Chapter 4 : Chapter Four
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Disclaimer: I claim no ownership of Rowling’s work. Also, this story is a work of fantasy, not historical fiction. I have taken many historical liberties while writing this piece and most of it may be considered anachronistic.
Helga Hufflepuff - Leelee Sobieski
Godric Gryffindor - Sean Bean
Salazar Slytherin - Joaquin Phoenix
Rowena Ravenclaw - Lena Headey
Ailbhe, the handmaiden - Bryce Dallas Howard
Alba - Hogwarts Castle
Salazar had heard many things of the Ravenclaw queen, but he had never heard that she was beautiful It surprised him, for he had envisioned a witch whom youth had destroyed and left with the tremblings of insanity. But the woman who met him in her Great Hall had all the dignity of Delphi’s mistress.
Rowena was young, yes, but masterful. She was a dark beauty, cold as a winter morn, pale and distant.
And for a moment, Salazar believed that she could rival Helga.
But the hope passed, leaving him empty and shrewd.
He approached Rowena’s chair.
“My lady, Queen Rowena of Alba, I hail you as an emissary from Queen Helga of Cornwall, Mistress of England. Salazar Slytherin I am called and I have been granted leave to treat with you.”
Salazar took pleasure in speaking first. It was above his station, really, but as Helga’s messenger, he carried a shred of authority that was usually denied him.
Rowena observed him for a minute and then she tilted her ebony eyes upward, searching the stars in the enchanted sky above them. The moon was full and round.
“I have seen her,” the Queen replied and her voice was a ribbon of mist, airy and breathless.
Salazar knew what she spoke of. Had he not seen it in her eyes the moment he entered the Hall?
Rowena was a Seeress.
“Perhaps the stars lie,” he replied.
Rowena’s gaze snapped back to him. She appeared incensed, but a frost soon settled over her pride. “Why have you come?”
Ah, so here it was. Salazar appreciated her forthrightness. It would make things easy. He turned slightly, his booted feet sounding a heartbeat on the flagged floor. One of Helga’s guards, who had accompanied him up from the Cornish camp in Yorkshire, stepped forward.
He held the square casket in rough hands.
“Queen Helga of Cornwall, Mistress of England, has a gift for you.” Salazar drew out the words, his every breath dripping with formality.
Rowena sat up straight, her eyes gliding to a nearby handmaiden who reached to take the casket.
Salazar, however, took it from the guard himself.
“Helga of Cornwall, Mistress of England, is generous,” he said, working the latch with his deft fingers. “She hopes you will find her offer pleasing.”
The lid clicked open, revealing a flash of brilliance.
Rowena rose slowly and stretched out an arm.
Salazar shuffled closer and let her examine the treasure. He saw her eyes widen.
“This diadem,” he continued softly, letting the subtle light of worked metal reflect in Rowena’s countenance, “has been blessed by Queen Helga of Cornwall, Mistress of England.”
Rowena exhaled. “It has been bewitched.”
“Queen Helga of Cornwall, Mistress of England has worked her craft upon it. She has seen to it that whosoever might place this diadem upon their brow shall be gifted…”
“Gifted?” Rowena echoed dubiously.
“Gifted with wisdom.” And in saying so, he snapped the lid shut.
The spell, so finely wrought, was broken, but the room still reverberated with Helga’s distant power.
Rowena returned to her chair and Salazar gave the casket back to the guard.
“And what are the conditions of this gift?” the Queen of Alba asked, her brows flitting uneasily.
Salazar hesitated. He knew, yes, he knew in his heart that Rowena would not accept Helga’s offer of peace.
“It is simple,” he lied, feigning assurance. “Queen Helga of Cornwall, Mistress of England wishes to join in consort with my lady, Rowena of-”
“She means to overrun us.” A sudden ferocity darkened Rowena’s gaze. Her pearl-white knuckles clutched the carved arms of her chair. Above, the stars were obscured by a passing cloud.
They were all of them cast into darkness.
“Your mistress,” Rowena spat, “wants Alba for herself and she hopes to assuage her conquer-lust by dominating this island. She offers to turn me out as her puppet queen. Is that it? In exchange for the ravishing of my kingdom, I may be spared to survive in disgrace?”
Salazar could not help but smile wickedly. Yes, this woman was a Seer indeed.
“Queen Helga of Cornwall, Mistress of England, is merciful,” he said.
Rowena’s thin lips twitched.
And ah, what prophesies had spilled forth from her tongue? he dared to wonder. Of what lore had she whispered to deaf solitude?
With some difficulty, he straightened his face. “And along with her mercy, there comes friendship.”
“Liar!” Rowena arched forward, her nails now nested in the arms of her chair. Her cry rang throughout the hall, making Helga’s guard shift nervously.
Salazar regarded her coolly. Yes, there was passion, but did any substance lurk beneath?
