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Waiting in the Grey

Chapter Text

Helena Ravenclaw’s memories did not fade with time after her death, as they perhaps should have.

*

She is seven years old and visiting the high tower with her mother. Rowena’s hand feels cool and smooth in Helena’s own. She pounds her small feet on the stone stairs, anticipation squeezing her insides as her mother laughs.

“Dear one, you must be patient.”

“But we’re almost there!”

“Yes, and the stars will still be there by the time we arrive.”

Helena simply pulls at her mother’s hand again. They arrive at the top of the tower, cool night air raising gooseflesh on Helena’s arms. She feels her mother shiver as well, and they each quicken their steps to reach the edge of the balcony. Here, they have a clear view of the night sky, and the thousands of stars winking down at them. Helena winks back, closing her eyes and opening them to find the pattern always unchanged.

Rowena is not watching the sky. She is watching Helena instead, smiling so brightly that Helena can see it even in the night. A particularly bright star reflects in Rowena’s dark eyes as she reaches out to smooth Helena’s hair. She thinks that her mother is as beautiful as a queen; surely no one could ever know as much or be as lovely and kind as Rowena Ravenclaw.

“If you are ever lost,” says Rowena in her low voice, “wait for the stars to come out. When you get to know them, they will always lead you on a clear path.”
Helena nods very seriously, but cannot help but grin again as she looks back up at the sky. Her mother wraps blue-clad arms around her, pressing her cheek against Helena’s temple, as they watch the steadfast stars.

*

Some of them shone brightly and perfectly within her mind.

*

She is eleven years old and awaiting her Sorting ceremony. The hat is wise, or so her mother says, and will tell her which of the Four will be best suited to teaching her. But a growing part of Helena does not want to know what the hat’s decision will be. There is only one teacher she will accept, after all.

She can see Belden Gryffindor in line ahead of her. She wishes they could stand together, or that Belden’s older brother Gareth could be closer. But Gareth is seated in the Gryffindor section beside his father, watching. Helena catches his eye; he gives her a smile and a faint nod. As always, she feels a little calmer, a little safer knowing that Gareth is there. But the most troubling thought creeps into her mind again; what if the hat does not choose Helena’s mother to be her teacher?

Ahead of her, Belden’s name has been called. He grins down at his family as he lifts the hat to his head. Helena can see Helga watching with shining eyes, as well as Godric leaning forward in his chair.

“Ravenclaw!” the hat announces after a long moment. Immediately, the hall is alive with murmurs. Godric has the most thunderstruck look Helena has ever seen; Salazar openly laughs at his expression, and after a moment Godric has to laugh as well. To their left, Rowena wears a raised eyebrow and a very satisfied grin. Belden looks a little startled as he makes his way to the table, fielding handshakes and embraces as he goes.

The few students ahead of Helena are met with similar enthusiasm when they are Sorted; she knows that the Four take pains not to be partial to their own children at the expense of others. Helena watches them with increasing trepidation until it is finally her turn. She places the hat upon her head, jumping a bit when it begins its musing.

“Hmm…I see a sharp mind, but courage and boldness as well. You would thrive under Lord Gryffindor’s tutelage, I expect.”

“No! I am a Ravenclaw!” she thinks. “I belong with my mother.”

“Decisive as well, I see.” The hat pauses as if in consideration. “Hm…it is a shame. But if you insist…Ravenclaw!”

Relief pours over Helena as the cheers fill the hall. Salazar offers her a grin and a little wink that she is certain no one else sees; does he know what had transpired between her and the hat? Helena smiles back at him, but quickly turns to seek out her mother. Rowena is beaming, patting the seat next to her at the table. She kisses the top of Helena’s head as she sits down, and Helena thinks that this must be the most wonderful day of her life, surrounded by the warmth of every person in the world who loves her.


*

Other memories seemed to unfurl before her as if she was watching from above.


*


She is twelve, and spring is nearing its end; with each passing day the sun bears down more fully upon the earth. The other students have left Hogwarts to spend the summer months with their families, leaving only the children of the Four. Seven in all, they mark the day as the beginning of their reign over Hogwarts Castle. During the summer, their home is theirs alone.

They gather at the apple tree, secluded near the edge of the castle grounds. As always, Belden runs ahead, hurrying to be the first to reach the tree. Helena steadily gains ground behind him, curls catching in the wind. She stretches her arms and spins as she runs, turning her face up to be warmed by the sun. She stops her forward progress and turns in place; the others will pass her soon.

“Helena! You’re supposed to be racing!” Belden protests when he tags the tree. Helena simply laughs.

Finnoula and Zane hold hands as they run, their small legs carrying them as quickly as they are able. The twins have just turned five; their identical black hair marks their Slytherin heritage. They both shriek with delight as they pass Helena where she spins. Helena stops for a moment to watch their clumsy progress. A wishful pang strikes her as the siblings grip each other’s’ hands to stay upright.

