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Diamonds into Coal by academica
Chapter 15 : Pieces of a Dream
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 5


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It was to be, in many senses of the term, a magical evening.

Ainsley, Isobel, and Kendrick had been informed that their first duty as Helena’s servants in her soon-to-be new home was to help the Selwyn’s small staff of peasants and house elves decorate the estate for Venn and Helena’s engagement party. Witches and wizards from many wealthy counties would be coming to celebrate, some from hundreds of miles and long carriage rides away. Unfortunately Venn’s small castle was not quite enough to contain them, and so the party was meant to spill out into the field nearest the castle, the one bordered by the orchard.

The ladies remained indoors, dusting the hearths and tables and hanging bright silk ribbons in the two families’ colors in the main hall. The young men ventured outside. Kendrick brandished his wand, the only thing left to inherit when his father died, and dried the ground under his feet as he walked. The nobles would never deign to decorate their robes with the filth so common to this region. The elves scurried continually underfoot, assisting the Muggle children and a few witches as they worked together to prepare a feast in the kitchen. There would be endless food.

Twelve hours of work produced not only the feast, but also gorgeous decorations lit by soft candlelight in the house and out in the trees. Tables were arranged around an open area, which was carefully dried and flattened to produce a rudimentary dance floor. The servants themselves were the last to be cleaned, dressed, and put into position.

Kendrick stood stiffly at the end of the line nearest the courtyard. As the sun began to set and the cool touch of night in springtime lighted upon his shoulders, he heard the familiar sound of hoofbeats and carriage wheels coming to a subtle stop nearby.

With the first movement of his feet, the highly anticipated event commenced.

--

“I hate her,” Helena whispered, frowning and folding her arms across her chest.

“Please refrain from using such harsh language, my darling,” Witter said softly, looking over at his daughter. “Rest your arms at your sides, like a lady. You are putting creases into the fabric of your gown.”

She sighed, dropping her arms obediently. “You could send an owl and ask her to come. She would listen to you. It embarrasses me for her to not be in attendance.”

“As I have told you, your mother is not feeling well today. The evening chill would be too much for her to withstand.”

“Her illness is rather convenient,” Helena remarked callously.

“I am certain she wishes she could be with me at your side.”

“In another life, perhaps, had I become the woman she wanted me to be. You cannot simply explain away her mood over the passing weeks. She no longer loves me.”

“You are being overly dramatic,” Witter replied, and his tone was harsher this time. “How can you expect to enjoy your engagement party with such a sour disposition?”

His daughter’s eyes drifted about the small foyer in which they stood, facing a closed door that would open and allow Helena to make her grand entrance when the time was right. She could see the main area of the party inside the dining hall from her position. Helena peered through the nearest open alcove and caught sight of her groom, sitting at the head of the table where his father—had he still been among the living—would have been seated. Interestingly, his gaze was fixed on something besides the door that would reveal his bride in mere moments. Helena followed his line of sight, her eyes falling upon Edeline. She was standing in the corner with a handsome man around her age, politely chatting with some of the party guests while keeping a careful eye on the varying amounts of food and drink that remained on the servants’ trays. In her hand, clutched like a bouquet, was a black leather glove.

Helena glanced back at Venn, noticing that his jaw was clenched.

Suddenly, the doors before her creaked to life, and she took a deep breath. Witter’s arm, into which her own was tucked, gently tightened as if to offer her support. The music swelled slightly. Helena stepped forward confidently, though her knees shook underneath the thick, expensive fabric of her navy blue gown.

She tried to resist smiling at the sound of the few audible gasps that erupted from the crowd, but she could not help herself. The party guests could not take their eyes from the beaming bride, looking radiant in her beautiful gown trimmed with lace and sapphires. Her dark hair tumbled down her back in loose waves, and her bright eyes sparkled with her joy. Even Venn, despite his previous preoccupation, could not look away, feeling himself drawn to Helena as he stood up to greet her and kiss her hand. A few blissful moments later, she and her father found their seats. Helena was somewhat surprised when Salazar rose to his feet, holding his goblet.

“My beloved sister and I extend our greetings to you, our guests, on this happy occasion,” he said, looking around at all in attendance. “I offer a special welcome to our Scottish neighbor Witter Ravenclaw and the lovely Helena, who will be given in marriage to my nephew in only a few short weeks.”

