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Chapter Nine: And Then There Were Two?

Slytherin slammed another book shut and hissed with fury. It was nearing morning and several dozen books now lay scattered around his feet in the Restricted Area of the library. Snape, naturally, had been paying close attention as the Founder had searched each book diligently as if looking for certain, specific entries. Every time he had found the section he seemed to be looking for, however, several pages would be missing, cleanly separated from the spine. As the hours of night had drifted by, Snape had felt his ancestor's frustration and anger grow.

Snape had figured out early on what was missing from the various volumes, of course. All of the works Salazar had spent the night scrutinizing seemed to be the actual original records from the days of the founding of Hogwarts, all written by the Founder's own hands. While most were about the founding of the school, others concerned the four themselves. Unfortunately, it seemed that every entry involving Slytherin, whether directly or indirectly, had been carefully removed.

A brief and panicked search of several newer books had ensued, all written by other authors much later in history, Hogwarts: A History, being the first. All seemed to include Slytherin within their pages.

So now they sat, the silent library grey with pre-dawn light, surrounded by a first-hand history from which Slytherin had been utterly erased. With a heavy sigh, he raised his hand and quietly muttered, "Reverto". Immediately, all the books scattered across the cold, stone floor flew into the air and gracefully rearranged themselves on the shelves around them. He slowly rose to his feet, made his way to the window at the end of the aisles and leaned heavily against the sill. Outside, the world huddled under a soft blanket of mist, waiting for the first touch of the sun. Snape felt the old Founder's heart heavy with an emotion he could not immediately place. Guilt? Regret?

Before he could wonder on it further, however, Snape's thoughts were interrupted by the sound of voices entering the library. He recognized them immediately as belonging to Ravenclaw and Gryffindor. Salazar straightened and slid silently behind a tall bookcase, clearly intending to eavesdrop on his compatriots.

"Well, it's clear he's hidden them in his damn chamber. It's the only place they could be, isn't it?" Godric was saying.

Slytherin popped his head around the edge of the bookcase and Snape was suddenly rewarded with a view of the backs of the other Founders as they took seats beside one another across the room. Had it been normal school hours, it would have been impossible to hear them for the whispering students, but the room's complete silence at this hour allowed their voices to carry clearly to the Restricted Area.

"I know, Godric," Rowena said patiently, winding her index finger anxiously through her long hair.

Gryffindor seemed to notice her uneasiness and patted her arm reassuringly. "Don't worry, Rowena. We'll find them. Salazar is a complete and utter bastard, but he wouldn't endanger anyone's life," he said.

Snape felt Slytherin's fist clench and his jaw work angrily, but he managed to keep silent.

Rowena nodded again and looked down at a piece of parchment she had just unrolled in front of her.

Godric leaned over her shoulder and studied the list of names she was reading intently. "I don't think you need to look through anymore records, Rowena," he said with authority. "Harry says that Dumbledore is the perfect choice to replace Helga. He said he has all the characteristics needed for the fourth pillar."

Rowena nodded absently, "Yes, I know that Godric. That's not what I'm looking for right now."

Snape's mind snapped to attention at the mention of Dumbledore's name. Replacement for Hufflepuff? Were they planning on making off with the Headmaster's spirit? What in the name of Merlin were these dammed Founders up to? This was becoming intolerable. He had to find a way to communicate with Dumbledore!

As Slytherin continued to devote all of his attention to eavesdropping on his comrades, a rough plan suddenly began to form in the back of Snape's mind. Perhaps there was something he could try. He gently pushed the thought aside, however, intending to return to it when Slytherin was sleeping and it was safe to explore his options. He could not, however, contain a small feeling of hope that surged to the surface of his consciousness at the thought that he might actually be able to do something.

Slytherin pulled back from the bookcase. "What are you up to in there, son?" he whispered suspiciously.

Before Snape could generate an appropriate response, however, both of their attentions were returned abruptly to the pair across the room when Godric bellowed, "What?!!" at the top of his lungs.

Slytherin immediately poked his head back around the corner, anxious not to miss anything.

"Shhhhhh!" Rowena was chastising the younger man.

"Rowena, you can't be serious!" Gryffindor said, now on his feet and leaning over Ravenclaw anxiously.

Rowena sighed heavily, "Sit down, Godric, before you bring half the castle in here!" she demanded, grabbing him roughly by the arm and pulling him down into his chair.

"But, but, Rowena, you can't, you..."Gryffindor stammered, looking too shocked to formulate a coherent sentence. "You can't do this! There's no need!"

Shaking her head, Rowena rolled the parchment on the tabletop back up and turned to Godric. "The decision's made, my friend. My descendant does not want children and there's no way I'm going to try and convince her to for my own selfish reasons."

Snape felt Slytherin inhale sharply, the implication of what Ravenclaw was saying immediately obvious to him.

"With this in mind," Rowena hurried on before Gryffindor could speak again, "I would rather my spirit be released into the next world like Helga's than have it trapped inside that pendant for eternity. Those are my wishes."

Godric shook his head in disbelief. I can't believe what you're saying, Rowena," he whispered, running his hands through his hair in distress. He looked back up at her, his expression frantic. "Have you even asked Helena if she would? I mean, my god, if she doesn't have a child, you won't have any more descendants after she dies! That will be it! You'll be lost!"

Rowena turned in her chair and looked directly at her young friend. "Godric. Having children is a full-time, life-long commitment. You know that. You had three of your own. Helena would have to give up her career to become a parent and her work means everything to her. Everything. I cannot and will not ask that of her. I had my chance at life and I must allow her that same chance. I would not be a true ancestor if I did anything less."

Godric looked at her in stunned silence. He had obviously heard the wisdom of her words but was having trouble accepting what they would mean for her.

Rowena sighed and put her hand gently on top of Godric's, her face kindly. "Now, I want you to listen to me, Godric. When we find our pendants, I want you to promise me that you will not let Salazar force my spirit back into it. When I leave Helena's body, I intend to join Helga. You must make me this promise, my friend." Gryffindor merely stared back at her, unable to respond. Ravenclaw raised her eyebrows, "Godric?"

Gryffindor could manage only a small nod, his eyes filling with tears. Ravenclaw reached forward and hugged him gently, and he wrapped his arms around her desperately, the tears now spilling down his face.

Snape felt Slytherin's insides twist with molten horror. His mind seemed to be working too fast to process thoughts clearly and his breathing was coming in short, quick bursts. He reached out and leaned heavily against the nearest bookcase, his legs suddenly leaden beneath him. He looked back up in time to see Rowena give Godric a reassuring pat on the arm and leave the library.

"No," he whispered hoarsely. "This cannot be, Severus. I will not survive this. She cannot die! Gods, I couldn't bear it!" Instinctively, Salazar grabbed for Snape's high-collared shirt and pulled it away from his throat as though trying to allow air into his lungs.

Through the sudden panic and desperation, however, Snape felt a familiar emotion surface within his esteemed ancestor. Slow scheming. The Slytherin wheels were turning again and a small smirk crawled onto his face. "Hmmm," he purred. "Yes." The smile broadened. "Of course. It's so simple. My god, I'm brilliant!"

He glanced back out at Gryffindor who now sat with his face buried in his hands, his shoulders heaving silently. Salazar shook his head. "Useless prat," he hissed in disgust.

Silently, he slid out of the library and back into the cool hallway. "Come, my boy," he whispered to Snape. "I may need your expertise for a few moments."

Snape sighed internally. *Oh, for the love of Merlin*, he thought. *What now?*


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