Author's Note: Ah, the success of author's guilt. Be nice and review, please; I'm probably going to hate the world when I have to suffer at work tomorrow because I stayed up way passed my bedtime to finally get this darling little chapter out. Rest assured, however, that I'll always have a tender place in my heart for reviewers. :flutters eyelashes innocently:

To prove to you that I haven't been sitting around with a thumb up my butt in regards to this story, I'd like to point out that I have parts of chapters twelve and seventeen already written, as well as most of chapters thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen completed. I also have a good portion of the epilogue written somewhere. Trust me; I'm in this for the long haul. I just write completely out of order. :grins: Hey, whenever the mood strikes, I always say...

One tiny little favor. Please, if I happen to write and post something that has nothing to do with this story line, don't mention HPatFH when or if you review. While I appreciate all of my reviewers making the effort to review in the first place, and the mentioning of "when are you going to post the next chapter of HPatFH?" doesn't necessarily make me angry or upset, it's a tad bit annoying to blow steam on a different project only to be reminded that there was a reason I deviated from this fic in the first place. Burning out on a fic isn't something I intend to do, and if I don't explore other avenues for my muse occasionally, I'll explode. (God, I feel like a git for being stickler over this, but there ya go.)

Anyway, without further adieu -Onward!

(PS -Simple warning. :grins sheepishly: Not proofread. Heheh. Predictable 'R' Me.)

Harry Potter and the Forgotten Heirs Part 11

The moment Draco woke, disoriented and hellishly groggy, he was instantly aware of a warm body pressing flush against his back, a tanned arm wrapped loosely around his waist. He had neither the willpower nor the energy to assume the worst and react accordingly, and to be completely honest, he wouldn't have had the inclination to act first and ask questions later even if Bellatrix Lestrange had crawled into bed with him.

Wufei surely would have been disappointed if he ever found out; at that moment, however, Draco was simply too damn tired to care. He just wanted to go back to sleep. Nngh. Tired...

Slowly but surely the memories of his late night and early morning troubles pierced the dull fog that encompassed his brain, and with those bitter memories came the recollection of why he was still abed at sixteen minutes passed four in the afternoon, as well as the identity of the person snuggling into his back.

Not long after breakfast, Draco excused himself from company, the throbbing pressure behind his eyes and around his temples clear signs of a terrible headache born of extreme irritation and recent sleep deprivation. Harry, the blond recalled, had followed him not long after Draco left the Great Hall, catching up with the former Malfoy heir in the proximity of Severus Snape's Potions classroom.

Without exchanging so much as a word, Draco silently led the Gryffindor into the bowels of the dungeons, only sparing a curt verbal prompt for the Slytherin House's inner sanctum to open up to them. His feet dragging, Draco (Harry still silently following behind him) trudged up to his (thankfully) private Head Boy chamber, threw himself onto his four poster bed after shedding his robes, and stuffed his head under his fluffy pillow with a pained moan.

And, still saying nothing, Harry had crawled into bed and held Draco until the blond, sighing, instantly fell into a self-induced coma, comforted by something as simple as being held.

"Spirits, we're such a sappy pair," Draco mumbled, proud that his groggy slur was hardly noticeable.

Harry snickered quietly, his hot breathe ghosting over the back of Draco's neck. "Nice nap, though."

No argument there. "Fantastic nap. Now I can successfully resist the urge to kill that evil fiend Quatre for depriving me of a full eight-hour sleep."

Harry inhaled sharply, blurting, "You don't think Quatre-?" The Gryffindor cut himself off for a moment before mumbling, "What am I saying? Of course it was Quatre. Duo couldn't have masterminded something that cruel."

"Wouldn't be so sure about that," Draco murmured, instantly recalling the cheerful American's sweet crooning as he methodically (and gleefully) toyed with the minds and emotions of those idiot muggles to whom Harry had once been condemned. The memory brought a smug smirk to Draco's lips.

"I don't even want to know what Duo did to inspire such a look," Harry mumbled, having raised his head to originally glance at the Tempus on the Head Boy's bedside table, only to be distracted by his boyfriend's smirk. Once the time -now twenty-one minutes after four -registered to Harry's sleep fogged brain, he groaned and flopped back into a prone position, tightening his arm around Draco's waist as he buried his face against the blond's back. "I was supposed to meet Hermione and Ron twenty minutes ago."

Draco grinned lewdly. "Tell them you were... tied up."

Harry, to Draco's knowledge, didn't catch the innuendo; on that matter, Draco didn't really believe Harry would have understood what the blond was implying even before he made the comment. Naive Gryffindor...

He wouldn't have Harry any other way, as much as it privately disgusted Draco to admit even to himself. Face it, Draco... You're a sap. Ugh.

"Somehow, I don't think Hermione will accept that as an appropriate excuse," Harry said dryly, reluctantly pulling away from Draco as he sat up in bed. The Gryffindor stretched languidly, emitting a kittenish mewl of relief when his shoulders audibly popped as he raised his arms to the ceiling. "She thinks I don't take the story of my life seriously enough as it is."

"That's because Granger has a stick wedged so far up her-"

"Draco!" Harry snapped.

Undeterred, the blond Slytherin continued, "-that it can be mistaken as a secondary spine. What? You know it's true." Draco scowled, turning his head away from Harry's reproving stare to glower at the wall. "She's so bloody anal that she has to be in control of everything, even to the extent that she has to have the last word on who should be involved in your life and who shouldn't, no matter that person's relationship with you. Tell me, Harry, do you honestly blame me for being a tad bit more frustrated with her than usual?"

