Chapter 9 : Chapter Nine
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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, Rowena’s handmaiden - Bryce Dallas Howard
Riol - Steven Mackintosh
A low, gurgling cry called Godric away from the window. He crossed the room, pausing by the hearth to examine the infant in her cradle. Traces of fair hair dusted the baby’s brow and the face was red, the toothless mouth contracted in a yawn that soon dissolved into a whimper.
He smiled, so very aware of the stirrings of paternal affection, and offered the infant his forefinger. A small hand closed over one of his calloused knuckles.
“Little Helena,” Godric murmured. “You have some docility in you yet.”
It warmed him somehow to think that his child was different from her mother, for Helga had often confessed that she had never expressed a bit of passiveness in her life. And now, to show for it, she had all of England and Alba at her feet.
The compensation for lack of temperance was sufficient, Godric decided, although he sometimes wondered if Helga could be truly happy with what she had accomplished, or would she succumb to the need for more glory, more land…more blood.
Of late, she had started sending scouts to Ireland…
But that was only because Rowena Ravenclaw was said to have taken refuge in the verdant foothills and Helga would never consider Hogwarts fully hers until she had captured its former mistress.
She may have smashed down its great doors and baptized its halls with the blood of slain warriors, but Helga still hesitated to call Hogwarts her own. Godric himself could find little peace in the stronghold and he felt that the walls around him where like the jaws of a trap, ready to be sprung upon him while he slumbered in idleness.
Although it had been many months since he had fought to deliver Hogwarts to Helga, the grey of winter passing into the green of summer, Godric could not dispel the harried worry and anticipation that had settled into his heart that night so long ago.
He remembered it even now, as his beautiful child Helena tugged at his finger, as the light from the fire swept the shadows away into the corners. The blood on his sword. The death groans of wounded men. And Salazar Slytherin, sitting on the dais, raised above all like an emperor.
Like a god.
And now, he could find no peace for it.
Indeed, most of their time at the castle was spent in restless apprehension. After the natives had been subdued and the stronghold taken by force, Helga had set out to strengthen her kingdom. She sent envoys to her client kings and when the envoys returned empty-handed (or in some cases, never returned at all), she dispatched her soldiers to remind them of the virtues of fealty.
For her treasure, she took spoils and rewarded her most loyal servants. Lands were divided amongst the noblest of warriors. To their sons she promised military training and a place in her army. To their daughters, she granted handsome dowries.
Helga’s most ambitious project, however, spawned from an idea she had shared with Godric long ago, before he had become her husband and sired her child. Before he knew what magic truly was and what he himself was capable of.
Helga wished to found a new Alexandria, a place of wisdom and learning. And at the center of her Alexandria would be Hogwarts, a school for wizard and witches.
It was a lofty goal, one that quite exceeded Godric’s imagination. He had no notion of the workings of a school and could not conceive how witches and wizards might learn together. Certainly, Helga had taught him much of magic, but he could not envision such lessons delegated to so many students. Indeed, a wizard would be better off to learn what he could from a single master, or, at the very least, seek out the knowledge himself.
Godric, however, knew he would never dissuade Helga from her purpose. As it was, she had been greatly taxed in the months following the fall of Hogwarts. Although many of her advisors had cautioned against conducting a winter time campaign in Alba, it soon became evident just why Helga had pushed onwards with so little hesitation.
After her victory, it became known, through the means of nature, that she was with child. A delay, whether by choice or fortune, would have kept her in England for the better part of a year, giving Rowena time to marshal her own forces and put up a proper fight when besieged.
It had been fate, then, and not ability that put Hogwarts into Helga’s hands.
Godric did not doubt that his wife would once more undertake her work with a strengthened and vigorous purpose now. It had been a month since she had given birth to their daughter and already, she declared that she was fit to sit her horse.
For although she had accepted a woman’s role in carrying and birthing a child, Helga was no mother.
This Godric felt with no small pain as he stood over Helena’s cradle. The task of raising the child, he knew, would fall to him alone.
The babe was sleeping now, allowing him to gently slip his finger from her grasp and stand with his face to the fire. Tonight, the summer air was balmy and sweat bloomed on his brow. In the distance, over the reaches of the great forest, he thought he heard a rumble of thunder.
A storm was coming.
