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Chapter 9 : Chapter Nine
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“That is the idea,” said Godric, resolute in the face of Rowena’s skepticism. “Making light of fear gives it less power. Thus, this spell should ward off the boggart, which gains its own power from fear itself.”
“In theory,” Salazar pointed out, with a lazy smile on his face. There were times when he enjoyed dampening Godric’s confidence simply for the sport of it. Godric just laughed in response.
“Yes, in theory. And there is but one way to know if our theory is correct.”
We had decided that when we faced the boggart again, it must be all four of us or none at all. This way, we would draw strength from each other. Enough time had passed that we could no longer reasonably ignore the problem in Salazar’s dungeon storeroom. Summer was at an end, and classes had begun a week before. No one was particularly eager to take the task on; still, we walked the dungeon halls toward the locked storeroom, Salazar leading the way. I stayed close beside him, conscious of his every breath and movement, while Godric and Rowena followed behind.
He had told me not to worry about him today, but I found myself quite unable to stop. This would be a great test; greater than he could yet bear, I feared. Though he had taken great pains to convince me otherwise.
“Do you not know,” he had said to me the day before, “that I would face any challenge, great or small, simply for the chance that you would be proud of me at the end?”
A blush had colored my cheeks, though such endearments were becoming more and more commonplace.
“But if the boggart is too much pressure, you need only say—“
He had stopped my words with his lips. “I can do it. I need to conquer this demon, Helga, and I will do so. Trust me.”
As if sensing my thoughts, he brushed his arm reassuringly against mine as we walked. He did not look at me; indeed, the touch almost seemed accidental. But Salazar did nothing by accident. I pressed a hand against my mouth to hide my smile.
When we finally stopped at the door it seemed to loom before us. No one was inclined to step forward and open it; we all just stood and looked expectantly at each other. Well?
Not one of us had admitted to being afraid. But I was, and I felt sure that I was not the only one. Salazar’s bold words had left me unconvinced, and Rowena was prudent enough to be cautious. Only Godric had seemed completely self-assured; he always relished the chance to prove his might. But now that the moment had come, even he hesitated at the door.
I understood their reluctance, at least in part. However close the four of us had become over the past few years, we still had much to learn about one another. Revealing ourselves in this way was a deeply uncomfortable prospect, and it would be especially so for these three, who had such difficulty appearing in any way weak. Perhaps this thought was what made me step forward. Of the four of us, I had always been the least guarded, the most willing to place my emotions on full display. Revealing my fears before them would not be such a sacrifice, really. In this, I could help them.
“I will go first,” I volunteered finally. “There is no mystery about what the boggart will do when it sees me. At least we need not fear the unknown, for now. ”
“Take care, Helga,” said Rowena. She seemed relieved to let me test the waters before she took her turn. Rowena always preferred to look before she leaped—if, indeed, she ever leaped at all.
“Remember the incantation, and the motion of the wand.” This came from Godric, ever eager to advise me. “And make sure you—“
“Godric.” I held up a hand, laughing. “Are you still fathering me, even now?”
“Ah, right.” He did not seem at all chagrined, but I suspected that his impish look was just to make me smile before I faced the boggart. “Old habits take time to break, I confess.”
“What about you, Salazar?” I asked jauntily. Bravado was my friend today. “Have you any final advice for me?”
“There is nothing I need say,” he said, a hint of a smile on his face. “You have my complete confidence.”
My smile for him was the brightest of all.
The door unlatched and swung open at the wave of my wand; in the darkness, the creak it made sent a chill down my spine. I would never get used to this inhospitable place. The others watched silently from the doorway as I stepped inside. My head was high; no matter what happened, the boggart would know that I was ready for the challenge.
When the cage came around me I did not scream. You are still free, I told myself soothingly, as I might speak to a frightened child. I could just see Salazar from between the bars; he was looking at me, and I clung to that gaze like an anchor. Nothing can hurt you here.
“Riddikulus!” I cried after a shuddering breath, and the bars were not bars anymore. With a deafening pop, they changed from stiff metal to something else entirely. They still looked like the rods that had bound me, but they could move. To my delight, they whirled around me, swaying and jumping in a lively dance. I clapped my hands and let out a shriek of laughter; if I imagined hard enough, those faceless bars could have been the traveling folk of my girlhood, twirling in time to pipes and fiddles.
“We’ve done it!” I shouted to the others, quite unnecessarily. “The spell serves its purpose. Look at them!”
