As we exited the chamber I struggled to make peace with what had just occurred. I had set one goal for myself, and had utterly failed in accomplishing it. Anger coursed steadily through me, but it was not directed inward, as perhaps it should have been. Instead, I saw Godric’s face in my mind as I silently fumed. It was easy to place the blame on him rather than myself. If he had not brought up the sorting, perhaps I would have focused my energy solely on carrying out my task.
He avoided my eyes as we departed, perhaps knowing that I would not welcome his company, and clapped Salazar on the back before he and Elaine took their leave. They would mend; it was clear that they were both trying to move forward in their friendship. Rowena touched my hand with a tight smile, and then she departed as well.
I would have left then, for I desperately wanted to be alone, but I saw that Salazar had not moved. He stood a few feet from me, waiting. We were alone, and there was something expectant about his stance as he looked in my direction. The torches on the walls cast a gently pulsing glow across his face.
“Thank you,” I said to fill the silence, my voice sounding dull and flat. “What you said to Godric…I appreciated it very much.”
“But you are still distressed.” It was simply an observation, not necessarily meant to comfort. But even so, the sound of his voice helped to push troubling thoughts out of my mind. I found myself less anxious to get to my chambers.
“I only want Godric to trust me,” I said despairingly. “I know that I am younger than the rest of you, but am I so naïve that I cannot form sound judgments? Are my views not valid?” My hands flew to my hair as I stifled a frustrated groan. “After all these years, will he never see me clearly?”
Salazar raised his brows at my outburst. I had not meant to let my mouth run away from me, but it seemed to do so of its own accord. I was prone to this; perhaps that was why Godric still treated me as the little girl who had tagged along behind him every summer at the Gryffindor estate. I looked to Salazar. He simply watched and listened, willing, for once, to let me speak without interrupting.
“All my life,” I went on, wringing my hands together, “I have been overlooked, brushed aside like dirt underfoot. I cannot ever recall being taken as anything more than a softhearted, stupid little girl. Even you looked at me that way, Salazar, at the beginning.”
He hesitated. “That is not quite the way I remember it.”
I laughed in disbelief, hearing the maniacal edge to the sound. “Salazar, you thought me incompetent, unworthy to have a part in running this school! You even said as much. Do you deny it?”
“Are you asking me to apologize?” he asked, exasperated. “I did not know you then.”
You do not know me now. In my agitation, the words almost came out. Taking a deep breath, I focused on calming myself. It would not do to reveal too much, not while he was so close.
“I am sorry,” I sighed. “You don’t want to hear this, I know. It is my cross to bear, and I suppose I will bear it.” With that I turned, not wishing to lay the whole of my hurt at his feet. Salazar was not the one to come to for sympathy. Though I knew he wished me no ill, his taciturn stares were wholly unsatisfying when one sought comfort. The fantasy I held of him sweeping me into his arms and assuring me that I was valuable was so distant that I barely gave it conscious thought.
“There is something I would like to show you.”
His whisper came unexpectedly on the heels of my thoughts, and it made me jump. Despite the certainty of his words, his face bore an expression of pure dread.
“Salazar,” I said, concerned by his display. “Are you certain? Whatever it is, you need not show me if the thought troubles you so. I would not wish that for you.”
“I wish there were another way.” These words were soft, almost as though he spoke to himself. But when he turned back to face me, he seemed to have recovered himself, though I noticed his hands were balled into tight fists. “I feel that I must show you this. You were right each time we spoke of it. I cannot keep it buried any longer. It devours me from the inside.”
I nodded; the feeling was all too familiar to me. Still, I could scarcely believe what I was hearing. “Salazar, do you mean…that you are ready to speak of your past?”
He nodded wordlessly, and my stomach tightened in anticipation. How long had I wished for the key to Salazar? How long had I wanted to find the roots of his poisonous hatred for Muggles, and to understand the convoluted pathways of his heart? Perhaps then I could truly help him. But as much as I had longed for this (and as much as I had hounded Salazar to tell me what troubled him), I had never truly expected it.
“And you wish to reveal it to me?” I asked, my surprise plain.
