The Sugar Quill
Author: Arabella (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Before the Beginning: A Founders Fic, With Sugar Quills  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

For Zsenya

From Arabella

Based on the wonderful works of JK Rowling

It was supposed to fit.  Easily.  The Blind Blacksmith had sworn up and down that his slender, cast-iron inkwells were individually and expertly charmed to weld themselves to the sturdy wooden classroom desks, and Rowena had thought them a very practical idea.  They were.  Nearly every desk in the Potions dungeon had now been successfully fitted with an Immovable Inkwell; Rowena had meticulously set each one just exactly where she wanted it to sear into the thick, waxen wood, and each one had burned an eternally comfortable pit for itself in the upper center of its desk.  Thirty-nine iron bottoms had cooled and settled in their spots, forever available to diligent, note-taking Potions students.

The fortieth inkwell refused to burn.  Some upstart apprentice had probably hit it with an Inflammable Charm - Rowena gave up struggling and slapped it recklessly onto the desk.  She pushed a hand through her thick, shortish mess of black curls and reminded herself that there were worse tragedies in the world than defective inkwells, even if she couldn’t think of any at the moment.  There were fifty-seven students arriving at the Hogsmeade Common tomorrow, at which point they would become her responsibility for a full school year.  They were going to need inkwells.  They were going to need... everything.

“Those were an uncommonly brilliant purchase.”

Rowena glanced over her shoulder and was unwillingly arrested, for a fleeting moment, by the pale, chiseled beauty of Salazar.  She nodded curtly at him, then straightened her shoulders and glanced around the dungeon.  “I believe your classroom is ready for use,” she returned, keeping her voice deliberately affable.  Uncommonly brilliant.  Does he think I can’t hear the insult?

Salazar took long, smooth steps toward the nearest desk, and pushed two skeptical fingers against an Immovable Inkwell.  It stayed in place.

“True to their names,” Rowena said lightly, forcing a smile.  He behaves as if I’m incapable of a simple purchase.  How on earth does Helga put up with...

“Good.”  Salazar ran a contemplative white fingertip around the rim of the little iron well.  “The last thing that interests me is a dungeon full of clumsy children in a roomful of free-standing inkbottles.”  His careless gesture was beautiful.  Even the crease between his eyebrows was beautiful.  There was something unnerving about his kind of physical perfection.

Rowena didn’t like it.

He was looking, now, from the desk’s inkwell to its nearby cauldron stand, and he let out a soft breath of displeasure.

“What?” Rowena demanded, not quite masking her mounting snappishness.

Salazar gazed at her, grey eyes narrow and calm.  “You would have done better to seal these inkwells into the right hand corners, rather than the upper centers of the work areas.  The majority of students are right handed, not to mention that it would have set the ink another six inches away from the cauldrons.  These inkwells may be impossible to overturn, but I do not rule out the possibility of messy, juvenile ink splashing, and subsequently ruined potions.”  He lifted a challenging eyebrow and smiled, looking fully assured of his superiority.

Rowena turned her attention back to her defective inkwell, using both hands to pick it up so that her itching fingers wouldn’t be free to go for her wand.  After all, Salazar was, without doubt, necessary to the success of this project.  Hogwarts needed his business expertise, his potions finesse, and his powerful wizarding contacts.  His money.  He’d bought the inkwells.  And the desks, and the greenhouse glass – the four-poster beds, the plush furnishings, the endless stacks of parchment and the highest-quality potions ingredients. 

But they had built the castle itself equally.  All four of them had shared the cost. Rowena had insisted on that.

“Some of our students will be left handed,” she answered, as evenly as she could.  “That’s precisely why I put these inkwells in the centers.  Would you have students write uncomfortably, simply because they fall into a minority?  This compromise is only fair – ”

“Compromise,” Salazar tossed his dark head derisively, “is always imperfect.  It was my understanding, Rowena, that you intended Hogwarts to be the best school of its kind.  Not the most accommodating.”

“If you’re suggesting, Salazar, that we cannot be both excellent and imperfect –”

“The two are mutually exclusive.”

“Wrong.”  Rowena was breathing hard, trying to quell the fear that had wormed its way into her brain a long time ago.  The fear that Salazar’s fundamental values were questionable at best.  The fear that he wouldn’t be a suitable role model for the children in his House.  “There will always be mistakes made.  There will be ink in your potions no matter where I put these bottles – we’re going to be educating little children –”

“Of every variety.”  Salazar bit down on the words coldly.  “Yes.  I am quite aware of our admissions policies.”

