A/N: This fic first appeared online in 2002, and should most definitely be considered AU. The anachronisms are intentionally used for humour. All reviews are welcomed with open arms.
Chapter One: The Virtuoso Duo
'Go away, Slytherin.'
'What – and deprive myself of your enthralling presence?'
'I'm afraid so.'
'I don't think I could face the sacrifice.'
Anyone who knows anything about anything knows that the oldest and noblest school of magic in the world is Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry: steeped in tradition, preceded by reputation and successfully evading taxes since 1671.
'If you can't stand the pain of being without me, there's a nice lake outside with your name on it.'
Everyone knows that it was founded over a thousand years ago by the greatest wizards of their age, each of whom brought a vital individual characteristic to the school: Hufflepuff, loyal and true; Slytherin, cunning and determined; Ravenclaw, wise and shrewd; Gryffindor, fearless and strong.
'Now Ravenclaw, is that really the best you can come up with?'
Everyone knows Hogwarts was the first school of magic to be created anywhere in the world.
'Yes. Now piss off, you snakey bastard.'
Everyone was – quite naturally – wrong.
The Sarah Summers School of Sorcery was still in its early days and already past its prime. Externally, the building was a grey, shambling mess; it sprawled across the landscape untidily, as if it had been rolled down the valley and shattered when it hit the bottom. No attempt had been made to impose any semblance of order or rationale upon the place, because nobody cared enough to do so.
But inside the walls, things were different. Teaching and studying the classes were the foundations of all future magical practise; within those walls were some of the clearest, most disciplined minds in the history of the wizarding world.
And then there was Salazar.
'Correct me if I'm wrong, Ravenclaw, but haven't you already called me a "snakey bastard" four times today?'
And then there was Rowena, who knew very well how many times she'd insinuated Salazar Slytherin was both snakey and a bastard, and it was a considerably more than four times. But she didn't admit that, for the two primary aforementioned reasons that he was both a) snakey and b) a complete and utter bastard.
Instead she said, 'And yet you remain, to plague me for my life eternal. Why is that?'
'I put it down to unresolved sexual tension.'
'Eugh,' said Helga Hufflepuff, Rowena's long-time best friend. 'I'm trying to eat, here.'
Salazar's mouth opened to frame an insult, but Rowena quickly intervened: 'What is it you want, Slytherin? Because as amusing as it is, staring up your enormous nose, it's really starting to cast a shadow.'
At this, he briefly wavered. Though the half-grin, half-sneer remained on his face as always, a nerve had clearly been touched: his nose was noticibly long, thin and pointed, and he didn't appreciate additional attention being drawn to it.
He said, 'I congratulate you, Ravenclaw, on finally coming up with a fresh insult. Are you going to use this one for the rest of the term?'
'Oh, shut up. What do you want?'
"Oh, shut up" was really the extent of her verbal prowess. His ruffled feathers settled slightly, at that. He slouched against the wall and answered, 'Believe me, Ravenclaw, I wouldn't be loitering in such close proximity if I had another choice. Actually, I need to talk to you about potions homework.'
Rowena found herself swamped by that painfully familiar feeling that she'd missed something important. She ventured, 'Potions…homework…?'
'Yes. Potions homework set to us by the delightful Professor Harper, I believe you know the one? Lank hair, wide mouth, slight squint and a hobble?'
'Er, yes, but I don't see what that has to do with—'
'Three metres of parchment about the healing properties of firestone when ground up and added to—'
'I know what you mean, testicle-head, I'm just wondering—'
'The essay we have to write in pairs, genius. You and I, the Virtuoso Duo.'
Ah yes: first the painfully familiar feeling of having missed something important, shortly followed by the inevitable icy stab of dread. 'The Virtuoso what-now?'
He sighed in that familiar, patronising way of his and crouched opposite Rowena's chair, so he was at her level. 'Duo, Ravenclaw. Although I'd rather not sacrifice my perfect grade by working with you for an entire evening – and believe me, whenever we engage in discussion I can actually feel my brain cells collapsing – I'm afraid it's necessary I undertake the challenge.'
'But – why?' Rowena asked, with all the torment of a woman being lead to the gallows. 'Why you? I hate you. Why can't I work with Helga?'
'Too bad. He's paired us in alphabetical order – think, woman…R is for Ravenclaw, S is for…?'
'Er…snakey? Slimy? Stupid, snarky, simple, shifty—'
'—sulky, stinky, sour, snide, self-righteous, Slytherin.' She paused. 'Did I miss one?'
'Sterile,' Helga offered, eyeing him suspiciously.
