Chapter 1 : Task One Challenge: The First Heir of Slytherin
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Leaves were hanging low over the narrow path, branches entwined so thickly that barely a shaft of light could break through. Saxulf rode gingerly through the darkness, his hand a reassuring pressure against his horse’s neck as the great mare began to slow nervously. She was the young man’s favourite horse, for her strength and courage; but this dank forest seemed forbidding to even the bravest of hearts. He found himself wishing that the local people had not been so sorely afeard of magical folk, for he would greatly have preferred to stable Thistledown at the village and fly over these dreadful trees instead. As it was, he could not risk becoming a target for the arrows of frightened Muggles. He crouched suddenly low in the saddle, his dark hair falling over the leather pommel as he avoided a particularly low branch. He had no doubt that this was the correct path, but it was clear that it was one seldom-travelled.
After some time, he approached a wide clearing. It was still gloomy, but a patch of sky was visible and Saxulf looked up at it with relief, reminded that there was a world outside of these accursed woods. He swung down from the saddle and strode to the entrance of a dark cave at one end of the clearing, where he found the scattered remains of a small campfire. He crouched to touch the ashes, finding them cold, and as he rose his eye was caught by a shape within the shadows of the cave. A long, low pallet bed without coverings or any other sign of a recent occupant lay by the wall of the cave. Saxulf grinned at his luck and returned to the dappled mare to untie his pack.
‘What say you, Thistledown? We’ll not find a better place to make camp today.’
He patted her long nose and entered the cave; he was just unrolling a blanket when the horse began to whinny. He tensed as he heard the thudding of hooves as his usually-placid horse reared on her hind legs, and he span around with his wand instantly outstretched. His blood seemed to turn to ice in his veins and he felt suddenly - horribly - numb, as the trees on the far side of the clearing parted to reveal an enormous dragon with a brutish face and a tail embedded with spikes like a glistening row of swords.
It let out a terrible screech and a stream of flame burst through the air. Thistledown let out a scream and bolted past Saxulf and into the cave. Catching his breath, he wielded his wand and bellowed:
A red jet of light bounced off the dragon’s thick skin, and it seemed to anger the beast; its eyes focused on Saxulf and it charged towards him. Desperately, he loosed Stunning Spell after Stunning Spell on the dragon, but to no avail. It bore down on him, fire blazing from its open, sharp-toothed mouth; Saxulf ducked and rolled out of the path of flame just in time. Scrambling to his feet, he gripped his wand tightly and shot off a Stinging Hex, followed by a Full Body Bind and then another Stunning Spell, his voice growing hoarse with shouting. Curse after curse was deflected by the thick scaly hide of the dragon, and Saxulf found himself cornered and looking into the bright yellow eyes of the creature, certain that they were the last thing that he would ever see. His mind raced; suddenly - the eyes, he thought, of course!
The dragon took a breath, preparing to scorch its quarry, but Saxulf thrust out his wand with the desperate cry of the only spell he could conjure in that moment. The dragon stopped, stumbled, its eyes suddenly plastered shut; it let out an enraged shriek and its ugly head turned from side to side as it tried to shake off its sudden blindness. The studded tail lashed out wildly, and Saxulf leapt out of out of the way, but found himself caught instead by the side of the great beast’s head; he was thrown heavily against the outer wall of the cave, his head hit the stone with a sickening crack, and he slumped against the floor. Blood trickled down his brow and into his eyes, his wand finally slipping from his limp grasp.
He barely registered the sudden shout of ‘Accio wand!’, and the glimpse of a tall, unkempt figure with wild eyes passed him by as little more than a blur. The last thing he heard before the darkness embraced him was a guttural cry of ‘AVADA KEDAVRA!’; there was a flash of green light, and then nothing more.
Saxulf’s head felt as though it might split in two. Cautiously, he opened one eye and realised that he was lying beneath his own blanket, near the mouth of the cave. A fire had been lit and it cast odd shadows, obscuring the face of the stranger sitting beside it. Saxulf tried to sit up, but his vision blurred and his brain pounded against his skull; he reached for his wand, but his fingers found only air. The stranger looked up, his eyes glowing in the firelight. In long fingers, he held Saxulf’s wand as if it were an object of curiosity.
‘This wand - yew, it is not? Twelve and half inches. Unyielding, of course. And the core - ?’