He took a deep breath, and then reached swiftly out to take my hands into his. My heart stilled in my chest.
“Helga,” he said, and I basked in the sound of his deep, stern voice speaking my name. That, combined with the pressure of his thumbs on my palms, threatened to consume me. “I can think of no other that I would trust with this. Godric and Rowena have been the most loyal of friends, but I wish for you to know that you are worthy of my deepest trust.”
I was suddenly embarrassed at my earlier complaining. “Oh, Salazar, it isn’t important—“
“I believe it is,” he said, cutting cleanly through my half-hearted protest. “You should see yourself realistically, Helga. Even if Godric seems to overlook you at times, you should know—“ Here he faltered. I forced myself to wait patiently, though I was dying to hear him finish his statement.
“You should know,” he began again, “that there are those who see you clearly. There are those who know beyond a doubt that you are the one to come to with confessions of horror and shame, because you would listen with an open mind. And I know of no better way to convince you of this than to trust you with things I have never entrusted to anyone. The time is right, Helga. I would not have brought it up if I did not believe this.”
I searched his face for trickery or games, but he seemed to speak in earnest. I decided that I could accept his words as the truth, which came as no small relief.
“All right, then.”
It was all I could think to say. I tried to guess at what I was about to hear, and suddenly I felt afraid. Salazar let my hands go, and without a word, began leading me to the dungeons.
I had forgotten how cold it was in Salazar’s domain, especially in the summer. He kept it that way intentionally, with magic, saying that a chill in the air was more conducive to a sharp mind. During the warmer months he intensified the cooling spells, as if to spite nature herself. I shivered as we walked, looking down with dismay at the mottled skin of my hands. For the life of me I could not understand his affinity for the cold, when I hated it so.
I kept a wary eye on the door to the storeroom as we passed it, knowing that it still contained the boggart. Salazar glanced at it as well, and for a moment I feared that he might wish to go inside. But we continued our silent walk, stopping at a large door at the end of the hall. As he held the heavy door open for me to enter, I raised my eyebrows at the room it revealed.
Salazar had brought me to his private quarters. The front room was sparsely decorated and the furnishings were hardly ornate, but everything in the room looked to be quite well-cared for. There was only one extravagance; the lush green rug beneath our feet. All in all, the room was just what I would have expected Salazar’s chamber to look like. But I was surprised that he had invited me here. Though I had never really been governed by traditional manners, I knew that it was not entirely proper for a man to bring a woman into his chambers alone, especially after dark. As a man who clung to propriety as part of his noble persona, I would not have expected him to break that rule. But then again, Salazar held little respect for rules.
He had closed the door behind us, and was now using his wand to light the torches hanging on the walls. Once finished, he stood quiet, as though reluctant to begin his task. I let the silence linger until I thought I would burst with impatience.
“Shall I start a fire?”
“Please don’t,” he replied sharply, and I was alarmed at the force of his refusal. It was a shame not to have any warmth coming from the empty grate, but I obliged him, suddenly remembering the form the boggart had taken in his presence.
“I am ready to hear you,” I said to him, “even if you do not feel ready yourself. If you do not begin soon, I fear you will convince yourself not to speak at all.” How well I knew that to be true.
“Very well,” he said, clearing his throat. “Sit here and I will show you.”
Wondering what he could mean by “show” instead of “tell,” I took the seat he gestured to. He seated himself in the chair across from me and once again took my hands into his. At that moment a vision assaulted my senses. For a few moments I was disoriented; the vision could not have been of my own making, since nothing I saw was familiar to me. Belatedly, I remembered that Salazar was a Legilimens of considerable skill.
I gathered my wits and focused on the scene he was showing me. There was a crowd, and a lot of shouting. A young Salazar crouched among the people, his wide eyes focused on the scene before him. Two people, a man and a woman, were tied to tall stakes, both struggling against their bonds. At the base of each stake was a sizeable pile of dry wood. My stomach clenched in horror as a man lit the pyres, his face void of any expression at all.
There was a moment when everything was still; the only sound was the crackling of fire. The couple stared into one another’s eyes, an unspoken message passing between them. The man looked very like Salazar, with black hair and finely wrought features. Tears sprang to my eyes.
