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Chapter 39 : The Long Journey Home
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The Long Journey Home
Amazing chapter image by illumination @ tda
Over the six months that followed, Rowena’s health got worse and worse. Some days, she felt fine and as if she could run one hundred miles. Others she could barely walk. In recent weeks she had been confined to her bed. At the beginning she thought she would be able to cope, but now, when she was unblinkingly staring death in the eye, she could clearly see everything she had lost.
Her daughter, her daughter that she loved with all her heart, had fled. No one knew why; maybe she felt her mother did not love her. Rowena had locked herself in her chamber and cried when she first heard; her daughter had run away and left her. Not only that, but she had betrayed her in a heinous way. She had stolen to diadem, Rowena’s one gift from her own mother. Rowena concealed that stinging betrayal from everyone, telling them she had put away the diadem for “safe keeping.”
Rowena would now not let her only remaining child, Artemisia, leave her side. While her presence was comforting, at the same time it caused her more pain. Artemisia was like her father in appearance, and it made Rowena long for time past. But then, Artemisia had gone on a mission and it was like winter for Rowena. She found herself relying on Cadmus more and more as everyone else seemed to be making the preparations for the day of her death.
She would look up at the sky at night and know it was one less day until she disappeared into the dark oblivion of death. She never felt at peace, there were too many loose ends to her life and she felt like all her life she had been crafting a beautiful tapestry that now remained unwoven. Rowena was too tired to fight anymore and sometimes only felt comfort in sleep.
Artemisia kept her head down as she marched through the thick trees. They said there were bandits in these woods, and she did not want to resort to using magic to protect herself. She would reveal the truth about all the residents of Godric’s Hollow. She needed to be discreet and sensitive as she was not entirely sure about how her father would react.
She had decided the best course of action was to go to the Peverell’s house. They would accommodate her and make a neutral place where she could break the news to her father. Walking into the town was very strange; it was her father’s whole new life that she had never been a part of. It made her happy and sad at the same time. She was glad he was happy, in a way he never was at Hogwarts, but she knew he must be missing her mother.
Nobody took any notice of her as she marched determinedly into the crowded town square. The village was growing, and it was not as easy to find her way around as she first thought. Usually, she found people moved out of her way as the daughter of the Queen and Prince of Alba. Now, she was the same as anyone else, and she found herself falling over in her attempt to break through the busy people.
She tried not to cry out as her knee scraped the floor. Artemisia had never grazed herself before. Being pampered from birth had wrapped her in cotton wool, and the stinging pain was a whole new sensation. However, it did afford her some attention as she heard a soothing female voice through the crowd.
“Are you alright?”
Artemisia looked up to find herself looking into the eyes of a spectacularly pretty woman. Her stomach turned at the sight of her; had her father remained faithful to her mother as she secretly hoped? The woman stretched out her hand, and helped Artemisia struggle to her feet. While dusting herself off, Artemisia got a first proper look at the woman. She seemed kind, as if she would direct Artemisia where she needed to go. Artemisia nodded her thanks, before speaking.
“I am Artemisia Black,” she said, hoping that her name would register with the woman. The woman narrowed her eyes slightly, as if there was a glimmer of recognition. This soon passed however, and the woman leant forward, kissing Artemisia on one cheek. For some unknown reason, Artemisia had instantly warmed to this woman, so waited expectantly to hear her name.
“My name is Jane,” the woman smiled, “I have lived in Godric’s Hollow for nearly twenty years.” Artemisia felt Goosebumps ripple up her back at the mention of her father’s name. She was so close to finding him, and could not help by feel her heart beat quicker in anticipation. “What business do you have here?” inquired Jane.
“I am here to find my father,” said Artemisia boldly, “I am here to report to him some very tragic news concerning my mother. Do you know where Ignotus and Coventina Peverell live?” Jane seemed a little taken aback by this question, as if everyone should know where the Peverell’s house was situated.
“Of course,” she smiled, “it’s just down the lane. I will walk you there if you want.” Artemisia felt herself falling behind Jane, and trotting like a little puppy, she let Jane’s questions wash over her. “So, who is your father? Does he live in Godric’s Hollow, or are you just conveying the message through the Peverell’s?”