Saxulf’s eyes darted towards the clearing where the unmoving body of the dragon lay, teeth bared in a final snarl.
‘Dragon heartstring,’ he replied thickly, his throat dry and a cut lip throbbing.
‘Ah, yes. This is a fine wand, boy. The wand of a warrior.’ The gleaming eyes met Saxulf’s. ‘Why did you not slay the dragon? You had ample opportunity.’
Saxulf narrowed his eyes. How long had this wild man been watching him?
‘I have never used the Killing Curse,’ he said, drawing himself up, ‘and I hope I never shall.’
‘How very noble. But what use is chivalry to a dead man? You could have been killed.’
‘I was not.’
‘You should not be afraid to use all that you have at your disposal,’ urged the stranger.
Saxulf’s anger flared.
‘‘Afraid’? Who do you think you are talking to, man? I am not some common peasant!’ he spat the words disdainfully. Hearing himself, he hesitated, suddenly unsure of his anger. ‘For certes, I am always at least willing to use the brains God gave me, to cast around for another option, before I raise my wand to kill.’
‘That wand-’ said the stranger, softly, ‘- may I enquire as to how it came to be in your possession?’
‘You ask a deal too many questions, woodsman. You must think yourself a great man to demand so many answers.’
The man cocked his head to one side, eyes regarding Saxulf thoughtfully.
‘I think myself the man who saved you, and your pretty horse, from the jaws of a dragon.’ The man looked down at Saxulf’s wand, stroked it almost tenderly with his thumb. ‘I believe also that this is the work of Gaius Ollivandus. A great artist.’
‘I do not know who made it,’ replied Saxulf, impatiently. His head was pounding with pain. He looked at the wand and wanted desperately to snatch it from the stranger’s dirt-stained hands. ‘It was my fathers.’
‘Would that he had. No,’ Saxulf sighed; clearly he would not be allowed to continue on his way until he had humoured the man. ‘My father disappeared when I was not six years old, and I was given his wand. I am told he swore to find himself a better wand, a wand that knew his worth.’
‘And did he?’
‘I imagine so. He always got what he wanted, ’ Saxulf spat onto the floor of the cave. ‘No matter the cost.’
‘If you hate him so, why travel across the seas to find him?’
Saxulf blinked. ‘I never told you that I am seeking my father.’
There was a moment’s hesitation, the sound of an indrawn breath before the stranger replied.
‘Oh, indeed sire, you did; mayhap your head is more grievously wounded than I suspected - ’
‘I am fine,’ Saxulf snapped, his skull fervently disagreeing. ‘I seek him that I may deliver a message. I made a vow to a dying man; such a promise cannot be easily forgotten, no matter how distasteful I find the task.’
The stranger got to his feet and Saxulf had a clearer look at a grizzled tangle of hair, deep set eyes and high cheekbones. From the man’s belt hung a leather pouch of wine, which he unfastened now.
‘A dying man?’ he asked, bringing the drink to his lips.
‘The man who raised me after my father left. A great man. You may have heard tell of his deeds; the bards like to call him the Golden Gryffin, or the Griffon d’Or.’
The man stared at him. ‘You speak of Godric Gryffindor.’ Saxulf bowed his head in reply. ‘He is the man who raised you?’
‘Like a father.’
‘And - he is dead?’
A tear shone in the younger man’s eye. His jaw clenched as he blinked it away.
‘A month ago, of the camp fever. You- you knew him?’
Saxulf waited, but the man remained in the shadows and said no more. He heard a long, shuddering breath.
‘Are you weeping?’ he asked.
‘No,’ came the brusque reply. ‘You said it was camp fever. There is war in Scotland?’
‘Mostly on the border with England, yes. Godric had been on the campaign for months, was growing tired - but he did not tell a soul, until it was too late. The fever struck him, he could not fight it, and he was dead in three days.’
‘It -’ the man hesitated, his voice thick, ‘- it grieves me to hear this.’
‘He made me swear that I would find my father and bring him home. He said that it was time for Salazar to return.’
‘Perhaps he was right.’
‘Perhaps. I do not know,’ the young man paused. ‘In truth, I know not why they quarrelled at all, nor what it was that drove my father away.’
‘Pride,’ the stranger whispered.
Saxulf looked at him. ‘What did you say?’
