The Sugar Quill
Author: Persephone_Kore and Alan Sauer  Story: Fragments of the Foundation  Chapter: Fragment 1: Dueling and Defence
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Fragments of the Foundation

Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction based on the Harry Potter series. No undue claim nor any material profit is expected or intended.

Authors' note: We'll try to finish posting what we have of the main Time's Riddle AU here at the Quill before HBP comes out, just for the sake of having it done. We aren't entirely sure what we'll do after that, since our previous plots for further stories depend on background we made up that might just be about to get superseded.

Fragments of the Foundation
by Alan Sauer and Persephone_Kore

Histories and textbooks record that Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was founded over a thousand years ago by the four greatest wizards and witches of the age: Godric Gryffindor, Rowena Ravenclaw, Helga Hufflepuff, and Salazar Slytherin. But how did they meet? Why did they build their famous school? Legend and history conflict, and shadows both known and unknown lie across the earliest accounts.

And yet, the Founders themselves were once children, and the beginnings of many stories lie in two villages, each unknown to the other, where the Four began learning magic, and more than magic.

*****

Rowena sat up very straight in the center of her flying lionskin, aimed it a little to the left, and straightened out alongside her mother's carpet before waving and ordering the vehicle to maintain its position relative to the other. Then she stretched out full-length, settled her robes, and toyed with the fur of the mane.

Nearly fourteen, she had been deemed ready to pilot her own rug for the journey. She wasn't entirely sure she was happy about this; she was nervous, and while the attention due to flying was to some extent calming, she had always liked to think about other things when she'd been a passenger.

A few months older and she might have had the option of staying home. Perhaps not; her parents were not ones to cross lightly, and they seemed to think that it would be an excellent and broadening experience for her to accompany her mother to a village of Saxons with heavy admixtures of both Viking and magical blood.

Probably they knew better than she did, so Rowena thought she would probably have bowed to their judgment even had she had a choice in the matter. Her parents were both from families that had been famed scholars and wizards among the Romans and held to the tradition through travel, invasion, and some intermarriage. They were very intelligent, very wise, and very respected.

Rowena had been delighted to honor them by mastering the Animagus transformation bare months ago and finding herself an eagle, with talons dark as a raven's wing and gleaming. (She could probably have made this flight herself -- at least given the option of resting on someone else's carpet occasionally -- but it would have made it difficult to carry luggage, and at any rate, flying a carpet was also a worthwhile skill.) Despite their assurances, however, she was still extremely dubious about this entire adventure.

Her mother was expected to train the village's magical children -- well, mostly one of them in particular, but knowing her mother it wouldn't be only one. Apparently this Helga, however, was something exceptional. Rowena merely hoped she was also something reasonably civilized.

The lionskin began an arc downward, and she quickly sat up again to take back direct control of her flight. While useful to give beginners a feel for the right sort of trajectory, landing in conjunction with another carpet didn't really work as well as guiding it in on your own.

*****

Flying carpets were an extremely quiet means of transportation. They were also, however, highly visible without the application of complex invisibility charms (or in some cases special materials, but those were hard to come by). Helga was aware of this, as well as that the lady her parents had persuaded to come and teach her was likely to arrive using one.

Therefore, while working at a feverish pace to complete all her chores before the lady could arrive and require her attention, Helga had also been finding time to watch the sky eagerly in hopes of spotting the new arrivals before anyone else. Even her little brothers, whom she was going to give something to do if they didn't stop talking about running off to the hills to see if they could see any farther if they climbed.

She had saved laundry until last for the excellent reason that it allowed her to work next to the river meandering through their valley. It was a good place to watch for visitors; naturally Viking kin had to navigate up it for the short distance from the sea, but additionally, Helga thought that in the other direction where it wound through the nearest hills lay the easiest approach for flight.

She rather liked scrubbing laundry, though most of the other girls thought she was insane -- the other witches preferred cleaning charms, and the magicless couldn't imagine why anyone who could use cleaning charms would ever prefer anything else (not that the witches weren't usually reasonably obliging, given some incentive).

