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Title: Between Here and Now and Forever
Fandom: Harry Potter
Characters: The Founders, various OCs
Rating: PG-13
Summary: As Lady Aeaeae and the Aurae Aurelii question their new prisoners, Helga puts the finishing touches on her escape plan.

Chapter 1
Master Founders Post
Chapter 23

Author's note: This chapter is dedicated to my parents, who are terrifically inspiring.

More seriously, this is the first chapter I've ever felt I should post a TRIGGER WARNING for. The very last scene (there are four in this chapter, and it is Rowena's second scene) depicts a pretty intense bout of emotional abuse by a parent. If you have triggers around this or simply don't want to deal with reading that kind of thing right now, you may want to skip it. I wouldn't have thought to warn for it, and I feel kind of silly doing so, only it took me several months to make myself write it, and then several months after writing it to be able to reread/edit, and I don't want to spring Horrible Things on my readers who are looking for fun escapism.

When Rowena awoke, she was in a wooden room without doors, outside windows, or her wand. It was this last thing that made her panic -- she searched the room and her person several times before resigning herself to wandlessness.

There was a bed, a chamberpot, and even a table with ink and a roll of parchment, which Rowena supposed were supposed to be comforting, but she couldn't stand to be without her wand for very long. At first, she was shaking, but after a while, the raw panic settled into a quiet sense of terror and worthlessness. It was difficult for her to breathe properly, and she couldn't bring herself to do anything but lie on the bed and look up at the ceiling, her thoughts chasing each other in dreadful circles.

It was the worst thing in the world to be able to sit back and look at the state of her mind and think I am entirely useless, and this is all my fault, as though she was looking at herself in a hand mirror and every moment fighting the urge to smash it.

With a certain amount of apprehension, she forced herself to stand, and wandered over to the one window in the room. It was at about head height, a foot square, and had bars on it. She imagined this was where the entrance to the room was, when it existed at all. She looked outside, expecting to find somebody rage-inducing like Sheffield.

Instead it was somebody rage-inducing like Maelys the Bastard. In polite company she was now called Maelys the Golden. Rowena was not polite company.

"You!" she said.

"Somebody woke up, finally," said Maelys.

"Let me out!" Rowena demanded.

"That would be against orders," said Maelys.

"I can tell you where to shove your orders," said Rowena darkly. "Give me my wand!"

"Do I look stupid to you?" Maelys asked.

"Oh, always," said Rowena, sweetly. "Though not half as stupid as the time you hexed your left ear off."

"I was ten and it was an accident--" started Maelys.

"It was not!" said Rowena, gleefully. "Helga and I planned that! You make a great unwitting pawn, you know," she said. "D'you know, Maelys, you were always my favorite cousin after that?"

Maelys glared. She looked quite like she wanted to punch Rowena, and Rowena was going to do whatever it took to provoke her -- maybe then she'd open the door and attack. Rowena wasn't sure if she wanted this because she could steal Maelys' wand, or because being pummeled senseless by an angry Aura Aurelia would be a change of pace. "Yeah, well, the feeling's mutual."

"You know," said Rowena, "you do have to wonder, though, why Uncle Livius still keeps you around. I mean, he may still be undecided about who he wants to inherit, but --" Rowena forced a slightly mad laugh -- "well, if I was your father, I'd never want to acknowledge you. Bad enough being related by marriage."

Maelys lunged closer. "You shut up, you bitch, just because you --"

"Anyway, you looked much better with only one ear," said Rowena. "And it served you right for tripping me in front of Malachi ben Shlomo. AND for ruining my best dress the week before. Not like you'd ever have a chance with him, though, even after eliminating the competition, so I have to wonder why you bothered --"

"Because you lied to all my friends! You told them I was a werewolf!" said Maelys.

"I did not," said Rowena, cheerfully. She gripped the bars in the window and got her face as close as possible. "You didn't have any friends. They were just afraid you'd beat them up. Toadies aren't friends," said Rowena, scoffing.

"Where are all of yours, if you're such an expert?" Maelys asked.

Rowena glowered. "I'm certain Helga will find a perfectly legal and non-violent way of getting me out of here," she said. Helga could do that, right? Helga was clever. Helga did not commit random acts of senseless hubris. She would find a way where Rowena had not.

Maelys smiled slowly. "Little Hufflepuff's gone home, cousin. She was in a hurry to get back to her husband. She says he's ill or something. Now that's real friendship, isn't it?"