'My point is,' Salazar continued, green eyes staring levelly into hers, 'that the essay has to be handed in next Thursday, which gives us very little time to do it. And considering I find your mere existence to by some kind of divine insult, I suggest we ought to put off doing it for as long as possible.' He stood up, and added, 'Not to mention the fact that in the last three minutes alone you've accused me of being sexually impotent and some kind of aesthetic genital-head. How does Wednesday evening suit you?'
'Five o'clock,' she sighed. 'Library. With a hammer.'
'I'd expect nothing less.'
Rowena didn't know what it was, one thousand years later, everyone else would know. She was uncertain of her life in the future, how she would get there and what would happen along the way. If anyone had mentioned the name "Hogwarts" to her, she would probably have reported them for use of aggressive language.
Seventeen years old and typically self-possessed for a girl her age, she had managed to accept, with a resigned sigh, that she would rise no further than the ranks of wife and mother.
Most of her had accepted the idea. The outer shell nodded and mumbled "oh well, it's a life at least", but deep inside, hidden amongst her secret inhibitions, admirations and dreams that only she and Helga knew of, was the tiny, burning hope…
It was perfectly possible, of course it was. All she needed was a wide knowledge of various subjects, a broad, conflicting personality and a large resource of money at her disposal.
None of which she actually had.
How hard could it be, really? Sharing knowledge, that was all it was…
She wasn't sure how or when the idea had occurred to her; possibly sometime during her second year at school when, upon receiving her third detention that week from Professor Harper over a certain stick of chalk that had somehow found its way up a certain nostril, she'd muttered:
'Even I could run a school better than this one…'
She might not have pursued the thought anywhere, if not for her Helga overhearing the comment.
'What was that?' she'd asked, with vague interest.
Rowena shrugged and explained, 'I just said I could probably run a school better than this old…' (here there had been a string of very imaginative curse words) '…of a place.'
'Really?' Helga asked, wide-eyed. 'Do you think you could?'
Rowena shrugged again. 'Well – not just me, I mean. You'd obviously help. We'd co-run it!' She grinned brightly at this stroke of genius. 'I mean, if you wanted to.'
'Of course I would! It'd be hard work, though.'
'No it wouldn't. It'd be fun. We'd teach Defence, and Potions—'
'—but it'd be fun,' she insisted, 'because we'd be teaching it. And we'd do…Astronomy, and Arithmetic and Divination and things like…er…'
'Cookery?' Helga offered. 'Normal skills people would have to use.'
'Yes, Cookery. Sword fighting, too, for boys and girls, and…and all the other things we learn here. It'll be just like this School, but marginally better.'
The idea successfully captured both their imaginations, and the two of them had spent many lunch breaks that year playing— and Rowena cringed slightly at the memory— teaching games ("No, damn you! Only three drops of poison in the beaker, you horrible little woman!"). What Helga hadn't realised, until Rowena explained some years later, was that Rowena was completely serious about these plans.
'Ah,' said Helga, in what she hoped was a soothing tone, 'the problem is...well, we're girls, Ro.'
Rowena glanced downwards, to confirm the fact. 'It would seem so, yes. And?'
'I know you believe in equal rights and opportunities for all, and everything, but…er…'
'I don't think anyone else does. Oh, I do,' she added quickly, catching the look on her friend's face, 'but there aren't many people willing to send their children to a school run by us second-class women, are there?'
'What about Lady Summers? She's a woman, and look how many kids have been sent here!'
'Mm-mm…but…look how many kids haven't, Ro. If we were to ever start a school, the amount of people under seventeen who aren't at this school and aren't being taught from home and aren't living with parents who wouldn't consider sending them to a school run by females…well…there aren't many, is my point.'
'OK, but what if - what if we got a man, hm? We could pretend he was headmaster! He could be our beard! Literally!'
'It could work,' Helga conceded, wincing, 'but then there's the ever-pertinent issue of money. I mean - well, when you think about it, Ro, there's so much stuff that needs to be paid for: there's the building itself and the books and the equipment and the food and…and…' After food and books, her imagination ran dry. 'Well, lots of other things, I'll bet. We don't have that much money.'
'But we're Ladies. That's official. My father was Lord Ravenclaw and my mother was Lady Ravenclaw and I'm Lady Ravenclaw the Second and—'
'—And their money went to your brother and he squandered it all on wine and women with nice bottoms,' Helga finished, gently. 'It's just a title, Ro. Just like mine.'
'But,' said Rowena, improvising desperately, 'but, if we collaborated with a man who happened to be intelligent, ambitious and spectacularly rich, then…'
'Er, yeah, Ro.' She tapped her sportingly on the thigh. 'Let's do that.'
