The warm spring sun shone brightly out of the clear April sky - the first clear day the Scottish countryside had seen all year - and a lazy breeze ruffled the soft, green grass that covered the rolling hills surrounding Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The school was new, barely into its sixth year, and yet it had already become a sanctuary for those young – and not so young – wizards and witches that now called it home. Rowena Ravenclaw and Salazar Slytherin, two of the four founders, sat atop a hill that overlooked the school, the lake, and much of the surrounding countryside. Though they had been rivals at first, the two had quickly grown to rely upon each other for guidance, friendship, and support. The journey to safety – through villages where the occupants would gladly have burned them alive, through the struggle and hardship of losing friends and loved ones – had been long and arduous, and it would have been impossible for the two of them to have not grown close. They were open with each other, for each had seen too many horrors to now be frightened of secrets and hidden pasts.
The two sat closely together, surveying their home with satisfaction. The silence was companionable, and neither of them felt the need to break it at present.
Rowena, of course, was never satisfied with quietness for very long - her mind moved too rapidly to be at peace for more than a few moments.
'Why do you wear that silly locket?' she asked, pointing at the heavy, silver necklace hanging around his neck. Salazar rolled his eyes heavenward; Rowena had always been very blunt and straightforward.
'It is not silly,' he replied testily, barely holding on to his thin patience, which Rowena had tested time and again over the years. She had also, however, helped him reign it in. 'It is a family heirloom.' He reached up to finger it, feeling the large, serpentine S engraved on the front, and the green gems inlaid in it. He had been wearing the locket for so long that he knew, without having to look at it, where each gem was set, how each looked, and how they glittered and gleamed in the sunlight. It was a bit silly, he had to admit - it was heavy and clunky and gaudy, very unlike the much plainer and simpler adornments he usually wore. But he could never bring himself to go a day without it.
'Sentimentality, Salazar?' Rowena asked in some surprise, one of her eyebrows rising to her hairline. 'I would never have suspected it of you.' Salazar laughed shortly and humorlessly.
'Even the best of us have our weak moments,' he said dryly. 'If you must know, I received it from my mother when I was quite young.'
'Oh?' Rowena inquired with interest. 'I have never heard you mention her before. When did she give it to you?' Salazar frowned slightly. It wasn’t the memory he had to work to recall – he knew it well enough; replayed it over and over in his mind. Rather, he was trying to decide whether or not it was a tale he wished to share. 'Do tell, Salazar,' Rowena pleaded. Her inquisitive nature was sure to get her in trouble, but while Salazar’s frown deepened, he took a deep breath anyways, and began his tale.
'Salazar!' His mother’s voice was frantic, a tone he had heard from her all too frequently over the past month. 'Salazar, come! We must hurry!' Saorla Slytherin held her hand out to her young son urgently, and Salazar took it, wrapping his small fingers tightly around her larger ones.
'Where are we going, mother?' he asked, his voice trembling despite his best attempts to be brave.
'Away,' Saorla answered shortly, sticking her head out the door of their small hut and looking around cautiously before tugging him out into the blue-black night. It was quiet – only the sounds of birds and crickets disturbed the air – but Salazar, even at such a young age, could sense the tension and menace hanging in the air. 'It is not safe here any longer.' She began to walk briskly, her fast pace almost too much for his short legs.
'Mother,' he whined, struggling to keep up. 'Mother, please, can we slow down?'
'No, Salazar. We must hurry. It is not safe.' Saorla was looking this way and that like a hunted rabbit, her ears tuned to catch even the smallest sound. Every twig breaking, every bird call, was a threat to her ears, something to jump at.
'It is never safe,' Salazar muttered, but attempted to pick up his pace all the same. A sudden shout made Saorla yank Salazar down so the two of them were crouching in the undergrowth, looking back at the hut they had called home for nearly a year. A large group of Muggles from the nearby village were surrounding the small dwelling, shouting for Saorla to 'Come out an’ bring yer brat!' Salazar cowered against his mother, trembling with fear and cold. He could see, at the very forefront of the angry mob, his own grandfather, his mother’s Muggle father, who had cast Saorla out and persecuted her vehemently upon learning that she was a witch. Saorla had spotted him too: she let out an angry hiss, her hand automatically going to the intricately engraved silver locket that hung around her slender neck, the only thing she had left of the people she had once called family. Salazar heard the snapping and crunching of wood as the mob broke down the door to the hut.
'She’s not ‘ere!' one of the men shouted angrily, waving his torch in the air. An outraged cry rippled through their ranks, and, one by one, they tossed their burning torches onto the peat roof, and through the windows and what used to be the door. The smell of smoke quickly permeated the clean night air, and Salazar threw his hands over his mouth and nose to block the stench.
'Come along,' Saorla murmured, gently tugging on Salazar’s hand.
'Why does grandfather hate you?' Salazar asked breathlessly as they ran swiftly through the dense forest. Saorla was silent for a long while, and Salazar was sure that, like she had every other time he had asked, she would simply not answer. After several quiet minutes of running, however, she pulled him to a stop at the base of a rotted, hollow tree and tugged him into the cramped cave the trunk made.
