Chapter 10 : Chapter Ten
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If you have any lingering questions or thoughts going into the finale, I do have a Meet the Author page (the link is on my author page). I'd love to hear from you! And the review box is always open! ;)
And finally, I'd like to dedicate this chapter to Phoenix_Flames, who helped me find the much-needed inspiration to finish it.
By the time Godric finally reentered my chamber, unannounced, I was sick to death of waiting for news. Rowena and I had been sitting in silence for some time longer, and each minute seemed to pass far slower than the last. When we heard my round door start to open, I felt a potent mixture of relief and intense unease. Rowena closed her book and put it aside; Godric came to stand beside her chair, a thoughtful expression on his face.
“What happened, Godric?” Rowena inquired, seeing that the power of speech had failed me. He sat down, looking bewildered still.
“He was…cordial,” he said, disbelief coloring his tone. “And perfectly composed. After all was said and done, he said that he forgave me without reservation.”
My heart soared. I had not imagined Godric and Salazar’s woes to reach a happy conclusion so quickly. “Godric, I don’t believe it!”
“Nor did I, not at first,” he replied. “I must admit I was expecting much more venom. But he said that he respected my willingness to bring the truth forward.”
“That is encouraging indeed,” said Rowena. “Would the Salazar we knew two years ago even have attempted to come to grips with this? All we ever heard about was pureblood vengeance.”
Godric nodded, agreeing. “He had questions for me, of course. And it will take time for him to grow used to the idea that I am a part of this ‘inferior’ breed. But he has expressed a willingness to continue working with me, and to remain at Hogwarts. And after hearing his own story, I can hardly object to his difficulty in accepting our blood. As long as it takes, I will wait.”
“His story? What story can you mean?” Rowena asked, leaning forward in her chair now. But Godric had looked aside at me, and had seen my face go pale. He turned to speak softly to Rowena, but I no longer heard their words. My mind had returned to that night, when Salazar had shown me what was done to him. I knew now what he was capable of, the lengths to which he would go to avenge a wrong.
But he had forgiven Godric. Surely that must bode well.
“Helga?” Rowena was saying, and I blinked myself back to them.
“I am so sorry,” I said, clearing my throat. “What did you say?”
“Salazar has asked to see you.” Godric looked toward me almost sheepishly, lowering his voice.
I swallowed. This summons could mean nothing good, not with the way Godric was avoiding my gaze.
“I never mentioned you at all,” he went on hurriedly, “and it was only as I was leaving his chamber that he asked me to send for you. I know not what it could mean, but I feel certain that I should warn you. It will not be long before Salazar connects the pieces of this lie. Helga, I must advise you to tell him now.”
“There is no need. I have already determined that tonight it will end. Really,” I added for Rowena’s benefit; she had, after all, heard this from me before. I puffed out a breath, stretching as I stood. “If I do not go to him now, I fear that I never will.” My smile may have been a bit shaky, though I hoped to look composed and ready for my task. Rowena’s eyes bored into me, shrewdly appraising.
Godric pulled me into his bear-like embrace as I approached the door.
“I wish that I could accompany you, little sister,” he whispered to me, and I clung to his back in response. A week ago this comment might have prickled at my pride, but at this moment his watchfulness made me feel safe. Our lives could take us anywhere at all, and we would still have this.
“Good luck,” said Rowena, mouth tightening in apprehension. I thanked her and tried to smile again, but it slid from my face as I left them behind.
The walk back to the dungeons was a long one; I felt as though I was making my way to the gallows. I wished for someone there beside me, to not-quite touch my arm and make it seem like an accident. Someone to reassure me with a quirked brow or a soft smile. But that was not possible now.
I knocked on Salazar’s door; the sound was heavy in the darkness. When there was no answer from the other side, I opened it just widely enough to slip into the room. I had not entered this chamber since the night Salazar had told me the story of his past, and I had never dreamed the next time would be like this. He stood with his back to me, giving no sign that he had noticed my entrance. A long moment passed, and he turned, very slowly, to face me where I stood.
I could not have said what it was that made my stomach churn, right then. But there was something in the tilt of his chin, and the particular press of his lips, that told me he knew everything. I would not even get the chance to confess, to come forward of my own accord. He had determined the answer for himself.
