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Chapter Four: So, What Shall We Do Today, Severus?

Salazar swept through the halls of the teacher's private wing of Hogwarts, his head held high and his robes billowing behind him. Snape noted idly that the man was using his voice to hum a tune that sounded somewhat Celtic. "Do you like music, Severus?" Salazar asked the empty air in front of him.

Snape felt renewed hope surge through him. If Slytherin kept walking around the school singing and talking to himself in the third person, someone was eventually going to ask a few questions.

Salazar chuckled. "No need to worry, my lad. We are quite alone at the moment, I assure you." He swept around a corner and sighed. "Oh, it feels glorious to be back! How I have missed these hallowed halls of learning! So many of these designs were my own, you know, and what a splendid job I did of them, if I may say so myself. Look at those light sconces. Terrifying, aren't they?" He waved cheerfully at several contorted gargoyles attached to the stone walls. "I bet they still manage to frighten the young ones!"

Snape could not help but marvel at the man's relentless self-confidence. He truly seemed to believe himself grand in every way. He wondered how that must feel.

Salazar swept some rogue hair from his eyes and smiled, "It feels like freedom, my boy. It feels like . . ." He stopped in mid-sentence and halted in his tracks. He turned slowly to an open window beside him and closed his eyes.

A cool breeze washed over Snape's face and he knew that Slytherin must be feeling it as well. He was suddenly aware of the smell of autumn flowers drifting through the hall and wondered why he had never noticed them before now.

Opening his eyes, Salazar slowly walked to the open window and stood before it. With a dramatic wave of his hand, he pushed the window open as far as it would go and put his head back. He closed his eyes again and threw his arms open wide as though inviting the morning sun in to the castle. "Oh, gods," he breathed. "I'd forgotten." He lifted his head and slowly opened his eyes, his arms still wide to the outside world. "A thousand years it's been, my boy. How could I have forgotten what the sun feels like on bare flesh?"

Snape found himself drawn into Slytherin's exuberant experience and felt something deep inside him begin to panic. He wanted to move away from the open window, pull his arms back under his robes and retreat to the shadows. Standing before the world with his arms outstretched made him feel more vulnerable than he had felt since he was a child.

Slytherin suddenly dropped his arms and turned from the window. "I know, my boy. Forgive me. All a bit too fast, isn't it?"

Snape felt a shutter pass through his consciousness that might almost have been a wave of fear. What was too fast? What was Slytherin planning?

If Salazar had heard Snape's last thought, he gave no indication of it. Instead, he continued down the hall, away from the teacher's quarters. "Well," he said, "not a teaching day. That's good. At some point you're going to have to explain to me when my school also became a Wizarding University. I can get the general gist of it from your mind, but I suspect there's more to the story than just a need to restructure the educational system, isn't there?" He clapped his hands together and rubbed them happily. "But in the meantime, we have much to do. Where should we begin?"

Slytherin stopped at the end of hall. He had a choice to turn either right or left. He motioned casually down the left corridor. "Well, we need to get our hands on the Founder's Pendant Box at some point."

We do? Wondered Snape. Why? Slytherin's spirit had already been released from the pendant. It was just an empty shell now, wasn't it?

Slytherin then lifted his right hand and pointed down the right hand corridor, "But we also need to see our special lady at some point."

Special lady? What special lady?

Slytherin looked left down the corridor once again, clearly trying to decide. "Hmm. Dumbledore is likely in his office right now, so we will probably have to wait a bit for the box, so," he look right, "I say we go say hello."

Before Snape could wonder who they were about to visit, Salazar swept his robes up in a dramatic swish of material and hastened down the right-hand hall, a broad and self-assured smile on his face. "Oh, this body is just wonderful for stalking about in, isn't it?"

The hospital wing was quiet when Slytherin entered. He moved slowly down the ward, his hands clasped in front of him and his usual confidence muted.

