Hurriedly, Harry stood and pulled up his pants, his attention focused solely on the doorway in case anything came running down the stairs at them. Malfoy was soon at his shoulder, a bit pink-faced and still out of breath as he fastened his trousers.
"Didn't think ghosts could interact with physical objects," Malfoy said.
"That's why I'm worried." A sinister thought jabbed its way into his mind. "Unless his spirit is still trapped in his body." He looked at the blond in question to see if he shared the same thought, but Malfoy wouldn't make eye contact with him. Was this how it was going to be? They had shared an intimate moment and the man was going to be embarrassed by it or brush it off like it never happened?
Harry sighed and went to retrieve his bag, crouching to pick up his book and stuff it into the bag as well. He returned to Malfoy, who was now standing at the bottom of the staircase and looking up it as if trying to discern what they were about to encounter merely from the shuffling sounds.
"It's going to be a mummy, isn't it?" Malfoy said when Harry stopped beside him and drew his wand as the blond had done.
"Most likely," Harry said. He looked up the dim staircase. "Might as well face it. It probably won't hurt us." He started up the stairs with Malfoy just a few steps behind him and distinctly heard the man mutter something about how he 'didn't like conducting his life based on probably's.'
The single door at the top of the stairs was solid silver. Another silver serpent head was mounted on the door, immobile but presumably awaiting to be spoken to. The shuffling and banging from the other side of the door was louder now, and Harry thought it sounded oddly like the creature within was trying to move heavy furniture.
Harry stepped aside so Malfoy could ascend the last stair and speak in Parseltongue to the serpent. Instead of speaking back to him, it simply bowed its head in respect, and the door swung open.
Whatever Harry had expected to be inside, it was not a half-clothed, walking and cursing skeleton that was trying to shift a silver cauldron out of its path only to have both its arms fall off at the elbow and clatter to pieces across the floor. "Fucking Ra," it grumbled, its jawbone clacking as it spoke.
Right away, Harry knew this couldn't be the great Salazar Slytherin. Obviously, from the decorations in the burial chamber, which included many silver silk draperies that had been embroidered with hundreds of intricate emerald snakes, it was Slytherin's final resting place, but that stumbling structure of bones was not the founder. And then Harry recalled what Susan had told them about the tomb.
"Are you the priest that did Slytherin's burial rites?" Harry asked hesitantly. He and Malfoy were still standing just outside the door, and it seemed Malfoy wasn't in a hurry to enter the burial chamber either.
The chamber glistened with stacks and stacks of gold galleons, silver sickles, and bronze knuts. An elaborate green velvet and platinum rimmed crown sat atop a marble bust that Harry recognized as Slytherin since it so resembled the statue he had seen years ago in the Chamber of Secrets. Beside this was an erect scepter set with an emerald the size of Harry's first as the top stone where tendrils of platinum wound around it. A shelf of scrolls and large tomes was next to a table with a crystal ball and a deck of tarot cards.
In the center of the room was a wide plinth just large enough to hold what Harry could only assume was a coffin. But, it didn't look like any coffin Harry had ever seen. It was made entirely of glass, and it was filled with white smoke. As the smoke swirled and shifted inside, it allowed for glimpses of a tightly bandaged body within.
"Yes," the skeleton said as it crawled across the floor to gather its bones. It used its elbows to prod the fallen ulnas and radiuses until they snapped back into place as if by magnets. "I am the Priest Akil. Sworn protector of Salazar Slytherin's body." The skeleton pushed itself up onto its knees and huffed. "Do you boys mind helping?" He nodded to the scattered wrist and finger bones that had slid and bounced several feet out of his reach. Harry just now noticed that the priest had been sitting in a chair in the back corner, effectively trapped by the cauldron and a table.
"Uh, yeah," Malfoy said, and Harry followed him into the room.
