Author: John Sexton
Genre: Harry Potter Slash
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Chapter Twenty-Nine - The Dance of Death Begins
Albus Dumbledore shot a look of utter disbelief at the tall, dark Adonis standing to his side. He momentarily stared at the mysterious youth's beguiling countenance and, for an even briefer moment, peered into those black orbs of fire and ice.
Then he turned back towards Minerva McGonagall's face, which was peering at him through the green flames of his chamber's Floo hearth.
"Are you certain Minerva? Dead, you say?"
"Of course I'm sure, Albus! I'm here in his rooms, now!" the wily Scott whined indignantly.
"Of course, of course you are," the old man mumbled, obviously shaken and distracted by the shocking revelation. "I will join you presently, Minerva... you will have to forgive me, this has come as quite a shock."
"Very well, Albus," McGonagall replied, "take your time. I will contact Severus and begin getting things in order down here, until you arrive."
Professor McGonagall's head withdrew, and the green flames of the Floo faded into the ether.
Dumbledore turned back to face Salazar Snape again. The boy had not moved and his countenance seemed more enigmatic than ever.
The ancient warlock drew a deep breath and summoned all of his strength, to focus his powers as a master Legilimens and to bolster his defensive skills as an Occlumens, before he dared to peer back into the beguiling youth's black eyes with renewed determination.
The experience was cataclysmic; the headmaster felt suddenly ancient, older than his bones... older than he had ever felt before. The sensation was even more overwhelming than the recent devastation of being cursed by Marvolo Gaunt's ring.
"Stay here! Touch nothing, till I return!" he instructed the worrisome youth sternly.
Then he turned towards the fireplace, snatched a handful of Floo powder from the receptacle and threw it into the hearth, as he announced his destination.
In a blinding flash of green flame, he was gone.
Salazar Snape was in a total quandary. Dumbledore seemed to have aged ten years in the last thirty seconds. The old man obviously believed that Sals had murdered Slughorn, it had been written all over the ancient wizard's face.
"Well, Snape," the Sorting Hat called out aloud to him, from its perch on the shelf above him, "you have reduced the number of wizards who are aware of the secret of immortality, down two three. One of them you intend to kill, and the other will be dead before year's end. I do believe you are more ruthless and pragmatic than any wizard alive today. Dumbledore is right to fear you."
"But you know I never killed the professor!"
"I know no such thing," the hat replied sharply.
"But you can read my mind, you do so regularly, with impunity!" the youth retorted.
"Not any more, young Snape! You have finally eclipsed my powers; which is why Dumbledore fears you so greatly."
"I did not think you could read his mind," the boy countered.
"I can't... his fear was..."
"Written all over his face!" Sals completed the hat's pronouncement. "I know!" the youth then concluded dejectedly.
He pondered on the hat's declaration, for a few moments, before he asked for clarification.
"So you are saying that you can no longer breach my Occlumency and now you believe that Dumbledore can't either?"
"No, I am saying that I can no longer do so. But I am also saying that, for the first time, Dumbledore realises his own limitations. We both know that you have been playing mind games with the old man for some time now. You have allowed him to believe that he has been successful in his Legilimency, while you have led him down the garden path of your own making. Just as you have managed to do with Tom Riddle.
But tonight, just now, Dumbledore has realised the extent of your powers as an Occlumens, and his belief that you murdered Professor Slughorn has put the fear of Merlin into him. I would even go so far as to suggest that he now fears you more than he fears Voldemort!"
"You are kidding!"
"I have never been more serious, Snape! If you can occlude Dumbledore, Riddle and now me, your secrets are impenetrable. I doubt that even Veritaserum could loosen your tongue."
"But, surely, if you were on my head, you could read my mind."
"Possibly, but it would be a waste of time, I would be unable to determine if your thoughts were unfiltered, or merely a ruse, similar to what you have been feeding Dumbledore and Riddle."
The youth paused, to formulate the strategy of his next question; but before he could utter the words, the hat answered him.
"Never fear, Snape, your secrets are safe with me. No, I still can't read your thoughts!" the hat chuckled with that remark. "But it was the next logical question, given your deliberation before posing it. I have already assured you of my confidentiality, and I am bound to keep my bond."