In the following silence, Rowena did her best not to throw the remaining free inkwell at Salazar’s beautiful Roman nose.  Say it like that in front of Godric, she challenged him silently.  Say it just like that.  I want to watch him run you out.

“If you wanted your inkwells installed differently,” she finally managed, “then you were welcome to install them yourself.”  She set the final bottle in place with a decided thump, and swore under her breath when it didn’t seal itself to the desk.  “Burn, for the love of Merlin,” she muttered angrily.

“Language,” Salazar corrected smoothly, leaning on the doorframe.  “I’ll happily do it myself if you can’t manage.  Perhaps you should go and see if Godric has broken his back yet, and leave me to my classroom.”

Rowena bristled.  “Our classroom, Salazar,” she answered.  “All of ours.  And yes, do try your hand at this one.”  She left the defective inkwell on the empty desk, and Salazar approached it confidently as she moved to leave the dungeon.  Rowena paused in the door as he picked up the little iron belly and turned it over in his hand. 

Something fluttered out of it.  Shards of something.  They were crystalline and bright, entirely opposed to the dark gloom of the Potions classroom, and they undulated in air, floating like little boats back and forth.  Some of them landed softly on the desk, some on the floor – some escaped into the cauldron.  Salazar made an angry, hissing sound that sent chills up Rowena’s spine, and caught a shiny bit of whatever it was, in his palm.  He studied it briefly, picked it up with his other thumb and index finger, and, to Rowena’s surprise, his tongue snaked out and caught it.

“Sugar.  I’ve heard of this – it’s from the Uncharted Continents.”  He turned and glared at Rowena.  “No wonder this inkwell won’t burn; it needs to be entirely empty, in order to affix itself.  Explain.”

Rowena drew herself up to her full height, which wasn’t very tall.  I’m not one of your students.  “We made several purchases this morning,” she returned icily.  “Perhaps something was overturned in one of the parcels.”

It was a lie.  Rowena knew precisely how the sugar had got into the little inkwell, and she had no intention of selling Helga down the river – no intention of giving Salazar more reasons to ‘tease her’ as he called it.  Godric called it treating her cruelly, but Helga always protested that it really was meant in fun, and never let anyone defend her.

“Why sugar?”  Salazar was unrelenting.  “Where did this come from?  Do we need it?  The kitchens are fully prepared.  The elves have seen to that, and if they haven’t, then the one responsible for organizing supplies will be let go.”

“You are…”  Rowena bit back the arsenal of fitting words.

“I am a perfectionist.”  Salazar blew the remaining shards of sugar out of the little well and set it in the upper right hand corner of the last empty desk.  It made a sizzling noise; there was a wonderful smell of wood fire; and then the glowing metal cooled in place. 

“Don’t fire the elves.”  Rowena clenched her fists and finished her lie.  “I had sweets next to that parcel, in the wagon.  They were a personal purchase.” 

Salazar looked up from his handiwork, his grey eyes triumphant, and his smile so graceful that only one who knew him too well could see the ugliness in it.  “You don’t eat sweets.  Tell Helga I want to speak to her.”

Rowena held his gaze for an angry, uncomfortable moment, until she could no longer stand to be near him, then went from the dungeons as quickly as she could, heading blindly for the Great Hall, and Godric. 

She didn’t see him at first; the Great Hall stood proud, silent and empty and Rowena’s eyes traveled over the beautiful dark wood of the four long House tables.  She searched the banners that marked them, taking note of the serpent, the eagle, the badger and the lion.  They had spent the last three years, the four of them, building their common rooms in secret, deciding what sorts of students they were best suited to help and educate.  They had each ‘unveiled’ their efforts to the other three, just a week ago. 

Salazar’s dungeon dormitories were by far Rowena’s least favorite, though Helga had caught her breath in amazement, and Godric’s eyes had lit up at the ingenuity and artistry of them– “These rooms have a palatial feel… like a knighthood.  Like its own walled-kingdom.  I like it.”  All green velvet and low green light and real silver finishing; Salazar had spent at least twice the amount of money on his own common room as he had allotted to anyone else, and as a result the Slytherin Dungeon was just as he was: breathtakingly beautiful and terribly cold.

