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Title: Between Here and Now and Forever
Fandom: Harry Potter
Characters: The Founders, various OCs
Rating: PG-13
Summary: Our heroes arrive in Wyke, where Basil Hufflepuff is waiting for them, among other less friendly sorts.

Chapter 1
Master Founders Post
Chapter 26

Clio didn't know where she was, but she was sleepy and it was comfy. She had had a nightmare about being cold and lost at sea, and she still almost felt as though she was bobbing in the water, only it was nice and warm here, and it smelled familiar and slightly perfumey. And these pillows were really soft.

She tried to remember the nightmare. There had been something important about it, she though. It had been about ...politics, somehow. And bears.

Her eyes snapped open and she sat up, at which point sudden pain shot down her spine and the nightmare coalesced into actual comprehensible memories of the mess in Norway. She yelped, and tried to assess her level of injury. Pain when she moved her back and right shoulder, her left arm in a cast, and her right covered in bandages up to the palm, and a lot of what felt like bruising all around, but as far as she could tell, she had all her limbs.

She had been swept off of her thestral and only just managed to hang on to the reins. This arrangement being unsatisfactory for both horse and rider, the two had crashed into the sea shortly thereafter. She remembered clinging to Barbara's side as the thestral swam, but this part was dreamlike and confusing; she remembered having a long conversation with her mother, who had been dead for years, and at any rate was not likely to have been floating around the middle of the North Sea even in life.

Clio rubbed her eyes carefully with her right hand and realized that Leander was standing over her with some concern. He was even wearing a tunic, something she had rarely seen him do. "Good morning," he said, cheerfully.

"Please tell me the Wizards' Council isn't paying for my sex life," she said. "That would be the second most embarrassing thing that's ever happened to me." His bedroom was just as she remembered it -- full of tasteful pretty things she wouldn't have known to buy, but Leander was a Squib from an otherwise decent family, so he had more taste than money. He would probably make some wealthy merchantess a useful husband someday, but until then he was paying his way in the world with sex.

"The second most embarrassing thing?" Leander asked, raising an eyebrow. "And no, you hadn't any family so apparently one of your Aurae suggested I watch over you while the Healer was busy with other patients. Mind, I am charging her my usual rates, so no skin off my nose," he said. He sat on the bed and leaned close to her, putting an arm around her. "You were very badly off when you came in, mind, I'm glad to see you awake."

She knew perfectly well that this was just how Leander was, but it always worked on her. She leaned on his shoulder, closing her eyes. "Well, I don't know how long I can stay awake," she said. "Don't take it personally, all right?"

"Actually," he said, clearing his throat. He sounded awkward now, not smooth and seductive. "Actually, the Chief apparently did want to know where they were going. The criminals you were after."

"...Oh. God. They haven't got them yet?" She shook her head, trying to fight off the drowsiness. "Who's taking care of it? I should really --"

"No," said Leander, keeping her from trying to get up. "You're in no state."

"But they'll -- Goronwy'll be in charge," she said. "Or somebody equally stupid."

"They said it was ...Perkinson and Bergfalk," said Leander, carefully pronouncing the names of her fellow Aurae. "Are they stupid?"

"No, they'll be all right," said Clio. "I don't know where they were going. I think Hull? They left from there, I think they had Portkeys back to Lord Slytherin's castle. Dunno why, they should've just gone to Inverleith or something."

"Inverleith?" said Leander, laughing. He left her side to find a piece of parchment. "But that's all the way in Scotland!" Sitting at a little writing desk in the corner (where he usually wrote receipts, if they were demanded of him) he scribbled something out, then gave the parchment to his owl and held out his arm for the owl to climb onto.

"Well that's where they'll be running home to, the Highlands," said Clio. "Too bad we can't just ambush them there, isn't it?" God, she was tired. She was talking strategy with a pretty Squib. If she had the energy she wouldn't be wasting her time like this.

"Why can't you?" Leander asked. He opened the window, and the owl went, presumably to tell the Aurae about Hull.

"It's a castle," said Clio. "It doesn't belong to us, it's well-defended."

"You could ambush them before they got there," said Leander.

She looked at him, exhausted. "Leander, do I tell you how to do your job?" she asked.

He sat down on the bed next to her and grinned a bit wolfishly. "Oh, often."

