Disclaimer: Everything here (besides the few things you don't know) belongs to JK Rowling, creator of the worlds of Harry Potter.
A/N: ((sniffles)) this is the end, my friends. There will be no more updates of Tale of a Time Long Gone. It is complete. I hope you have enjoyed reading this just as much as I have enjoyed writing it. I thank all my readers, and even more to those who reviewed and pushed me to go on. Special thanks are sent to all those who had faithfully reviewed almost each and every chapter in the past year and a bit - you know who you are, and you deserve all the hugs and kisses I can give you.
Important: I would greatly appreciate it if you still review this chapter even if you know there will be no more updates. I still want your opinion, and any questions you may have will still be answered via the replying system.
Also, I would like you all to read the Author's Note at the very end of the Epilogue. I have an announcement for you all, and I hope that you will like it.
"Amongst the many rumours and mysteries that shroud the latter years of the Hogwarts Four, we are aware of one fact alone.
"By Rowena Ravenclaw's final command, all four were entombed within one crypt, side by side, including Salazar Slytherin's body, which had been buried several decades prior and several hundred miles away.
"Once all four were together again, Sir Raymond of the Loch, Rowena and Godric's grandchild, had sealed the tomb with a block of marble on which the school motto 'Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus' was embossed, along with the Hogwarts crest.
"When all was done according to Rowena's orders, Sir Raymond had hidden the whereabouts of the tomb and erased all mention of its location from all records.
"In years to come, many a witch and wizard would attempt penetrating the mystery and locate the Hogwarts Four's final resting place, but none would succeed, for it is too well disguised.
"With the final entombment of the four, an era had ended. The story of Salazar, Godric, Rowena and Helga had reached to a close, but the tale of Hogwarts still continues, as does Hogwarts, A History…"
- Hogwarts, A History; Author Unknown
Seeing her standing at the lake's shore, watching her supple, youthful movements and innate grace, one would never guess that she had passed her hundredth birthday almost two decades prior. It was evident, perhaps, in her slightly hunched posture and the occasional tremble of her hands when she was not concentrating. Her silver hair, knotted in a thick, tight bun, still had traces of auburn in it, hinting at the luscious shade that rich mane had once been. Her hazel eyes still showed neither fatigue nor tiredness of the world of the living. She carried no extra weight and was still considered attractive in the eyes of sixty-year-olds down at the village, those who were born long after she had arrived there, so many years ago.
Yet Rowena Ravenclaw, last living Founder of Hogwarts, longed for rest. She had had enough of being alone. She had lasted longer than anyone should have the right to expect, and in her heart she wanted nothing more than for it all to end. She was ready for death to come.
She had seen to all the needs of her children - be they her real offspring or her numerous students. She loved them all and had watched over them years after they had left her care. The children of her grandchildren's grandchildren were already expecting babies of their own. She had made sure they would all live in comfort. It was the least she could do, knowing that she will not be there for much longer.
Enough. She had seen to all their needs and closed all unfinished businesses she had had. She had no doubt that Hogwarts would go on flawlessly without her. Her actual part in its running had ceased to exist long before. She had had her fill of life. She had lost too many loved ones to go on living happily. Both her children had departed a few years before, her old friends were gone for many years now, and her beloved Godric had left her almost painlessly a little over six months prior. The thought of him still hurt every time.
He had still kept his charm and humour until the last possible moment, she remembered with a tight feeling in her chest. Even when he had gently held her hands in his big, callused ones and said farewell, he still had that slight twinkle in his eyes, the one she learned to associate with fun and mischief after years by his side. He had known she would not last long without him when he had kissed her goodbye and said "See you in a bit, love." Merlin knows, she had wanted to lie beside him and die the moment his eyes closed for ever, but deep in her heart she had known there were still things to complete, duties to perform. Rowena Ravenclaw knew the importance of duty and was not one to shy away from it, so she lingered on. Now she could finally join him.