Sensing that the skeleton priest meant them no harm, or at least was incapable of doing anything much more than throw a few bones at them, Harry stowed his wand away and began to search for the fallen bones. The tomb was so packed with treasure that it was no wonder why the priest was trapped. There was a path around the room only wide enough for both of Harry's feet if he pressed them together.
"So, you've been here all this time waiting?" Harry asked. He bent to pick up a bone.
"I drift through the other realm while the tomb is unoccupied and wake in this form whenever there are prodigies attempting the tests." The skeleton adjusted the white linen wrap around his waist as he stood again.
"Slytherin has some explaining to do about that last test," Malfoy said darkly from the other side of the room. He held a few small bones in his hand and was searching for more.
"Ah, I am interested in what the third test was for you," Akil said. "No pair has ever made it that far, and it is the only test that changes based on the Slytherin prodigy."
Malfoy straightened and looked murderous. "What do you mean it changes?"
"The first two tests are the same for everyone, but the third test is self-aware. That chamber adjusts itself to test the prodigy by offering something the prodigy wants but adamantly denies himself or herself out of pride, fear, or another emotion."
Malfoy turned scarlet. He was speechless for a moment and then chucked the handful of bones at the skeleton with a growl. "Just tell us how to free Slytherin and get out of here. I'm guessing you want to move on anyhow and that the only way to do that is to complete this challenge."
It was hard to tell if Akil looked startled at Malfoy's outburst since no flesh or eyes adorned his bare skull. But he inclined his head. "Yes. Just break the glass, and both Salazar and I will be free."
Angry determination swept over Malfoy's features as he spun around, snatched up the scepter, and slammed the head of it down onto the glass coffin. The glass shattered, and the skeleton priest fell to the floor with a clatter as easily as if he had been a puppet whose strings had been cut.
Draco gripped the scepter like a lifeline, anger and embarrassment pulsing through him as he watched the smoke rise from the platform, now free. How dare that stupid priest suggest he wanted Potter and was denying himself the man so badly that the tomb had turned it into a personal challenge for him. He liked Potter, but the priest had just made it sound like it was his greatest and darkest desire, and he didn't think it was. Was it?
But Draco was pulled from these thoughts as the smoke began to congeal. It took on a solid form, condensing and curving itself to form the features of an old man that was undoubtedly Salazar Slytherin.
"Well done," Slytherin said, but though what he said should have been praise, he sounded almost bored. "I trust your journey was satisfactory."
Although Draco was awed by actually getting to speak face-to-face with a man he had admired most of his life, he was still ticked off. And it was different now when he was facing Slytherin. The man was less of a legend and more real, like a veil had been lifted in Draco's mind to reveal him for what he was - a simple wizard.
"I suppose," Draco said, his own tone less than enthused. "I don't really like being threatened with death if I don't help you resolve things with your lover though."
Slytherin narrowed his eyes. "You may learn in time that love is more motivating than even death, young Draco."
"Then why didn't you make up with Gryffindor before you died?" Potter asked.
Slytherin closed his eyes momentarily as if trying to compose himself before he lashed out. He slowly turned to Potter. "Godric and I had not spoken in years when he was fatally wounded in an act of heroism, or rather stupidity. By the time I learned of his condition, I was too late. I have regretted it ever since." He turned back to Draco. "But do not blame me for the trouble of the prophecy. I did not make it. No one intentionally writes prophecies. They come unbidden to seers."
Draco rolled his eyes. "So, you didn't decide it was worth making up with Gryffindor until he was on his death bed?"
Slytherin drew himself up straighter. "Do not pretend to understand the reasoning of the actions of others. Pride makes people do things they later wish they hadn't. And impending death puts many things in perspective, makes old grudges seem childish. But, you will notice that Godric had his own chances to come after me to reconcile, and he never did. He is just as much at fault for our separation in death."
Draco frowned, but he supposed he couldn't argue with that. Death of loved ones often had a way of making people reflect and realize things they should have done or said while that person was still alive. After all, he had had many moments like that when reflecting on his parents' deaths. "Fine. So, will you make things right with Gryffindor now?"
