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Time Is A Pretzel

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If anyone asks, it was totally the Basilisk’s fault.

Harry is quite certain of this.

Except, technically it’s the Dursleys’ fault that Harry can’t stand the idea of being trapped. Or it’s Sirius Black’s fault, for the constant presence of Dementors that are making everything even more horrible than it was when Slytherin’s monster was terrorising the school last year.

Or maybe it’s Harry’s fault for deciding to cope with, well, everything by wandering the school corridors in the early hours of most mornings when he can’t sleep. But what’s the point in finally being a teenager if he’s not allowed to occasionally do reckless things that might get him killed by the insane escaped convict?

On the whole, it’s easier to blame the decaying corpse of the giant venomous snake under the floor.

Anyway, it is true that the Basilisk killed Myrtle, which meant that Hermione was able to brew Polyjuice potion in her bathroom, which allowed Harry and Ron to sneak into the Slytherin Common Room. And as a consequence, Harry now knows where to find the Slytherin Common Room, which… isn’t really helping Harry’s ability not to make impulsive and foolish decisions.

Hogwarts’ dungeons are freezing, and the endless deserted corridors are not helping him to outrun that trapped feeling. It doesn’t help that Sirius Black somehow managed to get past the Dementors again, last night.

Luckily, the Slytherin Common Room is the last place that Sirius Black will search for the Gryffindor Boy Who Lived, which is definitely absolutely completely total justification for Harry to be loitering in this corridor right now, trying to work out if he can guess the password.

Reckless decisions: blame the Basilisk.

Not even Harry expects the instinct to hiss at the wall, and the fact that it works is even more surprising. Still, he said that he was going to explore the dungeons, which means that he’ll bloody well explore all of them, thank you very much. And, well, the door did open for him.

The Slytherin Common Room is exactly the same cavernous room soaked in dim green light that he remembers from last year.

It really is very green.

Now Harry wants to know if the Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws are drowning in yellow and blue too, or if it is just the two who decided on excessive demonstrations of house pride. Not that he doesn’t like it, even if he’ll be admitting it to Ron sometime approaching never. It’s probably less peaceful when it’s full of Slytherins anyway.

No magical alarms start shouting their unhappiness when Harry enters, and that is an excellent start. It’s deserted, which is also useful, because Harry is not as brilliant as he used to think he was at navigating unseen. Invisible isn’t the same as undetectable.

He wanders through the middle of the room, heading for the window that looks out into the depths of the lake. It’s beautiful, sure, for a certain value of really incredibly creepy. Harry hopes that he never has to find out if it actually is as cold as it looks, and not just because he never learnt to swim. There are also-

-Bloody fucking mermaids, apparently.

And they look nothing like the muggle version, and okay, now Harry really doesn’t want to go in that lake. They might be lovely beings, for all that they look like terrifying fish demons with hair, but Harry would still rather not get close enough to find out for sure. Even now, he’d much rather be backing away towards the fireplace – which he’s doing – almost unconsciously, and he’s also not looking where he’s going, and that is probably a bad plan.

It is definitely a bad plan.

He trips backwards. An armchair, he thinks, but he’s too busy flailing his arms and trying to stay upright, trying to stay quiet, trying not to let the invisibility cloak start to slip off him like- that.

He manages to grab it, and teeters for one gold-spun second of perfect balance.

The chair kicks him in the ankle and he lands in a painful invisible heap on the floor.

Shit.

“If you’re going to sneak around invisibly, you might consider not making so much noise.”

Shit.

Once more, with feeling.

Harry doesn’t freeze. He’s lying crumpled on the floor; he’s already doomed.

The voice… sounds amused more than anything else, though, and when Harry twists his head, he sees that it belongs to a man in the portrait above the fireplace. The painting is vaguely familiar, not that Harry was paying attention while he and Ron were doing a very bad job of interrogating Draco Malfoy, but Harry doesn’t remember there being a person in there.

Sprawled on the floor isn’t the ideal position for Harry to be analysing facial expressions either, but he doesn’t think that the man looks upset. He can see that the man has brown hair and robes that even Harry recognises as archaic, and he looks familiar for reasons that Harry can’t describe.

And Harry is currently panicking.

“Are you going to introduce yourself?” the portrait prompts, with a hint of impatience.

Introduce- right, yes, of course. Give his name to the Slytherin portrait who is the only witness to Harry’s very inelegant infiltration of the Slytherin Common Room. That sounds like a terrible idea.

