This story was written for the 2007 Femgenficathon on LJ. My prompt was “It is not easy to be a pioneer -- but oh, it is fascinating! I would not trade one moment, even the worst moment, for all the riches in the world.” -- Elizabeth Blackwell.
Many thanks, as always, to Ara Kane for beta-reading.
I’ll Take the Lot
And Teach Them All I Know
Helga had a stubborn streak. Once convinced of the rightness of her idea, she steadfastly held to it, even though her closest friend declared it “completely impossible” to put into practice.
Determined to prove him wrong, Helga bit her tongue for a second before responding mildly, “Not impossible, just difficult.”
“But you’re proposing to build a school for all the wizards of Britain!”
“Don’t forget the witches, Godric,” she replied with a sideways glance and a smile.
Her friend sighed. “Yes, the witches, too.” He stopped walking and turned to face her. “But why?”
“Why not?” Godric snorted at her flippant answer, and she thought a moment before continuing. “Partly because I have five fatherless children to provide for.” Godric swallowed hard at the reminder while Helga blinked back a renegade tear. He and Harold had gone off together to fight the Norse raiders, but only Godric had returned alive. “And partly because I’ve seen how haphazardly children are taught magic by their parents,” she added. “They’re more likely to shatter something than repair it!”
Godric frowned. “That’s true enough, but don’t you think you’re being a wee bit ambitious? Not even the Romans succeeded in creating an organized system of education. Lord knows they were efficient in everything else!”
“Somebody has to be first,” said Helga firmly. She had made up her mind. In fact, she had already sent out invitations by owl to families of her acquaintance with children of appropriate age. She merely thought it wise to withhold that bit of information until she brought him around to her way of thinking. Therefore, when Godric started to list all of the potential problems with the plan, Helga patiently refuted them one by one.
“There are so many different languages here in Britain,” Godric said at last. “How will you communicate with them all?”
“I may have lived here in the Highlands for nearly twenty years, but I do still remember the southern dialects. We’ll teach them Latin as well. That’s the international language for education, after all.”
“What about the Norsemen? How will we protect the students?”
Helga hid her smile of satisfaction. If he had reached this point, he was ready for her next proposal. “That’s where you come in. We’ll need to greatly expand my home to make room, and you’re much better at Building Charms than I. We could use that soldier’s eye of yours to plan some fortifications as well.”
She had to stifle a laugh when Godric immediately began scanning the empty ground between the lake and the forest and muttering something about a wall and the best place to quarry stone. Logic and the excitement of the idea had carried the day. In the beginning, she had been very much afraid that she would need to resort to using her famous treacle tart as a bribe.
Helga pressed on with her task even though her partner in the conversation appeared to be listening only out of politeness. The worries in the back of her mind about having left her fifteen-year-old daughter in charge of the kitchen and her younger siblings didn’t help her concentration, either.
“The school is still very small. So far, all of the students are relatives of Godric’s or mine, but we’re trying to change that by visiting every wizarding household that we hear of.”
“Which is how you found me. But there are no children of a suitable age here.”
“I know that.” Helga smiled. “I’m looking for another teacher.”
When Rowena’s mouth dropped open in surprise, Helga began to wonder if the younger woman’s reputed intelligence had been overstated. After all, she had been dropping heavy hints throughout the conversation. Casting aside her doubts, she repeated the offer.
Rowena still seemed dumbfounded. “Teach? I would certainly make a mess of the whole thing.” She shook her head. “I know I have a reputation as scholar, but I am merely fond of experimenting. I want to know.”
“Anything and everything. How things work. Why things work.”
“And what do you do with this knowledge?”
“Other than write the occasional letter to a fellow scholar? Nothing. That is not the point after all.” Rowena shrugged. “Knowledge for its own sake is enough for me.”
This attitude was something of a puzzle to practical-minded Helga, but she continued to pursue her mission. “Don’t you want to share that knowledge? It would be a shame if it were lost.”
Rowena blushed as she gestured for a house-elf to offer Helga a goblet of mulled mead. “But I always have such difficulty explaining things. I am afraid the students’ eyes would glaze over before I even start. Besides, I have everything I want right here.”
Helga looked around the luxuriously furnished room. Rowena’s father was a very wealthy man who had provided her with both finely woven tapestries and a state of the art set of potion making equipment. Helga tried hard to think of something that would tempt this daughter of privilege to leave her comfortable home for a half-finished school in the Highlands. An idea came to her in a flash. “We have a library. My late husband collected manuscripts during his travels.”