The Gryffindor common room was Rowena’s favorite of the other three.  She liked her own best, when it came right down to it, but Godric’s scarlet and gold tapestries and warm, oversized fireplace appealed to her open nature.  His was truly a lion’s den, where the warriors of the world could return together to rejoice, or to lick their wounds in the stone seat of the great, arched tower window.  Even the rounded corners of the room made for an Arthurian feeling of courage and inclusion.   Godric had been proudest, however, of the Fat Lady in a Pink Dress, who had blushed like a real woman when he had given her the password.  He was always proudest of his paintings, always true to his visions – Rowena had devised an entirely different password system, but upon seeing the Fat Lady had changed her mind and, as soon as she’d had Godric alone, she had asked him to envision a similar portrait for Ravenclaw.  “I want my students safe behind your work.”

He’d kissed her, for that.

Her own common room was blue.  Blue and bronze, the color of things that excited her – the sea and the scales.  The sea was unfathomable, mysterious and deep; it could be studied for ages without ever revealing all its secrets.  The scales were justice, truth, and reason: things Rowena valued above all else.   And there were miniature scales, mounted above the passageways to the girls’ and boys’ dormitories, and fixed to the blue marble mantelpiece.   There were tables and chairs, all comfortable and useful and streamlined –- and then there were the bookshelves.  Godric had loved the bookshelves.  Her common room had the highest ceiling, being located in the center of a tower as opposed to the top, and the shelves stretched up the stones like cathedral walls, fifty feet in the air – filled with books that her parents had left her, books that had doubles in the library, books bound in leather with their embossed titles shining.  Rolling ladders made everything accessible, though the topmost shelves remained empty.  It would take thousands of books, to fill them. 

Helga’s common room… Rowena never ceased to admire her best friend, if only for the fact that she was constantly surprising.  Helga had chosen yellow and black to represent her students and herself.  Godric had been appalled and had expressed his sentiments rashly, as he was wont to do, where color was concerned.  “It’s too bright.  Too much contrast.  You want colors to complement each other, Helga, you don’t want a home that looks like a bumblebee’s backside.”

“Yes I do.”

But outside of the color scheme, on which Rowena privately agreed with Godric, the room was lovely: warm, bright and airy, comfortably cluttered with soft chairs and rugs, large, open work spaces and clay pots full of new quills next to stacks of fresh parchment.  There were plants blooming in both common room and dormitories, and all across the ceiling Helga had enchanted clusters of little white lights in lieu of lamps.  They shifted with the days, forming perfect constellations.  “I know you had the idea first, Godric.  But I thought that my students would like a living model of the night sky.  It might help them to memorize their lessons a bit more quickly.

“If they’re anything like you,” Salazar had said, surveying the layout in distaste, “then they’ll need all the help they can get.”   

Helga, for some reason that Rowena could not fathom, had laughed happily at that comment and agreed that it was true, before ushering them all out of the room and locking it secretly – though not before Rowena had noticed the odd position of the sculpted badger that was fixed to the stone wall, just to the right of the fireplace.  Not that she could ask Helga to reveal all her House’s secrets, but it had almost looked like…

“Rowena?” 

Her heart skipped; Godric’s voice was breathless and it came from overhead.  She tilted her head back and stared up.  “You’re quite mad,” she murmured up to him.  “You realize that you will go blind – no one paints like that.”

He’d been levitating six inches from the ceiling for the last six months, with a belt of enchanted paintbrushes strapped close around his hips.  First he had painted the dome a pale, unearthly blue, matching the color so perfectly to the sky outside that Helga had actually been fooled, and had delightedly asked to know why he’d gone and removed the ceiling.

There are other ways to do that.  Quicker ways,” Salazar had mentioned.  “Classical wizarding technique –

This is my way.” 

Godric painted like a Muggle; it infuriated Salazar.  He painted like a Muggle, and then enchanted his inanimate creations to come alive.  Truly alive.  There had always been enchanted paintings, of course – but they were the results of simple charms.  They took minutes, even seconds, to accomplish; a wave of the wand and a few well-chosen words, and a witch could have the oiled ocean crashing on the painted shore.  But Godric’s work was special.  He invested in each one wholly, bringing it alive without any magic but his vision and his hands, so that wand-magic merely woke the paintings.  The Fat Lady in the Pink Dress was human.  Two dimensional, forever framed, and as human as magic could make her.  Godric had given her a personality, a history, an emotional base – it really was astounding – the longer he spent with a painting, the more real its subject became.

“I’m not going blind, but I do need a bit of water.”  Godric rolled over in air and looked down at her pleadingly.  “Would you mind?  I left my wand on the table.”