Rowena tried to hide the shock, but this news struck her as though it were a physical thing. She knew Helga would be worried about Basil and the full moon, and -- well, he was her husband. So of course Helga cared more about him than -- no. No, she would not give Maelys the satisfaction of believing her. "You're lying," she said.

Maelys grinned. "Keep telling yourself that."

* * *

"Apparently the Aurae have arrested Godric and Rowena, and now they're looking to question you," said Ari. "I sent fake-you home last night, though, so they're looking in the wrong place." He looked exhausted, and Helga felt a bit bad for taxing him so. On the other hand, this plan had needed someone to take care of socializing for her while she was busy, and he'd fit the bill, so of course she was going to use him. "But, if I may ask," he said, "you're certain there's not a perfectly legal and non-violent way of rescuing them?"

Helga considered this. Rowena and Godric were in the hands of Lady Aeaeae, who could probably have been bargained with if Helga had had something she wanted. "Well, I would have an off chance of managing that if I had a month to plan, a pound of gold, and some really good scenthounds," she said, "but Godric will be dead before then and who knows where Rowena will be," she said. "Besides, soon we'll be invincible!" she said, cheerfully. "Well, mostly. ...Ish. Not against killer termites, but, you know, invincible enough." Carefully, she put her apparatus into a bucket. "We're going to need blankets to make sure this doesn't break," she told Grimhildr. "Can you get those?"

"Who is going to be carrying this thing, anyway?" Grimhildr asked suspiciously. "It had better not be me."

"Ari will do it," said Helga.

Grimhildr perked up at this, and went to fetch the blankets. Ari just rolled his eyes. "Must you encourage her?"

"It helps," said Helga. "May I ask if there's a reason Grimhildr hates you?" Helga asked.

Ari looked away. "Well," he said. "I have... been unpleasant to her in the past?" He seemed to be asking if he could leave it at that.

"Mm-hmm," said Helga, raising an eyebrow.

Ari continued. "She just makes such a good target! Like --"

"Like Basil?" asked Helga.

"If you must know, I find it very entertaining when people are full of themselves," said Ari.

She snorted at this, as Ari could be nearly as egotistical as Rowena. Still. "The thing is, Basil's old enough to take care of himself, and he's got me to make fun of him. But Grimhildr's just a child, really. She's never even been away from home, has she?"

Ari shrugged. "I think she visits her mother sometimes. She's -- you've got other sisters, too. Two older ones, both married."

"Is it worth meeting them?" Helga asked.

Ari shrugged. "I have never met them."

"...Let me put it this way, are they any more irritating than my brother Leo?" Helga asked.

"...Leo?" Ari asked blankly. "...Oh. Oh! That Leo." He went red, and looked at the floor. "He, er, he is a very great fan of mine, yes? I, ah. I possibly may be slightly biased. You see, he --"

"I don't think I want to hear this," said Helga, because it was bad enough dealing with Leo's string of girls. "Forget I asked."

Grimhildr came back with the blankets. "So, let me just ask this," she said. "If we escape, Father and I are coming?"

"...You can follow if you like," said Helga. She did not really want to take her father anywhere; it was hard to get used to his presence at all.

"But also, he's coming," she said resentfully, pointing at Ari.

"...Yes," said Helga. "If he wants."

"I want," said Ari.

"Do we still have to get married?" Grimhildr asked.

"No," said Ari. "Definitely not."

"I am not asking you," said Grimhildr.

"I do not see that anyone else could possibly be involved," said Ari.

"Don't marry him," said Helga. "Definitely not. I mean, you could do so much better! ...No offense, Ari."

Ari shrugged. "She is a brat. She would be a terrible wife."

"I would not," said Grimhildr. "You are an annoying idiot. The man I marry will be sensible and rich."

"I am very rich!" Ari said. "Richer than you."

"But not sensible," said Grimhildr.

"Oh, you don't want to marry for money, Grimhildr," said Helga. "Haven't you got anybody you fancy?"

Grimhildr looked at her as though she had grown an extra head. "No. Blegh."

"Well, I'm certain you'll meet somebody nice eventually," said Helga.

"Yeah, nice to do accounting for," said Grimhildr. "Who doesn't spend it all on clothes and toys."

"I have very good taste in clothes, and my magical devices are not toys," said Ari, injured. "Besides, they could all be resold at --"

"Ari, you don't even like her," said Helga. "Shut up."