"That's what this is about?" Harry asked softly, his voice no longer projecting his ire.

"Of course that's what this is about! What's the running theme of your life, Harry?" Draco muttered bitterly. "Voldemort and the Philosopher's Stone, the basilisk and the Chamber of Secrets, escaped convicts and pets that turn out to be Death Eaters, the Tri-Wizard Tournament, Voldemort trying to manipulate you into doing his bidding! Almost every year you find yourself in another life-threatening situation, and you expect me to be complacent with not knowing what's going on this time?" He snorted derisively. "Not bloody likely."

Yes, part of Draco's lingering foul mood had a lot to do with his boyfriend's refreshed pursuit of dangerous (and possibly fatal) adventures; more to the point, he was upset that he had been summarily kicked to the curb as soon as Granger had the chance to curtly dismiss him, snatching Harry by the collar and dragging him down the corridor of the train under the obviously fabricated excuse that his Gryffindor boyfriend and his boyfriend's friends had 'a lot to catch up on'. Draco probably wouldn't have been as irritated if Shacklebolt hadn't delivered that odd letter to Harry after the conclusion of that obscenely long prefects' meeting. He definitely hadn't liked it when Harry, in a state of befuddled excitement, had shown Granger the contents of the letter before she dragged the green-eyed boy down the corridor, with Harry smiling at him apologetically over his shoulder.

"You're always pessimistic about my so-called hero complex," Harry explained after a moment's hesitation. "I thought you wouldn't want to be involved..."

"I've resigned myself to the idea that you'll never get over the Gryffindor hero thing," Draco grumbled petulantly. "That doesn't mean I don't want to know what's going on, nor does it mean I don't want to help if I can." And be in a position to stop you from doing anything monumentally stupid without first thinking things through, he added mentally. The downfall of the Gryffindor Complex was that those that hailed from that House had a tendency to react without strategy, after all.

As if a light flickered to life, Harry's eyes widened, his face breaking out into an eager grin. "There is a way you can help," the green-eyed boy said, almost reverently as he scooted closer to Draco. "I mean, if you really want to."

"Don't you have to consult with Granger and that Weasel of yours?" Draco said with residual bitterness, most of his irritation quickly forgotten when he suddenly became very aware of the heat Harry's body was emanating. The former Malfoy heir... felt like snuggling. He's like a bloody human safety blanket, the blond thought in horrified fascination. One part of him really wanted to give in, to rest his head on Harry's shoulder and cuddle as his boyfriend went on about what fool adventure Draco could blindly throw himself into like a bloody Gryffindor. The other, more Slytherinesque part of him was sicking up noisily in the corner, nauseated by the warm and fuzzy feeling that only ever overcame Draco when Harry was involved.

"They'll understand," Harry said in dismissal, waving Draco's sarcasm to the side. "I mean, Ron might be a pureblood, but he doesn't know as much about noble lineages like you probably do."

Draco raised his eyebrows in interest. "Go on," he drawled, "I'm all ears." Sweet justice; Harry admitting that Draco could supply more aid than that loser Weasley made his day, even though he suspected Harry didn't quite view it that way. In any case, he was definitely in the mood to take on anything that involved noble genealogy; he made it his business to know the Who's Who of Pureblood Wizarding Society.

"I need you to help me find the Four Heirs of Hogwarts."

Anything but that.

"There's a prophecy," Harry went on, hardly pausing long enough to notice that Draco had gone completely still, unable to look in the Gryffindor's direction for fear the oblivious boy might actually notice how reluctant Draco was to fulfill Harry's request. "Better than the one Voldemort knows is stored in the Department of Mysteries. We don't know who wrote it -the man or woman who sent it to me signed 'The Oracle', and Hermione plans to research that alongside the ritual the prophecy mentioned... I'm getting way ahead of myself. Long story short, there's an ancient ritual, and we need the Four Heirs of Hogwarts to enact it. The prophecy said that was how Voldemort will be defeated."

Wait a minute. "The prophecy said?" Draco said doubtfully, his attention catching that small inconsistency. "The prophecy just... spelled it out? Do you have any idea how likely that this prophecy you randomly received through the post is even valid?" He pulled his knees closer to his chest, leaning forward slightly to rest his crossed arms on his raised knees and stared at his boyfriend. "Prophecies are vague for a reason -the future isn't set in stone. We can change the outcome of what's to happen through conscious and unconscious decisions every day."

"Even something at this magnitude?" Harry shot back, refusing to bend. "C'mon, Draco -even I'm somewhat aware that there is a huge difference between someone who can call himself a Seer and someone who has the knackers to call himself an Oracle.

And this is the same Oracle, Draco thought privately, that told the Heir of Slytherin about the Chamber of Secrets -and addressed it to Duo personally. As much as Draco hated to admit it, this new breed of detailed prophecy held a great deal of water, as far as validity went.

"Okay," Draco said finally, sighing in defeat. "I can see you aren't going to give up on this. We'll pretend there's a chance that you've finally found a way to turn the tides in our favor."

"How gracious of you," Harry said, rolling his eyes.

Cheeky git. "So you want me to help you find the Heirs of Hogwarts," Draco drawled, narrowing his eyes to slits as he smirked smugly at Harry. "What's in it for me?"

Harry blinked. "Uh... Didn't you want to be included?"

"There's a large difference between being included and doing something for nothing," Draco declared, his smirk widening daringly. "I can offer you a great deal of help, as I happen to know much more about lineages than the... common pureblood." Take that, weasel-boy.