No one would miss her. She had slowly withdrawn from the world of the living over the previous six months, getting her friends and family used to the idea that she will soon be gone. She would be just another old little lady passing away.
Rowena tightened her cloak around her fragile body and shivered as a cold gust of wind swept leaves from the forest in her direction. How many times had she watched this happen with the turn of the years? She remembered times when Helga and she would give the children a break and the little ones would dance and laugh amidst the swirling golden leaves. The daring ones would also attempt to sneak under their watch into the forest, but they would never let them get near enough, summoning them back if they got too dangerously close. Those had been the happy days, when they had only few children to teach and their responsibilities were fewer. It had been before the final confrontation with Ambrosius and the beginning of the attempts on their lives. It had been before Salazar's departure and the breaking of friendships long wrought in fire.
Children still did that these days, she mused. They still danced and twirled, and the daring ones still attempted to challenge authority. The children were different, but their behaviour was just the same. She had watched so many generations of children copying the actions of their elders.
Resolutely, she turned her back on the sparkling surface of the lake and the memories that were tied to it in unbreakable binds, and back to the castle that had been her home for nearly a hundred years. They had built it out of nothing, and the result was now this jewel that was admired all around. She still remembered the ruins of the Fort of Cormag. Who remembered these days that ancient name? Practically no one. It had been long since forgotten, drowned by the glory of Hogwarts.
She stepped into the Entrance Hall, still feeling awed even after all these years by its size and magnificence. She had seen this place when it was mere rubble, a pile of rocks long since abandoned. It amazed her each time anew that they were able to build all that - just the four of them.
Four… they had not been four in such a long time.
She walked in the empty hall, passing the massive doors of the Great Hall on her way. They had been a gift from Sir Rhys' son, Ilar, when he had married Helga, snatching the sunny woman from Salazar. They had only been fitted a year later, after the birth of fair Rhian. It was so long ago. Ah, Sir Rhys… she had not thought about that kindly old man in years. He had lived even longer than his good friend, Lady Ceridwen, living long enough to see a multitude of grandchildren born to all his boys. He had died peacefully in his sleep long after her little Ceridwen's wedding, even though he had often said that all he needed for his life to be complete was to see that girl married and expected to die after the wedding. A wedding that had taken place right there in the Great Hall. Ah, little Ceri. Her bright ray of sunshine. Her beautiful little girl… marrying the man she loved in a hall that had such a weighty history…
And as for the Great Hall itself… They had once called it the Council Hall. They had named it thus as a joke at Ambrosius' expense, she remembered all too well. Those had been days when they could not be certain that they would not wake to find their home surrounded by a hundred Guards of the Chamber. Those had been days when she was afraid. Afraid for herself, afraid for her Godric, afraid for her children and her friends. Now she had nothing to be afraid of anymore. Soon enough, all she would know is peace.
After Ambrosius' demise, there had no longer been need of the joke, no need to counter fear with humour, so they had changed the name, and together with the name, the remnants of fear soon dissipated.
Feeling nostalgic, Rowena stepped into the Hall. It had been quite a while since last she had seen it. She found herself loath these days to face the students in the Castle. They were so young. They reminded her all too keenly how old she was and how out of place. But now the Hall was empty, and she could admire it at ease. She was still proud of the ceiling. Salazar had planned it - up to the most miniscule detail - and she and Helga had done the actual work. She could still remember it all-
"Good day, Headmistress!" a young girl greeted her, startling her from behind.
Headmistress. She had quit heading the school over a decade ago, finally agreeing with Godric that they were not quite as young as they used to be, and had stopped teaching long before that. She still remembered the row she had had with Godric when he had first suggested that they might give up running the school. In the end, however, she had relented, and it turned out to be the right thing to have been done. She had thought that they would be soon forgotten, but the new Headmaster and the teachers instructed all students to address them as though they were still holding that position. Rowena thought it was a rather nice gesture. Pointless, but nice all the same.
