Chapter 11 : Epilogue
| ||Rating: Mature||Chapter Reviews: 15|
Change Background: Change Font color:
Beautiful graphic 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.
Eastern Europe--50 years later
The old man sat by the fire. His hands were gnarled and crooked, resting atop a stick of weathered yew. The light from the fickle flames avoided the worn planes of his face, casting his features into questionable darkness as he rocked slowly on his stool. Back and forth. Back and forth. A faint, hummed tune teased his papery lips and he thought of the old days, those that were dimmed by an unreliable memory and those that alluded him altogether. But from somewhere, in the back of his mind, he thought of Constantinople.
There was a boy sitting hunched over on a squat chair across from him, a child with a mop of black hair and pensive eyes and hands that bore a few too many ink stains. Upon his lap he had spread a book, the pages only half-filled with careful script.
The old man watched the youngling, watched and hummed and remembered. He wondered now, in the very dusk of life, if the truth of it all was still unknown to him. The truth of what he had done and how he had failed. Failed so utterly so as to be forgotten by the men who knew him, who once spoke his name with fear and trembled when he cast his serpent’s gaze upon them.
Old age had left Salazar toothless. Powerless. A vague, benign entity. But even now, as his eyes began to cloud and his hands trembled a little more each day, he refused to let obscurity win the final victory. Refused to slip into the void of the forgotten and pass from the world unheeded, unrecognized and unknown.
Strangely enough, after all the years of hating her, the old man finally understood why Helga had wanted to be remembered.
Tapping his stick upon the hard dirt floor with a resolute air, Salazar succeeded in gaining the boy’s attention.
“Tell me what you have written last,” he said, his voice a hollow whisper of its former, potent glory.
The boy laid his pen across his knees and consulted the book. “I have copied what you told me to write, Grandfather.”
“Read it to me.”
The boy took a deep, exaggerated breath, his sallow face appearing sickly in the warm, orange glow of the fire. “And so Helga Hufflepuff, the Queen of Cornwall, Mistress of all England and Alba, was murdered by the man she thought most faithful to her. The Muggle, Riol, was repaid for his disloyalty and received death at the hands of Godric Gryffindor, who was sore grieved at the loss of the Queen. It ends there, Grandfather. You did not tell me the rest.”
“Have I not?” Salazar looked thoughtfully at the boy. In truth, he did not know why he wanted the child to record his history, which, unfortunately, had become intertwined with the history of Helga Hufflepuff. The experience was not cathartic, but rather, opened old wounds and left them festering, left him pained and angry and ashamed.
Ashamed for his defeat.
He leaned heavily on his stick, feeling an unwelcome weight descend upon his already bent shoulders. The truth was indeed a poisonous thing. Treacherous in its own right. It coiled around his heart and brought the bile of bitter memories to his mind and to his lips.
“Listen,” the old man told the boy, “I will finish my tale.”
The boy once more took up his pen, poising it eagerly over another, yet unmarked page.
Salazar closed his eyes, his blood pulsing behind them. Echoes of thunder remained. The shadow of a lighting bolt. He remembered the night when Helga Hufflepuff had died. He remembered it well.
“Riol the betrayer was cursed beyond death,” he said, nearly shuddering as he recalled how wild Gryffindor had turned at the sight of so much blood. Helga’s blood….
“That very eve, while the storm still raged, Godric took the headless body of the murderer and cast it out into the loch to rot, dishonored and abhorred by all. For years afterward, the place had a fell reputation and the waters themselves were called Black.”
The boy’s pen scratched across the parchment, leaving inky trails in its wake. “But was it never told that Riol was innocent?”
The question startled Salazar and he looked at his grandson not with the cloudy eyes of age, but with the clear, penetrating gaze of powerful fury.
“Riol was not innocent,” he replied, the words slithering out from between his broken teeth. “He held the blade and he murdered Helga.”
“But you bewitched him to do so.” The boy was guileless in his curiosity. “Did Godric never learn something of it, Grandfather?”
The old man’s rage was dangerous now. With the aid of his yew stick, he managed to pull himself to his feet and although his back was bent, he still towered over the child.
“My hands were clean,” he muttered, each word an angry jab delivered with what natural authority he had left. “I am untouched by Helga’s blood.”
