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Chapter 1 : Chapter I
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Rowena Ravenclaw sighed as she looked out the window. Below her she could see the first of the guests arriving, crossing the moat and entering the terrace below. It was the perfect picture of splendour, the gallant lords and ladies arriving in robes of finest fabric, servants and house-elves trailing behind them bringing chickens and ducks and chests of gems and other various wealth to tempt the Ravenclaw family in exchange for Rowena’s hand. Rowena was about to turn twenty, and thus everyone said it was high time she was to be married. Her parents had been trying to persuade her with suitors since she’d turned sixteen. But Rowena knew that all these suitors would return home empty-handed, because Rowena had eyes only for one man. One man who wasn’t here tonight to ask for her hand.
“Rowena, dear,” said her mother. “Come away from the window, you’ll catch cold. And you want to look your best tonight – there are many young men coming specifically to see you.”
“I do not wish to marry any of them,” Rowena insisted obstinately.
Her mother smiled. “Just give them a chance before you say that,” she said. “One may turn out to be perfect, but you never know until you try.”
“They are only pursuing me for money and position,” said Rowena. “I shall not be happy with someone like that. I want someone who loves me.”
“You are very wise, Rowena,” said her mother. “I am glad you are not throwing yourself into this too hastily. But your father and I do hope to see you married soon. What about Lord Redwald? He is coming tonight. And he is a sensible man; one who will not be after money, for he is already one of the richest wizards in the country. And I have heard he single-handedly fought off those Muggle invaders last month. He would be a fine husband.”
“Lord Redwald only made his castle invisible so the Danes did not bother coming – he hardly fought them off. So forgive me if I am not particularly impressed by him.”
Lady Ravenclaw sighed. “Please try to make an effort,” she said eventually. “You do not have to marry one of them, just please talk to them.”
Rowena nodded, giving in at last. She straightened up and fixed her plait of long black hair, placing a circlet of small white flowers atop her head for effect.
“You look beautiful,” her mother said. “Now it’s time to meet the guests.”
Rowena drifted down the elegant marble staircase, the hem of her long blue dress trailing behind her on the steps as she walked. Heads turned and jaws dropped; many girls would be flattered by such attention, but not Rowena. Into the hall she walked, all smiles and geniality, while young men kissed her hands and favoured her with their attention and compliments.
As her mother had predicted, Lord Redwald tried to make an impression. He greeted her with the politest compliments, remarking several times that he’d never seen anyone so lovely as she. Rowena soon found herself unfortunately trapped in conversation with him, and after his initial attempts at flattery, they talked of nothing but Lord Redwald himself.
“I am certain you heard about that invasion last month by the Danish Muggles,” Redwald told her proudly. “But they could not touch my manor. I used a quick Invisibility Charm and they must have thought it was a trick of the light, because they left! So easy to fool those Muggles.”
“How clever,” said Rowena with a smile. “Such a shame that rather than raiding your manor, they went and killed the King instead. Now his half-brother Aethelred is on the throne, a mere boy of ten. So I fear these raids will only be more common now.”
“Ah,” said Redwald uncomfortably. “Yes, that is unfortunate. It is a shame these Muggles keep fighting. But I try my best to stay out and not get involved, and to keep them out of my affairs as well. And so far that proves effective, even though I have such an incredible amount of land they want.”
It was with great restraint that Rowena managed to not roll her eyes at him. Redwald turned every point of conversation around to discuss his riches, his land, the fact that he had thousands of house-elves serving in his castle, none of which could sway Rowena’s affection. Lord Redwald was at least twice her age, and quite boring. Ever since the first moment he’d opened his mouth to speak, Rowena had been trying to find a way to get out of the festivities unnoticed.
“Are you quite all right, my lady?” Redwald asked her suddenly. “You look troubled.”