Everyone was smiling, even Salazar. I was glad we had all come together; it was indeed a comfort to see these three and know that they were there to lend me their courage, their wit, their sly resourcefulness. We four were strong together. When I thought of this, the dungeon did not seem so dark.
“Oh please, I must go in next!” Rowena’s curiosity shone bright as a flame; we grinned at each other and ignored the men laughing. She strode into the room, still enraptured by the dancing bars. But the boggart noticed her presence, and another loud crack signaled the shift.
The creature took on the form of Rowena herself, black-haired and lovely. And yet, it was not Rowena at all, for this person had a big vapid smile on her face and was dressed in garish clothing, the garb of a court fool. She was singing a lively tune, the warbling voice cracking on the higher notes.
I tried to temper my amusement, for it was clear that Rowena was repulsed by this mockery of herself. How terrifying must it be for her, who prized her intellect so, to imagine herself as an object of ridicule? She stood motionless, just staring at the boggart, while I focused on schooling my features to neutrality.
I turned to the men, and saw that they were having much the same difficulty as I. Salazar had physically turned his body away to hide his mirth, but his shaking shoulders made it obvious. I gave his arm a scolding swat, then turned to do the same to Godric, who was red in the face from choking back a great bellowing laugh.
To my deep regret, Rowena chose that moment to look back at us for strength. Her glare was icy cold.
“How can you laugh?” she demanded. Even in the half-darkness I could see the flush in her cheeks; at first I thought it was anger, but after a closer look I knew better. She was nervous. She was embarrassed. And for Rowena, being humiliated in front of people was the most frightening thing imaginable. We were instantly contrite, chorusing our regrets like a trio of songbirds.
Godric spoke up first. “We are sorry, Rowena.”
“What seems harmless to us is not so for everyone. We should have understood that,” I said earnestly.
“You are stronger than this,” said Salazar, gesturing to the boggart. “You know what to do.”
Her indignation seemed to make her brave. “Riddikulus!” she shouted with a flourish, and the now-familiar pop echoed off the walls. When the dust settled it was still Rowena standing there in fool’s garb. But instead of singing, she was now reciting the names and positions of the constellations, composed as could be. The juxtaposition was startling, and I could see why Rowena appreciated the comedy in it. This was a more cerebral humor, filled with irony. It took much more than silly antics to make Rowena laugh. At the moment she was giving her mirror image a self-satisfied grin, delight sparkling in her eyes.
“Only you would find this form more amusing than the first,” said Godric, still laughing. She simply tapped him on the chest with her wand, raising a playful eyebrow.
As she exited the storeroom, Salazar and Godric looked at each other. It was time for one of them to take a turn, and I felt sure that Salazar would not volunteer. But he surprised me.
“If you do not object,” he said in a steady voice, “I wish to face the boggart next.”
Godric was like a hound straining at the leash, dying to try his hand at the spell. But even he recognized that it was a time to concede to Salazar’s wishes. He gestured toward the door, inviting Salazar to go before him. We wished him luck as he progressed into the storeroom, quiet settling over us.
The flames were even more eerie now that I knew the reason for them. I wished that I could reach out and touch Salazar’s hand, but he was beyond my reach. So I was relegated to watching from the doorway with the others, worrying. What if he needed me? What if he was overwhelmed by memories?
Let him not remember, I beseeched silently, to any power that might hear. Let him not visit that place again.
His posture betrayed no inner turmoil, no distress. While his back was to me, I could not know what was in his mind. This unsettled me; without a sense of him I felt crippled, blind somehow. When he did give the incantation, his voice was unwavering.
The crack sounded and the fire did not change, not really. But like my bars, it had gained the power of motion. Quick as a flash, the bright flame moved behind Salazar, out of his sight. And even as he turned, it moved again, tricksome as a fox. No matter how quickly he whirled around, the fire always escaped his sight.
Godric’s bark of laughter gave Rowena a start, but I could see her grinning. I could not help but laugh myself, even with the dreadful fear for Salazar that I had just endured. Whether experiencing it firsthand or just watching from the storeroom doorway, it was exhausting to go so quickly from a terror that froze the bones to happy laughter.
“That flame loves trickery nearly as much as you, friend,” Godric said, and Salazar was in too triumphant a mood to retort. Meanwhile, Rowena moved to look more closely.
“This is extraordinary!” she marveled. “The creature knows us. It knows exactly what to do to provoke a reaction.”