“Yes, my father lives here,” smiled Artemisia, “he is Godric, Godric Gryffindor.” Jane stopped dead in her tracks, spinning around to analyse the girl in front of her. Her eyes flicked over Artemisia, scrutinising every point of her. Jane’s hand jumped to Artemisia’s hair, but she did not touch her, instead hesitating just before her.
“I see it now,” whispered Jane, almost mesmerised by Artemisia’s confession, “your hair, the colour of fire. And your eyes, they are just like emeralds.” She paused a moment before continuing, “Artemisia Black, I now see. The daughter of the Queen of Alba, his most beloved Queen.”
Artemisia was confused by Jane’s tone, so she let the other woman continue. “Several years ago, Godric and I were engaged. We were to be man and wife before God. We had booked the church, the priest and all the guests were invited. But the day before the wedding I realised that Godric could never love me the way he loved Rowena. He loves your mother to this very day.”
“He cannot love her for much longer,” said Artemisia bluntly, trying to hide her emotions, “she has caught the Sickening, and is dying. I have come to collect my father so they can spend some time together before she passes on.” She said everything very quickly so she didn’t have to think about it, and only Jane’s quick answer stopped her dissolving into a bout of fresh tears.
“Well,” whispered Jane soothingly, “we must hurry to the Peverell’s house. He needs to know this, and he will be so very happy to see you.” Warmed by Jane’s comfort, Artemisia brushed away the early drops of tears and picked up her pace behind Jane, only a breath away from jogging down the street.
The Peverell’s house was at the end of the lane, and on sighting it, Artemisia overtook Jane and was about to knock on the door when it was opened violently in her face. Falling down, it was only Jane’s arms that stopped her landing on the floor. Ignotus Peverell stood in the doorway, his wand in one hand and a pitchfork in the other.
He looked very different; he had grown a beard which was now flecked with grey, and his face showed the lines of his struggles. Artemisia thought he had never looked more like his brother. But whereas Cadmus was growing gaunt and pale, Ignotus was still muscular with rosy cheeks. It looked as if he had never lost his passion for life. His misty eyes flicked over to Artemisia, and he nearly dropped his pitchfork in shock.
“Artemisia!” he smiled, allowing her to leap into his arms and embrace him warmly, “whatever are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be at Hogwarts learning to become the headmistress in Helga and Rowena’s stead?” At the mention of her mother’s name, Artemisia’s face fell and she let go of Ignotus.
“I deliver a message for you, Coventina and father. I am afraid I am the bearer of bad news. Do you know where father is?”
Ignotus smiled sadly, his eyes flicking to his pitchfork. “I was just going to find your father. Several days ago, he went into the woods to combat a troll that has been terrorising the villagers. It nearly killed little Meg Hatcher the other day. You know your father; he never can resist being the hero. The thing is, he should have come back, and he hasn’t.”
Artemisia gulped. Her father always had to be difficult. “Are you going on your own?” asked Artemisia, but before Ignotus could even so much as shake his head, Coventina appeared at the doorway. With only one look at Artemisia, she quickly recognised her and they embraced, but Jane’s angry voice stopped the reunion suddenly.
“I am coming too!” hissed Jane, “he always was so temperamental and hot headed! He really needs to know the news that Artemisia bears him, and one more to your party would help everything immensely.” Ignotus did not argue, and started to lead the small brigade in the direction of the forest, but only stopped when he saw Artemisia following.
“You cannot come!” he snorted, “it is far too dangerous for a little lady like you!”
“I will come!” countered Artemisia, “I am my father’s daughter, and he would have been fighting if he was in my position; there is nothing you can do that can stop me.” Seeing the determination in her eyes, Ignotus rolled his eyes and relented. “Alright, alright. I can see I would never be able to stop you or your father.”
At first, Artemisia had felt brave, but now she stiffened with tension. Ignotus had signalled their arrival at the last place the troll was spotted. “Keep alert, keep looking for Godric and do not fight unless you really have to.” Artemisia took his words to heart and gripped her wand to try to stop herself trembling.