"That's different," she pointed out. "Look, you don't have to talk to me, God only knows why Lady Aeaeae thought you should look after me --"

"You haven't got any family," he pointed out. He looked... concerned. "You know, I do like talking to you," he said, putting his hand over her bandaged one.

"Oh, please," said Clio, rolling her eyes. She was trying not to blush. It wasn't like she wasn't experienced, he was just... very charming and rather unlike the men she usually ended up with. Because she paid him to be. "I know this must be pissing off your other regulars, you not being available."

"I did have to make a few last minute referrals," said Leander, cringing more than smiling. "I think they'll be happy, though. You know, I don't usually like to talk business, but --"

"You have got somewhere else to sleep, right?" Clio asked. "I mean, you don't sleep in this bed, do you?" It was a richly-appointed bedroom, certainly, but... well. Clio couldn't really imagine a businessman like Leander sleeping at his place of work.

"Well," said Leander, and when his expression faltered, she realized he did sleep here. "...I was thinking," he whispered in her ear, "you're in no state for what you'd usually want, but." His hand, which had been on her knee, was now finding its way up her tunic and between her legs.

"Leander," she said, removing his hand forcefully. "Are you all right with me staying here? I could be moved to a real hospital."

"You were going to be," said Leander, "but there were some... security concerns. Besides, I've no other appointments today," he said, "and the bed is big enough for the both of us."

"Fine, then," she said. "Once you get sick of me, kick me out." She put his hand right back where it'd been and pulled him in for a kiss.

"I'll try to be a gracious host," he said, and leaned into the kiss.

Clio was too fragile to actually fuck, apparently, which annoyed her mostly because Godric had acted the same way, but after they'd got each other off, she felt much better, and delightfully lazy. "Where's my wand? I'll clean us up," she said.

"You had better," said Leander, leaning over to grab it from the bedside table. He handed it to her. "The Healer's coming to check up on you this afternoon."

She stared at him. "And you distracted me with sex? Abluere!" she added, waving her wand. Of course they were both still sweaty and flushed, but at least there were no incriminating stains or anything. "She'll be furious!"

"...she will?" he asked, blinking. "She's a Healer, not a priest."

"She's a Healer," Clio snapped. "Healers hate all fun. Trust me on this. And she is a priestess."

"Clio, your idea of fun is -- where're my hose and my shoes?"

"I think they ended up under the bed," she said.

"Ah, thanks." He pulled his tunic on quickly, before diving under the bed. "Your idea of fun," he said, sounding a bit muffled, "is fighting Inferi while hags in flying mortars cackle menacingly above you."

"In all fairness," she said, "Mama Yaga's on our side, sort of."

"She's a hag! They eat babies! She's menacing," said Leander, displaying what Clio considered to be an extremely simplistic idea of interspecies politics. He scrambled into his hose and sat on the bed to get his shoes on.

"I don't really like babies," she said, considering how they might taste. "I bet they're nutritious."

"Aren't you going to get dressed?" Leander asked, putting on his belt. He examined himself in a looking-glass and began dashing about the room muttering "Comb, comb, comb," under his breath.

"...What, for the Healer?" she asked. "Nah. She's seen it all before and I'm not vain. Comb's over here, by the way," she said, waving it at him from the bedside table.

There was a knock at the door. "Fuck," muttered Leander, going to answer the door.

"Did that," said Clio, propping herself up on the pillows. She winced slightly. "Thanks, by the way. Afternoon, Healer Kewesh."

Epione Kewesh was Lady Aeaeae's personal Healer, and also her distant cousin. She had the same air of superiority, but lacked her cousin's cheer. Lady Aeaeae always made Clio feel as though she ought to be grateful she didn't hold Clio's cloddishness against her, as though somehow she was lucky to stand in the presence of such a refined, gentle, well-born shark. Healer Kewesh, although arguably a much better person on the whole, just made her feel like shit.

She glared at Leander, then looked at Clio disdainfully. "You need to rest," she snapped. "Or aren't you capable of restraining yourself?"

"I think I deserve a victory fuck," said Clio. "I mean, I did almost die, didn't I? Last thing I remember, I was floating in the North Sea."

Healer Kewesh sighed. "I shudder to think the sort of diseases you'll catch from the company you keep," she told Clio. "Nevertheless, I suppose you don't care about them yet. You'll come running to me and you'll see what I mean then."

