Of Life and Death

Notes: Written for the Mugglenet Interactive Ghosts in the Light contest, for which it won second place.

"I've never seen a creature more beautiful than you." His voice came through the hauntingly silent forest, only vaguely fazing her. She didn't even look up from her book, as though he was simply a minuscule insect that would leave her be if she ignored him long enough. She'd heard him coming, all too aware that it was him. "Did you hear me?" he inquired of her after a moment of frigid silence.

"Yes," she admitted indifferently, her eyes still locked on the massive tome she was studying.

"A proper lady would show adequate gratitude for such a compliment," he informed her smoothly. "But you never were a proper lady, were you, Helena?"

The young woman angrily snapped her book shut, glaring at the man. "And a proper gentleman," she retorted, "would know better than to disturb a true intellectual while she is reading!"

The suave smile on his handsome face did not falter. "You can hardly marry your books, my dear."

"I certainly have no intention of marrying you, either, Damon."

"But as you are not a proper lady, and, as you suggested in your infinite wisdom, I am hardly a proper gentleman, the hands of fate are clearly pushing us eternally closer. Obviously we are meant to be, my darling."

Helena only continued to frown at him as though she had the taste of something quite awful lingering unwantedly in her mouth. "'The hands of fate..?' Oh, Damon, you sound like some foolish Seer. Please don't even suggest the idea again."

Still, the look on his face did not change in the slightest, despite her biting remarks. "A man does not have to be a Seer to recognise destiny."

"Then are you so conceited as to say that you are fully informed as to what my destiny is?" She set her book aside, crossing her arms against her chest. Her lips were tightly pressed together, forming a thin line.

"Not your destiny, in those words" Damon amended, "but our destiny."

She scoffed, picking herself off the ground and proceeding to walk away from the young baron, her book lying abandoned at the base of the tree trunk. After a moment, however, she decided she was unable to ignore the crunching of leaves as the young man walked behind her.

"You cannot possibly expect me to converse with you, simply because you are persistent enough to follow me," she sighed angrily, closing her eyes for a brief moment.

"As a matter of fact," he responded, grabbing her arm and spinning her to face him, "I do."

Her pale cheeks were full of frustrated colour, her neat raven hair falling into her face. "I'm not afraid to use magic against you," she hissed.

"No," he agreed. "But you're too smart for that, Helena."

She straightened up, yanking her hand from his grasp. "Certainly you didn't come find me in central Albania for the sole purpose of once again attempting to convince me to marry you."

"I am quite certain that even if I did somehow manage that feat," he commented smoothly, "you would once again leave me because you find yourself to be of undeniably superior intellect, far too good for someone like me, who you constantly classify as 'common'."

"Then you don't deny that I am clearly of higher intellectual stature than yourself?" she asked, her expression suddenly softening.

"Of course not," Damon told her, pleased at his success in complimenting her. "You're the most brilliant person, let alone a woman, I've ever had the fortune to meet. Your mother obviously taught you well."

The smile that had been forming on her pale lips immediately disappeared into an unhappy look of distaste. "As if my ignorant mother taught me anything... She couldn't understand my unquenchable thirst for knowledge, only because it far surpassed her own, and she certainly couldn't help me actually fulfill my desire."

"Your mother is a brilliant witch as well," Damon said, frowning slightly at the girl.

"But can't you see?" Helena asked frustratedly. "I cannot simply settle. I have to be better; I have to prove myself wiser and cleverer."

"Is that why you stole her diadem?"

Helena froze, unable to utter a single word. After a moment, she regained composure, straightening herself and swallowing hard. "Did she tell you that or did you come to that realisation on your own accord?" she inquired.

He laughed bitterly. "As I said, your mother is a smart woman. Do you honestly think that she would admit to having such a powerful artifact stolen by her own daughter?"

"No," Helena muttered.

"She'd be mortified," Damon went on. "She should have known, should have foreseen it, should have better protected it... Rowena Ravenclaw is too wise to admit that she committed a very serious folly."

Again, a smile played on Helena's lips. "You're far smarter than I give you credit for, Damon."

"I present my utmost gratitude to you, milady," he grinned, inclining his head for a moment.

A stretch of almost friendly silence followed; however, it was quickly broken when Helena spoke. "Please, do tell me why you've come after me, Damon."

"Because I love you," came his simple reply.

She sighed. "You know nothing of love."

"All you know of love is what you've read in your books, too afraid to venture off into reality, too afraid to give yourself the chance to feel," he said to her, his voice suddenly filled with anger.

Her cheeks flushed again, furious with the baron in front of her. He always tried to counter her statements with venomous accusations, ones she consistently failed to recognise as truth. Her words, she knew, were fact; he had no right to say the things he did.

"I am not willing to play games, Damon," she spat at him. "Just tell me the truth of why you're here."

"Your mother sent me," he told her, anger still residing in his voice.

"To retrieve the diadem?" she inquired flatly. "I hid it before you came, and I refuse to tell you—"

"No," he said, cutting across her words. "She's fallen fatally ill. She wants to see you again, just once more."

Helena stared at him, trying to grasp his words. Her mother was dying? Death seemed to be the one thing that she could never fully understand—nothing she read seemed to give what she saw was an adequate account. But how could it? The only ones who understood death were those who had done so, and they were all dead, incapable of sharing their experiences. As much as Helena seemed to despise her mother, she would never have wished death upon her.

"Will you come?" Damon asked her flatly.

Helena stared at him. What could she do? What would it matter if she saw her mother one more time or not?

"No," she said suddenly. Her face did not betray her and the fear she secretly felt for her parent. She simply held her head high, putting on her usual mask of superiority.

"Damn it, Helena!" he cursed loudly, startling a few birds from a nearby tree. "They say that Slytherin is heartless but this... this is unbelievable!"

Her heart pounded in her chest, all too aware that Damon was once again losing his temper. Her slender fingers tightened instinctively over her wand, in case she'd have to use it—she knew all too well that Damon was prone to violence.

He drew his hand back, as though to hit her, and she whipped out her wand, silently cursing him. The spell hit him directly in the face, breaking his nose, which began bleeding. He instinctively put his fingers up to his face, coming in contact with the thick, crimson blood.

Instead of fending Damon off, however, Helena only succeeded in angering him even further. He snatched the wand from her hand, throwing it a couple metres away as she backed away from him, her back colliding with a tree.

Her breath was short and ragged as he approached her, drawing a short sword from its holster, the silver hilt glinting menacingly in the setting sun's light.

Her mind was moving painfully slow, unable to think of any escape plan or any words that might appease the situation. She was moments away from her demise, and all she could do was desperately wonder whether she had properly learned anything while on earth. She'd naturally acquired a great wealth of knowledge, as that was her great aspiration, but she was still just as foolish and proud as when she was a child. She was a Ravenclaw, as her surname stated and as the Sorting Hat had years ago proclaimed; she was supposed to be brilliant, supposed to know better than to allow herself to mouth off and, as was now evidently unavoidable, get herself killed. And though she was undeniably intelligent, she obviously knew nothing of life and living, as the baron suggested.

Helena closed her eyes, a scared sigh escaping her lips, fearfully aware of what was ultimately awaiting her: that death she knew so little about.