Disclaimer: Everything here (besides the few things you don't know) belongs to JK Rowling, creator of the worlds of Harry Potter.

A/N: We-el… I know it takes me a long time to update, and honestly, I'm quite ashamed of myself, but here it is – chapter 9. I meant uploading it last Saturday, but as it turned out, the site had had problems, as you all must know, and in the meanwhile I went to a five-days-long school trip, and couldn't upload it. I'll try and write another chapter and update tomorrow or the day after.

I hope you will enjoy this – and do not despair!

P.s. I have a question to you all. Me and a friend of mine gave each other challenges – to write various drabbles on various ships (normal ones, weird ones, het, slash – everything, really). Would any of you be interested in reading them?

Chapter 9 – Hatching a Plan

"In the days before the Founders had started their constitutional educating system of the younger generation, teaching the children was in their parents' jurisdiction. There was no formal system, and therefore the education was only partial and left a lot to be desired.

"The house-teaching system lacked in more than one aspect. For instant, every witch or wizard has their own talents in different fields of magic. When only one parent (the mother more often than the father) was responsible of passing the knowledge of magic to the children, they only received the part which the parent was well-versed in, therefore missing other aspects of magic in which they might excel.

"Another problem posed the parent's other duties, such as their own work or research, house-and-garden maintenance, and various other occupations. Often there was little time to teach an impatient child the art of magic.

"A lot of children those days were prone to wand-less magic, which is uncontrolled and susceptible to emotional changes. This situation was caused because the children's parents never got around purchasing them a wand or teaching them how to properly channel their powers through a simple piece of wood.

"The Founders had changed it all with their plan of group education…"

- Hogwarts, A History; Author Unknown

"Take another step, ruffian, and I will make sure there will be nothing left of you for the lawmen to hang."

Helga's breath hitched in her throat. It seemed as though Salazar had either led them to the wrong house, or that he had miscalculated their welcome.

The man who had Salazar at wand-point was big and burly. He had a mass of curly blonde hair and the most light-coloured eyes she had ever seen. Those eyes, together with his tanned complexion, made a fearsome combination. He was wearing well-made clothes and held himself proudly.

Salazar raised his hands, palms out. "Please, Bran. I need to-"

"You need nothing!" The man called Bran spat. "Go away and do not bother this house again."

"If you would just let me-"

"I am not jesting, Slytherin! Leave this house!"

"Dahlia-"

"Leave Dahlia out of it!" Bran hissed, his arm-muscles bulging menacingly. "I am master of this house! I will not have-"

"Bran? Who is it?" A woman's voice asked softly from inside the darkened house.

"A vagabond, Dahlia. Go back to bed. I will handle it."

"No!" Salazar called over the man's shoulder. "Dahlia! It's m-"

He did not get the chance to finish his words, for at that moment Bran's fist made contact with his jaw.

"You insolent fool!" Godric cried, drawing out his wand and pointing it at the man. "Petrific-"

"Godric, no!" Three voices cried at the same time. Helga knew that one of them was her. One was Rowena, who went as far as gripping Godric's wand-arm. The third voice came from a woman who burst from behind the man called Bran.

She was very pretty, with long, sleek black hair and large brown eyes. She was also tall and had the same presence both Godric and Salazar had. That moment, though, she was tired and scared, and very much with-child.

"Salazar," She asked softly, kneeling next to their fallen companion. "Are you all right?"

The man in question groaned and attempted to sit up. "My head…" He muttered, leaning back again, touching a hand to his jaw.

"Why did you do that, Bran?" The woman demanded angrily. "My own brother!"

Bran shifted his weight from side to side, looking mightily uncomfortable.

The woman was not done, however. "I can't believe you, Bran! You would rather believe that monster Ambrosius without even questioning it than believing Salazar? And you," She swirled her head to glare at Godric. "You were always quick to pick a fight! What good would it have done to attack my husband, Godric? And don't think you are getting out of this cleanly, Salazar! Not a letter in six months! Not a word! What was I supposed to think? No wonder Bran believed the rumours and the Council Communications! Men."

Helga suddenly heard a muffled sound. She turned to look at Rowena who had let go of Godric's arm and was trying to suppress a fit of laughter.

Salazar's sister also seemed to hear the noise. Only then did she realize that she had had a crowd up till then. With reddening cheeks she clumsily clambered to her feet and lightly curtseyed. The two women returned the curtsey.

"Come, now," She said briskly. "We might as well get inside. It is a cold night."

"But – but, Dahlia!" Bran tried, his eyes darting from Godric to Salazar to Rowena to Helga. "They are-" He lowered his voice in fear of eavesdropping neighbours. "Outcasts."

