Chapter Three: The Well Dressed Man
Snape awoke in what felt like the early hours of morning. Though he didn't actually remember it, he was certain that he had been dreaming about boiling Harry in his own cauldron. He allowed a tiny smile to curl his lips before turning over to attempt more sleep. He was abruptly brought back to full consciousness, however, by the sound of whispered voices outside the hospital wing doors. They must have initially caused him to wake, he mused, and sat up to look around the side of the privacy partition beside his bed.
The door flew open and several people bustled into the room, among them Dumbledore and McGonagall, still in their nightclothes. Snape disentangled himself from the bed sheets and stood, grabbing a sterile-looking hospital robe from the bedside chair.
He hurried around the partition and stopped dead in his tracks. Supported between Dumbledore and a man he recognized as a member of the Order, was a tall woman with waist-length, copper-coloured hair. He supposed she would probably have been beautiful if half her face had not been burned black. Though he had seen many degrading and horrible things done to human bodies over the years, he always felt his gut clench momentarily when first confronted by it.
"What happened?" he asked, moving forward to help the men place the wounded woman on a nearby bed.
"Long story," the man from the Order said, weariness and tension playing across his face.
McGonagall turned to the door at the back of the ward. "I'll fetch Poppy," she said in a shaky voice and hurried off.
Dumbledore looked up at Snape for a moment, meeting his eyes briefly before looking back down at the woman before him. "I think we need to have a talk, Severus," he said, his eyes filled with worry.
Before Snape could reply, however, the main entrance to the ward banged opened again and two more men entered. These men he knew. Hildebrand and Boyle. Two more members of the Order and employees of the Ministry for Magic. The woman supported between them made the first woman look the picture of health. Snape could not actually discern human features on the burned face and it was only by the obvious presence of breasts beneath her shirt that he was able to identify her as female at all. He wondered if she was even alive.
Madam Pomfrey scurried down the ward from her rooms, followed closely by McGonagall, and stopped when she saw the two women. ‘Oh, my," she whispered hoarsely. She quickly regained her senses, however, and pointed to a bed nearby. "There!" she ordered Hildebrand and Boyle and turned briskly to the medicine cabinet behind her. "Now, everyone out!"
Everyone obeyed, including Snape. Too busy to notice her original patient's premature departure from her care, Madam Pomfrey hurried to attend to the most severely burned patient.
The group moved out of the ward and into the hall. The three men who had accompanied Dumbledore and McGonagall quickly excused themselves, clearly exhausted and wanting to return to their homes. Dumbledore pardoned them with a hearty expression of gratitude.
Once alone with Snape and McGonagall, Dumbledore turned to them, his expression earnest. "I suppose it's time we all had a little chat, my friends. Can I offer you tea in my rooms?"
Snape and McGonagall looked at one another before nodding their agreement, their curiosity palatable. They followed him down the hall and away from the hospital wing. Snape glanced back before rounding the last corner, concern evident on his face.
Several hours later, Snape sat in his private rooms, a brandy in hand, wondering how to begin digesting all the information he had just been presented with. A muted yellow light was beginning to filter into the room, driving the shadows back into the corners. He sighed and wished that Dumbledore had respected his original request, all those years ago, to have his living quarters in the dungeons. Darkness had a certain quiet, after all, that allowed one to ponder and to reflect. Dumbledore's belief in the psychological well-being created by sunshine was utterly unfounded, as far as he was concerned.
He glanced down at the brandy and sighed. Despite what Dumbledore had told him this evening, he just couldn't bring himself to believe that the spirit of Salazar Slytherin was currently residing inside him. There had simply been no sign of him in there. According to the Headmaster, this lack of activity was a positive thing, however, and he had quickly gone on to reassure Snape that Slytherin was likely too weak to be any real threat to him anyway.
Snape finished the brandy in his glass and rose slowly from the chair. He was still in the hospital robe he had grabbed earlier and was beginning to tire of its medicinal smell. He needed a shower, not only to clean himself, but to help clear his mind.
He stepped into the bathroom and stripped out of the stark hospital robes. He never looked at his own reflection in the mirror unless he absolutely had to. Even then he had an amazing ability to look at himself but not actually see himself. Shaving could be a relatively simple thing when one looked at the shaving cream instead of the face under it.
Stepping into the warm shower brought an unexpected moan of pleasure from Snape and he closed his eyes as he put his face under the water. As always, he envisioned the water washing away all of his sins and all of his cares. His mind began to clear and he found he could finally think about the evening.
Of course he had always known that his family was very distantly descended from Salazar Slytherin. Very distantly. Many of the older families were, in fact. He was fairly certain that Arthur Weasley could trace his lineage back to both Slytherin and Gryffindor. That, in and of itself, meant very little. The implications of being a descendant of Slytherin were of a more personal nature for Snape right now.