“You shouldn’t be levitating without a wand!”

“Why not?  Come on…” he wheedled,  “come up here with me.  And bring some water.”  He grinned, and his black hair fell in his eyes.   They were all dark haired, excepting Helga.  Salazar actually had some mad idea that truly black hair was the best indicator of strong, intelligent magic in the bloodlines; Rowena wondered why the thinly veiled insult in that theory didn’t bother Helga.  She wondered why she couldn’t put angry thoughts of Salazar and Helga out of her mind, today.

“Rowena.”  Godric frowned down at her.  “Are you all right?”

“What?  Oh.  Yes.”  Rowena magicked a goblet of water, picked up his wand, and lifted off toward the ceiling.

“Don’t bump your head.”

“I know how to levitate.”

“Thanks.”  Godric took the water, drank it in one long gulp, and sent the goblet back down to the tables as Rowena tucked his wand into his belt alongside his paintbrushes.  He sighed happily and lay back on the air, dropping lower to survey the full picture.  “Almost finished.  Just this bolt of lightning, and then every weather pattern will be stored in these stones.  Every raindrop, every cloud formation.  Every storm.  The children won’t know if they’re inside or out.” 

“The children will love it,” Rowena said softly, making herself comfortable in the air as well.  She lay flat and looked up at the stormy black swirls of paint and the shattering light of the golden bolt. 

Godric’s body bumped into hers gently, and she heard his breath near her ear.  “Do you love it?” he asked quickly, his voice low.

Rowena turned her head, met his eyes, and answered him without words, remembering how she had found him.  His painting of her glen.  She’d known it was different; he had understood her home, and she had sought him out, only to find out that he understood so many other important things…

He kissed her throat.  “I don’t suppose this is the sort of thing we’ll be allowed to do, come tomorrow morning.”

Rowena laughed.  “No, Headmaster Gryffindor.  I don’t think so.  Not in front of first years.”

“What a pity, Professor Ravenclaw.”  He found her mouth again.  “But perhaps when they’re second years…”

“No.”  She pushed him playfully and before he could pull a brush from his belt and douse her nose with golden paint, she was on her feet, on the floor. 

“Don’t go…”  Godric looked down, chagrined.  “I want company.”

“You paint better alone, go on.  I have to find Helga.” 

“Why?”

Rowena grimaced at the thought of Salazar, waiting in the dungeon for her friend.  “Salazar wants to interrogate her about something truly stupid.  I have no patience for the way he…” She halted, unsure if she wanted to bring up her worries and ruin Godric’s concentration.

He seemed to read her mind.  “Let it go.  He’s just nervous about tomorrow being the first day.”  Godric smiled weakly.  “I admit, so am I.  Go on, find Helga – she can always cheer him up, and we all need to be in our right minds by morning.”

Rowena pursed her lips, amazed by his capacity for goodwill.  He and Helga had that much in common, especially where Salazar was concerned.  She shook her head dubiously at him and went out of the Hall, heading straight for the heavy oak doors. 

It wasn’t really a question, where to find Helga; she was always outside, always staring up at something, dreaming and writing and chewing up quills in her almost misty way.  From anyone else, Rowena would have found Helga’s impractical behavior somewhat annoying.   But from Helga herself… it was tolerable.  It was actually oddly endearing.  There wasn’t any other way for her to be.  Rowena stood at the top of the entry steps and let her eyes sweep the grounds, looking for the landmark of Helga’s hair. 

There was a flash of late-summer sunlight on something red and gold, and Rowena smiled.  Helga was sitting in the grass by the lake, barefoot, ruining her robes, a quill stuck through the thick red knot of her hair, to hold it back.  She had another quill in her hand, and was, quite predictably, chewing it to bits as she stared out over the water.

Rowena approached.  “Helga,” she said gently, not wanting to startle her out of her reverie.

Helga didn’t move.  “If I tell you something,” she said, as though continuing a conversation they’d been having for two hours, “will you still let me teach here?”

Rowena sat beside her, startled, and tried to read her profile.  “Have you killed someone?” she jested.

“No.” 

But Helga hadn’t laughed at the suggestion, and Rowena felt her stomach grow cold.  If there were a legitimate reason why Helga should be barred from teaching… it would ruin all their plans.  Helga was to teach Herbology, Divination and Astronomy, not to mention head her House and help with the maintenance of Hogwarts itself.  And she was slated to begin all this tomorrow.

