Chapter Eleven: Aftermath
The following morning, Slytherin stood swirling the dark brown contents of the brandy snifter that had stood throughout the night on the end table next to Snape's sofa. He was shaking his head in disbelief, apparently only now figuring out what Snape himself had known since early the previous evening.
"Amazing," Salazar said, still shaking his head. "She knew all along. Played me right to the end," he said quietly. "Over a thousand years have passed, Severus, and I have still not been able to get one over on her."
Suddenly Slytherin laughed and threw his head back. "God, I love that woman!" he chortled loudly.
Snape felt himself burn with rage and indignation at Slytherin's joviality. He felt exploited and abused and Salazar was daring to make the entire ordeal seem a light-hearted joke. He had done much worse to men who had made him feel less violated than this, he thought. Slytherin would pay for this, he promised himself vehemently.
Slytherin's smile faded and Snape could feel his ancestor's mood darken. "Severus, I'm almost afraid to ask, but, did you just threaten me?" he asked slowly.
Snape felt himself internally look up at Slytherin and take an invisible step backward. He suddenly had a sense of standing before his father as a frightened young child. He had overstepped himself and knew he was now about to incur angry wrath.
To Snape's utter shock and amazement, however, Slytherin's expression suddenly softened. "Oh, now, Severus," he said sadly, placing an internal hand gently on his confused descendant's head, "You don't have to fear me like that. I would never do to you what that man . . ."
A sudden loud rap at the door caused them both to jump and prevented Slytherin from finishing his sentence. The jolt, however, did allow Salazar the unexpected chance to send the brandy in his hand flying in a nice arch onto the floor in front of him.
"Dammit!" he sighed in annoyance and looked up at the door. "What?" he demanded impatiently.
The door opened and Gryffindor popped his head into the room.
Both Snape and Slytherin immediately felt annoyance wash over them at the young man's appearance. "What do you want, Godric? I'm busy here." Slytherin asked impatiently, waving his hand to clean up the spilled alcohol.
Gryffindor's expression was cold and his voice tight with barely controlled anger. "No doubt. Professor Dumbledore wants to see us all in his office. Now."
Slytherin laughed unkindly. "Oh, he wants to see us now? Well, let me just drop everything and come running then, shall I?" he said with false pleasantry. The smile abruptly fell from his face and he turned away from Gryffindor. "Get lost," he spat with a dismissive wave of his hand.
Godric tensed and let out a slow, controlled breath. "Well, how about this then?" he said quietly. "How about you come with me now or I kick your sorry old arse all up and down these halls until we eventually reach the Headmaster's office. How about that?"
The two men stood solemnly regarding one another for what seemed like an eternity, both sizing the other up. Recent memories of a serious Gryffindor butt-kicking ultimately seemed to make the decision for him, however, and Salazar suddenly broke out into a wide, cordial grin. "Well, lucky for you, I was already planning on seeing the Headmaster today, so I'll let you lead the way!" Snape could feel the lie spring naturally from Slytherin's mind and the expression on Gryffindor's face told him he was no more fooled by it than he.
With a roll of his eyes, Godric turned and left Snape's rooms, followed closely by Salazar whose affable smile slid from his face like water from wax paper.
The march to the Headmaster's office was conducted in silence with Slytherin casting the occasional wary glance at Gryffindor. Snape could tell that he was anticipating the younger man to suddenly lose his cool and attack him. It seemed fairly obvious that Godric knew all the grisly details of the previous evening's events and Salazar wasn't taking any chances after the incident in the hospital wing.
Upon entering Dumbledore's office, the first thing Snape noticed was a seated Rowena who seemed to be making every effort not to look at the new arrivals. The mood was indeed solemn. Not only was Dumbledore sitting behind his desk looking particularly grim, but several of the paintings hanging on the walls were also shaking their heads with disapproval. Slytherin looked around the room and tossed his head back defiantly when he realized that all the stares were, without exception, levelled at him. "Oh, sod off!" he hissed at the paintings. "You wouldn't even be here if I hadn't founded the dammed school!"
Several of the past headmasters made offended "humphing" noises and turned back to their own activities.
Dumbledore rose slowly from his chair and indicated the last two remaining seats across from him. "Please," he said to Gryffindor and Slytherin. He remained standing until the other two had taken their chairs and then slowly sat himself, his face painfully serious. Snape always felt his insides clench when the sparkle in those old eyes disappeared.
The Headmaster sighed and leaned forward onto his desk, taking the three Founders in with his wise gaze. "Well," he said finally. "I dare say you three have been quite busy."
