Italics are in the past - P_M

The four of them stood looking at each other for a moment before Helga spoke.

"Oh Salazar," she breathed, the words rushing from her like a sob. She reached pale hands up and touched his face, as she stepped towards him. Rowena reached up pressed Helga's hand onto his face even as she pressed her nose and mouth into the soft roundness of Helga's cheek. Helga turned, giving her a light kiss before turning and brushing her lips against Salazar's as he bent to offer one of his own to Rowena.

Godric stood a step apart from them, torn between joy at the sight of his lovers together again and pain as he found himself uncertain of his welcome. Then Helga came over and kissed him soundly, and he felt Rowena smile against his face, and he felt a hand too large to belong to either of them take his. Pulling back from them, he looked up and met Salazar's eyes.

"Shall we snatch a moment from the control of our stars?" Salazar asked, and the women shifted to allow him to come close. He pressed against both of their sides and wrapped his arms around them. Godric laughed before swooping down to claim his mouth in a kiss as fierce as the argument that had parted them.

"It wasn't right without you," Rowena whispered.

It was early morning. Two women lay in bed, covered only by sheets. They faced away from each other on opposite sides and the space between them was emptier than the spaces between stars. Across the castle, a man sat in a tower. His feet dangled over the edge and his pain darkened eyes traced the beaten down path from the castle's main entrance to its gates. The three left behind had lain together the night before. There had been three in a bed made for four. There had been loss, blame, and anger in a bed made for warmth and love. Then there was shame, and none of them could look at the others because deep down they all blamed themselves most of all. I didn't…I wasn't… I never…. The thoughts fell into rhythm with the beating of their hearts.

"You could have come with me," Salazar replied, "Could have followed later."

"And lose my life's work in addition to my heart? Neither of you would see sense. Why trade a homebound fool for a traveling one? " she shot in return, pulling away, "I can't regret remaining here."

Salazar reached out and grabbed her arm to stop her from moving further away. His eyes narrowed. "Of course not. Did you wait a whole day before jumping into the arms of some other man?" he said, softly but edged with pain and anger.

" Your daughter is so lovely, he must have been a pretty thing. Likely a bit dim though, she certainly did not inherit her mother's wit; choosing to haunt our halls and scare first years for an age."

Rowena stared at him for a long moment before replying, "Never insult my daughter. I lived for her, and did much that was less honorable than that to spare her harm. She does not need your judgment." she pulled her arm through Salazar's fingers which were still less solid than they appeared. She shook her head as if to clear it, continuing, "I cannot do this tonight. This old broken wonder will have to wait until dawn."

"The castle can bear another night's wait," Godric grumbled, vaguely reassuring.

Rowena looked into his eyes and shook her head slowly before gesturing in a circle with her right hand, indicating the four of them, then pressing her hand to her chest, on the left side. Then she turned and walked to her door which opened before her at the whisper of "wit beyond measure" and closed behind her without a touch.

"…Is a witches safety," Rowena said when the door had closed. She'd spelled her door and those of her lovers to use sets of passwords to keep various combinations of lovers, acquaintances and intruders out. One phrase to open but only to the owner if the room was empty, and many answering phrases to allow or keep out company. That day, she'd used the one which gave her time alone.

She pressed her palm to the space beneath her belly and swore quietly under her breath. Closing her eyes she sunk to the floor with her back to the door.

In the bottom of her wardrobe lay a box of un-used rags, stained by use in months past when they'd received her monthly issue. They'd gone unused for the second month, and she was late for a third. She'd been sick just an hour before after eating a breakfast that hadn't tasted quite right. There was no denying the truth.

She had to tell them, but how could she? Salazar and Godric had been fighting more and more over the past weeks. Would the tensions grow? Would this only give them a new battle ground? What child could blossom under that stress? Helga would help to shield her child from it but what if the four of them parted? Where might Helga's loyalty take her?

Rowena's hand began to glow where it rested above the growing child . She let a single thought direct the shape of the magic that desperation had amassed in her.

The light flashed, and then… nothing.

Helga smiled, a small, warm, lovely thing, like bread, and spring, and skin, before sighing, "My brave Love, you've never changed. Not even now."

"Haven't I? Is there any point in this if none of us have changed?" Godric replied. " Salazar, we all had children. Why should you begrudge her that? Why hold her alone in contempt for sins we all committed?"

"She bore that bastard scarcely a year after I left," Salazar hissed, then he reigned in his temper and continued, "I know my numbers, my physiology, and most of all her. She did not love so easily, our Rowena, and she was so distant before I left, always off and claiming to be alone with her studies."

"You think that she strayed," Helga clarified.

"She would never! How dare you call her honor into question!" Godric scolded.

"Can you say how else she fell pregnant so soon after we parted?" he shot back. " The girl was born too late to be one of ours."

"Can you say how the stars burn? How young witches bloom from lines without magic like mandrakes from moor grass? Can you say how my heart can hold you all, and not burst with the weight of it? There is much that I cannot say and much that Rowena can answer if you will refrain from accusing her while she is resting." Helga answered.

