A/N – Enter Rowena. Thanks to all my readers and reviewers – and sincere apologies for the short chapter.

Disclaimer – I don't own HP, any of the characters, settings or situations. Don't sue.

Chapter Nine

Helga Hrarsdottir, clad in old, drab working clothes, did not look like the daughter of a powerful Saxon wizard, or the widow of a lord even more powerful. But then appearances were deceiving, as Godric well knew; beneath that capable, homely façade lay a kind heart, a shrewd mind, and a streak of quiet, determined will.

Over the years, Godric had learned to appreciate all three.

"Have I compromised my honour?" Godric asked, pacing back and forth on the gravelled paths of Helga's herb gardens. "I feel as though I lost something, in the war."

Helga, her strong, capable hands covered in rich dirt, merely grunted, her attention focused on plucking out weeds. But it was not a genuine answer Godric sought, merely a sounding board, an audience.

"The Viking magic-workers were little more than hedge wizards. Those men hunted them down and slaughtered them like dogs, and then clapped me on the back and named me one of them. King's man. King's wizard. Was that dangerous, do you think?"

There was no answer for a very long time. And then Helga sat back on her knees and brushed tendrils of damp, sweaty hair out of her face. "You always wanted to be a hero, Godric. And now you know the price of it. Tell me," she said, fixing him with her shrewd, direct gaze, "why did you go to war?"

He scowled, crossed his arms. "To drive off the Vikings," he answered, defensive. And, because he had always been scrupulously honest with Helga, "To gain the King's favour, and encourage his patronage of the wizarding world."

"Well," she said. "Well."

Salazar would have mocked him. But there was no irony in Helga's eyes, nothing but understanding –

"You must do as you see fit, Godric Gryffindor."

Rosalba of Ravenna rose gracefully from her hipbath, candlelight and the guttering fire painting her in glorious shades of gold as fragrant water streamed down her white breasts and silken belly. Her maids hovered around her, one silently holding out a long, silken robe, the other offering a goblet of mulled, spiced wine on a silver tray – impatiently, she waved them away before sitting down at her mirror and staring intently at her reflection in the silvered glass.

She was twenty-eight years old, had outlived two husbands and poisoned a third. Her ivory pale skin was smooth, her body gloriously sleek, and her great, liquid dark eyes had driven one poor, romantic fool to suicide – and yet it was not enough to satisfy her, not enough to fulfil the strange emptiness inside her.

Beauty was power, yes, but it was a power that men gave women, that they allowed them.

She wanted more. She wanted everything.

And she knew exactly how she was going to take it.

He returned to London reluctantly, unwilling to face the gathering sycophants and hero-worshippers, and even less eager to deal with the ambitious power mongers who wished to use his new-minted reputation for their own ends.

Salazar had taught him to be wary of puppet-masters.

And so when the talk of wizarding society was of the beautiful Italian noblewoman but newly come to London, he began to feel distinctly uneasy.

"Who is she?" Bjorn asked him late one evening, as they sat before a warm fire and drank companionably.

Godric smiled. "Rosalba, her name is," he said softly. "But I called her Rowena, when I knew her…"

"Rowena?" Bjorn tilted his head, raised a brow.

"Hengest's daughter," Godric answered, his smile soft and bemused. "A golden witch in a crimson gown, working her singing magic, casting her spell over poor, foolish Vortigern…"

"The apples," Bjorn said, suddenly understanding. "You gave them to her." He'd thought the golden wires that wrapped Rosalba's midnight dark braids an unusual ornament; at the end of every chain was a tiny, perfectly made apple that chimed with every movement she made.

"Yes," Godric admitted. "I thought her beautiful – once."

A/N – "A golden witch in a crimson gown" is taken from Rosemary Sutcliff's "The Lantern Bearers".