Clio knew spells to keep herself safe from anything Leander might've caught, and Leander's livelihood depended to some extent on his insistence upon protective measures, but she knew it was useless; Healer Kewesh liked to tell people what she thought of their slovenly and ungodly ways. "I'll keep that in mind. I'm sure my enemies will be happy to know that the greatest threat to my life is something itchy from the bloke with a nice arse I met last week in Rome. Now can we please get on with the bit where you tell me how long I have to lie in bed doing nothing and when I can get back to making the world safe for the aristocracy?"

"Well, now that you're not frozen and passed out, and, apparently, back to your usual self, I feel confident that you're going to live," said Healer Kewesh. "Bones were broken in your fall, though, and they're still mending -- assuming you didn't hurt yourself again in a fit of lustful idiocy --"

"We were very careful, Healer Kewesh," insisted Leander. "I'm a professional, I understand sometimes a full range of --"

"-- you should be ready to have that cast off in a week, and then you can restart your weapons practice slowly," said Healer Kewesh, ignoring Leander completely. "I don't talk to Squibs, incidentally; yours should learn better manners."

Clio yawned loudly. "You know, Healer, suddenly I'm just really tired," she said. "Could you tell Leander what I need to know? He'll pass it on, I'm certain."

Healer Kewesh looked sharply at her. "There's nothing else you need to know. Stay off your feet. Your horse is dead, by the way -- after that stunt you pulled we were astonished it even managed to get you to shore."

This startled Clio out of her faux exhaustion. "Somebody put her down, then? She didn't suffer?"

"...I suppose so," said Healer Kewesh, frowning. "I don't know. ...Would you like me to ask?"

"...No," said Clio. The Healer looked relieved that she wouldn't have to bring bad news back. "I bet Goronwy did. He would do that sort of thing for me. It's fine."

Healer Kewesh nodded. "Well, then. If that's all, I'll see you in a few days to ensure your healing's taking place as planned. I assume someone will send me an owl if something goes wrong. Good day." She exited as quickly as she'd come in.

"I suppose she reads notes from Squibs, then," said Leander, a bit bitterly.

"She's a bitch," said Clio, rolling her eyes. "Don't let her get to you."

"Not an issue," said Leander, though he looked upset. He stretched out on the bed next to her and grinned lasciviously. "We should put it behind us, though, don't you think?"

Clio snorted. "As nice as your offer is, I actually am tired. Let me sleep, would you? Go off and ...read poetry or something. Whatever you do in your spare time. ...what the hell do you do in your spare time?"

"Whatever I like," he said. He leaned down to kiss her forehead before standing. "Sleep well; I'm going to make myself presentable and go out."

"Have fun, then," said Clio, pulling the blanket over her head with her less-bad arm. She heard him walking around the room for a bit, but she was asleep before he left.

* * *

"-- so you see, Odysseus saw him grab the sword, and knew perfectly well Achilles wasn't a woman," were the next words Godric heard clearly.

He became aware that he had a headache. He seemed to be waking up, and he slowly realized that that meant the dream he'd been having wasn't really happening, which was too bad, because the Archangel Gabriel had been about to give him the secret to... something -- transfiguring metal, possibly? Whatever it was, it had involved snidget eggs. And a talking bear. But now Rowena was talking about some bloke with a serious foot injury and he was never going to remember the dream anyway. Pain thudded at the back of his head with every heartbeat and his mouth was dry as sand.

He opened his eyes. "What the hell are you talking about?" he demanded. "Can I have something to drink?"

Rowena, who was standing over his bed holding his hand, gave a small but extremely startled shout and jumped backwards. Almost immediately, however, her expression changed to one of joy. "You're back!" she shouted.

"'Course I'm back, where would I go?" Godric asked. "We're not dead, are we? Did my spell work? I mean, this isn't Hell, is it? Have they stuck us in the same room in Hell? That would be just my luck. At least we could break our way out. You and me against Hell! ...that could be sort of fun. If you liked fighting." He frowned. "Please don't tell me we're in Hell. I'm sick of fighting."

"We're in Wyke, actually," said Rowena.

"I could live with Wyke," said Godric. "Is there a reason we didn't just go to Scotland?"

"Basil's meeting us there with the Portkey," said Rowena. "The Aurae can ambush us en route to Lord Salazar's castle if we go over land, but if we get there by Portkey we won't have to risk it. 'Course, someone will have to get back to Scotland over land, but one of us is harder to find than all of us."