On the other hand, there is no need for Harry to be rude. It’s already too late to run away undetected, and Harry really wants to work out why he feels like he recognises the portrait from somewhere. Maybe he can persuade the portrait not to tell anyone.

Aunt Petunia has always insisted that his curiosity will get him into serious trouble one day, but Harry’s pretty sure this isn’t what she had in mind.

He scrambles to his feet, picking up the invisibility cloak and holding it in front of him like a very ineffective shield. This entire situation is absurd, and a part of Harry wants to break out into hysterical laughter. But he doesn’t. Maybe the portrait won’t realise he’s a Gryffindor.

The portrait raises his eyebrows with a “well go on, then” gesture.

“Hi,” Harry says, waving one partially invisible hand. “I’m Harry. Um…” He’s never been very good at meeting new people. “Sorry for being bad at sneaking around invisibly?” He glares at the chair, which shuffles its ostentatiously clawed feet, somehow managing to give off an air of smugness. Because of course Slytherins fill their Common Room with homicidal chairs.

“Hello Harry,” the portrait says politely. “I am Nizar. And you are not one of my Slytherins.”

Well, there goes that plan.

Forget Voldemort, Sirius Black and the Dementors, Harry is going to be murdered by Professor Snape.

“Are you going to tell someone?”

Nizar shrugs. His robes really are ancient. “There’s no one here for me to tell.”

That is not particularly encouraging, but Harry wasn’t particularly subtle in asking. Slytherins like to be… cunning, don’t they? Does that include not answering outright questions? The Sorting Hat’s songs aren’t helpful, and Harry hasn’t read Hogwarts: A History. This might be the first civilised conversation he’s ever had with a Slytherin, and that really is not a promising start.

As far as he can work out, he’s doomed as soon as people start waking up.

Luckily, Harry is also a nosy Gryffindor, and he is absolutely going to stay and make the most of it.

He creeps closer towards the fireplace.

Nizar is awkwardly perched cross-legged on a painted wooden chair, but he seems quite comfortable. Harry sits cross-legged on chairs like that all the time, so maybe it’s just a thing. There’s something that Nizar is holding, something green and glittering, that twines around his fingers.

Harry tilts his head. Nizar looks… kind, he decides. Also a bit like only the physical constraints of the portrait would stop him from wandering around stabbing people who annoy him, but that doesn’t bother Harry as much as it probably should. If people are going to get stabbed, he’d rather that it’s someone with good morals doing the stabbing.

Nizar is still watching him with an odd half smile, as if he can tell what Harry is thinking. Harry has never really interacted with portraits before, so he has no idea if that might be the case.

The glittering green-gold-black ribbon lifts its head and flicks its tongue at him, flashing bright green eyes.

Not a ribbon.

Harry hesitates for a single moment. He might still be a bit afraid of the Basilisk, but this isn’t the Basilisk, and he’s always liked normal snakes. Talking to snakes in front of people is terrifying after that whole incident last year, but this is a Slytherin portraits. Snakes are a whole Slytherin Thing, right? And this one is literally climbing on Nizar, so it’s reasonable to assume that Nizar is not afraid of it.

Mainly, Harry just wants to talk to the pretty snake.

“Hello,” he hisses softly, immediately catching its attention. “I’m Harry. It’s nice to meet you.”

“I know,” the snake replies smugly.

Nizar taps her on the head. “Be polite, dearest!” He gives Harry an apologetic look. “This is Kanza. She understands English though she cannot speak it.”

“And I’m brilliant,” Kanza adds, before she twists and crawls away up the inside of Nizar’s sleeve.

It takes several seconds for Harry to process that exchange, and then several more seconds to realise that Nizar- that Nizar-

Harry stares at him in wide-eyed speechless surprise.

Nizar gazes back, entirely unconcerned about the snake somewhere up the inside of his sleeve, and he is looking at Harry like Harry is the weird one who can suddenly and unexpectedly speak parseltongue.

“You- you’re a parselmouth,” Harry gasps, in what might have been a mixture of snake and human languages. It feels like he doesn’t have enough oxygen. This is ridiculous, this is-

Bloody Slytherins!

Nizar gives him a very odd look. “And you are…?”

“Um, yes. But.” Harry’s heart is racing, and he really wishes that it wouldn’t. Maybe it’s meeting another parselmouth apart from Tom Riddle, maybe it’s that this is the first time that no one has acted like he’s a freak for speaking parseltongue. Maybe it’s, maybe… “Wh- who are you?”