And with it came Helga, striding into the chamber with her manly mien, a lump of grey cloth stuck under her arm. Godric recognized the thing she carried at once. It was a hat she had taken from the house of some holy order in England, a strange thing to belong to monks, considering it had strong magical properties.
Helga smiled when she saw him and in the glow of the firelight, her face had a look of good health, the skin faintly blushed, the cheeks full and warm. In her eyes, however, there was that singular appearance of restlessness.
Long ago, Godric had decided that Helga and he had strong differences of opinion. Perhaps it was in Godric’s nature to be more retiring, to watch and wait, to accept and not yearn. But Helga, on the other hand, seemed to condemn that which vexed her. Reality, for her, was not meant to be obeyed, but worked against in an effort to…to…
He paused in his ruminations, realizing, at last, that his image of her was not complete. There was too much of the enigma in her behavior yet and that troubled him.
Godric understood things plainly, while Helga was lofty. He thought that she might love him, but wondered at her inherent mysteries.
She could very well be keeping something from him, perhaps a strong opposition to his temperament, his appearance, his affection…and Godric was convinced he should never know it.
And alas, he had not the skill to hide his musings from her, for although Helga was careful to guard her own secrets, she did have a remarkable sense of astuteness about her.
“You are far away,” she told him, placing the hat upon a table close to the fire. “It is something miserable that turns your thoughts.”
“Not miserable,” Godric was quick to correct her. “I cannot be miserable when I think of our Helena. She is a wonder, is she not?”
“Hmm.” Helga glanced quickly at the cradle, reminding herself of the child‘s precense. “It is unnatural for a man to trouble himself so over a child. I told you to leave her to the nurse or to the maidservant, Ailbhe.”
Her words stung him and Godric recoiled. “I love her,” he said at once, recognizing the spite in his voice. “Surely you cannot blame me for that?”
But Helga had turned her attention from him, her focus now entirely on the strange hat that cast awkward, angular shadows onto the stone floor.
“Come and see what you can make of this,” she ordered, standing to the side so that Godric could easily inspect the hat. “There is nothing in Wulfric of York’s writings that suggest its purpose, although I believe he used it frequently enough. One would think it was quite inanimate, and yet, when you place it on the head.” Here she lifted the hat over Godric’s thick hair. “It has a voice of his own.”
Godric stood still beneath the wide brim, which still smelled faintly of the crypt it had been taken from. After a moment of heavy anticipation, a warm voice began to chirp in his ear, whispering things that Godric scarcely knew of himself.
“There is bravery here, Godric Gryffindor,” it said, “but loneliness as well. You long for family and yet have been cast off by your brother. And what of your wife, what of your--”
Helga plucked the hat from his head. “What did it say?”
Godric inhaled sharply. “That I was brave.” He paused, considering. “What did it say of you?”
Helga did not answer. Instead, she returned the hat to the table with a marked frown. “I have a guess as to its purpose, but I am not certain. Could it be possible that Wulfric used the hat on his postulants to determine the nature of their qualities? I have been thinking, Godric, I have been thinking…the hat might be used for the same purpose here, at Hogwarts, to examine all students, to see if we might sort--”
“Helga.” He hadn’t meant to interrupt her, but a certain insistence had settled in him, prodded by the notably accurate musings of the hat.
“Yes?” She turned to look at him, one finger resting thoughtfully beneath her chin.
Godric swallowed, feeling the tension rise within him. He had never questioned Helga before, had always believed her actions to be necessary and purposeful, but now, but now…
“Do you intend to leave Hogwarts soon?” he asked.
She rolled her shoulders in a half-shrug. “To go to Ireland, you mean?”
“I suppose, or wherever you intend to go.”
“Well, if I must be truthful.” Helga turned, placing herself in front of him. “I have not quite decided where I should go, but there is much that needs doing. Albion may be mine, but I shall not be like Alexander of old, I shall not let my empire fall to waste as soon as it has been secured.”
“I understand,” Godric said, daring to place a hand on her shoulder. And oh, why should it feel so strange to touch her? He had touched her many times before, embraced her, caressed her flesh with his rough hands…
But she was not his. She belonged to something else, something beyond…
“Am I to go with you?” he asked softly.
Much to his surprise, Helga smiled. “If you wish it so,” she said, and her hand crept up to stroke his broad chest.