"Well, yes," Harry said evenly. "That's why I asked you to help me. You're the biggest pureblood freak I know."

Draco's smirk immediately fled, and he narrowed his eyes dangerously at Harry. Pureblood 'freak'?

Belatedly realizing that there was a chance that Draco would take great offense to the words he chose, he quickly attempted to amend himself by saying, "You know -American muggle slang. Means, uh, you're a specialist."

"It means," Draco said flatly, "'one who is obsessed.' And you're a terrible liar."

Harry had the grace to look mildly sheepish about his flimsy attempt to soothe his boyfriend being called for what it was -a flimsy lie set out to appease the blond. For a moment, the green-eyed Gryffindor appeared lost as to what he could offer that would appeal to his Slytherin boyfriend. Meanwhile, Draco was ready to make Harry's self-appointed task as difficult as possible. Oh, he'd eventually agree to do as the other asked -the Slytherin wasn't completely without scruples, and Harry deserved a little more consideration on the merit that he managed to put up with Draco's abrasive nature on a daily basis alone. After that 'freak' wisecrack, however, Draco certainly wasn't going to go easy on his boyfriend.

And then... Harry smiled.

Draco had an uneasy feeling that he was going to buckle a lot sooner than he intended.

"Has Duo ever told you," Harry began smugly, leaning ever so closer to Draco; more to the point, Draco's ear. His voice lowered to a husky whisper, he continued, "about an American muggle sport called baseball?"

Draco smothered the urge to visibly shift, his nerves on edge. He didn't know what some silly, vapid muggle sport had to do with the subject at hand, but Harry's warm breath ghosting over the shell of his ear suitably distracted the blond from making any derisive comment about the random American sport. "Uh, no."

"Well, they play it on the ground," Harry said, amused when Draco shivered as the green-eyed boy casually placed his hand on the Slytherin's thigh for balance. "The field is shaped like a diamond; on the four points of the diamond, there are bases. The goal of the game is for the player to start off on the first base -home base. The opposing team is spread out on the field at nine key positions, one of which happens to be the pitcher." Lips barely brushing against the shell of Draco's ear, Harry murmured, "Following me so far?"

"... Maybe," Draco floundered, not quite understanding where Harry was going with this baseball thing, though definitely not wanting to stall the green-eyed boy's approach to the matter.

"The pitcher," Harry continued, his hand trailing just a little higher up on Draco's thigh, "throws a ball that the player on home base is supposed to hit with a long piece of wood shaped like a slim Beater's bat. The batter's goal is to hit the ball as hard as he can. That goal accomplished, he immediately runs to first base before the opposing team can get the ball back to their teammate standing vigilant over first base.

"If the batter gets to first base safely," Harry finally concluded, his green-eyes glittering in amusement, "he wins a healthy snogging session. Draco, you're going to be that lucky batter when you find the first Heir."

For a moment, Draco forgot how to breathe.

"When you find the second Heir," Harry murmured saucily, "you get to second base. Now, second base incorporates naughty touches above the waist. Third Heir, third base. Clothes are optional by that point."

Oh, by the spirits...

"And the fourth Heir," Harry finally concluded, smirking slightly as he tilted his head to the side, his lips tantalizingly close to Draco's, "gets you back to home base. Score one point for the team, and score in a completely different way for you." And then, finally, Harry pressed his lips softly against the blond's mouth; Draco in no one inhibited Harry's tender exploration of lips and tongues, going as far as threading his long fingers through Harry's coal black hair, urging his boyfriend to deepen the kiss. Once the Gryffindor finally pulled back, panting slightly, the dark-haired boy leaned his forehead against Draco's, his eyes closed.

"Sound good to you?" Harry murmured.

"Uh-huh," Draco responded vaguely, nigh soundlessly as he was finding it a little more difficult to pull air into his lungs as he normally would.

Harry pulled back and smiled brightly. "Perfect," Harry said, kissing Draco soundly on the cheek before springing from the bed. He said cheerfully, already casually strolling for the door, "I've really got to go find Hermione and Ron before they send out the search party. I'll see you tomorrow morning, oka-Trowa!" the Gryffindor yelped, visibly startled when he opened the door to Draco's private room only to find the reserved Slytherin standing on the other side, his fist poised to knock.

"Oh," Harry said sheepishly. Trowa, eyebrow lifted knowingly, glanced at Harry before turning that casually interested look to Draco, disheveled and obviously dazed on the bed. "Hey, Trowa."

"Harry," Trowa greeted him simply, finally turning his visible green eye back to the Gryffindor. "Hermione and Ron are looking for you."

"We were tied up," Draco mumbled thoughtlessly; obviously still a little flustered by the happenings of before.

"I see," Trowa replied evenly, his one green eye dancing in merry amusement.

"Yeah, I should..." Harry pointed wordlessly, a little flustered at being caught doing something that could have been considered mildly devious. "Yeah..."

"Duo also wanted to borrow the Marauder's Map tonight," Trowa said casually.

"What? Oh. Sure," Harry said weakly, eager to leave. Just as he was slipping passed Trowa and through the open doorway, he paused and said suspiciously, "No one has pissing him off recently... right?"

"Not that I'm aware of," Trowa admitted. "It's most likely the result of Duo's typical hijinks. The non-Shinigami kind."

Ah. Best not to ask. "Okay. Yeah, he can borrow it."

Just as Harry hurried down the hall, he heard Draco exclaim in faint amazement, "For the sake of the spirits... I can't believe he just manipulated me using sex." Then, scandalized, "Trowa! Stop laughing, damn it! I'm freakishly turned on by this! Duo and Heero's devious ways are bloody contagious!"