Now being somewhat familiar with his body's intruder, Snape had expected him to take them straight to the tall, beautiful woman he had seen the previous evening. He was suitably surprised, therefore, when they stopped in front of the other, dowdier looking woman instead. He felt a tug of emotion that he knew was not his own when his eyes swept over her face. On some level, he was aware that he was experiencing Slytherin's emotions more profoundly as time passed and he wondered if their connection was growing stronger.

Salazar moved around the side of the bed and sat down in the chair. While the woman's face had been healed and no sign of the original burns remained, she had a stillness about her that suggested death hovered nearby. To Snape's amazement, he felt a tear, that he knew to be Salazar's, sting his eye. The sensation was one that he had not experienced for countless years and it left him feeling strangely vulnerable.

Pulling the chair closer to the bed, Slytherin gently grasped the woman's hand. She made no move to suggest she was aware of his presence, but he stroked her hand softly anyway. He looked away from the woman's face and into the far distance. "I'm so sorry, my dear friend," he whispered hoarsely. "You know I would give my own life to see you free again."

Snape realized with a sudden sense of understanding that Salazar was not addressing the woman in front of him, but the spirit of Helga Hufflepuff, locked away somewhere in a pendant. With her last descendant dieing before them, she would likely stay there for eternity now. He felt a tug of sympathy for the old Founder.

"Thank you, Severus," he said softly. "She was a good, kind woman who never showed me anything but great warmth and friendship. She, more than any of us, deserved to be set free. Fate, I'm afraid, can have a malicious sense of irony."

Snape felt as though he should say something, or at least, think something. He was about to offer a generic comforting thought he had once read in a book recommended to him by Dumbledore entitled, ‘How to be Nice to the People You Work With', when he heard a soft rustling behind him. Salazar evidently heard it too for Snape felt his body turn towards the sound.

The immediate emotional change which came over Slytherin at the sight of the woman across from him left Snape somewhat startled. All trace of despair vanished from his mind and was instantly replaced by a warm sensation in the pit of his stomach. Or was it lower?

Slytherin slid off his chair and, in one fluid movement, glided over to the foot of the woman's bed. She looked up at him expectantly. Snape recognized her as the first woman who had been brought in the previous night. The Ravenclaw descendent, no doubt. Her burns had also been healed during the night. My god, she's beautiful, Snape thought and he heard Salazar internally purr with agreement.

"How is she?" the woman asked hesitantly, letting her eyes roam over to the woman across from her.

Slytherin sat himself on the side of her bed, a move much more intimate than the one he had used with the Hufflepuff woman, Snape noted with interest. "She's not well, I'm afraid, my dear." Snape was momentarily startled by the sound of his own voice. He didn't know it could do that. The words had sounded low and silky, like a physical manifestation of implicit sexuality. He found himself watching the exchange with interest.

The woman looked down and sighed, her eyes bright. "I didn't know her, but I know what she probably went through." A single tear rolled down her cheek and Salazar was on her like a snake on a field mouse. He slid closer to her and gently grasped her hand. He reached up and gently smoothed the tear away from her pale cheek. "It's alright, my dear," he purred. "She doesn't appear to be in pain." He smiled warmly at her, another move which made Snape decidedly uncomfortable, and stroked her hand. "How are you feeling? I was here when they brought you in last night and you didn't look well. I've been very worried about you."

The woman looked up into Salazar's face and watched him for a moment. "You were here?"

He nodded and sat back a calculated inch, allowing her some thinking space. "I was a patient myself last night."

She hesitated for a moment before speaking, "Was it the same person who . . ." she trailed off as though afraid to conjure the memories.

Slytherin nodded, his eyes filled with sympathy and tenderness. "Yes. He evidently had a busy day yesterday," he said softly, looking down himself.

The woman noticed his expression and smiled reassuringly at Slytherin. "I guess we should count our blessings that we're still alive," she said softly.

Salazar lifted his head and returned the smile bravely, looking her right in the eye. He leaned back towards her, reclaiming the previously relinquished inch, and grasped her hand in his, shaking it gently. "Severus Snape."

The woman nodded and her smile seemed to relax, "Helena Ravenclaw."