“Oh – I… I am sorry,” Rowena apologised, realising she’d been staring at the window rather than pretending to be listening raptly to Redwald’s monologue about his prospects. But she latched onto the opportunity that had just presented itself. “Since you mention it, yes, I am feeling rather faint all of a sudden. I should go lie down.”
“Let me accompany you. You are not well, do you need help?”
“Thank you, but I shall be fine. Excuse me.” Rowena put her hand to her forehead and walked out of the extravagant hall into a small side room, where she let her hand down and stopped feigning illness. Although her excuses had isolated her in this room, it was at least better than being forced to socialise with sycophantic suitors. She’d actually managed to escape.
The sound of the gala in the neighbouring room still echoed through the halls and made its way into her sanctuary. Rowena closed the door and moved to the window, taking in the view of the sun setting over the forested hills, pink clouds blowing by in the sky above. If she’d been in one of the tower rooms, she could have looked out across the hill to the modest house of her best friend Helga. But here on the ground floor, she couldn’t see quite that far.
With her sights focused on the near rather than the faraway views, she noticed something that made her heart leap with joy. A figure was running towards the castle, dark and silhouetted by the red setting sun. She couldn’t see his face, but she’d recognise that walk anywhere. He had come! She knew he couldn’t have made her suffer these old boring suitors all evening.
“Salazar!” cried Rowena. The figure stopped and looked around. “I am over here!” Rowena said again, waving her arm out the window.
Salazar Slytherin turned and found Rowena, and ran up to her window, a grin on his face.
“How are you this evening?” he asked. “It appears you got away from them.”
“It took long enough,” said Rowena. “I got away by pretending I was ill.”
“I am surprised that worked,” he said with a laugh. “Because you certainly do not look ill to me, you look lovely.”
After all the obsequious and arbitrary compliments she’d heard that evening, it was refreshing to hear a real one. Despite the simplicity of his statement, Rowena could feel her heart fluttering. If Salazar only knew what an effect he had on her. She looked down from her window, unable to tear her eyes away from him. A slight breeze swept through his brown hair and ruffled his exquisite emerald robes. In Rowena’s opinion, he looked finer than any of those rich, well-dressed admirers in the hall.
“Are you coming out?” he asked her.
“You mean leave?” Rowena clarified, surprised. “You want me to leave with you?”
“I thought you wanted to leave,” said Salazar. “Unless you want to go back into that party… Yes, come with me! We are all over at Helga’s, and decided you needed rescuing!”
“How?” asked Rowena. “They’ll see me if I leave.”
“Out the window, of course!” Salazar suggested.
Rowena was shocked. That was very inappropriate behaviour for a lady. “Climb out the window? I will tear my dress!”
Salazar shrugged in response.
“I shall need help if I am to climb out the window in this dress,” said Rowena thoughtfully as a plan came to her. “I will climb up onto the sill and then you help me down.”
Salazar agreed, and Rowena lifted the hem of her dress so she could climb up to sit in the window sill, then swung her legs around to face Salazar. He reached up for her and she put her arms around his neck, holding on as he caught her in his arms. Rowena savoured the moment, revelling in her successful plan at escape.
When Salazar set her feet back on the ground, Rowena relinquished her grip from around him. Together they walked away from the Ravenclaw estate, Rowena looking back nervously every few steps, and just when they reached the moat they Apparated away onto Helga’s doorstep.
They were welcomed into Helga Hufflepuff’s home by the cheerful host, her golden curls bouncing and dimples forming on her cheeks as she smiled and led them inside. Her house was simple and ordinary, a far cry from the spectacle that was the Ravenclaw castle, but Rowena didn’t care. It felt comfortable and warm. At the moment, a fire crackled merrily in a large cauldron in the centre of the room, the soot blackening the ceiling, and over twenty people were gathered in the room talking and laughing.