Helena felt butterflies crashing into one another haphazardly within her chest.

Salazar continued. “In celebration of the long-awaited event, I have selected a gift for the young lovers, something that I would only bestow upon those for whom I cared very deeply.” He put his goblet down on the table and reached for his neck with both hands. As Venn and Helena watched, a stunning emerald locket emerged from beneath his silky black dress robes. The pendant, which was emblazoned with an ‘S’, hung on a heavy gold chain, perhaps meant to represent the prestige and burden of managing a school like Hogwarts.

Salazar placed the locket upon the table in front of Venn, but the boy refused to touch it or even take his eyes off his uncle. Helena gently picked it up, carefully turning it over and finding an odd inscription on the back. Before she could attempt to make out the language, Venn took it from her. Helena looked up to see Edeline’s guiding hand resting upon his shoulder.

“Thank you, uncle,” Venn said quietly, putting the locket on. “What a gracious gift.”

“I can think of no better occasion for it than the joining of my house with that of Ravenclaw,” Salazar answered, raising his goblet dramatically. “Friends and honored guests, let us drink to the health and prosperity of the union we shall witness!” Everyone around the room took a sip of wine, including Venn and Helena.

Salazar sat down, turning his eyes to Witter as the other man rose. Edeline turned to speak to a maidservant, and Salazar whispered to Venn. “It is only yours for the wedding. After you and your bride are united, I expect it back, in perfect condition.”

Helena looked over at her father now, trying to focus on what he was saying.

“My wife sends her regrets, as illness keeps her bedridden and unable to share in this joyous night. Fortunately, along with her sentiment, she sends a gift of our own.”

He withdrew a bronze box, placing it upon the table in front of him. Next, he took a minute bronze key from his robe pocket, inserting it into the tiny keyhole and turning it carefully. The box opened soundlessly, revealing a blue velvet interior. The eyes of everyone in the room instantly fell to the stunning blue diadem sitting perfectly in place within the box. “This crown is Rowena’s pride and joy, and she will love nothing more than to see it placed upon her daughter’s head for the much-anticipated ceremony. Unfortunately, she has asked that it be returned after my Helena settles into her happy new home—” He paused, and a few people around the room laughed softly. “—but the remainder of the family jewels may stay with her. I am certain that, just like her mother, Helena will never fail to shine in them.”

As the guests toasted her well being, Helena stared down at the tiara. She had dreamed of wearing it her whole life, but suddenly it seemed too heavy to bear. Her fingertips delicately traced the words inscribed upon the cold, smooth structure; this sensation was counteracted, however, by the warmth of Venn’s hand on hers.

“Join me for a dance,” he said softly. She could not read his expression, except that he seemed almost nervous, just as overwhelmed as she felt. It was oddly comforting.

“Yes, my lord,” she whispered, allowing him to help her to her feet.

--

As Helena spun in her husband-to-be’s arms, she found it hard not to relax, even with the eyes of so many upon her. To her, it seemed that they moved much more easily together than they had months ago in her parents’ ballroom when they met for the first time. He led her around the floor in graceful circles, the light catching their regal jewels and reflecting off the many fine furnishings in the room. The scene was so perfect that Helena was surprised when she felt the hand holding hers stiffen suddenly. She offered Venn a smile, but he was no longer looking into her eyes. Instead, his gaze traversed the room, moving from face to face as he made judgments.

“What is it, my love?” she asked tenderly.

“There are many here whom I do not recognize,” he commented.

“There are many nobles from my land, and associates of my parents.”

“Those I can identify by their expensive dress and good posture. But there are some—their clothing seems less proper, and they reach greedily for the platters of food and drink whenever they pass, as if they have barely begun to get their fill.”

“Perhaps they are peasants from the surrounding towns,” Helena suggested.

Venn returned his gaze to hers, and it was hardened. When he spoke, his voice was firm. “My family and I would never invite Muggles into our home, to eat our fill and enjoy our music. It would be wasteful.”

Helena swallowed. “There are some from my land…” she trailed off softly.

“Who invited them?” His eyes shot accusingly to Witter, who was on at least his fourth glass of wine and making jolly conversation with Cepheus’s father.

