Note: This chapter took a little longer than I expected. I kind of forgot how much I needed write to wrap it up! So much for the three short oneshots I had planned when I started this. But still, here it is – the last part. I hope it's okay! In any case, I'm probably going to be writing more Founders stuff in the future. It's such an interesting era! Thanks to everyone who's reviewed, faved and/or alerted... it's been much appreciated. :)
Part Six: Dissolution
Helga was sat in library when Will barged in. She had been cataloguing a book on runes – the last Rowena wrote before she fell too seriously ill to continue writing. It was the approach of clumpy footsteps and the sudden shadow falling across her desk that informed Helga of her adopted son's arrival.
"What is it, Will?"
She looked up and noted with alarm the worried expression on his face.
He brushed a hand through hair that had grown wilder and curlier with age; had it been red instead of blonde, he might have reminded her of a young Godric. "It's – the children," Will stuttered, "they're talking again."
Helga slowly put down her quill. "Talking? What about?" As she said it, a memory flashed through her mind – Salazar, turning and storming out of the Entrance Hall without so much as a backward glance. But, of course, that was years ago and she had always known that he would never return.
"They've seen her again," Will said, his voice becoming hushed. "They're refusing to go up the Astronomy tower. At first, it was just one or two of them, but now they're all saying it. Don't know whether to believe it, myself. Though if they're all saying it, ma'am..."
"Oh, Wilmot, well I'm sure it's nonsense. Honestly, dear!"
In fact, Helga knew perfectly well what the rumours were saying. She had heard the students whispering in the hall over breakfast or at the back of her Charms classes. Helena Ravenclaw had returned to Hogwarts.
Though she herself had not seen her, Helga did not doubt her presence in the castle for a moment.
Helena had returned in the worst imaginable circumstances. Those who didn't know better called her The Grey Lady. Her eyes were round and sorrowful, they said, and as sharp as ice. She would not go near a living person. If you caught her eye, she faded back into the shadows as if she was born of them.
But whatever the truth was, Helga just didn't have the time to investigate. Helena was now clearly beyond help, so there was little point. Even as a small girl, she had insisted on doing everything for herself, but where had it got her? Helga's time was now divided between running the school with Godric and tending to her dying friend. And the less poor Rowena knew about her daughter's return, the better.
She smiled as widely as she could manage. These days, everything was a little strained. "Evening, Godric."
The two professors had agreed to convene in Godric's quarters for dinner. Helga brought the food – a cheese and onion pie – and Godric brought, in his own words, the charming company. "Take a seat," he said. Godric's rooms were every bit as cosy as the Hufflepuff common room, but rather more showy. Every inch of stone floor was covered in the colourful rugs he had collected on his various travels. Tapestries depicting an assortment of magical creatures hung from the walls. Helga lowered herself in one of the rickety wooden chairs by the fireside. Though it was only early autumn, she felt strangely chilly and welcomed the rush of warmth.
Godric took a seat across the table from her, and he dug into the pie before speaking. "How was Rowena today?" he asked.
"Oh, mostly unchanged," Helga said. The room had filled with a delicious savoury scent, but all it did was twist Helga's stomach.
"Is that good or bad?"
Helga shrugged, her shoulders hunched. "Neither," she admitted. "Her cough seems worse. It wracks her chest like nothing I've ever known – but she's sleeping now, and quite peacefully. Tomorrow I'll brew another Calming Draught which should help to settle her."
Godric nodded; she understood that while he didn't really know what to say or how to comfort her, he was there. She turned to the window and the black night beyond it. It was cloudy, and so unlit by moon or stars. The top of the forest and the vast sky above it blurred into one. "Oh, Helga," she heard Godric mutter, as if from a great distance. "Please. Don't cry."
Embarrassed, she rubbed at her cheeks. That they had grown damp with tears had passed her notice until Godric mentioned it. "I'm terribly sorry, Godric," she sniffed. "I don't know why I'm crying. Rowena certainly wouldn't like it and my silly tears will do her no good."
"You've done all you can for her," Godric insisted. "More than I ever could." He pushed a plate towards her. "Come now. Eat, before all the good slices are gone. You know what I'm like!"