Good old Tristan. He was one of their first decade students - those who still had only the four of them as teachers - before the numbers became too great for them to handle the children alone. He was one of the few still living who had known Hogwarts at the time when all four Founders had lived and walked its echoing halls.
Soon there will be none of them left. Rowena had completed all her missions in life and was ready to join her friends and beloved on the other side of the veil. There was only one thing left to be done.
"Cathrine," she recalled the girl's name without difficulty, always a knack of hers. "Please run to the village and ask Sir Raymond to come here at once. I need a word with him and feel too tired to go there myself. Do tell him that."
Ah… the village… once simply called the Loch, the village had taken on the name of Hogsmeade in honour of the four people who had brought it to its station of these days. That also had been so long ago. The children of the day did not even know of the old name. It had been forgotten.
Cathrine nodded and hurriedly ran out of the Hall, ecstatic that the Headmistress asked her to do something for her and that she had actually known her name. Rowena stifled a chuckle. Young people were so eager to please.
She then gathered her thoughts again, telling herself that this was no time for nostalgia. There were still things to be done.
She made her way briskly to the rooms she had shared with Godric all those long, happy decades. She entered the circular drawing room that always belonged to her alone. Godric had been allowed there only at request, just as she would only be allowed in his study after asking permission. They had loved each other greatly, but they had needed their private space.
Once there, she did not sit down, but started riffling through boxes and shelves, pulling out parchments and parcels which she had meticulously wrapped and addressed over the past week or so. When she had everything she needed, she carried it all to the main chamber and set them on the great mahogany table at its centre. Once upon a time its shiny surface would have been covered by parchments, books, used quills and various documents, not to speak of used plates and cups of tea. Now it was clear most of the time, rarely used.
She settled to wait, conjuring herself a cup of tea to pass the time. She did not have long to do so. Raymond was soon there, huffing slightly. She supposed he had guessed the meaning of her urgent summons.
Sir Raymond, who, like his uncle before him, had busied himself with the new government of the British magic community, was a tall man, taking after his grandfather. He resembled Godric more than she was willing to admit, what with his tall stature and that full mane of dark brown hair, albeit his was much longer and Godric's hair had been black. His hair started graying, too, now that he was approaching his seventies. Godric's only started graying when he had turned eighty. She remembered teasing him about it, flouncing her dark-auburn hair that at the time had shown no sign of graying. It was so long ago.
Raymond fathered a massive clan of children to continue the Ravenclaw-Gryffindor legacy, and Rowena could not help but still feel amused at Godric's first reaction to his little girl's choice of a groom. It had taken her forever to convince him.
Rowena had always gotten along with Raymond, and knew that he had favoured her over all his other older female relatives. All of those women but her were long dead now, and she felt a certain pang of regret when she realized that this good man was going to lose the last thread to his childhood.
Quenching that errant feeling, she got up from her padded chair and approached her grandson with open arms and a smile. "Raymond, my dear," she said. "It has been too long."
"Hello, Grandmother," he greeted her with a light peck on the cheek, holding her as though he feared she will fall apart in his hands.
"I am not that fragile, you know," she reprimanded him and stood on tip-toes to kiss his cheek in return. "Do sit down, my boy. We have business to discuss."
Eyeing the parchments and parcels on the table gingerly, Raymond sat down in a chair facing her. His eyes darted back and forth between Rowena and the table. She could see that whatever suspicions he had when he received her summons were now confirmed.
"Grandmother-" he started, his voice rough, but she sharply shook her head. Just once, but it was enough. Raymond's mouth fell shut. Generations of children were practically conditioned to obey that particular gesture and Raymond was no exception.
"None of this now, Raymond," she said firmly, knowing that she could not allow him to break now. "We all knew this day would inevitably come. It had delayed long enough and it is time for me to take the last journey and rejoin with the rest of my generation."
The words rejoin my Godric were left unsaid.