Harry groaned in embarrassment. Oh, God...

He hoped Trowa was really good at keeping things that needed to be kept private... private. Then again, knowing Draco, the blond would probably find some way to spoil that whole privacy issue.


Duo clearly hadn't any idea just how large a dead basilisk could be. Judging by how much the size of the skull dwarfed him, monster snakes were actually quite large.

"Wow," Duo said, breaking the somber silence with a low whistle of amazement. He swept ahead of the group huddled around the enormous skull, which stood almost three inches taller than Trowa, who was easily the tallest of them all. If the size of the skull wasn't proof enough of the enormity of the beast, the sheer length of what remained of the monster's scales would have cinched it. "That is one big dead snake."

"Which is only marginally better than one big live snake, at this point," Draco muttered darkly, slanting the fanged corpse a queasy glance as he gave the skeleton a wide berth once he'd decided he had stared at Slytherin's infamous monster long enough. As a Slytherin, he had a healthy appreciation for the animal representation of his House. This healthy appreciation, however, in no way extended to monstrous beasts that could kill a wizard just by looking at him.

"This place is massive," Quatre noted once he resolved to turn his attention away from the physical remains of the basilisk, instead focusing on the cavernous chamber they were in. "We must be at least a mile under the earth's surface."

"Half a mile under the lowest level of the dungeons, tops," Trowa agreed, wandering toward one of many small, dark tunnels -just wide enough in circumference to allow something as large as Slytherin's monster to slither through comfortably. "These tunnels could go on for miles more. All of this... just to house the basilisk?" The tone of the tall Slytherin's voice indicated that he had strong doubts that these chambers were nothing more than a cage for a treasured pet.

"No way," Duo said, agreeing with Trowa's implied doubt. "This is the Chamber of Secrets. Big bad beastie over there wasn't much of a secret, other than what breed of monster it was. Besides, anyone with the word 'Oracle' taped to their resume would at least know that the basilisk would be dead; this guy knew exactly who to address that letter to, after all." Eyes narrowed on the grotesque stone effigy of a sneering man, jaw gaping open in silent scorn, Duo added with certainty, "There's definitely something down here that we're meant to find."

"So let's get this search over with already," Draco said grumpily, crossing his arms over his chest with a small scowl. "In case it slipped your mind, none of us had much of a chance to rest up for an all-night exploration of Slytherin's Chamber of Secrets."

Quatre easily ignored Draco's pointed glare in his direction. "We'll pair off into groups of two," Quatre finally decided, appearing slightly bothered about his chosen course of action. "The groups who brave the tunnels shouldn't travel through the network too erratically -either take all lefts or all rights, and remember to keep count of how many passages you find. One group should stay in the main chamber and look for any sign that Slytherin left more than his just basilisk behind."

"That'll be me and Hee-chan," Duo volunteered eagerly, smirking smugly at Draco. "Have fun in the creepy tunnels, dragon boy."

Not to be outdone (and slightly put out that he'd been beaten to staking claim to a territory he'd much rather explore than creepy narrow tunnels), Draco retorted spitefully, "Sounds more like a task for a hamster, hamster boy -after all, mindlessly crawling through tubes seems to be natural behavior for a rodent."

Duo snickered. "Touche, ferret."

Oh, hell. "I'm going to kill Weasley for telling you about that."

"Nuh-uh," Duo said smugly, his eyes dancing with mischief. "I promised Ron Heero's protection for any embarrassing information on you. The Weasley is set -set for life."

Draco, scowling, turned to confirm this with the Japanese Slytherin. Heero shrugged nonchalantly and said, rather matter-of-fact, "As long as Ron doesn't provoke you while hiding behind my back." Which just basically meant that Heero would defend Ron from the more underhanded methods of Draco's bitter vengeance, as long as Ron didn't flaunt the fact he had an unofficial bodyguard.

Draco sighed, though not defeated. Heero's position would just make the job of getting back at Weasley for the revelation of the whole 'Draco the Ferret' thing a lot more harder than it necessarily had to be.

"You're with me, Black," Wufei said gruffly, already heading toward one of the larger passages, the tip of his wand brightly lit after some prompting with the Spoken Word. (1) With a disdainful cringe, Draco muttered the same spell under his breath, lighting the tip of his wand as he vainly hoped that whatever creepy insect lay in wait within the tunnels hadn't gotten too out of control since the predator at the top of the food chain perished.


It wasn't long into their journey down one of the secluded passageways that literally networked throughout miles of underground that something caught Quatre's interest. Driven by instinct alone, he immediately paused in his tracks, his head cocked to the side as he listened for the peculiar, out-of-place sound that had caught his interest. The sound was distant and muffled, echoing along the passage and the passages that branched from the vein.

Trowa, however, was the first to question it. "A music box?"

After a few moments of silence, Quatre slowly shook his head. "No... It sounds like a little girl..." Frowning, he continued softly, "You don't think Myrtle?..."

They'd met Tom Riddle's unfortunate victim only half-an-hour ago, before Duo managed to hiss the command that revealed the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets in Parseltongue after several failed attempts. Apparently, the snake tongue sounded very much like English to the American, and the boy had a difficult time attempting to access the second language (technically sixth, as Duo hadn't found out he could speak to snakes until Draco pointed it out to him when the American understood Nagini only seven months ago). Moaning Myrtle had earned her nickname; it didn't take long for the combined forces of Draco's scorn and Wufei's derision to drive the moping ghost into the cubicle that she died in, wailing miserably as she dove into the urinal.