"And he is my brother." She said sharply.

Helga entered after Dahlia into the house. Behind her Rowena and Godric helped Salazar up.

She could still hear Bran grumbling as he closed and locked the door.

Dahlia led them into a rather large kitchen. She stirred the fire up with her wand and lit a few candles.

In the flickering light she made them all a pot of tea and gave out chunks of bread and cheese. All this she had done in silence, pointedly ignoring both her brother and her husband. Only when she was finished did she sit on the padded bench between Godric and Rowena.

"Well?" She demanded scathingly. "I want an explanation, Salazar, and I want it now. Why is Ambrosius after you? What have you done? Or rather, what have you done this time?"

Haltingly, and with constant corrections and additions from the other three, Salazar gave his sister the short version of the past few months.

"…And so we've been riding rather aimlessly, trying to keep out of the way." He finished, looking at Dahlia expectantly. "We don't have anywhere else to go, Dahlia. I realize we're risking your lives, but we needed shelter. Just for a little while. Just until we decide what to do with the rest of our lives."

"And what if the Council gets whiff of your presence here, eh?" Bran's expression was livid. "You have easily decided your lives are more important than ours! If they hear we are giving you shelter-"

"Hush, Bran." Dahlia said quietly, staring at her brother intently.

"I will not be hushed, Dahlia!" He snapped. "If you are willing to risk your own life – that is your choice, but what about Shane? What about Rhiannon and Warwick?"

"What about them?" Dahlia snapped. "What kind of a future have they if Ambrosius captures Salazar? They are his kin. That makes them a target even if they have nothing to do with him! Whatever we do, our children will pay. I am not giving up my only brother to the Council, Bran."

"Then what about me? If they are caught here – I will die!"

"I know, Bran!" She shouted, her eyes blazing. "I know they will kill you if they are found here. Did you think I had forgotten it? So do I have to choose between the two men I love? Which will die and which will live? What are you asking me to do? The truth is that no matter how much I love you, blood is important. I can't betray my own blood. The rest is for you to decide."

Helga felt horrible. This was not something one would want to witness.

She remembered only too well the last time her mother and father had fought over something like that.

It was on the day they had discovered her secret.

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"No, Sigmund! You cannot let them do that!"

"I can do whatever I want to do, Gunhild! The girl is a monster!"

"She is not a monster! She is just our little girl! How can you cast her aside like this?"

"She is no daughter of mine! She is the devil's spawn! She worships him on moonless nights! She dances naked under the skies and sacrifices children to her evil master!"

"Oh, so you are now saying I fraternized with the Evil One? I gave birth to that child, Sigmund! I should know her!"

"Then you should have noticed that the Evil One's minions had exchanged our pure daughter with the offspring of the devil!"

"Helga is ours! I cannot believe you would let your own flesh burn!"

"She shall burn and she shall be cleansed of all sin!"

"You are the monster! How can you-"

There was the resounding smack of hand against cheek. Sigmund Hufflepuff had never raised his hand on any of his womenfolk – especially not on his wife. Never. Until the moment when all anger and grief formulated into that outburst of violence.

"Mother!"

No voice had answered.

She had not seen any of her parents since then.

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Helga shuddered. She hated remembering those hours, waiting for the men to take her to her death. She thought she was going to die that day, and that fear had never really let go of her. She wanted to be free more than anything in the world. They had to make a plan. Something had to be done.

"Master Bran," She said, catching them all by surprise. "I will make a deal with you. You will let us stay in your house for a little while – a month at the most – and in return we will protect your family in case Ambrosius and his men find out you have given us shelter."

"What can you do that I can't?" He demanded bitterly.

"We are all powerful, Master Bran," She continued in the same calm tone, ignoring the sting he implied. "I believe you will find that we are much more powerful than all the members of the Council – including Ambrosius. They are afraid of what we may do were we ever to face them again. I promise you will not regret helping us."

There was a long moment of silence, in which she could see Bran was mulling over the idea. He then reluctantly nodded. "Two weeks." He finally said. "You will stay here no longer than two weeks. After that – I am turning you in myself."

"Fair enough." She said coolly.

"I am going back to bed, Dahlia. Do what you like." He said tersely, sweeping out of the room.

"What an oaf." Godric said after a moment.

Dahlia hit him, but Helga was surprised to see that she was smiling. "He may be an oaf, Godric – but he is my oaf, and I am the only one allowed to bully him. And that means that you can't, in case your brain is incapable of doing such simple math." She then glanced around the room. "Will you be all right sleeping on the floor tonight? I am too tired to make accommodations for you, and the kitchen is the innermost room, so no one from the village would be able to spot you."

