Chapter 10 : Chapter Ten
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Lovely chapter image by laelia @ TDA
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
Riol - Steven Mackintosh
The warmth of the night was pressing. Sticky and moist like blood. Thick enough for a man to drown in. Helga left Godric slumbering and stepped outside of her bed chamber, her heart thrilling as a fresh chorus of thunder rose from out of the inky depths of the cloudy sky. The storm, she decided, was long overdue.
Of late, she had noticed the grass surrounding the loch turning brown, shriveling and crackling like so much burnt timber under an indifferent sun. The shores of the loch itself were likewise drying, the soft clay silt cracking as the water receded. Trees bent towards the ground. Rocks lost their lichen and grew pale. The heat was unforgiving, relentless, and Helga found herself lost to it, lost to it until now, when the sky finally wept.
She stood in the middle of the narrow corridor, feeling the vengeful wind swoop down from an open casement and brush past her outstretched arms. The rain came washing in, splattering the stone walls and smelling of the moors. Helga felt cool touch of it on her brow and rejoiced.
She was born anew this night.
Solitude was indeed a worthy treasure, and Helga found that she had little of it these days. Even the few hours she used to be spend alone, locked away from the world in her chambers, were now crowded with Godric’s presence. Her husband did not know, of course, how she sometimes scorned his constant company. Although she could not deny her admiration of the man, she was beginning to grow weary of him, weary and restless in a way only Helga could.
This night she was inordinately frustrated by his nagging, unnecessary questions and while his support for her never wavered, Helga sometimes wished she could part from him….
….if only for a time.
And that time was now. Her husband and child were sleeping and she was glad not to be troubled with affairs that seemed purely domestic.
Motherhood had not been kind to her and she thought of it as a burdensome trial, something that was necessary, but only tolerated. Not embraced. No, never embraced. She had secured an heir for herself and her empire. She had secured a legacy in Hogwarts. And she had secured her immortality by making her name known from the southerly tip of England all the way to the northern reaches of Alba.
But it was not enough. Not now. Not ever.
Helga remembered all too well what had happened to Alexander, the man they had called great. He had conquered half the world and died. He had laid down and died.
She touched her wet cheeks, feeling the blush of youth still upon them. Time, she had time yet. Time to rule. Time to conquer. Time for more. More, more, more.
At this late hour, in the darkest part of her mind, she began to consider Britain a mere trifle. A foothold, surely, but nothing more. What she wanted lay beyond these shores.
What she wanted was the world.
Helga closed her eyes, welcoming the furious rush of the storm as it pounded against her body. She felt the linen of her gown stick to her flesh, felt the rain water soak into her long tresses and tangle them until they became wild.
She would have it, she would have everything….
The noise that sounded in corridor was not of the storm and Helga’s eyes flew open. For the very first time, she allowed herself to be startled. A night as portentous as this set one’s nerves on fire.
Helga turned, her eyes picking through the uneven shadows until she saw him. His face was illuminated by a bolt of lightening, thrown into sharp relief along with the rest of the corridor.
She smiled. “Riol, how good of you to come to me. I thought you were Godric.”
Helga recognized the undercurrent of distaste in her voice when she spoke Gryffindor’s name and decided it was unwarranted. Her affection for Godric, while moderated by necessity, was indeed true. Helga was not sure if she loved him, but she did trust him.
Only of late, Godric had expressed himself as surly and sour, his goodly nature dampened by unfounded worries and doubts.
Helga tried not to let the notion bother her. Not here. Not now.
Not in front of Riol.
She turned to gaze back out the window, enjoying the fiendish flailing of wind-whipped trees.
“Would you say this night is cursed?” she asked her old friend. Riol always knew such things, his mind being both keen and imaginative. Helga had never admired one so much as she admired him, no matter that he was a Muggle. Riol was exceptional.
And she had never ceased to care for him…
An unwelcome shiver traced Helga’s spine, prickling the flesh along her arms. “Are you vexed with me?” she dared, wondering at his unlikely silence.
His tongue was indeed a weapon in its own right. Sharp and keen and devastatingly honest. He had been her father’s favored counselor and her own most trusted advisor, the one who had told her she was mad to raise an army and invade Britain. Mad to besiege Hogwarts. Mad to think she could be anything other than what she was.
