Chapter 1 : She rules her life like a bird in flight
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Also, the title of this story and the chapter title were inpired by "Rhiannon" by Fleetwood Mac.
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“Allow me to present Helga Hufflepuff,” Godric said when we met her for the first time, as if his companion was a lady fitting of such an introduction. But from the first moment it was abundantly clear that she was a breed apart from the three of us. Rowena was a noblewoman through and through; it showed as clearly as the day in her posture, and the confidence in her gaze. Godric was the same, even if his origins were mysterious. But I could not fault him for that; mine were as well, after all, and I kept that way for a purpose. Godric was still every bit as highborn as Rowena. And deep down, I knew that I was made of the same stock as they. Even if my name did not proclaim me as such, I was noble. I simply was.
Helga was not. That much was obvious. She showed none of the dignified restraint Rowena so perfectly exhibited; the two women were as night and day. Helga was completely free of the unspoken, invisible code of conduct that governed the three of us. Her words were simply tools of expression, not of careful negotiation. She radiated pure contentment, not diluted by ambition or ulterior motive. Never in my life had I known such a feeling, or seen a person flaunt it so.
I almost hated her for it.
During subsequent meetings I avoided her altogether, refusing her attempts at eye contact and never condescending to speak with her. Her loud laugh frayed my nerves, and she smiled entirely too much to be taken seriously. It unsettled me. My language was manipulation and games; I could not relate to a creature so straightforward, so open. On some level I knew that this was backwards, but the knowledge did not lessen my aversion.
I could have said a thousand things to dissuade her from her role in the founding of our school, when we first began to discuss the idea. She was no scholar. Her raw ability was equal to any great witch or wizard, but it had a distinctly untrained quality about it that I did not trust. I could have said that any student unfortunate enough to study under her would be woefully ignorant of the true ways of the world. I could have said that optimism and dimpled cheeks did not make for a competent instructor of magic. But I had the distinct feeling that even if I had voiced these thoughts, Helga simply would have shrugged them away. Briefly I indulged my imagination; what must it be like to be completely independent of the opinions of others, to be confident in your own intelligence and capabilities without hearing praise from those around you? The idea was unthinkable to me, and yet Helga seemed wholly unconcerned with the way she presented herself. My deliberate coldness towards her seemed to faze her very little, if indeed she even noticed at all.
It was then that I considered the possibility that the hatred I felt towards her might be more akin to envy. It was a feeling I had never known, or could not remember.
Weeks passed. Hogwarts went from a vague ideal in our minds to a tangible reality, and the first sight of our castle sparked something in me that I had not felt in a long time. Ambition had always flared within me like a torch, but as I looked at the towers of that abandoned castle, the castle that would soon be our haven, I thought that all my strivings might someday be worth something. Desire without hope is torture of the worst kind, and I had spent far too long waiting for hope to reach me.
The day before classes were to begin, I spent much of the light hours next to the lake, gazing out at Hogwarts and planning what the next day would bring. Perhaps I should have been nervous, but I was not. In fact, I had trouble feeling much at all. A consequence, perhaps, of the life I had led. But the past was gone, I reminded myself; no good could come from dwelling upon it.
Her footsteps behind me woke me from my musings, and I turned to see her crunching through the fallen autumn leaves, coming towards me. She was leaving the forest; I was curious as to why, but I would not ask.
“It’s surreal, is it not?”
She walked right up to the lakeshore, wading ankle-deep into the pitch black water. The hem of her plain brown dress dragged through the mud, unnoticed by its wearer. She turned to me, clearly expecting a reply.
I had not planned to speak, for the answer to her inane question was quite obvious to the both of us. But she turned to me, and—though it pained me to realize it—I was struck for the first time by the blueness of her eyes. They were skylights, sunlit oceans, and I found myself struggling to pull myself from their depths. They were oddly round, and almost seemed too large for her face, but the effect was not displeasing.
I was appalled at myself.
“And by surreal, I suppose you mean the fact that tomorrow we will be instructors of magic?”
She nodded, and the break in her stare gave me time to collect myself. I was Salazar Slytherin. Slytherin. The blood in my veins was the most perfect of any line I had ever heard of, far above the sordid Muggle couplings that so many of our race had resorted to. A Slytherin would not succumb to the eyes of a common girl.
She looked at me again, but this time I was prepared. Her head tilted to the side, examining me.
“Salazar, how old are you?”
I was not inclined to indulge her strange questions. “Is that relevant to anything?”