Overcoming her bravery, she fell back on her mother’s caution and suddenly saw that she was seriously out of her depth. Ignotus and Coventina were experienced and battle hardened, while Jane was ablaze with the passion of unrequited love. In truth, Artemisia was a little afraid of finding her father. What if he refused to come?
Suddenly, all thoughts were pushed out of her head as there was a roar like a wounded animal. The troll was upon them, ripping the nearby trees out of the ground with one hand and swinging his club around his head with the other. He was covered in deep blood red gashes; it was clear that the dashing Godric Gryffindor had made some impact.
Ignotus stood firm, and tried to protect himself, but in vain. The troll brought down his club, knocking aside both him and Coventina as if they were toy figurines that littered Artemisia’s childhood nursery. Jane had been quicker and was shooting spells at the troll and this brief distraction gave Artemisia the time to help both Ignotus and Coventina to their feet.
“Go and find your father,” instructed Coventina, “he must be near. Go now before this gets nasty!” Artemisia did not even stay to argue, and she tore off into the forest, screaming her father’s name in hope that he might hear her. She imagined him appearing at the end of the woodland path, and her running into his outstretched arms.
Tears were coming to her eyes now; the sounds of the fight with the troll reverberated all around her, and if she could find her father everything could be turned to their favour. Running further, she shouted his name, but no reply came. She needed him, and yet he did not come. Standing still to catch her breath, she tried to shout his name again, but she was stopped as she felt a hand grabbing her ankle.
Her first instinct was to stamp on the hand with all the force she could muster, but she looked down at the bloodstained fingers and followed them up to the body they were attached to. For the first time in her life, she saw Godric Gryffindor not as the impressive Prince of Alba, the saviour of his people, but a broken man.
“Father!” she cried, kneeling down and drawing him onto her lap. His copper hair, once so like hers, was now faded, as if it had been left in the sun too long. His face was battered and bruised, blood ran from his nose and his teeth were stained sanguine red. He wore simple clothes, those of a farmer, but he smiled up at her in a way he never had before.
“Heal me,” he whispered, “then I can join the fight.” Artemisia was hesitant, so Godric continued, “I never was any good at healing spells; it was Helga that had the gift for them.” Pointing her wand at the various injured points of his beaten body, Artemisia did her best to rebuild him. When he stood up he was not the Adonis he had once been, but he could at least walk.
Pulling his sword from his hilt made him light up, as if he had a purpose. Artemisia watched him as he broke into a canter, darting towards the noise of the fighting. Following a man who seemed so full of determination with the stride of a leader, made Artemisia more confident of herself as she ran behind him.
Jane, Ignotus and Coventina were still standing when they arrived, and at the sight of their leader they seemed to receive renewed hope and strength. Artemisia stood by their side as they brought the great beast down, delivering the coup de grâce with his own cudgel brought down upon his nutlike skull.
At this victory, Godric drew his daughter in his arms. “You were amazing, my girl!” he smiled, shaking her excitedly; “you are the best of me and your mother. My bravery and determination and her skill. You will be the envy of the world.” The sense of wonderful happiness, excitement and joy of the victory at the fact that she was reunited with her father was suddenly destroyed by the brief mention of her mother.
Pulling away from him, Artemisia kept hold of one of his hands, as if it would give her the strength to continue talking and keep her own tears at bay. “It is at mother’s behest that I am here, father. She is ill, very ill, a new strain of the Sickening her doctor’s say. She has little time left. And before she goes, above all things, she wants to see you one more time.”
Godric’s usual rosy complexion vanished instantly. His green eyes, normally luminous and sparkling, dimmed at this. His glow was suddenly extinguished, as if a candle had been blown out. “It can’t be true,” he spluttered,”she can’t be dying. My Rowena could never be dying.” It seemed as if he was close to tears.
Artemisia spoke gently, as if to a child she was trying to comfort. “She is staying alive in the hope that she will see you again. Please father, it will be the final time.” He said no words, it was as if he did not have enough to describe what he was feeling. But he squeezed Artemisia’s hand as if to give his acceptance, and he let her lead him back towards Godric’s Hollow.
Helga knew that Rowena would want to see Salazar. Even if she did not say it, Helga knew that her friend missed him, almost as much as she missed Godric. Salazar and Godric together had constituted the perfect man for her, and Helga felt it was the last gift that she could give her closest friend.