And in the end, she thought with a smile, Riol had been the first to admit how very wrong he was.
A surge of new affection rose up within her. She thought of times past, of youth and all its mindlessness. Riol, after all, had been her first lover…perhaps her only true lover.
Oh, but such knowledge should be kept from Godric!
Helga stretched out her hand, her fingers dripping with rainwater. “Stand with me,” she said, “and come take my hand.”
But he had a right to be silent. After all, the child of another man had graced her womb. And she did not belong to Riol, as she had never belonged to any man.
“How long has it been since we last saw Cornwall?” Helga asked. For a moment, she shut her eyes and tried to envision the coastlines and the great cliffs. And in her fancy, she wished for one of the great winds of her homeland to reach her in these foreign wilds. To stroke her hair and kiss her flesh and remind her why she had left, why she had waged war, why she had conquered.
Helga was surprised by how old she felt that night. Much older than her twenty and seven years. And yet, those days when she had been young, truly young and had stood atop the cliffs, had stood above the sea and let Riol kiss her for the first time.
“You were always beside me,” she said, her words unnaturally dark. “I thank you for that. I…”
Helga paused and considered, seeing her life stretched out before her, seeing what she had done and what she intended to do.
Found a school, create an empire, gain immortality.
But perhaps it had been better, yes, perhaps it had been sweeter to be a young girl standing atop those cliffs…to be so young…
“Riol,” she said his name, her heart leaping to life and burning with a long-suppressed ache, “Riol, forgive me!”
As Helga turned to look at him, she saw the blade in his hand, reflected in the light and fury of the storm. She cried out only once as the knife found her throat, as it took from her all that she was and all that she could have been.
And in the night, in that damp, rain-streaked corridor, Helga Hufflepuff laid down and died.
Rowena waited in the shadows, her existence, her very life that of a mere phantom. A phantom that wore the face of another. A phantom that would wished for death. A phantom that prayed for freedom.
But there was no freedom to be had for one such as her. No death. No respite. She was a traitor, cast from the most wretched mold, a fugitive in her own kingdom. An absent, uncaring queen. A living horror.
As she stood in the corridor outside Helga’s bedchamber, she counted her breaths, measuring the space between her shuddering heartbeats. This was a night for evil work. For murder. And for all that she had been, and for all that she was, Rowena was not a murderer.
Yet Salazar had insisted. He had made her promise to kill the babe.
The guiltless, sinless babe…
Rowena felt a sob work its way into her throat. With some difficulty, she managed to swallow it, choking on her own fetid sorrow as she did so.
The great work, she knew, was already begun. Salazar had bewitched Helga’s faithful advisor, a Muggle man by the name of Riol, and would soon dispatch his unwilling servant to kill the Queen. And while the act was carried out, Rowena would commit an atrocity of her own. She would steal into the Queen’s bedchamber and murder the child.
Salazar’s own hands would of course remain bloodless. Rowena hated him for that, just as she hated the power he had over her. During the past winter, when she had hidden in her own castle under the guise of her faithful servant Ailbhe, watching as Helga conquered Alba and ruled in her stead, Rowena often wondered if she should have fought the Queen of Cornwall herself.
Salazar, who had come to her with hopes of forming a necessary alliance, was even more unworthy than Helga. He had left Rowena degraded and tormented, a mere wraith of the mighty house of Ravenclaw, the likes of which had once lorded over the lofty halls of Hogwarts.
But then Rowena would remember her own weakness, would remember that she was not a good queen, but a hopeless, hapless failure.
Unlike Helga Hufflepuff…her enemy.
True rage welled up inside of Rowena as she stood waiting. How should it be that she, the rightful ruler of Alba, could not care for her own people? She had stepped aside. She had let them die. She had watched Helga win from her what she alone could call her own.
Perhaps, she thought, in that dark, miserable hour, Helga was more deserving than she ever would be.
But the notion passed. Rowena cleared her mind and waited, her patience finally rewarded as she saw Helga come forth from her bedchamber, saw Riol, lumbering under his enchantment, step forward and make himself known to his Queen.