Salazar had turned back to us, and his grin warmed me. “And now it is no match for us.”
He came to stand beside me, infinitesimally closer than before. Feeling daring, I reached out to brush one finger across his wrist, feeling the web of veins and the blood pulsing through them. He did not move away, and I chanced a smile in his direction.
“All right, Godric,” Rowena was saying. “You have been admirably patient. Go to the creature now, and let us marvel at your bravery.” She spoke indulgently, as she might to a child who had been very obedient and now deserved a treat.
“Marvel you will,” he vowed, making no mention of her teasing, “for this test will hardly be a test at all.”
Salazar gave a chuckle at his expense. But Godric looked quite serious as he strode into the room, arms outstretched as if to invite the boggart’s challenge. He expected, perhaps, that some vague representation of fear could not hurt him. Perhaps he did not even have a clear sense of what his greatest fear might be; such a man as Godric did not often spare a thought for such things. But the boggart proved to be a more than worthy adversary for him.
It happened quickly. Rowena gasped at the form it took, and I let out a little scream of horror. For lying before us was little Gareth, fair hair glowing in the torchlight; he stared up at his father with sightless eyes. Godric’s wand arm hung at his side as the color drained from his face. I had never seen him at such a loss; he always, always knew what to do. But not this time.
I blinked, and Gareth was gone; in his place was Elaine, cradling a silent babe in her stiff arms. Next came an older man, red hair sprinkled with gray. I recognized him as Godric’s father, Lord Gryffindor, the man Godric had so admired and loved. His mother was next, and then the younger brother who had inherited his birthright. And finally, I saw my own lifeless form. I swallowed hard as I looked upon myself, and I felt Salazar stiffen at my side. But he was not looking at my face.
It dawned on me then. Each figure had worn a familiar silver amulet, with a deep green S emblazoned in stones. The mark of Slytherin.
I turned to look at Salazar. He looked stricken; the implications of this boggart were indeed severe. Rowena raised her wand, likely thinking to do away with the figure, but Godric gestured for her to lower it again.
“This is my battle,” he told her, and his voice was steady as stone. Rowena’s mouth tightened, though, and I felt sure that her eagle eyes could see the fear he held firmly in check. “And I would fight it alone. Please leave me.”
We all stood silent for a moment. Then, recovering, I shepherded Rowena and Salazar away from the door so that Godric could conquer this demon in privacy. We stood silent in the hall. I looked at my feet, not daring to lift my eyes. The thought of looking upon Salazar’s face at this moment was almost more frightening than the sight of Godric’s boggart.
It did not take long. We heard his voice cry out the incantation, clear and robust despite all. Soon after, he emerged from the room to join us in the hall. But this time there was no triumphant laughter, no congratulations for a job well done. The dungeon may as well have been a tomb.
“It is vanquished,” said Godric in a low voice. “The creature will not come here again.”
No one asked him how he knew. No one said anything at all. Godric turned from us and placed his head in his hands, silent and grim. Not for the first time, I was in awe of this man who I called brother. I saw the colossal effort of will it had taken for him to master the boggart, to look into the dead eyes of his dear ones and make a joke of it. I needed only to look at his haggard pose, to feel the absolute silence, to know that it had taken almost more than he had to give. His courage could only be matched by the strength of his love; this was apparent to all who had ever known him. Such strength could not always come without great cost.
I looked to the others. Rowena looked much as I felt; sympathetic and more than a little impressed with Godric. Her white face told me that her mind was still on the boggart, and that her unease was great. As for Salazar, his eyes were unforgiving.
“Would you care,” he said finally, “to explain?”
I nearly turned on him then. He deserved an explanation, certainly, but Godric was in need of quiet and reassurance. Not an interrogation. And, selfishly, I had no desire to discuss the matter in his presence. For I knew exactly why the amulet had been present in Godric’s vision of fear, and why my own image was included among the dead. This would open doors that I was not ready to even touch, not just yet. But Godric lifted his head to meet my eyes, stopping me from speaking. I am sorry, his expression seemed to say.
“I have long wanted to speak of this,” Godric began. I held my breath as he turned to face Salazar, whose jaw was clenched. “Salazar, you must forgive me for not telling you before. But I feared that this was the one thing that could break us.”
Salazar’s answer was nothing but a cold stare. It would surely have cowed a lesser man, but Godric was cut from stronger cloth than that. He went on.