Back in the here and now, Rowena finished changing into her nightclothes and sat on the edge of her bed. She gave her hair a final brush and glanced at the abandoned charms homework by her feet. If she was going to earn marks for enchanting her name so it flashed red every ten seconds, she'd be perfectly fine. Alas; it was doubtful.
Rowena was rather fond of her hair, up to the point of vanity. It was long and light brown and did this impressive swishy, wavy thing that never failed to stir emotion.
What else did she have? Eyes. Two of them. Round and blue and rather nice, although frequently compared to the "naive and ridiculous peepers of a recently-enslaved house-elf" (Salazar's words). But they were OK. Like the freckles. And, at a stretch, the ears, although Mr Slytherin had been known to continue the elf simile here.
She wore all the curves of the day, and a couple extra for good measure. Nothing she was losing sleep about, but nothing she'd mourn the absence of, should they ever decide to quietly abscond.
A voice from outside the dormitory door asked, 'Are you decent?'
'Yes,' said Rowena, jumping slightly at the sudden interruption. 'Come in.'
The girl who entered the room did not curve; nor did she earn any elvish comparisons. She was Elvina Hart, and the perfection was obscene: her clear, blue eyes, blonde hair and ghostly white skin - not to mention the cushy inheritance - meant she was both the most lusted-after girl in the school, and the one Rowena most wanted to smother with a dead cat.
Rowena reviewed her most recent thoughts. Smother with a cat? Was she really that bitter?
'Ah, Bronwyn, it's you,' Elvina said, breezily. 'I was wondering what you were up to.'
'It's Rowena, actually.'
'It's – it's Rowena.' What was the point? She never remembered. 'Rowena, not Bronwyn.'
'Well that's nice, but listen – I'm off to meet Crispin Lightfoot in ten minutes behind the old gamekeepers hut, but if Michael Birdman should ask, tell him I'm in the library but he can't meet me there because I'm studying very hard and the sight of his rugged and lovely appearance would distract me, have you got that?'
'I've got it.'
'But if it's Welland that asks for me,' she continued, dragging Rowena deeper and deeper into the torrid mush that was Elvina Hart's Sex Life, 'tell him I'm not speaking to him after what he tried to do last Thursday.'
'Oh…' She sat down, wincing with the effort of articulation. 'The tall one, you know. Blonde hair.'
'But I thought you were with the other—?'
'No, no, no, Bronwyn! He simply proposed.'
'Oh,' said Rowena, through a yawn, 'that's alright then.'
'So,' said Elvina, concentrating very intently, 'if he should call for me, tell him I'm...er...'
Rowena shrugged, too tired to care. 'Dead?'
'Yes! Dead – tragically dead. A martyr to my own cause. Scorched by the flames of passion; extinguished by the suds of death. Got that?'
She shrugged again. 'Suppose so.'
'Excellent.' She stood up, hair swishing in a particularly fetching manner, and said, 'Well, if you'll excuse me, I have an appointment with a pair of trousers…ha, if you get me.'
Rowena thought, Of course I get you. Everybody gets you. And every male human being in the castle has got you at some point or other, and in a slightly more direct manner. Hell, even that kneazle got you, once, though we're under strict instruction never to talk about it.
But aloud she said, 'I think I understand, yes. See you later.'
'I hope you won't!'
Poor Elvina. It must be a very underpaid job, being her brain. And Helga—
Ah, Helga, dear Helga, with her curly hair that lived on the yellow side of blonde. She wasn't unattractive, with her brown eyes, plump figure, her endearing little smile and enviably ample bosom...but it was all secondary to the buzz of anxious, nervous energy she radiated at all times. Her academic intelligence was neither here nor there, but the girl could make turnip pie taste like heaven.
Rowena yawned and checked the time. A quarter past ten. She glanced down at the charms homework by her feet. Her named flashed, mockingly.
She gathered up her notes and wand and headed into the common room, first checking it wasn't occupied. While her nightdress could hardly be described as saucy and revealing (resembling, as it did, a white body bag), there were other clothes she'd rather have been caught in, if given the choice.
She set down her equipment and took a seat by the fire, shooting it a hopeful look. Sometimes, Helga's face could be seen in the flames, ready for a long, meaningless conversation and homework advice-giving. Unfortunately, it seemed now wasn't the time.
The four houses of Sarah Summers School of Sorcery were divided into Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. While both Rowena and, much to her dismay, Salazar had been selected for Winter house, Helga was destined for Spring, following the footsteps of the many Hufflepuffs before her.