But after a month of fruitless searching, Helga began to conclude that Salazar just did not want to be found. She was tired of this endless war waged by him, and just wanted to make peace. She was prepared to stand on top of the battlements and wave the white flag of surrender even if no one else was.
Helga had gathered all she knew of Salazar to try and determine where he would have gone, but she discovered she had only ever known very little about him. Whereas Rowena and Godric had been open books willing to be read, whereas she had thought she had known Salazar when in fact all she had known was a shadow.
But she had known that he was a regular of “The Green Dragon” in Hogsmeade, and from careful interrogation there Helga had discovered that he had returned to England; the land of his birth. The locals who were old enough to remember him told Helga that they believed he had been from a small village near Lincoln, but that he did not seem to be that fond of his home and would not return there.
Helga was disgusted with herself; Salazar had never revealed any of this to her, and she felt like a terrible friend. But she knew that Salazar would want to see Rowena; he had loved her, maybe he still did, and it was Helga’s duty to reunite them, even if it was only for a brief moment. She would feel she had achieved something.
That led her to sending out letters to all magical communities, begging to discover the location of the infamous Salazar Slytherin. She sent out his description and eventually got a reply from a small magical community in Cornwall, who said a man of that description lived over the hill in the orbit of a nearby muggle village. It was Helga’s only lead and grabbing it with both hands; she began to write a letter explaining everything to her long lost friend, she knew it would explain everything better than she could face to face.
That was what led her to the windswept little Muggle village overlooking the sea. The locals eyed her with suspicion; her clean clothes betrayed her as a rich woman and her fair skin showed her as a northerner. So she kept her hood firmly covered her head, and taking the small cliff path given to her by a barman, she trekked up to Salazar’s abode.
Helga thought this was typical of Salazar. The mystique that came with this isolated location was the sort of thing that he would desire, and the uphill climb wearied Helga, making her breath come heavily. Soon through the grey mist she could see a house that could only be Salazar’s. It was a pile of obsidian stone with ivy crawling up the walls. Once, it would have been majestic but now it had an air of decay about it that Helga could not help but notice. Salazar would hate that.
On reaching the door, Helga tentatively ran her fingers over the decaying wood. She could not fear what would happen next now; she had journeyed here. There was no way she could turn back. Knocking on the door, she waited to see a face she had not seen for so long. Her breath looked like smoke in front of her, blurring her vision.
When the door opened, she expected to fall into Salazar’s arms in a welcome embrace, but she was sorely disappointed. Instead of Salazar, who she had been expecting, another person opened the door and it was the woman who she had been glad to be rid of. Bonne Malfoy no longer had the effervescent beauty of youth, but it was still possible to detect lost charms in her features. She was still slender, with a mane of silver hair, and she still did not allow emotions to ruin her poise.
“Oh,” she purred nonchalantly, “bonsoir Helga my dear.” She had resorted to her vernacular French as she analysed Helga with her shining eyes, as cunning and manipulative as ever. “To what do we owe this pleasure after so many years apart?” Helga did not have time for Bonne’s carefully calculated words, and she rode roughshod over her.
“We have learnt some very tragic news,” said Helga bitingly, “Rowena is dying of the Sickening, and we thought it was best for Salazar to come home and say goodbye to her. They were once, as I am sure you know, more than close friends.” Bonne’s eyes thinned at Helga’s implied meaning, but her expression at once became impassive again.
“That is terrible,” she said, rolling her words due to her strong accent, “but I am afraid to inform you that Salazar is not at home right now.” Helga’s soul dropped, but she was determined that Salazar would get the letter, that he be given the chance to say goodbye to the woman that Helga knew he once loved.
“When we he be back?”
“Oh, not for at least two weeks,” she sighed, “he has gone on one of his potions ingredient hunts, you know he always had a flair for adventure. I will deliver the message for you when he gets back.” Helga narrowed her eyes in distrust but she did not see how she had any other choice. If Salazar was not going to be back for ages, it was the only thing she could do. Pulling the letter out of her robes, she shoved it into Bonne’s hands.