"I don't think any power on this earth can convince that ghost to wander here," Trowa said confidently, so sure that he was correct in his assessment. "She's already miserable. This kind of atmosphere would only make her feel worse."

"You're right," Quatre murmured. "Doesn't really sound like Myrtle, either..." As the blond spoke, he was already continuing down the passage. He paused every few meters to assess whether the merry humming of a small child was becoming more pronounced or further away. The sound began to fade several minutes later, and Quatre turned abruptly as he followed the girl's humming back to where the volume peaked. Trowa allowed the little one to take the lead, knowing that Quatre would find the source of the sound with very little trouble.

Finally, Quatre stopped and paused in thought before he leaned his ear closer to a relatively unremarkable section of the stone wall. With an affirming nod, the Winner heir said, "There's a door here." With a frown, the little blond murmured absently to himself, "I wonder what the password could be..."

Though the wall was seamless, Trowa had no doubt that this was true. Zechs' suite, after all, was styled in much of the same manner. "Probably something in Parseltongue," Trowa said casually as he kneeled down to the left of the door, seemingly insensibly prodding at the stone at the bottom of the wall.

"Right," Quatre murmured in thoughtful agreement, "Parseltongue. Makes guessing passwords nearly impossible. Nifty, in this case, as the password does exactly what is intended to do -keeping people out." Then, with a questioning glance at his tall boyfriend kneeling on the damp passage floor, he asked quietly, "What are you doing?"

"Filch is a squib," Trowa said simply, unbending his long legs and walking around Quatre, only to kneel at the base of the wall and repeat his ministrations.

"You think so?" Quatre said, his tone blithe though the look he was giving his unknowing boyfriend was brimming with curiosity as to where the seemingly random topic of conversation was leading. "It explains why I never see him with a wand. He's always cleaning the muggle way too... I've always kind of respected him for that."

"He could do without the burning resentment for every student that walks the halls of Hogwarts," Trowa said evenly. "What I've noticed is that Filch needs to get around things like this in order to do his job as quickly and efficiently as he can. The Restricted Section has a door that slides to the side when Filch prods a button at the bottom; likewise..." He prodded a stone firmly, the hidden panel pressing into the wall seconds before a large archway melted from the wall, leaving an innocently simple wooden door in its place, "for any password protected door in Hogwarts."

"Of course," Quatre murmured, impressed. "And squibs and muggles can't get the password-protected entrances to respond to them anyway, even if they do have the password. It's the same with Zechs; he doesn't use a password, he simply prods at a portion of the wall." Then, with a smug sort of smile, Quatre gloated, "My boyfriend is a genius."

"'Observant' would have been an acceptable adjective," Trowa said with a small chuckle, rising to his full height with a casual brush of his knees. "It stands to reason that Slytherin would have a similar safety feature installed; Parseltongue happens to be very difficult to learn on a whim, and I doubt he'd take the time to teach anyone he would have trusted how to say his password. I like genius, though. Definitely has a good ring to it."

"It rings with truth," Quatre said, throwing a saucy grin over his shoulder just as he reached forward and pressed the latch of the door with his thumb. With a clean 'click', the door slowly swung open, revealing a sight that was quite different than the one either of them had been expecting. It was enough to put a pause on whatever leading quip Trowa could have shot back.

Finally, Trowa said, "Well, as far as evil lairs go... This certainly takes the cake."

'Evil lair' material, this secret room was not. In fact, it was more than just a mere room; the den was well lit, not only with a fireplace that immediately came to life as soon as the door opened, but numerous candles and lanterns that flickered to life along with the crackling flame in the hearth. There was a modest, though obviously cherished kitchen with a brick oven and an island set aside for food preparation, as well as a small breakfast nook tucked in front of large, circular windows that proudly displayed an expansive night sky, an apple orchard lit under the large, pale moon that centered the sky. Windows happened to be a theme throughout the domicile; it was like suddenly being transported to a homey, secluded cabin, away from all the stresses of the modern world.

The source of the humming was finally traced to the large portrait displayed above the fireplace mantle; it was a little girl in pale pink petticoats kneeling in a field of flowers on a cloudless day, the wind rustling the green leaves of the trees that surrounded the field as she merrily continued to hum, threading together endless strands of daisy-chains and completely oblivious to the two teenage boys looking on in awed silence.

"It really makes you wonder," Quatre said softly, "how much of Salazar Slytherin's personality has been skewed by history and rumor. I mean," the blond waved his hand to indicate the rather comfortable living area they were currently occupying, "this doesn't strike you as the kind of place an evil bigoted megalomaniac rests his laurels, does it?"

"There doesn't appear to be any bloody chains," Trowa said mildly, glancing around. "Not one rusty implement of torture in sight. Draco's going to be so disappointed."

Quatre laughed softly. "He can still hope that oven over there has seen a lot more action that didn't involve cooking, unless Slytherin happened to practice cannibalism."

"It's like you said," Trowa replied with a meaningful glance at the bright, cheery portrait above the mantle. "With this kind of evil lair, torture didn't seem to be Slytherin's style."

"I wonder what this portrait meant to him," Quatre mused after a moment of silent consideration; the silence, however, defeated by the little blonde girl cutting through the thick meadow of colorful flowers as she continued to hum merrily, a basket of freshly picked flowers held by the crook of one delicate elbow. "Its presence really uplifts the spirit; perhaps he really wasn't the evil tyrant he's portrayed to be."

"We'll probably never know," Trowa murmured. "If Draco has his way, no one will ever hear of the softer side of Salazar Slytherin. House pride and all of that."

