The Heirs of Hufflepuff.
By Honesty

Disclaimer: Them blong JK Rowlings. Me borrow. Me not steal.
Additional Disclaimer: The name Uric Beaufolle and his identity as a Hufflepuff belongs to Ariane Deralta (sp?), a very, very talented writer.

cariad: Welsh for 'love'

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'My dear Helga', the letter began.

Helga glanced up for a moment, suddenly rather shy of reading further. Raffaela Ravenclaw was sitting opposite her, intent on what seemed to be an architect's plans, and did not look up, her hundred-year-old face smooth and unlined.

As of three days past, Helga was the only founder of Hogwarts still living. Rowena's passing had been slow, but painless and calm, leaving her plenty of time to put her affairs in order. It was one of those small, kind mercies, and Helga was grateful, for her own sake as well as her colleague's. Rowena had never been good with pain.

Rowena had died at Hogwarts, of course, but she had sent Helga here (to Raffaela's large town house at St Andrew's) to receive the letter that Rowena had written for her at Hogwarts. It did not make any particular kind of sense; but then Rowena, who always swore by logic, cast it to the winds whenever it did not suit her purpose.

Helga lowered her head again, and turned her attention back to the letter in her hand. It had clearly been dictated, for only the spidery signature at its foot belonged to Rowena. The rest was in the blocky, inelegant writing of her assistant. And besides, only dictated letters were so stilted in style or so abrupt in execution. Helga felt a pang of sudden grief, for the dying Rowena, not for the dead one: she had always written such elegant letters.

The letter. Delaying further wouldn't make it go away. Helga pulled her wool shawl a little tighter around her shoulders, and picked the letter up, holding it a little too close to her nose. Had she been at Hogwarts, one of her research assistants or her students would have offered to read it for her, but Helga did not want to hear Rowena's words from any other lips. The voice in her mind was quite clear enough.

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My dear Helga,

You know, and I know, that I am dying, so I do not propose to waste time on platitudes. By the time this is given to you, I will be dead. I do not suppose you will long outlast me.

You are doubtless fearing some letter of instructions. Don't worry: I have some humility. I shall not attempt to govern Hogwarts from beyond the grave, but there was one last matter that you perpetually neglect to consider, and I do feel it would be wise to take some thought for it.

You are the only one of us who has no heir - no family even, unless you have been keeping them under your hat. I don't suppose you have. If poor dear Salazar could find out nothing about your family, then I would wager there is nothing to find out.

But you must have an heir. We have founded a school which will last a thousand years, and though we have appointed successors there is ever the danger that the spirit of our houses would become diluted and be lost. There must be safeguards, which was why Salazar, Godric and I have chosen heirs - those who will guard the spirits of our houses in perpetuity.

My dear, I can hear you now: 'But I don't need an heir!' Your students are good children - though I find many of them terribly dull - but will they still remember the values you taught a hundred years after you are gone? And to whom do you intend to bequeath your secrets, your writings, even. And do not say they are of no importance: you may be simple, but you are not stupid. I would never have endured stupidity in a colleague, and your writings detail important discoveries, even if your approach lacks intellectual rigour.

So I have been making arrangements for you. No, I am not trying to choose your heir for you, but I have done what I can to simplify the process. In the top floor of Raffaela's house, you will find my scrying pool. I have spelled it to accept your commands now that I am gone. Ask it to show who is fitted to be your heir, and it will do so.

I have asked Raffaela to conduct you there. She is my eldest granddaughter, and my own heir. I hope you are as lucky in yours.

Your affectionate friend,

Rowena Ravenclaw

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Helga laid the letter down gently, and blinked away the sudden impulse to weep. Poor Rowena, always so superior, and so untrusting! Though she'd always had a good heart, underneath it all - just rather shy of showing it.

"Mistress Hufflepuff?" Raffaela Ravenclaw had risen to her feet, her fine blue dress not quite sweeping the clean floor.

"Yes, my dear?"

"Shall I conduct you to the upper floor now?"

"If you can wait a little moment, I would be most grateful." As impatient as her grandmother, Helga noted fondly, and as reserved.

Helga had never quite understood the trouble that Rowena, Salazar and Godric had put into choosing their heirs. It had amused her, in its way - each had been so - so true to their nature. Rowena (of course!) had established a matriarchal line, choosing whichever of her granddaughters attained most highly in her studies. Salazar had made a beeline for his younger son, the only one of his three children to possess the gift of parseltongue - and Godric had declaimed loudly that it was most unfair to choose between his children, and made all his descendants his heirs forthwith - even the alleged illegitimate grandson that his eldest son hotly denied fathering.

Indeed, the whole fuss had left Helga rather grateful for her own spinster status. It had left her free to concentrate on helping her students without any of the inevitable fuss that always came with families. She had left all her things to her house anyway. It seemed the obvious thing to do.