“Shall I return your regards to Queen Helga of Cornwall, Mistress of England?” he asked, consciously rubbing salt into her new wounds.
He wanted to see how she would react. Would the ferocity remain? Was there any promise in this young witch?
For the first time in many years, Salazar found his hope play towards optimism.
Rowena turned her eyes from him and gazed once more at the enchanted ceiling. The gods smiled through the stars tonight and promised victory etched a path across the heavens.
But to whom would the victory fall?
Salazar wished he knew.
At length, Rowena abandoned her reverie. And on her face, he saw a hint of foreknowledge, thin and transparent as a caul.
“Alba rejects Queen Helga and all her promises,” Rowena said stonily. “You may take her witchcraft and cast it into the loch for all I care. I would rather be drowned along with it than kiss the Cornish whore’s feet. Tell you mistress that while Hogwarts stands, she may not have it.”
Salazar sighed in hearing her speak. He regretted having to bear such tidings to Helga.
Perhaps he never would.
Affecting a bow, he took the casket and left the Great Hall. Helga’s guard was at his heels.
“Are you loyal to Cornwall?” Salazar asked him once they had passed into the courtyard, where the air was free and fresh with autumn.
The guard stared at him with the eyes of a dullard. “Master?”
“I thought so,” Salazar replied. He took his wand from inside his cloak and whispered the only lullaby he knew.
The guard dropped dead at his feet.
Rowena sat curled in a chair by the fire, her thoughts whispering up through the rafters along with the fragrant smoke.
“The stars of the gods alone watch us,” she muttered wearily, “and by their wisdom decide our separate fates.”
Ailbhe, her handmaiden, brought a bone comb to her mistress’s locks. “My lady must disregard that man,” she said, taking care to divide the black strands into plaits. “He is only a puppet through which a fool speaks. Take courage and the dawn will come.”
Rowena sniffed the air, slipping her cold hands inside her robe. Never before had she found the stone walls of Hogwarts so comforting, even though the Cornish host was surely rallying against them just beyond the horizon. “Helga is no fool, Ailbhe,” she replied. “Though I wish it were so. She is a powerful sorceress, more so than my mother ever was.”
“But she does not possess the gift of foresight.”
“She has no need of it. Even a blind man could predict her victory. I read it in the stars myself. We shall all perish.”
Silently, Rowena cursed her weakness. She had tried with boastful words to drive the enemy away, but her cool bluff would only last so long.
“Perhaps,” she mused out loud, “I ought to have taken the diadem from that man. It would have guaranteed us some protection, at the very least. Some safety.”
Ailbhe’s hands stilled, the comb rattling as it smashed on the floor. “There is no greater shame than surrender,” the handmaid whispered, her palms now pressed to Rowena’s shoulders.
Rowena knew she should agree with the girl, but her strength had long ago been spent.
There would be no victory over Helga and she began to consider slavery a gentler substitute for death.
“We must tell the people not to oppose the Cornish armies when they arrive,” she said darkly, each word lodging in her throat like a sharp stone, cutting her vocal cords until they bled sobs. “For we cannot hope to mount an offensive.”
Ailbhe did not reply, but she did gasp as a thunder clap sounded throughout the chamber.
Before Rowena had time to draw another breath, her handmaiden was sprawled on the deerskin rug at her feet, her body as rigid and unfeeling as deep winter ice.
A man cloaked in black emerged from the shadows. He was pointing a wand at Rowena’s breast.
“My most sincere apologies, my lady Ravenclaw,” her murmured, his voice laden with venom.
Rowena felt his words slither into her veins. Quickly, she rose from her chair, her heavy skirts fanning out across the hearth. “Ailbhe!” She dropped to her knees next to the prostrate girl.
Ailbhe did not respond to her Queen’s touch, nor did she stir at all.
“You have killed her,” Rowena muttered hopelessly.
The cloaked man smiled. “Nay, my lady. She is only stunned. Place your hand upon her breast.”
Offering her intruder a seething glare, Rowena slipped her fingers under Ailbhe’s bodice. A heartbeat leapt to life under her palm.
Wild relief made her shudder. “You spare my maid’s life, but not mine, I fear,” she said carefully, recognizing the man as Helga’s emissary. “Have you come to murder me in my chambers so that your mistress might steal what is rightly mine?”
The emissary laughed and it was a dark, creeping sound. The tongues of fire in the hearth sputtered greedily. “Has your Sight been clouded of late, my lady?” he asked, offering her a sallow-skinned hand.
Rowena took it and allowed herself to be helped to her feet. His skin was as dry as burnt wood.
“I see you do not call for your guards,” he continued, his glance briefly flitting to her chamber door, which was locked and barred. “Are they Muggles as well?”