“Just tell me what it is,” Rowena said, as calmly as she could, “and we’ll figure out a way to let you teach.”  She hoped she could fulfill that promise.

Helga was quiet for a long time.  When she turned to Rowena, there was something in her eyes so desperate that it was almost frightening.  She opened her mouth and no sound came out.

Rowena took her hand.  “Go on,” she encouraged, trying not to show the panic she felt.  “If there’s anyone you can tell, it’s me.”

Helga looked at their joined fingers and seemed to take courage from them. 

“I’m the first witch in my family,” she blurted.  “I don’t have magic blood, in my ancestry.  All the things that people think I’m brainless for having forgotten – I never knew them in the first place.”  She drew a shaking breath and met Rowena’s gaze.  “Should I be allowed to head a House?  Will it ruin the school?  I didn’t think so at first, which is why I never told you, but then lately… I’ve wondered.”  She flinched for no reason, and Rowena knew she was thinking of Salazar.  “Lately I’ve wondered,” she repeated faintly, staring back out over the water.  “He might be right.”

Rowena was not, by nature, moved to embrace many people, and when she did hug them, she tended to pull back quickly, uncomfortable with the intimacy – unless it was with Godric.  But this was different; she sidled up to Helga and put her arms tightly around her friend.  “You couldn’t tell me?” she asked quietly.  “All these years?”

“I didn’t think it was important.”

“It isn’t.  He’s wrong.  We need you.  Of course you’ll teach here.”

Helga sighed her relief, and let her head lean on Rowena’s shoulder.  The two of them sat there quiet, for several minutes.

“Don’t tell Salazar,” Helga finally said, as an afterthought.

Rowena let her go and sat up straight.  “He’s not worth listening to,” she said hotly.  “It’s rubbish, the idea that magical parents make the only magical children – we’ve all met children of magical parents who haven’t got any gift for it at all, and you’re… without blood to help you, you’re the most powerful witch I’ve ever known.”

Helga smiled wanly.  “Oh, yes.  I’m very powerful.”

“Stop that; you are.  And I don’t want you thinking otherwise when you go in and explain to Salazar why there was sugar in one of his Immovable Inkwells.”

“Oh, is that what brought you out here?”  Helga laughed.  “He didn’t like the sugar quills?”  She leaned back, letting her elbows rest in the grass, and smiled up at Rowena.  “He’ll love them, once I tell him what a trouble and an expense it is to obtain them.  He’ll want the sugar quill to be the mark of Slytherin House, instead of the serpent.”

“He hasn’t even seen a proper sugar quill.  Just the remains.  Some bits of one got into one of his cauldrons.”

“Well that is an emergency.”  Helga lay back all the way, and looked up at the sky.  “Has Godric finished his wonderful ceiling?”

“Nearly.”  Rowena lay back beside her friend and looked up, shocked once more by how difficult it was, now, to tell ceiling from sky.  “Helga, why do you persist in defending Salazar?”  There.  I said it.

Helga sighed.  “You don’t know him.”

“Oh, I think I do.”

“No.”  Helga rolled up on her elbow and looked down at Rowena.  “You think I don’t see that he’s bigoted and intimidating and self-centered.  But I do, just as you do.  Only, Rowena, that’s all you see of him.”  She shut her eyes for a second.  “He has potential.  He is the great man he pretends to be.  And I know you won’t believe it, but he’s a very tender man, and he loves me.”

“Would he love you, if he knew your heritage?”  Rowena almost wished she hadn’t said it; the look on Helga’s face had gone instantly from shining to haunted. 

“It would frighten him,” she said softly, “to know he’d gone against his principles without realizing it, and to have to face the fact that, without prejudice to blind him, he actually respects many kinds of people.  But someday… when he sees that it’s better, working with all of us, and when he sees how wonderful the children are – all of the children…”  She shrugged, and lay back down.  “I have faith in him,” she said simply.  “I can’t explain why.  I’m sorry if it seems weak.  Perhaps it is.”

Rowena couldn’t think of anything to say for a long time.  The sun, she realized, was gone from the sky, which had gone wild orange and was streaked with scarlet.  The moon hovered just above the horizon and the breeze lifted off the lake and tickled the skin of her face, throat and hands.  “You know,” she finally said, finding Helga’s fingers in the grass and squeezing them, “eagles eat snakes.”

Helga gave a funny, muffled little laugh, and squeezed back.  “Oh, so do badgers.”