“Helena? She is not but a babe! I would not risk her life on the road.”
Although Godric felt somewhat reassured to see Helga’s concern for her child, unease continued to gnaw at his gut. “But then I may not go with you.”
For the first time, her face registered shock. “What?”
“I cannot leave Helena behind without a parent to watch over her.”
“You will not, you mean. You will not leave her behind.”
“She is our child!” Long repressed frustration and worry burst out of Godric like a flood. His booming voice disturbed the very thing he sought to protect and Helena stirred in her cradle, wailing.
Helga seemed to deflate, her eyes shutting for a moment.
Godric felt ashamed of himself. He looked at Helga once and then at the cradle. “Will you not go to her?”
She seemed on the verge of protesting, but at length, crossed over to the cradle and took the child into her arms.
“Is this what you wanted from me?” Helga asked, rocking the babe uncomfortably against her breast. “Is this it, Godric?”
He stood by her side then and watched as their child drifted back into sleep, her face guileless and innocent, a mark of good in a world filled with so much darkness.
After a while, Godric once more put his hand on Helga’s shoulder. And for a time, there was peace. Peace.
And where there was peace, there flowed unrest. A relentless river. A stream that cut canyons through solid rock. Salazar knew this and rejoiced in the very knowledge of it, for soon he would ford the stream, dam up the river and channel that same instability against her.
And she deserved the end he would give her. She deserved every regret, every pain, every terror that her fate would bring.
She deserved to die.
Pacing along the dimly lit halls of the castle, he found purpose in his strong stride, relishing in the sound of his footsteps as they reverberated off the stone walls. All this, yes, all this would soon be his.
And as Helga would get what she deserved, so would he.
The promise of omnipotence was a heady one and despite himself, Salazar soon found his mind laid open to the airy fancies of the summer night. He had waited so long, his soul aching under uncommon repression, his spirit confined and dampened, that he half-feared his dream would not materialize. Something could go wrong yet. Helga might have begun to suspect him. She was a keen creature, after all, and had not been above turning against her own servants if she believed that they wished her evil.
Of course, Salazar would rather she direct her misplaced paranoia to that spineless wretch, Gryffindor, for surely she had no use for him now.
Pausing at the turn of the corridor, he reflected, feeling all that was ill and doubtful take hold of his treacherous heart. Perhaps he would not have come to this end had Helga not raised Godric above him. Perhaps he would have been inclined to exercise his machinations in the shadow of her greatness, never seeking to overthrow the Queen herself.
But no, his quarrel rested not entirely with Godric, although the man had unknowingly usurped his place by Helga’s side as her most trusted counselor. Salazar had long objected to her tolerance of Muggles and those deviant beings who possessed magic although their sires had none.
And living in the shadow of another, as a faceless, nameless servant could not do justice to his great powers, which had, for so long, laid dormant and repressed within his own flesh.
Helga had won herself an empire and Salazar would take it from her. He would kill the conqueror and so become glorious.
How simple, how perfect, how utterly befitting….
“You sent for me.”
The lisping, echoing voice disturbed his reveries. Salazar blanched, having been caught unawares, and wheeled around.
Rowena edged herself around the corner, her true identity still safely masked by Ailbhe’s timid form.
Salazar glared at the woman, at once spurning her weakness, and, in turn, realizing his own helplessness. He could not complete this task without her.
“Yes.” Salazar folded his arms, hiding his spindly fingers beneath his sleeves. “It is time. Tonight is the hour.”
Rowena grimaced, the expression ill befitting her uncreased, milky countenance. “Why now, Salazar?”
Because I am done with waiting, his impatience growled. Reason quickly checked his intemperance, though, and he adopted an air of indifference.
“I do not expect you to understand these things,” he said loftily.
Rowena’s frown deepened. “Have I not hidden in my own stronghold for seven months time? Have I not borne this lowly disguise and played the part of servant? And all the while you enjoyed the privilege of Helga’s esteem. I cannot comprehend why you wish to kill her.”
“I do not enjoy her esteem,” Salazar snapped, allowing anger and shame to color his voice. “She has long forsaken me in favor of Gryffindor.”
“There is Gryffindor.” Rowena pressed herself against the wall, ever the coward, living in fear of some imagined foe. “Salazar, he will kill you.”
