Pairings/Characters: Founders gen, Helga-centric
Warnings: Um...ambivalent perspective on religion (some believers are sincere; others are corrupt and/or bigoted, kind of like in real life)
Word Count: 2200
Summary: In which Helga is a nun, leaves her abbey, and is taken in by her old friend Rowena. Crazy schemes involving wizarding schools ensue.
A/N: I have no idea where this came from. Mostly just thinking about what might have made each of the Founders come to value the particular virtues they most prized, which got me thinking about what kind of past each of them might have had, and you know how plot bunnies go...
"No," says the abbess again, striking the rosewood table with the flat of her hand. Four massy, gem-encrusted rings hit the surface with a heavy thunk. "It is your duty to obey, Sister Helga. Do not ask me again."
"She is in need," says Sister Helga. "She is an orphan--surely you do not mean to cast her out into the wilderness."
"The girl may remain in our house until the morrow, as may any traveler who passes this way on the road, but come the morning she must leave. She is not suitable for our order. This matter is closed, Sister Helga. Leave me."
"But you have not even spoken to the girl--"
"I have seen enough."
"You have seen she is not wealthy, you mean."
"I have had my fill of your waifs and orphans. This is a house of God, Sister Helga. We must choose novices who can bring glory to God and to our house."
Glory to you, thinks Sister Helga, glancing around at the casques of gems, the elaborately carved furniture, and the vast windows of the abbess's study. "Do we not have a duty to help the less fortunate? This child needs our help, needs our guidance to learn to harness her gifts…"
"Do not speak to me of these devilish, sorcerous gifts. Perhaps my predecessor was willing to tolerate such abominations, but I am not. Had you informed me that the child was a witch, I would never have offered so much as a roof for the night. You will send her away immediately."
"Then I shall go with her."
The abbess's face goes scarlet, contorting into silent imprecations before she finds her voice again. "Go? You cannot go. I forbid it. You have vows."
"Then I am breaking my vows. Farewell, Mother."
Helga returns to the abbey's guest chambers and explains to the child that they must go. Eadyth is her name, and she is eleven years old and burgeoning with strange talents she does not understand. She, not the abbey, will be Sister Helga's vocation now.
Sister Helga prays that her gifts will be sufficient to protect herself and Eadyth on the road. She will never forgive herself if the girl comes to harm on her watch, and it will be a long journey. Sister Helga dares not Apparate when she has never seen the land to which she is traveling.
They journey north. Sister Helga has only one hope. They will beseech aid and shelter from Sister Helga's oldest--and once dearest--friend. Speaking reassuring words to the child, she sets her feet on the path to an uncertain welcome.
Sister Helga--no, just Helga now--turns and looks back for the last time on the green winding valley she has always called home. The crags and the wild winds of Scotland await.
The castle is immense, every room a vast and shadowed cavern. Birds call to their mates in the cobwebbed rafters and something scuttles through the rushes at Helga's feet.
Rowena was never tidy, she remembers with a smile. It seems she has not changed, though she is now wealthy enough to buy the corrupt abbess three times over and still have coin in her purse.
She was greeted, a short while ago, by a plump and amiable housekeeper who took an instant liking to Eadyth and promised her a warm fire and a bath. To Helga, she said that the Lady Ravenclaw could be found in the library.
Lady Ravenclaw? Helga wonders what it means, that Rowena has apparently repudiated her late husband's name. Helga recalls Rowena's tears when her father appeared unexpectedly at the abbey and announced that Rowena would marry the laird of such-and-such in three weeks' time. Helga had thought, at the time, that Rowena was only weeping at the separation from Helga and at the suddenness of the change in her life. Now, she suspects darker pains in her friend's heart.
She raps at the heavy oaken door of the library. There is no response. She knocks again and again. Nothing. Finally Helga pushes the door open, slowly, and her jaw drops at the sight.
There are more books in this room than she has ever seen before.
Rowena was always a bookish maid--Helga had often heard her at her nightly prayers, thanking God for sending her to the convent so she could learn to read and write--and it seems that the combined patrimony of her father and her husband have financed a library to rival the fabled one at Alexandria.
It takes Helga a moment to find the woman herself in this staggering palace of words. Finally she sees her, her head bent over a book, tangled auburn curls veiling her face. "Rowena?" she says.
The woman shakes as if startled, then raises her head. "Helga!" she exclaims, and in a moment is across the room and in Helga's outstretched arms.
Several hours later, when they have exhausted their litany of joy at the long-missed sight of each other's faces, Helga explains the trouble. "The abbey is not as it was when we were girls; the present abbess will not teach the poor and will not teach anything to do with magic. The past abbess taught us well, you and I, but this one…ah, I just wish there were a place we could safely teach these children without depending upon chance to send us a superior who doesn't believe 'tis the work of the devil."
"And so, leave it to the heirs of the mind…" murmurs Rowena, her grey eyes a thousand miles away.
"Beg your pardon?"
"I think it's a marvelous idea, Helga."
"A school, for witches and wizards. If you don't mind, I shall write to two other old friends. I think they might be interested in such a venture. Hypatia!"
A majestic owl swoops down from the rafters and perches on Rowena's desk. Rowena is already scribbling.
"You simply must stay, of course," says Rowena as her quill flies over the parchment. "There is a tower room—"
"Nay, my friend, a tower is too grand for me. Please, offer me some humbler lodgings, that I might keep in mind that I do not do this for my own glory."