Rowena and Helga burst out laughing, and didn’t stop until they heard a voice, obviously enhanced by the Sonorous Charm, calling to them from the steps of the castle.

“Ladies!  Frail witches of my humble acquaintance; your presence is required in this, the Great Hall, on this eve of our great adventure.  Where so e’er thou art, come hither, and make haste!”  There was a pause.  “Rowena?”  Another pause.  “Helga?”  A noise of high annoyance.  “I want to show you the ceiling, and I’m hungry!  Come on!”

When Rowena and Helga had mastered their second fit of giggles at Godric’s attempt to wax poetic, the two stood and straightened their robes.  Helga picked up her sack of quills and papers and slung it over her shoulder, then pulled the quill from her hair and shook it down.  The sunset sky seemed as much a reflection of it, as the other way around, and the look on her face when she turned toward the castle… Rowena didn’t think Salazar deserved access to her kind of wholesome, openhearted beauty.

“Fifty-seven eleven-year-olds,” Helga said quietly.  “Tomorrow.”

Rowena turned and faced the castle with her, catching her breath as she always did, at its total magnificence, made even sharper and more radiant by the red sky.  There were no words, for Hogwarts.  And it was theirs.

“We’re going to change lives, Rowena.”

“I know.”

They walked toward it, slowly.   Rowena breathed in, smelling the tang of the wild unkempt forest and the sweet, wet scent of the greenhouses.  Beautiful, all of it. 

“I loved your common room,” Helga said absently.  “You and Godric and Salazar are such… artists, all in your own ways.  But yours was my favorite.  All that blue.”

Rowena beamed, and wished she could return the compliment without being untruthful.  Instead, she asked; “What was the reason for your choice of colors?  If you don’t mind.”

“I don’t mind.”  Helga smiled.  “Black is the absence of color.  Black is where a person begins, before they know what they are, or where they’re going.”

“But white,” Rowena interrupted quickly, “is the opposite of that.  Not yellow.”

“Yes.  But no one ever gets to white.  No one person can be everything.  The best we can do is take what we know and use it well – we’re each called to illuminate the world, a little.  Yellow.”

Tears sprang into Rowena’s eyes, though she hid them well, and she resolved never again to think poorly of the Hufflepuff colors.  “May I ask you something else?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“You don’t have to answer.”

“All right.”

“There was a badger, by the fireplace…” Rowena stopped walking.  “Never mind, I’ve thought better of my question.  It’s really none of my business.”

Helga laughed, and stopped as well.  “Do you know what a sett is?”

Rowena searched her extensive vocabulary, and came up with nothing.  “No.”

“It’s a series of underground tunnels.  Badgers build them.  They’re expanded over many generations, passed down from society to society – they spread out forever, take over whole valleys.  There were quite a few in my homeland.”

Rowena studied Helga carefully.  “Are you sure you want to tell me the rest of this?”

“You won’t tell your students, I know you – you’ve got principles.  But don’t tell Salazar, or even Godric, because they’ll both want to give their students every possible advantage, and I want this to be something that’s special for Hufflepuff House alone.  All right?”

Rowena nodded.

“That badger by the fireplace is a handle to a hidden door.  I’ve begun the sett myself, and I leave it to generations of my House, to expand it.  I’ve built a tunnel with three very nice rooms branching off, and I managed to get one of them quite big.  They should be able to fly comfortably, there, if they want to practice during the winter.”  She grinned.  “Imagine how grand it will be in a thousand years!”

“A thousand… you’re… optimistic.”

“As are you.  Why would you leave those top bookshelves empty, if you weren’t counting on your House to fill them up for you?  It could take a thousand years, to fill them.  We’re all leaving legacies.”

Pondering all this, Rowena walked with Helga to the castle doors, where a frighteningly enthusiastic Godric met them.  He was nearly bouncing out of his shoes with excitement.

“You have paint on your ears,” Rowena remarked calmly.

“Come and watch!  I’m going to enchant our sky.”

Helga squealed with excitement and ran into the Great Hall, still shoeless.  Rowena watched her go straight to Salazar, who had his arms crossed unforgivingly and looked repulsed by her scattered appearance.  He did not, however, stay stern for very long, and when he reached out for her shoulders to fix her hair, Rowena thought she saw evidence of the ‘tender man’ that Helga had sworn he was.  He played with the long strands for several seconds longer than was necessary, as he put them in place, Helga shining up at him all the while, saying something inaudible and laughing when he scowled.