When Helga smiled at him this time, it was honest and heartfelt. She obediently ate a little and felt much better for it. Their talk moved away from Rowena's plight onto happier matters – funny students, tiring classes and the battle for the House Cup. "I still say my students will surprise you!" Godric said. He had summoned a flagon of mead via a helpful house elf. "The Ravenclaws and Slytherins may have dominated these last few years, but this year, I'm certain, is mine."
Helga snorted. "Forgive me, Godric, but don't you say that every year?"
"True, true!" Godric admitted, laughing heartily. Helga felt a rush of admiration for him in that moment – how he managed to remain upbeat after the loss of his great friend, whilst now facing the loss of another was beyond her. Nonetheless, she had lately detected a slight change in Godric's behaviour. He seemed more restless than usual. Perhaps it was the muted summer they'd just spent, tending to Rowena – but somehow, Helga suspected it was something deeper.
"Godric?" she said. "Forgive me – again – but I feel I've rather forgotten you. With Rowena's illness and Helena's situation and training Will up to teach, well, we've neglected each other, have we not?"
Godric looked taken aback. "You are sweet, Helga. But me? You worry about me? I am a grown man. Healthy and robust and as well-bearded as I have ever been!"
Helga chuckled – she felt obliged – but refused to be thrown off. He was no Salazar, he was far more open, and she knew he would relent. "Really, Godric. Are you sure? You seem... changed."
"I worry, Helga," he said slowly, his smile now slightly crooked, "that age has crept up on me unexpectedly. In the past, I felt nothing but invincibility." He took a deep swig from his lion emblazoned tankard. "But ever since Salazar and I duelled..."
"You won," Helga reminded him gently.
He sighed. "I know. But it was a black victory: the blackest of my life."
Without provocation, Helga's hand snuck out across the table and squeezed his. "You did what was right," she said. "I've always known that. He had to go. No matter how much we loved him." She stood up, knowing that Godric, who was sat with his head bowed, would answer no further. "I think I shall retire. Rowena is being tended by house elves, but I want to check her over before I go to bed." Helga paused in threshold. "Goodnight, Godric."
Lost in thought, he didn't answer.
Alongside the rumours of The Grey Lady, another whisper was growing: that Helga Hufflepuff was unhappy.
She was well known for her cheery disposition, so the rumours were particularly unsettling. The truth, however, was somewhat different.
Helga was perfectly content most of the time. Her days were spent as busily as ever – teaching, helping in the Hospital Wing, reading to Rowena during her lucid moments, overseeing the house elves in the kitchen and walking in the grounds with Godric. Hogwarts still filled her with the same enthusiasm it always had and continued to give her a purpose. Her problems arose when night fell, after she had checked on her common room and made sure Rowena was settled. It was then that her body ached for sleep, but her mind wouldn't allow it. At first she tried she tried lying in bed, waiting and waiting, believing that sleep would come if her mind grew tired enough. When that didn't work, she started writing out Charms theory until the inevitable boredom kicked in. Boredom arrived, but sleep didn't.
Wrapping a cloak around herself, she took to the shadowy halls. Of course, she could easily have brewed herself a Dreamless Sleep potion, but she was honestly rather curious about her new-found restlessness. Something was keeping her awake, a feeling that she couldn't quite identify. It made her hair prickle and her mind race. She always ended up in the Entrance Hall. A sense of both calm and expectation settled over her when she sat quietly on the stairs. On some nights, moonlight pierced the window above the door, softly illuminating the hall. On others, falling rain roared against the stone walls and when winter arrived, the driving rain became snow, and Helga found herself shivering on the steps.
Her sleepless nights did not go uninterrupted. Occasionally one of the teachers or caretakers passed by and saw her sitting on the stairs. They always paused, ready to open their mouths and chastise what, at first, appeared to be a student out of bed after hours. On second glance, they recognised her huddled form for what it was and it became a given that Helga Hufflepuff could be found in the Entrance Hall at night, curiously still and silent.
She was waiting – waiting and willing his return.
It was mid-winter. Frequent blizzards and snow drifts plagued the Scottish Highlands. Helga was teaching a small group of seventh year pupils in the dungeons. Her breath rose as mist in the air and they all crowded around the flaming cauldrons for warmth.
"Now a blood-replenishing potion is far more complex than last week's Awakening Draught," she explained. "You could spend months just sourcing the ingredients. It requires over twenty different parts, none of which are easy to find."