Godric is the first to arrive. He is a large man, and strong, with flowing locks of gold and a sunny smile.
His arms are horribly burned, the flesh seeming to run and pool, and when he catches Helga eyeing the scars at dinner in the Great Hall, he laughs and claps her on the back so hard he knocks the wind from her.
"'Tis quite all right, my lady. You may look at my scars all you like; yea, even ask me about them. I earned these badges fighting the dragons of Wales and I'm proud of every one. They are more precious to me than the medals the townsfolk gave me." He takes a lion-sized bite from an enormous turkey leg and turns his attention to Rowena. "I think this school idea of yours is splendid. We can train up a new generation of heroes to protect the common folk from dangers sword and staff cannot vanquish. It will be a new order of knights, no less glorious than Arthur's company."
Rowena's other friend takes several weeks to arrive; travel from Constantinople is difficult and perilous even for a sorcerer. His name is Salazar, and he is as whipcord slender, sallow, and tensely silent as Godric is robust, golden, and boisterous. They have but one thing in common: Salazar, too, is disfigured by burns. The melted flesh mars one side of his face and one arm. He, too, notices Helga's near-unconscious glances at the scars, but from Salazar there is no laugh and no tale. Salazar merely flashes Helga a look of disgust, and turns away without a word.
Rowena offers the new arrival a chamber in the other high tower of the castle. He declines, murmuring something about firetraps. "If memory serves, Rowena, you have chambers in the subcellar beneath the lake, where the walls are damp with moisture?"
"The dungeons, you mean? Hardly fit lodgings for such as yourself."
"Nonetheless, I will stay nowhere else."
He speaks to Rowena often in the subsequent days, and to Godric, with whom he seems to have a long familiarity as well, but it is several nights after his arrival that he first utters a word to Helga.
They are discussing the school again, and a chilling smile spreads across Salazar's narrow face. "Yes. Excellent idea, Rowena, as always. Our kind have skulked too long in the shadows. If we can but perfect our craft, hone the blade of our ambitions, we shall destroy the filthy rabble and take our rightful places on the highest thrones of the world."
Godric sets down his tankard and squints at Salazar as though the sun is in his eyes. "Now, Salazar, wouldn't you agree that we have a duty to these rabble as you call them, to stand between them and the dangers that lurk in the night? They are defenseless without us."
It is perhaps the first time Helga has agreed so fulsomely with Godric. "Yes, I agree. There are many good works we can do with our abilities. And Salazar, pray consider the mothers and fathers of these children. Many of them will be folk without magical talent. Surely we will not be teaching children to destroy their own parents…"
"Why in the seven hells would you want to admit pupils born of ordinary human parents?"
Helga is shocked. "Because the children need us. They need to learn to control their gifts…"
"They cannot be trusted. None of the spawn of our inferiors can be trusted, magical gifts or no." With that, Salazar rises and sweeps from the Hall.
Later, when Godric too has retired to his rooms, Rowena places a hand on Helga's own and lowers her voice to a near-whisper. "Salazar did not always dwell in the East, nor was his name Salazar when he was born. He grew up in the fenlands, the son of a village wise woman. When he was eight years old, the villagers decided they feared their cunning woman more than they needed her skills, and her cottage was set alight in the middle of the night."
Rowena continues. "She died. Salazar survived, though horribly mutilated, and fled. After long wanderings he made his way to the East, where the arts of alchemy are respected, and made his fortune there."
"The poor man," Helga breathes. She understands, now, his deep distrust of those without magic. She still does not agree, but at least she can comprehend.
"He does not want your pity."
"Nonetheless, he has it."
The arguments rage for a fortnight. Helga takes it as a good sign that despite the seemingly irreconcilable points of view, no one has yet actually left Ravenclaw Castle.
Godric has taken to wearing a hideous pointed hat that he conjured out of an immense pinecone. He claims he once saw a depiction of Merlin in similar headwear, and that it symbolizes the new Order he means to found.
Helga slips away, when the debates are too much for a mind and soul more accustomed to the order and quiet of matins and vespers, and gives Eadyth a makeshift course of lessons in the kitchens. She is trying to teach Eadyth to Transfigure a spoon into a tadpole when she thinks of Godric's hat and realizes that he is far better at the art of Transfiguration than she is. Her nun's life has sent her magic flowing into a different channel: the preparation of herbs for healing. Though the abbess who trained her gave her a rudimentary knowledge of Transfiguration, it is far from her strongest skill.
She thinks, then, of Rowena's effortless ease with Charms, and Salazar's intimate familiarity with alchemical potions, and it occurs to her that Eadyth, and any other pupils they take in the course of time, will be best served if taught by all four. It will serve no one if they part ways.
Helga knows what she has to do.
Over dinner that night, she proposes a compromise. "Let us work together to found this school," she says, "but with a great deal of autonomy for each of us in the choice of students. I shall seek those who wish to do good works; Rowena can have her scholars and Godric his knights, and Salazar, you may choose the students you find fittest for…for your aims. We will all teach all of the children, of course, to ensure the broadest education, but each of us shall have a school within a school, if you will, in which we might advise and mold the students whose aims coincide with ours."
"Excellent idea, Helga," says Rowena, and Godric raises his mug. Salazar is silent, but he raises no disagreement. Helga prays that his bitterness will not rear its head later.
For now, the future is bright, and it is theirs, God willing.