Slytherin snorted. "Look, Dumbledore, before you get started on what will undoubtedly be a . . ."
"SILENCE!" The force of the single word which emanated from the old Headmaster, stopped everyone dead, Founder and host alike. They had all felt the word pass through them like an electrical wave, so powerful was the magic propelling it.
"You will not," Dumbledore said quietly, "interrupt me again, Salazar."
Slytherin's mouth fell open. Snape could feel the astonishment course through the old Founder as he realized for the first time the impressive amount of power held within the old wizard before him.
Steadily, Dumbledore rose from his seat and looked down at the three people seated before him, all of them looking suddenly rather pensive.
"I must ask you again why you have selected me to become the fourth pillar. I need to hear the explanation once more from your own mouths," he said softly.
Something in Snape's memory triggered. The fourth pillar? Where had he just heard that expression?
When the only answer Dumbledore received was confused stares, he moved slowly from behind his desk and began to pace the room, his hands grasped thoughtfully behind his back. "Let me answer my own question then, shall I?" he said, looking at the three again. "You asked me to replace Helga Hufflepuff as the fourth member of Hogwart's Founding Four because, without her spirit's presence, your group found itself suddenly missing certain crucial qualities. Do you remember, at least, what those qualities were?" he asked patiently.
This time Gryffindor lifted his head and answered without hesitation. "I see where you're going with this, Albus," he said, nodding somewhat sanctimoniously. "We need the forgiveness, morality and unconditional love that Helga offered the Foundation. Without them, are group lacks . . . um . . ." he seemed to search for the right words.
"Principles and conscience?" Dumbledore asked quietly.
Gryffindor brightened, "Yes! That's it!"
Dumbledore shook his head sadly and returned to sit behind his desk. He sighed and regarded them solemnly for a moment before speaking again. "I have decided that it is time to forge the fourth pendant and when that task is complete you will all return to your pendants until it is time for the Refounding."
Slytherin jumped to his feet. "What?" he demanded. "How dare you . . ."
"No, sir!" Dumbledore said, his voice again trembling with the promise of terrible power. "How dare you!" He rose to his feet and as he did so, Slytherin sank back down into his seat. "You have abused a trusted member of my staff!" he bellowed angrily. "I gave you the chance to set right some wrongs that had been done to you, but instead of using that chance, you did little more than prove that you cannot be trusted with the well-being of another! It is time for you to return, Salazar Slytherin!"
"And if I refuse?" Slytherin asked lightly, a slight smile playing across his lips. Snape internally held his breath. He had seen Albus Dumbledore this angry on only a few occasions before this and would not soon forget any of them. He wondered if Slytherin knew what he was doing.
Dumbledore leaned over the desk towards Slytherin. "Then I will draw you into Helga Hufflepuff's pendant," he said quietly.
Slytherin's eyes popped open. "Wha . . . you can't do that! If I get drawn into someone else's pendant, I'll never be able to escape! I'll be trapped there for eternity!"
Dumbledore raised an eyebrow in a 'well-I-guess-you-better-think-about-that-then' sort of way and sat back down.
Gryffindor sniggered and Rowena barely contained her own smile. Slytherin shot them a filthy look.
Dumbledore pressed his fingers together in a manner of contemplation as he regarded the other two Founders. "I hardly think you two are in a position to laugh at him," he said solemnly.
Gryffindor looked surprised by the Headmaster's admonishment. "Excuse me, Albus? I haven't done anything to. . ."
"Before you finish that potentially indignant statement, Godric," Dumbledore said evenly, "let me remind you that you willingly engaged in a common Muggle brawl in my school; a brawl that clearly endangered my students. I might add further that you did this without even attempting a peaceful alternative first. Were you even aware, Godric, that you almost hit a young first year girl in the mouth during your altercation?"
Rowena sat forward, her brow furrowed. "Now wait just one moment, Headmaster. Godric was only defend . . ."
"And you," Dumbledore said to Ravenclaw, cutting her off in mid-sentence, "abused one my staff members in one of the worst ways imaginable."
Rowena sat up abruptly, her feathers obviously ruffled. "Hold on there!" she said defensively. "It was Salazar who was using Professor Snape's body, I just . . ."
"Went along with it because it suited you, knowing full well that Severus had no say in whether or not he was about to become a father."
A sheepish expression crept over Ravenclaw's face and she sat back, her eyes falling to her shoes.
"Further, I must ask you, Rowena. Did Helena know what you were doing last night?"