"I would still make a perfectly decent husband," said Ari.

As they continued to argue, Helga gave up. "You're both mad," she muttered to herself, carefully nesting her apparatus in the blankets. "And usually I mean that as a compliment." Once her setup was reasonably secure, she lifted it and put it in Grimhildr's hands. "Come on," she said. "Let's go fight the law. And don't drop this."

Grimhildr yawned enormously. "As long as I get to take a nap sometime this year..."

* * *

When Godric came to, he was in some kind of stone cell with bars, his head hurt, and his hands were chained behind his back. Whoever had brought him in had left him propped against a wall, and so of course the entire side of his face was numb. Godric was prepared to suffer a number of indignities for whatever cause he happened to have been talked into supporting on any given day, but he was reconsidering run-ins with the law.

"Welcome back to the waking world," said a pleasant voice with a Welsh accent. Godric recognized, muzzily, the Aura he'd been threatening to drown -- Grummond, he thought? He was sitting on a comfortable-looking chair, his feet up on a crate. He was holding a glass of something, which he raised towards Godric in a friendly manner before continuing. "Before we start, I'd just like to make sure you're fully cognizant of your surroundings and general situation. Is that all right?"

"Where the hell am I?" demanded Godric, sitting up as best he could. "Let me go!"

"Good enough for government work," said Grummond. "You're in our portable prison and siege tower. Nice, isn't it? Good solid craftsmanship. It was hell getting you through the doorway, though, this place is tiny on the outside. Anyway, enough of that. Now, it's important that you understand what you're participating in here," he said. "My employer has generously volunteered you for a little study I'm doing, which I think personally is a testament to her devotion to the furtherance of knowledge and natural philosophy." He grinned broadly. "I assume you'll have all manner of objections, but frankly I don't really care."

He paused, possibly for breath. Godric frantically looked for any way out of here, as this didn't seem like something they were planning on letting him survive. Maybe he could transfigure Grummond's drink into poison? No, that would still leave Godric stuck in the cell, but next to a corpse. Damn.

"Anyway, in case you're curious what I'm going to do, which, as one scholar to another, I imagine you are, this is a delightful little charm I've invented which causes you less pain the more you talk! Specifically, the intensity of the pain diminishes according to the number of words you've spoken -- at least, while I'm not speaking. Now, of course, I'm trying to find the optimal range of pain to inflict, because in my first trials people kept dying on me -- not helpful at all, is it? ...Are you even listening to me?"

Godric was testing how tight the chains around his wrists were. Maybe he would be lucky and they would be made of some soft metal. "Yeah, definitely," he said distractedly. "Sounds brilliant." He was going to die. He was going to die of experimental charms after listening to three days' worth of monologue from an Aura.

"I don't think you are," said Grummond. He flicked his wand at Godric, muttering something under his breath. "There you go. Now, tell me, is it working?"

Godric wanted to say a lot of things, most of them quite nasty, but the sudden feeling that his head was in a vise and that all of his joints were being pulled apart in different directions and he was on fire made it quite impossible to share these thoughts; all he could say was "Augh!"

"Hmm. Maybe a little too well." He flicked his wand again, and the pain lessened slightly. "Better?"

"Definitely very very very much better now would you please let me the hell out of here right now you --"

"Terms of abuse and obscenity are not counted as words under the spell, but you are welcome to use them if you must," said Grummond.

Godric gritted his teeth. "Well, what do you want to know?" he demanded.

"Tell me about your research into thought control," said Grummond. "All of it."

So Godric told him -- all of it. He couldn't help it -- well, he could, but god would it have hurt. For a few moments he could even forget his situation, reveling in the glories of magical theory -- but then he would hesitate to think of the proper way to put something, and the pain would start in again. Horribly, Grummond knew exactly what sort of questions to ask when he didn't quite grasp something about Godric's research. He didn't even want to think about what Grummond would do with his knowledge.

After what seemed like several hours, Grummond waved his wand and the pain faded. He slumped in relief. Certainly, he was ravenous, thirsty, his throat was sore from explaining, and his muscles ached from sitting tied up in a cell and being tormented, but considering the absence of magical searing pain, he was doing quite well -- in addition to which, now that he had ceased to be useful, they were probably going to kill him soon. It was a bit of a relief, to be honest, although now he was wondering who was going to mark the assignments he had given some of his more promising students over the summer. He didn't trust Jasper to do it right at all.