While cleaning charms were undeniably very useful, however, even the best of them eventually gave unsatisfactory results, just as magicless washing had things it couldn't seem to remove. Getting rid of the odd bitter odor of overused cleaning charms was very satisfying, and Helga had just laid everything carefully on the grass to dry (hopefully before it could rain again) when black specks that didn't look like birds appeared upriver.

Helga first ran to inform her parents that the guests were arriving, then ran back to the riverside to stand and wait to greet them.

And incidentally to make sure they didn't accidentally land on the clean laundry.

The first carpet was a woven mat with a rather faded pattern, piloted by a dark-haired woman about Helga's mother's age.  This would probably be the lady who was supposed to teach her.  The second carpet was an actual lionskin, which was interesting, but sitting on it was a skinny girl who didn't look like she got any sun, much less scrubbed so much as a kerchief.

"Hello," she said politely as they landed.  Her father had told her to make a good impression.  "I'm Helga.  Are you the new tutor?  I should take you to my father if you are."

"Yes, I am Portia," said the dark-haired woman, "and this is my daughter Rowena."

Helga nodded politely.  Rowena really didn't look like much.  Maybe she wouldn't be around very often, though.  "My house is over this way.  Please mind the laundry, it's only just drying."

They stepped off the carpets, avoiding the laundry, and followed her. The lionskin stood up and tried to pad after them; Rowena turned back to tell it to stay put and caught up with her mother and Helga again looking extremely embarrassed.

Helga sniffed and led the way into the house.  "Father!" she called.  "The teacher's arrived!  And she brought her daughter."

"Has she? Excellent. I've heard word of young Rowena before; she's quite talented, I understand." Helga's father smiled warmly at the newcomers.  

Helga tried not to groan. Well, if her father said the girl was talented, then perhaps she was. It might be something about where she lived that made her look small -- Helga realized as she turned to look sideways at her new tutor that despite her presence, even the lady wasn't all that much taller than she was herself.

The lady--Portia--smiled at her father.  "Thorvald, how nice to meet you in the flesh at last.  And your daughter very kindly received us; I'm sure she will prove a wonderful student."  She smiled at Helga.  "Perhaps you might show Rowena around your village while your father and I discuss your education?"

"I will, Lady. When should I be back here to begin?"

"Be back for dinner, Helga," her father said.  "Bring a bird or two if you could."

"We shall start lessons tomorrow morning," Portia added. "I'd prefer to have the full day ahead of us."

Helga swallowed her disappointment; she'd hoped to start right away. "I'll look forward to it," she said truthfully, then nodded to Rowena. The older girl didn't seem to invite smiles, exactly; she looked as if she might want to be elsewhere. "I'll show you where everything is, if you like, so you can't get lost."

"That would be helpful, thank you," Rowena said a bit coolly.

"You're welcome." Feeling that if the conversation was going to go on like this it had better do it away from their parents, Helga tried a smile after all and walked briskly out the door.

Rowena followed behind.  "Do you have a library here?" she asked as they got outside.  "Perhaps we ought to start there."

Helga turned and eyed her in confusion. "My parents have some books, but they're very valuable; we shouldn't mess with them -- and anyway if you can't find our house, you can just go back to the river until things look familiar, and then walk the way we just came."

"You don't have a library?  How do you learn anything?  Do you know how to read, at least?"

"My parents teach me, or whoever knows how. And I learned to read last winter."

"What if you want to know something they don't know?"  Rowena shook her head.  "I knew things would be backward here, but--oh, I'm sorry, I'm sure it's very nice for you.  What do you have?"

Helga turned abruptly enough that her braid whipped into her shoulder. "I haven't yet learned everything that everyone in this village knows," she said clearly, "and I'll wager you don't know it all either, because some of it probably hasn't ever been written down and it doesn't sound as if you know how to learn any other way. Or are there books on how to be polite?"

"Well, I didn't ask to come to some tiny little village where you don't even use drying charms on your laundry."