And as Helga turned to speak to him, as she was distracted, Rowena stole into the chamber, hoping, for once, that she had the strength to do what was needed of her.
It was a wild night in Alba, one of high, tempest winds and stinging rain. A night that suited Rowena’s purpose. As she shut the chamber door behind her, she welcomed the shadows that instantly enveloped her.
Yes, she told herself. This is right. This is acceptable. You do not deserve to grace the light. You do not deserve salvation…
The chamber was wondrously dark, the fire having fallen to cold ashes in the hearth. Rowena took a moment to survey her surroundings and her eyes narrowed, searching for the cradle in the black.
There was a bed, this she knew. Stepping forward, she noticed the rumpled blankets and breathed a sigh of relief.
She was alone.
But fate was unkind, a merciless mistress that Rowena despised and, in turn, found herself hated by.
As she moved away from the bed, something caught her eye. A large form stirred and sighed. The form of a man.
For a moment, fear left her frozen. Rowena stood in the center of the chamber and watched the man. He was sleeping, yes, his keen, bright eyes closed against the storm and the bloody dawn that awaited him. It seemed almost unnatural to see such a great wizard lying vulnerable and unprotected and as Rowena studied him, she felt rare emotion stir within her.
She had seen this man shower affection and love on his little child. Had seen him cradle the babe with a gentleness that seemed uncommon for one of such great, brute strength. And she had also seen the love he bore for Helga, a deep, loyal love nurtured by something more absolute than respect and admiration.
Rowena frowned, jealousy working its way into her shuttered and closed heart.
Oh, how she envied Helga.
Feeling the ache in her breast grow, Rowena forced herself away from the bed and she slipped soundlessly across the chamber, pausing as she came to the hearth. The cradle was there, as she had expected it to be, and within it lay the babe.
The child was indeed beautiful, Rowena thought. A thing of softness and goodness in a black, black world. Although she herself was not a mother, maternal instinct had never quite alluded her. And what she was about to do, here, now, seemed like a violation of the darkest kind.
The same sin she had committed when she had abandoned her people for the dubious safety of hiding….
Helga, at least, had never had cause to abandon her people. She had never fled from her native land…nor tried to harm another woman’s child.
Did that make her the better woman? Did that make her more worthy than Rowena could ever be?
Trembling now, Rowena stooped towards the cradle and gathered the babe to her. The infant slept soundly still, even in her treacherous arms. Rowena felt the child’s cheek pressed to her bosom, felt the soft, even breathing of a life so innocent, so unstained by hatred….
No, she thought, cherishing the warm weight of the child against her breast. No….
But then she heard a scream. And then world shattered.
The scream reached him through a dream, through black and bitter torment. Godric heard it from afar, his senses stirring from slumber, his heart quickening as the world fell down around him. Fell down and burned.
He sat up, feeling the sweat roll across his temples, his great mane of hair matted and limp about his shoulders. The chamber was dark. The chamber was silent. And Helga was gone from his side.
But she had screamed, hadn’t she? Someone had screamed.
Dread dropped into his gut, causing his stomach to roil and ache.
Where was Helga?
Here, reason told him. She must be here.
Godric touched the empty space beside him, felt the crumpled blankets and nothing more.
And the scream. He had heard a scream.
Rain was coming in through the window. Vicious, stinging rain, the droplets hissing like hundreds of serpents as they hit the stone floor. Somewhere above, in the heavens, in the realm of the stars, thunder growled.
But it was not a scream and Godric had heard a scream.
Paternal instinct drove him to his feet and turning wildly, Godric spotted her cradle before the cold hearth, saw the figure standing above it, obscured by unfriendly shadows.
“Helga?” he asked, hoping his fears would be relieved, hoping to find his wife there, soothing their child in her arms.
And the figure was indeed clutching Helena, holding the babe close to her pale breast. Tendrils of hair, some black, some red, appeared from beneath the woman’s hood.
Godric reached for his sword. “Put the child down,” he commanded, not recognizing the creature that had stolen into his bedchamber, a creature who even now had her spindly fingers against Helena’s soft cheek.
“I shall not harm her,” the strange woman replied. And she set the babe down in the cradle, softly, gently. “I swear I shall not harm her.”