Dumbledore had taken both himself and McGonagall back to his rooms to explain the situation to them and had suggested that they be prepared for a bit of a stay. Once settled in, he had patiently explained that Snape had not released the spirit of Slytherin into space, but had actually released it into himself.
While momentarily shocked, Snape had recovered quickly. He was, after all, somewhat familiar with the story of the Founder's Pendants. The spirits within them could only be released into the last remaining direct "heir" of each founder. Clearly, in the case of Slytherin, that was the Dark Lord, not him.
As always, Dumbledore had listened patiently and smiled. No, he had explained, that part of the story was not entirely accurate. The spirits could only be released into a descendent. Any descendent. The more distant, however, the weaker the Founder's spirit was likely to be.
Well, that, at least, had been good news to Snape as he knew his connection to Slytherin was very tenuous indeed. Learning that the two women who had been brought into the hospital ward earlier in the evening were descendants of Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff had then come as little surprise to him. The condition they had arrived in, however, had been somewhat of a surprise.
Dumbledore had sadly explained to them that as soon as he had realized what Snape had brought back with him, he had sent out search teams for the descendants of Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff. He had been unable to locate them in time, however, and the Death Eaters had found them first. While both Slytherin and Gryffindor had many, many descendants within the wizarding world, the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff lines had both dwindled to almost nothing over the centuries. The two women currently in the hospital wing of Hogwarts were all that remained of their lineages.
Still believing that Salazar's spirit was afloat somewhere in Britain, Voldemort had apparently thought it too dangerous to risk having any of the other Founders loose to possibly thwart his recovery efforts so he had ordered the descendants of Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff eliminated. Since it would not be realistic to have all the descendents of Gryffindor done away with, Voldemort had likely just accepted that he might have to deal with him one-on-one. Better one than three.
Dumbledore's people had arrived in both locations a fraction too late to prevent the Death Eater attacks on the two women. He told Snape and McGonagall that while he expected the Ravenclaw descendant might survive, he doubted the other would. The spirit locked within the Pendant of Hufflepuff would, therefore, remain imprisoned for eternity.
The two of them had left Dumbledore's rooms silent and tired. After a strained exchange of "good nights", they had both returned to their own rooms to consider the events of the evening.
Snape sighed now and shook the water from his face, shutting off the shower almost without thought. He towelled himself off slowly, his mind wandering, and wrapped the towel around his waist. He made his way into the bedroom, preparing to dress for the day ahead. So, he thought as he stopped in front of a large wardrobe, Salazar Slytherin is casting around inside my head. At least it would appear that he's too weak to do any damage. I'm sure Dumbledore will find a way to release him back into his Pendant soon.
A clear, deep male voice suddenly spoke directly behind Snape's left ear, close enough that he felt certain he should have felt the man's breath on his face. "Don't count on it, my boy."
Snape dropped the robes he had just pulled from the wardrobe and whirled around to face the man behind him. Only, there was no one there. Though readily able to recognize that he perhaps lacked in certain social skills, Snape knew that he did not lack in intelligence. He knew immediately to whom the voice belonged. Slytherin.
Snape stilled his breathing and turned back to the wardrobe. He had to dress quickly and get to Dumbledore, he thought.
"That won't help you, my dear Severus. I assure you that tired old fool is no match for Salazar Slytherin!"
Snape whirled back around, his heart thumping quickly. Alright, he thought. No time to lose. I must go now! He leaned down to retrieve the fallen robes with one unsteady hand and abruptly halted, his hand in mid-air before him.
Without instructing it to do so, the hand suddenly seemed to take on a life of its own and slowly came up in front of his face. Leisurely, it turned in front of him as though under inspection. Snape struggled internally to make it stop but to no avail. "Hmm," the voice purred. "Good hands. Strong. I can definitely use these." The voice was no longer inside his head, however. Though it was his own voice he heard, Snape knew the words had not been his. He had lost control of his body. To Salazar Slytherin.
Snape turned, again without willing his body to do so, and walked purposely back to the bathroom. "Let's see what else we have here." Snape screamed internally for his body to obey him and halt, but he may as well have been screaming into a hurricane for all the good it did.
"Now, now, my boy, don't hurt yourself in there," Salazar said, now in complete control of Snape's voice. "I promise I won't hurt this. I need it too." As he spoke, Salazar ran his hand down Snape's chest, now, apparently, his own.
Once in front of the mirror in the bathroom, Salazar stopped and took a long look at Snape's reflection. "Yes, I see," he said thoughtfully. "Definitely something to work with here." He ran his hand through the thick black hair and nodded. "I'm at quite a loss to understand why you think you're too grotesque to look at, Severus."