Rowena and Helga had become fast friends a few years ago when Helga and her husband had moved into the area from Wales. The two women were practically opposites: Rowena was a reserved, sophisticated lady and Helga more vivacious and outgoing. And they moved in very different circles – Rowena’s family associated with the most illustrious people in the land, mainly wizards, and Helga with more common people, wizards and Muggles alike. But their differences never came between them in any bad ways. Rowena found their opposite personalities to be rather an advantage, in fact; whenever one needed advice, the other was always there to give it, seeing the situation from another angle. Helga had the ability to see a situation fairly from all perspectives, and often saw the possibilities Rowena had never even considered; Rowena was usually a bit more shrewd in her judgements, but often turned out to be right, and Helga valued Rowena’s wisdom.
“Rowena, I’m so glad you were able to get out!” Helga said as she led Rowena and Salazar into the house. “I was worried about you. Was it as dreadful as you thought it would be?”
“Worse,” said Rowena. “Hours of listening to people talk about how rich they are in an attempt to make me marry them. You are lucky you never have to deal with that again.”
“That’s why we thought we would send Salazar to go get you out of there,” said Helga, handing each of them a flagon of homemade mead, and pointed out the table piled with all types of fresh bread and cheese. Then she led them into the main room of the house, where a storyteller was singing and plucking a lyre, and Helga's husband Cador and a few of his friends sang along to the bits they knew. Some house-elves were gathered in a corner listening, and two chickens wandered through the room picking up fallen crumbs of bread until Helga shooed them out.
Maybe it was a rather odd place for a lady like Rowena to go. Although Helga was by no means poor, she hadn’t grown up in the luxury Rowena was accustomed to. And it was odd to see the house-elves about; the ones working for Rowena’s family always disappeared when a wizard came into the room, but Helga permitted her house-elves to enjoy their share of festivities as much as the rest of the guests. But, Rowena considered as she stepped around a chicken and walked across the room to find a place to sit, one didn’t always need to be surrounded by luxury. Good friends mattered much more to her. And anyone in their right mind would prefer mead and cheese and storytelling over a dull group of rich suitors.
After a while, the storyteller’s singing drew to a close and the noise in the room doubled as everyone entered their own conversations. Rowena and Helga went off to talk in a quieter part of the house, catching up on all that had happened in the past week since they’d seen one another.
“This is what I’ve been working on,” said Helga, excitedly showing Rowena a new broom she’d made; it had knobbly twigs at the end and Rowena was certain that even Muggles made better brooms, but then Helga pointed out that it could fly. People had been making flying broomsticks for maybe fifteen years, but Rowena didn’t personally know anyone who owned one. After all, she’d heard they were quite uncomfortable.
“Cador has been using this – he believes it can be used for long distance transportation someday, once he can fix the few little problems it has. It’s a bit unsteady in the air.” Helga lifted it up and inspected a couple of the twigs at the end, twisting them slightly.
“Yes, I think I prefer walking,” said Rowena. “I do not know that I would trust a little piece of wood like that, no matter how many charms it has on it to keep from falling.”
Helga shrugged and set the broom back in its corner. “Maybe. It does not fly very high off the ground currently, but I think it would be possible to make it fly better. I am sure you could think spells far superior to the ones I used. You should try your hand at it; then maybe you would trust it!”
“Perhaps,” said Rowena. “If I have nothing better to do.” She generally enjoyed more intellectual pursuits, and broom-balancing didn’t fit into that category, but it might be fun to invent some new spells…
Helga poured some more mead into the golden two-handled cup she was holding, and during the silence in their conversation Rowena let her eyes wander over to Salazar, who was talking animatedly with Godric Gryffindor. Godric had a very commanding presence in the room; he was very tall, with a mane of bushy auburn hair, and he carried a large goblin-made sword on his belt even though there was absolutely no need for it at a time like this.