But the night was dangerous, troubled by phantoms and a violent storm. Godric kept his sword in his hand.
“Remove your hood,” he ordered.
The woman hesitated.
Taking a step forward, he showed her the blade, lifting it into the air for the lightning to reflect off its sharpened edge.
The woman dropped her hood. “Do you recognize me, Gryffindor?” she asked.
He did. Or he did not. Her features resembled those of the maid, Ailbhe, but even now the brow was widening, the cheeks hollowing out, the nose narrowing. And her hair, her hair was no longer red…but black.
For the briefest of moments, Godric felt his hand tremble on the sword hilt. “Who--” he began, but could not finish.
The scream sounded once more. Another scream. A new, vile thing. Drawn-out and tortured, but decidedly masculine.
And the first scream had been a woman’s. This Godric knew in his heart. The first scream, he realized with renewed fear, had certainly been Helga’s.
He lunged for the door, bursting out into the corridor only to have his bare feet slip…slip on blood. Godric fell against the wall, overwhelmed by the sight before him, at the very door to his bedchamber.
Her throat had been cut and even now, the last of her life was pumping out through the wound. She had fallen at an odd angle, her knees were bent and her shoulders still raised.
Godric held her gaze, held Helga in his eyes as she died and watched the world pass before her.
The struggle did not last long and in the space of a heartbeat, she was still, one finger touching the base of her neck where the great wound began.
Helga Hufflepuff was dead.
Someone grasped his arm and Godric looked over shoulder, seeing the strange, black-haired woman who had been within his chamber. Her face was the color of bone, her wide and wild eyes filled with tears.
“This should not be,” she said in a voice that rose and fell, a voice that reminded Godric of someone lost and tormented, someone in agony. “This should not be,” the woman repeated, squeezing his arm tightly.
But Godric could no longer make sense of her words. He wrenched himself free of her grasp and fell to his knees, the hem of his tunic smeared with blood. Trembling, he tried to take Helga’s still warm hand in his, but could not bring himself to touch her.
She belonged to the dead now, and Orpheus could not retrieve his Eurydice from the underworld.
But oh, he did not want to let her go alone into the night. Helga….Helga…
And soon, the first of his tears were upon his cheeks.
“She is dead,” the black-haired woman began lowly, but then broke out into a feverish keening. “She is dead!”
Godric fell back, his shoulders colliding with the wall behind him and the movement brought another into his view, another prone figure who crouched on the floor not far away.
The man was doubled over on all fours, vomiting and shaking as though possessed by some hellish fit. Lifting one hand aloft, as if in supplication, he showed himself to be holding a blade.
A blade stained with Helga’s blood.
“I cannot see!” he screamed, and Godric realized who the second voice had belonged to, the one that had stirred him from his apathy and brought him out into the corridor.
“There is a shadow upon me,” Riol groaned, batting the air with the knife. “There…there are shadows!”
Slowly, Godric rose to his feet.
There was more noise on the stairs now. Soldiers stirring, coming in from their posts. Servants rising from bed only to find the night drenched with crimson. Godric was faintly aware of people gathering nearby and his eyes told him that the corridor was crowded. Women shrieked. He saw a guard remove his helm and let it drop to the floor.
And Salazar Slytherin, garbed forever in black, came sweeping through the chaos, the pure embodiment of Dis Pater.
For a moment, a flicker of uncertain emotion passed across Salazar’s countenance. He paused by Helga’s body and stared, his eyes looking ominous and dark and lost to some great, inner battle of repressed sorrow and rage.
Godric saw all this, and even in his state of grief, he marveled at Salazar’s calm. At length, the sallow-skinned wizard removed his ebony cloak and laid it over Helga’s corpse.
There was silence then. Silence and nothing more.
As Godric stood there, benumbed and bewildered, he remembered all at once that he still had his sword in his hand. The sword that Helga had given him. Instinctively, his fingers tightened over the hilt, something of fury building steadily within him.
Slowly, Salazar turned to face him and across the shrouded corpse, their eyes met.
“Do not show him mercy, Gryffindor,” he said.
For a moment, Godric was stunned. “What say you?” he asked, his chest heaving, aching as the blood-scented air of the corridor entered his lungs. “What say you, Slytherin?”