“I asked that they attend. I wanted them to feel as if their concerns still mattered to me in my transition to a new land and new people.” Helena recalled the occasion of the joust, during which Venn had handily alienated himself from the Ravenclaws’ subjects. She thought allowing them to attend the party would mend these wounds, but perhaps it was destined to fail, considering the way her fiancé was behaving.

“How could you invite them to enter my house without my permission?”

“Is this house not to become mine as well, in due time?” she protested quietly, careful to maintain a smile so as to avoid arousing suspicion from their audience.

“You shall dwell here with me, but make no mistake, this is my land and my castle,” Venn corrected her. “You should not trouble your mind with deciding how to maintain the subjects of my baronage. I will take care of that myself.”

It was Helena’s turn to stiffen, perhaps in the hope that the pressure would stall any tears. Around them, the music swelled in anticipation of the final refrain.

“It had brought me some pain to see you separated from your mother in such an important time, but now I suspect that you spent too much time with her even before now. You should view the schism between you as a blessing, for she will soon be unable to poison you further against reason. We must think of our own safety, my bride. There is a reason that we are in our station in life and they live apart from us.”

The music could have not ceased at a more opportune moment. As the last notes faded, Helena tore herself gently from Venn’s hands, smiling demurely at the onlookers as she retreated from the dance floor. Behind her, Priscilla Black stepped into her place, striking up a friendly conversation with Venn about their good fortune in finding appropriate partners as they twirled loosely about the floor.

Helena did not notice this turn of events. She ventured through the crowd and around corners until she could see no more party guests. At last, she was alone.

But she was not alone. As Helena drew nearer to the outer walls of the castle, seeking some fresh air and a moment’s peace, she could hear a pair of male voices, both of which were making poor attempts at keeping the commotion to a minimum. She swallowed her impending tears and peeked around the corner. Salazar stood on one side of the corridor, frustration etched into his face, and Godric Gryffindor faced him. Helena stood still and quiet, listening to their tense conversation.

“—don’t understand the meaning of this,” Salazar was saying.

“Certainly you do,” Godric replied. His voice was steady, but Helena observed one of his fists clenching and un-clenching every few seconds. “The opinions you have voiced at our last few meetings are obviously unpopular, and yet you persevere. I am concerned that you may hold your own agenda, whatever that may be, to be more important than the good of the school.”

“Hogwarts is as dear to me as the day we built it. How can you question that?”

“I can suggest a compromise. You may retain membership on the administrative board, continuing to go about your current activities with your house and give guest lectures, but you will no longer have a voice in the future of our school—or attend our meetings.”

“I do not perceive a suggestion in your words, brother,” Salazar hissed.

“Lady Helga and I have agreed upon it, and though I have not spoken with Lady Rowena in recent days, I am confident that she will find my decision suitable.”

“Godric, I beg you to reconsider.”

“The decision is made, Salazar.” Godric lowered his voice. “I have tolerated your divisive perspective for far too long. Helga has confessed that your recent manner makes her… nervous. In times like these, one must step up as a proper leader.”

“That is precisely what I have been trying to do,” Salazar cut in. He stepped forward, looking straight into Godric’s eyes. “And brother, as you stated—I shall persevere.”

As his footsteps echoed down the corridor, Helena leaned back against the wall, trying to understand what she had just overheard. But her grief over the turn her seemingly idyllic evening had taken prevented her from processing the exchange. She decided not to concern herself with the Founders’ business, not when she had plans of her own to make. She needed to get in her carriage and return home—now.

--

The castle was silent when Helena returned. She insisted on putting the horses away herself, too concerned that the elves and servants would make noise and wake her mother. Another of Rowena’s lectures was the last thing she wished to endure at the moment. Once inside, she moved softly up the stairs, closing her bedroom door behind her and collapsing onto her bed. Tears rolled freely down her face now.

Through the wetness, Helena spotted it, staring at her from across the room.

She forced herself up, half-wanting to rip her cumbersome evening gown but resisting the urge to ruin the expensive fabric. She picked up the book from her writing desk, running her fingertips over the two names inscribed on the cover. Next, she flew to her bookcase, pulling her copy of One Thousand and One Nights and letting it fall to the floor. After it came The Daughter of the Skies, The Enchanted Canary, and The Flower Queen’s Daughter. Clutching The Ill-Fated Princess in her hand, Helena sank to the floor, wanting to rip out the tear-stained pages.