"You don't look as if there's ever enough sun where you come from to dry it without, or do you just never do anything?"

"I have better things to do than run around outside all day.  I've learned more than some of my cousins who are five years older than I am."

"And can you do anything useful besides drying charms?"

Rowena arched an elegant eyebrow.  "Of course.  Can you do anything useful at all?"

Helga snorted. "I'd like to see you clean or look after livestock or children. Or work the defense charms, for that matter. Or fight." Her eyes glinted suddenly while the memory of her mother's voice told her to keep her temper and was largely ignored. "Care to duel?"

Rowena smiled.  "If you like.  Wands-only, unless you feel you need to resort to barbarism."

"In a real fight, you do whatever works," Helga cooed in the sort of over-sweet voice that terrified her otherwise largely undauntable siblings, "but as you look a little fragile, I won't touch you."

"I am not fragile," said Rowena icily, "and you may try if you like; you won't have a chance to touch me." Her hand came up clenched on her wand.

Helga laughed as she drew her own. "I've heard something like that before. If you think my home is so awful, why did you come?"

"My mother brought me!"

"Why?"

Rowena opened her mouth and then, to Helga's great interest, shut it again. Her pale cheeks colored as she said reluctantly, "She said I would learn things here that I couldn't at home."

Helga felt a flash of triumph. "Well, then. I imagine Father told her what was here, so she probably didn't mean from books, either." Particularly as the stack that had followed Portia from her rug looked like almost as many as the best wizard in the village owned. To be fair, Helga admitted, "I'm glad she brought more, though. I'm halfway through the ones I've been allowed to touch already."

"Well--you'll be allowed to touch Mother's, that's what they're here for.  They're quite good."  She sighed.  "I'm sorry I insulted your home, I just wasn't given much of a choice about coming here.  We can still duel if you like--I am curious how much you know already."

"Let's, then. It should be fun."

"But, um... really no wrestling, please?  I don't want to have to explain to my mother how I got a black eye my first day here."

"Thought you said you wouldn't let me touch you," Helga said, then laughed at the other girl's expression. "I promise. But I'd heal it if I did hurt you, you know."

"Oh--you know healing already?  I've only started.  It's very interesting, the way the body works.  Complicated."  She raised her wand.  "On three?"

"Not everything, but I started as soon as I could. Little brothers." Helga raised her own wand and nodded. "One... two..."

They said "three" in chorus and at once started firing spells.

Helga quickly came to the decision that Rowena wouldn't be such a bad witch to have on her side in a real fight after all. Apparently there were some very good curses in those books the older girl was so fond of -- though she did look surprised when Helga repeated one of her own incantations back at her, and barely managed to deflect it.

But she did. That was another thing: Rowena hardly seemed to move, except for her wand arm. It made it easier to aim at her, if not necessarily to hit, but it was just... strange. Helga was used to dodging, but she might have to learn some of these....

She winced as she dodged too slowly and one of Rowena's hexes landed, a feeling of fire streaking up her leg. She'd definitely have to learn those counters.

The burning in her leg distracted Helga long enough for Rowena to fire another spell--which she dodged, throwing herself to the ground just in time.  The older girl followed up so quickly, though, that she must have been expecting Helga's desperate roll--and a paralyzing curse ended the spar decisively.

Rowena chuckled and removed her hexes, then offered a hand up.  "You're very good for your age.  And you learn quickly.  Mother will be pleased."

"Thank you." Helga grinned ruefully. "And I was right to say I'd like to see you fight -- even if I didn't quite mean it that way at the time."

"Well, I think we both said things we didn't really mean."  She paused.  "Didn't your father say we should bring back something for dinner?  Well, you, anyway, and I'd like to see how you hunt out here."

"Yes. Don't worry, we still have lots of time."

They did, really, even if Rowena wasn't much for running. Helga decided that, considering there were likely to be quite a few people coming to see the new teacher -- half the village would visit and the rest would want to, unless she missed her guess -- it would be much more sensible to bring back three birds than just one. She brought down a partridge quickly enough, then spotted a duck -- that would be perfect if --

"Drat it." The jet from her wand missed, and the duck was heading indignantly off out of range.

