Chapter 23 : Slytherin Challenge
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A/N: Oct 4th 2012-- Thank you to all my readers. I am sorry for the long wait for the last two chapters of this story. Life has been rough lately and my writing was put on the back burner. I am writting again and chapter 24 should be in the queue by this weekend.
The days sped by on winged feet.
Hermione had always thought that was such a cliché: time speeding by on winged feet; time flies when you’re having fun; or as Godric had once put it so simply, time is of the veriest essence.
Suddenly all the cliché’s in the world were true. Each and every blasted one made perfect sense to her now. Those silly love songs on the radio that had once drove her crazy and made her roll her eyes, instead now reduced her to tears in moments. She’d even caught herself humming the crazy melody of a country music song the other day and she’d never liked country music ever in her whole life.
Last year she had read this book for an extra foreign language credit. Not her cup of tea, though it had given her plenty of food for thought, including the existential contention that death made brothers of all men.
Hermione now knew the truth was that love made brothers and sisters of all people. As different as they were, love was that common, defining ground that made everyone into giddy delirious fools for it in a thousand different ways.
Like countless women before, from tender teens to wise seniors welcoming a second wind, Hermione began keeping a journal, not just her mental one, to forever capture these precious moments she had left with Godric.
Memory/Day thirteen: Today Godric decided that we should kiss in every room in the castle. All one hundred and fifty nine rooms and that included closets, utility rooms, and bathrooms. I couldn’t help giggling by the time we reach the last few rooms.
Memory/day twelve: Jenna gave me this wonderful idea to have a midnight picnic. With help from the kitchen staff, I was able to pack a picnic of smoked salmon, assorted cheeses, and three bottles of wine (not my best idea). We went outside and had our picnic beneath the star drenched sky and while everyone else was sound asleep, we snuck down to the huge garden fountain and swam naked.
Memory/day eleven: Godric thought it would be a good idea to show off his minimal cooking skills that he had learned as a child. Together we chased the cooks out of the kitchen and made chocolate-chip pancakes with raspberry jam and whipped cream. Godric actually did a pretty good job, I was greatly impressed.
However, not all the memories were good. She couldn’t hide in some of the memories. Some of them slapped her in the face with the truth.
Memory/day ten: Salazar Slytherin finally decided to show up in person today.
Salazar stood at the line of demarcation between Gryffindor warded land and Slytherin warded land, staring up at the castle. Since his supposedly well trained assassins couldn’t manage to secure the mirror before now, he had decided it was time he come do something about it personally.
He toed arrogantly up to it, though he didn’t care for the feeling at all. It was as if electricity was trying to shoot all through his body every time he got to close, but he stubbornly refused to back down from the line. The Gryffindor’s power hummed in the earth beneath his feet, trying to push past the invisible boundary, butting up against his own wards.
It had taken him all night and the efforts of a dozen well trained men to secure this portion of land, enough for him to accomplish his aims. By the light of a pale moon, while the castle slept, they’d spelled the soil, from the sleek black limousine readied behind him for a swift departure, up to the circle of estate Godric had claimed for himself.
Now he stood approximately two hundred yards from the castle proper, waiting.
The Highlander hadn’t wasted time and resources warding more than the immediate grounds, nor had there been any reason to. Salazar was effectively barred from the castle by this meager yet insurmountable perimeter, as Godric had known he would be.
So long as he did not cross the boundary, Godric couldn’t use his magic on him and the same went for Godric. As long as he did not cross the boundary then Salazar’s magic would not work on him. They were both immortal and self-healing, so it wasn’t as if they could kill one another, but they could inflict quite a lot of harm, which is something Salazar wish he could do at the moment.
Though he was immortal and could not be physically slain, he could still be affected by magic. If he were fool enough to stray into Godric’s warded ground, the Highlander could trap him and cocoon him just as easily as a helpless fly within a spiders web.
The wards made for an effective truce and were something they had mastered not long after Godric became Salazar’s prisoner.
If he did end up being trapped, he could eventually break free, but he had very little time left to take chances with, and he’d never been willing to wager on the outcome of a battle of spells between him and the Highlander.
The situation at this second castle Gryffindor was far worse than he’d imagined. He could feel the potency of magic within the castle, and it was quite strong. There were wizards of great power, whom he knew nothing about, within those castle walls, he was sure of it.
He’d arrived yesterday afternoon and swiftly gotten the lay of the land: There was no way he was going to be able to get inside that castle without help, which was another reason why they’d spent the night warding and why he was standing here now.
His wits would have to serve him again, as they had so well all those years ago.
“Slytherin.” Godric’s nostrils flared as he spat the word.
“Gryffindor,” Salazar spat it back, as though the vilest of words had passed across his tongue.
“You don’t look ready to die to me,” Salazar taunted him.
Godric laughed softly. “I’ve been ready to die for over a thousand years.”
“Really? I have pictures of your lovely woman. She looks like quite the bedmate. I’m going to find out once the tithe is paid.”
“The tithe will never be paid.” Godric growled.
“I am going to force you to watch us together. I will push her up against your mirror and…”
Godric turned around and began walking back toward the castle. “You are wasting my time.”
“Then why did you come meet me?”
Godric turned around, walked back to the line and toed it. He stood so close that their noses nearly touched. The width of a hair kept them separate and safe from each other, no more. Salazar eyes drifted around Godric towards the movement behind the Highlander. The woman had just stepped out onto the top stair of the stone entryway. He inwardly grinned, they were stepping right into his hands and they didn’t even realize it.
“So that I could look into your eyes,” Godric said softly, “and see death there.”