"How long have we been here?" he asked. "Was I out for --"

"Two days. We got in this afternoon; the ship's under some glamours to look like a proper ship," said Rowena. "I wanted us to get a proper Healer for you but stupid Sindri said it wasn't worth the risk."

"Well, he's probably right," said Godric, "I mean, I'm fine now." He sat up. "Oof. Although. Could do with something to drink. And for the boat to stop rocking. And spinning. Is it spinning?"

"No," said Rowena, looking worried. "You should have told us the transfiguration was too much for you, Runty," she said.

"Well, obviously it wasn't, because I did manage it," he pointed out. He frowned at her. "Again, why are you being nice to me?"

"Well, you saved our lives, and you were just ill!" said Rowena, looking a bit hurt. "What's wrong with being nice?"

"It just isn't like you," said Godric. "It's a little creepy."

She glared at him. "It's perfectly like me! I'm completely nice!"

"Yeah, to Helga, not to me," said Godric. "Are you feeling all right?"

He made to put his hand on her forehead, but she ducked and swatted it away. "Stop that," she snapped. "I'm fine. You're just an idiot."

"See, that's more like it," said Godric, reassured by this remark. "Where are we meeting Basil?"

"Well, he doesn't know we're being followed, so he'll probably be waiting for us right out in the open," said Rowena, rolling her eyes as though this was insufferably stupid behavior. "Helga is the least recognizable of us, so I thought we might use some glamours to make her look a bit different -- hair, eyes, that sort of thing -- and she could go meet him and explain the situation."

She seemed eager to hear Godric's instant approval of the plan, but something worried him, and it took him a moment to remember what. "...Rowena," he said, slowly, "do you know if Helga's ever had dealings with your mother before?"

Rowena frowned. "Well, I mean, they've met, obviously. Helga was a great supporter until Mum insulted Basil at that feast --"

"Yes, yes, I know," said Godric, "but, I mean... did she ever get things from your mother?"

"...Well. She let Helga and Basil use this nice little plot of land, you know, for monster plant purposes. It was sort of a wedding gift, I suppose. But nothing she could use to spy on Helga, I don't think." Rowena grimaced.

"That's not really what I'm worried about," said Godric. He didn't really know how to say this to Rowena, but she needed to know. "When she saved me, your mother was in the room." Rowena looked pained. "You know, it's all right if you're upset she might be dead," he said, gently. "She's your mum, you're bound to feel --"

"I think she's probably fine, it's not really something I'm worried about," said Rowena. "I mean, Helga didn't -- she didn't --" She looked as though she was trying to wrap her mind around an unfamiliar concept.

"Well, she said -- Helga said -- and then your mum --" He closed his eyes, and tried to remember. "Your mum said something like 'I thought we had a deal,' and Helga said the deal was off or over or something. To your mother." He frowned. "Which would imply that she had been working with her before, and changed her mind."

Rowena's glare of disbelief said it all.

"Look, that's just what I heard!" he said, defensively. He rubbed his eyes. He was still far too headachey and sleepy to win an argument with Rowena. Not that he ever managed that, but this time he didn't even have a sporting chance.

"Obviously you heard wrong," snapped Rowena, crossing her arms.

"Well, I just think maybe we should ask her what it's about," said Godric.

"Ask her yourself, then," said Rowena.

"I did," said Godric. "She wouldn't tell me."

"Well," said Rowena, not happy at all. "Well, I think she's trustworthy. I mean, maybe she was planning on sending my mum some... some flower bulbs, or something, and then when she tried to kill her..." She trailed off, shrugging expansively. "Well, the bulbs would be the least of her worries, wouldn't they?"

"I don't think your mum would bring up flower bulbs in the middle of an assassination attempt, Rowena," said Godric, frowning.

"Well you needn't sound so snide," Rowena said. "Some of us like our friends."

"And some of us think well enough of them to think they might have a reasonable explanation," said Godric. "If they were asked."

Rowena looked confused, as though this had not occurred to her. "...Well, yes, I suppose," she admitted. She bit her lip. "It seems... rude. Like I'm doubting her."

"You're not," said Godric. "I'm doubting her. It's completely different. You're just... you're just trying to prove me wrong!" he said, seizing the idea that popped into his head. "I mean, you don't believe me, obviously," he said.