“Things are well between them, then?” Godric asked expectantly, looking over Rowena’s shoulder.  “That’s good.  It’s going to be enough work tomorrow without bringing any of our own troubles into it, and Salazar’s been in a much better mood since he finished putting the touches on his classrooms.  He actually told me he likes the painting.”

“Stunning generosity.”

“He’s surprising, that’s all.  I never thought he’d be the one demanding to teach Ancient Runes, either, but then… you never can tell, about people.”

“No, I don’t suppose you can.” 

Godric grinned at her.  “I never thought you’d want to teach Transfiguration, either.”

Rowena snorted. “It was either teach it, or trust you alone in a room with a lot of hyperactive children who want to know how to turn each other into newts.  It’s bad enough, knowing that you’re going to teach them to fly recklessly, as you do, and then turn Charms into an art class behind my back.”

“Well, you wouldn’t let me have a separate classroom.”  He took her hand.  “Come on.  It’s time to finish the ceiling.”

Rowena let him lead her into the center of the Great Hall, where Helga and Salazar’s conversation became audible.

“You want me to believe it’s made of sugar.”

“Put it in your mouth.”

“I most certainly will not.  Your delight in chewing feathers is not shared by the rest of us.”

Helga sighed, brought what looked precisely like a spotted owl feather to her lips, and stuck out her tongue, on which she lay the tip of the feather. 

“That’s a disgusting habit…” but Salazar did not continue.  Instead, he leaned closer and peered into her mouth. “It’s dissolving,” he announced.

“I ‘old you,” Helga managed, her tongue still out, courting the delicate sweet, “I’ ‘ugar.”

Her impeded speech made Salazar’s lips twist into something very like… a smile.  Only, Rowena noticed, this smile wasn’t graceful and cunning, like the one he’d given her.  It was unwilling, making his cheeks go faintly pink.  It was real. 

“Fine.  It’s sugar.  Have you another one?”

“I’ ‘y ‘ag.”

“In her bag,” Rowena translated, pointing to the satchel on the floor.  Salazar dug into it and came up with a long, light, wooden box, which he opened and inspected. 

“Fascinating.  And these are from the islands…”

“On the other side of the Uncharted Continents, in the Unnamed Sea,” Helga answered, having finally bit off and swallowed the tip of the feather.  “Getting them here is unreasonably difficult,” she shot a quick, mischievous look at Rowena, “and ever so costly.  I had planned to put them on the children’s pillows, as sort of a token of what studying here will be like, but if you don’t like them –”

“You have enough?” he interrupted.  “Should I send for more?”

Helga smiled.  “I have enough.”  She turned to Godric, pointing up with her bitten quill.  “Make the ceiling move?” she asked.

Godric rubbed his hands together happily.  “At your service.  Everyone pull your wands.”

Rowena blinked.  “Everyone?”

But before she could even get her hand to her belt, the lights went out.  “Everyone,” Godric affirmed.  “I want each of us to invest in this equally.”

“How can we possibly?  You painted it.  Lumos.”  Salazar’s face, illuminated from below, was stark and strange.  Rowena shivered.

“Yes.  But I can’t wake it up alone, it’s far too big.”

Rowena fumbled for her wand, and lit it, too, pointing its light right at Godric.  He’d never let anyone so much as lay a finger on a work of his before; she had to be sure he wasn’t joking.

Helga’s wand lit up next.  “Godric, do you mean it?” she breathed, sounding as enchanted as the painting was about to be.  “What do we do?”

Ennervate, I’d imagine,” Salazar muttered, but Godric shook his head.

“No, it’s much more specific, you have to… endow it with real life.  Breathe your beliefs into it.  I use Excito, and it’s a process of elements, layering elements.”

Rowena couldn’t take her eyes off him.  He was full of something so great, so untouched by anyone else’s ideas.  He was his own man, entirely, and he met her gaze with narrowed eyes, squinting against the beam of her wand. 

“I want you to wake the sun,” he said quietly.  “Will you try it?”

Rowena looked up at the black ceiling, a thrill trembling in the base of her spine.  Wake the sun.  What a power we have.  She raised her wand with a whispered “Nox,” and brought to mind the most brilliantly sunny day she could remember.  She focused hard, using all her gifts of concentration, seeing bright blue sky in her mind’s eye and also conjuring the blaze of blinding gold that was the sun.  When she was satisfied that she knew what she was waking, she drew from the very roots of her power.