“Make sure he gets this,” hissed Helga, before and turning away and trudging into the distant. She did not even wait to hear Bonne’s enthusiastic promises that she would. Bonne’s word meant nothing to Helga and only her action would ever redeem her in her eyes. Crossing her fingers, Helga could only hope that Salazar would be made to see sense and return.
Bonne closed the door behind her before ripping open Helga’s letter. It had the usual tragic style of Helga, and the ink was blurred with teardrops. Despite promising Helga, Bonne turned around and threw the letter into the fire. The last thing she needed was Salazar having an open opportunity to return when he was so close to doing so of his own volition. That school had ruined her life, and without Salazar it would cripple and die slowly. She just had to wait.
“Bonne,” came Salazar’s voice as he trotted down the stairs from his office, dressed in his usual emerald green, “was that someone at the door?” He looked as he usually did when someone came to visit; hopeful that it was one of his old friends coming to apologize after all these years of isolation and loneliness.
“No, no,” smiled Bonne reassuringly, “you must have just heard the wind.”
The inn was so far away from where he had begun his journey that Guillaume was fearful he would fall off the edge of the world. He was in the Byzantine Empire, than glimmering jewel of the east, the last bastion of the Roman Empire. It was hotter than Alba, or even his home in his Frankish Homelands. But he would keep going, he would go until he found Helena and once he found her, he would be willing to drag her kicking and screaming across Europe back home to be his wife.
But he had finally found her. Bribery, flattery and murder had led him to her, and now he would not let go. Guillaume ate his last supper in the inn, before setting out of the town into the forest where he had been told the “lonely woman” lived. It made him laugh that even though Helena had come so far to defy him and her mother, he was still here. He had still found her.
Leaving the inn, he found that he had a new spring in his step. His long journey was about to have its conclusion, he would see Helena again. His love for her was all consuming; some days he would wake up and feel smothered by it, as if he could not breath. Sometimes he would feel strangled, as if it was a pointless, hopeless devotion. But he could be free if she would agree to be his.
But he would not be a victim of consequence, so he marched resolutely to the foothills of some lonely mountains where the forest stood. Here was Helena Ravenclaw, living as a woodcutter’s widow, wearing black to ward off suitors. Once, she had been a mighty princess, but now was nothing more than a peasant woman. He would usually have laughed at her, torn down from her pedestal in the way that she was, but this was too serious.
It was a little cottage with a thatched roof, with honeysuckle winding up its walls. Guillaume thought it was all rather scenic, like a view from a holy fresco in a church. He could imagine this as a peaceful retreat for a girl like Helena, but he could not help but find some joy in ripping it all from her.
It was then that it happened. The door to the cottage swung open and Helena appeared, dressed in a common woman’s garb, her hair scraped back into a high bun like her mother used to wear. She was grasping a pale of water and it was then that she looked up. Her midnight eyes spied Guillaume and widened suddenly, causing the pale to tumble to the ground. Spinning round, she dashed back into her little house, slamming the door behind her.
Guillaume could have laughed. Was she so unprepared that she had no defence from him? Running to the door, he shot a blasting jinx at it, and it flew off its hinges as if it had been a feather. The floorboards creaked as he stepped into the house, and he stowed his wand into his pocket. It was clear that Helena had been quicker than he expected; the back door was wide open and an old Roman bust of a woman she had collected had been knocked to the floor, as if something had been taken.
He jogged out of the back door and into the forest, the trees were denser than he expected causing him to trip several times. Calling out for Helena, he thought he saw a dark figure in the distance bending over a hollow tree. But then she was on the move again, and he pulled his dagger from his belt, slashing the trees with it to quicken his pace.
Guillaume was faster than Helena, so it was only a matter of time before he caught up with her. Her hesitation by the hollow tree cost her dear, and soon he was feet behind her. Outstretching his arm, he caught her by the wrist spinning her around with such force she nearly fell over. She spat at him, straight in the face, and angrily he slapped her.
“We could be so happy!” he bellowed at her, spittle flying from his mouth, “if you just marry me!” Helena hit him with her free arm, angrily pulling herself from him as if it was the utmost torture, as if he was the most repulsive man in the world. As she tried to struggle free, he span her round, twisting her wrist sharply and pinning her to his chest.