"I don't," she said, apparently unswayed.

"But I'll keep believing it," said Godric. "I mean, awfully suspicious what Helga said, don't you think?" In truth, he was still certain there was a logical, non-evil explanation for what Helga had said, but that wouldn't help him goad Rowena, so he didn't add that caveat. "You don't want one of your best friend's friends and coworkers to be thinking she's some sort of evil, traitorous, wicked --"

"All right, shut up, I'll ask her," she snapped. "Stop baiting me."

"Thanks!" said Godric brightly.

"You're wrong, you know," she said, glaring. "As always."

"I'll believe it when I hear a perfectly reasonable explanation," said Godric.

"Which there is, definitely," said Rowena. "I mean. Definitely."

"Go and ask her while you're doing your glamours on her," said Godric, encouragingly.

"Maybe I will," said Rowena defiantly. She left without another word. Godric, satisfied with a job well done, decided that he was going to go back to sleep until they needed him again. Which, considering their record so far, would probably be far too soon.

* * *

Helga stood on the deck, looking out at the city of Wyke, probably happier to see it than anybody had ever been -- although in Rowena's estimation, this was not saying much. She saw Rowena and turned to her. "There you are! D'you think I should go brunette or ginger?" she asked, half-joking, and looking the very picture of sweetness and light.

Of course, neither of these words would have been in Rowena's summation of her personality -- Helga was devious and brilliant, a bit mad, and always knew exactly what to say, whether it was completely awful and hilarious or just plain what Rowena needed to hear -- but it made Rowena feel immensely guilty just the same for doubting her. "You've got the coloring for red, but I think it's a bit too attention-getting, don't you?"

"Hmm. True," said Helga, frowning. "It'll be so good to get home," she said, looking towards the shore again.

"I know!" said Rowena. "I mean, solid ground. And real beds. And not having to worry about when Godric's going to faint again."

"Oh, be nice to him, he's saved our arses a lot lately," said Helga. "And then fainted, but still. I don't really think he has the constitution for heroism, but it's the thought that counts. Although neither of you'd last a minute in a real crisis," she said.

"Oh, really, what do you call what we just got out of, then?" Rowena asked.

"An unscheduled interruption, followed by a rather spectacular exit," said Helga. "But Basil and I used to deal with much worse things before we got married and when he was still human. Freeing lands from evil necromancers, breaking curses. Long as we got paid, it was fun," she said. "What I did back there was Contingency Plan Three, with a few small alterations."

"Really," said Rowena, skeptically.

"Well, all right, a lot of alterations," admitted Helga. "Like, there weren't Aurae in it initially. Or evergreens. Or the whole... treehouse bit."

"So let me get this straight," said Rowena, having difficulty keeping a straight face. "Contingency Plan Three was the whole treehouse bit, minus the treehouse."

"Well, yes," said Helga. "I mean, there was a walker, only it was deciduous, and didn't need an outside source and well look, the point is, I've got out of worse," she said. "Not a big deal."

"Good," said Rowena. She didn't want to move away from this topic, because if she did she had a responsibility to ask Helga about her mother. Rowena didn't want to think about her mother, and she didn't want to think about how Helga'd killed Sheffield without a second thought -- not that Rowena liked Sheffield, but you didn't just go around killing people. You shouldn't, anyhow. Sometimes you did, but remorse was a mark of humanity.

"Something wrong?" Helga asked, putting her hand on Rowena's arm. Rowena realized she'd been fidgeting with her wand, turning it around and around in her hands.

"I -- look -- I think we have to tell Godric about --"

"No," said Helga.

"It just feels like lying to not tell him," said Rowena. She frowned. "Probably because it is. Look, he'll -- he'll understand, probably, and if he doesn't, well, I mean, we killed somebody, right?" She was unwilling to look Helga in the eye, unwilling to say You killed somebody, even though Rowena had had no part in it. To share the guilt was better, because Rowena didn't want to think ill of Helga, but she had quite a lot of practice thinking ill of herself.

"I killed somebody, you mean," said Helga, softly. "Look, she would've kept coming after us, there was no way to get her to stop trying to recapture us. It was the only way out."

"We could've taken her captive," said Rowena.