“When you met me, I was not forthcoming about where I had come from. Nor did I reveal much about my upbringing. All you knew was that I was a wizard with a Muggle wife, and that I was a worthy match for you in a duel.” He tried to smile, but the light remark was somewhat misplaced; Salazar was in no mood to reminisce. Godric cleared his throat and continued.
“After hearing you rave and rant about your hatred of Muggle kind, and your desire to see them come to harm, I decided that I could not tell you.”
“Tell me what?”
His words seemed to slither and hiss, taking on life in the dungeon hall. He was menacing, and I thought he must know what he was about to hear. Dread was a cold weight in my stomach. It was happening, right now, and I was not prepared for it. I longed to stop Godric’s next words. But after what he had just been through, the harrowing ordeal of the mind, how could I deny him the one thing that I knew would bring him peace?
Perhaps it was right that it should happen this way. Godric had shouldered this burden too long, and I knew he had done it partly out of consideration for me. He was a faithful brother, and the least I could do was allow him to lay his burden down.
“I am not descended from a magical line, Salazar,” Godric said. There was a hint of defiance in the tilt of his chin, but his voice was gentle; he spoke as he might to a skittish animal. “I was born of Muggles.”
It was strange to bear witness to this moment, as though I was outside it somehow. The world still felt the same, but I knew that never could be again. The silence stretched and stretched, and Godric eventually was compelled to fill it with speech. This was one more way in which we were alike.
“I wish I had told you before. I truly do. But I saw your hatred and heard your words, and I wished to be cautious.”
“You feared me.”
Godric sighed. “I suppose there is no use denying fear in this place,” he said, sweeping his hand around. “But it was before I truly knew you. Before we became brothers, not in blood, but by choice. And I should have been truthful. For that, I humble myself before you. But you must understand. Hogwarts is to be my life’s work, as it is yours. I did not want my blood to stand in the way of our work together. I feared that if you knew the truth, you would refuse to be a part of it. And we need you here, Salazar. Please, I must beg your forgiveness, for we four must be united. Without you, we are not complete.”
It was a good speech, well-crafted and sincere. Godric had been trained for this, after all; from a young age he had watched his father strategize and negotiate with the keepers of neighboring lands, knowing that this role would eventually fall to him. It may not have unfolded in the way that young Godric would have imagined, but he was using those skills just the same.
Meanwhile, Salazar had not taken his eyes from Godric’s distraught face. It was a credit to him, I thought, that he was so composed. He could have easily flown into a rage, and wounded Godric with wand and words alike. But he stayed quiet and listened calmly to Godric’s nervous flow of speech, his explanation come too late. I dared to have hope.
He turned to Rowena. “Did you know?”
She jumped a little. Rowena and I had tried to make ourselves as invisible as possible, enraptured by watching the two men converse. At Salazar’s sudden notice of her, she inclined her head. “I have known for some weeks now.”
“And you never told me.”
“It was not my place,” she said simply, offering no excuses.
“And of course, you knew,” he said, turning to me. His face was chiseled stone, the mask firmly in place. I could not read him, and it frightened me more than I could have imagined.
“I am sorry, Salazar,” I whispered, wishing I could speak with him alone. The two of us had our own questions to answer after this revelation. He did not respond to me, but turned back to Godric instead.
“Why was Helga among the people the boggart showed you?” he demanded.
My stomach lurched, and I was astonished. How could he not know? Until now, Godric had left me entirely out of his account, but I felt sure that it was obvious that the secret was my own as well. How could he not have made this critical connection? Selfishly, I wanted Godric to explain it away, to lie for me yet another time. I wanted Salazar’s cold gaze to remain trained on Godric and not me. The thought shamed me. And meanwhile, Godric was still considering his answer.
“I cannot say,” he replied finally. “I suppose it is a reflection of my protective instinct.”
Even now, he was watching over me. Even now, he acted with my happiness in mind. I wanted to slap sense into his head and embrace him all at once. Never had there been such a brother.
Salazar turned to look at me, and I knew that I should look back at him. I should have been conveying reassurance with my eyes, telling him that Godric spoke the truth. Perhaps I could have kept his vision of me intact just a little longer. But at this critical moment, I found that I had no strength left to pretend.
I ducked my head. Though I did not put words to my own secret, Salazar saw the truth right through me. Of this, I had no doubt.
