Chapter 1 : One
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Afternoon sunlight streamed through dusty stained-glass windows, tainted colours dancing off the parchment strewn across the oak desk. Curled up in the armchair in her late father’s study, Helena Ravenclaw briefly closed her eyes and wound a lock of fair hair around her finger. With every hour that passed, she found it more and more difficult not to leave, the anger slowly bubbling inside her.
Perhaps the only place in which she could find solace was her father’s study, the walls hidden by hundreds upon hundreds of forgotten bottles, shelves groaning under the weight of potion vials full to the brim with colourful liquids, one wall completely devoted to boxes of strange creatures. Each were as untouched as they were the day her father passed away, she the only person who ever ventured into the room. It was for that reason that she often found herself there when she needed a moment to herself. She would not be disturbed; she could lose herself in her thoughts and appreciate the rare silence. Today, especially, she wanted to be out of the way of the hustle and bustle that seemed to invade every corner of the house. She had lost her temper with her mother’s constant interference and had left her presence before she allowed it to get the better of her. Just being in the same room as her mother caused Helena to lose any sense of rationality she had left; dark thoughts had begun to fill her head so frequently that often it was just best that she removed herself before she was overcome by her emotions.
It seemed as though ever since her father died that Helena and her mother had been completely opposed to each other; her mother, renowned for her wisdom and temperance, found the strength to cope with the loss of her husband. Helena hadn’t been so fortunate, her mood changing direction like thread on a loom. Now it was as though her mother had found something in her father’s things that needed to be removed, as though they reminded her of a chasm that needed to be filled. Even though she understood her mother’s motives, Helena felt patronised and trapped, suddenly losing her independence and freedom that her mother once prized. She longed to prevent her mother from removing every last trace of her father but it was not her place to speak up. Daughters were seen and not heard. Without the protection of a paternal figure, Rowena further embraced the role of guardian, taking a far more pronounced interest in Helena’s well-being than she ever had before. Pursuits turned from those of intellect to those of love, determined to turn Helena into a ‘lady’. It was as though keeping herself busy with Helena’s education took her mind away from the dark thoughts of loss.
It frustrated Helena to see the significant change in her mother’s priorities; instead of imparting wisdom, she taught her daughter how to sew and how to run a successful household, things neither of them had previously given any importance and certainly things which her father had never given any importance. It was as though as soon as Lord Ravenclaw passed away that Rowena decided to remove any influence he had had. Perhaps at one point her intentions were pure, but Helena had long ago begun to doubt the reasoning behind her mother’s pursuits. Perhaps one could be too clever, too cunning; she had arrived at a point where she felt submerged in the heart of her mother’s conspiracy, surrounded by mystery and good intentions. Perhaps they were just too similar to ever get along.
Sighing, Helena uncurled her legs from under herself and stretched them, splaying the long fabric of her dress, before standing up and approaching the desk beneath the arch of the window. Sifting through the few pieces of parchment that had accumulated on the desk’s surface over a number of months, she discarded an old intellectual document, her father’s star charts and the odd rough drawing of some building or other until she found what she was looking for: the only portrait of her father that had managed to avoid her mother’s purge. In times like these, she found looking at his face one more time helped the anger to subside.
Strength eclipsed by grief, Helena had hidden herself away in her father’s study when her mother had knocked on the heavy oak door and given her a message from the Baron of Edinburgh. It had seemed as though he had only just found his courage to visit and tell her of his deep affections. Helena was not fooled; the Ravenclaws were by no means poor, and no doubt the news of her father’s death and her recent inheritance had spread throughout the land. She did not need her mother’s intelligence to know why this Baron had suddenly announced such feelings, but she was surprised that her mother had raised no objections. As a young girl, Helena had decided that her heart was to be given to the man she loved and she had no time for the young Baron. She wished everyone would just let her be.
A knock on the door forced Helena to tear her eyes from the portrait of her father, and after realising that the only person that could possibly outside the door was her mother, she hastily tucked it under the other pieces of parchment. Hopefully it would remain hidden and protected from her mother’s clutches.
“Enter,” she called, sighing slightly, knowing that her peace was broken and scattered into the far corners of the room.
The door creaked slowly open, her mother sliding through the gap, nearly catching the long blue robe she wore over her dress. Running a hand over her greying hair to smooth it, Rowena threw a weak smile in the direction of her daughter.
“I had a feeling that you would be in here,” she offered, her soft voice colouring the words in the hope of reconciliation.
Helena said nothing, turning towards her mother and leaning against her father’s desk. Looking at her mother now, she could not understand how anyone could draw parallels between them; dark hair opposed her own fair hair, wise blue eyes met her own darker ones filled with receding innocence. Her father had often remarked how although Helena had inherited her father’s looks, she could not deny that they mirrored the other’s head-strong characters, quick-wittedness and a spark of intelligence he rarely saw among other women. During heated moments between mother and daughter, he would often quip that if they stopped to think about what the other was saying, they’d both realise their efforts would be more worthwhile if they worked together. He used to dispel their arguments with a few soft, wise words, but now they found themselves without him arguments built and tension rose until there was nothing either of them could do to avoid the clash.