"Oh, yes, that worked out so well the first time we tried it," said Helga. "It's possible Sheffield broke her out, but then why would she have gone before we were attacked? It doesn't make strategic sense. Look, I'm sorry she's dead, but it was her or us, and I like us better," said Helga. "That's all it comes down to." She looked so calm saying this, so matter-of-fact, and Rowena shivered.

"Godric said you said something to my mother," she said, slowly. "Before you nearly killed her. Something about how you'd had a deal with her."

At this, Helga's serenity left her. "What do you mean?" she asked. "What does he say I said? I was very tired, I don't really remember," she added quickly. "You know I didn't mean to kill her," she said, "only she was torturing Godric --"

"I know, I'm not angry at you for that," said Rowena quickly. "But you said your deal was off. Godric says, at any rate," she added, uncertainly.

"But Godric was being tortured," Helga pointed out. "And it's Godric we're talking about. I'm surprised he wasn't already out cold when I got there. Besides, he's got an awful memory."

"So you didn't say that?" Rowena confirmed.

"Rowena," sighed Helga, "you don't think I'd work for that old bat for a minute, do you? After what she's said about Basil and done to you? I'm a little insulted, honestly."

"It's just that Godric said --"

"I mean, she did try to bargain with me, and I probably said something like 'No, of course not, you're evil and horrible!' although I don't honestly remember, because I hadn't had any sleep and I was running entirely on nerves. But probably Godric misheard," Helga said, too easily.

Rowena wanted to be convinced, but she wasn't. Still, it was Helga's word against Godric's, and there was no question in her mind as to which of them she wanted to believe. "All right. Sorry," she said. "I shouldn't -- I just -- I don't know what I was thinking."

"That's all right," said Helga, too cheerfully. Rowena thought she'd be more upset, but she just smiled. Was Helga really that resigned to Rowena's madness? "Now, glamour me up and I'll get us home!" she said. "Well, I'll find Basil, and we'll get us home."

Rowena banished her doubts forcefully -- Helga was just nice. Forgiving! She was all about forgiveness. Rowena brandished her wand, trying to work out how to make Helga less noticeable. "Promise I won't make you hideous! Let's see now..."

* * *

Basil was being followed. He found this game rather tiresome, as his followers kept getting into arguments about whether he was on to them or not, and in order to keep from letting on that he bloody well was, he had to listen to the stupid things they kept saying to each other without reacting. He was currently doing this now, as the two of them hissed at each other, crouched on the rooftop above him, obvious and irritating as the pox.

"...don't have super hearing, don't be ridiculous," said the small one. "That's daft."

"He doesn't need any, does he, the way you clomp about," said the loud one.

They had local accents and weren't trying to kill him, so he knew they weren't from the Hunters' Guild. Plus, they seemed to think werewolves were a lot more dangerous in human form than, well, humans, and that just wasn't very Hunters' Guild of them. (Besides, humans were plenty dangerous; just ask one of the werewolves Basil had killed before being bitten.) Basil did not, in fact, have werewolf super hearing, because at the moment his ears were quite human, thank you very much. His super hearing came from a spell he'd done this morning when he realized he was being followed by idiots. It was a spell he tried to avoid using in cities, but this was a special circumstance.

He worried a bit that the followers had had something to do with Helga and the others. Had they got into trouble? He'd overheard some people in the market this morning passing along rumors that one of the Aurae was injured in battle over the North Sea and was near death, but nobody seemed to know who it'd been, just that Koschei the Deathless had mounted a bold naval attack -- unlikely -- or that the Leviathan had awoken to feast on wicked souls, and this was just God's judgment of the unholy pagan Lady Aeaeae and all who served her -- even less likely, and not a wise theory to discuss in public in any event; Basil had seen this man hauled off by the city's own Aurae Cuprorum for defaming the Chief and her Council.

"Where's he going, anyway?" demanded the small one. "If we're going to keep following him like this all the way to the docks --"

"Shush!" snapped the loud one. "He'll hear you!"

Basil decided to play with the idiots a bit longer before losing them completely; he'd go to the market and lose them in the crowd. He wandered over there, careful to take side streets and back alleys, which were quieter, so that he could hear them scramble to keep up. They were really not very good at this at all, and he briefly wondered if they might be decoys. But then, Basil couldn't really see a strategic advantage for anyone in making him aware that he was being followed, and he'd probably only noticed them in the first place because he was habitually paranoid. They could have trailed a layman around easily, probably.