"Perfectly fine, Dahlia." Salazar said. "Go to sleep, little one."

"Not so little anymore, I am afraid." She said with a tired smile, looking at her extended abdomen. She then turned to leave.

"Oh, and Dahlia?"

"Yes?"

"Thank you."

She nodded and left without another word.

Rowena padded quietly to the door and listened till she heard a door closing. She then stared at Helga with an amused expression on her face. "Powerful, Helga?" She asked, her voice brimming with mirth. "Afraid of us? Where did that come from?"

Helga shrugged, grinning despite herself. "He needed convincing, and he looked like the sort of person to defer to power."

"An excellent reading of the man, my dear Madam Hufflepuff." Godric said. "Couldn't have said it better myself. Never really liked the arse myself, but Dahlia loves him, so that's good enough for me."

"I would have liked it better if you would have married the girl, Godric." Salazar said wistfully. "Now I am stuck with this person as a brother-in-law for the rest of my life. What made you throw such a great opportunity out of the window?"

Rowena suddenly seemed to stir. Helga saw some kind of emotion flicker in her friend's hazel eyes. It almost looked like…

"You were supposed to marry Salazar's sister?" She asked in what could best be described as a condescending tone. "Why would she marry a fool like you?"

"Why, yes." Godric said off-handedly, ignoring her snide comment. "A long time ago, that was."

"Mother expressed a wish to Godric's mother that the two will marry when they grow older." Salazar supplied.

Helga tried to tell them both with her eyes to drop the subject, as she could see Rowena's eyes clouding. She had no idea what made her friend so cold, so nasty to Godric again. They seemed to be getting on so much better of late. None of the men noticed her.

"Yes, Dahlia's only a month older than me," Godric said. "So Seraphine said that we would be perfect for each other."

"Then why on earth did you let her go, you dunderhead?" Salazar moaned, obviously still disturbed by the fact that Godric was not his brother-in-law.

"How could I marry someone whom I grew up with?" Godric demanded. "Dahlia is like my own sister!"

The shadow in Rowena's eyes disappeared almost as suddenly as it appeared. "We had better make ready to sleep." She said in a rush. "Helga managed buying us two weeks. If we get up early in the morning we could make an early start on our plans."

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Poke.

Poke.

Poke.

Drip.

Poke.

"I don' wan' t'get up yet, 'Wena. Lemme sleepff…" Helga muttered.

Drip.

Something was dripping on her. It was sticky. And someone was repeatedly poking her face. With a sticky finger.

Blearily, and with much effort, she opened an eye. There was a huge amber eye staring unblinkingly right into her own eye.

With a shrill cry of panic she sat bolt upright, her cloak falling from her shoulders in the process.

The owner of the amber eye continued staring at her.

"Err… Hello." Helga attempted.

The owner of the amber eye blinked.

A woman's laughter made her look up.

Dahlia smiled at her. "Good morning… Helga, is it? I do apologize on my daughter's behalf. She seems to be fascinated with the new playmates that had arrived last night. Say hello, Rhiannon. Say hello to Helga."

"Helloelga." The small girl with the amber eyes and dark brown hair mumbled.

"Hello, Rhiannon." She said kindly, noticing in dismay that the sticky thing she felt was the girl's molasses-dripping fingers. "I have molasses on my face, don't I?"

Dahlia nodded, stifling a grin.

Helga looked around her, ignoring Rhiannon's insistent stare. "Where are the others?"

"Oh, Godric and Salazar left before daylight with Bran to make sure the horses are well-hidden and safe. Rowena… I think she's in the pantry – hiding."

"Hiding from what?"

"Hiding from whom, rather." This time the older woman did not bother hiding her grin. "The boys had chased her into there about an hour ago."

"Boys?"

"Shane and Warwick. Shane's the eldest, and Warwick is Rhiannon's twin. They saw her performing some sort of spell this morning and have been badgering her to teach them since then. They are not allowed into the pantry, so she deemed it a safe harbour."

"Sounds like Rowena." Helga said, rolling her eyes. "She likes quiet studying above anything else. Give her a book and she would be happy anywhere. So where are the boys now?"

"Playing in their bedroom. They are not allowed out of the house now. It's too dangerous."

"Dangerous?"

"To you, my dear. They are only children. Children are not known for keeping secrets."

Helga's heart nearly stopped. They had never considered that.