"Mm," Quatre hummed in agreement. With a final lingering glance over the fascinating portrait, he slowly turned and said, "Let's go. Duo might be interested in what we've found."

Little did they know that Duo would soon find his hands full with something completely different.

Or, in this case, someone.


Quatre and Trowa's group was not the only one that found something interesting, nor was Duo the only one to stumble across something foreign and vaguely interesting. Draco thought it was about time he and Wufei came to a point where he no longer had a reason to complain about the utter lack of anything special in the caverns the two of them had set out to explore only fifteen minutes previously.

"There's a light source ahead," Wufei said quietly, quickly glancing over his shoulder to check on Draco's status. The blond had apparently already noticed; his grey eyes were narrowed, gleaming with interest as he stared ahead at where the rounded passage began to emit a soft, yellow glow.

"Finally," Draco muttered darkly, cancelling the light at the tip of his wand with a quickly murmured, "Nox." While Wufei's wand still provided a generous source of light, the soft lighting ahead lit a path well enough on it's own. "We didn't circle around, did we?" After all, they could have followed the passage right back to the main cavern.

"No," Wufei said after a moment, shaking his head curtly. "I'm not that turned around. The passage didn't turn back in the direction from where we came. We definitely found something."

'Something' was exactly what they'd found. It was hard to put into words, how suddenly the unadorned corridor abruptly turned into a painted effigy of a forest path, surrounded on both sides by trees that seemed to extend for miles above them, the round ceiling of the cavern painted as the night sky above the surface; the soft glow of yellow blinking lights was because of nigh thousands of tiny little fireflies mingling and weaving through the trees.

Thoughtfully, Wufei placed his palm flat against the mural, his eyes narrowing when his suspicions were confirmed. "Looks like someone had fun turning these dark caves into something a little more worthwhile."

"Slytherin had style," Draco said smugly, awed as he traced his index finger along the path of an erratically flying firefly. "Seems a little too naturalistic, but wizards had a better appreciation for the glory that Gaea had to offer us back in his day."

"Hn," Wufei grunted, canceling his own light before he resolutely continued down the passage, followed closely by Draco. "Spirits and Gaea... One day, Black, you're going to have to explain the religious significance of these things."

"What's there to explain?" Draco said with a casual shrug of dismissal. "Gaea is the Mother of Creation; it's from her that all living things were created. The world of the spirits is our final address, and the ultimate destination of our honored ancestors. Wizards -purebloods, specifically -show reverence to that which bore us and to the world that will eventually house us in the afterlife."

"What do crosses have to do with Gaea and the spirits?" Wufei suddenly asked, turning to the side to slip through a small opening between the narrow passage and a large cavern that Draco could not quite make out around the Chinese Ravenclaw.

"Absolutely nothing," Draco said vehemently as he squeezed through the narrow slit between the walls with a disdainful scowl. "The cross is a muggle religious icon. You should know that."

"I do know that," Wufei said stiffly, coal black almond-shaped eyes turning to pin Draco with a frank stare. He stood to the side, finally giving the Slytherin an unchallenged view of the cavern before him. He raised one finger to point at the out-of-place object preciously guarded by clear glass that walled the bejewelled crucifix on all sides, resting on a majestically decorated podium. "But did Slytherin?"

The gold encrusted, emerald and ruby inlaid cross was not the only artifact that seemed grossly out of place in the private collection of a man who was reputed to despise muggles and anything muggle-related. Directly to the right of the protected icon was a simple clay goblet that, if the small sign posted at the corner of the display case had any smidgeon of truth, could quite possibly be the Holy Grail.

"Holy Grail?" Draco said doubtfully, eyeing the rather unremarkable goblet with skepticism clearly written across his face. "Doesn't seem to be anything remotely 'holy' about it."

"It's the goblet Jesus drank from at the Last Supper," Wufei said quietly, approaching the glass case for a closer inspection. Though he was not Christian in faith, even he had to appreciate the historical existence of such a find. "According to legend, drinking from the Holy Grail on a constant basis assures the drinker immortality. It also miraculously heals the sick and dying."

"Really," Draco drawled, inspecting the displayed goblet with renewed interest; self-interest, mostly. "How fascinating. I wonder if Slytherin ever put this legend to the test."

Wufei shrugged absently, murmuring, "If the legend does prove true, I can understand why Slytherin would want it. Miraculous healing is a good card to hold. However, I doubt that is the case, or Slytherin would be using it to his full advantage. As the Holy Grail is here and Slytherin hasn't been heard from since he left Hogwarts, it's a safe bet that there's no truth behind the legend." After a pause, Wufei cautiously prodded, "Or, judging by the surrounding religious icons associated with the Christian significance of the Holy Grail, it could have held some sentimental value."

"Please don't tell me that," Draco muttered, his interest in the plain goblet disappearing just as quickly as it had appeared. He instead turned his attention to the three rows of shelves, enclosed by a glass cover that protected the preserved illuminated manuscripts and the ancient scrolls that rested within. "The Lives of Adam and Eve, the Book of Enoch... The Infancy of Jesus Christ?" With a perturbed wrinkle of his brow, Draco muttered softly, "What the hell... A handwritten Bible?"

"What are the chances," Wufei said casually, peering down a short corridor leading to an even bigger cavern filled with numerous valuable artifacts famed throughout history, "of Slytherin being a closet Christian?"

"Don't even joke," Draco snapped, scandalized by the very idea. "If a nasty rumor like that got out, there would be pandemonium. Morale amongst the Slytherins will be obsolete. Chaos, Wufei! Disorder! By the spirits, think of the children!"