"But Grandmother," he protested, pain contorting his face. "You are not that old!"
She laughed; a sound still pure and young as it had been when she had first met Godric. Her beloved used to say that it reminded him of the sound made by silver bells.
"I am one hundred and seventeen, Raymond. I daresay that I am too old - pushing the antique, I should say," she said and then pointed at the collection on the table. "These are a few things that I would like taken care of after my departure, dear.
"First and foremost is to find and re-bury Salazar Slytherin's body in the same crypt as Helga, Godric and myself. Our separation had not been natural and it is fitting that the rift would be healed in death. I have discussed this with your grandfather before his death. If you fear this is being done against his will, rest assured that he had been the one to suggest this.
"Several months ago, I had made certain inquiries. I believe Salazar's great granddaughter, Selena, lives with her family at London. You will go to her and give her this letter-" she handed him a sealed parchment "-and do whatever it is you have to do in order to bring Salazar to rest here. If I remember correctly, Salazar had been buried in the magic burial grounds outside magic London, under a snake marker. Selena should be able to tell you for certain.
"After all four of us are buried, the crypt beneath Hogwarts must be sealed and hidden. I do not want us disturbed. Here you will find my burial outline and the writing I want engraved on the seal covering the crypt," she handed him two parchments and plodded on. "Here is a list in which you will find we have dictated where all of our earthly possessions are to be distributed. I expect you to follow the instructions explicitly."
There was a thick scroll sealed by the Hogwarts crest among the things on the table. "This," she said, pushing it towards him. "Must be guarded carefully, Raymond. I entrust you to keep it and hand it to Headmaster Tristan personally after I am buried and the crypt sealed. It contains all of our plans for this school and details what we expect him to develop. All secrets a Headmaster of Hogwarts must know are also included. He's a superstitious man, Raymond. Tell him that if he would not do as said, I will know of it, and return to haunt him for his actions."
She surveyed the few things left on the table. "These are addressed to certain people. This parcel is for Salazar's great granddaughter, to be given to her together with the letter. Do not lose it, for it is one of his few belongings that remained after his wife's death. The rest had been taken by strangers, but this she had sent to me before her death since she could not reach her daughter. This one is for Helga's youngest grandson, and the last one is for your own granddaughter. I ask you to deliver them as soon as news of my death reaches you. That is all."
"That is all?" he asked, his voice thick with emotion. "Just like that? No goodbye to the family? Nothing personal to tell them? Nothing personal to tell me? Grandmother, I-"
Rowena sighed. She could clearly see the little boy he had once been - her first grandchild. Her little Ceridwen's firstborn. The bridge that healed the aching chasm that had opened between Godric and Ceridwen following her union with Aiden.
"Raymond… You know I love you all more than anything. You are my family. But no one will really miss me when I go. I have lived my life to the fullest and I regret nothing. It is simply time for me to go. Let me leave, Raymond; I have nothing left here. Allow me to leave peacefully."
She felt her eyes well up as his lip trembled, causing his six and a half decades old body materialize in front of her eyes to that of the seven year old she had cradled in her arms after he had fallen and scraped his knees. She blinked, and the figure faded. A grown man nodded and hugged her fiercely for the first time in over twenty years - a real hug that was not the cautious embrace all of her offspring gave her these days.
"I will, Grandmother," he said, his voice cracking. He picked up the parchments and the parcels. "Give my love to Grandfather, will you?"
With those words, he turned from her and left without looking back.
Sir Raymond of the Loch, denizen of the village of Hogsmeade, was the last one to have seen Rowena Ravenclaw among the living.
Rowena's footsteps echoed in the empty halls beneath Hogwarts. The students were all in the Great Hall, eating their dinner, as were all the teachers. She was grateful for that.
The dungeons had always been Salazar's domain. He had liked them because only there all his pet snakes felt at home, and he had liked making his friends comfortable. She still remembered him hissing softly to Maureen, his very first slithering friend she had known, and chuckling at some obscure comment she had made.