“What does she think of all this?” Lucan asked nodding towards Hermione’s direction. “Is she as eager for vengeance as you?”
Godric made no reply. Instead he turned sharply around and made his way back towards the castle.
“I don’t believe you are ready to die, because I know I am not.” Salazar yelled after him. “In fact, I would be willing to do virtually anything in order to keep living. I would agree to anything you wanted in order to be able to pass the tithe at midnight on Halloween.”
His voice rang out, carrying clearly across the lawn and echoing off the stone walls of the castle.
Godric reached the stairs and practically jumped up them. Turning Hermione by her shoulders, he steered her back into the castle and closed the door behind them.
Salazar didn’t care. His plans were going just as he wanted them to. There was no way that she would not take the bait he had just provided the girl. He was sure that it would take time. He had no doubt it would take more days than he would bear well, and others would die, victims of his displeasure, in the interim, but she would take the bait. There was no greater fool in the world than a woman in love.
Many hours later, long after Salazar Slytherin had gotten back in his sleek black limousine and left, Hermione sat staring at the computer screen in the darkened library.
She pressed her palms to the cool surface of the small library table beneath the softly illuminated portrait of an eighteenth-century Gryffindor patriarch and his wife, keeping her hands well away from the keyboard and the mouse.
It was three o’clock in the morning and the castle was silent as a tomb. It had begun to feel like one to her as well. She hadn’t been the only one affected by Slytherin’s visit earlier in the day. It had cast a somber pall over all within the castle.
Godric alone had been grimly satisfied by it, assuring her that they had won. She had fought in a war, she knew what the consequences of winning were and dying was not winning. She had seen plenty of brave people give up their lives and she would never be able to say that death was a part of success.
She raked a hand through her curls, staring at the display. Salazar Slytherin had been more terrifying than she had ever imagined. Nothing she had ever read about the man or the little bit Godric had told her about him had prepared her for seeing him there in person.
He hadn’t even looked human. For some reason she couldn’t understand she had been able to see through the magic he had been using to cover up what he actually looked like. For, while Jenna and Gwen had seen nothing more than a handsome man in his forties, Hermione had seen the dark wizard’s true appearance.
He had been so heavily tattooed that his skin had appeared rotted in places. He had moved with sickening snake-like stealth. His eyes, if they could be called that, had been fiery crimson slits. His tongue had flickered blackly as he’d spoken. He had made Voldemort’s appearance during the last battle seem like a cute puppy in comparison.
She’d tried to stay in the castle as Godric had asked of her, but when they’d gone toe to toe, when she’d seen her man facing off with that twisted thing out there on the lawn, she’d burst from the castle wand drawn, unable to stop herself.
Her every instinct had demanded she do something, though a part of her acknowledged that there was nothing she could hope to do. Not against something like Slytherin. At that moment, she’d understood much of Godric’s conviction. It wasn’t just horrific evil that rolled off the wizard, it was horrific power too. Not nearly as great as Godric’s, but more than she had ever come up against in her life.
I would agree to anything you wanted in order to be able to pass the tithe at midnight on Halloween, the dark wizard had said.
Hermione wasn’t stupid. She knew that he was trying to bait her. The problem was, he had the right stuff on his hook to draw her in, Godric’s life.
She buried her face in her hands, massaging her temples. The instant he’d said it some terrible, weak willed part of her had wondered how she could possibly contact him, if she wanted to.
The answer had come swiftly: Email. That strange chilling email she had gotten in the hotel room had come from him and was the means to contact him.
After a moment, she raised her head and returned her gaze to the display. Her laptop battery was dead and she had not thought to bring her adaptor during their run from the assassins. So she had waited until she was certain the castle was asleep and that Godric wouldn’t notice her, before leaving her makeshift bed on the landing, winding down the echoing stone corridors, and booting up one of the three computers in the library.
She had over a hundred new emails.
Forty-two of them were from Slytherin. He had been trying at periodic intervals to reach her again since that night in the hotel. His earlier efforts had no subject line. The more recent emails were captioned with blatant taunts: Do you love him? Are you ready to watch your man die? You can save him. Would he let you die so easily? Buy time, live to fight another day.
All she had to do was open an email to open communications with him. She had no doubt that back at his residence he was monitoring a computer, waiting for the moment she did so.
Her stomach felt sick. They had so little time left. She’d sworn to herself that she would not make a moment of it ugly, that she would not vent her rage and frustration and grief on him. That she would save her ugliness for later, when she’d already lost all she had to lose.
That now, she would give her strong, determined, noble man the only gift she had to give him: perfect days and perfect nights. A small lifetime in no time at all.
She bit her lip, hard, staring at the screen. Reached for the mouse and pulled away. Reached again, her fingers hovering above it and even without contact she could feel the chill.
Her choices: lose Godric by letting him die to kill Slytherin, or lose Godric by betraying him, by allying with his enemy to keep him alive. Either way she would lose him.
A few moments later, she powered down the computer and left the library. As the door closed behind her, from deep in the shadows, concealed behind a velvety drape, Dageus watched the display go dark and sighed.
Earlier that day, after Salazar had gone, Hermione had cornered Dageus as he’d been hurrying in the back entrance to the castle, in an attempt to avoid contact with Godric, as he’d been doing for several days now, unwilling to risk his powerful ancestor trying to listen to his thoughts.
Dageus, have you been able to find anything that can save him? She’d asked, her face wan, her eyes dark with grief.
He’d drawn a deep breath, curing her friend Harry at his ability to stay away from suspicion, and given her the same answer he’d given Drustan when, a few days ago, his brother had asked him the same question.
“Nay lass,” he’d lied.
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