"Oh, don't worry." Dahlia dismissed her worries as she read them on her face. "Wizarding children are intelligent. We will keep them inside for two weeks and after you leave have a small chat with them. They will not grumble too much because of their confinement. The weather is foul anyway."

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Dahlia was not mistaken. The children did not mind staying inside. The weather outside was indeed foul, and the company inside was much more amusing in their eyes.

The boys were robust and loud. They liked to play and run. They loved seeing Godric and Salazar doing magic tricks for them and badgered Rowena nonstop to teach them how to do more complex magic than their parents had ever shown them.

Rhiannon was at first more shy and mostly kept to her mother's skirt, but soon enough she opened up to them. She made Helga her new pet, always demanding attention, and joined the boys in badgering Rowena.

Dahlia was delighted to have them there. She enjoyed speaking with Helga and Rowena (she had confided in them, saying that the only women in the Loch were horrible gossips – especially that horrible bar wench called Calanthe, whom Godric and Salazar were very fond of, and used to spend a lot of time in her company), bantering with Godric, and criticizing her brother (mostly for his lack of romantic interests).

Bran was a different story altogether. He hated their presence and wanted them out of his house as soon as possible, but could not do so without angering both his wife and his children. Helga had decided that even though he was full of audacity and nerve he was very much afraid of his wife.

The first week in Dahlia's house they had spent brainstorming.

"We simply have to find something we all agree on!" Godric burst one evening. The four were left to keep an eye on the children while Dahlia and Bran left for a meeting in the Loch's local tavern. "It is not that difficult!"

"We are agreeing, dimwit!" Rowena snapped, gripping the table till her knuckles went white. Helga thought she was fighting an urge to hex Godric. "We are all agreed that the Council is a diminishing organization. They are losing their ground. They cannot be expected to do anything in favour of the community. We are the only ones remaining who actually want to do something about it."

"And that leads us nowhere!" He grounded back, his eyes ablaze.

"Peace!" Salazar shushed them both. He pulled a piece of parchment from the pile on the table in Dahlia's kitchen. "The first thing we need to work out, my friends is where to stay once our two weeks allowance ends. We cannot underestimate Bran. He may truly hand us to the region's lawmen. Everything else is rather insignificant at the moment."

"Dahlia said that there is no place in the area where we can hide." Salazar said. "And she has been living here for a longer time than either myself or Godric. Furthermore, when she was young she had time to make excursions around here. She knows of no place."

"How about the Caves?" Godric asked, frowning.

"The Caves?" Salazar frowned as well.

"Sir Rhys once told me that there are caves nearby. He just called them the Caves and never said another word about them, but for some reason the name stuck."

"We can have a look around when the time expires." Helga suggested. "It seems like the best course of action right now. If Dahlia knows of no place, the chances that we will find one by ourselves are very slim."

"The least we can do it try." Rowena said with a shrug. "Who is Sir Rhys?"

"My Master." Godric said. "He taught me when I was young. He was one of the Knights of the Phoenix – one of your father's men."

"Is he still alive?"

There was a strange glow in Rowena's eyes.

"Why, yes. He lives around here."

"Can he be trusted?" Helga interjected herself into their conversation.

"Can he be trusted?" Godric asked incredulously. "He was one of the greatest Knights! He continues to teach young wizards the arts of the Knights! How can he not be trustworthy?"

"Calm down, Godric!" She said in alarm. "I only meant to ask this so that I could determine whether we should go and ask for his help! Salazar was sure that we will be completely welcome here, and he was mistaken. Can this Sir Rhys be trusted to let us in, or not threaten to hand us in?"

Godric sighed. "I haven't seen the old man in over a decade, but… I think he will help us."

"We need trustworthy men." Rowena said. "We should start making enquiries around – once we have a safe shelter. People we can trust to help us, were we to oppose the Council openly."

"What do you mean?" Salazar was confused.

"I mean, if we decide to… let's say – overthrow the Council? Get rid of Ambrosius? Do something. Our world is falling apart – and they are to blame. If we have a strong group of supporters to back us in case we want to tell the truth to the Wizarding World – we can make sure Ambrosius will never cause harm to a living soul ever again!"

"That's it!" Helga said excitedly. "Supporters! Look at us, will you? We have Searlas Slytherin's son, Gawain Gryffindor's son – Raven Lord's daughter. I may be relatively ignorant concerning the Wizarding World, but I do know that all three were powerful men. They must have had supporters who still believe in them – who are still loyal to them even after all Ambrosius had done! We should start foraging for these people – they can help us! With their help we will no longer have to live in fear!"

"But how will we contact them?" Salazar demanded. "It is not like we can just walk into a wizarding holding and ask to use an owl."

