moment,” he said, then rose and tugged on Severus’s sleeve. Once they were off in a corner he said, “The tortoise exploded. It’s a complete mess in there.”

“Just like the mirrors.”

Heru nodded. “More proof, in any case, not that we need it.”

“We’ll deal with it later. For now, let us just rest and talk.” Severus placed a hand around Heru’s waist and turned him, prodding him gently back toward the others.

“I’m tired,” whined Heru. “and I don’t feel well. I want to go to bed. If I take any more potions I’m going to be horribly ill.”

“Then we’ll go back to our quarters and let the others handle things from here,” Severus said soothingly. “Go on, but walk. I’ll explain and meet you in a few minutes, hopefully. If you’ve managed to fall asleep by then, that’s all right.”

Heru nodded and split off, walking out the door without bothering to say good-bye and heading on a slow but steady path to their quarters. Once inside he gave Dobby and Mark an absent greeting and disappeared into the bedroom, stripped off his clothing, and fell into bed.