Chapter 1 : The Sweetest Sadness
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The title and the song lyrics are from A Fine Frenzy's "Almost Lover."
This one-shot is dedicated to JLHufflepuff and Harry_Potter_Mom. Hope you guys enjoy :)
There was no moon that night.
She stumbled on the cobblestones and cursed quietly. If anyone heard her - if they knew where she was going ...
She hid in the shadows and watched for signs of movement, but all remained silent. Pulling the hood closer around her face to hide her bright hair, she continued on across the drawbridge. The basket swayed gently on her arm, heavy with bread, cheese, a bottle of wine, and some medicine. No one would notice that they were missing; the house-elves were accustomed to her presence in the kitchen and it had been simple to set aside small portions of food here and there. He would be hungry and no doubt too proud to procure food for himself. She shook her head in frustration, creeping across the grass to the forest's edge. There was a great deal of pride in both men; too much pride. Where once it had cemented their friendship, it had now torn them apart.
The thick trees swallowed her up immediately and she could barely see her own two feet beneath her. She did not dare call out for fear of being answered by something other than her friend. She hurried instead to the clearing on the eastern edge, hoping that he would see her there. She had only made it halfway when a strong, sinewy arm wrapped around her neck. A large hand muffled her startled cry.
She nodded, and the arm released her instantly. "Salazar," she whispered.
"Of course I did," she said, offended by the surprise in his voice. "What kind of person do you think I am?"
He stared down at her, his green eyes bright in the darkness. "A cautious person. A wise person."
Helga shoved the basket into his chest and turned on her heel, stalking back in the direction of the castle. She felt his warm hand on her shoulder and heard his contrite voice. "Helga, I'm sorry. Please don't be angry, I didn't mean to be ungrateful." He turned her around and looked down into her face. "I worry about you."
"You worry about me?" she asked incredulously, looking pointedly at his ragged clothing, at the seeping wounds on his skin.
Salazar gave her his half-smile, the one that she used to love. "It's not good for you to associate with me, you know," he said, squeezing her shoulder. "I shudder to think what he would do if he found out."
"Are you so afraid of Godric?"
He removed his hand, his face darkening. "Never," he hissed. "He's the coward. He's the one who's afraid. He threw me out because I threatened his authority."
Helga sighed. "I didn't come here to argue with you. Take me to the cottage so I may bind these wounds for you." Her fingers hovered over a deep cut in his forearm, lingering just above his warm skin. "Won't you tell me how you got them?"
"No." Salazar's voice was sharp, and he put his arm around her to soften the stinging word. "Come. You musn't be gone for long." Together they made their way through the trees silently. Helga's eyes adjusted to the darkness and she saw the little thatched-roof dwelling before they came to it. It was a sad sight with its cracked windows and broken chimney, tucked into the darkest part of the wood. It was hardly fit for a princely lord like Salazar, but he didn't seem to mind as he lowered his head to go inside.
There was a dying fire in the hearth and he poked at it with a stick while Helga bustled around the tiny room. She laid a fresh cloth on the dirty table and set the bread, cheese, and wine on top.
"My favorite elderflower wine. You remembered."
"Of course I remembered," she said, a bit more sharply than she had intended. "You seem to forget, Salazar, that my memory is quite as good as Rowena's." She unrolled some cloth bandages, conscious that he was watching her every movement. "Sit still. I'll bind your left arm first."
"This is one of the things I miss most," he mused, "sitting together in front of the fire after supper." The fleeting half-smile crossed his face again. "It's terrible to be alone sometimes, Helga."
She dabbed some ointment on a cut, ignoring his wince. "You chose to be alone, my friend. This was your decision."
Salazar shook his head. "I was alone even before this. Alone in my thoughts, in the deepest wishes I had for this school." He stared broodingly into the fire. "I was never like you or Rowena ... or him. I always wanted something different, but I wanted to share my vision with all of you. Why has it come to this?"
"I don't know," Helga said quietly, wrapping a bandage tightly around his forearm. They were silent as she continued tending to each of his injuries, both lost in an idle melancholy. "Come," she said finally, cutting him a piece of bread, "you must eat."
He took the bread and bit into it halfheartedly, barely tasting it. "Do they -" he began hesitantly. "Does she ever talk about me?"
Helga lowered her eyes. "No."
His only response was a sigh, but even that cut deep into her heart. She felt a strong urge to shake him for his obstinate stupidity. How can you love her and think of her still? Not once did she showed you affection, not once did she care for you as I have. The tears began to flow and she cursed herself inwardly. Crying had never been something she could control. Quickly she bent down to dry her eyes, pretending to sort through the items in the basket.
"I'm lucky to have you, you know," Salazar said with a wry smile. "I think I would starve otherwise."
She uncorked the bottle of wine and handed it to him coldly. "I would not be surprised."
He reached out and took her hand instead. "You must be furious with me," he said, "but I couldn't ask for a better friend. Somehow I always felt you understood me better than the others."
"It's my cross to bear," she whispered with a mirthless laugh.
Salazar leaned forward, looking intently at her. "Are you crying, Helga?" he murmured, pushing the hood away from her hair. Curling tendrils escaped onto her shoulders, gleaming gold in the light of the flames. "Why are you so sad, my dear?"
She summoned the courage to look straight into his eyes, which were filled with the tender kindness she remembered. "You still don't know?" she whispered.
He touched her face gently, his thumb drying the tears that leaked from her eyes. "Oh, Helga," he said unhappily. "You deserve so much better than a rogue like me."
Helga shook her head. "No," she protested. "Salazar, all I ever wanted was to make you happy. Please let me stay with you."
"No, Helga, I can't let you do this -"
"Just let me help you, let me take care of you!" She clung to his hand desperately. "I don't care what you believe in. I don't care about the school..."
"Helga, you don't know what you're saying!" Salazar covered his face in frustration.
She watched him in silence, watched the firelight glowing on his wavy dark hair.
"I won't let you give up your entire life for me," he mumbled.
"Yet if I were Rowena, sitting here in front of you," Helga retorted, unable to keep the bitterness from her voice, "you would be saying something very different." He didn't respond and she took it as an affirmation. She stood up and emptied her basket beside the food. "Use your supplies carefully. I won't be coming again." Sweeping her hood back over her hair, she left the cottage for the darkness of the trees. The path blurred in front of her and she wiped her eyes angrily, nearly dropping her basket.
He was beside her in an instant, his arms around her and his lips fiercely pressed against hers. He hid his face on her shoulder and for one heart-stopping moment, she thought he had changed his mind. "Goodbye, Helga," he whispered. "You won't forget me, will you?"
She shook her head, unable to speak.
"Someday you'll understand, my dear," he muttered. "Go now. Go in peace and don't look back."
And she left him standing there with her heart in his hands. After that night, she could never find the cottage again. It had disappeared with all traces of the man she had once loved. There was no memory of him now but for the tight expression Godric sometimes wore and the ache that lay within her. She buried it deep inside, hoping that somewhere out there, he was thinking of her too.
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