"Helena," Salazar said and Snape had to marvel again. How did he make that name sound like it was dripping in honey? "That's a lovely name."

Helena Ravenclaw blushed and looked down.

Snape felt himself catch an internal breath. The only time he made women blush was when he insulted them. He couldn't help noting how pretty she looked with her cheeks pink and her mouth turned up in an embarrassed smile. She seemed unable to make eye contact with him. Very endearing. When she finally did peek up at him and mutter, "Thank you," Snape felt something stir deep inside him. With a shuddering mental jolt, Snape forced the new and uninvited sensation back down into the depths. He suddenly wished fervently that he could snap a vicious and demeaning remark at the stupid woman. That would wipe that phoney little smirk off her face!

Salazar smiled sweetly at Helena and put her hand back down on the bed. "Well, my dear. I should let you rest. I'm sensing this day has already been too much of a strain on you."

Helena tilted her head and smiled, "Thank you, Severus."

Salazar rose from the bed and turned to leave. Before he could take more than a few steps away from her, however, Helena's voice stopped him and he turned back. "You can come back and visit again," she swallowed, obviously embarrassed by her own brashness, "if you'd like."

The smile that spread across Salazar's face when he looked down at her spoke of great benevolence and compassion. "It would be my very great honour, my dear," he breathed and swept from the room in a swish of black cloak.

Once outside the ward, Salazar swept to the nearest window and threw it open. "Oh, yes!' he yelled out the window. "I'm in love!"

Snape felt himself withdraw into the deepest part of himself, hoping with all his heart that no one had heard that. Had he been able, he would have put mental hands over his ears and hummed.

Not seeming to notice Snape's thoughts, Slytherin propped himself against the window sill and looked into the garden, a great, reminiscing sigh expanding his chest. "Oh, Severus. I wish you could have seen Rowena Ravenclaw. Known just as much for her great beauty as her great power, she was. Not unlike our lovely Helena in there." He closed his eyes. "God, I loved that woman. She was the greatest passion of my life." He opened them again and sighed. "And the greatest heart break. I gave her my heart on a silver platter and she returned it to me in a mince pie." He shook his head and stood up with a flourish. "What a woman she was, Severus! Kept me on my toes, that one!" he declared happily. "Never met a woman who could get me out of my trousers faster!"

Snape moaned internally, wishing he could hide somewhere.

Salazar laughed, "Don't be such a prude, my dear boy. Don't think I didn't catch that little heart flutter back there when you gazed down upon our fair Ms. Ravenclaw. Well, right before that rather sad display of low self-esteem kicked in, of course."

Snape's mind was brought to abrupt alertness, indignation flowing through him. *I do not suffer from low self-esteem!* he raged internally. *Just because some silly girl . . . because some inane young thing thinks she can* . . . Snape stopped. What had she done to warrant his wrath exactly? Snape felt a sudden desperate desire to stalk to his dungeon office, lock and ward the door behind him, and pour himself into one of his many on-going potions experiments.

Slytherin shook his head and sighed. "I guess that's your answer for everything, isn't it, my son? If it scares you, lash out at it and crush it before it can hurt you."

Snape writhed internally with resentful fury. *How dare you ordain to judge . . .*. Snape stopped short as it suddenly occurred to him that he was formulating full-sentence thoughts again.

Salazar smiled as he turned and headed back down the hallway, "Of course you are, my boy. I didn't intend to keep you silent forever. Believe it or not, I am genuinely interested in what you have to say." He waved a dismissive hand in the air, "Besides, it's not that easy to interpret abstract thoughts and feelings. A bit of a chore, actually. Easier to just have you say what you're thinking." He stopped abruptly beside a closed window and looked directly at his own reflection in the glass. "Just remember though, my boy. I have the power to shut you up whenever I wish, so do show me the proper respect."

Recognizing the threat for what it was, Snape immediately forced himself to go to the composed place he kept deep within himself. He had his internal voice back. Best not to mess with that at the moment. Bide time. Watch and wait for a sign of weakness. That was, after all, what Severus Snape did best.


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