It was a real shame, because Helga was quite good at charms. If only there was time to send an owl, and—
'Either you're thinking very intensely,' said a slick voice in the darkness, 'or you've slipped into a coma.'
'Wuh?' she cried, articulately, as her pulse returned to something marginally more healthy. 'Who – what - Slytherin?'
'Thought so. Coma it is.'
'Slytherin?' Rowena repeated, snapping to her senses and checking her nightclothes. 'Where the hell are you, and why?'
Now that she concentrated, coloured red by the dying embers of the fire, a figure was just visible opposite her: legs stretched comfortably and the usual smug grin on his lips, his clothes dishevelled and hair untied.
He said, 'Well, I thought I was in the common room, but now you're here I realise I must have slipped into the bowels of hell during an idle moment. Are you here to row me across the Styx, or do you just hand out leaflets?'
'Headache,' Rowena growled. 'Headache. In that arm chair. Headache—'
'Oh, I see. You're just here to provide the music. Play on, piper!'
'Why are you here?' she moaned. 'Why now?'
Salazar quirked an eyebrow. 'Well, considering my bag went missing on Monday – only to turn up mysteriously three days later in the girls' bathroom with a note reading "hahaha tit-face" on it – I'm writing my overdue Transfiguration essay.'
Rowena tried to look innocent.
'Since you ask.'
She grinned at the possibilities. 'Did you have to go in and get it yourself?'
'Happily enough, darling Elvina retrieved it for me in exchange for a date yesterday evening.'
'No need to get jealous, Ravenclaw. Fortunately, her Enormous Black Book is so brimming with information—'
'—And her enormous blonde head definitely isn't—'
'—that I was later able to convince her it was all just a magnificent dream.'
'Shame,' Rowena mumbled, 'a wanton little tart like that could save you a fortune in prostitutes.'
Salazar grinned. 'Not jealous, are we?'
'Not at all, thank you,' she snapped. 'If given the choice between so much as approaching your trousers or smothering you with a dead cat, I'm going with cats all the way.' Damn, she added mentally, I really must stop re-cycling the ones that don't make sense.
Even the High Lord of Sarcasm was stalled by that one. 'A cat?'
Slytherin's brow crumpled. 'What – a "meow" kind of cat?'
'Yes.' Well, she had to run with it now. 'One of those.'
'Why would I kill you, or why would I use a cat?'
'Now you mention it, I'm rather curious about both.'
'Oh. Well...can you imagine waking up with a cat in your mouth?'
Slytherin frowned. 'I hope that's an answer to the cat question, or…' his frown deepened, '…that's really, really weird.'
'And why, exactly, would you ever want to suffocate me with a domesticated animal in the first place?'
She shrugged. 'Because you're a snakey bastard?'
She couldn't see him in the darkness, but she'd bet money on his eyebrow being raised. It always was. For Salazar Slytherin, every emotion in the human spectrum could be displayed in one of two ways: sarcasm, or a cocked eyebrow. Curiosity, disbelief, fascination, resentment, fear – it was all present in that one right eyebrow.
After a few seconds of Eyebrow, he asked the inevitable: 'But why?
'Look,' she snapped, 'I don't know why exactly, I just hate your guts and you hate mine. Let's leave it at that, shall we?'
'Whoever said I hated your guts?'
'You did! Many times over the past seven years, between various attempts to sabotage my wellbeing! Remember?' She adopted a squeaky voice and quoted, '"Ravenclaw, I'd like to hit you with my text book", "Ravenclaw, I just did hit you with my text book", "Ravenclaw, I'm so very tempted to throw this stuffed weasel at your head", "Ravenclaw, I am more snide and sanctimonious than thou, fear my wrath and this bottle of voice-altering pixie dust…"'
She couldn't be sure, in the darkness, but he looked to have raised yet another quizzical eyebrow. 'I don't talk like that.'
'You did when I got you back with the pixie dust.'
'Hm. Oh yes. You know, your voice sounded very interesting in bass.'
Rowena rolled her eyes. 'Oh yes, very interesting. Especially when I woke up to yawn and made all the floorboards shake.'
'At least you didn't sneeze and smash a window, or get confused with Blinky the house-elf by her lust-driven elf friend.'
The strange mental picture this conjured made her laugh so suddenly and loudly the pitch of her voice was quite reminiscent of Slytherin's, post-pixie dust incident.
From the direction of the boys' dormitory, a deep voice said, 'Shush!'
Slytherin merely continued to watch her, apparently very amused by this sudden outburst, while Rowena managed to contain herself.