And the boy cowered, his shoulders drawing up around his neck in a show of fear and submission.
Exhausted, Salazar retreated back to his stool, grumbling, kicking at the dust with his aching and chilled feet. Even now, decades later, his pride was still wounded. The boy, of course, had not failed to detect his flaw. But he could not bring himself to face it now.
“I shall finish,” he grumbled once he had settled himself again. The fire had fallen low in the hearth, gnawing at tiny embers and sending pungent smoke into the air.
Salazar felt his breathing become labored as the wisps of grey drifted by his nose. “I shall finish,” he repeated, wheezing, “and then you will understand.”
The boy reluctantly returned his pen to the parchment, his tiny hands splayed against the open book. “I am listening, Grandfather,” he whispered timidly.
Salazar closed his eyes, his chin dropping down onto his hands which were folded over the rounded nub at the top of his walking stick. It was difficult for him, even now, to recall the harried, horrendous events that occurred those few months after Helga’s death. And although he was secure in his own sense of self-righteousness, Salazar sometimes permitted himself to feel regret.
It had been necessary for Helga to die, but perhaps he might have been less rash in pursuing her downfall. And he ought to have been wise enough to foresee the complications. Even Rowena Ravenclaw, that mad wretch, that useless, base whore, had seen the future clearly.
Although Salazar had once hoped to seize Helga’s power, to use her death to become omnipotent himself, the path to such an end was obscured. Fatally so. After Riol had done his bidding and murdered the Queen, he found he could not simply step to the fore and claim the empire for himself.
Helga had, of course, left an heir. An infant babe. And Rowena’s failure to murder the child, her act of misplaced mercy and weakness, had forever denied Salazar his desire for absolute supremacy.
Thinking of Rowena’s treachery now, his fingers twisted over the yew stick. He could still picture Ravenclaw, with her long, aquiline features and pale brow that seemed forever touched with the dew of fever. She was eternally wide-eyed from stargazing, always cringing and trembling and ranting. There had been a time when Salazar thought he had control over her, a foolish, fanciful time. But now the truth was plain.
Rowena had spared Helena to spite him. And she had secured Helga’s legacy.
Godric Gryffindor, of course, became regent to his daughter after his wife died. The great, brainless brute took Helga’s place and Salazar himself was forced back into the darkness. Forced, once more, to ally himself with his enemy and endure the trial with patience until another opportunity might present itself.
Rowena did the same. After revealing herself to Godric as the deposed Queen of Alba, she fell upon him like a mad, shrieking thing, begging for mercy and shelter and whatever life might be left to her. She sought Gryffindor’s goodness, or, as Salazar saw it, his weakness. And Godric, witless man that he was, willingly took her on as an ally.
Since then, Salazar had often attempted to enlist her aid against Gryffindor, but Rowena refused. And so he had waited and watched and hoped for the chance to destroy what he had already worked so hard to undo.
That delay, he realized now, had signaled the beginning of the end.
Opening his eyes, Salazar attempted to drag himself back to the fireside and the boy and the cold, dark hours that clustered around them like so many vengeful phantoms. His tale, after all, was not finished.
“Mighty though he was, Godric Gryffindor could not uphold the overwhelming weight of his Queen’s empire,” he told the boy, his words tasting old and stale and unpleasantly nostalgic. “Although he was father to Helga’s heir, her only daughter, Helena, he faced much scrutiny from those soldiers that had followed the Queen of Cornwall. And alas, though she had struggled to found a lasting empire, one that would rival Rome and put the Greeks to shame, Helga’s final ambition was thwarted. In the year following her death, her puppet kings and subordinate chieftains revolted. England was no longer her own…no longer Godric’s. And in the chaos that followed, Gryffindor could only withdraw--”
“To where?” The boy, who was usually subservient and silent, seemed to succumb to curiosity.
The old man grunted, noting his grandson’s obvious interest in Godric Gryffindor. The young were all inevitably wooed by tales of blood and bravery. The boy, unfortunately, was no exception, and it was not the first time he had expressed some curiosity towards the crude, wild man whom Salazar counted as his greatest enemy.
