Chapter Fifteen: 'Til We Meet Again
The shock that Snape experienced as the snake's fangs sank into his flesh was nothing compared to the shock he experienced at feeling the fangs suddenly withdraw again and the serpent hiss an ardent apology in his ear. Perhaps the poison had worked its way almost instantaneously to his brain, he reasoned, because he was quite certain that snakes did not utter apologies to their victims in any language, much less English.
"Please, forgive me!" the serpent hissed fervently as it fell back to the earth. Slytherin spun on his heel and regarded the animal reproachfully. He swiped his hand over the bite marks and Snape felt the wounds instantly heal.
Salazar brought his hands up to his hips and shook his head. "I'm most disappointed, Serpent," he said. It took a moment for Snape to realize what he was hearing as his ancestor spoke. Though the words he heard inside his head were clearly English, the sounds actually leaving Slytherin's mouth sounded more like they belonged to a leaking steam valve. The man was speaking parseltongue, snake language, and Snape, along for the ride, seemed somehow able to understand it.
The snake before them kept its eyes on Slytherin. "True Master, I did not feel your magical presence within this Death Eater until I had already assaulted you!" it hissed with apprehension. "Poor Nagini has been mislead. Lesser Master told me to kill you, but he did not tell me who you were, sir." The snake shifted its gaze to Voldemort and the fury within its serpentine eyes made the men around the table shift uncomfortably. Even the Dark Lord swallowed and moved slightly in his seat.
Slytherin nodded, his expression still admonishing. "Well, I should hope that you're sorry. To attack the Great Master Serpent himself is a crime most grave indeed," he said, tapping his foot.
The giant snake lowered its head and pulled itself closer to Salazar's feet. "Nagini offers her life to the Great Master Serpent and asks that he do with her as he sees fit," she hissed softly.
A broad grin suddenly spread across the Founder's face and he looked up happily at Voldemort. "Well, looky here, son!" he said cheerfully in English, all sign of his previous rage gone. "Your snake is offering me her life. You have a really hard time keeping anything loyal to you, don't you?"
He turned away before he could see the utter, burning hatred in his descendant's eyes. Slytherin looked down at the serpent once again and then knelt down beside it. He patted its head and Snape felt a genuine affection surface in the man toward the creature. "Now, see here, Nagini," he smiled pleasantly, once more switching to parseltongue. "I quite understand. I know you didn't realize you were being asked to kill your Great Master, so I do not hold you responsible. You know whom I do hold responsible, though, don't you?"
Nagini nodded its serpentine head and looked over at Voldemort who sat wide-eyed at the end of the table. "It's hissss fault!" the snake hissed angrily. "He would have had Nagini give her soul away by attacking the Great Master who bred our kind! He to whom we have sworn our eternal loyalty!"
Salazar nodded in agreement. "That's right." He looked over at Voldemort and smiled mischievously. "I guess he must have lulled you into service by taking advantage of your oath to me, am I right?" he asked as he turned back to the snake.
Nagini nodded vigorously, "Yessss! He said he was the true Heir to the Great Master and that we must obey him!" The snake looked back at Voldemort, it's eyes cold, "Shall I kill him, massster?" she asked anxiously.
Salazar shook his head. "No, Nagini. An attack on that beast would also kill you. There's something else I would rather you do for me."
The snake slithered closer, obviously happy to do her Great Master's bidding. "Yessss, Master? Nagini will do anything you ask!"
Slytherin leaned closer to the snake so that Voldemort could not hear their conversation. As he spoke to the animal, several of the Death Eaters instinctively rose in their seats to hear better, despite the fact that they could not understand the language being spoken.
"I would like you to gather as many of your kind as you are able and report to Albus Dumbledore at Hogwarts School. Do you know where that is?" he said softly.
The snake nodded its head enthusiastically. "Oh, yessss, sir! Lesser Master has shown us. We sometimes wait in the forest in case someone wanders in so we can grab them and take them to the Dark Lord."
Slytherin's face darkened, "Hmmmm," he said, looking sideways at Voldemort. The Dark Lord shifted again under the Founder's menacing gaze and swallowed. Snape was certain that he saw a thin layer of perspiration covering his ugly forehead.
Salazar turned his attention back to the snake and continued to speak in a soft voice. "Well, your True Master is giving you new orders. You are to report to Dumbledore and from there you will offer your assistance to him in any manner that he sees fit. You are never to take orders from the Lesser One again. Will you do that?"
The serpent nodded enthusiastically, "Oh, yesss, sir! It would be our greatest honour! My kind was born to serve you, Master, and we will do so until the day we die!"
Slytherin nodded and smiled, "Yes, I know. Now, please go and gather all you can find. Unfortunately, no on there will be able to speak to you in your own language, so you will have to wait until I return to . . ."