“Indeed,” Rowena replied. “I shall not have any unnecessary blood spilled on my account. Do you bidding, wizard! Take my life and so decide the conquest.” And in saying so, she bared her breast for the dark-eyed emissary.
Another laugh from him, his breath playing coolly across her flesh.
“Do not be so immodest, my lady,” he said, but nonetheless, kept is wand trained to her heart. “I have not come to kill you, nor harm any of your household.”
Rowena covered herself once more, a rare blush staining her hollow cheeks. “I should have guessed Helga would keep the company of a sorcerer. What is it you want from me, magician?”
She was surprised when his face pinched with offense.
“I have never been cursed by one of my own kind,” he replied. “It is well known that you are a witch, otherwise Helga shouldn’t have troubled herself with granting you favors.”
“Favors indeed!” Rowena spat. She was shaking fiercely and had to clutch the back of her chair to stay upright.
Ah, what treacherous weakness! If ever she had wished to appear strong, it would be before this man.
“I ask again,” she said, struggling to keep her voice steady. “What is it you want from me?”
The emissary sniffed the air and shifted his position slightly so that he could benefit from the warmth of the fire. His every move was fluid and agile, as unpredictable as smoke being rushed away by the wind.
“I am afraid I did not have the opportunity to explain the fullness of my proffered terms,” he said.
Rowena felt her eyes widen. Surely he had not come here to bargain?
“I want nothing of Helga’s favor,” she replied bitterly.
“It is not Helga’s favor I speak of.”
He waited a beat, as if questioning his own tactics. Rowena sensed the need to encourage him.
“Go on,” she said.
His eyes flickered to life once more. “Helga cannot be matched by only one of her own kind.” He paused, taking a moment to study her features. “But with the force of a pair…perhaps.”
Rowena’s hands left the back of her chair. “I do not understand.”
For the first time, the emissary dropped his wand and left himself defenseless. “Have you not read the stars, Rowena of Ravenclaw?” he asked.
She recoiled, hearing her name upon his lips. “I trust in their wisdom.”
“Then you have seen the death of Helga’s fortune.” His voice was naught but a whisper now. “By our hands.”
Yorkshire - The Cornish Encampment
Godric stood outside Helga’s tent, his long cloak rippling in the wind. A storm was coming across the moors. Leaves spiraled listlessly from dying trees and the ground was hardening was frost. Soon, he guessed, there would be virgin snow and he could track the passages of animals through the forest.
Or perhaps it would rain and the river would rise to drown them all.
Godric did not know which he preferred.
Helga had not been in camp for several days. Rumor said that she had gone out riding, gathering allies and reminding her client kings of their duty to Cornwall. And with every passing hour, Godric was reminded of his duty to her.
She had spared is life. It was more than he could ever say for his brother, or his kinsmen from the Gryffindor tribe.
Godric began to wonder where he should let his loyalties lie: with her or with himself.
With her, at least, he would not be alone.
The wind grew sharper, teasing the first feathery snowflakes until they blew across the camp with unparallel ferocity. Godric watched Helga’s Muggle soldiers go about their duty, polishing shields and swords, shoeing their horses. The foreboding uneasiness of it all made him shiver and he could not help but wonder what it would be like to have such power, such utter control.
Never before had he been tempted by the seductive promises of supremacy, although now he had glanced a different world. A world that was sharper and more distinct, a world in which magic need not be hidden or diverted to useless tricks.
Magic could be powerful. It could kill. And Helga had shown him that.
Godric realized he wanted something from her. Indeed, needed something.
He shook his head, the snow landing and melting in his tawny hair. But what could he, in turn, possibly offer Helga?
And then he knew.
She came before the storm, riding her mare like a man, her hauberk hitting the saddle with a muted ring.
“Did you think I would not return?” Helga asked him once she had dismounted.
He followed her within her tent. Outside, it had begun to sleet, a careful mixture of rain and snow.
Godric said nothing. Helga removed her hauberk and heavy outer tunic. A servant brought her meat and bread. She offered Godric a goblet of wine.
“Drink with me,” she said. It was a request, he realized and not an order.
Still, he sat with her before a brazier, the sound of crackling wood no match for the ice hitting the taut canvas above.
Helga did not ask him whether or not he had decided upon his course of action and for that, Godric was eternally grateful.
He wished to tell her himself.
Sliding from his chair, he kneeled before her and put his hands to her cheeks. And, bowing her head down to meet his, he kissed her.
Author’s Note: Yes, this story is alive! Quite alive, in fact. I do apologize for taking forever to update, but RL got in the way and this chapter didn’t help by being positively stubborn. Here it is, at last. I’m not entirely happy with it, but I do hope you enjoy it.
I would like to thank everyone who took the time to read/review/favorite this story so far. You guys rock! I cannot possibly express what your feedback means to me. It is truly invaluable.
With any luck, the next chapter should be posted in three weeks or less. Enjoy your winter!
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