“I would never be happy with you!” she thundered, her eyes mad, “you are the most repulsive man in all the world, and I will only ever be Henry Wakefield’s wife!” Enraged by the mention of his rival’s name, he brought his silver blade up against her delicate little neck. She let out a muffled scream, but she did not move for outright fear.
“Marry me!” Guillaume screamed, “I love you! It is not as if you have another choice!” There was a pleading tone in his voice as he held the blade tighter to her sensitive skin, drawing blood. Breathing in, he could smell the scent of her hair and he suddenly realised she was totally within his power. Launching himself at her, he kissed her neck and he could taste the blood running tantalisingly from the wound of his making.
“No,” she screamed, tears beginning to roll down her cheeks, “stop! Just stop!” But he wouldn’t. He had never known a feeling like it, the need to possess her. Even her terrified screams did not repel him, and his kisses became more passionate. But suddenly he shouted in pain; her teeth had sunk into his arm, and he dropped the dagger, causing her to run free once more.
“You will be mine!” he thundered, picking up his dagger and chasing after her, in a moment catching her once again. But this time she fell to the ground, onto her back, his force having knocked her off balance. He felt his feet entangle with hers, causing him to fall. Collapsing on her, he had the wind knocked out of him, the impact making her let out a strangled cry.
He tried pulling himself up, ready to berate her once more, but unexpectedly he felt a rush of warmth by his hand. Lifting upwards, the truth of what had happened darkened over him. Where he had fallen, his little silver knife had ripped into her stomach, just below her breast. Her blood, still pumped with adrenalin, cascaded over him, staining his clothes a dark red.
Calling her name, he kept hold of the knife, terrified of what had happened next. “I will never be your wife,” she spat, clarity finally coming at the end of her brief life. Her final refusal of him, her act of defiance made him scream with rage. He twisted the knife making her let out a bitter gasp before pulling it from her. That simple movement meant Helena Ravenclaw had her life stolen from her. The lights went out.
There she was his sleeping angel. Her life gone, she looked more peaceful than she ever had before. It was only then that the gravity of the situation washed over him. In his blood stained clothes, he knelt beside her; seeing the carnage he had caused, discarding his weapon in shock. The guilt flooded over him and silent tears appeared in his eyes. In the end she had been brave, like her father.
The thought of Godric made him remember that day years ago when he had removed Salazar and Bonne from Hogwarts Castle. He recalled more clearly than ever how Bonne had cursed him; You will be punished for betraying your only sister. Baron Sanglante, Guillaume Malfoy, you will die in the pits of a hopeless love, unable to break yourself free. It will smother, strangle and choke you and until all the life is squeezed from your body.
He realised it had come true. His love for Helena had been unnatural, distorted by Bonne’s curse. And it had led to this, the corpse of a young woman lying in a forest miles away from her home. He suddenly realised that he could not return to Hogwarts; Rowena would never see her eldest daughter again.
Staggering to his feet, he looked at the man he had become and he knew he did not like what he saw. His Helena, his dear Helena, lay dead by his hand. Disgusted with himself, he raised himself to the heavens, his guilt weighing heavy on his shoulders. It was as if the twilight had given him the answer he needed. He turned to his discarded dagger, and picking the handle up he knew there was only one way to run, only one way to achieve absolution.
It would demand a sacrifice.
Cadmus sat beside her in internal torment.
It was both the happiest and saddest night of his entire life. It was happy because he was with Rowena and she was grasping his hand with a need that he had never seen before. Her eyes were alight with appreciation that he was here beside her; his loyalty unwavering despite the bloodshed, betrayal and heartbreak. His heart would always be hers.
It was the worst night of his life because she was dying. The Sickening was slowly strangling the life from her; she was drawn and pale, and she lost more colour every day. Her once glossy cascade of hair was now lank and limp. She looked haggard and tired, as if breathing was an effort that was too much.
“I am so sorry Cadmus,” she rasped, holding his hand. It had never been that cold before. “I am so sorry for everything I have done to you.” He leant forward, brushing her hair out of her face so he could stroke her cheeks and kiss her forehead as he had longed to for years. Shaking his head, his voice was a croak when he replied.