"Don't worry, I'll get it."  Rowena leaped into the air--and kept going, shifting into the form of a black-taloned eagle; she overtook the duck in moments and neatly plucked it out of the air, snapping its neck.  She circled back around and landed in front of Helga, transforming back with a proud smile.

Helga stared at her, mouth open. "You were a bird. You're an Animagus!"

"Yes.  I just finished the training."

"Already? Father said I had to be older before I could even start to try learning that."

"Well, I was older when I started . . . not much, though.  My father thought it would be a useful skill and an excellent challenge."

Helga stared at her raptly. "I want to learn that."

Rowena paused, frowning.  "Er . . . my mother hasn't done it; I learned from my aunt.  I'm sorry."

Helga blinked, then said, undaunted, "Then will you teach me?"

". . . I haven't taught advanced Transfiguration yet.  I don't know if I can."  She bit her lip.  "We could ask my mother, I suppose.  If she thinks I'm ready--and you are.  Do you want to be a bird as well?  Flying by yourself is just amazing."

Helga considered this. It was an appealing thought... but it wasn't quite what she wanted to do. "I want to be a badger."

"I'm not very familiar with those--I know what they are, but I haven't studied them.  You'll have to, in detail, if that's what you want to turn into.  I was watching eagles for months, learning their behavior and how they moved and . . . everything."

Helga couldn't help grinning. "I've been watching badgers for years."

"Well, that would speed things up, surely.  How close have you gotten to them?"

"Well, once a den's had time to get used to me, they'll come up and let me touch, sometimes. Unless they've little ones, naturally."

"That will make things easier.  Eagles are much more territorial--not to mention it's more difficult to reach their eyries."  She nodded decisively.  "If my mother says we can, I'll teach you."  With a wry grin, she added "You'll have to listen carefully and follow my instructions precisely and without arguing, though.  Still want to?"

Helga resisted the urge to shake her head. Badgers were very territorial; she was just very patient and knew how not to be threatening. "Yes. Can I at least ask questions?"

"Well, of course.  You can't learn if you don't ask questions."

"Good. -- Be still please." She had just spotted another duck; she aimed her wand over Rowena's shoulder, more carefully this time, and this one gave a dismal quack and dropped downward. "Accio! -- That should be plenty, I think."

"All right."  Rowena picked up the duck she'd brought down and tucked it under her arm.  "Do you have a cold room, to keep these until dinner?"

"Oh, we'll go ahead and cook them; it's late enough to start when we get back."

"All right then."  She paused, looking back and forth between the three large birds.  "Is it... likely to be very crowded at dinner?"

"Oh, everyone will want to see you and Lady Portia, so probably Father will let them know it's all right to stop in. We might eat outdoors, if it doesn't rain."

"Oh.  How many is . . . everybody?"  Rowena frowned uncertainly.  "It's just . . . I'm used to just my mother and father and I at meals.  Occasionally my aunt and uncle, but . . ."

"The whole village is... a few hundred people? Maybe? I've never counted exactly -- that would include the children, of course. But don't worry, it certainly won't be everyone at once, and most will probably just look in for a bit."

"Well . . . it would not do to embarrass my mother.  And no doubt this is one of the things I am to learn."

Helga found this rather puzzling; perhaps it was a daunting prospect if Rowena never ate with more than just a few people, but it wasn't as if there was anything in particular she'd likely have to do.... "I don't see how you'd embarrass her. It will be busy, but it's not as if you have to talk to everyone, certainly not at once."

"Oh--well . . ."  Rowena blushed.  "I was considering taking dinner in my room."  She bit her lip and hastily added "But only for a moment--it's just that I'm not used to crowds.  If they're coming to see my mother and I, however, I should be there regardless."

"It's not bad," Helga said as reassuringly as she could, starting on the way back home. "It might be a bit loud, but that's all, really. And I suppose really they're coming to see your mother, since I'm not sure it was much known she was bringing you. I didn't know, anyway."