She stopped. The dungeon door banged open and a boy of about fifteen nearly tripped across the threshold. Judging by the scarlet trim on his robes, he was one of Godric's students. "Professor Hufflepuff," he panted. "You're needed."
Helga frowned. "And I am needed here, too. Who's sent you?" In truth, she probably knew who – and why.
"Professor Gryffindor, miss." He boy hesitated, seeming unwilling to return to questioning look. "I – he said he needs you, if you'd please come. Professor Ravenclaw needs you, too."
Helga left at once, sending her students to their common rooms to study. She walked as quickly as she could through the castle, staying resolutely in control so as not to cause a panic. There hadn't been a genuine panic at Hogwarts since Salazar left, and Helga was determined to keep it that way. She arrived at Rowena's room where Godric was stood in the doorway looking slightly lost.
She hardly dared ask. "Am I too late?"
He shook his head. "Just in time, I'd say."
Helga followed him into Rowena's room where she lay, still and pale, in her four poster bed. "What happened?" she asked.
Godric was now standing by the window, watching sheets of snow drift past the pane. He was silent for a long while, and when he did at last speak, his voice was unnaturally subdued. "I decided to sit with her," he said. "I had an hour or so to spare. I was talking to her – nonsense really – but when I took her hand she – she cried out. Very suddenly. It made me jump." He looked helplessly at Rowena's unconscious form. "And now her breathing's slowed completely. She's awfully cold, Helga."
Helga shook. She could not blame the bitter weather because the fire in Rowena's room was burning constantly. If anything, it was uncomfortably warm in there. Tentatively she grasped Rowena's wrist. Godric was right – her skin was cold and clammy to the touch and her breathing was so shallow she could be mistaken for dead.
Helga took a seat at the bedside. She gestured for Godric to do the same, but he was hesitant. "You say she cried out when you took her hand?" Helga asked.
"I see." Helga gently stroked her friend's long, dark hair which was splayed across the pillow. This was truthfully the worst she had ever seen her. "Forgive me, Godric, if what I'm about to say comes across as accusatory – but when was the last time you visited Rowena?"
"Excuse me, Helga?"
"How long has it been since you visited her?" she repeated, turning around to face him. She was treated to the rare sight of a flustered and spluttering Godric Gryffindor.
"Well I – I've been busy, as you know. And I sincerely hope you aren't trying to blame this on me, Helga!"
Helga sighed. "No. No, you misunderstand me. I wondered, perhaps, if she's been hanging on through this dreadful illness to see an old friend, one more time. Though that still doesn't explain why you've been avoiding her, Godric... busy? I think not."
He continued to linger by the window, and suddenly she understood.
"Ah. The great Godric Gryffindor," Helga whispered, "frightened."
Godric shifted his feet. He stared steadfastly at the floor. "I could not bear to see her so weak. Foolish, I know."
"A little," Helga conceded, smiling at him. "Silly man. Sit down."
"What can we do for her?" Godric asked immediately. "Are you going to brew something?"
"No. You said it yourself earlier – I arrived just in time, but not to help. To wait. Waiting is all we can do now."
Godric leapt forward in his seat; she could sense that he was on the verge of an argument. "But Helga – "
"She's all but gone, Godric. There's no sense prolonging it."
They waited. Afternoon wore on into the evening. Snow continued to fall and the fire eventually burnt out. Helga and Godric scarcely spoke; they scarcely did anything but sit. Helga had expected to cry, yet she didn't. In a way, after months of suffering for all of them, it was a blessed relief. Rowena did not regain consciousness. They waited all night until shortly after dawn when the second Founder left Hogwarts.
In the weeks that followed Rowena's death, Helga and Godric were extremely busy. After appointing a permanent Head of Ravenclaw House, they travelled to the Scottish village of Rowena's birth for her funeral. She was to be buried with her husband, Raghnall, who was many years her senior and had died only a few years into their marriage.
"Granted, I never knew them when they were married, but Rowena hardly ever mentioned her husband! I don't understand why she wanted to be buried with him. She lived independently for most of her life." Helga was talking more to herself than to Godric. They were organising Rowena's possessions, of which there were many.