“He slew a great many of my own warriors. I dread his wrath, once awakened.”
“Have you no courage?” Salazar charged her, advancing until he had caught her in a corner, trapped his little fly with all the tenacity of a hungry spider. “Where is your love and loyalty towards your own people? Helga tramples upon them even now.”
Rowena seemed to consider his words, but then her eyes turned cloudy with tears. “Helga has treated my people fairly. She has brought them bounty where I could give them naught but famine.”
“Lies!” he spat at her. “You allow your head to be turned by all that is false. Make no mistake, Helga is a conqueror. She will take what your people can give her and then she will take more, until they are left barren and starving. Will you not spring to their defense? Will you save them?”
“If she were to leave them barren, she would have done it already.”
“You worthless whore,” Salazar muttered. His breathe came hard, dilating his nostrils and giving his face an air of wicked intent.
Rowena retired a step closer to the wall, but her hands, he noticed, were knotted into determined fists.
Let not the fool find her spine now, he thought desperately. Or else I should be ruined.
And he had come so close…so very close.
Rowena seemed to realize this, for her glace became appraising, hollowed and cold in the flickering light of the cinders glowing in the braziers. “Even you cannot delude yourself,” she said. “We have waited too long to kill Helga.”
His body was breaking now, bones straining against ever shred of resolve and restraint he possessed. Salazar wanted to take Rowena by the throat and throttle the life out of her, for she had done something no worthy man could do.
She had exposed his weakness. The one flaw in his plot.
He had waited too long. Salazar had let Helga regain her footing after her last campaign, had allowed her to settle herself into a position that would not easily be destroyed. Perhaps the delay had been born from his strange resistance to the idea. Betrayal was easy enough to accomplish, but the work of seizing power for oneself took time…and much caution. If he were not careful, he could start another war.
“And then there is Gryffindor,” Rowena remarked once more.
Salazar started, wondering if she could have possibly read his thoughts. Rowena was getting dangerous as well, despite the obvious advantage of her company. Perhaps he would have to do away with her in the near future.
But not now. Now was Helga’s hour and no one else’s.
“I need not divulge my thoughts to you,” Salazar replied guardedly, “but do you not think it suited us to wait until Helga had her empire settled and under her firm control? Imagine murdering Caesar before he had finished off the Gauls.”
Rowena shrugged. “So you say, but you neglect Gryffindor.”
Salazar waved his hand. “Easily controlled. Easily tamed. I may keep him for a while, just so things do not appear suspicious and then he may be disposed of. Our greater worry, I think, is the child, Helena.”
“The babe?” For an instant, Rowena blanched.
“Yes, that will be your task,” Salazar said, feeling a sense of delightful satisfaction as he watched her face lengthen with dread. “I will attend to Helga, but you must make certain that no heir to her throne survives. It should be easy enough. Helga still thinks you are the maidservant, Ailbhe, and she will not guard the child from you.”
Rowena stared at him, a shaking hand pressed to her breast. “You would have me murder a child?”
“Call it what you will, but before this night is over, none of the Hufflepuff line must live.”
“You will. Let the deed be done tonight.” And he turned on his heel, certain that she would comply and certain that the day would dawn red.
Red with blood. Helga’s blood.
The loch had a fell look to it, Riol decided, standing half-sheltered in the reaches of the shadowed battlements. If he dared to draw close enough to the edge, to brace his hands on the crenels and gaze down, down past the very foot of the stronghold, he would see most of the countryside.
It was summer now and trees in the great forest were no longer skeletal, but thick with leaves and heavy moss and tiny, crawling creatures that made Riol quite uneasy. Although he would never speak poorly of the place in front of his queen, he had never been comfortable with its rather remote placement in the wilds of Alba. Here one became isolated, cut-off, trapped, in a sense, from the wider world. Here one relied on news of England from tardy messengers. Here one began to waste and rot, like a fallen log beneath a mantle of undergrowth.
In his heart of hearts, Riol wished Helga would dismantle the wretched place, tear it down brick by brick until there was nothing left. And then they would all be free to return to Cornwall…
His counsel, never spoken, rested on his tongue like a lead weight. Standing there, in the center of the parapet, watching the tiny waves of water break on the shores of the loch and hearing thunder stir in the distance, Riol began to remember some fleeting fears of his childhood. The fear of being hemmed in by the wild while civilization lay close at hand. The fear of being devoured by the darkness…
“What a lonesome creature you are. What a furtive phantom.”