Salazar and Godric were practically inseparable; they’d known each other since they were children. At around eight years old, Salazar and his family had been forced out of their home by angry Muggles who disapproved of magic, and Salazar had professed a strong dislike for all things Muggle for years afterwards. Godric, however, stood up for Muggles and was a good friend to Muggles and wizards, and eventually he’d brought Salazar back around. Too far around, Rowena considered privately; Salazar had recently fallen in love with Lady Maeve, the daughter of a well-respected Muggle knight.
Rowena could hear Salazar singing praises of Maeve from across the room. She tried to ignore the words and instead meditated upon how Salazar’s eyes lit up when he was excited about something, watching him subtly over the rim of her goblet of mead.
“She is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen,” Salazar was saying. “The fact that I am a wizard still puts her off, but I know she will change her mind.”
Salazar was a very determined person, and worked hard to get what he wanted. And Rowena knew that if he wanted to make Maeve fall in love with him, he would find a way. Maeve was no match for Rowena’s intelligence, but perhaps intelligence and wit were not what Salazar looked for in a woman. Rowena would just have to convince him otherwise; after all, wit beyond measure was man’s greatest treasure.
“Shall we join them?” Helga asked suddenly, winking as she noticed what Rowena’s eyes were fixed on.
Rowena blushed. She had never told Helga about her feelings for Salazar, but she knew without a doubt that Helga was not unaware. They walked over to join the men, where the discussion of Maeve thankfully seemed to have concluded. Instead, Godric brought up the topic of the recent Viking raids, which Rowena did not find to be an improvement in conversation, because it brought to mind smarmy Lord Redwald’s long soliloquy on the matter which she had heard only a few hours before.
“Yes, is it not awful?” Helga said. “It is the same thing every time, but it keeps getting worse! I wish we could all get along.”
“Hear, hear,” said Godric. “Mainly the Muggles do keep it among themselves, and they do not fight with wizards much, but the few times they have attacked wizards it has been bad for them. Like the witch in Chichester who turned seventy Muggles into toadstools. Both sides are getting nervous now.”
“Do you think it shall ever amount to anything?” Salazar wondered. “As you say, it has been going on for ages. Even when I was a child…” His face clouded over, and Rowena knew he was remembering the Muggles who had forced his family out of their home.
“It is difficult to say,” said Rowena. “Most of the Muggles do not have trouble with us. We just mind our own business and the Muggles fight between themselves. It is when they involve wizards that it gets bad, because magic is more powerful than their spears and arrows. Eventually, I think the Muggles here will either try to get us on their side against the Vikings, or they shall try to destroy us too. That is just one outcome I could foresee – but I hope it never comes to that.”
Helga sighed. “You are a very intelligent person, Rowena, but I hope you are wrong this time. I hope it doesn’t get worse, because I enjoy the company of wizards and Muggles, both of which are here tonight. I do not want there to be any fighting.”
Salazar laughed. “Do you remember a time there was not fighting?”
“No, I suppose not,” said Helga, standing up. “But that is enough of that, now – have you tried my new lentil recipe? Rowena, you have eaten little since you came in.” She disappeared for a moment and returned with a large, steaming dish smelling of wonderful exotic spices, setting it on the table beside them.
“The Vikings will be after you next, for your delicious cooking,” Godric teased.
It was a couple of hours before Rowena decided to head back to the Ravenclaw castle, hoping that enough time had passed that all her parents’ friends and all her potential suitors might have left. By this point it was very late; the fire in the cauldron had reduced to embers, and the sounds of merriment in Helga’s house were finally diminishing as some guests began to depart and others began to snore at the table, heads resting on their arms and empty goblets of mead beside them.
After saying goodbye to her friends and again expressing her gratitude that they’d got her out of the unpleasant party at her home, Rowena Apparated directly into her tower bedroom without being seen by anyone in her family, so she could say tomorrow morning that she’d only been in her room all evening with a headache.
A/N: Thanks for reading! Also, I can’t pretend to be an expert on tenth century England, so I apologise in advance for any glaring historical errors – hopefully there will be few, if any!
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