Godric was sorting through a towering stack of books. "And I didn't know them as a couple either, Helga. By the time Salazar and I met Rowena, Raghnall had already died – though only just." He started flicking through one the thickest books, his eyebrows raised. "All I know is that Rowena was very young when they married. She always gave the impression that there was no major passion between them, but I believe they had great respect for one another."
"Have you come across the diadem at all?" Helga asked. Rowena had stopped wearing it when Helena vanished, but she claimed to have stored it in her chambers somewhere.
"No, not yet. I'm sure we'll find it."
They did not. The funeral approached and with the diadem still not found, it was given up for missing. Instead Helga and Godric returned Rowena's body to her Scottish village without it. Their journey was treacherous, the wintery weather unrelenting. Two thoughts occupied Helga's mind: would Salazar turn up at the funeral or would he perhaps, taking advantage of their absence, make a return to Hogwarts?
She confessed these suspicions to Godric, but he didn't seem overly concerned. "Oh, I wouldn't worry about Salazar," he said with a wry smile. "He still has his pride. You know, if Rowena had waited for Salazar as well, I think she would've lived forever."
Helga never got the chance to explain that she wasn't worried about Salazar exactly. It was easier, though, to let Godric assume that that was what she meant. In any case, both of Helga's theories proved untrue. The two remaining Founders returned to Hogwarts to find it exactly as they had left it. Salazar had not made an appearance at the funeral nor had he snuck back into the school in their absence.
Roughly a year after Rowena's death, Helga felt compelled to pass on her treasured golden cup to Will. He wasn't her blood, but blood had never mattered much to Helga. Will turned it over in his rough hands, frowning, though clearly pleased. "Why are you giving it to me?" he asked. "Are you going somewhere?"
"Nowhere, dear. Not yet. I'd just rather you held onto to it for awhile."
Meanwhile, Godric seemed to grow increasingly restless. He regressed, it seemed, from an accomplished teacher back into the wily traveller he had been in his youth. Helga often watched him from the castle windows. He wandered the grounds at all hours, impatient for adventure.
One midsummer's evening, a few weeks from the start of a new school year, Godric arrived in Helga's quarters with a proposition. "Good evening, Helga," he said, his grin very wide indeed. "And if I may say so, you have an exquisite glow about you tonight!"
She was sat at her desk surrounded by piles of parchment and mountains of books, busily preparing for the upcoming term. If there was any such glow, it was a result of exhaustion. She simply laughed. "Really, Godric. Flattery will get you nowhere with me, or have you learned nothing over all these years? What do you want?"
"Oh, Helga." He placed a hand over his heart in a mock grand gesture. "You do wound me." After a pause he, too, laughed. "Fine, fine. I've come to ask your permission."
Permission? Helga was justifiably wary. Knowing Godric, it could be anything. "You don't want a dragon, do you?" she asked.
"No, not a dragon. I had hairy incident with a Hebridean Black once. Have I told you that story?"
"Yes. More than once."
"Well, in any case, I've gone off the idea of a dragon. A chimaera however...?"
"You cannot have a chimaera, Godric."
He waved away her concerns. "Well, fine – but what I really wanted to ask for was your blessing."
Helga laughed. "Are you to be wed?"
"Ha! Going travelling, I hope. If you consent to it. Term starts in a matter weeks, I know, and I can assure you I would be back in time."
Honestly – and perhaps selfishly – Helga was reticent to give her consent. "Where?" she enquired, stalling for time.
Godric took a seat opposite her desk. "The Hollow," he told her, speaking the name with soft reverence, "the west English village in which I was born. I still own a house there, though I haven't visited it in years." His eyes seemed to cloud over and he heaved a sigh. "I haven't travelled for so long now; it was once such a huge part of my life."
"I know," Helga reminded him. "That was how you found me." She smiled to herself, remembering the man with the booming voice and outrageous tales, who walked into The Green Dragon one day and effectively changed her life.
Godric jumped to his feet suddenly, jolting her out of her reminiscence. "Forgive me, Helga, forgive me. It was selfish of me to ask, forget it – a foolish man's indulgence, nothing more." He was almost at the door and Helga was just about prepared to let him leave and the matter be forgotten. Her conscience berated her, however, and she spoke up at the last moment.
"I wouldn't object to you leaving," she said, even though it was far from the truth. If was she was utterly honest, she didn't want him to go. Without Godric, she would be so alone.
