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Rowena Ravenclaw shuddered and cried softly into her hands; she dropped her head so that her long dark hair hid her pale and tear-stained face. Today had been absolutely horrible – despite everything that she had done to please her stepmother, the new Lady Ravenclaw still found enough excuse to box Rowena's ears and send her up to her room without any supper. Worse, Lady Ravenclaw had complained to Rowena's father, Lord Ravenclaw. Harshly. It had been awful to stand there enduring the knife-sharp words the woman threw at her – far worse to see the disappointment in her father's eyes. Hot tears flowed down her face as she remembered.

She was distracted as a velvety-soft black kitten appeared from underneath her bed and ran up to lick her hand. Rowena smiled shakily through her tears and stroked the animal gently. "Where did you come from, little kitten?" she asked softly as she wiped at her eyes. She knew that her stepmother hated animals of every kind.

The kitten purred loudly, enjoying the thorough ear-scratching Rowena was administrating. "What gender are you, to purr up such a storm?" Rowena wondered despite her tears; curiosity had always been her fault. Somehow, touching the creature's soft fur calmed her, stopped her tears. "You're a…" She paused as she lifted up the tail and checked "…boy. And no wonder for you purr so loud. But how did you get up into my bedroom?"

The kitten looked up at her with bright emerald-green eyes and purred as if to say What? Rowena smiled again. "I must be going mad to expect a kitten to answer my questions. Even if I am a witch." Her smile faded; her magic was yet another thing that the Squib Lady Ravenclaw had dug up in her fierce shouting episode.

The kitten licked her hand again, almost as if to urge her mind away from such thoughts, then rubbed his back against the back of her hand. "You're a very strange creature," the young girl told the kitten as she obeyed the order and petted him. "I might be just being crazy, but I could almost be certain that you want to stay here." The girl waved at the richly furnished tower bedroom that served as her prison nowadays.

Her dark eyes widened in shock as the tiny dark head bobbed up and down. "Lisanada save us!" she exclaimed quietly, referring to the extraordinarily brilliant and gifted witch who had lived five centuries before this one. "Do you understand what I'm saying? And you want to live here?"

Again the kitten nodded. "Lisanada!" Rowena exclaimed again. "What sort of a creature are you – hide!" Her voice grew sharp as she heard the footsteps tip-tapping their way up to her room. The kitten obligingly dove underneath her bed just as Rowena's door swung open.

Lady Wylia Ravenclaw stood framed in the doorway. With her auburn hair styled into ringlets that fell about her shoulders, huge brown eyes framed by long dark lashes, smooth white skin, and perfect figure, she was stunning in a navy blue gown trimmed with gold. She crossed her arms over her chest as she observed the slender girl half-kneeling, half-rising from the floor. "So." It is amazing how much contempt can be placed into that one word.

"Yes?" Rowena asked. Even as a small child her face was politely blank – the least bit of emotion often tipped Wylia over the edge.

Wylia's brown eyes flashed. "I don't like your insolent tone," she stated clearly. "To be brutally honest with you, I don't like you, plain and simple. But – " she cast a quick glance down the stairs " – as long as the situation remains thus we are going to have to deal with each other." She crossed the room swiftly. "In other words, you listen to me." She slapped Rowena hard.

Rowena cried out as she stumbled back, her cheek stinging. "What did I do?" she cried.

"Do?" the young woman laughed derisively. "Don't mock me! You know damn well that you have been making things difficult for me since I came to this castle. Muttering with the servants, meddling with your father – don't play innocent. My husband can think you an innocent child – I know you for the viper you are!"

The small girl stared back defiantly at her hated stepmother. It was true that Rowena often talked with her father, whom she loved very much. But she would never talk to the servants! Father often said – and Rowena drank in every word her father said – that servants were inferiors and to be treated as such; politely but never with true warmth. Anger rose in Rowena's heart – a soft breeze rustled the curtains. She glared fiercely at her stepmother.

"Don't you look at me like that!" ordered Wylia. Oh how she hated that Rowena; the girl resembled her mother and constantly reminded Lord Ravenclaw of the woman. Constantly making things hard for Wylia. "I swear that as soon as I produce a healthy son for my husband – something your mother could never do – I'll rid this castle of you, you insolent little witch!"

Rowena glared angrily at Wylia. The wind picked up considerably. "Don't talk like that about my mother!" she cried. "She was fifty times the woman you are! My father loved her more than anyone else in this world! And she was a witch! One of the best!"

Wylia moved forward and slapped the girl again. Hard. How dare she? "You're mother was a fool who made the world a better place by dying!" she shrieked as her anger got the better of her. "Her magic was nothing but a few paltry tricks!"