He hoped they'd sell his things and send the money to his brother. He hoped they'd bother to tell his brother, who wouldn't be able to read a written letter. If he was going to do everything over again -- well, if he was going to do this trip all over again, he would have left instructions somewhere for Helga or Lord Slytherin or whoever found them.

Godric had always assumed his last moments would be full of regrets, but he'd assumed it would be regrets like "I really shouldn't have jumped off that cliff, but everybody else was doing it," or "If only I had remembered how not to enrage a hippogriff, I would still have all of my limbs." If he had a second chance, he resolved that he would spend more of it writing quietly in his office and generally leading a very dull life.

Grummond looked up from organizing his notes. "You've been very helpful, Gryffindor. Would you like a drink?" he asked.

Godric blinked at this unexpected show of kindness. Perhaps he was wrong to think of Grummond as cold-hearted and unfeeling. After all, Aurae had no choice but to obey orders or die. Besides, he was very thirsty. He nodded, not caring if it was whiskey or ale.

He watched, anxiously, as Grummond floated his own cup up to Godric. He drank it as best he could -- surprisingly, it tasted like ordinary water. When he had finished, Grummond took the cup back and tucked his notes under his arm. "Again, thank you," he said. "You've been very useful to my studies. Now that we're done here, Lady Aeaeae will be in shortly to commence the interrogation."

"But -- what? But I just went through that! You asked me all these questions and... I answered."

Grummond gave him a small grin. "Don't be ridiculous," he said. "Torture is unreliable! I've studied it in great detail. Well, it's unreliable unless your inmate is a great big idiot," he said, chuckling a bit. "But sometimes you get a clever one. By the way, Gryffindor, how are you feeling?"

"Comprehensively awful," Godric snapped.

"You're going to feel even worse when you work out what it is you just drank," said Grummond. "See you!" He strutted out of the room cheerfully.

* * *

Rowena was sitting in the corner of her cell, curled up as small as she could make herself, when the outline of the doorway popped into existence and Aurelia Sheffield walked in, followed by her mother.

Not good.

She wiped her eyes hurriedly and stood. "What do you want?" she demanded, trying to keep her voice from shaking. She had no wand, so she couldn't work out what she should do with her hands. She settled for playing with a loose thread in the embroidery of one of her sleeves.

"Give me a chair, Cliodna," said her mother. She hadn't deigned to answer Rowena -- hadn't even looked at her yet. As though she was not important. Which, Rowena supposed, she wasn't. Sheffield conjured a chair, looking as though she found it mildly distasteful work.

Rowena looked pleadingly at Sheffield, who stared coldly back. She didn't really know what she'd expected -- Sheffield's own oddly reassuring blend of resentment and disgust? Whatever it was, Rowena didn't find it. "What's going on? What do you want?" she asked of both of them. This time she knew she sounded a lot more rattled -- more pathetic, really -- but she shoved those thoughts viciously towards the back of her mind.

It was then that her mother finally looked at her. "You look terrible, Rowena. Why do you have to be so overdramatic?"

Rowena laughed. It sounded rather forced, and yet she hadn't actually intended to laugh -- it just happened. "You're asking me that question?" she heard herself say. Oh, why had she said that? She should just go back to her corner and curl up again, for all the good it would do her. Or hide under the bed. Or scream and cry and gibber and rave. "I'm not afraid of you," she said, lying. "I mean, what could you possibly do to me? I stole something. It's not like treason or murder. And I'm your only heir. You can't have another child, you're too old. You're stuck with me. Sorry."

"I'm very disappointed in you, Rowena," said her mother. "I mean, really. I expected much better." She sighed. "You know, I've done all I could for you. You have no idea how much I've sacrificed -- the alliances I could have made if you'd just..." She shook her head. "Do you know how bad your recent escapades have made me look?"

"Well, I --" Rowena hadn't thought about it that way; she'd certainly enjoyed upsetting her mother, but she hadn't really thought through why it would upset her, aside from her mother being generally against Rowena undertaking anything independently. Besides, the school had needed a castle, and Lord Salazar had provided one. "I hadn't really thought of it," she muttered.

"Perhaps you should have," said her mother. "Then, you've always been a thoughtless little brat. I thought I had trained you out of it, but no, you're just uneducable." She stood, getting far too close to Rowena for her own comfort. Rowena tried not to react to the smell of her breath and the imminent threat of physical or magical violence. She imagined herself rooted to the ground like a tree, and sank her concentration into the sensations of standing still.

