Dusk rolled in slowly, painting the sky with pastel colors. The sun was settling behind the mountains, making room for the moon in the sky. It was against this picturesque backdrop in the glen that the Ravenclaw estates had been nestled in the center of the small valley where several small gardens and arbors were enjoying the season's prosperous weather.
From a large window in the wooden house, a blinding flash of yellow light erupted. Rowena was slumped over a mahogany writer's desk, her face buried in her hands.
It had been a fortnight since the death of Revera, yet Rowena, wrapped in black from head to toe, still clung to a threadbare hope that she could unmask death's secrets.
Spellbooks were littered haphazardly over the room, their pages torn in frustration. Pieces of crumpled parchment accompanied the books, and were dangerously close to the fire. The great, usually neat room had been painted the same deep blue as the neglected bedcovers. Bronze framed the room's windows and doors, gleaming in the dim light.
A knock on the door caused Rowena to rise from her drowsy stupor; she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror before turning to answer the door. Purple bags drooped beneath her blue eyes, which had dulled to the equivalent of murky pools of water. Stray strands of dark hair, casting a certain dark shadow over her appearance, framed her slim face. She looked much older than a girl of nineteen.
The thick door momentarily disappeared, and the image of a woman in gray faded in and out.
"You may enter," Rowena sighed, flicking her wand. A lock clicked open, and Helga Hufflepuff stepped into the room, her kind face etched with worry. She carried a tray loaded with bread and butter. A pitcher of water and a goblet floated near her elbow.
"You appear malnourished," Helga said, glancing at Rowena and shoving the tray on the desk. The knife automatically sliced and buttered the bread; the pitcher tipped the water into the goblet.
Though she wasn't hungry, Rowena accepted the food. She knew better than to argue with Helga over petty matters. Once Helga had her mind set on something, there was no way to talk her out of it. So Rowena ate quietly, while Helga stood next to her with her arms crossed.
"There were inquiries today in the village," Helga said conversationally. "About you."
Rowena appeared indifferent, and sipped the water from the goblet with a slight grimace.
"Folks have heard of your skills," Helga continued. "Even out of the valley, word of your magic has reached the ears of Godric Gryffindor and Salazar Slytherin."
Rowena set down the goblet she held in her hand. The pitcher automatically refilled it. Godric Gryffindor and Salazar Slytherin were rapidly gaining fame in Britain. Gryffindor's family had been wiped out by a band of rebellious warlocks that had been ravaging the countryside for months. It was rumored that Gryffindor had sought out the rebels, and had dealt with them accordingly.
The Slytherin family had recently brought into effect a loose system of government for the magical world. While no singular figure headed this administration, the Slytherin family had passed a number of laws that brought strict punishments upon those that exploited the use of magic. Salazar Slytherin had been the leader in a movement that called for the construction of a fortress to house criminals.
"A messenger was sent to extend to me an invitation," Helga said, looking slightly curious to see how Rowena would respond. "Requesting my presence at the home of Salazar Slytherin tomorrow evening."
"Oh," Rowena said. She felt something churn in the pit of her stomach. She knew what was coming next. "Helga, I really—"
"I've assured this young man that you, too, would be present," Helga said firmly, as though her word was final. "I've consulted with your father, and he has kindly arranged for a carriage to escort us to Slytherin's home in the fen."
Rowena had a fleeting thought of feigning illness. It would be easy enough to create a potion that would give her the appearance of being deathly ill, though no permanent harm would be done. Parties and private meetings had never struck a chord on Rowena. Helga had always been the social one, the one who had a way with words and people. She was kind, and always had a way of understanding.
Stoic, reclusive Rowena had always found it easier to keep to herself. Instead of talking about whatever bothered her, she kept a journal, and occasionally took an introspective look at her writings. When she read a new book, she was whisked off to a place where her problems didn't exist. She put her emotions into the new spells she was frequently creating.
"Rowena," Helga whispered, putting a warm hand on her shoulder. "This is going to be important… Slytherin and Gryffindor know what's happening to the peace in this world. They want to stop more terrible things from happening."
Silence greeted Helga's attempt at reaching Rowena.
"Do you not want to help?"
Though she couldn't put her finger on what it was, Rowena felt something in her soul cry out. I'm the one who needs help! it screamed. She was breaking, and she knew it.
"I do," she said slowly. "I want to help, but what can a girl of nineteen do to make a difference in the world? What could I do?"
Helga took her firmly by the shoulders, and looked her directly in the eye. Even if Rowena had tried, there would have been know way she could have drawn her gaze from Helga's gray eyes.
"Then come with me to Slytherin's!"
It felt so reckless to place herself in fate's fragile fingers. It would be a blind leap of faith, like jumping off the mountain and hoping to be able to fly. Could she let go of her selfish fears and leap?
"All right," Rowena said timidly. "I'll go."