The uncommon mirth in such a voice nearly caused Riol to topple off the parapet. He staggered and turned, catching sight of Salazar Slytherin coming up through the trapdoor.
Riol stepped back and felt his spine collide with the hard rock of the wall.
“I have never been furtive in my life,” he responded, aware that his tone sounded grating and worried as opposed to annoyed.
Salazar dropped the door closed behind him, his features discreetly buried in the folds of a black cloak.
For a moment, Riol wondered why he needed a hood to guard against the warm breezes of summer.
But then Salazar shook his head and the hood fell around his shoulders. He smiled. “You have never been furtive about yourself, though I suppose you have kept many of Helga’s secrets in your breast. Warmed them over with your thoughts.”
Riol’s jaw tensed. “You are her servant,” he said plainly. “I am certain she has taken you into her confidence.”
For all his apprehension, Riol would not allow himself to be misled by this serpent. He had always believed himself to be cunning, and in his day, he had plotted many a solid intrigue against other, undesirable wretches. Slytherin, a suspicious foreigner, was easily disposed of.
Or so he thought.
“You have known Helga longer than I,” Salazar said, his lips curling with a hint of salaciousness. “You were counselor to her father, were you not?”
“Some time ago.”
“Yes, some time ago.” Salazar continued to smile. “I have heard that you were a learned man, Riol. Is that true?”
“Were?” Riol coughed, driving some saliva into his dry mouth. His mood was cold and he had no wish to engage Salazar in an icy battle of wits. And yet, now that the challenge was joined, he found he could not rightly turn from it. It would seem cowardly and Riol knew he wasn’t a coward.
Never a coward.
“I like to think I am still I learned man,” he replied, pushing off from the wall to stroll about the parapet.
“You taught Helga something of the old world, yes? Something of the Roman emperors and Alexander the Great and the language of the Caesars.”
“Alexander was a Macedonian, you should not lump him together with the Romans.”
“You will forgive me.” Salazar shifted slightly, his hands dipping inside the folds of his cloak. “I find it strange that a witch should learn things from a Muggle.”
Riol paused, shutting his eyes briefly. So here it was. Salazar’s eternal thorn of regret. His venomous fanaticism. He had never tolerated those without magic, although he was content to live off the prestige and wealth Helga’s army brought…an army made up almost entirely of Muggle men.
But still, he hated to be made to feel inadequate. Anger stirred within Riol and he decided to return the favor.
Sauntering over to the trapdoor on the pretext of taking his leave, he turned and glanced once over his shoulder at Salazar. “It must have wounded you terribly, to have been put aside in favor of Godric Gryffindor.”
For an instant, Salazar’s face flushed. Riol felt a surge of triumph. There, you snake. There.
But the wizard was quick to master himself. He found another smile easily, and staring at his adversary, he said quite plainly, “It must have wounded you as well.”
Riol froze, one hand on the trapdoor.
Salazar continued to press his point, driving the thorn deeper. “I know you were her lover once.”
Something of dark sorrow cloaked Riol’s heart and he remembered why he thought the loch looked so fell. “Yes, a long time ago.”
“A long time ago,” Salazar mused, his boots sounding on the wooden planks that made up the parapet floor, “when you taught her Latin and something of the Roman emperors. Tell me, was it Brutus, a man known as Caesar’s close friend, who drove the knife through him on the Ides of March?”
Riol turned and was about to reply when Salazar drew his wand from underneath his cloak.
There was light and sound and then some measure of stillness. At the last, Riol saw Salazar advance upon him from what seemed to be a dark and foggy distance.
“Yes,” the wizard said, forcing a blade into his captive’s hand, “it was Brutus who delivered the final blow. How very fitting.”
Author’s Note: Yes, I made Helena Godric and Helga’s child, just because I thought this story wasn’t AU enough. ;)
There is one chapter and an epilogue left. Now that I’m on my winter break, I promise to focus all my time and energy on finishing this fic.
As always, I’d like to thank everyone who has read/reviewed/favorited this story so far. Your continued support and encouragement means the worlds to me.
I hope to have the next chapter finished and ready to post as soon as the queue reopens. Happy Holidays all!!!
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