"If Dumbledore believes I have murdered Slughorn, what course of action do I have. He surely will not trust me now. He will refuse to take me into his confidence. Without his knowledge I will never be able to kill Voldemort."
The hat laughed haughtily at the youth, whose reaction was shock and anger.
The boy gathered his wits before he responded on impulse.
"You clearly think me a fool, Hat! What have I missed? What is so obvious that I cannot see it?"
"Your analysis of the status quo, is more than merely faulty, boy; it is diametrically so! THINK! It is in times like this that you test your mettle and your skills as a strategist!"
The stunning youth closed his eyes and drew a deep, soul-searching breath, which he held for an inordinate amount of time.
When he finally exhaled, the tension had left his body, and a broad smile spread across his handsome countenance.
"I understand, Hat... thank you! Whether Dumbledore trusts me or not is not the issue. He needs ME to take HIM into my confidence. You hinted as much, with your opening gambit, when you referred to the `number of wizards who are AWARE of the secret of immortality,'... three!
"But there are now only TWO wizards who KNOW the secret of immortality! ... Voldemort..."
"and YOU!" the hat completed the boy's realisation. "Well done, Snape, you have grasped the key to your strategy from this point on!"
"Yes, I see now, Hat!"
Salazar's confidence grew as he applied this new insight to his forward strategy. He sat down on the chair, in front of the headmaster's desk and contemplated the new landscape, as he waited for the old man to return.
Sals had almost lost track of time, when the hearth in Dumbledore's office finally burst into flame.
But it was not the headmaster who emerged from the emerald-green Floo fire, it was the boy's father.
"Dad!" the boy cried out in shock, and a sudden burst of anguish over-whelmed the youth.
"Oh, Dad, it was me... I killed Professor Slughorn... it was me, Dad!"
The tall, young warlock smothered his father in a fierce embrace that would have crushed the breath out of a lesser man. But the boy maintained his composure, none-the-less.
"I never meant it to end that way, Dad! He was alive when I left his rooms, but I realise now that the trauma of what I put him through must have been too much. I might not have murdered him, but I caused his death, I know it now." Sals lamented, just as the hearth erupted once again, with the return of Dumbledore.
"It's alright, Salazar," Severus reassured his son with another bone-crushing hug, "we'll talk about it when you are finished here. I'll be waiting in my rooms."
With that said, the Slytherin housemaster, turned back to the hearth and disappeared in a flash of green.
Dumbledore collapsed into the great chair behind his desk, and slumped down with his eyes closed. He placed his good and withered hands flat on the edge, as he drew in a long but shallow breath.
When the old man finally opened his eyes, he squinted at Salazar over the top of his narrow spectacles; his normally bright-blue irises were barely detectable.
"I heard what you said to your father, Salazar," the old man sighed, "but, sadly, I have no way of discerning the truth of the matter."
"I understand that, Sir," the boy replied in a deferential and somewhat-conciliatory tone. "But does that really matter?"
The boy's response clearly startled the ancient warlock.
The old man's expression was suddenly animated, and he sat up in his chair, as if to rise from his seat. But he did not do so; he adopted a pose that elicited a further response from the lad.
"I would like you to know what really happened down there in those rooms, just now, Sir, as I'm sure you would as well. However, if you no longer feel that there is any bond of trust between us, I hardly see the point.
"Besides..." the boy paused for obvious effect, "what difference would it make, one way or the other?"
This clearly startled the old man, but the boy proceeded, regardless.
"As of tonight, trust is no longer the bond that will determine our shared fate, Sir. It is our shared interest, our common objective, that is the glue that binds us."
The old man's demeanour underwent a sudden metamorphosis, as he was clearly in the process of reassessing the Adonis.
The boy smiled at the change. It was a subtle but provocative grin that both challenged and teased the old man.
"If we are honest, Sir, that has always been the nexus. You and I both know that you are dying, and you have long abandoned any real care about the fate of the Wizarding World, or of Mankind for that matter. Your goal is, and has long been, revenge.
"You want Tom Riddle to pay for his betrayal. You thought you had found the answer to that desire in Harry Potter. But that too ended in betrayal of a sort. Now, in the twilight hours of your long and lonely life, you have lashed your ambitions to one last hope... ME!"