Rowena’s eyes lit up as she suddenly gave Helga her full attention. “How many? Do you have Marcus the Mysterious’s Treatise on Transfigurational Frameworks? I have only seen a badly copied extract.”
Helga laughed at the sight of her previously regal host losing her composure. “Yes, it’s the prize of our collection - handwritten, not charmed, at the court of Charlemagne nearly two hundred years ago. I nearly fainted when I found out how much Harold had paid for it.”
Rowena’s expression gradually changed from excited to thoughtful. “If I were to come…”
“You would have access to everything.” Helga hated to apply this sort of pressure, but after seeing that glimpse of enthusiasm, she knew she had chosen the best person for the job.
“But the teaching…”
“I think you should take the advanced students under your wing. A few of the students, including my eldest son Wulfric, want to go beyond the concrete sorts of things that I’m comfortable with. They’re eager to learn the theory behind the workings of magic, and I can’t help them nearly as much as I’d like.”
This seemed to make up Rowena’s mind. With her acceptance, talk soon turned to the mundane matters of calendar dates and the best inns along the road to Hogwarts.
“I wish there were a faster way to travel than on horseback,” mused Helga. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could flash directly from place to place?”
“Oh, one of my correspondents is working on that,” responded Rowena brightly. “He did it once by accident as a child but has been unable to repeat it.”
Helga gave her a shrewd look. “What’s his name, and would he be willing to teach?”
Helga leaned against the low stone wall separating the herb and vegetable garden from the rest of the grounds. From where she stood, she could only see part of Salazar’s back as he bent over the plants, occasionally muttering curses at the weeds. When she called out to him, he stood up and wiped his muddy hands on his already-soiled green robes.
Salazar’s hissed farewell to the snakes who lived in the garden never failed to set her on edge. Even the knowledge that his serpent friends earned their keep by hunting rodent pests was insufficient to overcome her instinctive reaction. Always reluctant to give offence, Helga was grateful that he overlooked her shudders.
“What news?” he asked as he drew closer. “Is Godric back from Ireland?” Even after ten years of hard work and a growing reputation, summers were still spent trying to find more students for their school.
Helga smiled broadly. “Yes, he is. He’s exhausted, but he secured promises from five girls and three boys. Knowing him, he’ll fall asleep halfway through the meal I just made him but wake you up at some ungodly hour tomorrow to go hunting in the forest.”
Salazar’s appreciative chuckle died abruptly when he caught Helga’s eye. “There’s something you’re not telling me. Something you know I won’t like.”
Helga silently cursed her inability to block his Legilimency. Since she could never hope to fool him, she decided to get the unwelcome news out of the way. “Godric found one of the girls levitating buckets of milk in a village. An all-Muggle village.” Salazar’s angry expression validated Helga’s reluctance to tell, but she continued her story. “Apparently, her parents had been convinced that she was possessed by devils and were very relieved…”
“He explained about magic to Muggles?” His voice held a dangerous note.
“He couldn’t very well take her away without telling her parents why!”
“He shouldn’t have taken her at all!”
“Well, she’s here and she’s not going back!” Salazar backed down at Helga’s fierce glare. “I’ve said over and over again that I will not turn away any magical child…”
“Yes, I know.” Helga’s voice grew gentler as she laid her hand on his arm. “I’ve heard the story of your grandparents before, but you can’t let the fact that one particular Muggle-born wizard was a liar and a traitor interfere with our mission now.”
Salazar frowned but said nothing. In an effort to smooth things over, Helga continued, “Now that we have enough students to need more than one girls’ and boys’ dormitory, I like your idea of dividing them up based upon the different study groups we lead. They can be like a family with a teacher at the head.”
“And what do Godric and Rowena say?”
“They’re in favor of it. Rowena thinks it will encourage academic discussion outside of classroom hours while Godric hopes that competition between the groups will lead everyone to try harder.”
Salazar laughed. “I’m sure that you have reservations about the rivalry aspect of that.”
“Ah yes, you know me well.” She smiled back at him. “Shall we join our colleagues for dinner?”
He made a mock-courtly bow and then gallantly offered his mud-covered arm. She took it, and they strolled off in the direction of the still-expanding castle. Sharing similar senses of humor, they had played this game ever since overhearing a student speculate that they were in love with each other. Helga rolled her eyes; simply because she was a widow and Salazar a widower, some people thought that was enough to make them a perfect match.
No, she had no desire to marry again. Her children were all grown, or nearly so, and had no need for a stepfather. Most of all, she wasn’t lonely. She hadn’t expected to love the school so much, but now, surrounded by her fellow teachers and students, she was perfectly content with her life. Besides, there was far too much work to do.