After an endless moment, he turned to Godric. “I would speak with you alone,” he said. “Come to my chambers, and we will talk.”
With that, he turned his back to us and went down the hall. Godric stayed behind briefly, looking at us with the same dread I felt.
“Helga,” he said, hardly seeming to know where to begin. “I never thought—“
“It’s all right,” I choked out. “Do not apologize for this, Godric. It should have happened long before.”
“If he mentions you…” He trailed off.
“Answer his questions,” I said. “Do not lie for me again. I would not add to your burdens. It was wrong of me to do so for even this long.”
He looked at me for a long moment, then nodded. “Wait in your chambers for me,” he said. “Both of you. I will tell you where things stand, when we are finished.”
An hour passed. Then two. I looked out my little round windows to see the sunset streaking across the horizon. And still there was no sign of Godric.
If there was any place inside the castle that could calm me, it was my own chamber. Walking into the front room, with its bright collection of hangings and herbs that grew directly from the earthen walls, was like entering a place apart from reality. It was my place of comfort, of escape. But tonight I wished for nothing more than to be back in the dark, cold dungeon with Godric and Salazar.
Rowena sat silently as I paced, reading a book and waiting for me to burst out with speech. She knew me well.
“What could be taking so long?” I demanded when I could hold back no longer.
“There is much for them to discuss, Helga,” said Rowena evenly. “Did you imagine that it would be resolved quickly?”
“I suppose not,” I huffed. Rowena and her calm reasoning were the best company for me now, I knew. She was an island of clarity. But I found that I was not ready to emerge from the turmoil engulfing me. “But how long have we been waiting? Surely they will not wish to resolve everything now!”
“Helga.” She closed her book and sat up, more stern now. “Of course you are impatient. There is much at stake. But Godric earned the right to this time. He was the one who brought the truth to light, not you. And now you must wait for your own time to speak.”
Her words brought me up short. I sank clumsily into a chair, despair crashing over me again. “How could I have allowed this to happen? To let it all be revealed this way…and for Godric to keep protecting me, to keep lying on my behalf! How could I have let him do so for even a moment longer than he wished? Only to preserve my own foolish happiness!”
Rowena let me rage. She did not attempt to lift my spirits, or say anything that might absolve me from guilt. I was grateful for this, for I could not imagine anything she could say that would help me.
“Was it worth all of this?” she asked. “Your…time with Salazar?”
I hesitated. Talking to Rowena about Salazar embarrassed me. I had tried only once, but the skeptical slant of her brows had stopped me from ever doing it again. Rowena was doubtless thinking about lofty things like reading the stars, or the mysterious project that consumed her free hours, and recounting the tiny details of my exchanges with Salazar felt silly. But she looked interested enough, and it was hardly a time for shame.
“I think that it was.” My own use of the past tense did not go unnoticed by either of us. It sent a pang through me; I had not even spoken with him about the matter, and already I spoke as if our involvement was at an end. Already I mourned the loss of him, for it was inevitable now. “I am…grateful for what we’ve had.”
It was inadequate, and Rowena knew it.
“Grateful?” she prompted. “Helga…”
“All right.” I held up a hand, smiling a little in spite of my black mood. “More than grateful. I think of the past few weeks and cannot even imagine it was real. I have never known anything so wonderful, so fulfilling in every way.” My eyes welled. “And now he will likely never trust me again.”
She shook her head. “Do not think that way. He will need time. Perhaps a lot of time. But there is always hope.”
I was surprised to hear her speak of hope, but I supposed that she could be right. In time, he and I might learn to work together in harmony, for the sake of Hogwarts. Perhaps, after much time, we might be as we had been before. But that was the brightest possible future, and I knew that I was not deserving of such good fortune. Better to begin my grieving now, and quell the longing in my heart for something more.
“You would have advised me against this, wouldn’t you?”
At this, she smiled. “Oh, I always advise against love. From what I have seen, it takes much and gives very little in return.”
What could I say to this? The two of us lapsed back into silence, waiting. The sunset shone red and brilliant through my small windows; soon it would disappear, and give way to darkness. Soon, the last secret would be out.
A/N: I'm a little sad to say that we're nearing the end of Helga's story now. But there are still two more chapters to go! I'd like to thank Kiana (patronus_charm) for helping me with the details of this chapter. You're the best! Everyone go check out her stuff on the archives...she is a wonderful author! And I would love to hear your thoughts on the story so far, so feel free, as always, to leave a review :)
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