His eyes lit up. "Really?"
"Yes, of course. But – " She pointed at the sword hanging from his belt. " – You can leave that garish thing here, please. I don't want you getting into any more trouble than necessary."
Godric laughed – it was the same laugh that had once boomed around the parlour at The Green Dragon. "Naturally!" With a flourish, he removed his beloved sword and placed it on her desk. "In fact, I can do even better than that." And he whipped off his hat and placed that on her desk too.
Helga stared at it. "You fool," she said, erupting with laughter. "What on earth would I want with your hat?"
"It's something I've been mulling over for a while. When Rowena died, it made me realise that none of us is going to live forever. And yes, we've managed thus far. The appointed Heads of Slytherin and Ravenclaw have done an admirable job of choosing students that Salazar and Rowena would've approved of. But remember – they knew Salazar and Rowena personally. They were taught by them. One day, we'll all be gone, and what then? Hogwarts will be eventually be in the hands of people who didn't know us at all."
"That was inevitable," Helga reminded him.
"Oh, I know, I know. I just worry that our influence and the standards we set for our Houses will be lost or changed over time. This hat, Helga, could be the solution to our problem." He held it up. The candlelight threw it into unflattering focus. It looked patched, frayed and distinctly ordinary.
Helga knew that looks could be deceiving. She was a famously open-minded and accepting woman. But in this case, she was doubtful. Not all of Godric's schemes had happy endings. "A hat?" she said. "A hat that does our job?"
"Think about it, Helga!" Godric's voice bubbled with boyish enthusiasm; she had not seen him this happy in months. "We could enchant it. Put our thoughts inside it. You're talented with charms. We could alter it so that when a new student puts it on, it takes a look inside their head and sees where they best fit."
"But undoubtedly effective. Salazar and I actually discussed similar ideas before he left. It was his ability as a Legilimens that convinced me the hat would work."
"I never liked that side of him," Helga mumbled. She had to admit, though, that Godric's idea had potential. If all the students had to do was try on a hat, the Sorting Ceremony would be even quicker than it was now. "Leave the hat with me, Godric. I'll try and work some magic on it. You're free to leave for the Hollow – as long as you give me your word that you'll back before the first day of term."
"You have my word," he promised. Grinning, he bounded towards the door, looking younger with each step. "Goodnight, Helga, and thank you."
"Oh, Godric, one moment!" Helga stood and grabbed the sword by its ruby encrusted handle. It was heavier than she expected, but she managed to lift it up. "Here," she said, "take it!" She threw the sword into the air and Godric caught it by the handle.
"Change of heart?"
She smiled sheepishly. "I've just always wanted to do that."
Time seemed to pass very slowly in Godric's absence.
Even though Helga had thousands of things to do before the school year started, her feelings of loneliness lingered. Hogwarts had always been a joint venture. It no longer felt that way. While it was true that she was surrounded by other teachers and caretakers, it was not the same. Godric, Salazar and Rowena were more than colleagues. Nothing and no one could replace them.
The start of term drew ever closer and still Godric had not returned. With each day that passed, a knot of foreboding tightened in Helga's chest. Punctuality had never been Godric's strong point, but he had promised not be late and she believed him. Outside the castle, the landscape shifted – autumn was approaching, rain fell more frequently and the air grew increasingly chilly. Where was he?
The day before the new term dawned and Helga woke with a sharp pain in her stomach. It refused to shift. She was not ill, she knew, merely worried. This was typical of Godric. Had he simply lost track of time? That afternoon, she and Will entered Godric's quarters in search of a student list.
"I've no idea where to begin looking," Helga was saying. "The desk is too obvious for Godric. He's ridiculously disorganised – "
Will grabbed her arm suddenly. "Look!" he gasped. "He's back!"
And sure enough, lying on the desk as though it had always been there, was his sword. Helga's heart soared. "Oh, Godric," she murmured. She had never been happier to see that garish weapon. It lay glinting in the early autumn sunlight. "No sign of his boots or cloak," she said, looking around. "Maybe he headed straight for the grounds."
"I'll go and look!" Will raced out of the room, equally excited to see Godric again.
Helga grinned to herself.
But Will was gone too long. He returned shrugging. "There's no sign of him, ma'am. No one saw him arrive either. I asked everyone I came across."