What good were fairy tales if they never came true, not even for a noblewoman? Not even for a great witch, the daughter of the most powerful witch in all of Scotland?

Dislodged from its position, The Princess and the Tin Box slipped off the shelf, bringing with it all of Helena’s sketches. A quiet knock sounded from the other side of the door.

“Enter,” Helena said, sighing and sitting back down on her bed.

“My lady?” One of the servants poked her head around the door. “I heard a commotion, and I wanted to ensure that you were all right.”

“There is no trouble,” Helena replied, avoiding eye contact.

“I did not suspect you would return so early from your party.”

“It was boring.” Guiltily, she found herself wishing that the girl would just go back to her work and leave her alone.

“My lady, perhaps it will bring cheer for you to know that your dress is nearly ready for the final fitting. I witnessed the seamstresses working on it today. It is fit for a queen.”

Helena’s eyes fell onto the sketches. She looked at the embellished gown and flowing hair, and the charmed diadem that still sat lopsided on her head. “I do not want it.”

“Pardon me, my lady?”

“The dress—it must not have the pearls, nor the lace in the bodice. They are too bold. I do not wish to remind the commoners who attend of their poverty.”

“I must caution you that altering the dress will likely delay the wedding, my lady.”

“I am aware of that, but the wedding must be perfect, including the dress.” Helena looked at the girl. “Please pass along my wishes to the seamstresses. I do not even wish to look upon my gown again until it meets my specifications.”

“Of course, my lady. I will instruct them to begin their work at dawn tomorrow.”

Helena did not look up until she heard the door close. Then, she got up and walked over to her window, admiring the starry view. She knew somewhere in the distance the party was likely still going on. Perhaps her groom had finally realized her disappearance. Her father would be angry when he returned home later that night. For now, though, only one thing sank into Helena’s tired mind—the quiet. Peace.

It was nothing short of beautiful.

--

Foolish girl.

The servant could not contain herself as she walked back down the spiral staircase from Helena’s bedroom. She could not imagine the good fortune of having a handsome baron and dream wedding, and moreover, she could not fathom someone being so shallow as to make waves about it. As she neared the second-floor landing, however, she quieted her thoughts. She had heard rumors in the village that the elder Ravenclaw woman could read minds and even put thoughts in others’ heads.

“Mistress Rowena?” she asked carefully, cracking the door open and slipping inside.

The small circular bedroom inside was lit by candles, though the dark spilling in from the balcony still permeated the space. The broad bed contained one inhabitant, her thick, dark hair spread across the pillowcases and her heavy eyes closed peacefully. A half-eaten tray of bread and cheese awaited the girl at the end of the bed. She retrieved it, placing a fresh silver pitcher of chilled water on a nearby table.

“My lady, are you thirsty?” she tried, having heard Rowena coughing earlier.

She waited with held breath, but no sound issued from the woman, save for her somewhat labored breathing. Her chest rose and fell; she was otherwise still.

The girl exhaled with a muted sigh. The master of the house would not be pleased to return home to no improvements. The healers would need to be called after several weeks of nothing but sleep and picking at food. She reached down tenderly to the exposed right arm, frowning at the slightly blue tinge of the skin, and thought better of searching for a pulse. She did not want to risk waking the quietly sleeping woman. This was the most peace Rowena had enjoyed since her ride home through a storm.

The servant turned, propping the door open with her foot and exiting with the tray as gently as she had entered. As she moved downstairs toward the kitchen, her thoughts returned to Helena. I hope Lady Rowena is well in time for the wedding.



Author’s Note:

This chapter is dedicated to nott theodore—thank you for your faithful reviews!

The fairy tales in Helena’s bedroom do not belong to me. One Thousand and One Nights is a collection of stories written by various authors before the year 850. The Daughter of the Skies was written by John Francis Campbell. The Enchanted Canary was written by Charles Deulin. The Flower Queen’s Daughter was written by Henrich von Wlislocki. The Ill-Fated Princess was written by Georgias A. Megas. The Princess and the Tin Box was written by James Thurber. None of the last five fairy tales have identified dates of origin. Everything in the chapter you recognize from canon, obviously, belongs to J. K. Rowling.

I hope you are enjoying the story. As you can probably tell by the events of this chapter, there is only a little more to go! Won’t you please leave a review? :)

-Amanda


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