What her mother had said was true, though. She was not a very good person. She liked to play at being one, but she couldn't imagine that anyone was fooled. The knot in her stomach grew tighter. She started on another lie, an obvious one, but familiar from childhood. "I didn't mean to --"

"Oh, you didn't mean to," said her mother, mockingly. "That doesn't matter. You did it. Do you think before you do anything or are you just stupid?"

"I'm just stupid," Rowena muttered, not particularly interested in what she was saying. It was the only way out of this argument. She couldn't look at her mother anymore, so her gaze had gradually dropped to the embroidery she was picking at on her sleeve. Beneath the pattern, the fabric was darker. Her arm and her hand worked at pulling the embroidery out, but the rest of her body was numb. It was the mental version of curling up in the corner. She could think of anything but the woman in front of her.

"No, that's not true. You're thoughtless, but you're not stupid. What did Slytherin offer you?" Her voice was cold and angry, and memories of arguments past caused Rowena to mentally append things like "ungrateful child" and "you little bitch" to every sentence.

"The castle for the school," Rowena muttered. "You know that." Think about the ground, think about your stupid sleeve, don't think about --

Her mother grabbed her chin and wrenched it up. "Look at me when I talk to you," she snapped. "And stop ruining your clothes."

Rowena shoved her away. "Don't touch me!"

Instantly, Sheffield was between them, and Rowena could have hugged her for it. "Don't move," Sheffield snapped.

"She did start it," Rowena pointed out. She looked around, feeling much more like herself now that there was an Aura Aurelia between herself and her tormentor. She took a deep breath. "I mean. I'm fine, I'll stay here, honest." She put her hands up and smiled in what she hoped was a friendly manner. Sheffield was looking at her like she was mad, which was actually probably the case.

"Oh, get out of the way. I can take care of myself," snapped her mother, pushing past Sheffield. "Rowena, what did Slytherin offer you to make me look bad? Tell me."

Rowena blinked. The brief moment of feeling like her old snarky self again with Sheffield had done her a lot of good. Her mother looked tired and old and paranoid, and yes, she was the most powerful person in Europe -- well, except for the Pope -- but she was also a terrified angry mess. Rowena decided to be completely honest. "Nothing, Mother," she said.

"That's a lie," said her mother. "Was it a marriage to his son?"

Rowena rolled her eyes. "I don't want to get married." She laughed. "You know, sometimes I feel like you don't listen to me." Gods, her mother was stupid. Now that Rowena was feeling so much better -- so much better than normal, even -- she almost didn't care that she didn't have her wand.

"I don't care how you feel!" her mother shouted. "Rowena, just because you don't want to get married doesn't mean you won't. Why won't you be responsible? Now, tell me what Slytherin gave you. You know perfectly well that whatever it was, I could have bought you --"

"No. Do you know what he offered me?" Rowena asked, finally snapping. The truth hadn't helped, so she would lie, and lie viciously. "He offered me the chance to help him completely ruin your life," she said. She smiled, showing all her teeth. "Because you're mad, and I'm not sure how you've even survived this long. I mean, everybody hates you. Your own bodyguards hate you. I hate you."

"The feeling is mutual," said her mother, slowly.

Rowena hadn't been expecting that. Still, she was angry, and anger was powerful, and she was determined not to lapse into the terrified stupid girl she'd been moments ago. "I hope you die alone and terrified. I hope somebody takes you away in the middle of the night and your body is found the next morning hanging from a tower, your innards wrapped around your throat. That would be hilarious, wouldn't it?"

Sheffield, frowning slightly, said, "I think we should go, Lady Aeaeae."

"Yes," said her mother, not looking in the least perturbed. "Let's come back when my daughter is more herself. See that she's comfortable, would you?"

"Er. Yes. Certainly." Sheffield followed her out, not turning her back on Rowena for a second.

The moment they were gone, of course, Rowena's bubble of burning, joyful rage popped, and she realized what she'd said. And that she'd meant it all. And that she'd loved saying it.

She rushed to the window. "WAIT! Come back! I didn't mean it!" she shouted. Sheffield shot her one final look of disgust before they turned the corner. Rowena couldn't really blame her. She felt a bit nauseous now.

I've lost my freedom, she thought. And what's worse, I've lost my mind.

Chapter 25

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