Snape suddenly spoke up, his heart racing with excitement, *Harry Potter speaks parseltongue!* he said enthusiastically, instantly feeling like a foolish child overly excited by the prospect of offering something useful to a respected adult.
Slytherin nodded happily. "Well, thank you, Severus. Very useful information. Nagini, you will report to one Harry Potter when you reach the school. Understand?"
Nagini nodded again. "Lesser One's mortal enemy. Nagini has met him. Yessss, sir!" Without another word, the serpent turned and slithered off through the grass and vanished within seconds.
Slytherin stood up again and turned back to the table of Death Eaters. "Well, sorry about the interruption, boys. I was just recruiting some new allies to pick you all off with," he said pleasantly and returned to his seat at the end of the table.
All the Death Eaters looked at one another again and many of them swallowed in fear.
"Why don't you just finish us off, sir?" the timid young man in the middle of the table asked. His question had not been belligerent but truly curious, his eyes betraying his fear.
With a sigh, Salazar leaned forward on the table and regarded the young man sadly. "What's your name, son?" he asked him.
With a shudder, the young man looked to the Dark Lord furtively before answering his question. "David, sir," he said shyly. "David Soulsby."
"Hmmmmm," The old Founder said thoughtfully. "I asked you once already and now I shall ask you again. What, exactly, have you done to deserve death?"
With a swallow, David glanced once again at Voldemort, whose eyes had narrowed to slits as he watched his young Death Eater. "I-I..." he tried to say through his stammering. "I was honoured to be chosen..."
Slytherin sat up and waved at him in annoyance, "Yes, yes, you're honoured. I remember," he said with an exasperated sigh. "I wonder how honoured you would have felt when Tommy here," he waved dismissively at the Dark Lord, "cursed you to death immediately after having my spirit released into you, hmmm?"
Snape felt himself hesitate internally. What was Slytherin talking about now? Why would Voldemort have killed the host as soon as . . . wait just a moment. The pieces suddenly slid into place in Snape's mind. How could he have been so simple? Voldemort would not have seen Slytherin as a potential ally but as a potential rival to his power. A true threat. Something the Dark Lord could not tolerate.
Salazar nodded and smiled. "You must excuse me if I suddenly seem to drift off and have another conversation from time to time. My host descendant, Severus, does a lot of thinking and we frequently discuss things as they come up."
All the Death Eaters looked at one another at the mention of Snape's name, their expressions evidently confused.
"Oh, yes, "Salazar said with a satisfied nod, "Severus is still very much present. We've become a bit of a team, actually, he and I. And at the moment, he is thinking that his former Master over there," he lifted his chin towards Voldemort, "wanted me dead because I would have been a potential rival. But, there's much more to it than that, isn't there, Tommy?"
Voldemort lifted his chin defiantly and narrowed his eyes.
Everyone at the table, save for Slytherin and Voldemort, jumped as Wormtail suddenly Disapparated into the clearing.
With a hiss, Voldemort leapt from his seat and grabbed for the large green book in the small man's hands, but Salazar was faster. He also jumped to his feet and with a small flick of his wrist, leaned forward and pointed to the leather-bound tome. "Accio Book of Truths!" he said and the volume arched gracefully from Wormtail's hands and into the Founder's.
The excitement that suddenly rushed through his ancestor almost made Snape giddy with anticipation. He could tell just by the change in Slytherin's mental demeanour that he had just received the prize that he had come for. He held the book aloft before the table of men and shook it forcefully. "The Truth, my lads!" he said triumphantly. "And I'm afraid it will do anything but set you free!"
As if on cue, almost half of the Death Eaters around the table suddenly went rigid and tilted back in their seats. With a smash, they all landed on their backs on the ground, their legs still bent around their chairs.
Every other man around the table stood up abruptly and backed away from the table, their expressions shocked and confused.
"Ah," Slytherin said pleasantly, "it worked! A little curse I invented many years ago. It always works best when mixed with food for some reason. Never really figured out why. Something to do with the stomach juices maybe," he said with a shrug.
The remainder of the Death Eaters, Malfoy among them, had now huddled close to Voldemort and were staring, open-mouthed, at the their compatriots on the damp ground.
"Oh, don't worry," Slytherin said pleasantly, "they're not dead. They've just been put into a Forgiveness Sleep. All you need to do to revive them is to get a pardon for them from every single loved one of every single person they've ever killed and they will wake up instantly, as though from a pleasant sleep! Very simple!" He put his hands on his hips and smiled enigmatically.
The smile suddenly faltered, however, as something seemed to occur to him. "Oh," he said, one hand slipping slightly from his hip, "unless you think that might be a difficult thing to do." The smile crept back onto his face and he put his head back and laughed uproariously again. By the time he was finished, he was wiping tears from his eyes.