He got the impression, listening to their whispered conversations as he went along, that they thought he was some sort of country bumpkin, which, as a born Londoner who'd chosen to leave the city, annoyed him rather a lot. Just for that, he decided to cross a broad street just so they'd have to leave their comfortable roofs to keep up with him.

He browsed in the market for a while, not staying at one booth long enough to even look as though he was buying anything; he would have liked to say this was all part of his master plan to lose his followers, but really he was just having trouble concentrating, because one of the problems this hearing enhancement spell had was that it was rather more difficult to pick out one conversation when everything was so damn loud.

Still, when a very familiar voice shouted "Lovely fresh cantaloupes!" from one of the fruit carts, Basil did notice it quite easily. He stopped and turned, slowly, to the woman behind the cart. She wore her mouse brown hair uncovered, as befitted an unmarried young woman, but aside from this small detail, she was definitely Helga. With brown hair. And looking extremely entertained by his surprise.

"Well?" Helga asked. "Do you like the looks of my cantaloupes or not?" She sounded more demandingly flirty than insulted. Basil was having difficulty keeping a straight face. He drew closer to the cart so that they could talk while she pretended to sell him melons. Or possibly "melons."

"You couldn't have sold apples or something?" he whispered.

"What, out of season?" she asked, innocently. "Even if I had the materials to grow them on such short notice, it'd be a bit unsubtle. What are you worried about, then?" she asked.

"I'm being followed," he told her.

"A mirror, then!" she said, in her loud fruit-seller's voice. "Polished silver straight from, er..." She trailed off. "Wherever they get silver from?"

"Lead, I think," Basil said. He took the mirror, and carefully examined the people behind him in it. The loud one was being lectured by the small one on something. They didn't seem to be paying attention to him, but searching the crowd.

"Tall bloke, looks like some Veela blood in him, being complained at by a short, fat man. ...They've spotted me, they're by the lady goldsmith over there," said Basil.

"I see them," said Helga. "Are they wearing uniforms?"

"Aurae Cuprorum for Wyke, possibly?" said Basil. "Not Hunters' Guild. No idea why they'd be after me, though," he said, putting down the mirror and raising an eyebrow at her, to make his statement a question.

She cringed. "Well, er."

"Things got hairy?" he asked. He knew that guilty look; she always wore it when she'd done something justifiably extreme. "You're back very early. I didn't expect you for a few days."

She sighed. "See, this is what happens when I have to deal with amateurs. I love them, of course, Rowena and Godric both, but..."

"You can tell me about it when we're safe," said Basil. "...And once you're blonde again. It's not... bad, it's just weird."

She snorted. "Well, I think you'd better lose your honor guard, but when you manage to get away from them, meet me by the docks. We've got... a ship there, sort of, but it's charmed so don't try to find it yourself."

"Any thoughts on how to lose the coppers?" he asked.

Helga grinned. "Buy two cantaloupes, a bolt of silk, some ladies' slippers, some cheap jewelry, and a very large parsnip," she said.

"Right, yes, they'll think I'm very odd, have a good laugh, and you'll get some silk," said Basil, "but how does that help?"

"Let me finish!" said Helga. "Then you go to a brothel -- a nice one, mind, with a discreet exit somewhere -- and trade them what you bought for an inconspicuous change of clothes and letting you leave. Your devoted followers will then think they understand your shopping list, and won't expect you to come out for a while. They'll probably be watching the front entrance, but you'll have escaped before they make it 'round to the other exit, and with different clothes."

Basil considered this briefly. "Bit expensive, slightly short on dignity," he said, "but you know, I think it'll work. See you at the docks, then. Love you." He grinned. "God, it's good to see you again."

She smirked, and gestured at their surroundings. "Cantaloupes and all?"

He raised an eyebrow. "I don't think I can respond to that properly in public," he said. "You're just going to have to wait."

She laughed and handed him two cantaloupes that were about the same size, and said "See you at the docks, then. Love you too, dear."

* * *

Helga waited anxiously by the docks, keeping her eyes peeled for Aurae of any flavor, and also for Basil. When she spotted him, she wanted very much to run up to him, but she waited until he came to her, because he might still be being followed. "Did you get rid of them?" she asked.

"They were cleverer than they looked, but yes," he said. "Got into a scuffle with that short one -- I nearly lost," he said, "but then I threatened to bite him and he ran away."