"I need to understand this before I can trust in our union." Salazar said, with calm that masked desperation.

"Do you think that you're the only one with questions? With reservations?" Helga asked him before turning to Godric. "Do you think that you own the weariness here? Is all anger and bitterness yours? I love you both and her and everything that we had before and can have again, but do not mistake my freely given love for ignorance or naiveté . Never do that."

Her hands , strong and gentle, squeezed their shoulders before she released them and turned to walk to her door.

"A loyal heart" opened the door which, like Rowena's before it, closed behind her.

The two men stood in the room for a time before both looked to the curved stairs. Godric turned away, moving towards his own door. The rushing joy of their reunion was gone and in its place, the echoes of their unresolved conflicts seemed too loud to cross, too solid to allow them to touch again.

"I… I've missed you, Salazar."

The moonlight drifted through his hair and through his face too, a jarring reminder that age and death had come and gone like seasons, like love for the young.

"That is not enough," Salazar replied, wishing that it were, but smelling the smoke on the air, the death and fear that lingered.

"It is true, all the same," Godric whispered in response before telling his door, "Courage protects" and walking inside.

Salazar did not go to his room that night. He wandered up the spiral staircase and out into the corridor, past the gargoyle who bowed for him and down through the school. He floated, a phantom, above the rubble, the broken things laying scattered, the remains of death eaters, of their allies, forgotten in the heat of battle and the rush of victory that followed. He drifted silently but with purpose, moving towards the chamber where his sole heir lay dead.

They had placed the body on a table unceremoniously; an arm left dangling over the side, robes mussed left to rest as they might. Salazar forced Tom Riddle's hand to his sides and straightened his robes. He closed the still gaping eyes and, content that he'd done right by this distant descendent, allowed his mind to wander.

He touched his face, cool and serpentine, and pictured this strand of his line; their faces appearing in his mind. Where had they gone astray?

Acantha, was his daughter; born to a woman called Tamsin who'd treated him well and aided his work. She hissed nonsense words to a wooden toy snake as she rolled and scooted around on the mat, set in the patch of sunlight from the window of his study. At his desk he worked to settle the last of her mother's affairs. The girl had her mother's hair, and it shown in the warm sun. Salazar felt a moments longing for that good and kind woman. Then Acantha seemed to raise up and float over to plop down on desk in front of him, staining her legs and diaper with ink from his parchment as she reached for him.

He pulled a length of soft linen from the air and wrapped her in it as he pulled the girl to his chest and let her babble on, unsure whether it had been her magic or his that had propelled her. Occasionally he whispered down to her, stories of Hogwarts, of mermaids and the shine of sunlight on newly constructed wards. She smiled and practiced the sounds of the words. After some time, the child whispered, "papa" in English, and repeated it in parse tongue. She burrowed her face into his robes and made token efforts to escape the cocoon of linen before falling suddenly asleep.

She was his talented and brilliant daughter. His heart felt sore as he thought of two other women, talented and brilliant, who would never lay eyes on little Acantha. She named for a nymph loved by the god, Apollo. Born to two who could at best be described as friends, her mother had felt that the love of a god of wisdom and beauty might make up for a lack in Acantha's day to day experience. She'd had little faith in his ability to open his heart to their second child, and with reason. It had taken him ages to develop any sort of connection to their first, all those years before.

He'd spent the rest of the afternoon composing a letter to Acantha's older brother in his mind, providing a warm space for her nap, and wondering if his life would be devoid of goodness and kindness when she was grown.

One day she would stand at the gates and look on Hogwarts for herself. Her brother at her side, she would, as had he, decide that the school was not ready to house an heir of Slytherin. When she did, it was not for lack of love.

She loved the school on sight. She saw in the school everything that her father had spoken of. She saw the towers piercing the sky and felt the magic in the air. It called to her as though it knew her; she knew that it did, because her father had helped to make it, because there was life within those walls beyond that of its residents.

She knew that the book inside bore her name, but she could not move to open the gate and stride in. She'd heard the sadness in his voice alongside the wonder. She was young, barely twelve, but she knew that there were things that her father hid from her. She could not walk in and see what had driven him out, could not rest easy where he might not be welcome, could not break his heart with innocent words revealing wounding truths about how the castle had changed. So she and her brother walked away, but she whispered the school's name to herself again and again, and vowed to keep it safe from afar.

He could see no fault his children. So where had they gone wrong, those heirs of his? A question for another time he supposed. For the moment, he simply drew the remnants of his power, the magic the lingered around Riddle's body, the gifts that had long been bound to Slytherin blood, and offered them up to the school itself,. Then he settled in to watch over his last heir for one more night, content that his line could bring no more harm to this place where he'd been happiest.

Floors above him in the headmasters' office, the spark that had kindled in the sorting hat grew and changed as it was granted a new task and prepared to receive more.

Shortly before dawn, Salazar made his way back to their common room. The sunrise would wake the castle and he'd no desire to make his presence known. Besides, the time had come to get his answers.