"Think of your blood pressure," Wufei said evenly, tempted to roll his eyes in exasperation. Thankfully, he managed to curb the urge. "Though I won't say you're being entirely too over dramatic," mostly because, at that point, Wufei fully realized the Slytherin House would react exactly as Draco predicted, "but maybe all of this is a sort of passive interest." Like collecting glass bottles or stealing hotel towels, Wufei thought with a private smirk. The smirk immediately disappeared when Draco glared at him from over his shoulder.

"Why do I get the feeling you're just patronizing me?" Draco muttered darkly.

Straight-faced, Wufei honestly replied, "I don't recall saying anything that would have given you that impression."

Draco narrowed his grey eyes accusingly. "You are patronizing, you unbelievable bast-"

A powerful rumble shook the ground; while the short tremor was neither long enough to instill a sense of panic, nor was it strong enough to cause much alarm, it was definitely enough to stop Draco's impending rant before the irate bland could really gather steam. Now wide-eyed and a little off balance, Draco demanded breathlessly, "What was that?"

Wufei closed his eyes wearily, slumping his shoulders as he shook his head in defeat. "Maxwell really needs to learn not to touch anything that appears even vaguely foreign to him."

Draco smirked. "Judging by that response, I'd say this happens often."

"Things like this always happen when Maxwell is involved," Wufei said heavily, straightening his posture as he swept back toward the small crevice they had come through. "We better go see what disaster Maxwell has unleashed upon us now."

"Tell me the truth," the blond pureblood said casually, obediently following the Ravenclaw with a sense of relief, glad to be leaving the damning evidence of Slytherin's obsession well behind him. "You say things like that just for the wretched premature worry wrinkles it gives me, don't you?"

"Nothing wrong with a friendly notice," Wufei replied simply. His back to Draco, the blond did not have the means nor the opportunity to view the smug smirk that stretched the Chinese youth's lips.

Draco, however, turned out to have an impeccable sense of when Wufei was having a chuckle at the blond's expense. "I really hate you sometimes, Wufei."

Typical. "I know, Black, but you always respect me in the morning," Wufei said patronizingly. He openly laughed at the spoiled Slytherin's growl of irritation. After all, even someone like Chang Wufei needed to find a reason to laugh at the people around him sometimes.


"Hey, Hee-chan," Duo called out, peering into the gaping mouth of the enormous stone effigy of who the American could only assume had been Salazar Slytherin. In his honest opinion, the years had not been kind to his infamous purist ancestor. Time certainly hadn't been kind to the man's teeth, if the inside of the effigy's mouth was anything to go by. "Looks like old Salazar put his money where his mouth was."

After a moment of silence, Heero appeared from behind one of the large stone snakes to give Duo a questioning glance. When the Japanese Slytherin saw his braided boyfriend, head disappearing into the effigy's mouth, he casually rolled his eyes and replied flatly, "That's a terrible pun, Duo."

The American snickered gleefully, pulling his head from the effigy's mouth to grin saucily at Heero from over his shoulder. "I know. Isn't it great?" He laughed again when Heero served him a reserved, long-suffering look that implied Duo's terrible punning really had nothing to do with greatness. Not waiting for a verbal response (and doubtful that he would receive one), Duo indicated the tunnel with a jerk of his head. "I'm going to check this out. Be back in ten if it leads anywhere."

"Don't touch anything," Heero called out before disappearing back the way he came.

"Why does everyone always say that to me?" Duo wondered aloud, speaking mostly to himself.

"Why don't you ever listen?" came Heero's rhetorical retort from somewhere in the vicinity of the front of the cavern.

Duo winced. "Ouch, Hee-chan. That hit me -hard." The American's hearing was just keen enough to register the dry snort from his boyfriend. When it became obvious that Heero didn't intend to say anything more on the matter, Duo carefully crawled through the inclining tunnel of Slytherin's mouth. The journey was a short one. The American was already pulling his wand out to cast the Lumos charm to drive away the pitch black darkness the moment his booted foot touched the floor. As soon as the sole of his boot met the ground, a sudden pure white light flooded his vision, blinding him momentarily. Driven by instinct, Duo grunted as his hand flew to his face in an effort to stave away the blinding light, head turned back and eyes tightly clasped. A gush of hot air engulfed him, quickly permeating the are in a sweltering heat.

Once he was sure his eyes had adjusted, he finally opened his eyes to inspect his surroundings. It took a moment to access the full capabilities of his vision; the light was everywhere, suffused in the perfectly circular room. For a moment, the only details that he noticed was that he appeared to be inside a mammoth-sized crystal ball.

For one strange, surreal moment, his brain rushed to conjure an image of a giant bug-eyed Trelawney peering at him, her already bug-like eyes magnified by the crystal that encased him. The American shuddered violently at the image, feeling a sudden swell of pity for the so-called Seer's poor crystal ball. He quickly vowed to liberate the Seer's tool and set it free in the wild. No doubt, the crystal ball would not move under its own power, but the "liberation" would certainly put a bee in that quack's bonnet.

Oh, Duo, the American thought to himself with a wickedly mischievous chuckle. You so bad.

All devious plotting to undermine one of his least favorite teachers aside, the room he was in easily regained his interest. For one, the entire room appeared to have been carved from pure white marble. Aside from the flatness of the floor, the walls ballooned outwardly before curving back inwardly over the center of the room; by the sweltering heat, Duo was tempted to begin referring to the room as Slytherin's Secret Sauna of Doom. His suspicions were only proved by the simple, marble throne that bled directly into the wall. A rounded table jutted boldly from the floor all the way up to the middle of Duo's chest; ancient runes were carved into the flat surface of the table, connected by a completely circle around the edge of the table. In the center was a raised oval that had the slight impression of a hand print laid into the marble.