Then the still moment passed, and all was confusion. I heard screams of anguish from the couple as the flames rose higher, and bloodlust from the crowd. The vision did not spare me a single detail. The smell of burning flesh assaulted me, and I thought I might be sick. And a lost little Salazar, with a face the very image of his father’s, clutching a familiar silver amulet and weeping and weeping as if he would never stop.
Finally, he withdrew his hands from mine. I was shaking, and my vision was blurred with unshed tears.
“You would have me forget that?” he asked softly, his eyes cast downward.
I had absolutely nothing to say. My heart bled for him.
“Now you see why my hatred runs so deep. I cannot let go of it, Helga. Whenever I look upon a Muggle, I remember the mob who shouted for my parents’ deaths. I see the face of the man who killed them.”
“Salazar,” I croaked. “I…I am so—“
“Don’t.” He held up a long, pale hand. “I am strong, and can bear many burdens. But your pity? That I cannot withstand.”
I nodded. “Why did it happen?”
He sighed. “I was a child then, barely seven years old, and my memory is no longer true. But I cannot forget the sight of the horde coming to seize my mother and father in the streets. My family had gone to the Muggle village near our home that day, to make a few purchases at the market.”
“You went to the Muggle village?” I was surprised, for I could not picture Salazar in such a place.
“We did not live in a wizarding village with a market of its own; our home was solitary, apart from other magical families,” he explained.
“Ah. Go on, please; I am sorry to have interrupted you.”
“Somehow I think it will not be the last time,” he said with a wry grin before continuing his tale. “We passed a fruit peddler, and I remember my older sister and me begging our mother for the biggest red apples we could see. But she was never inclined to spoil us, and we did not have much money to spend on trifles. So she refused us, and I suppose we sulked, as children are apt to do. So my father—“ Here he broke off with a little laugh under the breath. Though I knew Salazar’s story would soon take a horrifying turn, I could not help but smile at the affection he clearly held for his father’s memory.
“My father,” he went on, “drew his wand from his sleeve, just far enough to Summon the apples to us, one for me and my sister. He made sure to do it behind our mother’s back, so that she would not see. I wish I could recall his expression as he did it; I can just see the smirk he might have given us, for he was a man who enjoyed a bit of trickery.”
“Like father, like son, it would appear.” I smiled, and was glad to see him return it. But his expression turned grave again soon after.
“My mother did not see the act,” he said, “but we were on a crowded Muggle street. To make a show of magic in such a place was bound to attract attention, no matter how inconspicuous my father attempted to be. No sooner had we bitten into the apples than we heard the cry of ‘Witch!’ from behind us.”
I shuddered and raised a hand to my lips, trying to imagine the dread the entire family must have felt. Muggle or magical, every person knew that exposed witchcraft meant punishment of the harshest kind.
“From that moment everything was a blur,” he said in his careful monotone. “There was an uproar, and we were converged upon by the swarm of Muggles. My parents were not trained in combat and were taken unawares, so their wands were seized before they could fire a single spell. In the confusion they demanded that my sister and I run for our lives, before we were taken as well. My sister had more sense than I; as much as I knew I should get away, I could not bring myself to leave them. She had to drag me away. But before she did, my father managed to place this around my neck.” He lifted the silver amulet and turned it over and over in his hands. “He prized it above all his other possessions. His father passed it down to him.”
“And your father passed it to you.”
He nodded, still gazing down at the pendant about his neck. “The only thing of value our family ever had.”
“There are many kinds of value,” I observed. “Wealth is certainly to be valued, but so is laughter. So is love. And I daresay your family had an abundance of both. That is something.”
He nodded, but could not quite muster a smile this time. “They were thrown into prison without hesitation, and the very next day…” He did not finish, but I could supply the images for myself.
“Oh God,” I breathed. “So soon.” The thought of Salazar’s ordeal was almost too tragic to comprehend. As someone who had known very little true pain, I could not begin to imagine his suffering.
Salazar’s hands balled into fists as they rested upon the arms of his chair. I placed my own hand over one of his, feeling it relax slightly as I rubbed my thumb across his knuckles. It was simply a reflex to try and offer comfort to someone in pain; only after a few moments did I think to blush at the contact.