Still, Rowena had only meant well. And Helga only had to *look*, after all. She was not obliged to make any decision, if she didn't want to. At a hundred and sixty years of age, you were hardly obliged to wait on anybody's pleasure.

Perversity. The finest pleasure of the very old.

Helga looked up. "I'm ready, dear," she said, her cracked old voice guileless and reasonable.

* * *

The scrying room was grand, in a sparse kind of way.

Blue and bronze velvet hangings decorated the bare stone walls, and the floor was laid, improbably, with flagstones, in spite of the fact that the room was on the second floor. The Ravenclaw eagle featured prominently on the hangings, and Helga could not resist a smile.

Rowena, Godric and Salazar, all with their old ancestral crests and colours, fine and dignified - and she, joining them from a Muggle peasant family in the Welsh valleys and finding herself having to invent a crest at short notice, had chosen the most homely, cheerful design imaginable, to the incredulous disdain of Rowena and Salazar, and the amused tolerance of Godric. They had begged her to alter it, to a field of purple, with perhaps a more heraldic animal on it, but Helga, in a much younger fit of perversity had said no. It was her family's crest, she had claimed, and she would not change it. And besides, the colour purple always put her in mind of indigestion.

"I shall set you a chair out," Raffaela said calmly, interrupting Helga's introspection.

"No need, dear - no need. I shouldn't think I'll be here long."

Raffaela said something in acknowledgement, and retreated to hover uncertainly by the door. The girl didn't have Rowena's poise, even at a hundred years of age. Helga ignored her and stepped forward to the pool, her liver-spotted hands resting lightly on the pool's stone edge.

Command it, Rowena had said. Helga drew out her wand and touched it lightly to the surface of the pool. "All right then," she said. "What have you got for me?" Rowena would have been far more dignified when commanding a scrying pool. Helga had never felt quite at ease dealing with magical objects.

Helga laid her wand down on the side of the pool, her hands quivering slightly as they did these days, and leaned on the stone rim heavily to stare into the waters, wondering if her elderly eyes would be able to see whatever it did show anyway.

They were still, at first, and it was only slowly that they began to move, rippling silently and subtly as if from a stone dropped in its centre, gently sloshing at the edges of the pool when they reached it. Helga leaned over further to look into the very centre, and focussed.

Faces ... thougb at first she could not make out their features and had to peer closer before she recognised them as her first four students. Simon of Monmouth, Fridwulfa Red-Haired, Eadig and Godith. And then, no sooner had she seen them than they were gone, and there were more in their place. Her students of the second generation, which had included both a pair of Muggle-born twins and the scion of one of the oldest wizarding families in the land, and after them, the third and fourth, and every year of students she had ever taught.

She had expected the scrying pool to stop there, but it did not. Only more faces, of children whom she guessed were too young yet to attend Hogwarts, in clothes that certainly owed nothing to contemporary fashions.

She knew their names, too, somehow: Peter of Abingdon ... Fionn ap Sion ... Eric Hrolfsson ... Roisin Dubh ...

More faces: Clotilde Lestrange ... Uric Beaufolle ... Christopher Rich ... Lady Amelia Bowes ... George Wheelwright ...

They appeared so fast now that it was almost too swift to pick each face out. Only a few names stuck in her mind now before they were replaced by more. Armando Dippet ... Fanny Monk ... Celestine Warbeck ... Cedric Diggory ... Lucy Madley ...

And then, at the end, a great whirlpool of faces, too many to distinguish, swirling and coalescing, finally, into a single face, of a young girl about eleven years old, with untidy blonde hair and chipped but very white teeth.

Helga was not so old or so touched that she could fail to recognise her own face, when she had been eleven years old.

She straightened up, her shoulders and back suddenly stiff as if from exertion.

"I know," she said, and her voice rang out so clear and authoritative that Raffaela, still skulking in the doorway, stood straight and stared at her abruptly. "I know who my heirs will be."

Raffaela did not ask, and Helga found herself almost wishing she had. She had her students, and it was enough. All the love and care she had, she had given to her students because she had had no family - and now the younglings, all of them, were to be her future, her immortality. Her heirs.

She liked it that way.

Her students had always been so loyal, so faithful to her - and what greater gift could she give them in return? Yes, it was fitting. She was smiling as Raffaela escorted her solicitously down the stairs and fetched her broom for her, asking if she was not too tired to fly back to Hogwarts.

"Oh, not at all, dear," she had assured the girl calmly. "My thanks for your excellent hospitality."

"You'll have your affairs to set in order, I suppose," Raffaela asked her.

"They're already organised, cariad," Helga said, almost gaily. "I've got everything ready."

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END.