“You wished to see me,” I said demurely, keeping my head ducked. Salazar did not acknowledge that I had spoken; instead, he simply gestured for me to sit. I took one of the hard chairs, and he took the one opposite me. These were the very same chairs we had occupied on that fateful night weeks ago, when I had touched his face for the first time. The irony hurt.
“Do you know, Helga, when I first knew that I wanted you?”
It was an odd question, under the circumstances. I looked up. He was smiling, but there was something cracked about it, something wrong. It was not the peaceful smile I had become used to seeing upon his face. I braced for the worst; he knew my secret, but he would tiptoe around it for a while. He would play with me like a cat with its prey, a malicious game.
“I do not believe you ever told me,” I murmured, not bothering to keep up any charade of normalcy.
“You began to visit me in sleep,” he said, and the sound of his voice seemed to fill my body. “I would see your face in my dreams, looking at me with those enormous, pitying eyes. Some nights, you would stretch out your hand to me. ‘Come, Salazar,’ you would say. ‘I can make you well.’ And I knew that it was the truth.”
He looked directly into my eyes, seeming impossibly calm. If things were not so twisted, I thought he might reach out and touch my hand, or run his fingers through my hair. As for me, I could not help but gaze at him, utterly transfixed. Under different circumstances, the romance in these words would have swept me away. Even now, he held me spellbound.
“In you, I saw redemption,” he went on, his conversational tone never wavering. “I saw a woman more virtuous than any other I had ever known. I saw someone with total commitment to the morals she held dear. I admired you for that, Helga, and I thought that if anyone could rid me of the demons that chase me every moment of my life, it would be you. Surely your light could chase away the darkness that would not leave me.”
My stomach clenched and my heart broke. Still I said nothing. The time for me to speak had not yet come.
“So I laid myself open before you as I have with no other. I trusted you with my story, that had gone untold for so many years, and I gave my very heart to you.” He enunciated each word with terrible, pointed precision. “And this is the way you repay me, with an appalling abuse of that trust. It was all trickery, all along. You have betrayed me.”
The words were like dagger thrusts; indeed, his mood seemed to teeter as if balanced on the edge of a blade. I shifted in my seat, opening my stance as though I faced a horse that had yet to be broken. I would speak now, but slowly, never threatening. Perhaps I could still make him see how sorry I was, how desperately I wanted to undo this blow I had dealt him.
“Salazar,” I whispered. “I never meant to hurt you—“
“How little those words mean to me now!” he roared, and I knew that I had been a fool to think my regrets would make any difference. He was far gone indeed. “How cheap they sound in the face of your deceit!” He stood, sweeping his arms violently outward; it was as if his spewing fury could not be contained within a still body. He was fearsome in his rage, but in a way I was relieved that he was no longer toying with me. This was Salazar laid bare.
Or was it the mask, yet again? Had I ever truly known what lay behind it?
The thought was so frustrating that I forgot gentleness. I forgot any thoughts I might have had of staying calm for him. To break a wild creature, after all, one must be bold as well as calm.
“What I have done?” I cried. “What about Godric? Did you not forgive him for the same transgression I have committed?”
He whirled around, and I thought I actually heard a snarl. “Godric did not know me as you did,” he said, advancing toward my chair. “He did not know the depths to which this knowledge would hurt me. Do you see the difference?” he demanded. “He did not beg me to speak of things best left forgotten, drag a confession from the depths of me and then throw it back in my face! And in the end, he had the decency to put voice to the truth himself. Can you say the same?”
These words rang between us for a moment. Then he spoke once more, his voice low.
“You were the one who used me for your own selfish desires. Not Godric.”
A terrible hush fell over us then. Salazar was shaking with anger, and I feared that I looked much the same.
“My selfish desires? Salazar, I—I admit that I kept silent partly out of a wish that you might…feel for me as I do for you. That I cannot deny. But I never wished to see you hurt!”
“Oh yes, how could I ever forget? You said—“ here he laughed, an awful, mocking thing. “You said that you wished to help me. You said that if I learned to master my revulsion for Muggles—filthy, crawling worms that they are—that I would be healed.”