The old man's mien morphed again; but this was a cold and bitter persona. The boy's assessment had laid bare the wizened wizard's soul, and the effect was a rancorous vibe that was flagrant.
"I am that hope, Professor. I have the same goal, the same burning passion to see Tom Riddle pay.
"He does not know it yet, but I watched my mother die a violent death at his hands. I was there, hidden in full view, when he brutally murdered her because he considered her to be a filthy Muggle.
"No one has more reason to hate that vile creature than me. I will stop at nothing to bring him to justice... MY JUSTICE... not Wizard law, nor just punishment, but cold hard vengeance."
The boy steeled himself, as he stared hard into the old man's eyes, and projected a series of visions at the ancient wizard.
Dumbledore reeled at the shocking images that assaulted his mind's eye... Draco Malfoy thrashing violently and trembling, screaming for mercy, naked and bloodied under Salazar's Cruciatus; Slughorn gasping for breath, throttled to within an inch of his life, in the throes of carnal exhaustion, and terrified beyond reckoning, as the youth relentlessly plundered his mind for the secrets of the Horcrux...
When the powerful young warlock finally relented, Dumbledore was stunned beyond belief by what he had just witnessed.
"I am not proud of what I have done, Headmaster; but neither am I ashamed. I have done what was necessary to ensure victory. I will be as relentless and as ruthless as needs be. From where I stand, the ends justify the means.
"WE will have only one shot at killing this monster, Albus. TOGETHER, you and I can make this happen. That is our bond, that is our common goal; it is not a bond of trust, if indeed it ever was... it is the need to see Voldemort dead!"
The headmaster's chamber was deadly silent, save for the whirring of the old man's array of magical instruments and the rhythmic snoring of countless previous headmasters, secure in the portraits that arrayed the chamber's ancient walls.
Boy and man stared at each other interminably, until the youth broke the silence.
"This time last week, Sir, you lamented that you had burdened me with this grave undertaking and that you had endowed me with the secrets to enable me to become `the most powerful wizard in the world.'
"While, at the time, that was not quite true, we now know that it has become a reality. I am now in that very position. Apart from Voldemort, himself, I not only have the key to destroying him, but I have the means to take his place.
"Where we go from here, Sir, is entirely up to you. I now have the means to destroy him, you have the knowledge that fill the gaps to ensure that the task is completed. The question that you have to ask yourself, Sir, is whether you are prepared to provide me with the knowledge to put Voldemort to the sword, once and for all."
"You have indeed surpassed all expectations, Salazar," the old man conceded solemnly. "You are more powerful than any wizard I have ever known, of any age, let alone a boy of barely sixteen. And yes... your ruthless, dare I say callous, behaviour terrifies me beyond all reckoning.
"But, strangely enough, and beyond all bounds of sound logic, I do trust you. Call it intuition, maybe it is the raw power of your deepest wildest Magic, speaking to my own magical core. It could simply be the fact that your cold logic is just that... cold, sound logic.
"You are right, you are now the sole bearer of that which makes US whole. You possess the secret that I have long needed, and I possess the knowledge that can unlock that secret and unleash the power to vanquish our common foe. Together we are lock and key.
"So then, let us share our knowledge and bring closure to our dilemma."
The old man stood and made his way towards the Pensieve.
"Sir, do you think it wise that we commit this memory to the Pensieve and perpetuate that which should never have been revealed in the very first place?"
Dumbledore paused, then smiled at the youth.
The Adonis returned the smile in spades.
"A two-edged sword, is it not, Albus. On one hand, when you and Voldemort are gone, I alone hold the secret to unlimited power, with no one to challenge me. While preserving the secret might well act as a failsafe, should I dare to use such knowledge for my own personal gain! A tortuous conundrum is it not?"
The stunning youth then beamed at the old man with a wicked smile...
"Of course, if I had such ambitions, would I not destroy such a failsafe the minute you were gone; and you already know that you could never hide it from me. Better, I suggest, that we minimise its chance of existence."
"I defer to your logic, Salazar," Dumbledore concurred, "shall we proceed, then?"
Dumbledore sat back down in his chair, behind his desk, while Sals sat opposite him. They locked eyes once more, but this was a much less traumatic experience for the old man, and the youth finally revealed what the ancient warlock had been desperate to acquire for so many years.