"Oh, good," she said, and threw her arms around him, knowing it was safe. "I missed you. How was the full moon?" she asked. "Wasn't it Sunday? You must've left right after -- oh, Basil! Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," he said, reassuringly. "That idiot Jasper was being a twit about it, of course, but nothing I can't deal with."

She knew that tone. "How many black eyes did you give him?" she asked.

"Well, he only has two to begin with," he said, defensively. "Anyway, you nearly killed an Aura! It's all over -- I mean, they're blaming it on sea monsters but I know you."

Helga's mood dimmed significantly -- this was going to get to Godric whether she wanted it to or not. "She survived that?" she asked, impressed despite herself.

"What did you do?" he demanded.

"Come on, I'll tell you while we go to the ship," she said, sighing. "And, look, Sheffield was self-defense -- she tried to kill Rowena and I, or at least --"

"Sheffield? You nearly killed Sheffield?" Basil asked, stopping in his tracks. "Helga! That's not a safe thing to do!"

"Well, I'm not a safe person to be around," she said, trying to play it off as a joke.

Basil didn't stop being serious. "What happened?"

Helga didn't really want to go into full detail, because she'd acted more than a little... unpleasant, back there. "Well," she said. "Look, the long and the short of it is it all went wrong, it was a trap, and I sort of made an attempt on Rowena's mum's life."

Basil seemed to be having trouble deciding on what to say, because he kept opening and closing his mouth. Finally, he found his voice, and managed, "The thing is, I really wish I didn't have to say 'What, again?'"

"Well, she didn't make it easy on us --"

"Treason, Helga!" he said. "That is not low-profile! That is not the sort of thing you get out of by hightailing it back to the castle and having a surprise exam! You can't keep doing this, you're going to get yourself killed. Or worse. There is worse, you do realize that, don't you?"

"Basil, don't shout," she hissed.

"We've talked about this," he said. "You promised --"

"Rowena's life was in danger. And Godric's too, I mean, but she's my best friend. What else could I do?"

He sighed. "Sometimes people are just stupid. You can't save everybody, you have to stop trying."

"Well, I didn't stop trying and I ended up managing it," she said, grumpily. "Plus my father and the half-sister I didn't know I had, so, you know what, I think I did all right," she said.

"Please at least tell me Lady Aeaeae didn't notice your attempt to kill her this time?" said Basil. "I mean, we'd all know if you'd actually succeeded."

Helga bit her lip. "...Well. I was actually fairly... overt. In my defense," she said, "no one could have survived that fall! I think she's actually a demon. You should've seen Rowena after we --"

"I don't care about Rowena," said Basil. "They are going to hunt you down. They're not going to stop. We're going to have to go into hiding or something."

"There's got to be something I can do to fix everything," said Helga, sighing. "I just... haven't thought of it yet."

"No, and you're not going to," said Basil, "because sometimes the solution is to not do things."

"She would have killed Godric, and done worse to Rowena -- yes, there's always worse, and I couldn't let her --"

"Why are their lives more valuable than yours?" Basil demanded.

This caught her off-guard. "...Look, that's not the point, Basil," she said. "The point is --"

"No, tell me, why," he snapped.

"Well, there are two of them," said Helga. "And I'm very fond of them."

Basil looked despairing. "I like them too -- well, I mean, I like Godric, he's all right -- and Rowena's... a person who..." He tried to think of something nice to say about her. "She's almost a good duelist," he finally managed. "But Helga, you can't just --"

"Look, it doesn't matter now," said Helga, quickly. "Right now what we need to do is get them back to the castle --"

"Back to the castle?" demanded Basil. "But that's the first place the Aurae will look for you!"

"Basil, look, I'm just telling you what needs to be done," she said, growing tired of their argument. "I'm not stupid; I know the consequences. I've accepted them. And I need your help."

He sighed. "Fine, fine, I'll help you get them back to the castle, but then we've got to run to I don't even know where, Helga, this is going to be a mess, how are we going to live?"

Helga took a deep breath, and lied to him, as she'd been lying to Godric and Rowena. The lives of the people she loved were worth lying for. "We'll work it out. Don't worry." She smiled up at Basil and craned her neck to kiss him.

She had missed him so badly, and she was going to miss him even more.

Chapter 28

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December 2012


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