* * * *
After that day, I walked silently back to my room at the top of Ravenclaw Tower. I did not come out for a full week, but sat there in silence, watching the grounds. I did not eat or sleep, but merely watched, a bird high on my perch, thoughtful, restive.
It was Brenna who persuaded me to return to the school. "At least until we can find someone to fill in," she said apologetically. The loss of one teacher was hard, the loss of two had put everything in disarray. And the castle mourned, as if Godric had died instead of leaving. Brenna felt the loss, as Godric was the only father figure she had ever known.
I returned to my classes, but noticed that my mind wandered far more than it had in days past. I would catch myself gazing out the window often. The students took this all in stride, but for me, it was startling. Once upon a time, I had been attentive, strict, harsh, perhaps even, with my classes. Now we drifted into a tired malaise, flowing along with the work instead of diving into it, and dissecting it bit by bit. I knew my days of teaching were over.
At the beginning of Autumn, several teachers joined us, and I was able to retire. Feeling poorly about not having me around, the staff elected me headmistress. I rejected the title. In the future, Hogwarts could be free to have as many Headmasters and mistresses as it wished, but while any one of the four were left, I refused to create the post. My duties were the same, however, and I walked the halls, peering in on the classes. Children would flee, or turn and smile, depending on how they viewed me when they heard the jingle of the key ring I wore tied about my waist. To some, I was a vicious old lady, to others, a kind and wise one.
For seventeen years, I watched over my school. Many joyous events happened within that period. Though it would be quite dull in the retelling, it was perhaps the most blissful part of my life. Brenna married a handsome Caledonian lord, who also happened to be a wizard. But most importantly – she loved him.
They had a son, and named him Corbin. He was my constant companion in the days of his youth, tagging along behind me in the halls as Llewellyn had after Brenna in years past. I found myself thinking about my friends children often these days, wondering what had become of them, whether or not they had children of their own. In time, my questions were answered. Children arrived, bearing the names and resemblances of their parents. A girl with long golden hair, and warm brown eyes… a thin, pale boy with dark hair, and eyes of silver… and the one that tugged at my heart the greatest – a boy named Leander with dark hair like his grandfather's, and green eyes like his grandmother's, bearing the name of Gryffindor.
I chose the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Hogwarts to announce my retirement. As the first headmistress of Hogwarts, my own daughter, Brenna was voted in to take after me.
* * * *
They came to visit me often, Brenna and Corbin, and occasionally her husband. I took up a few pastimes, such as weaving a great tapestry out of magical threads. I would use the remainder of my life to complete it, so that it could be hung in Ravenclaw tower. Appropriately enough, it was to be of the founding of Hogwarts. I would include it all, from the fight of the Britons to the dissolution of the fellowship. It was to be my masterpiece. I worked on it day and night, and Brenna and Corbin would come in to examine it, or praise it. My grandson would sit, and listen in rapture, as his mother had, to tales of brave warriors and noble ladies. His favorite, however, was my story, edited slightly, yet there in feeling. "Grandmama," he would say sometimes, "you have forgotten to include that part in your tapestry!"
I would give him a critical look. "Now Corbin," I would say. "I am an old lady. I need my rest. I would never rest if I included every detail. And besides, it would never fit in the tower." He would nod knowingly and let me work on. I smiled at the delicate pattern I was working on now, my fingers weaving into place an eagle overpowering a raven.
* * * *
And yet, sooner than I had ever dreamed, dark haired Corbin grew up and married. His son, Bertram, was born almost exactly fifty years since the day his grandmother had first arrived at Hogwarts, a little girl in a fairy tale of her own. They came to visit me as frequently as they could, but my eyesight was failing, and I believe the thought of me getting old and dying may have eventually put off Corbin's visits to the tower.
Brenna would stop in, to inform me of the going-on's of the school, and to tidy my room. One day, I felt her pause at my shoulder.
"Mother," said Brenna, concern in her voice, "the strings you are spinning do not exist."
I sighed deeply. "Dear child… for the longest time, you could see this tapestry I weave. Have you now abandoned me too?"
She threw her arms around me suddenly, catching me off guard. "Never, mother," came her voice, buried deep within my hair.