Excito Divum Puteulanus et Solis!

Her voice rang out, echoing from stone to stone, and Rowena felt a pull in her chest, shooting through her shoulder and up toward her hand, racing from the end of her wand in a bolt of terrific light and shattering across the dome of painted ceiling that was Godric’s masterpiece.  In an instant, the Great Hall was flooded with hot, white light, and all four of them shielded their eyes.

Rowena squinted, forcing herself to look at the celestial body that hung in the center of the cobalt sky, and her mouth hung open in astonishment.  That was the sun.  The sun itself, in the actual sky.  It couldn’t have been anything else.  “Godric…” she whispered, at a loss for any other word, or thought. 

He moved closer to her.  “Wonderful,” he murmured, looking up.  “Thank you.  Helga, will you give us night?”

But Helga was still gaping at the sun, her mouth also open, her chin very nearly on her chest, and Godric had to address her again before she heard him.  “Oh!  Yes – night.”  She lifted her wand, shut her eyes, and the words came after several minutes of intense concentration.

Excito Nox Noctis, cum non solum Astrum, sed etiam Luna!” 

Darkness fell, in the Hall, and with it a strange, midnight hush.  As Rowena watched, stars appeared, pinpricks of light in every corner, each constellation perfect in its place.  She drew a breath of awe when the moon rose just above the Hufflepuff banner and lingered there, full and silver.

“Perfect,” Salazar said, so softly that it was almost missed by all of them. 

Helga caught Rowena’s eye, then returned her gaze to the heavens she had just called into being and stood beneath them, looking utterly at peace.

“Salazar.”

Slytherin turned to Gryffindor, awaiting his instructions.

“Storms.  Give me weather.”

Salazar nodded and raised his wand, and not a heartbeat went by before he spoke, his voice commanding, merciless, ringing out with a terrible confidence.

Excito Tempestas, cum Pluvia et Caligo – Reboare!”

Thunder crashed – there was a mighty flash of light that seemed to crack the dome from end to end – and then the clouds rolled in from every side, converging in the center.  Heavy rain began to fall; rain so real that Rowena saw every drop, heard every drop – she hugged her arms to herself as if it would fall on her and soak her through.

Salazar was panting with effort, and Godric reached out and clapped his shoulder firmly.  “Tremendous,” was all Godric said, but if Rowena hadn’t known better, she would have thought Salazar highly flattered by the word.  He lifted his pale chin, just barely, and a smile touched the corners of his perfect mouth.

Godric stepped away and threw his head back.  He raised his wand.  “Fiat Caelum!” he cried.  “Excito Caelum Totalus!

There was a low, rumbling noise – every color in Godric’s sky swirled and groaned, racing from corner to corner and splashing against the others in some bizarre, magical haste.  Rowena watched, transfixed, as the edges of the dome went dark and soft with stars, blending inward toward a blood red, sunset sky. 

The colors settled.

A puff of cloudlike gold moved across the center of the dome, slowly, edging toward the blue-black edge of night.

Godric spun around and ran from the Great Hall like a hunted man.  The rest of them stood stunned, until Salazar went after him as rapidly as good breeding allowed. 

“They’re checking it against the sky itself,” Helga murmured.  “Come on.”  She took Rowena by the hand, and hurried to the door with her in tow, bare feet padding on the stones.  They ran through the entrance hall, out to the stairs, where Godric and Salazar stood several feet apart on the top step, both staring up in reverence at a sky that could easily have been mistaken for the one they’d just created.

“Oh…”  But Helga did not reach for any further words; she simply stepped between them, keeping closer to Salazar, and Rowena did the same, standing between her friend and Godric, whose eyes were locked on the heavens, watching other, newer stars come into their places. 

Rowena watched silently with him, content to a depth she had never before experienced.  There was Orion.  Lepus.  Canis Major, Canis Minor.  Gemini and Taurus.  Sirius.  All watching, all present for…What did Godric call it?  The eve of our great adventure…

He took her hand. “Are you ready?” he asked simply.

Rowena considered.  She took Helga’s hand as well, and squeezed both.  “I believe I am.  Helga?”

She laughed.  “Not in the least.  But I will do my best.  Salazar?”

His answer was unhesitating.  “I am ready.”

“So am I,” Godric said, and for the second time that day, Rowena felt tears prick at her eyes.  A wind flew gently across their four faces, and Godric took tighter hold of her hand.  “So am I.”

~*~

FIN

 

 

//
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