"Are there many other children in the village?  My mother often teaches groups."

"Quite a lot. And, actually, I don't know for certain but you might be sharing my room -- and in that case a lot of them would probably come find you anyway. What if I stay by you and tell you who everyone is?"

"Oh.  I hadn't thought of that.  Thank you."  Rowena grinned.  "As long as I don't have to duel every one of them as well."

"Not over dinner!" Helga managed to sound scandalized, then grinned back. "Probably not ever, unless you want to."

"All right then."  Rowena brushed a few twigs off the sleeve of her robe and smiled archly.  "Perhaps after dinner."

*****

"Oh, go on, don't you want to hold her? She's friendly."

Godric regarded the other thirteen-year-old and the long green serpent he proferred. "Well, no, not particularly. I've never had much interest in cuddling snakes." He glanced at the curiously lidded eyes on the creature, then let his gaze slide away and back up to Salazar's face.

It looked delighted. "You're scared, aren't you? You want to fight dragons, but you're afraid to touch a basilisk."

As if protecting people from marauding dragons weren't a perfectly reasonable goal in life and about the only way he was likely to get anywhere near such beautiful but deadly creatures, Salazar had been treating it like the greatest joke in the world for weeks. Godric was getting very tired of this.

He grimaced and scrubbed at the dried sweat on his face. He had spent the morning trying to make his sword into a secondary focus for his magic -- it was working, partly because of how much he'd poured into the forging, but the work was nearly as hot and exhausting as the forging had been in the first place, and as delicate as the jewel-work. He was pleased with himself, but too tired to put much enthusiasm into it and certainly in no mood for Salazar's taunting.

"No," he said crossly. "I'm afraid she'll decide to bite me or I'll meet her eyes. That's only sense. If you go after a dragon without enough fear of fire to be careful, you're dead."

Salazar rolled his eyes. "I've told her about keeping her eyes shut."

"I never saw a snake shut its eyes before. Besides, what if she doesn't like being blind?" He certainly wouldn't.

"Most can't," Salazar said smugly. "Basilisks, conveniently, have eyelids. She doesn't much care about seeing; she can find her way as well or better by smell and heat, and basilisks are docile anyway, as snakes go." Basilisks were docile? "She's got no reason to bite you, either. She's too small to eat you, and as far as she knows humans are nice -- we're warm and pet her and give her food. Of course, she only knows me so far. But unless you hurt her, you'll be fine." Salazar frowned at him. "Really, I thought you'd have just enough sense to handle her. I don't want to start by introducing her to someone who'd panic and drop her."

Godric returned the look of disgust. Flattery now, if backhanded. Oh well -- he doubted Salazar was a murderer, even if he was obnoxious, and he knew the other wasn't stupid -- especially about snakes. Maybe if he gave in now Salazar would behave himself and Godric wouldn't have to throw him out another window. That hadn't gone well, in his opinion, though Salazar had been at least marginally more polite since.

"Fine, I'll take her. I still say it's a creepy talent."

"But very useful," Salazar riposted. "Now, be gentle, but don't drop her." He gave a low, hair-raising hiss no human should have been able to produce and lowered the young basilisk's head to Godric's wrist.

The forked tongue flicked out, nearly touching skin, before the dry, sleek scales on her chin settled on the back of Godric's hand for a moment. Then the basilisk wrapped herself around his arm, gripped it, and slithered up until there were three coils around his forearm and her head came just above his elbow.

Godric turned his arm slightly, inspecting the snake, then snorted. "Not what I thought it would feel like." A grin tugged at the corners of his mouth. "Did you know, you sounded like my mother warning me to hold my first baby sister properly?"

Salazar grimaced, but didn't insult the woman's magicless status again, even though he technically had a deadly weapon trained on Godric. "Well, she is just a baby." He paused. "Her name is Sharessa."

There was a soft hiss from the basilisk, and Godric felt her rub her head against his arm. Salazar started and gave her an appalled look.

"What did he say?"