I clasped her arm to me. When I looked back at her, I could see her face, hazy, and far away, but present. Perhaps it was only a heightened memory. However, from that day forth, I began to be able to discern shapes and movements, then colors, and finally faces. It was then that I knew – my mind's eye was taking me into the present, not the past, for the faces of the students were not familiar to me, yet I could see them. My curse was blessed yet.
* * * *
The last time I appeared in the main castle was on the event of Hogwarts 75th year. Coincidentally, it was the year of my hundredth birthday, and they chose that day to celebrate both the founding and the life of the last remaining founder. On a cold January evening, the Great Hall filled, both with students and guests from the village, many of whom I had taught… parents, grandparents, great-grandparents even.
They must have thought me quite old, bent as I felt, withered and dried up like a leaf. My travels had aged me far more than my years. I surveyed the hall with my sightless eyes, seeing the faces in my mind. The children's eyes were full of awe, and yet, of respect. Respect was due to any creature who had lived as long as I, I supposed.
Brenna escorted me to my seat, between her and Corbin. Gingerly, I bent my knees, grasping my stick for support. The hall waited in silence, as I raised the heavy goblet in a toast. "To Hogwarts," I said simply.
"To Hogwarts," came the murmured echo.
At the end of the meal, I stood, nodded to them all, and proceeded out without a word. Brenna took my hand and led me back out into the hall, and up the winding stairs.
"I am weary," I remarked as we reached my door.
Brenna tried to smile. "I know, mother."
"I think I will rest now, for quite some time."
She nodded. "May we visit?"
"Certainly, my dear."
She embraced me, then opened the door. I stepped inside.
I would not leave that room for the next five and one-score years.
* * * *
I worked steadily now, day and night, on my weaving. The tapestry was indeed invisible to some. But to those who could see, who believed in the truth of the founding, it was clear and beautiful. Every day, I came closer to the end. I had decided to go on beyond the attack on the castle, beyond the death of Ophelia. By the time I reached the plague, I discovered that yet another generation had been added to the line of Bram of Ravenwood – Bertram had sired a daughter, Merle. I knew it before Brenna climbed the stairs to tell me, a task for even her in these late years. I began to see the beginning and the end, yet the threads did not come together quite yet.
It took me another year to finish the tapestry, up to the appointment of the first headmistress. Yet when I did, a great weight was lifted from my shoulders, and I was at peace. It was just before a midnight, on Midsummer's eve, a day that had run its spell through my life like a powerful magical thread. I decided to leave my tower.
My sight was clearer than it had ever been; I could no longer discern whether my real vision had returned, or if my mind's eye had become so seamless that it appeared as reality. Clutching my stick, I headed carefully down the stairs, a hard thud and two soft patters on each step.
I reached the high walk that spanned from the tower that contained the owlery to the astronomy tower. The cool night air hit my face as I exited onto the walk. I breathed the fresh air deeply, feeling as if I hadn't really breathed in years. The smell of wild flowers drifted from the star-lit field below.
I gazed out over the grounds, as I had done countless times since I first set eyes on the castle, a hundred years ago. Little had changed. The lake sparkled, its surface reflecting a nearly full moon. The forest still looked dark and foreboding, the mountains still rose steeply to the sky. The castle would crumble long before they did.
As I looked out across the crest, a shining shape caught my eye. I squinted, not certain, not believing… but there was no mistaking the shape. Majestic antlers pierced the dark sky like beams of white. It was a pale white stag, standing at the edge of the cliff, surveying the castle.
"Godric," I murmured.
"We are waiting for you," drifted the voice, a familiar voice from a long time hence, echoing across the valley.
I bowed my head. When I raised it, the stag had gone.
"I will come to you, Godric," I whispered. "I will come."
I returned to my room and waited.
* * * *
I had foreseen what was to be. Brenna would come in to my chamber later in the morning, sad, but not surprised. She would gently kiss my brow, and pull the cover over my face. She would then turn, glancing back at the room one last time. Then she would take from the hook by the door the keys that I had carried about my belt for the last fifty years, and with it, accept the responsibility of the school, and Ravenclaw house. I felt my eyelids flutter.
I was so tired.
And I knew it was time, as the beginning and the end came rushing together at last.
I closed my eyes, feeling the first rays of sunlight on my face. I smiled as I heard a gentle rustling of wings, then a symphony of glistening feathers beating against the wind. A lone raven cried its song over the vast woods. Then, all was still.