"That's true…" Helga's excitement diminished.

"But you can ask your sister and Sir Rhys." Dahlia's voice suddenly said from behind them. All four turned their heads in shock. "And please lower your voices. The children might wake up."

"We didn't realize you would be back so soon." Salazar said sheepishly. "What was the meeting about?"

"Oh, this and that." She said evasively, removing her damp cloak and hanging it on the back of a chair in front of the fireplace. "How are the children?"

"They are all right. Didn't wake up once. What is it, Dahlia? What was discussed in the meeting?"

"You." Bran said from the doorway. His face was unnaturally grey and he looked frightened. "Alistair McAlister said that the lawmen managed tracking your trail to here. They will be in the Loch within two days. Anyone who had seen you must speak to Alistair immediately or the results will be dire."

"He cornered us when we were about to leave." Dahlia spat. "Said he knows we're sheltering you and that if we don't want him to tattle to the lawmen, we are to hand you to him tonight. I told him to stuff it."

"Alistair?" Godric asked. "Is he Reid McAlister's son?"

"You remember him."

"Vaguely. Big burly fellow? Squints in one eye?"

"That's him."

"Never liked him. Very well then. We have to leave tonight. He will not be able to prove you gave us shelter."

"Where will you go?" Dahlia demanded in the same time the other three asked "Where will we go?"

"To Rhys'. Just for a short while. He will probably remember what he told me about the Caves, and then we will be able to hide somewhere where we don't risk the lives of those who help us."

"Then I will make you dinner and some food that will keep you for a while." Dahlia said promptly. "Bran? Take a look at the children, all right? See if they are still asleep."

"Right." Her husband said, apparently glad to be away from their presence. "I'm sure the children are all right, though."

Dahlia waved him off. "I nearly had to hex him tonight." She said in an undertone. "He was this close to admitting you are living here. I needed to remind him that he may be risking the children. All night long." She made a face.

"Then we will go to Rhys'." Rowena said. "But that doesn't solve our problem. Having supporters and allies is very good, but we are not going on an armed crusade. What will we do once we are in a safe place?"

"I cannot help you there, Rowena." Dahlia said with a sigh. "Were the children well-behaved before we they went to bed?"

There was a lot of mention of children this evening… Helga thought to herself, not really listening to Godric's amused recounting of the botched dinner they had tried feeding Rhiannon and Warwick.

The word kept on ringing in her head. She could not get rid of it. Dahlia and Bran risked the lives of their children. The children nagged Rowena to teach them tricks. The children are asleep. Do not wake the children.

So much worry for those little things that one day will grow up and continue the legacy of their parents. So much trouble to go through just to raise one child, let alone three or four or five.

How are the children?

The children.

"The children!" Helga choked.

"What?!" Dahlia spun to face her. "What is wrong with the children? Did you hear anything?"

"No!" Helga blurted out. "That's the answer, Raven!"

"The answer to what?"

"You asked what will we do once we are in a safe place! That's it. We will teach the children! If we educate the children to stand for themselves and not let the Council use them or neglect them-"

"Then we can fight them without actually harming anyone!" Rowena completed. "Helga – you are a genius!"

A/N: Ho-hum, you know the routine… Please review! :D

To my reviewers:

JakKat: Oops. Sorry about the typoes. Usually I go through the chapter once to see if there are any, but when I last updated I was in a bit of a rush. One-shots are very nice, but for some reason I'm incapable of doing them properly – unless I am given a specific idea and instructions. Thanks for reviewing! :D

Eratosthenese: Well… I hope that answers your question ;) There will be a reason – I promise! Thank you!

Shadow-n-the-dark: Heh, yep, that would definitely kill part of the story – but not really, because they will end up going somewhere that will not risk anyone they know much – you'll just have to wait and see. Probably in the next chapter or two (I have a complete plan till chapter 16 now – so I can actually give you pointers to how long some things are going to take). So anyhoo – ask a lot of questions! I love questions :D

Roe Merrifield ((freespirit65: I am very sorry that you have stopped writing :( I hope you will keep on reading my story though… thanks…

Chenelle: Glad you liked last chapter :) ((smiles brightly)) It would have been sad if you wouldn't have liked your own b-day chapter. Hope you have enjoyed this one as well!

Si-FiAdict246: Hello, new reviewer! Well the question of Helga/Salazar hadn't been completely thought out wait – so you'll just have to wait patiently ((cackles evilly)) Thank you very much for reviewing!

That it for now! Hopefully I will update again tomorrow!

- Star of the North