“There is more,” he said after a long pause.
I braced myself, withdrawing my hand to sit straighter in my chair. “What more can there be?”
“The man who lit the fire, do you remember him?”
“Of course I do. How could I forget?”
“How, indeed,” Salazar muttered. “For years after that day, his face stayed on my mind like a firebrand. At first I tried to put it aside, to give up the terrible desire for vengeance that consumed me. But the years went by and I became a young man, and still I could not forget. So I stopped fighting my anger, and instead let it grow unchecked. It must be better, I reasoned, to give rise to my feelings rather than torture myself by resisting them.”
“And has that proven to be the case? Has giving in to your anger brought you peace?”
He ignored my question, which gave me a fair idea of the answer. I gave him a wry, knowing smile.
“The man who killed my parents was the embodiment of Muggle filth,” he said vehemently. “He ended two lives simply because he was threatened by their gifts. He was insecure, jealous and afraid, just as they all are. You would ask why I detest Muggles so? You wonder why I resent the very thought of Godric’s wife walking the halls of Hogwarts, as if she has the right?” His voice began to rise in anger. “It is because I have seen what her kind are capable of. I have seen the horrors that are born of Muggle stupidity. That is why we must eliminate the threat they pose to our kind.”
I did not wish to think about the implications of the word “eliminate,” as Salazar had used it. Still, I had to grant that his position was understandable. It was perhaps too extreme, but understandable nonetheless. He had been through a great trial, and bitterness was natural. But the more he spoke, the more convinced I was that I was right not to have told him of my blood. Clearly, he was not ready for such an admission.
“What happened to the man who lit the fire, Salazar?” I asked, a bit apprehensively. His reply was abrupt.
“I killed him,” he said flatly. “I was sixteen, and could no longer bear the thought of him living out his life in peace when my parents could not do the same. And it was no duel, no honorable challenge. I slew him like the animal he was, in cold blood.”
So that was it. Salazar was a murderer. I fought against my first instinct to recoil; he had chosen to trust me because of my open mind, and I felt I must give him that courtesy. But I had never dreamed that he might be capable of such an act of violence. It chilled me, but I reminded myself that we were speaking of the past, not the present. He had committed an unthinkable crime, but that was not the end of his story.
“Do you regret it?” I asked, trying to control my shaking voice.
He sighed. “I know that I should regret it, but I do not, and never have. His fate was no less than he deserved, and I think it fitting that I should have been the one to deal his death to him. I suppose that makes me evil. What say you, Helga?”
His voice had turned sharp, and his expression seemed equal parts defiant and uneasy. I looked at him for a long moment, unsure of how to answer. Had my opinion of him really changed upon hearing his confession? And more importantly, had the tenderness I harbored toward him diminished at all? Amazingly, I found that it had not. Elaine or Rowena might have told me that affection was clouding my good judgment, but I could not help having faith in him. Deep in my marrow, I felt that he had more potential than anyone knew; he may have been deeply troubled and flawed, but I could never see him as evil.
“It is not my good opinion you should seek,” I finally said, “but your own. What I think of you is not nearly so important as your own perception of yourself. But there is one question I must ask. Would you do it again?”
He shook his head. “Never,” he said without hesitation. “Even though I believe my actions were justified, I still must live with the knowledge that I am a killer. I never wish to be thus haunted again.”
I nodded, seeing the truth of his words in his wide eyes, his earnest posture as he leaned forward in his chair. It startled me to realize that I expected to hear the truth from him now, instead of trickery. I did not quite know when this change had taken place, but I welcomed it; it served to justify how fully I had come to trust him.
“Then I am satisfied,” I said, pushing propriety aside as I brought my hand to the side of his face. Surprised at the contact, he raised his widened eyes to mine. Then, so slowly, he lifted his hand from his lap and brought it to rest upon my own.
The very air around us was changing, growing heavy with expectation. Overwhelmed, I focused on the sensation of his cool cheek beneath my hand. Without that physical reality, the whole thing might have felt like a dream. He did not break my gaze, and I knew that his mind was no longer back there, reliving those terrible days. He was here, with me.