The freckled nose wrinkled. "That she likes you." Salazar hmphed discontentedly. "No accounting for taste."

*****

Finally finished for the day, Godric walked wearily out of doors, carrying his sword carefully despite the temptation to let it droop. The blade still glowed with magic that would have burned or melded to any sheath but maybe Excalibur's famed one; only the hilt was cool in his hand, and the rubies kept seeming to throb like a heartbeat with promise.

Godric was inclined to think that rather than having any greater significance, this meant he was so tired his own pulse was playing tricks on his vision. The blade should cool soon so he could put it away.

He crested the low hill and tilted his head up, catching the cool breeze that chased the setting sun. Then he looked down into the shadows and at once threw himself flat, still holding the sword carefully but awkwardly above the grass, and moved to crouch beside a bush with the glowing blade hidden behind it.

There were three half-shadowed figures near the base of the hill. On the opposite slope from the village, they probably didn't expect to be seen, but Godric had no intention of looking like a target should they happen to check the hilltop.

Because something was very wrong. The two men facing him had their faces covered, though he thought by their build and posture he could narrow their possible identities to within a few people. The third was a boy and should be Salazar -- almost had to be -- but he stood rigid, and his hair looked wrong. Color was difficult to tell in the fading light, but Godric had found his night vision improving ever since he'd begun training in the Animagus transformation, and even if the lack of red was a trick of the light, there was a strange damp shine and the hair appeared to be moving.

"Death to the serpent-tongued," intoned one of the men.

The other's wand moved. "Morsmordre."

Godric set his teeth against the wash of Dark magic as a cloud blossomed from the wand and took the form of a sickly, rot-green skull with a snake dripping from between the jaws.

He knew those voices. They belonged to skilled wizards, and while it might have been possible for him and Salazar to take them together -- both were powerful for their age and could have done well, at least with the advantage of surprise -- he knew he couldn't defeat them both alone. His master had been called to another village earlier in the day; Salazar's had been gone two days already, much to the irritation of his apprentice (and Godric, since Salazar seemed inclined to relieve his own foul mood by transferring it to him).

The fleeting, spiteful thought "Good riddance" crossed his mind; Godric was instantly horrified at himself. He'd be glad not to have to deal with the other boy, but not that way.

Stamping on the unworthy thought didn't slow his feet. If he couldn't fight them himself, he'd have to scare them -- and if he was lucky, Sharessa would help.

Of course, if he wasn't lucky....

He dropped to his knees by her pen and opened it, leaning down to put his forearm on the ground. "Salazar's in trouble," he said quietly, not looking directly into the pen and feeling like an utter fool. There was no way the basilisk would understand human speech any more than he could make sense of her hissing.

Apparently that didn't matter, though, as he felt her crawl alongside his arm. Risking a quick glance, he carefully picked her up by the neck and stood. She writhed in the air until he dropped to one knee and let her brace against his other leg to wrap around his arm. She seemed to have grown longer than before, and raised her head when he let it go -- then opened her eyes to peek at the ground.

Godric caught a glimpse of yellow and snapped his eyes away, heart pounding. As he didn't seem to be dead, he reminded himself of why he was carrying a basilisk and ran back to the hilltop. Peripheral vision told him Sharessa had shut her eyes again.

He made no effort at stealth this time. Instead he prepared a quick shield, held his sword before him, and shouted, "Stand away from him!" as loudly as he could.

It would have been slightly more intimidating if his voice hadn't cracked. Even so, it served its purpose; the men looked up at him, away from Salazar.

He must have been a sight, descending on them from the last rays of the evening light, with a glowing sword in one hand and a serpent on the other arm.

Sharessa lifted her head and underlined his words with a long, angry hiss, and they froze.

While they stared he cast Stupefy twice in quick succession, taking advantage of their shock, then guessed Salazar's unnatural stillness was on account of the Body-Bind and cast the counter-curse before following up the stun-spells with the slightly more cumbersome Petrificus Totalus, putting them in a full body-bind of his own in case they woke up.

It seemed that the sword worked very well as a focus.