Rowena looked back up, her heated defensiveness returning abruptly. "Of course!" she spat. "After I left the library yesterday morning, she told me that she didn't want to see me disappear into oblivion, so she agreed to have a child. I would never have done that to her without her consent! And, I assure you, her offer was genuine!"
Dumbledore raised an eyebrow. "And she consented to it being Professor Snape, knowing it would be against his will?"
Rowena's defensive expression crumpled slightly. "Well," she said hesitantly, "on the first day that we were bound together, Helena mentioned something about finding him quite attractive."
Dumbledore heaved a sigh and shook his head. "That, as you well know, does not amount to consent." He removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose in clear frustration. "You have all behaved outrageously," he said softly.
"Now, look here, Dumbledore," Gryffindor said, sitting forward in his seat. "I'm willing to concede that Rowena and I may have done a few things that could be considered questionable, but you must admit that Salazar's behaviour has made us look positively saintly by comparison!"
Dumbledore slowly shook his head as he watched them. "I am not getting through to you, am I?" he said softly. "You are Founders. The things you have done are beyond excuse and arguing degrees at this point is nothing but utter folly." He looked Gryffindor directly in the eye and said, "Bravery without judgment risks becoming treacherous," he shifted his steady gaze next to Ravenclaw and said, "intelligence without due thought is potentially perilous," finally, he turned to Slytherin and fixed him with his sternest look, "and resourcefulness without morality is almost always cruel," he said evenly.
The three Founders glanced at one another, their faces all registering varying degrees of shame and embarrassment.
Gryffindor sighed heavily and looked back at Dumbledore. "You're right, of course, Albus," he said softly. "There is no excuse for our behaviour. We will do as you ask and return to our pendants."
Slytherin's mouth opened and he sat forward. "Now, wait just a . . ."
Gryffindor looked sternly at Slytherin. "We will all do as you ask."
Rowena nodded, a slight blush of embarrassment still clinging to her cheeks. "Yes, we will." She turned to Salazar, who was squirming uncomfortably. "And to your host, Salazar, I would like to extend my most heart-felt apologies. I was so eager to prove my superior intellect by outmanoeuvring you again that I neglected to even consider the implications to our hosts." She looked down, shame on her face. "I don't know how I will even begin to make this up to Helena." She looked up at Dumbledore, her expression pained. "I think it's time for us to leave before we do any more damage."
Though not nearly ready to accept an apology from anyone, Snape felt slightly vindicated, even if it was too late to actually set things right. More than that, however, he felt enormously relieved to know that Helena Ravenclaw had not been a party to the previous night's activities. It somehow made it all easier to bear knowing that they were both victims in this Founder game. Even now he could sense that Slytherin had no intention of cooperating with Dumbledore and retrieving the pendants locked in his secret chamber. Snape knew this "game" would not be over until he found a way to help Dumbledore retrieve the Founder's Pendants.
Slowly, Snape became aware of the fact that Slytherin's mind was wholly occupied by the conversation currently taking place with Dumbledore and that he was all but ignoring his descendant. Snape, therefore, allowed himself a moment to reflect on the plan he had formulated the night before as Salazar had slept off his night of passion. He had worked out quite quickly how it was that he had been able to influence the old Founder while in the throes of lust. The theory that he had been working on the previous morning in the library had been born of the realization that Snape would never be able to influence Slytherin with the direct use of words and reason. What would happen then, he had wondered, if he tried imposing strong feelings and visualizations onto his ancestor's mind instead? Slytherin himself had admitted early on that he found it difficult to interpret Snape's abstract thoughts and had, as a result, given him his voice back to make communication easier.
His question, of course, had been answered during Slytherin and Ravenclaw's little tryst. While Slytherin's mind had been focused elsewhere, Snape had seemed able to force his own strong emotions onto him and influence what he was doing physically.
While Salazar was still fully engaged with Dumbledore and company, Snape decided to do a little experiment. Clearing his mind of all forms of articulated language, he forced himself to feel deeply the need to rub his nose. He imagined that he could feel his nose tickling as it did whenever he breathed in crushed pepper.
Slytherin reached up and absently rubbed his nose.
Having learned by now to hide any feelings of triumph lest he should draw unwanted attention to himself, Snape nodded internally, keeping his emotions even. So, now he had a weapon. Though not entirely certain how he was going to use it to retrieve the pendants, he was still gratified to know that he was no longer a mere prisoner to the whims of his compelling ancestor.
Snape had, at last, found some power.
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