“You said that as well, Salazar!” I cried. “You wanted my help!”
“You were never thinking of me!” Salazar’s response came in a roar; I was certain that he had entirely stopped listening to me. “I was fool enough to believe that you might…care for me, as I did for you. But you never sought to help me, did you, Helga? It was about helping yourself!”
“Take that back!”
“All the things you said about acceptance and freedom from hate, that was all for the sake of your own wicked people. Not for me. Never for me! Did you ever feel for me, or was it all a cruel tease?”
This brought tears. “How can you ask me that? How dare you?”
He looked down at me, into my eyes for the first time since I had entered this chamber. A long moment passed; he seemed to soften, but the frustrated set of his mouth told me that it was against his will. How I knew that feeling. The sight of Salazar’s narrow eyes on mine had robbed me of my better judgment time and time again. Meanwhile, I made sure not to let my gaze waver even in the slightest.
“What else can I believe?” he asked, his voice finally losing its hard edge.
In a perfect world, I could have reassured him. I could have said, Would I lie to you? We would have laughed at the very thought. But I had lied. I had shown Salazar that I was not all he had once believed me to be. All my rationalizations, however justified they might seem, could not change that.
“I thought you could help me,” Salazar went on, and his voice sounded very small. “I thought you would be there.”
My tears flowed anew. For as he spoke, I heard the voice of a small boy, a child who had lost everyone he depended upon. Who could he trust now? Who would guide him in the coming days? It was a cruel fate; a tragic tale indeed. And this boy had so very much growing left to do.
Had I really thought, all along, that I was making the right choice by not telling him of my blood? For I felt the truth of his words, however crazed they might have sounded. I had placed my desire for his affection above my duty to be truthful. And now Salazar was raving, more tortured than I had ever seen him. Guilt pounded at my chest like a battering ram.
“I am here,” I said finally. “I will always be here, Salazar, as long as you will have me. I have wronged you, dear heart. I knew that, and I cannot tell you how I wish—“
I had to stop, and think about how I wanted to finish this thought. What did I wish? That I had not been born of Muggles? That Salazar did not have such rage? That he had been able to recover from his devastating loss?
“I wish that it had all been different,” I continued, the best I could do. “But never doubt for a moment that I wanted you. Never ask me if I cared for you, when you know very well that I still do. I may be selfish, but I am not as selfish as that.”
Salazar dragged a sigh from deep within; it seemed that his fit of rage had drained him of vigor.
“I beg your forgiveness, Salazar. And I beg you to think on this, and to remember how it feels to cast your hatred away.” My voice was soft and soothing again as I cupped his face. “Let it go no further. Please.”
He leaned into my palm. Choose me, Salazar, I pleaded silently. Choose light. An endless moment passed. I hardly dared to breathe.
“No!” He tore himself away from me, and my heart dropped like a stone. “They have taken everything from me and they must pay, all of them! I have to make them pay!”
“Salazar, please!” I begged again, desperation coloring my tone. Cold tendrils of dread crept steadily around my heart, pressing down.
“You dare to ask anything of me?” he sneered, eyes flashing. “After what you have done? When I look at you now, beloved, I see nothing but the filth that gave you birth. Even now, they take what is rightfully mine.”
“Salazar.” I pushed down the hurt, as I had done so many times before, finding the strength for one last appeal. “No one is taking me away. If you want me still, as I am, you know that you need only tell me. But I don’t think that you do. You want the perfect Helga that you saw in your dreams, but I am a flesh and blood woman, Salazar! A Muggle-born woman, at that!” I took a little step towards him, a tiny show of defiance. “Not some flawless apparition. Not some dream.”
He felt my frustration, I thought; as I looked up at him, he refused to meet my eyes. I pressed on, making the most of this chance.
“I want to be with you, Salazar. I do. And now you must tell me; do you want the fantasy, or do you want me?”
With these words, I felt that I had stepped to the edge of a great precipice. Salazar opened his mouth to respond, and I prayed that he would not send me plummeting down.
“I want the woman I thought you were. I want the illusion that you so cleverly crafted for me. Not this spineless liar.” His tone had darkened still further, and there was hatred in his face that froze my bones. “Leave me now.”