Nizar tilts his head with an amused expression. “I am Nizar.”

Maybe it’s part of his brain telling him that something about this meeting is important, even though it hasn’t yet bothered to explain why. “My name is Harry James Potter.”

Nizar smiles as if Harry just got something right. That’s great, because Harry still doesn’t know what he’s doing. “I am Nizar Hariwalt Deslizarse. Properly, Nizar Hariwalt de León, Casa de Deslizarse de Castilla y Moravia, but those extra bits usually take too long to say.”

Harry blinks. That feels… that feels like a gift. He has no idea why. Slytherins don’t make any sense. “What does it mean?”

“Nizar Hariwalt is half-Euskaran and half-Germanic. It means little war leader.

Harry bites his lip before he can ask what Euskaran is. He doesn’t want the portrait to think he’s stupid as well. “Harry sounds a bit like it could be a nickname for Hariwalt,” he offers, stumbling slightly over the unfamiliar word. He likes it, but he doesn’t think he’d ever suit a name like that. “I don’t think my name was meant to mean anything special.”

Nizar gives him a long scrutinising look which makes Harry feel sure that this man was a teacher or something at some point. It’s a bit intimidating, but Harry already decided that he’s not going to run away.

“That name was a gift from parents who loved you,” Nizar finally says, in a quieter voice than before. “That can be special.”

“Oh,” Harry whispers, a tiny helpless noise that escapes before he can stop it. No one has ever said anything like that before. He clears his throat, trying to swipe away at emotions that he really doesn’t want to deal with. “So… er, what do the other parts of your name mean?”

Nizar is giving him a fond look tinged with concern. Except he’s not, because that would be silly. No one is fond of Harry apart from Mrs Weasley. And occasionally Hermione, when Harry hasn’t done anything particularly stupid recently.

“This region of Scotland used to be known as the Kingdom of Moray. My family is from Castile and León. And my family name is Casa de Deslizarse, although it was immediately slurred into Slytherin by the people of this isle.”

Lecture voice. Definitely a teacher.

“You’re Spanish?” Harry blurts out, before he can stop himself.

Nizar’s foot slips off the chair, and he uncrosses his legs to avoid falling, giving Harry a surprised look. “Are you not going to ask me about- no, alright, that is fine. Spain was not a unified country in my time. But yes, that is where my family is from.”

Harry never learnt much history at junior school, and he doesn’t think his experience was anything unusual apart from, well, Dudley. “Is Professor Binns is going to teach us anything useful before we graduate?”

“Cuthbert Binns’ love affair with goblin wars has been going on for literal centuries and is unlikely to end anytime ever,” says Nizar dryly, giving Harry another odd look that Harry doesn’t understand. “I did finish explaining the meaning of my family name?”

“Uh, your family name is Casa de Desli- something, but everyone said it wrong, so it became Slytherin instead?” Harry says uncertainly, trying to see what he’s missing. This is a Slytherin Common Room, he already knew that. This is a Slytherin portrait, in the Slytherin Common Room.

“Oh!” Harry exclaims excitedly, “so that’s why you’re a parselmouth!”

Nizar blinks several times. “That is not the exact reaction I was expecting.”

“Well, this is the Slytherin Common Room,” Harry says, grinning, with a bit of relief. “It’s not like you’re telling me that Salazar Slytherin was your brother or something.”

A pause.

Nizar presses his lips together and goes very quiet and still.

Harry’s eyes widen.

“Do you have any Divination talent?” Nizar tilts his head. “You are reminding me of… someone—” Then he breaks off, and is staring at a point somewhere past Harry’s shoulder for long enough that Harry starts to get concerned.

“Er… Nizar?” Harry can’t really step closer without literally standing on the dying embers of the fire, but he does his best. “Nizar. Are you okay?”

Nizar blinks and shakes his head before refocusing his gaze on Harry, brow furrowed. “Are you alright?”

Harry nods. “Are- are you? You… Um, are you really Salazar Slytherin’s brother?”

“I am the brother of Salazar Slytherin,” Nizar confirms, smiling warily at Harry.

“That’s so cool,” Harry says, and he means it. “What’s Spain like?”

Nizar stares at him for a second, and bursts out laughing.

Harry’s mouth falls open before he can stop it.

This- The brother of Salazar Slytherin. The literal actual brother. Of Salazar Slytherin. Is laughing hysterically in his chair in his portrait. Because Harry wanted to know about Spain.