Snape felt himself internally chuckle at the men's predicament. He knew that Voldemort would no more bother with them than offer to make the rest of his Death Eaters pudding. The men were as good as dead and everyone present knew it. The beauty of it being, of course, that they had essentially killed themselves with their own choices.
Malfoy seemed to find some personal courage and lifted his head proudly, "Why not all of us, then?" he sneered.
The smile slid from the Founder's face and Malfoy took an instinctive step back. "Because, my dear Mr. Tiresome-Bore-of-a-Malfoy," he said slowly, as though addressing the participant of a nit-wit convention, "I cannot bring permanent harm to any of my descendants. Basically, you lot," he finished with a disgusted wave of his hand. "Could a Grandfather be prouder?" he scoffed and shook his head. He finally sighed and motioned to Malfoy. "Come here, boy," he said softly, still holding his book securely to his chest.
Malfoy hesitated and blinked rapidly, fear obvious on his face. Slytherin sighed impatiently, "I just said that I cannot permanently harm any of my descendants, Malfoy, so come here! Now!"
Without further hesitation, Malfoy crossed back over the clearing and stopped before the Founder. With a smile, Salazar put a fatherly arm around Malfoy's shoulders and turned him away from the crowd of Death Eaters at the other end of the clearing. He lowered his voice so no one else would hear and leaned close to Malfoy's ear. "You are not one of my descendants, Mr. Malfoy," he said casually.
It took a second for the information to register and Malfoy's eyes suddenly flew open. Before he could even turn his head to respond, however, Salazar whispered, "Dominatio," in his ear. Malfoy's eyes went utterly blank.
Slytherin looked back over at the crowd of anxious men. "Won't be long!" he called out pleasantly, offering a little wave. He turned back to the slack-jawed man still nestled in his arm and spoke softly again. "Now, I want you to listen to me closely, Lucius, because I'm afraid that we have a little problem here," he said. "As you know, Severus' position as Dumbledore's spy has recently been discovered. Now, you see, that's a bad thing because it leaves our poor Headmaster quite spyless. Terrible, isn't it?"
Malfoy nodded blankly.
"So," Slytherin continued conversationally, "I came up with a little plan. Now, this is what I want you to do for me, Lucius. You are to act in exactly the same manner as you always have done in your daily life; when around your family, your friends back there and especially around your Dark Master. Understand?"
Malfoy nodded blankly.
"The only difference being that you are to report regularly to either Albus Dumbledore or Severus Snape and tell them everything that is going on in this little organization of yours. You will also take, unquestioningly, any and all orders given to you by either of these gentlemen. You are not to be caught and you are to use all your wits and wiles to keep your new position as spy a secret. Is that clear?"
Malfoy nodded blankly.
"Excellent. Now start acting like yourself and go back to your Master. Tell him whatever you need to about this little meeting so he'll not be suspicious of you. Go on then."
Malfoy's features suddenly reanimated and he looked at Slytherin for a moment. His face looked as arrogant as ever, save for a slight desperation and pleading somewhere in the back of his blue eyes. Like a fish suddenly finding itself on dry land, Snape thought.
With a flourish of his robes, Malfoy turned and stalked back to the Death Eaters, his expression disgusted and contemptuous. He leaned over and whispered something to Voldemort, shaking his head as he did so. The Dark Lord instantly looked at Slytherin and laughed. "Did you seriously think that Mr. Malfoy here had the where-with-all to know where to find the Pendants, Salazar? Only I had the intelligence to read the abundant clues left behind and figure out where they had been hidden all these long years!"
Salazar shrugged. "Merely a guess on my part that Mr. Malfoy found them, son," he said casually. "Don't suppose you'd like to tell me how you figured it out, then?"
Voldemort lifted his chin defiantly and crossed his arms, his expression triumphant.
"Thought not," Slytherin said. He looked around the clearing at the fallen men and the wreckage of dinner. "Well, I dare say that my work here this evening is done," he said with a satisfied nod. He looked at Voldemort and smiled. "All in all, you did alright. You still have your life and half your Death Eaters. Mind you, I am expecting most of them to get picked off soon, but still, you didn't do badly," he said, examining his nails. "If it had been Godric Gryffindor who had appeared here this evening, you'd all be stone cold dead right now."
Snape heard Voldemort scoff under his breath. "Yes, well, I suppose I should be counting my blessings that his spirit wasn't released from its Pendant then, shouldn't I?"
Slytherin tilted his head to the side and looked momentarily perplexed, "Oh," he said pleasantly, "didn't I tell you? The spirit of Godric Gryffindor has been released into Harry Potter." The old Founder snapped his fingers dramatically, his eyes twinkling mischievously. "Well, ta, ta!" he said and Disapparated from the clearing.
The last thing Snape saw as the forest disappeared from around him was Voldemort's serpentine eyes flying open in sudden shocked terror.
Snape put his head back and laughed from the very core of his being.
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