'It wasn't that funny,' he said.
'Not for you, maybe, but you're not the one getting hilariously inappropriate mental images.'
Slytherin smirked. 'If that's what it takes to float your kayak…'
'Eugh! Please. Really, though…house-elves…they're about as tall as your knee!'
'Not in second year they weren't.' He sniffed with attempted disdain. 'And anyway, I'm sure the house-elf didn't notice anything was awry until I bashed it over the head with a stick.'
'How could it have not noticed?'
'Well I don't know, Ravenclaw. It was probably blinded with a wild and passionate animalistic lust for yours truly.'
Rowena actually snorted at this. 'Do you realise,' she asked, ignoring the chuckle this solicited, 'you're providing me with a lifetime of ammunition against you?'
'Do you realise I can see through your nightdress?'
He smirked. 'Only joking.'
Rowena lowered her defensive hands. 'You utter git!'
'Shush!' said the deep voice from the boys' dormitory.
'Yeah, shut up!' said a female voice, from the boys' dormitory.
Rowena's brow knotted as she realised something highly unusual was occurring in the boys' dormitory.
'Hang on…' she mumbled.
Slytherin nodded. '…And thus,' he said, gesturing around the common room, 'fate brings me here to mock you, rather than acting referee for an embarrassing attempt at foreplay. I just don't go in for that kind of thing.'
'Oh,' she said. Then, not for the first time that day, she added, 'Eugh.'
Salazar's sneer suddenly melted into an honestly amused smile. It was incredibly unnerving.
'What's so funny?' Rowena demanded.
'Just thinking of Gryffindor, actually…'
It was her turn to raise an eyebrow. 'Talking of kayaks, Slytherin—'
'Oh, don't be vile.'
'What is it, then? And keep it clean.'
'I was thinking of the expression on his face when he found out what Welland Marshstone uses the dormitory for on a Friday evening.' He smiled at the recollection. 'Usually Welland just manoeuvres him out of the way for a couple of hours so he has no idea, but last week he came back early looking for his wand and…well, you can imagine how he reacts when confronted with anything more sexual than a fishing rod.'
'Oh…' She attempted to bite back a grin. 'Poor Godric.'
Godric Gryffindor was...a peculiar specimen, to say the least. He was almost crippling polite, for one thing: he spent all his waking hours protecting ladies and being polite to strangers and rescuing princesses from dragons, lord only knew where he found the time to do anything else.
Although neither openly stated the fact, he and Slytherin were cousins. You wouldn't have guessed from looking: where Slytherin was lean and pale, Godric was muscular and tanned. Slytherin's hair was black and sleek, secured in a ponytail in an attempt at neatness that otherwise failed him. With green, sharp eyes and a semi-permanent sneer, he was almost the polar opposite of his cousin:
Gryffindor was humble and modest; taller than Slytherin, with auburn hair that curled violently past his ears. He had a large, square jaw, a straight nose and broad shoulders. Rowena never noticed much of his eyes; she suspected no one else did either (except Helga, who could tell you they were a shade of dark brown that matched the bark of the school's oak tree almost exactly, but with a kind of burnt amber glow around the pupil and these pale gold flakes that catch the sun on a bright day etc); after all, there was so much else about Godric to be noticed.
There were many young ladies within the castle who swooned after Godric on a daily basis, and several elderly ones as well. Helga was one of this vast majority; she silently adored him to the point of fascination, and had been known to stare vacantly after him for minutes at a time, sighing in his wake in a manner that was incredibly disconcerting.
Apparently thinking the same thing, Slytherin said, 'Your chum Helga fancies him, doesn't she?'
'How can you tell?' Rowena asked, unable to stop herself.
'Ha. It's pretty embarrassing to watch, actually, the way she twitches every time he talks to her—'
'Shut up, Slytherin!'
'You just said it yourself, Ravenclaw, so don't get so defensive.'
'I didn't say anything. Just—'
'Shut up. Bugger off. Chop some trees down, just do something. Get lost,' she added, for good measure.
A voice in her ear made her jump. He said, 'Alright, I'll do so.' She couldn't see him, but she knew he was smirking. Goddamn, how did he get out of his seat and stand behind her without her noticing? It may have been dark, but… that boy definitely had vampire blood in his veins somewhere.
Nothing else springing to mind, she mumbled, 'Well…good.'
With that he skulked away, shutting the common room door after him.
'And…and get a wash!' she shouted.
She sighed. Not exactly the peak of your verbal prowess, Rowena.
Her name flashed red in the darkness. She sighed again.