Word Count: 924
Helga heals. It is one thing she has always felt good at. There is a potion or spell for every illness and injury. Though much of her time at Hogwarts has been spent teaching and guiding the next generation of witches and wizards, she has also doubled as a Healer, overseeing students and staff alike and helping them to overcome what ails them.
But there is no magic that can fix this. Rowena is pale, her skin beaded with a cold sweat. Her dry, cracked lips have not smiled in what has felt like a lifetime. How much longer will her heart continue to beat within her chest? Helga is not sure, and she hates to think about it.
Worst still, she knows that the pain comes from her own selfishness. Helga is not meant to love Rowena. Women are supposed to love men, and that is simply a common truth in this world. What she feels for Rowena, she ought to feel for Godric or Salazar. Not Rowena. It is unheard of.
And yet her heart wants what it wants, and she is forced to watch in silence as her love slowly dies.
"Hel… Helga," Rowena says, her voice soft and cracking. Her eyes open, though they are glassy and dull, not the eyes that Helga has come to cherish.
"Here I am," Helga says, anxiously bouncing on the balls of her feet. She breathes in a shaky breath, her stomach twisting itself into painful knots. "I brought you something for the pain."
In the early days, Rowena always complained about the pain. She would say that fire would tear through her body, that even on the best of days, she could feel the dull ache within the marrow of her bones. She never mentions it anymore. Helga wonders if she has gotten used to it, or if she is so tired of fighting that she has finally just given up. Neither option is good.
Rowena is too weak to even sit up. Helga places a gentle hand beneath the other woman's head, carefully lifting her before pressing the crystal vial to Rowena's lips. Rowena struggles and sputters, but she manages to swallow some of it. "There," Helga says warmly, blinking back tears. "See, dear? You will be better before you know it."
"You always were a t-terrible liar," Rowena says when her head is guided back to her pillow. Her lips quirk into a pained smile. "Always… Always treasured your honesty."
"Do not speak," Helga cautions. "You need not deplete your energy."
Rowena closes her eyes. For a moment, Helga thinks she might have already slipped back into a peaceful sleep. It seems that the only time she is not in pain is when her eyes are closed, and she is far away in the blissful world of dreams.
Rowena's eyes open again, and she coughs violently, her frail body shaking with the force of it. The final cough blends into an anguished scream. "I do not…" She takes a shaky breath, tears clinging to her dark lashes. "I do not want to die."
"Nor do I want you to die," Helga assures her, her tone saturated with clear desperation.
"Let me finish," Rowena says. "I do not want 6o die without first telling you the truth."
A numbness creeps through Helga's body. The truth. She is not sure what the truth might be, only that the room suddenly seems devoid of air. She takes a deep breath, but it does nothing to steady her nerves.
Wincing, Rowena holds out her hand. Helga accepts it, squeezing gently. Rowena's skin is far too thin, and Helga can feel the bones so easily. It breaks her heart. Someone so strong should not be so frail. It is yet another of life's cruelties.
"I am dying, Helga." Rowena's voice is a soft, raspy croak, barely audible, but Helga can feel it in her soul. "It is not your fault. You have done everything you possibly could."
Oh, she has. Helga has exhausted her knowledge of herbs. She has brewed more potions than she can name. She has done it all with the hope that Rowena would live, and, in the end, it has all been in vain.
"And, my dear Helga, I know why you have worked so hard for my sake."
The color fades from the room. Helga coughs, cheeks burning. Is it possible that Rowena truly knows? Helga has spent the last few decades trying to hide her heart, hoping that her love would be seen as that of a trusted friend. Where has she gone wrong?
"I am not brave," Rowena whispers. "I could never tell you the truth." She coughs, gasping for breath. Her fingers tangle in the sheets, her knuckles turning white. When the fit fades, her cheeks are flushed a deep pink, and her skin glistens with a fresh layer of sweat. "Never… Not until now. Not until my deathbed."
"What is it, Rowena?" Helga asks, her heart pounding.
"I love you too."
Rowena's eyes close again. For a moment, Helga is afraid that the confession might have exhausted her final breath. Slowly, after what feels like an eternity, Rowena's chest begins to rise and fall as she takes shallow breaths.
She is alive. At least for now. Still, Helga cannot feel any relief. Her heart is so heavy, and salty tears spill from her eyes.
Rowena loves her. Their days are numbered, and Death's shadow still creeps slowly, but Rowena loves her.
If only they had more time.