He looked at the child sharply, offering him a soundless reproach. “I will tell you,” he said, “so that you may understand my tale in full, as it should be understood. Godric Gryffindor may have shown promise under Helga’s dutiful tutelage, but a war lord he was not. You must remember the difference, my child, between a mere soldier and a lauded commander. Gryffindor was the former. He could hold a sword and wield it well, but he had nothing of the tactician in him, nothing that would sustain the full glory of Helga’s empire.”
Salazar paused, whetting his lips with his grey, mottled tongue. Godric had indeed proved himself to be a notable failure when it came to securing what Helga had won through so much blood and military cunning. He remembered how desperate the man had become as he attempted to regain his footing, as he tried to tie together the loose strings that held all of Helga’s conquest together. But the threads had slipped through his fingers…
Salazar felt his frustration, dormant for so many years, begin to build within him. Helga had delivered the world to Godric and the fool had let it shatter, had let it--
“Grandfather.” The boy squirmed in his chair, clutching his mantle tightly around his scrawny shoulders. Winter had left the nights long and cold.
Salazar glanced at the child and grudgingly stirred up the fire in the hearth.
“Godric Gryffindor, along with his only remaining ally, Rowena Ravenclaw, continued their stewardship of the fortress Hogwarts,” he said, forcing himself to pick up his tale once more. “Those that remained in Helga’s great army abandoned the wilds of the North and returned to their native land of Cornwall. I have heard that a few of their number made much strife in contending for her throne, but whether they succeeded, I do not know. Gryffindor gave up his daughter’s claim to Cornwall, although he still kept Hogwarts. It was there that he, along with Rowena Ravenclaw and myself, founded the first wizarding school in all of Albion. And I say to you now, my boy, it was indeed a wonder. A rival to those schools that existed in Athens and Alexandria and Rome. My child, my dear child, I wish that you had seen it with me.”
The boy shifted in his chair again, blotting his page with ink as he did so. “But why found a school?” he asked.
Something pinched at Salazar’s heart as he looked at the child. Yes, why found a school? It had not been his idea, not his grand scheme, but Helga’s.
She had fostered the dream since her infancy, had kept it in her heart through all her years of war and conquest and on the eve of her death, she had already been making plans to see it through.
After her empire fell apart and Godric was left with nothing, he had become obsessed with the idea. It was the only thing that he still had the power to control, to fix and to shape. Although he had previously admitted his own ambivalence towards a wizarding school, he soon devoted himself blindly to the task. Rowena, of course, had been in agreement. She never opposed Godric, perhaps fearing his wrath, perhaps seeking to please him and repay his charity. And Salazar, who had watched helplessly as his thirst for power went unquenched, saw a rare opportunity to regain his standing.
In truth, there was no grand, enlightened motivation behind the founding of Hogwarts. Only desperation. Only fear. Only necessity.
“We founded the school,” Salazar said, “because it was the only thing to do.”
The boy knew better than to question him. Instead, he took careful note of his grandfather’s words, his little, chicken-bone thin fingers curled around his quill.
With another pinch to his heart, Salazar realized that Hogwarts was the only worthwhile triumph his life could boast. And how unfair it should be that he had not seen the school in nearly four decades, had been driven into hiding, into the wilds of the world and into the dark.
Into the miserable dark.
His jaw tensed, his jowls quivering. “Curse Godric and Rowena both,” he muttered.
What they had done to him, what they had….
“Listen,” he commanded, casting a quick glance at the boy to assure himself of his attention, “and mark well what I tell you. There are traitors to be found hiding in every dell and gully, under every rock and fallen log. Listen!” he cried, the word rushing passed his lips in a hiss.
The boy jumped, but kept his place on the page.
“I lived at Hogwarts for ten years,” Salazar pressed on, despite the fluttering, insistent pain in his chest. “For the first three, only a few students found their way to our doors. We taught them well, Godric, Rowena and myself, and when they were learned, we sent them out into the world to seek others. More wizards and witches. They came to us. Each year, our fold grew and it became necessary to separate them, to claim some for our own and divide the rest. Divide and conquer, ha! I am certain Helga would approve. And we not only taught, my boy, but we learned as well. Our power grew and I swear, we stood upon the precipice of greatness. But Helga’s specter was there, always there and neither Rowena nor Godric could let her rest.”