Slowly, I placed my free hand upon his chest, over his heart. The pulse beneath my hand was racing, just as my own was. Hope flowered in my chest, just for a moment. Putting all thought out of my mind, I leaned forward and pressed my mouth to his, seizing that hope before it could slip away.
Salazar’s entire body tensed for a breath, and then all at once he was standing, pulling me with him, drawing me close. I gasped at the pressure of his mouth upon mine, and he gripped me tighter as my lips parted. Then, all too quickly, it was over.
“No,” he said through ragged breaths, holding my face fast in his long hands. “Helga, you must stop this. Cast your light on someone who is worthy of it.”
“And why should you decide who is worthy?” I asked, unable to keep a faint smile off my face.
“In light of all I have told you, it is plain that this should never be. You deserve a man of honor, one who can match you in virtue. My past does me no credit, Helga. I have blood on my hands.” His voice had come to a whisper as he spoke this truth. “Can you see why I could not bear to keep you with me?”
His hands told a different story. It seemed that, for all his attempts to be noble and self-sacrificing, he could not bring himself to let me go. I smiled; Salazar had never struck me as the noble type, anyway.
“But how can I ever live up to the image you paint of me?” I asked in mock wonderment. “The Helga you speak of must be far above human. Believe me, Salazar, I am not the peerless creature you describe.”
“I would beg to disagree,” he replied, all seriousness in response to my joke. The husky tone of his voice sent a shiver through me. I could scarcely fathom the idea that Salazar might harbor similar feelings similar to mine, but with his words I began to truly believe it.
“But I will play along with your folly, if it would suit you,” I said, grinning to hide how vulnerable I was to his unintentional charm. Even at a moment like this, I did not want him to think me a lovestruck fool. “Would you like to know how you can be worthy of me?”
“Name your price, Helga, and I would be honored to pay it.”
I placed my hands on his shoulders. “I do not expect you to give up your bitterness entirely, but I want you to try. Please, Salazar, try and let go of your hatred. You have exacted your vengeance against the man who wronged your family so deeply. Now surely after all these years you can be free.”
“This is what you would ask of me?”
“Yes, that is all I require. Do you think yourself capable of it?”
He hesitated for a while, the weight of his thoughts marring his brow. “I do not want to be this man,” he whispered at length. “You must believe me. I despise these shackles that bind me to a past I no longer want to claim. I have held such deep hatred for an entire race of people that I will never know. And I have tried to put it away for my own sake, but I was never able. But for your sake, perhaps I will succeed.” He placed his hands gently at my waist, his touch so feather-light I could barely feel it. “I wish to do so, if you will help me.”
“Salazar Slytherin, asking for my help?” I was teasing him, but my surprise was not entirely feigned. “I believe you are already a new man.”
“Indeed,” he said, playing along with my jest. “Humility is just one of the virtues I have acquired since I have known you.”
“Or perhaps it is an old virtue,” I replied, “brought back to the surface.”
“You could be right. I have not always been such a black-hearted creature.” His tone was still light, but I sensed a thoughtfulness behind it. “Perhaps it is time for me to rediscover myself, my true self.” He pulled me a bit closer, and I thought the time for talk might soon be at an end.
“I would be honored to help you find it, if you will have me,” I said quietly, looking into the grey gaze that had once unnerved me so. In answer, he finally bent to press his mouth to mine.
It was slow, achingly slow and tender; I thought I would weep for the pure rightness of it. It was not the kiss I would have expected from Salazar, but I returned it earnestly. My joy seemed almost too big for my body to hold; after thinking it impossible, I was really holding Salazar Slytherin in my embrace. Behind my closed eyes, I saw a future of dreams realized, of peace and perfection. I could hardly wait to begin moving toward that future, but staying in the present moment was more than agreeable; it was just as wonderful as my visions. In that cold, dark dungeon chamber, fantasy and reality seemed to become one.
A/N: Ladies and gents, I give you Helgazar! This chapter was SO exciting for me to write! What did you think? Be sure to let me know in a review :)
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