Salazar, worryingly, still had barely moved. He had changed position just enough that Godric knew he'd used the right counterspell, but was still holding himself rigid and now looked to be in pain.

Godric raised the glowing sword to use as a lamp, frowning to see Salazar's almost imperceptible flinch, and took a closer look -- then swallowed hard as his stomach turned. Each hair he could see had been turned into a wriggling creature, glistening with slime and trying to burrow deeper into skin. This included eyelashes; no wonder Salazar didn't want to move much....

"Finite incantatem." Always a good start, but in this case it did no good. The hex had been defended, then.

Salazar gave a short hiss of pain. Godric eyed him worriedly and tried "Reverso serpens." Again, nothing.

"Not snakes," Salazar gasped. "I tried to speak -- worms. They're worms. Where is my wand?" His voice sounded understandably strained.

"I don't know," Godric told him. "Reverso vermes!"

That had an effect. Even a moderately improved one, if not exactly what he'd had in mind. Instead of reversing the transformation, it reversed all the worms head-to-tail so that they began crawling outward.

Salazar immidiately sneezed, spraying the ground (and narrowly missing Godric) with minuscule worms and tiny drops of blood.

Godric stepped back in disgust and muttered a curse that was very useful both for expressing annoyance and for causing all vermin within a certain radius to drop ded. It worked very well on the worms; he should have thought of that in the first place.

He managed to hand off the basilisk to Salazar, whereupon he had a hand free to reach his wand. He held it out. "Here."

Salazar looked slightly bewildered, then cautiously took the wand. Between them they made short work of the worms, though they decided that regrowth would be much preferable to reattachment under the circumstances.

"That was a nasty one," Godric remarked afterwards, as he poked through the grass in search of Salazar's wand. "I thought you were supposed to be learning to defend yourself."

He regretted the comment at once; Salazar, who had dropped to sit on the ground with the basilisk once all the dead worms were safely disposed of, looked away and said dully, "I am." He scratched his head, now covered in short hair; his nails came away with dark blood underneath.

"I didn't mean it like that," Godric began.

"You did."

Godric sighed. "I shouldn't have, then. It's no time to joke -- but I didn't mean to be cruel. They're already supposed to know, you know.... Look, if I'd thought I could handle them alone, I'd not have gone back for Sharessa." He paused. "Can you ask her to hunt for your wand? It should smell like you, and I'mnot having much luck here."

"And you want yours back." Salazar hissed and let the basilisk down. "Though you were using that sword about as well -- I gather the experiment worked."

"I told you it would." Godric felt near the blade cautiously, found it much cooler, and laid it in the grass. "Are you all right?"

"Well enough." Salazar looked at Sharessa, who was already on her way back with his wand in her mouth. He took it, then held up Godric's. "I thought you agreed with them."

Godric hesitated, then sat down beside Salazar before taking his wand back. "I think you've got a creepy talent. That doesn't mean I want you dead." He eyed the malevolent-looking illusion. "I think you're a devious little snob, too, but I don't want to kill you for that either." He paused. "Usually. And it wouldn't be right if I did."

"I'm learning how to counter Dark Arts." Salazar glared at the symbol. "It shouldn't require them to do that; it's just an illusion."

Godric wondered if that had been somehow intended as a response, then shrugged it off and offered, "Maybe it was the malice? Unless they did something else."

"Malice alone shouldn't give that feel to an illusion spell." Salazar poked at the illusory serpent's head with his wand. The snake snapped at the end of the wood and tried to dart along it toward his hand; he flicked it to the ground and hissed it to a halt, then said, "Finite incantatem." Skull and serpent vanished. "I'd say they did something else."

"Some people," Godric observed, "do not go poking things that were incanted with 'Death-bite.'" He looked down and blinked when he found Sharessa mouthing the end of his sword. "Salazar, tell your basilisk swords aren't edible before she hurts herself."

Salazar turned, looking rather startled, and knelt again to coax the basilisk away from the blade. "Why did you bring her? I know I told you she's friendly, but I wasn't sure you believed me."