Eyeing the dancing colours on the parchment, Rowena smiled ruefully. “Your father would have been glad that someone was getting use out of this room. It was his favourite.”
Helena lowered her gaze from her mother’s face, uncomfortable about her mother’s display of affection. Her mother was rational, strong-willed, independent; any mention of her emotions made Helena uneasy. She preferred to hear her talk in runes, or recite potion properties, or even list facts about salamanders; where fact was concerned, her mother could lecture for hours. For matters of the heart, Helena felt her mother was woefully ignorant.
Again, she remained silent. Her mother would soon warm to her theme and the true reason behind her invasion of Helena’s space would be revealed.
“Helena,” she began uneasily, hands tracing the hem of her bodice. “I understand why you are upset with me. I know you are angry.” Eyes still on the floor, Helena hid her clenched fists inside the drapes of her skirts. “I am deeply sorry that I lost my temper with you earlier, but please try to understand how I feel. I am merely trying to protect us from further grief; I promised your father that I would look after you, and that is what I endeavour to do.”
Sighing in order to control her rising anger, Helena raised her eyes from the wooden floor and met her mother’s gaze with a steely glare. “Purging Father from every aspect of our lives is helping us to cope, is it? How does removing ever memory of him lessen the grief? I thought he was worth more than that, Mother.”
“Your father would not have wanted you to be upset. I am doing what is best for us.”
Helena gave a hollow laugh. “So as long as you can pretend all is well, that we can survive without him, I needn’t give a thought to my own happiness? To my grief?”
It was her mother’s turn to laugh, a dark, bitter laugh that chilled Helena to the bone. “There is no room for grief in the heart of a woman. Not even one of your class. We are expected to be strong and to move on.”
Her eyes stung, but she would not be goaded by her mother’s harsh words. “What about your grief? Would Father have prevented you from feeling? You have proved yourself to be far more intelligent than most men, there is no shame in crying.”
“No man will see my tears, Helena. They will not be privy to my weakness.”
She stood there, hair beginning to tumble from her plait and cheeks heated, words tripping over her lips as though they had only just released. She knew what she was telling her and she knew she was right; but she hated her for being the one to tell her.
“Be strong for me, Helena,” Rowena said slowly after her cheeks had paled once more. “Be strong so that I can be strong with you.”
Closing her eyes, Helena gripped the edge of the desk, mulling over what her mother had just said. Strong. The word echoed in her ears, unpleasant and bitter, harsh and sharp; it provoked thoughts of days trapped inside a house like a princess locked away in her tower, of emotions imprisoned inside of her. She was made for better things than this. Ravenclaws were of noble blood, they were Lords and Ladies and related to royalty. Her feelings could not be ordered away.
“No,” Helena whispered, her eyes still closed. She spread her fingers across the rough wood of the desk, welcoming the cool surface against the contact of her clammy palms. Her defiance spread across the room like fire in a haystack.
“I am asking you to do as I wish.” Her voice was low, her tone dangerous. Helena knew she had crossed the line, but she found that she was beyond caring. “Do not allow others to see your weakness.”
“You do not frighten me, Mother,” Helena said evenly, opening her eyes to observe her mother’s face, anger written into every line on her aging skin. “You can no longer scare me with tricks of witchcraft or tricks of mind. I am wiser to it and I am well-equipped to counter it. Do not test me.”
“Keep your voice down!” Rowena hissed, her face coloured puce. Calming herself with a few deep breaths, she regained her composure, mumbling to herself, “What did I do to deserve such a disobedient and disrespectful child?”
“I am no longer a child,” she snapped. “And neither am I such a woman to be ordered about as though lost cattle. You must allow me to grieve. I refuse to pretend that Father never existed, he is not something I can just erase from my memory. I will cry and will mourn. Nothing you can do will stop me from being human.”
“Get out of my sight,” her mother hissed, her eyes closed and fists clenched in anger. “I will not have you bring shame upon our entire family with impropriety. I do not want you anywhere near this house when our guests arrive this evening; you are a disappointment to me.”
There was a small moment that held its breath as Helena took the punch of her mother’s words, eyes staring proudly back before removing her shawl from the back of the armchair and leaving the room, her chin held straight. Closing the door behind her, bitter thoughts swarmed inside her head as she tried to make sense of her mother. How could she honestly believe they would be looked down on for showing emotion? Her father had just died, it was natural to feel something. With her sisters married, the only person Helena had left was her mother and she was damned if she was going to allow her mother to forbid her from grieving. Over her lifetime she had developed a very strong sense of self that she was not going to let be doused by her insensitive mother.
Striding across the grass in front of Ravenclaw Manor, Helena approached the stream that curled its way around the front lawn and knelt on the banks, dipping her hands into the cool water. It tickled her palm and she closed her eyes, tilting her face towards the sun as it tucked itself under the horizon. She was happy to stay out of her mother’s way; she wanted nothing to do with any of her pompous guests anyway. No doubt they were friends of her father’s, taken a sudden interest in her mother’s fortune now that she was widowed. Men were all the same where money and women were concerned, with the exception of her late father. He was, perhaps, the only decent and honest gentleman Helena had ever come across. Nothing her mother could say would let her forget that.