At the rear are the two remaining Gryffindor brothers: Gareth, who at sixteen has the look of his father reincarnated, and Eaton, the ten-year-old who takes after their mother in looks and demeanor. Between them, Ingrid takes the uncertain steps of a babe scarcely a year old. The boys help her, each with one of her tiny hands in their own.

This is Ingrid’s first visit to the tree. She is the last one of them to be born, Helga’s only child, and the children of the Four have wasted no time in teaching her their traditions.
Helena reaches the tree to find Belden and the twins quietly looking at the small stone marker beneath its branches. The others approach shortly after, Gareth now carrying Ingrid.

“This is Amity,” Gareth murmurs to Ingrid as they look at the stone. “She was our sister.”

Ingrid simply grips Gareth’s sleeve, uncomprehending, but the rest take the moment to look somberly down at the little grave. Helena imagines what Amity might have looked like. The Gryffindor brothers are all so different; it is interesting to wonder which one she might have resembled most. Then again, perhaps she wouldn’t have been like any of them at all.

The others soon return to playing, but Gareth doesn’t. He just keeps staring down at the stone, holding the baby, looking thoughtful. Already he is beginning to leave childhood behind, Helena senses, but cannot find the proper words to explain how he has changed. All she knows is that he does not laugh the way he used to, and that he spends more and more time at Godric’s side.

Gareth isn’t fully grown up yet, though. As Helena moves to stand next to him, he doesn’t shoo her away or say she is too young to understand. He just smiles.

“Thank you for staying,” he tells her, and they look at the stone together.

*


The memories came even when she wanted nothing more than to push them away.

*


She is fifteen years old. She watches with the Founders as Rowena places the diadem atop her head. Helena feels as if she has hardly seen her mother the past several months, save in class. When not teaching, Rowena has taken to retreating to her study for hours, in order to complete the final touches of her creation.

As the diadem rests atop her mother’s head, Helena watches her eyes brighten, her posture straighten.

“How do you feel?” asks Helga, her eyes never wavering from Rowena’s face. Rowena simply tilts her head to the side, a cascade of midnight hair trailing her shoulder, and blinks at Helga.

“It is a bit like giving birth,” Rowena muses. “The most difficult work one can imagine, but to create something so unique…it is worth every moment of struggle, without question.”

Indeed, she reaches up to caress the diadem as lovingly as a child. Helena burns, seethes as she watches. Can she even remember the last time her mother so much as touched her shoulder?

“Well done, Mother.”

Rowena turns her head sharply, as if Helena’s voice has surprised her. As if she has forgotten that Helena is there.

“Thank you,” Rowena replies, without endearment, and looks at the door to her study. Helena feels a wild urge to raise her wand and set the door on fire, to destroy it forever so that her mother cannot barricade herself there again.

“I thought we might visit the tower tonight.” Helena raises her voice; it seems as if her mother is far away. Indeed, she blinks slowly. The other Founders all turn their eyes on her and Helena flushes under their scrutiny, kind though it is. She knows they have all heard the tremble in her voice.

“I don’t think so, Helena,” Rowena says, oblivious. “Any star chart you might wish to see, I have here in our chambers. There is no need for us to gaze tonight.”

Rowena offers a brief smile but turns away before she even finishes speaking. Having been dismissed, Helena tries to fight back a sick feeling in her stomach as she leaves Ravenclaw Tower. That night, and every other time afterward, Helena stargazes alone.

*

Even when she wished for them to disappear.

*

She is seventeen years old, standing at the castle steps. At her side is Belden. In front of them is Gareth, with his bag packed and a horse ready to be ridden away from Hogwarts. He embraces his parents, his brothers, and Helga, who cries a bit into his broad shoulder.

“I will write to you, if you like,” Gareth says to Helena quietly, when he reaches her.

“What I would like,” she replies in aloof tones, attempting to resemble her mother, “is for you not to go swinging your sword with an army of other fools. Even greater fools than you.”

“Helena, stop,” says Belden sharply, placing a warning hand upon her arm.

Gareth sighs. He does not try again to explain to Helena why he has chosen to take up arms; he has tried many times with no hope of satisfying her. Even now, she is shaking with rage as she looks at him. Helena is tired of being angry, but she does not know what else to feel.

“I take that to mean I shouldn’t write, then.”

“If you wish to kill yourself upon a battlefield, that is your own choice. I don’t want to hear about it.”

Helena realizes in this moment that she will never master the coolness of a true Ravenclaw. Instead her fury burns hotter as tears begin to prick at her eyes. No one calls after her as she stalks back into the castle. There is no one there to give the reassuring embrace she wishes for; her surrogate aunt and uncles are still saying their farewells, and the time when she could cry to her mother has long since passed. Even Gareth, the stalwart protector she never dreamed she would lose, has gone. For the first time, Helena feels utterly alone in the place of her birth.

*

No matter what, Helena Ravenclaw’s memories did not fade with time. Kind and cruel alike, they only grew stronger.