Even so, Dumbledore was clearly disturbed by what he learned via this latest vision.
"Seven, seven fragments of his soul!" he groaned in disbelief. "It is worse than I had imagined. It is what I had always feared, but more grotesque than I had believed Voldemort would be prepared to do."
"So you believe that he did it, Sir," the boy enquired in his own near disbelief. "These Horcruxes..." the boy gestured towards the old man's blackened hand... "Marvolo's ring, that was one of the Horcruxes that Voldemort created? ... and when you destroyed it, you destroyed that part of his soul!"
"Yes, My Boy, I believe so."
"But who did he kill... and when?"
The old man seemed suddenly energised, and he moved swiftly to transfer the Pensieve onto his desk, and retrieved two new vials from his memory cabinet.
"These, I believe will fill in some of the important blanks, and lead us to a clearer understanding of what we face, in our quest."
Dumbledore poured the first vial's contents into the basin, and ushered the boy into the memory before accompanying him, once again.
When man and boy finally emerged from the Pensieve, Salazar was beside himself with excitement and a hunger for more information.
"So that was how Riddle acquired the ring!... and he killed his father and grand-parents, to create a Horcrux using the ring... but... if he killed three people, then he must have created at least two more Horcruxes."
Dumbledore smiled at the youth's acute logic.
"So what were they?"
"That is a vital question, and this..." the old man held up the second vial... "may well lead us towards that answer."
When they re-emerged, once more, the boy looked confused.
"Okay... so Riddle stole those items from the old lady, after he killed her?"
Dumbledore nodded encouragingly.
"Yes; what we know of Riddle's sudden disappearance after Hepzibah Smith's suspicious death, and the even more suspicious disappearance of the locket and the cup, would seem to support that theory."
"But neither of them could have been used to create a Horcrux from Riddles family's deaths... and one of them had to have been used in conjunction with the old lady's death!"
"Very good, Salazar!"
"So what does that tell us about the Horcruxes that were created when Riddle killed his grand-parents?"
"That they had to have been created when he was still at school, if, as you say, he took to wearing the ring at Hogwarts, at least for a while."
"Very good! And what about the generalisation that we can now make about his choices of Horcruxes?"
The handsome youth sat deep in thought for several seconds, before he exploded in a burst of excitement...
"The Founders! His ego... of course... only those items that were of historic significance were deemed worthy of holding his soul! So obvious! ... so the other two Horcruxes must have been items of the Founders, that he stole, here, at Hogwarts, while he was still at school."
"Not necessarily, Sals," the old man grinned mischievously. "What I have yet to point out, is that we have already located and destroyed two of the Horcruxes."
"Two!... The ring, of course, that's how you injured your hand."
Salazar was deep in thought as he puzzled over the other Horcrux.
The old man reached into his desk draw and removed a battered leather-bound book that was stained and bore a deep gash across its cover. He dropped it onto the desk, in front of the excited boy.
"HIS DIARY!!" Sals exploded, "Tom Riddle's own diary. Harry Potter destroyed it... in the Chamber of Secrets!... So the third Horcrux must have been something belonging to either Rowena Ravenclaw or Godric Gryffindor! Something that Riddle stole while he was HERE!"
"I think we are getting the picture now, My Boy. It is becoming clearer with each discovery."
"Of course! That's why Riddle wanted to come back to Hogwarts, to teach! He still had one more of the Founder's possessions to steal."
"Possibly," the old man conceded, "or possibly he wanted to retrieve that Founders Horcrux that he had hidden, somewhere here, at Hogwarts, while he was a student!"
"Or both!" the headmaster agreed. "Well, Salazar, I think we have made a considerable headway, this night, and we have much to ponder. We still have many questions to ask ourselves, and some that we have already posed and are yet to answer.
"We will re-convene, after we have had time to digest what we have learned, and after we have had time to recover from the trauma of this terrible night."
Sunday was a sombre affair. The whole school had been aware of Slughorn's death before they had begun to filter down for breakfast, since there had been at least one student from each house that had been invited to the Slug Club the previous night.