"I will...consider it."
Draco threw up his hands. "But you just said-"
"Yes, and I also have had a few thousand years to think over the matter, wondering why Godric never came to me. I am still bitter. I want to reunite, but I also want an apology first," Slytherin said. "So, tell Godric, when you find him, that I will be waiting for him in the room where it happened." At these words, Slytherin's ghost began to dissolve back into smoke.
"Wait, in the room where it, what?" Draco asked, jumping forward as if to seize him. His hand closed on air where the man's sleeve had been.
Slytherin's head was the last thing to disappear, and he gave a wan smile. "He'll know what it means." Then he was gone.
It didn't take them long to find their way back out of the pyramid and to their tent. As soon as the doors of the pyramid closed behind them, it vanished. The landscape around them shimmered, and the Sphinx and the edge of Cairo reappeared in the distance. Though they had walked what felt like hours through the desert initially, it seemed they were only a mile or so away from the Sphinx.
Harry's thoughts strayed to Malfoy as he took down the tent with a few waves of his wand and then stuffed it back into his backpack. The blond had been uncharacteristically silent and extra broody since the encounter with Slytherin's spirit. Even now as Harry vanished the remains of their cooking fire from the previous night, Malfoy was staring dejectedly at the ground.
"Are you ok?" Harry asked, stopping in front of him.
"Huh? Oh. Yeah," Malfoy said, blinking and looking up. He made eye contact with him for the briefest of seconds before looking away toward the city. "I'm just tired. We should tell Susan we're alive and then head back to the hotel. We can use our blood on the map again and see where we're headed for Gryffindor now. Make a plan and stuff."
Harry pressed his lips together in a firm line. "I think we've done enough for one day. We should just tackle any Gryffindor stuff tomorrow. Because I know what you're really trying to do. You're trying to get out of talking about our feelings for each other. You agreed we would talk once we got back to Cairo."
"We already talked enough in the tomb."
Harry frowned. "We barely scratched the surface. All we did was talk about how you don't want attachments."
"And I still don't," Malfoy said stiffly. "Just because you...whatever happened in that pyramid is going to stay in that pyramid. It doesn't change the fact that I don't want any attachments. It was all just heat of the moment stuff. Nothing has changed."
"But you admitted to seeing my point about how letting people in might be good."
"And look at what letting people in did to Slytherin," Malfoy said, gesturing vaguely at the desert behind Harry. "He's spent thousands of years unable to move on because he's been so wrapped up in his feelings for Gryffindor. And even if you argue that they're the exception to the rule, which I get because people don't normally hang around after death pining for each other, it's still dangerous to have attachments. His attachment to Gryffindor led him to hurt in later years that he never recovered from."
"Not every attachment ends that way though," Harry said, exasperated. "You're building up all this fear around something that could be great if you let it." He continued in a rush when Malfoy opened his mouth to argue back. "You think I'm not scared?! That I'm not terrified that if I open up to you that you might just walk away and hurt me? Because, guess what, I have the same fears as you. But, I balance those out by reminding myself that to the same degree I can feel pain, I can also feel happiness. And life is full of both pain and happiness no matter how hard you try to avoid the former. Without the pain or risk of pain, at least, you can't truly appreciate the moments of happiness. So...I'm willing to risk it. I'm willing to risk opening up, maybe even giving you my heart, and having you shatter it."
"Well, I don't know that I'm willing to risk it," Malfoy said.
Harry softened a bit. "I know. And that's what you need to decide. I want you to make a decision you feel good about. I'm just worried you're making rash decisions based on two men who died thousands of years ago."
"I'm basing it off other things too, but fine. I'll think about it."
"That's all I'm asking."
Thank you all for the lovely reviews on the previous chapter and the whole story in general. I love knowing what you guys think. :) I hope this chapter was enjoyable too. I know it was pretty uneventful, but trust me, we've got plenty coming up!