Salazar paused and tried to inhale. His throat was dry and when the cold, smoke-tinged air touched his lungs, he coughed.
Rowena, he thought bitterly. Rowena, it was your weakness that destroyed us.
“Grandfather.” The boy half rose from his chair, his eyes darting over to clay pitcher that sat on the floor nearby. “Will you have some water?”
Salazar waved his hand dismissively. “Sit still and hold your tongue. If you do not heed all of my words, listen, at least, to these. You will understand then.”
And so shall I, he hoped.
“Since the time of Helga’s death, Rowena took up the care of her child, Helena, helping Godric to raise her in the way only a woman can. It was through this act of…charity that she began to entertain delusions. She fell in love with Godric and thought that she could be a true mother to his child. Gryffindor, however, was doomed to always love Helga. He mourned for his wife and lamented her death over the years as though the memory were fresh and raw. Accordingly, he spurned Rowena’s advances and, in doing so, brought us all to ruin.”
“And because she was ever misguided, ever mad, Rowena relied upon her desperation alone to convince Godric of her worthiness. She went to him one night and told him the truth of who had murdered Helga. She willingly and openly confessed herself as having knowledge of the plot and my part in it. The end came shortly after.”
And although he sat by the fire in his own secluded home, so far from England and Hogwarts and the reach of those who knew him as a traitor and wished him harm, Salazar could only tremble as he recalled that night. That black, portentous night.
Godric had found him in his dungeon chambers. Had come to Salazar with his sword drawn. The sword that Helga had given to him. And there was Rowena, her black hair unbound and flowing wild, screaming. She screamed and screamed and screamed.
Even now, Salazar only remembered some of what was said. He remembered Godric swearing to have his life and he remembered being numb to the lion’s fury. Numb and adrift on a perilous, tempestuous sea.
I am innocent of this foul charge, Godric. Do not lay such base lies at my feet.
The same was said of Riol. The same was said of him and now he rots in the black!
Salazar had been powerless against Godric’s rage. He was backed into a corner, trapped, accused of the one crime that he had been proud to commit. And yet he denied his guilt. Again and again and again.
Look to Rowena. She has birthed this falsehood. See the disease she brings to our house!
I shall have your blood, Salazar. I shall have you dead!
There was no appeasing Godric. Rowena herself had tried to intercede, perhaps sensing the violence she had fostered with her loose tongue, the deep and relentless evil.
Godric, please, stay your sword!
But even her pleading was useless. Futile.
Salazar felt his limbs lock as he recalled the sinister light that glinted off Godric’s sword. He would have died that night, would have died if he had not fled.
Like a coward. Like an obscene, worthless coward….
“Grandfather?” the boy’s gentle voice brought him back from the brink.
Salazar started, then settled back on his stool. “I was saying,” he mumbled vaguely, “I was saying.”
“You were saying that Godric learned of your role in Helga’s murder,” the boy reminded him. “You spoke of the end of things.”
“Yes, the end.” Salazar looked into the flames and his eyes burned. Shame still marked him, still sat upon his countenance as plainly as any physical scar. This was the part of his tale that he despised, that he rightly hated.
But the boy must know of it.
“Godric’s desire, his need for revenge would not be stayed,” Salazar said, his voice bearing no noticeable inflection. “He was dangerous in his rage, murderous. I had no other choice.”
No other choice. The words rang through his mind, unsettled and uncertain. He tightened his grip on his walking stick.
Yes, he had had no other choice.
“I fled Hogwarts,” Salazar said. “I left the very night Godric denounced me as his wife’s murderer. He pursued me, of course. Gryffindor always had a rather persistent spirit and he was indeed a force to be reckoned with. I spent six months hiding in England…like an animal, tucked away in forests, sheltering in caves on the moors. But I knew I would not survive. I knew…I knew I could not live as a hermit.”
He paused and swallowed away the emotion rising within him. Oh, how low he had been brought! It was true that he had never realized how high he had flown, how close to the sun he had come, until he fell.