As usual, Sunday morning breakfast was a casual, laissez-aller affair, with students drifting in and out of the Great Hall at will. So the tone remained subdued, with the second death in less than a week, being the preoccupation of both students and staff.
The accepted explanation was that the old man's heart had finally given out, under the strain of his considerable obesity and partiality for sumptuous cuisine.
Sals was credited with being the last person to see him alive, but nobody even suggested any foul play, and that fact merely garnered support and sympathy for the boy, for having been the last person to figure in the old paedophile's life.
A restrained, solemn memorial service was held in the Great Hall that same night, and the students all retired early to begin their third week of the term, at the ancient school of witchcraft and wizardry.
By Monday morning some sense of normalcy had returned to Hogwarts.
Once again Sals's day would begin with a double period of Transfiguration with McGonagall. He was determined to try to do his best to assuage the old witch's antagonism towards him.
As the students sauntered into the classroom, Neville and Greg Goyle sat together, with Hermione and Tracey Davis sitting behind them, in front of Sals and Draco.
Without a word being spoken, the others followed suit and took their seats in their cross-house pairings from their DADA class.
Of course Sals and Draco had sat together in every subject since day one. The DADA pairings had only ever been replicated in Slughorn's Potions class, because the old man had enthusiastically supported Severus's idea. But in McGonagall's class, until today, the students had stuck to their traditional house groupings.
Sals sensed that this tacit move by the rest of the class was, in some way, a silent tribute to the deceased Potions master.
It was obvious, from the moment McGonagall entered the room that the change did not meet with her approval. She said nothing initially, but merely looked at each pairing of students inscrutably.
McGonagall had deliberately avoided either Sals, Draco or Hermione. But she soon zeroed in on Neville and Gregory.
"Mister Longbottom, why have you changed your seating arrangements?"
"Well, Professor Snape made us pair up like this for Defence Against the Dark Arts, Ma'am, and it just makes sense to keep the groupings, since we already have to study together for DADA, Professor, Ma'am."
"Well there is no need to extend that arrangement into my classroom, Longbottom, you can all resume your normal house pairings."
Nobody made to move.
"Don't you agree with the hat and the headmaster, Professor McGonagall?" Hermione asked icily.
McGonagall became visibly flustered.
"She would never make a Slytherin," Sals laughed to himself.
"Of course I do, Miss Granger... I merely... you may keep your pairings if you prefer."
The wily old Scott was clearly ill at ease, not only with new seating arrangements, which she clearly saw as an affront to her authority, but more specifically at being out manoeuvred by Hermione Granger, whom she was beginning to find as odious as Sals.
The double lesson was a tense endurance test, and Sals had no doubt that McGonagall viewed the seating arrangement issue as a conspiracy.
Double Potions, on the other hand, was a delight, not only for Sals, but for the entire class. That was because it was taken by Dumbledore, who -- apart from the first few seconds, which were spent in rather sombre remembrance of their departed Potions professor -- was jovial and instructive.
It had been years since the old man had taken any of them in lessons, and they had all enjoyed themselves immensely. The entire class left for lunch in high spirits.
Salazar had spent much of the week thinking about Voldemort and, in particular, the Horcruxes and what he had learned last Saturday.
By Saturday night, which was when the headmaster had determined that they should meet to discuss the issues further, Sals was brimming with ideas that he was eager to bounce off the old man.
The chamber was a murmur of snoring portraits when the boy arrived at the allotted time.
"Sir, I have been giving a great deal of thought to the nature of a Horcrux, and I was wondering: do you think it is possible for a Horcrux to be a living creature?"
Dumbledore was clearly startled by the youth's question. But then he smiled at the Adonis, once again impressed by the lad's acute mind.
"Whatever led you to that idea, Salazar? I must admit that it is an intriguing one."
"Two things actually, Sir."
The handsome youth smiled ruefully, before he continued...
"You will probably think I'm crazy, but... I was wondering if... if you think... Harry Potter could be one!"
Dumbledore's smile broadened, but it was tinged with sadness.
"No, Salazar, I don't think you are crazy... in fact, I have wondered the very same thing, all week. I have long wondered about his connection to Voldemort..."
The old man looked up at the boy suddenly.
"You are aware of his connection, I gather... I assume you and Severus have discussed it."
The boy rolled his eyes, mockingly, then laughed.