"Oh, well, no worry!" Helga's smile slipped only slightly. "I expect he's gone straight to his common room. We'll see him at dinner, I'm sure."
Dinner came and dinner went. Godric made no appearance. Helga couldn't eat. The stew seemed tasteless. The little that she could swallow swirled unpleasantly in her stomach, until she was sure she would vomit. She jumped to her feet. The hall swayed around her. She gripped the table and slowly the world steadied itself.
The sword... they had seen the sword. So where was he? Had it been only a figment of their imagination, a trick of the light? Had they really seen the sword? Before she knew it, she was running out of the hall, ignoring the voices of those around her. Helga ran without stopping back up the stairs to Godric's chamber.
It lay on the desk, untouched, exactly as it had been earlier that day. She reached out and stroked the hilt, which was boldly engraved with the name 'Godric Gryffindor'. It was cold and very real. Slowly she lifted the sword, despite its weight, and held it against her chest. It was real.
"No," she moaned, her eyes tightly closed.
Helga knew little about goblin wrought weapons, but if this sword had returned without its master...
"Please, no." She slumped to the floor, still holding it, praying for enlightenment. The sword had returned to Hogwarts, but Godric Gryffindor had not. What else could that possibly mean? Helga wept.
There was no point pretending any longer: the greatest friendship she'd ever known had dissolved. With a quiet finality – more of sigh than a shout – their destruction was at last complete.
Beneath the Great Hall ceiling, through which stars could be spotted amongst the enchanted falling snow, the students and teachers had gathered. It was the Winter Ball, held most years since Hogwarts was founded.
The House tables, laden with some of Helga's best dishes, had been pushed against the walls. In the middle of the floor people danced – twirling, twisting, and skipping along at a furiously upbeat pace. Helga and Rowena were sat at the Top Table clapping along with the dancers.
"Salazar looks rather awkward, doesn't he?" Helga muttered. "He's technically gifted, but I don't think he's enjoying himself."
"Exactly," Rowena agreed. She watched Salazar with one eyebrow arched. "I'd say he looks as if he'd like nothing better than to escape."
Helga was forced to hide a very unladylike snort behind her handkerchief. "I couldn't agree more, Rowena." Godric, meanwhile, was full of enthusiasm despite lacking skill. He was whirling around the dance floor in high spirits, moving from partner to partner with relative ease. Salazar appeared far more reserved, and he wasted little time in extracting himself from the dance and returning to sit at the Top Table.
"You did admirably," Rowena said, the moment he was within earshot. She raised her goblet to him and inclined her head.
"Wonderful," Helga added, hoping not to snort again.
Salazar scrutinised them; his expression was tinged with suspicion, but he couldn't seem to decide if they were genuine or not. Nevertheless, he accepted the goblet of wine Helga held out for him. "Godric looks a fool," he remarked, surveying the dancing from his new vantage point.
"Perhaps," said Rowena. "Although he doesn't seem to mind either way."
"He's enjoying himself, Salazar," Helga clarified. "Something you would do well to try, I think."
Salazar did not answer. The trio sat pensively until Godric removed himself from the festivities and marched up to them. His curly hair was far messier than usual and his manner was exuberant. "Well well!" he said, clasping his hands together. "You three look entirely too comfortable for my liking." He held out a hand to the women. "Anyone fancy a dance?"
To the surprise of everyone, it was Rowena who stood and took up Godric's offer. "It's a slow one," she said, shrugging. "I should be safe."
Godric chuckled. "With me? You have entirely too much faith, my dear!" Arm in arm, they returned to the dance floor, leaving Helga and Salazar alone at the table. For a long while, neither spoke, and when at last Salazar did, it was clear that he was still irritated with Helga's slight on his personality.
"Your dress is common," he said.
Helga spluttered. Her cheeks flared with sudden heat. "Excuse me?"
"Common," Salazar repeated, eyeing it.
It was a silken robe in a dark orange shade. The colour reminded Helga of spiced pumpkin juice. But the cut, as Salazar had so rudely alluded, was low. Helga decided she didn't care.
"And you are a horrible man who can't dance."
Salazar's head jerked as if he had been slapped, but he did not retort immediately. "Then you are a liar," he muttered. "You told me I was a wonderful dancer."