Rude.

Nizar points at him, still gasping for breath. “You are the oddest Gryffindor I have met in at least five hundred years.”

Harry wants to be offended by that but it’s probably true. He’s the one who decided to invisibly infiltrate a Slytherin Common Room. “How do you know I’m a Gryffindor?”

Nizar pulls himself upright with the dignity of a portrait that almost didn’t fall off his chair from laughing. “You came here.” He raises an eyebrow. “Am I wrong?”

“Can you tell me about Spain?” Harry counters. Nizar doesn’t need him to state the obvious, and Harry has unanswered questions now.

Yes, it’s incredible that this portrait actually knew the founders, but Harry’s never been abroad before. He’s not likely to ever meet the founders unless some lunatic decides to yank him backwards in time, so right now he’s more interested in Spain, thank you.

“I’ve never been to Spain!” Harry protests, when Nizar looks at him like he’s completely insane. “The Dursleys never- stop laughing, Nizar!”

“Sorry! Sorry!” Nizar wipes at his eyes with his sleeve. “Why are you awake, Harry?”

“Couldn’t sleep.” Harry shrugs when Nizar gives him another concerned look. That still doesn’t make sense. There’s no reason for a random portrait to be concerned for Harry, of all people.

Nizar raises an eyebrow. “Do you frequently invade the Common Rooms of other houses when you cannot sleep?”

“No,” Harry admits reluctantly. He takes a step backwards so that his feet are no longer melting in the embers of the fire. “I haven’t found a way into Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw yet.”

Nizar gives a muffled snort and grins widely. Harry has decided that there is definitely something strange about this portrait. Not that Harry has experience with talking to portraits, but Nizar has probably never had to deal with the 3am invasion of a single invisible Gryffindor parselmouth, so maybe they’re both weird. Or maybe Nizar is just really bored.

He doesn’t realise he’s said that out loud until Nizar dissolves into laughter again. Maybe he’s just really tired.

“You remind me of Slytherin’s Head of House,” Nizar tells him, and looks delighted by Harry’s completely baffled expression.

Harry’s not sure that he wants to be compared to Professor Snape, but he’s not going to tell that to the Slytherin portrait. More importantly; “You know Professor Snape?”

Nizar nods and sits back in his chair. “All the Slytherins, in fact. I see them quite a lot, you know,” he says seriously.

“Is Malfoy that annoying in the Common Room as well?” Harry asks, deciding to ignore the fact of his imminent death by Snape.

Nizar looks amused. “Tiny Gryffindor, I have no idea. I literally cannot leave the bounds of this portrait.”

Harry tries not to wrinkle his nose – Gryffindor isn’t his only character trait. “You really are just bored then?”

Nizar nods solemnly, but his eyes are still bright. “And you should go back to your tower, Gryffindor. If it is truly 3am.”

“Are you—” Harry hates how uncertain he sounds. “Are you going to tell Professor Snape?”

Nizar gives him yet another strange look. “Do you want me to?”

“No! He’d actually murder me!” Harry says immediately and then blushes. “I mean, he’d probably only give me detention for the rest of my life.”

“He probably would.”

That feels like a non-answer, but Harry thinks it’s the best answer he’s going to get from one of the literal original Slytherins. Still, uncertain death might be a slight improvement on certain death. “You still haven’t told me off for sneaking around at night,” he adds, just in case.

Nizar waves his hand dismissively. “The curfew is stupid.”

“You are not like Professor Snape,” Harry declares, at the same time as he realises that it’s a really weird thing to tell someone, just because they’re a Slytherin portrait. But before today, Professor Snape was the only adult Slytherin that Harry had ever interacted with – Voldemort definitely doesn’t count – and Harry had kind of expected all Slytherins to be the same.

Nizar is nice though, and surprisingly funny. Harry has a feeling that Nizar already knows far more about Harry than Harry knows of Nizar, even though Nizar is still being polite enough to pretend not to.

Either way, Nizar seems friendly, if a bit insane and possibly bored out of his mind, and familiar somehow, even though there’s no way they could have met before now.

As Harry makes his way through Hogwarts’ dark and deserted corridors back towards the Gryffindor tower, he thinks, with more finality than he probably should, that he might have found someone like a friend.

Apart from that, he really, fervently hopes that no one is ever going to be stupid enough to turn him into a portrait.

Who is he kidding, it’s probably already guaranteed.