“Perhaps not,” she said with a shrug, swirling the inky water with her right foot. “But it would satisfy my curiosity.”
I meant to send her a withering look, to make it clear how childish I truly thought her at the moment. I meant to mock her. But halfway through the act her wide blue gaze met mine in full force, and I was caught off guard for the second time. To my utter chagrin, the first thing that came to my lips was the truth.
“I am three and twenty. Now are you satisfied?”
She raised her eyebrows. “I am…surprised, I think.”
“Do I not look my age?”
“No, it isn’t your looks. You just seem much older.”
“That can only be a good thing,” I said, making a show of my disdain for her current position; standing in a lake for no reason hardly seemed fitting behavior for someone who would soon be supervising children.
She just laughed aloud. “Have you ever been a child a day in your life, Salazar?”
I could feel my countenance darkening at her words. I knew what Helga meant by this; when had I ever been carefree, happy without reservation? I could not remember such a time. My childhood was not one I could look fondly back upon; it was something to be run from. Perhaps Helga saw in my face something of the direction my thoughts had taken, for her eyes softened as she looked upon me.
“I know what we need,” she said, finally venturing out of the lake and moving towards me. Her smile could mean nothing good, I could tell. “We need a bit of childhood. Before tomorrow, when we have to begin setting an example.”
“And how do you propose we get it?” Speaking to her was become more of an involuntary reaction than an act of free will.
“We’ll race from here to the castle,” she said, squeezing the rancid water out of her hem. “Simple.”
I opened my mouth to give the refusal she had to be expecting. But a wicked idea suddenly took shape in my mind. My lips curled into a smile, unnoticed by my oblivious companion.
“All right,” I agreed, and she looked up at me in surprise. “But what does the winner get?”
“I don’t know. Bragging rights, I suppose. Are you ready?”
“You had better take a head start,” I told her, trying not to betray my amusement. “It wouldn’t be fair, otherwise.”
“Rather full of ourselves, are we not?” she teased. “We shall see if your arrogance is warranted.” And with that she was off, running full-tilt toward Hogwarts castle. I noted with a raised eyebrow that she wore nothing on her feet.
When she had run a sufficient distance, I drew my wand from my coat. With a practiced flick of the wrist, I was standing at the front doors of the castle, chuckling at the sight of Helga, now running towards me. When she noticed what I had done, she let out a shriek of frustration. But I sensed amusement in it too.
“I meant a real race!” she cried as she drew within earshot of me. “A proper one, Salazar, you cheat!” But she did not seem unhappy at all; quite the contrary, in fact. Her cheeks were flushed apple-red, and her smile was ear-to-ear. “If I had known you were going to do that, I would have done it as well. We could have raced with magic.”
I scoffed. “As if you could. I know that Godric’s coattails have carried you far, but I do not think even they could help you learn such an advanced spell.”
Helga’s face fell sharply; her exhilarated mood was gone in an instant. Her mouth opened and closed indignantly, as if she was searching unsuccessfully for some retort. I let a smirk come to my face at the sight.
When she did speak, it wasn’t the angry outburst I was expecting.
“I was right about you,” she said in a low voice, staring intently at the ground. “I did not want to be. But now I see that I was.”
I took it as an eerie coincidence that as she turned her back to me, a cloud moved to cover the sun, and the world grew just a bit darker. But even if I had tried, I did not think I could feel regret for what I had said. For it had been a long time since I had enjoyed anything so much as irritating Helga. Just the knowledge that I had taken her off guard, that I had wiped that vapid grin off her face just once—I was surprised at how much fun it was.
A theory was developing in my mind. I could not figure out why, but I seemed to react more strongly to Helga than anyone I had ever met, in every way possible. Her voice, her mannerisms, every word she spoke annoyed me to no end, and yet the pangs of jealousy at her self-assured nature threatened to overwhelm me. And, as I had learned a few minutes before, her gaze could stop me in my tracks. I had encountered no other woman with such eyes. I would have to guard myself well against them, for they had the power to draw words out of me that I would not otherwise offer. And that was a risk I could not take, especially not with her.
That was the first night—the first of many—that Helga Hufflepuff visited me in my sleep. The dream was nothing much; there was no story, no impossible sights or happenings. I could not even tell how I was supposed to feel upon awakening. There was just a woman, making her way out of the forest toward me. Her eyes were vibrant blue; they were skylights. They were sunlit oceans.