She did not venture into the dungeons a lot after Salazar had left. It held in store too many memories. It ignited a chain of recollections that always ended with the same questions. It always left her wondering whether she could have done something to stop him, or what would have happened were she to convince the two stubborn men to talk things over calmly. She also agonized over what would have happened were she to run after Salazar instead of after Godric. Godric would have forgiven her - in the end. So many 'what if's that will remain unanswered…
That was why she disliked going there. Truth be told, she had been there only three times since Salazar's departure: once when Helga had died and they had decided she should be buried beneath the Castle, once during that horrible winter almost thirty years before, when the lake had overflowed and filled the dungeons with water and once when Godric had died.
Pain flooded her heart. She missed him so much. Soon, though, she dispelled the thought from her mind. This was strictly business, she reminded herself. Just as long as she thought of it as business she would not break down and cry, risking being discovered.
Her footsteps went on echoing as she descended down that last flight of stairs. It would be sealed soon enough, she knew.
The crypt was cold. Two of the four tombs standing at its precise center were closed, and had elaborately carved stone effigies on top of their lids.
"Hello, Helga," she greeted softly, her fingers caressing the cold cheek of the figure of the woman who had been more of a little sister than a friend. "I've been neglecting you, have I not? I promise that I will make it all up to you."
She then continued to the second closed tomb, and bent to kiss the stone lips of the figure of her husband.
"I miss you," she whispered. "More than you would ever know."
Rowena could not explain why she needed to do that. She just felt like she had to see them one last time with mortal eyes.
With a sigh, she left the crypt.
She snuck out of Hogwarts almost like thief in the night. A black cloak covered her entire body, hiding her, enveloping her within the darkness. She did not want to be seen. People might think she had lost her mind and try confining her to her rooms, effectually denying her what she still had to do.
She walked quickly, almost at a run, around the lake to the place where it met with the stream feeding it.
She stopped at the stream's bank and gathered her skirts up above her ankles, chewed her lower lip for a moment, contemplating whether it was really the wisest thing to do, then she took a deep breath and walked into the icy stream.
It had better be there, Helga, or I will have your head for it next time I see you, she thought as she grimly pulled out her wand and charmed her shoes dry.
It had been over thirty years since Helga had told her of the place. It had been right before her death. Rowena found herself wondering how her friend could have had gotten herself all that way away from the Castle unaided.
"'Wena… 'Wena… please - just listen to me," Helga pleaded, coughing.
"There's time enough to speak when you are feeling better," Rowena said firmly. "Rest and be well."
"I'm not going to be well again, Rowena. Don't lie to yourself and don't lie to me. I respect and love you too much to allow you that. Please, just listen to me for a little while. Then I will rest."
There was almost nothing left of Rowena's old friend. She had only her cheerfulness left, and even that abandoned her at times since she fell ill, when the pain was too much to take. Helga was so pale, so old. She looked older than Rowena, with her hair turned snowy white, her face a mask of delicate lines and her eyes no longer seeing well.
Rowena sighed. "Very well, Helga, speak - but only for a little while."
"I'll be gone soon, Raven, but I need you to promise me one thing."
"Only one thing?" Rowena tried to jest a little, but Helga would have none of that.
"Stop it, Rowena! I don't have time for that! Listen carefully, at the edge of the Loch, where it meets its source, there's a shallow crossing - much like the ones we used back home."
"Back home?" Rowena interrupted. "Surely you don't mean-"
"But I do, Raven," Helga laughed. "Home is still Caerwyn - even after all these years."
Rowena started protesting. For her the Glen and the Valley stopped being a home a long time ago, but as Helga broke into another fit of hacking coughs, she kept it to herself and let her friend go on.
"Once you cross the stream, you will find yourself walking through a slightly rocky area. A little distance to the right of the crossing you will find an old Oak. Between its roots I have put something for you. I want you to go there when you know your time has come."
