Chapter 1 : Prudentia
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The owner of the castle was unconventional in every sense of the word. Lady Rowena Ravenclaw possessed the ability to perform powerful spells and enchantments, and so skilled was she that any man who offended her might awake the next morning to find himself inhabiting the body of a toad. She shrouded herself in mystery and kept away from the serfs in her village, for if they knew that she was a witch—and a woman, no less—they would rise up against her.
Among the scattered community of magical folk, Rowena was something of a legend. Her sharp wit and impudence shocked everyone, and she was not well liked by her magical colleagues. After the premature death of her husband, she lived alone in Ravenclaw Castle with only her young daughter and a few servants to keep her company. It was highly irregular and improper for such a rich, influential widow to remain unmarried for so long.
On a fine May midmorning, as the golden sun streamed through the windows, Rowena was in her study. An ornate diadem was fixed neatly atop her dark curls and she sat poised in an armchair, but her expression belied her regal manner. Her flashing blue eyes darted rapidly over the letter in her hand, and when she finished reading, she let out an angry huff.
“Is something wrong, milady?” asked Brangwen, her lady’s maid.
The austere young woman looked up from the parchment, a scowl darkening her face. “This is a letter from Lord Gryffindor of England. He has requested my presence at his manor in a fortnight to talk of establishing a school for young witches and wizards. The villagers in England are no less suspicious of magic than those in Scotland, it seems,” she answered.
Brangwen sighed. “Milady, I wish that these troubles would end. My mother used to tell me stories of the days when we lived among the villagers, coexisting peacefully. Times have changed!”
“Yes, they have, and Gryffindor is taking the latest witch-hunts as a sign that it is time for us to conceal our powers. He writes of plans to create a hidden school, and he wants me to help.”
Rowena’s silver-haired companion set her knitting on her lap, giving her a quizzical look. “Is that so bad? Your knowledge of the magical arts exceeds that of the greatest wizards in England! Are you not happy that a man is finally acknowledging that?”
Rowena sniffed. “It’s certainly a refreshing change from what the bigots in London say about me, but Godric has made a grave mistake.”
“Did he insult you in some way, milady? Surely you don’t want to transfigure him into an animal?”
“No, an insult to myself is something that I could bear. But Godric has invited two other people to this meeting: Helga Hufflepuff of Wales and Lord Salazar Slytherin, who lives not far from here. Helga is a kind-hearted witch skilled in magic, but I refuse to work with Lord Slytherin.”
“Why? Have you ever met him?
“I have never made his acquaintance, no, but the rumors of his misdeeds fly about on the wind. The man has no morals. He is cunning, but he is cruel to his serfs and thinks himself superior to me in every way because I am a woman. I cannot work with a man who thinks so poorly of me.”
“How do you know that he thinks those things about you?”
The witch raised her head haughtily. “I have my sources.”
“Well, milady, I’ve never put much stock in rumors,” Brangwen responded. “I think you should go. At least give him a chance.”
The rhythmic gallop of the brown horse had become an exhausting sound after three days of riding. Rowena refused to ride sidesaddle because it was uncomfortable and it slowed her down. This was frowned upon, she knew, but she was used to being criticized.
Her manservant, Artair, pulled back on his reins so that she could catch up. “How much further?” she asked.
“It’s just beyond that hill, milady,” he answered in his thick brogue.
They galloped their horses once more, and Gryffindor Manor quickly came into view. The estate teemed with life: servants bustled; dogs frolicked; and sounds of workers echoed from the fields nearby. It was a sight worthy of the master, who flung open the door as the travelers slowed their horses to a walk. Helga Hufflepuff and Lord Slytherin were not far behind him.
“Lady Ravenclaw!” her sanguine host trumpeted. “I’m so glad that you’ve come.”
“And I as well, Lord Gryffindor,” she replied with a polite nod. “Good day, Helga. It’s been long since I’ve seen you last.”
The fair maiden smiled, revealing dimples in her plump cheeks. “It has indeed, Rowena. How nice that we can gather here!”
Godric chuckled. “Yes, Gryffindor Manor has awaited our lively gathering! Salazar, be a gentleman and help the lady down.”
Without looking at her, the thin, dark-haired man grabbed the reins so that she could swing her legs to one side of her horse.
“Good day, Lady Ravenclaw,” he said.
“Lord Slytherin,” she responded superciliously.
“Allow me, milady.”
With that, he lifted her off the horse and set her gently on the ground.
“Thank you kindly, milord.”
“It was my pleasure.”
She looked up at him.
Blue eyes met green, and for the first time, Rowena Ravenclaw saw past the rumors she had heard about the devious Salazar Slytherin. His eyes were kind and bright, not cold and calculating.
Perhaps she had been wrong about him after all.
Author’s Note: Hello! Thank you for reading my entry in the Speed Dating Competition over at the forums. I had the pleasure of being paired with Rumpelstiltskin (you should totally go and read her Speed Dating entry now!), and it was so much fun to come up with this story! Please leave a review, if you feel so inclined. :)
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