Godric shrugged. "I wasn't sure I could fight them, so I wanted to intimidate them."

"The glowing sword wouldn't have done it?"

"Maybe, maybe not. I got the impression they wouldn't do well with snakes." Godric considered the unconscious men, then stunned them again. Just in case.

"You'd have been in trouble if she'd opened her eyes. I had mine shut, but I know they stared." Salazar added as an afterthought, "Idiots."

"They'd have brought it on themselves," Godric said contemptuously. "Bullies."

Salazar bristled. "I'm not a weakling. Or a squib. Or --"

Godric cut him off firmly. "No, but they're more experienced, and there were two of them. You're not that good, either."

"Yet." Salazar looked mutinous.

"Maybe." Godric shrugged and nudged one of the men with a toe. "My master will hear of this when he gets back. And I'll send my father a bird."

"My own family can deal with it perfectly well, and will. I'll speak to my own father."

"He has a personal stake. Mine can stand on principle, and some who might not pay attention to yours because he has you might liste to mine."

"I thought you didn't like politics."

"I thought you did. I don't; that doesn't mean I don't understand them at all."

Salazar's expression turned mischievous. "But do you understand the people who do like them?"

"Probably not, if you're an example," Godric admitted. "You should stay with me tonight -- we'll take these so they can't spread some other story to whoever finds them, but if they're not the only ones...."

The humor faded and Salazar looked away. "I am indebted to you."

Godric blinked and shrugged. "Sharessa helped, you know. Don't worry about it." He couldn't leave someone in trouble; that didn't mean he was plotting to collect life-debts, though he imagined someone like Salazar might see it that way. "I'm sure you'll have the chance to save my neck sometime."

"You'll probably be drunk."

"I beg your pardon. I usually charge into trouble in full possession of all my senses."

"Such as they are."

"You're feeling better," Godric decided, "and you look almost presentable now, though you might want to clean the blood off before you sleep." He offered Salazar a hand up and cast Mobilicorpus on the two attackers. "Come on."

*****

By the time they had told their story and given their captives into other custody, there was an owl waiting for Godric with a letter saying that his master would be staying the night and should return the next day. Godric had been hoping it would be sooner, but other than that, things had gone better than expected.

Godric himself was believed almost without question; he was generally considered guileless, though opinion varied as to whether this indicated that he was an honorable man or a fool. And Salazar was apparently well liked, except for the Parselmouth matter, and some of the few magicless families in the area had spoken up on that subject. It seemed that Salazar had dealt with snakes in their homes for them on a few occasions. Godric was amazed that he'd managed not to offend them mortally in the process.

Godric blanked the parchment and carefully wrote a brief account of the attack while the owl ate a mouse. "I like ravens better," he muttered.

"They're good enough for those who can't read." Salazar shrugged. "They blab secrets sometimes, though."

"Not well-trained ones -- or at least it's no more likely than the wrong person reading a letter." Godric paused. "What shall I say you're doing?"

Salazar's shoulders stiffened. "I can take care --"

"So do your little basilisks automatically distrust everyone but you?" Godric asked casually. "Or do they know how much trouble you'd be in if they looked at or bit someone, even to protect themselves?"

That earned him a glower. "Did you think about that, when you brought Sharessa down with you?"

That... could have been a problem. "...Not enough, maybe, but I was in a bit of a hurry. We have time to stop and think now, at least a little -- and besides, you said she was friendly and knew to keep her eyes shut; you didn't mention that about the others."

Salazar eyed him. "Are you suggesting you'd sleep in the same room with four basilisks?"

"If they're housebroken," Godric replied solemnly.

Salazar's mouth twitched before he looked away. He seemed to be trying to be obstinate about it... but then he slumped a bit. "I suppose there probably are others, and pride's not much good if I'm dead."

"You'd be on your guard the rest of the night, I should think," Godric said with a shrug. "But then, you wouldn't get any sleep."

Neither of them slept heavily that night, and Godric's sword lay near to hand until they woke at dawn.

*****

//
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