There was no choice. I had tried everything I knew to do, but it was no longer in my power to reach him. Still, I imagined that he might try to stop me as I fled the chamber. There was still a chance that I might feel the familiar shape of his hand closing around my arm, telling me to wait, that he had forgiven me, that he had not meant any of the vile things he had said…
But did I truly want that, after what had just transpired? He would never change his mind about Muggles; it had taken this ugly ordeal to make me finally admit this truth to myself. And his barbed words would not be easy to forgive, not even for me. Did I want to be with a man who thought so little of me, and where I had come from? Before tonight, I had managed to fool myself into believing that I did. I had invited myself into his world, and I had begun to hope for the impossible. A fatal misstep, and it was just one of many on my part.
The chamber door closed firmly behind me. The trial was at an end, and I could do nothing but weep and lament what had been lost. I cried bitter tears, cursing blood and fate and terrible choices. There was nothing else that could be done.
Godric and Rowena leapt from their chairs the moment I entered my chamber. I must have been a wretched sight; sobbing violently still, face marked with signs of remembered distress.
“Helga, what has happened? Are you hurt?”
Yes, I wanted to say. I don’t know how I will ever be healed again. But I simply shook my head, the easiest answer. And still my tears flowed.
Godric and Rowena looked at each other, uncertain. A heartbeat later, he hastened to lead me to my cushioned chair. Rowena set about plucking lavender and basil sprigs from the walls, herbs to soothe the body and strengthen the heart. But neither of them seemed to know what to say. For once I was grateful for the silence, but it could not last forever. Godric found his voice first, while Rowena seemed more inclined to watch and listen. She placed the herb bundle into my arms with a gentle smile, and I brought it to my face as Godric spoke.
“Helga,” he said. “We need to know what happened in that dungeon. You must understand.”
“He…he was angry,” I said, aware that this was all too obvious. But it was all I could manage.
“But you are unharmed?” he asked again, looking skeptical. I nodded. Godric was asking about damage to my physical person, not necessarily to the hurt within.
“What did he say to you, Helga?” Rowena finally asked. She could always be trusted to know which question was necessary. But there were some things I would not tell; truly, I did not know if I could put a voice to them. Filthy, crawling worms. Spineless liar.
“Suffice it to say that Salazar and I are no longer involved.” My voice sounded pinched and tight, but less shaky than before. “He had…strong feelings about the matter. And he expressed them with unquestionable clarity.” Was that bitterness in my tone? Toward Salazar, the man I had treasured so fervently? It was strange to hear. Rowena crouched down to wrap me in a comforting embrace, stroking my hair and hushing me as a mother might. The action sent my brimming tears spilling over again.
“Someone should go and look to him,” I managed, my voice rasping. “He…he should not be alone. I would not wish that.”
“I will go,” said Godric, perhaps sensing that Rowena and I were about to broach subjects that were, in his mind, best left to women. But I could tell he was sorry to see me weep.
As soon as he was gone, I tried to tell Rowena about the ugly words Salazar and I had exchanged, and how it had all ended so badly. But I could not speak through my flood of tears, could not stop my shoulders from shaking. In the end all I could do was cry, and Rowena sat patiently with me throughout.
“This will fade, Helga,” she promised, her deep voice covering me like a blanket. “I swear it. The heart is strong, and it will mend. You will be surprised at how quickly it comes, the peace after heartbreak.”
Rowena’s guidance was seldom faulty, I knew. I tried to take heart, but I could not yet drag myself from the depths of my loss. It was difficult to believe that I ever could. I had lost Salazar; even if we worked together all our remaining days, I had lost him. The glinting hatred in his eyes at the end, when he had banished me from his presence, was etched upon my mind. We might forgive each other in time, but could we ever forget?
With Rowena’s help I began to take control of my shuddering breaths, and at length, I felt ready to lift my face from her shoulder. I gave her a watery smile and brushed tears back from my cheeks. Small steps. I thought that I might finally be ready to speak again when Godric burst back into the room, as though he had come running at a wild pace. My eyes widened in alarm.
“What is it, Godric?” Rowena asked, concern knitting her brow.
He took a moment to collect himself, and when he spoke, it was through heavy breaths.
“Salazar is gone.”