And Salazar, for all his natural composure, suddenly turned vicious. With all the speed and accuracy of a striking adder, he reached beyond and snatched Riol by the scruff of his neck.
The sobbing Muggle still held his foul blade.
“The murderer,” Salazar announced, his voice loud enough to reach the soldiers and the servants who huddled on the stairwell. “This man, this filthy Muggle has murdered Helga Hufflepuff.”
Behind him, Godric heard the black-haired woman utter a cry. Her voice was thin and pitiful, a wail of protest that went unheeded.
But Godric could only watch Riol, the man whom Helga had trusted, the man who had ridden by his side on the journey to Hogwarts, the man who had saved his life.
The man who now held the guilty knife…
“No,” he said. “I do not--”
Salazar was relentless. “Look at him!” he cried, spittle flying from his mouth as his jaw extended grotesquely. “Here the coward crawls, on his belly, wet with her blood, Gryffindor. Look at him!” He shook Riol fiercely, causing the man to twitch and tremble.
“Stop,” he begged, speaking for the first time. “Leave me go, snake!” Riol was struggling against his captor now and there was something of renewed purpose in him, as if his senses, previously amiss, had returned without warning.
Salazar loosed his hold on Riol’s neck, but succeeded in pushing the man back to the floor. “Wretch! Traitorous wretch!”
Godric took a step forward, stirred by an emotion deeper than rage and greater than sorrow.
Riol looked up at him. “Help me,” he whispered, his thin lips struggling to shape the words. “I’ve been bewitched.”
“He lies!” This from Salazar. “He is a deceiver, Gryffindor! He has lied to you!”
“Helga.” Riol raised his gore-stained hands to touch the hem of Godric’s tunic. “I would not kill her. I was bewitched!”
“Be done with the fool,” Salazar spat. He lunged forward and grabbed the back of Riol’s head, making him howl. “Finish him before he spreads more of his poison.”
But Riol would only scream. “I am innocent! Innocent!”
Salazar reached for the knife and finally forced it from Riol’s hand. “Mark this,” he said, waving it beneath Godric’s nose. “The vengeance of a jealous lover.”
“No! Have mercy!” Riol wept.
Godric looked once at the knife and then at Riol, his sense and reason laboring under delayed shock.
This could not be. This could not be.
Glancing down at his feet, he saw the edge of Helga’s hand trailing out from underneath Salazar’s cloak. Her fingers were slightly curled, as if in death she still longed to grasp her wand, to wield it and so rule the world.
And in that moment, in that breath of space, he realized all that had happened…and all that was yet to come.
The weight of her mighty empire fell down around him, crashed and shattered, leaving former glory decayed and putrid. It had all be for naught. Her conquests. Her wars. Her perfect ambition to rule, to be immortal.
But mortality had come, beguiling and wicked, lulling Helga into a fatal slumber.
She was dead now. She was dead.
Godric’s heartbeat quickened, his blood thrumming in his veins with sinister promise. He felt almost as if he stood on top of a great mountain and was gazing down at the worms that crawled about the foothills.
Salazar was still screaming. Riol was still weeping. And the woman who stood behind him, the strange woman with the black hair, stayed silent.
This moment belongs to you, a voice whispered to Godric. Make of it what you will.
He had a choice now, a path that diverged. Helga could no longer guide him. He was alone…
…and would be alone forever more.
“Kill him!” Salazar was crying, waving his arms about in fiendish fury while Riol shook and cowered by his feet. “Kill him!”
Kill him. That phrase, that simple, single phrase brought life back to Godric. Once more, he remembered that he still had his sword.
Kill him. KILL HIM.
Reaching for Riol, he pulled the man’s head back, deaf to his shrieks, blind to his look of maddened fear.
And Godric’s sword fell. And Riol’s head rolled across the floor.
Author’s Note: Well, this is it. We’re nearing the end of Legend. There’s only an epilogue left and then the tale is complete. As always, I’d like to thank everyone who has read/reviewed/favorited this story so far. Your continued support and encouragement really means the world to me. I’m hoping to get the epilogue written this week, so the last installment should be posted soon. Until then, take care and be well!
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