"Yes, Sir, often!"
"Yes, well, it is a very real possibility. Two people died that night. Of course I don't believe Voldemort ever intended it to be three, only James and Harry."
"Exactly, Sir," the boy exclaimed enthusiastically, "so he went there with two objects for Horcruxes. Then they were created from the first two murders. So what if when the killing curse rebounded off Harry, back onto Voldemort, it ripped PART of his soul which lodged in the scar that the curse made in Harry's head?
"We know the curse killed neither of them, but that part that was left of Voldemort's soul fled. We know that it survived, because that's what ended up finding a refuge in the back of Professor Quirrell's head. AND..." the boy became even more animated... "it fled yet again, when Quirrell was touched by Harry!"
"Very good, Salazar, I happen to agree with your theory. You said there were two things that made you wonder if a Horcrux could be alive!"
"Yes, Sir, I believe that the seventh Horcrux is Voldemort's snake, Nagini."
"I concur; that is a possibility, Salazar; but I had believed that Voldemort created six Horcruxes, with his remaining soul being the seventh `piece.'"
"Well, Sir, if both Potter and Nagini are Horcruxes that would make at least seven, based on reasonable assumptions from what we already know."
"Which are?" teased the old man, who was clearly enjoying the youth's enthusiastic analysis of their latest discoveries.
"Three murders, three Horcruxes, while Tom Riddle was still here, at school: the diary, the ring and one of the Founder's heirlooms that is almost certainly still hidden somewhere here in Hogwarts!"
The old man nodded his agreement.
"The cup and the locket, stolen from Hepzibah Smith. One almost certainly a Horcrux from her murder; the other a Horcrux from James Potter's murder in Godric's Hollow."
Again the old man concurred.
"I believe Nagini was a Horcrux when Voldemort killed Lily Potter, and Harry we have already covered."
"I am impressed, Salazar, you have obviously done your homework. But I am intrigued... why are you so convinced that the snake is one; why not the fourth Founder's heirloom?"
The youth grinned cheekily, obviously very proud of his logic.
"Two reasons, Sir; we saw, in the Pensieve that you refused Riddle's access to Hogwarts; but, more importantly, an incident that occurred several months ago."
The ancient warlock raised his eyebrows, soliciting an elucidation; Adonis readily obliged...
"It was early in July, when I spent a few days with my father, at Spinner's End... I was practicing my Legilimency and that odious creature, Wormtail, entered the room. When he glanced at me, I was stunned by a series of images that almost leaped from his addled mind into my head.
"They were random, yet all obviously connected. They did not make sense at the time; but, over this last week, they took on a new and frightening meaning, until they finally led me to this conclusion.
"I think it might make more sense if I show you, Albus," the beguiling youth suggested.
Dumbledore nodded calmly, and they locked eyes.
The old man was stunned by the series of fleeting images: Peter Pettigrew milking venom from Nagini; a grotesque creature, no bigger than an infant being nursed and fed by Pettigrew; the same vile creature being dropped into a cauldron, to which Pettigrew added Harry Potter's blood, which was dripping from a knife.
It suddenly all made sense; in an instant the old man realised that young Salazar was correct. His analysis was logical.
"I dared not try to probe his mind further, after that incident, because I was terrified that I might blow my cover as a budding Legilimens, which would have certainly made its way back to Voldemort, himself, Sir."
Dumbledore nodded his understanding.
"If I understand you, Salazar, you believe that, as a Horcrux, Nagini gave birth to that creature, which Voldemort's surviving, wandering soul somehow possessed, much like his possession of Professor Quirrell; then, with blood taken from his other living Horcrux, and whatever potions were in that cauldron, he evolved into the monster that we see today!"
"Exactly, Albus! It makes sense, don't you agree?"
"I do, My Boy, I do... but you know what this means, don't you, Salazar?"
"Yes, Sir, I think I do... if our assumptions are true; before Voldemort can be killed, not only must we track down and destroy the remaining Horcruxes, both Nagini and Harry Potter must die!"
If you are enjoying this, you might like my other two Nifty stories...
This is a two-chapter Potterverse short story [complete].
This is on-going and I'm updating it as I write Salazar.
All feedback is appreciated via: firstname.lastname@example.org
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