“Sorry for what?”
“For everything,” she groaned, “I became too interested in myself, too interested in my love for Godric and Salazar to see what was happening around me. It has been you by my side all these terrible weeks; neither of the men I once professed to love can even bring themselves to see me on my deathbed.”
“They may come,” said Cadmus half-heartedly, knowing in all probability Rowena would die with only him and Helga by his side, the only one who had returned from her unsuccessful mission. “If they truly love you they will come.” Rowena smiled at him sadly, as if she was impressed by his devoted loyalty.
“I’m sorry Cadmus,” she said again, “that I never loved you in the way you wanted me too.” He froze at these words. Never had she mentioned their brief adolescent romance. She normally pretended that it had never happened. “I was cruel to you, in a way nobody should be to a friend. I was so wrapped up in myself and my dreams, that I never realised that I had your devotion all these years.” Her eyes welled with tears of genuine sorrow, and he tried to reply, to say what needed to be said.
The door burst open, abruptly cutting Cadmus’ unsaid words off. Helga stood at the door with some bread for Rowena; it was all she could now stomach. “Rowena,” smiled Helga, “I have brought you some food.” Rowena tried to pull herself up, but she was too weak, and Cadmus had to assist her. He shivered as she draped her arm over his shoulder and let him move her.
Helga placed the tray on Rowena’s lap, and she tentatively picked at the bread before setting it down untouched. “I can’t Helga,” whispered Rowena, “I’m sorry.” Cadmus squeezed Rowena’s hand as he looked up despairingly at Helga. They were running out of ideas of how to prolong her life.
“You need to eat,” coaxed Helga, “you’ve had your potion, and you know you need to eat otherwise it may not work.” Rowena settled down into her blankets once more before taking Helga’s hand too. She was giving Helga yet another of her resigned smiles, and suddenly Cadmus could see them all as the three small children, once again fighting wolves in the forest.
“I am dying Helga,” whispered Rowena, “and I think it may be tonight.” Rowena was always very forward when she thought she knew a fact. “All I can do is thank you both for your utmost loyalty to me, and to Rachel as well.” Guilt rose to the front of Cadmus’ mind at the mention of his wife, but he soon pushed it away at a quick knock on the door.
It was Helga who rose to answer it, and when she opened the door, Cadmus’ heart stopped. Artemisia had bundled into the room, mumbling something about trolls when behind her swept the magnificent Godric Gryffindor. His hair had faded and he was scarred from his battles, but he still had the presence of a hero. Rowena’s hand became limp in his with shock.
He dashed across to Rowena’s bedside, kneeling beside her and taking her hand. He kissed her forehead and stroked the hair out of her face as if no time had passed, as if he had never abandoned her. Rowena’s face flushed with colour and tears of joy poured down her cheeks at the sight of him as she copied his movements, running her hands across his face and arms.
“Oh Godric! I thought I would never see you again!”
“I’m sorry for not coming sooner,” sobbed Godric, kissing her like her knight errant, finally returned from war, “it’s my stupid pride. I should have stayed by your side. There was no one; there has never been anyone else but you.” She was giggling like a blushing maid, and she would not stop kissing him and gazing at him lovingly. It was as if they had never been apart.
“No, I was foolish in thinking I could have both ways,” she chuckled, “but I love you, in these years I have realised that you are the only man I have ever given my heart to, and the only one I ever will.” Rowena’s words were like stab wounds in Cadmus, and he had to intervene if only to stop his own heart breaking.
“Rowena,” he whispered quietly, but she didn’t hear him over Godric. He kissed her passionately, as if they were seventeen again, in Rowena’s glade, Cadmus having just stumbled across them. He would have erupted with years of suppressed rage, if it were not for Helga’s hand resting calmly on his shoulder. Looking up at her, he saw her apologetic smile.
“I am so glad you are here,” sobbed Rowena, as Godric wiped the tears from her cheeks, “I have prayed and hoped for this day for far too long. If only Helena and Salazar were here to complete this day.” Godric did not get angry as Cadmus had been expecting; he did not want to spoil this last night with her.