'Grandfather despises me,' she began, once again fingering her locket, 'because I remind him of someone. I remind him of someone he lost, and he despises me because I am different from how he remembers her.' She hugged Salazar’s small body close to her own and opened the locket, showing him the contents. Inside were two very small, very intricate portraits, one of a beautiful young woman, the other of the same woman, several years later, and a handsome, dark-haired man. 'This, Salazar,' she explained, pointing to the woman, 'is my mother. Her names was also Saorla, and she was very young and in love when she married my father. She never told him she was a witch. I believe,' Saorla sniffed and reached up quickly to wipe her eyes. 'I believe she meant to tell him, but she died too soon. So, when it became clear that I have magical abilities, he condemned me, and cast me out.' Saorla took a shuddering breath and pulled Salazar even closer. She looked down at her son with a smile, and smoothed his curly black hair back from his forehead. 'Sleep, Salazar,' she whispered, rocking him gently. 'Sleep, my darling.' She began to croon a soft lullaby to him, and he drifted off to a sleep filled with dreams of flames and evil men who threw beautiful young girls out to the cold.
'Wake up!' Salazar woke to his mother’s quiet but urgent hiss in his ear.
'What is it, mother?' he asked sleepily, rubbing his eyes with his fists.
'Shh,' she cautioned, laying a warning finger across his lips. She peered cautiously out of their small shelter, pulling her head back in quickly when she caught a movement out of the corner of her eye. She stayed still for what seemed like a very long time before looking out again and relaxing slightly. 'Salazar,' she whispered very quietly, 'I am going to go search for food. Stay here.' She took the locket off her neck and handing it to him. 'Keep this close to you always. I will be right back.'
'Do not go, mother,' Salazar pleaded. He clutched the locket tightly in one fist, and a handful of her skirts in the other. 'Please, stay with me.'
'Shh, shh,' she soothed, pulling him close and kissing the top of his head. 'We need food, my darling. I will return for you. Keep the locket close, and I will be near you always.'
'Do not go,' Salazar begged again, crying in earnest now. 'Please, mother, do not leave me here alone.'
'Salazar,' she said gently, holding him out at arm’s length and gently taking his chin in her hand. 'Be brave for me, yes? I will be right back.' Salazar nodded pitifully and wiped his nose with his dirty sleeve. Saorla kissed his head once more, looked out into the woods, and slipped out of the tree cave and away from him.
It seemed she was gone forever. Salazar sat anxiously in the mouth of the cave, clutching the locket closely to his chest and peering out into the gathering gloom. He had no idea how long he sat there before he finally drifted off to sleep, his head falling to rest again the side of the tree. He was asleep for no more than a moment before he was jerked rudely awake by a high-pitched, terrified scream that sounded quite close to where he was hiding. He stood up quickly, his heart leaping into his throat as another pain-filled shriek rent the night air.
'Mother!' he tried to yell, but his voice would not obey him, and it came out a dry, rasping whisper. 'Mother!'
'No!' he heard Saorla shriek. 'No, please!' Her cries ended abruptly in a long, gurgling sigh.
'Mother!' Salazar tried again, already stumbling on his short legs towards where he had heard his mother’s screams. 'Mother!' He found Saorla lying against a tall, graceful maple tree, her dark hair a sharp contrast to the pale bark. Saorla was bleeding freely from her chest, a dark pool already forming around her body.
'Salazar,' she sighed when she spotted him. She stopped to catch her breath, the wound on her chest cutting her oxygen short. It was obvious, even to young Salazar, that she had mere minutes left. 'My darling.' She held her pale hand out to him, and he rushed to take it, tears coursing down his face. 'I am sorry, darling,' she murmured, obviously finding it hard to breathe. 'So...sorry.' She closed her eyes, and Salazar squeezed her hand, his stomach leaping into his throat. Her eyes fluttered back open, however, and she looked into his with startling clarity. 'Keep it close,' she whispered, nodding towards the locket still clenched in his fist. 'Promise....' Her voice trailed off, and she smiled ever so slightly as he nodded. 'Salazar,' she whispered one last time, before her eyes slid past him and stopped to stare glassily at the starry sky. Salazar clutched the locket tightly in his small fist and used his other hand to gently cover his mother with her cloak. As he stood, he looked down at the silver locket – at the serpentine S and the glittering green gems – before slipping it over his dark head, vowing to wear it, in his mother’s name, for all the rest of his life.
Rowena stared at Salazar, taking in his distant, pained expression, and how his long-fingered hand clutched the locket so tightly. 'I am sorry,' she whispered, reaching out to lay a hand on his arm.Salazar came to with a start, looking out at the rolling green hills, the dark blue lake, and the castle as if seeing them for the first time. 'It was long ago,' he said brusquely, standing up abruptly. 'Nothing but old stories and sentimentalities now.' Rowena watched him stride off towards the castle, shivering in the sunlight that now seemed weak and cold. She thought with a pang of sympathy of the young, scared boy that Salazar had been. And, although she did not condone it, she began to feel, despite herself, an inkling of understanding for how Salazar felt about Muggles. Rowena stood up, brushing the leaves and grass from her skirts, and hurried towards the castle, wishing to be away from the memory of Salazar's history.