Thump! Thump! Bits of flour flew through the air and coated Helga’s hair. She stopped for only a second before tightening her fist and punching the huge lump of bread dough with another resounding thud. In her distracted state, she barely noticed a small house-elf fearfully backing away as she pounded away with enough force to make the table rattle.
She didn’t notice the flour mixing with tears to form a messy paste on her face, either.
Under normal circumstances, Helga found the act of blending ingredients by hand restful and soothing; in her opinion, using magic for cooking often took away from the tactile pleasure of creation. Today, the physical activity was unable to help drive away her anger and despair.
The dream that had taken over twenty-five years to realize was about to fall down around her. With Salazar gone and Rowena gravely ill, she didn’t see how Hogwarts could survive.
While attempting to create a spell to find her missing daughter, Rowena had accidentally discovered a way to locate magical babies. Caring only about the mistakes in her original theory, she failed to see the practical uses of her invention. On the other hand, Helga, Salazar, and Godric had grasped the possibilities at once. No longer would they need to rely on luck or word of mouth to find potential students.
Unfortunately, their initial jubilation was quickly overshadowed once Salazar realized that now Muggle-borns would be easy to find. The others tried to override his misgivings, but he refused to budge. After tempers flared, what had started as a reasonable discussion soon grew into a blazing row in which many years’ worth of petty grievances were dragged up and aired. In the end, Godric had rashly challenged Salazar to a duel.
Helga shuddered at the memory of her two friends trying their best to kill one other. The fight mercifully ended in a draw when Helga and Rowena worked together to Stupefy the men from behind. However, their subsequent peacemaking attempts failed, and Salazar angrily left the castle that night.
She had raised her fist to take another pass at the bread dough when she heard a voice behind her, one that she hadn’t heard in well over a year. In the midst of spinning around and joyfully calling out a name, Helga abruptly realized that she could see the stone wall through Helena Ravenclaw’s translucent form.
“No!” Helga grabbed the edge of the table for support as her knees threatened to collapse. Overcome with shock, she could do nothing but stammer incoherently for a few seconds. “What happened?” Before Helena had a chance to reply, anger took over and Helga scolded her like a wayward five-year-old. “Where have you been? Disappearing without leaving any word at all! Your mother has been worried sick about you!” Helga took another look at Helena’s ghostly body and added under her breath, “And with good reason.”
Helena bowed her head, hiding her face with her hair. “Words cannot express how very sorry I am,” she said with true remorse. “I wanted to come as soon as I heard that she was ill, but now I’m afraid to let her see me like this.”
Helga reached out to pat Helena’s shoulder but drew back her hand at the chill. “Your father and brother are sitting with her now. I’m not sure how any of them will take seeing you like this.”
Helena looked up and gave a brittle smile. “That’s why I came to you first. I knew you’d be sensible and give good advice. Not that I ever listened properly before.” She drifted towards the door. “Oh, where’s old Salazar? I have some things to say to him about one of his hand-picked students.” The tone of her voice had become quite menacing.
“He’s gone.” Helga related the whole sorry tale.
By the end, Helena looked even more distressed. “It’s all my fault! She was looking for me and that led to your quarrel!” She shook her head in disgust. “But you can’t close the school! Surely, Salazar and Mother aren’t the only ones in Britain qualified to teach.”
Thrust back into the practicalities of the matter, Helga startled herself by immediately thinking of at least five former students she could contact. How had she overlooked such an obvious solution?
“Grief does strange things to the mind,” said Helena, apparently reading Helga’s thoughts. “Believe me, I know.”
Helga nodded. “Which is why I should come with you to visit your mother. I have a great many things to ask her.”
Helena managed a bit of a smile. “Yes, I’m not the only one with unfinished business.”
Helga leaned heavily on her walking stick as she made her way down to the lake. She impatiently pushed away the long white hair the wind had blown into her face. Conjuring herself a seat, she sighed with satisfaction as she surveyed Hogwarts - tangible evidence of her life’s work.
Of course, she still missed the friends who had helped her build it; she had managed to outlive them all. Helga found it both amusing and disconcerting when new students looked at her in awe, almost as if they couldn’t believe she was a real person.
She occasionally had tried to correct some of the stories that had sprung up about the origins of the school and the deeds of the now-legendary founders. Trivial events had been magnified and embroidered while other, more important, happenings were seemingly forgotten. History, she reflected, was the end result of time and faulty memory.
Helga knew it would not be long before she ceased to be a living legend and was not a bit distressed. After all, she had helped create an institution that was strong enough to survive her.
Perhaps even for a thousand years.