"No one knows when their time comes, Helga. You can't expect me to-"
"I know you, Rowena," Helga said stubbornly, holding tightly to the sleeves of Rowena's gown. "If anyone can know when their time has come it's you. You will go there. I know it… I know it…"
"But-" Rowena tried again.
"Promise me, Rowena!"
Soon after that Helga had died. She died in her sleep, and when the grief-stricken Ilar had called Rowena and Godric over in the morning, Rowena vowed to keep her promise. There was no question about it. Rowena was not going to disrespect her friend's - no, her sister's last wish. The time has come, and Helga was right. Rowena did know.
Her destination was clear ahead. It was a giant Oak, so similar to the one at the mouth of the Glen, under which they had met so many times all those years ago - the one from which branches they had pelted passersby with acorns.
Rowena stifled a sob.
It had been such a long time ago. Those two girls were long gone. All those memories seemed to belong to someone else. These were the memories of a simple country girl, not those of an old teacher.
A teacher. That was all she was known as these days. All those who had known her when she was a mighty leader of the anti-Council act were long dead.
With fresh determination she neared the tree and bent in the damp soil to pull the small watertight box she knew would be waiting there from between its roots.
She stared at the box for a long time, her fingers lingering over the moist wood, lightly touching the tiny lock. At that touch, there was a small clicking sound and the box cracked open ever so slightly.
With trembling fingers she opened the box. Inside was only a slip of old parchment, on which was written in Helga's loopy handwriting:
"To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.
"My dearest sister, I cannot wait to see you again. Come home, beloved friend.
"Yours for always and for ever,
When they found Rowena Ravenclaw's still body the next morning after an extensive search conducted by worried students, teachers and family, she had a soft smile on her calm, pale face. It seemed like the wrinkles on her thin face straightened and that she was once again young.
Sir Raymond, who was the one to carry the feather-light body back to Hogwarts, could only be comforted in his grief by one thing.
In his imagination, his stern grandmother was once again the young woman his grandfather had fallen in love with, the one he had only known through the portraits done for his mother's and uncle's births. He could see her well, her auburn hair flowing in a light breeze, her hazel eyes glowing with ill-suppressed excitement, pushing through a dark veil and finding herself with her beloved Godric again.
She was home.
And thus, with the departure of the fourth Founder of Hogwarts and the last of the great wielders of magic of the time, ended the Golden Era of the Wizarding World, and the earth itself prepared to enter a new age in which many an adventure would occur. But those adventures are someone else's to tell. Our tale ends here and remains entombed within the pages of history. A tale of magic. A tale of Knights. A tale of love.
A tale of a time long gone.
A/N: That was it! Goodbye, my friends - hopefully we shall meet again. I'm sorry for pilfering Dumbledore's line, but I felt as though Rowena needed that comfort, knowing that her friend was still with her even though she had died long before, and that line was just perfect for that.
And now, MY ANNOUNCEMENT:
Next week I am planning on uploading the first chapter (or rather, the prologue) of this story's prequel. It is called Fall From Grace, and will feature the lives and loves of Ryan and Rosalind Ravenclaw, Gawain and Ceridwen Gryffindor, Searlas and Seraphine Slytherin, Ambrosius, Sir Rhys and the whole lot before the Founders came along. If for some reason my plans are foiled, then the aforementioned prologue would appear in two weeks.
I hope to see you all there, for the brand-new adventures (or rather, age-old ones ;) ) of all those characters who were only mentioned, or appeared at the sidelines of Tale. In the meanwhile, for those who liked my style, I have another story posted here, which portrays the Marauders era - if it interests you, then I'd be happy if you go and take a look!
Thank you all once again for reading my story and sticking with it through thick and thin, ice and fire, four months of update-lack and all my other weird quirks.
I love you all and I hope to see you all again!
Hugs and kisses,
-Star of the North