"I was trying to be charitable," Helga said.
"Actually I was taught formal dance by one of the finest tutors in the south east of England."
"Yes," Salazar said. His tone had changed. Pride, some might call it. Helga leaned towards irritatingly haughty. If there was ever a man to bring out the honesty in her personality, for better or worse, it was Salazar.
"If I were you," she told him in an undertone, "I would demand my galleons back." She took a demure sip of her drink. Salazar sat beside her in silent indignation.
The current dance drew to a close before the flutists and drummers struck up a more upbeat melody. Rowena and several other dancers withdrew to the sides, though Godric did not.
Salazar finally deigned to speak. "I find it ironic, Helga. You sit in judgement of my dancing, yet you have not once taken to the floor yourself."
She smiled – a tactic that was always certain to annoy him. "I was a landlady, Salazar. Naturally I can dance. I was simply waiting for something more lively. And you know," she said, standing up, "I think this will do perfectly. Will you join me?"
"Come along! I need a partner. Everyone else has already paired up."
"Nonsense. Simply extract Godric from whatever poor girl he's forced himself upon!"
"Oh no, Salazar." Helga's voice was playful. "I want the man who was taught by the finest dance tutor in south east England. Come now, hurry! Or the dance will be over."
If there was one thing Salazar Slytherin could not refuse, it was a challenge. He reluctantly followed Helga onto the dance floor. They danced for less than a minute – it was over in a flash. But Helga relished those moments. They were moments, she knew, that she would never have again: uncomplicated moments in which there was no talk of blood purity or strife. She could be close to Salazar, pressed up against his chest as they spun, and no one raised an eyebrow. She could laugh at his slightly stilted dancing and feel a rush of incredulity when he actually relaxed into it. When the song finished and they parted, it was with reluctance. Helga could not be sure that the feeling was mutual because Salazar would never say. She could only imagine that it was.
Salazar kissed her hand. "Well danced, my lady."
"The same to you!"
"Oh! I impressed you this time, did I?"
"You were wonderful," Helga said, laughing. "And this time I mean it."
Salazar's expression was strange. He did not smile, but nor did he grimace. "Well... thank you."
It was a surreal moment: the tranquillity of the enchanted snow competing with a tumult of unspoken emotions. "I should find Rowena," said Helga after a pause.
"Yes," Salazar agreed. "And I, Godric." He lingered for a moment, distracted. "Helga, your robes – what I said – "
"Was rude?" she finished for him. "And entirely none of your business?"
He managed a curt nod. "Mm."
"And you're... sorry?" Helga wondered if this was the closest Salazar had ever been to an apology.
"Yes." He walked away. He didn't say sorry, but he mouthed it – so quickly that Helga nearly missed it – before vanishing back into the crowd.
The mystery of Godric Gryffindor became part of Hogwarts. No one knew where he had gone or why, or if he was dead or alive. No one except Helga Hufflepuff and her adopted son, Will, knew that his sword had returned to Hogwarts alone. As far as anyone else was aware, it had simply never left. Helga decided to leave the sword in his room. He had no heirs so it belonged now to Gryffindor students, present and future. They were his true legacy.
Rumours flew about the school for awhile. Many were wild: that he'd been eaten by a Common Welsh Green or that he'd duelled the Giant Squid and lost. The school was alive with speculation until, like all other things, people forgot to remember.
No one knew the truth and Helga suspected that no one ever would. She herself knew only two things for certain. Firstly, the sword had left its master and returned alone, and secondly, he had promised to return on time. These facts combined told her all she needed to know: that she would never see Godric Gryffindor again. 'Why' didn't matter. Perhaps she would be happier not knowing. Had old age crept up on him, the journey too much? Had a simple mishap befallen him? A duel misjudged or a stray spell?
Or had an old friend spied a chance for revenge?
But she would never know. It was all pointless speculation. And Helga had to be strong for the sake of Hogwarts.
In some ways it was easier now. When people found her in the Entrance Hall at night, watching the oak doors, they didn't find it at all unusual.
They assumed she was waiting for Godric.
Well, I'm horrible. But we all knew it couldn't end happily. Such is Founders Era, I'm afraid. Sigh. So, anyway... thanks for reading, it's been great to write and, for one last time, please review!