‘I said it was pride.’ The man began to pace back and forth, rolling Saxulf’s wand between his fingers anxiously. ‘Neither of us could admit to being wrong, and I - I was afraid. Our school was meant to be a haven, a safe place for the children of good, magical people to learn our craft. Godric could not see the danger in allowing crossbreeds -or worse- into our midst. It frightened me, and it angered me. We were both young men, then, and neither of us could see past our own senses of right and wrong, each unwilling to hear the other. It ended in my disgrace and banishment, in the loss of a boyhood friendship, and now you tell me that Godric - that he’s - ’
The man stopped pacing, looked at Saxulf with his eyes full of despair and pain. Saxulf could only gape back at him, more stunned by the man’s words than by the earlier blow to his head.
‘You?’ he breathed, ‘You are my father?’
The man continued to look at Saxulf, grief wild upon his face. His beard was tangled, his skin pale from time spent in the shadows of the canopied forest. He certainly did not resemble the Salazar Slytherin of Saxulf’s dreams. Suddenly collecting himself, the man reached into the neck of his grubby tunic and pulled out a bright golden locket attached to a chain. Glittering emeralds formed the letter S on the locket’s surface and Saxulf’s stomach lurched as he recognised it as the very piece of jewellery that had always formed part of his hazy, distant memories of his father.
‘Salazar Slytherin,’ he whispered, reaching out to touch the locket with a shaking hand. Salazar inclined his head.
‘Saxulf Slytherin,’ he said, taking his son’s hand and pressing the wand firmly into the young man’s grip.
‘This wand,’ said Saxulf, looking at it as if he had never seen it before. ‘it’s -’
‘Mine, yes. At least, it was. Godric disarmed me during our final duel, and I vowed that he would never defeat me again. I left to search for the wand known as Eldruhn.’ Saxulf’s eyes widened, and Salazar laughed, a husky sound that made it clear that this man had not laughed in some time. ‘No, I did not find it. But today, I knew from the moment in which your wand touched my hand that it was the very one made for me by Gaius Ollivandus, and taken from me by Gryffindor.’
‘And kept for your son until he was of age,’ added Saxulf, in loyalty to Godric.
Salazar regarded his son thoughtfully for a moment, before clapping his hands together and striding from the cave and into the clearing. Saxulf hurried after him, the dim sunlight hitting his eyes like a shield blow to the face.
‘Where are you going?’
‘You came to take me home to Scotland, did you not? The result of a deathbed vow.’
Saxulf nodded, clutching at his skull.
‘Incidentally,’ said Salazar, swinging himself up onto Thistledown’s back, ‘you should try to avoid promising things to the dying. It only causes trouble.’ He looked down at the bewildered, pained, and slightly angry face of his son, and his own features softened slightly. ‘Although, it is right good to see you again, boy.’
‘There is danger at home,’ Saxulf warned, ‘the Muggle war between Scotland and England has spilled into our world.’
‘Then it sounds like Godric was right; it is time for me to return.’
He reached down and, clasping Saxulf’s hand, pulled the young man up to sit behind him. Saxulf bristled slightly at being made to ride pillion on his own horse, but decided that there were bigger battles to be fought.
‘They say that Hogwarts itself is in danger, and that all those who dwell within it are imperilled,’ said Saxulf, eyes clouding briefly with fear for the only home he’d truly known, and for the many children who now lived there.
Salazar set his jaw. ‘Do not fret about that. Even before my banishment, I took certain steps to ensure that the safety- the very integrity- of Hogwarts could never really be destroyed, ’ he said quietly, ‘Not even the other three founders of the school knew what I did to protect our true legacy.’
With that, Salazar dug his heels into Thistledown’s sides and, together, Slytherin and his heir rode out of the clearing, leaving only the smoking embers of the fire and the still, cold corpse of a dragon.
I have taken liberties with canon here - this is set in the 10th Century, but the Elder Wand was not created until the 13th. Also, Slytherin and Gryffindor are both English, but due to the location of Hogwarts, I have decided that ‘home’ would be Scotland.
Prompts used for this House Cup Task:
1. Features your House’s champion (Salazar Slytherin)
2. Mentions at least 1 Unforgivable curse (Avada Kedavra)
3. Features a dragon (Hungarian Horntail)
4. Mentions the conjunctivitis curse (used on dragon) and the summoning charm (accio wand)
5. Mentions the details of your Champion’s wand (Salazar’s wand, now being used by his son, Saxulf)
Word count for actual story: 2484