“I left England,” Salazar continued dully. His limited energy was spent and like the fire, he felt his tired body fall to ashes. “I spent years as a wanderer, fearful that Godric would find me. And then the blessed news came. Shortly after my departure from England, Godric fell ill. The disease started in his stomach, I am told, rotting his gut away, eating him from the inside out until he died. He left Rowena and his daughter, Helena, behind.”
“And what of Rowena?” the boy asked quietly. He looked small and stunted against the long shadows thrown up by the last of the fire. “Did she stay at Hogwarts?”
Salazar waved his hand. “She remained at the school and I have heard that the institution flourished under her care until the time of her death.”
“So she is dead then, Grandfather?”
“Yes. I heard a rumor that she once quarreled with Helena and that the child scorned her, but I know of nothing more.”
Salazar was not inclined, even now, to discuss Rowena’s triumphs, or her failings, for that matter. The woman was dead. A feast for worms. And he wanted her to remain that way. Forever more.
Forever, forever more.
Silence fell and the quiet was appropriate. A necessary shroud. It was a long time before his grandson spoke.
“Then you are the last,” the boy said. He had finished his scribblings and was watching the old man intently. “You alone survived.”
Salazar closed his eyes. Ah, those words, those precious, blessed words! He was alone, a victor in his own right, a conqueror that even Helga Hufflepuff could not best.
He was alone. He had survived. And now, the world was his.
But all Salazar could think of was revenge.
He looked down at his hands, the twisted knuckles, the protruding veins, the spots and blemishes of age. His fingers were curled by the touch of rheumatism and it had been a long time since he could hold his wand comfortably. Perhaps now, he realized, his magic was useless.
He had wielded magic against Helga. Had used it to bewitch Riol and disguise Rowena and to kill, yes, to kill. But there was no blood that needed spilling now. No conquest. No destruction.
And yet Salazar was determined to right the old wrongs that plagued him, to silence Helga Hufflepuff once and for all.
He would do it now, he decided, on this the night of starless skies and deep, penetrating cold.
Helga Hufflepuff would die again. She would die. And no one would be able to save her.
For the first time in ages, Salazar felt a triumphant smile curve across his cracked lips. “Tell me, my child, have you written everything that I spoke to you of?”
The boy glanced down at his book as if it make sure it still sat securely on his lap. “Yes, Grandfather. Everything.”
“And you remember all that I told you? Of Helga being a great warrior and wise and brave?”
Salazar’s smile widened, but he said nothing. Rising to his feet, his knees weakened and shaking, he took the book from the child and tossed it into the flames.
The boy emitted a bleat of surprise. “Grandfather!”
Salazar seized him by the collar of his mantle. “Forget all that I ever told you. Forget everything!”
The boy was near tears now, but he nodded obediently. “Why?” he asked. “Why, Grandfather?”
Revenge, Salazar thought to himself. I shall have my revenge against Helga at last.
She who wanted to be remembered, she who wanted to be immortal…
“There are none left to tell the tale,” he said, pulling a fresh roll of parchment down from a shelf over the hearth. “The truth will rest on my word alone. And neither Helga nor Godric nor Rowena shall change it. I will say of them what I will, what must be said. Here, boy, write!”
Salazar thrust the parchment at the child, feeling his decrepit body strengthen with each passing breath, with each renewed promise of final, everlasting vengeance.
And Helga would not be immortal, but his lie would be.
“Listen,” he instructed his grandson. “And remember all that I tell you now. This is the story of the founding of Hogwarts. There were four of us in those days.” Salazar paused, his mania growing, his eyes flashing and wild.
The greatest lie ever told….
“There were four of us,” he repeated. “Godric Gryffindor the warrior, Rowena Ravenclaw the scholar, myself and Helga Hufflepuff. Helga who was meek and mild. Helga who was the weakest of the four. Write that down, boy, write it all.”
And the boy wrote.
And the world remembered.
Author’s Note: Well, that’s it. The end. Whew! I can’t believe I’ve finally finished this story. Although I’ll definitely miss writing it, I do feel tremendously relieved.
This final chapter is dedicated to everyone who took the time to read, review or add this story to their favorites. I’ve really been blessed to have such wonderful support and encouragement from my readers. Thank you all so much!
Farewell for now, folks. And thanks again for everything!