The door swung open again, revealing Rachel carrying a jug of hops for Rowena. It was only then that it struck Cadmus how tired and haggard she looked. The Rachel he had met so many years ago was now gone. “Godric!” she smiled on the sight of her old friend, putting the jug by Rowena’s side and embracing him in greeting, “you’ve come home!”
“And I’ll never leave,” he promised, turning from Rachel to Rowena, “I swear on the school that I will never leave your side again. I was proud and foolish. Once again I am a man worthy of your love.” Rowena seemed to melt at those romantic sentiments, but she took his hand in hers, her eyes once again brimming with tears.
“But I’ve never been worthy of your love,” she proclaimed, turning to all of them in turn, “none of you. I have realised that I have put my only heart and beliefs before everyone else’s and I am sorry, I cannot tell you how sorry I am.” With this, it seemed a great weight had been lifted from the dying Queen’s shoulders and she nestled back into her blankets.
“Stay with me,” she murmured fearfully, “stay with me until the very end, all of you.” Like loyal lieges and friends, they pledged to stay by her side until the night washed over her. For an hour they sat there, reminiscing about old times long past and they warmed her as they watched her fade away.
Soon she was deathly white, and Helga bid Rachel and Artemisia to rush to the kitchens to get more potions, to give Rowena more time with them. She hovered at the door, shouting instructions at servants to bring more blankets and pillows. Cadmus and Godric sat holding her hands peering at her carefully.
“My first two loves,” she smiled, “why do I feel so cold?” Godric leapt up at this statement, bustling round the cabinet, pouring another large goblet of hops for her. But Cadmus stayed, and watched her as she gave one last smile, her last breath escaping from her body. It was only his eyes on her as the Sickening took her and he let out a strangled sob as she lay prostrate on the bed, her dark hair spread out behind her like wings. She was a sleeping angel.
Godric span round at Cadmus’ gasp, and he fell to her side when he saw she was gone. Great tears poured down his cheeks, and Helga ran to them. She leant over her friend, her patron and above all, sister, closing her eyes with her fingers. “The Queen is dead,” whispered Helga, her voice cracking as she carried out her duty, “long live the King.”
The funeral of Queen Rowena was the biggest event that Helga ever remembered. It was more grand and solemn even than Adrian’s funeral. Bevan had been recalled from Alba, and along with his father and sister, they led the procession towards the chapel as chief mourners. Helga walked with Rachel and Cadmus behind as Rowena’s coffin was carried in by the chief ladies of the court.
Helga had found herself caught between two parties after Rowena’s death. Godric had pledged to stay, and Helga had found he was quite amiable to the idea of staying on at the school and returning to his place as a founder. On the other hand there was Cadmus, bitter and resentful that he had lost his love to Godric even in her final hours.
The people lined the streets, as they had for her birth but now wailing and crying. Helga had only been upset that when she had put Rowena’s affairs in order she had not only been unable to trace Guillaume and Helena, but also Rowena’s beautiful diadem had gone. She could never lay to rest with it.
The prayers for Rowena’s soul lauded her achievements so they seemed impersonal. Helga silently thought of all the good thing about Rowena the person, not Rowena the Queen. That she had built Hogwarts, repelled foreign invaders and made Alba a better place was a given. That she was funny, learned and enchanting was a thing that only her friends knew.
Unlike Adrian, she was interred in the family mausoleum, and Helga was one of the few people to witness this event. Helga did not find it as tragic as Adrian’s passing; Rowena had gone in style with the people who loved her around her. It almost seemed that this was the only escape for her. In death she became Legendary.
Now, Helga knew, it was up to her. Together with the remnants of the idealistic dreamers who had first created the school; Godric, Rachel and Cadmus, she was to build the school again and it was to rise like a Phoenix. Helga knew that although it had been her idea, Rowena had ignited the project and brought it to life.
She would not let Rowena’s dream die.
Okay, I know I've been ages but here is a long chapter! Please tell me what you thought, I want to know if you think I've got the characterisation right. And reviews make me happy! Something I thought might be of interest is that Guillaume has been intended to be the Bloody Baron from the beginning - "Sanglante" in his title means bloody in French. Next time...Cadmus concocts a plan to bring back everything he has lost and Rachel takes her destiny in her own hands...
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