Slytherin's Secret Sauna of Doom didn't really seem like an apt term for the room; so why was it so damn hot?...


"The basilisk's nest," Duo murmured, vaguely impressed with the ingenious use of the space. Snakes were cold-blooded creatures by nature; basilisks, after all, were giant vicious snakes in the first place. The monster wouldn't have been able to survive in such a cold, dank atmosphere such as the caverns outside for long without a warm place to heat its blood. "Smart ancestor. I applaud."

Still nothing but a nasty bigot, though. Better stick with the Secret Sauna of Doom theory.

"And this," Duo murmured softly, stepping up to the podium in the center with keen interest, "must be the sauna controls." Curiously, the American pressed his hand over the print laid into the marble, just to see what would happened.

He certainly hadn't expected pain.

There was barely a warning sound to indicate something was about to happen; a clean 'schick!', and something damnably sharp sliced into his palm. He jerked the injured appendage back with a cry, cradling his injured hand preciously to his chest as he leapt away from the podium warily. The podium had done it's job; the stolen blood that pooled on the surface filtered into the carved lines, spilling into rune after rune until all the symbols were filled.

For a moment, the world stood still. The magically charged air imploded, sending a pulse of pure power outwardly from the center of the podium, expanding outward rapidly, washing Duo over in a palpable wash of pure magic. If Duo had to put into words the sensation he felt as that wave slammed into not his body, but what seemed like his very spirit, he would honestly have to say that it felt remarkably like what he imagined it would feel like if time hiccuped.

When feeling rushed back into his body, he gasped and stumbled forward, barely catching himself on the podium that had started everything in the first place. He felt as if his internal organs had almost forgotten how to function properly; finally, his heart started beating, his lungs were filling with air, and his stomach suddenly found need to protest. His brain, it seemed, was the last to catch up with the rest of the happy, functioning organs.

At least, that was his excuse when the new presence completely escaped his notice until a voice that wasn't his decided to speak. "That was a little more unpleasant for you than I expected," came a quiet, strong male voice. "I apologize."

Oh, good. Someone to blame.

"You're goddamn right that was unpleasant," Duo said accusingly, his gaze snapping toward the source of the voice. "And don't give me that crap about being a 'little more' unpleasant than you expected -I'm bleeding, you know. That just screams 'Duo is not going to be a happy boy.'" His higher brain function finally kicking into gear, Duo belatedly realized that, as far as he was aware, he'd been alone only moments before.

The young man that had suddenly appeared before him was elegantly poised, seated on the simple marble throne that had been empty moments ago. One long leg crossing over the other, the side of one snow-pale cheeks resting on the equally pale, delicate knuckles of his right fist, ruby-red eyes focused on the American intently through long, thick eyelashes that were the same ruby color as not only his eyes, but his shapely eyebrows and his thick, ruby-red hair. The hairstyle was slightly different than what Duo was used to seeing; long locks of thick hair framed his heart-shaped face, but the back was shorn a shorter length in the back. The young man, no younger than eighteen and no older than twenty, gave off the air of quiet sincerity.

"Who are you?" Duo muttered slowly, frowning at the man as he attempted to casually rest his uninjured left hand over the small lump where his gun was hidden. While he was a better marksman right-handed, he was confident he could nail this guy right in the third eye from his distance just as easily with his left hand.

"I'm the man," the ruby-eyed stranger began with a quiet sort of serenity, "that brought you here."

That could only mean... "The Oracle, I presume?"(2) Duo said dryly, lifting one eyebrow in curious inquiry. The stranger merely dipped his head once in response. "Hell of an entrance there, guy."

The ruby-eyed man frowned thoughtfully. He seemed honestly befuddled by Duo's behavior.

Okay. New tactic. "You gotta name, 'the Oracle'?"

"The Oracle is fine for now," the man said softly. "There will be time for such things in the future."

"Uh-huh," Duo murmured flatly. "You'd be the expert on that, I suppose. But I reserve the right to call you Orie." Always a good cure for people who were a little too tightlipped about their identities -saddle them with a ridiculous nickname. However, the subtle attempt to drag the man's true name from him backfired, as the Oracle actually seemed quite satisfied with his new designation; in fact, he appeared oddly pleased with the development.

Wufei's sharp voice alerted Duo to the fact that he wasn't the only one who felt the grand arrival of the Oracle. "Maxwell -what do we tell you? Don't touch anything!"

Everybody was a critic.

"Duo?" Quatre's voice followed, rift with concern. "Are you alright?"

Except for Quatre. Quatre was generally too sincere to be much of a critic unless it was something the little blond really couldn't stand for.

"Yep," Duo called down the tunnel cheerfully. "I made a man."


"What?" he heard Draco mutter, his voice heavy with confusion.

Duo grinned at the newly named Orie, who silently observed the exchange with keen interest. "Oh, yeah. They're gonna love you."

The Weirdness of Duo Maxwell strikes again!


(1) Bare with me. The Spoken Word: Obviously, a wizard can execute a spell without speaking. Snape attempts to hone this skill in the sixth book, though the results are rather poor. Therefore, there must be some sort of power in vocal command. Ergo: The Spoken Word (TM). :pause: Yeah... The job takes over my life, yet I still have far, far too much time on my hands.

(2) I hate, hate, hate original characters. Keep that in mind.


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