Internally, Snape felt hot anger shoot through his consciousness, the feeling of being violated almost more than he could tolerate. Get out! he felt himself scream into his own head.
In the mirror, Snape saw his reflection laugh mirthlessly back at him. "I'm afraid I can't do that, dear Severus. I think this body is overdue for new management," his own face replied.
Snape began to curse the presence of Slytherin within his body with all the hatred he could summon, but immediately found himself silenced as though an invisible gag had been shoved into his equally invisible mouth. "I don't much feel like listening to you right now, my boy," Salazar said smoothly. "You must learn some respect if you are to have a voice in this relationship. In the meantime, we really do need a better mirror than this."
Slytherin moved back into the bedroom and, without the use of a wand, transfigured a teacup into a full-length mirror.
Snape watched in amazement. He had heard the stories of how the Founders had used magic without wands but had never imagined them to be true. Resigned to the fact that he was temporarily out of control of his own body, Snape decided to revert back to his standard operating mode and watch and wait. Salazar was, after all, basically unfamiliar with this world and with this body. He was bound to give Snape an opportunity to regain control if he waited long enough.
As Slytherin examined himself in the full-length mirror, he began to laugh again, this time quite loudly. "Ah, dear Severus. I'm so proud. You're a true Slytherin, aren't you? Waiting in the grass like a snake. I'm sorry to disappoint you, however. I have no intention of slipping up and giving you an opportunity. You see, I know everything you're thinking. I know exactly how you behave and exactly how to be in your world. Did you not find it strange that a man who lived almost a thousand years ago would suggest your body was in need of "new management"? I believe you heard one of your students say something similar last term and you reluctantly found it amusing. Remember?"
Snape felt his hopes deflate. If his thoughts were not even private, then he truly was a prisoner of Salazar Slytherin. In every respect.
Salazar turned and looked at his back in the mirror. "Oh, you mustn't think of yourself as my prisoner, dear boy. Think of yourself as my guest." He turned back to face the mirror straight on. He lifted his arms to the side and turned sideways. "Yes, this is very nice. Taller than I was before. That's very nice, indeed. Slim and well proportioned." He stepped closer to the mirror and pulled back his lips to look at his teeth. "Oh, there's a problem," he said looking at the uneven, yellow teeth in front of him. "I'm surprised at you, Severus. Such a simple spell to fix these."
Snape felt himself internally hold his breath and he tried to clear his mind of all thought. Yes! Let Salazar fix them! Let him fix them!
With a wave of his hand and a muttered spell, Snape's teeth suddenly straightened and gleamed white behind his lips. Snape could not hold back a feeling of sudden triumph. That would definitely not go unnoticed by his fellow teachers, and it would especially not get by Dumbledore. They all knew that he would never do something so shallow, so vain, so . . . Lockhart.
Another chuckle from Salazar silenced his thoughts, however. "Don't worry about that, Severus. I don't know if you've noticed, but no one, not even Dumbledore, looks that closely at you."
Snape felt another wave of disappointment sweep over him and he resigned himself, once again, to temporarily watching and waiting.
Salazar ran a hand through his hair again and grimaced. "Do you have some kind of aversion to shampoo, my dear boy?" he asked the reflection and waved his hand again. Another muttered spell resulted in Snape's hair being pulled back on the sides, away from his face, and shining cleanly in the morning light. Slytherin turned his head to examine his handy work and seemed quite pleased with the result.
For a reason that Snape could not explain, he suddenly felt ashamed at the reflection before him. Salazar sniffed with displeasure and turned his head back to look straight into his own eyes. "Don't let that man decide how you feel about your appearance, boy!" he said angrily. "Jealous, he was! No doubt about that. A handsome son showed him up for the ugly brute he was! We won't be hiding behind a greasy curtain of shame anymore, my boy! Oh, no!"
Salazar swept away from the mirror and Snape's view of himself instantly vanished. He felt a sudden and deep confusion. Had Salazar been referring to his father? Feelings long pushed down were threatening to come up and he felt resentful at their presence. With effort, he pressed them back down and silently brooded over his circumstances.
Salazar, in the meantime, had confidently walked back to the wardrobe and grabbed one of Snape's black outfits. "Now that's better. Very nice. Clean lines. Dignified. Not unlike what I used to wear myself. Very good taste, my son. Very good, indeed."
Snape felt a small twinge of pride surface before he angrily pushed it away. The small smile on Salazar's face, however, told Snape that it had not gone unnoticed.
Once dressed, Salazar strode back to the mirror, his head high. He put his hands on his hips and let the flowing robes fall around him dramatically. "Oh, yes. Don't we look nice," he purred. "Who wouldn't want us?"
As Salazar swept from the room, Snape felt nothing but embarrassed shame sweep over him.
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