Rowena felt her anger rise and overpower her. She no longer tried to contain the magic that anger always aroused within her. Her barriers broke and Wylia's perfect auburn ringlets writhed; they had been turned into live, hissing snakes. Wylia screamed and – stupidly – clutched at her hair. The snakes bit her hands hard and she screamed yet again. "You little witch! I'll have you pay for this!" And she ran out of the room screaming.

The girl shut the door and coaxed her kitten out from under the bed. "I hate her," she confessed to the kitten. "She's cruel and selfish. She tore down all my mother's old portraits and works of art – when my father wasn't looking, and she beats the servants. She's a horrible woman." The kitten meowed as if in agreement.

"I know that I'll get in trouble for this," Rowena continued, feeling the anger slowly fade from her heart. "But I don't care! She deserved it fully – what?" The kitten had leapt down from her arms and was now tugging at her skirts. "Alright, I'm following you!" The kitten led her to her tower window. Curious, Rowena undid the magically protected curtains and gasped. The wind roared around her tower like something alive. It seemed angry – furious – as it howled and raged. But Rowena didn't feel fear. She laughed and clapped her hands; somehow this felt familiar. Immediately the winds began to soften and to calm until soon there was only a gentle night breeze.

Rowena stared out of her window in astonishment. "What is going on here?"

Young Salazar Slytherin started in surprise and delight as the snake slid over his body with smooth grace. "Oh you pretty, pretty thing," he murmured as he ran his hands over the snake's smooth, cool skin. "You pretty, pretty thing." The snake wound its body around his neck and winked at him. Salazar smiled and stroked him.

His mother laughed affectionately. "You remind me of your father so much when you play with snakes," she remarked. "When I first met him he was sitting with snakes sliding and wrapped around his arms. Not exactly the most endearing sight for a little girl," she chuckled.

Salazar looked at his mother, his normally emotionless little face surprised. "What did you say?"

Lady Slytherin laughed. "I screamed," she replied. "Screamed and ran out of the room and wouldn't talk to him – wouldn't even meet him – for a week, despite my parents' threats and wheedling. I was terrified of snakes then. Your father taught me otherwise."

"Where is Father?" Salazar asked. "He hasn't been home a week."

His mother tried to conceal her worry as she bent and tousled her son's dark curls. "He'll be here soon, Salazar." She straightened quickly as she heard the soft clip-clop of horses' hooves on the road. "In fact, I think that that is your father coming home right now."

Salazar followed his mother as she quickly walked out of the cozy room and into the entrance hall, trotting to keep up. Lady Slytherin gestured impatiently for a servant to open the great doors, then chuckled again and scooped up Salazar into her arms. "Come on, Salazar. Let us welcome your father home!" Salazar nodded eagerly in agreement as the doors swung open and the lady stepped out onto the terrace.

The little boy gaped. His father and five of his magically trained wizard-soldiers rode toward the castle on geldings. Lord Slytherin was wearing a dark cloak that billowed in the wind and a helm that covered his entire face. There seemed to be something wrong with his saddle. When they reached the castle, instead of jumping down from his mount like he normally did, he remained on the horse. His men dismounted hurriedly and helped the man off. One wizard carried a small boy in his arms.

Lady Slytherin drew in her breath sharply and quickly set Salazar down. She ran as fast as she could from the terrace and towards her husband, her long hair flying in the wind. "Warrin!" she cried in horror as she reached him; parts of his cloak were darkened from blood. Lord Slytherin's face was deathly white and he was shaking.

Salazar watched in horror as his mother and a wizard helped his father into his bedroom. There, the little boy sat on the bed while his mother began to work on healing his father. Lady Slytherin stripped off her husband's cloak and gasped softly. A long deep wound stretched from arm to elbow; painful and hard to heal. She began to dab at it lightly with a cloth. "What happened?" she asked in low tones.

Her husband looked around and saw Salazar. "Salazar! Come here!" He enveloped the boy in a one-armed hug and addressed his wife quietly. "We were attempting to find the muggle-borns with magic and perhaps bringing them back to the castle to teach. We found them and talked with their parents for a while; after a time, they agreed." He winced as his wife spread ointment over the bleeding wound and shifted Salazar in his grip. "Next evening, when we were to take the children, they ambushed us. Not the parents – the other villagers. Muggles came and started attacking us. We tried protecting the children and parents – there were too many of them and too little of us. We tried to help, tried to stay. Then Forthran got slashed across the chest while he was rescuing that little boy – Lornac took care of him – and we Disapparted with the children. The others have taken the children already; Forthran insisted that we bring the little boy."

"Why, of course!" exclaimed Lady Slytherin. "Your cousin is a good man and right in this! By all means have the little boy stay at our castle! Salazar could use a friend, right Salazar?" The little boy nodded and smiled innocently.

Lord Slytherin swore quietly as his wife began binding his wound. "I apologize," he murmured. "It's just…"

His wife put a finger to his lips. "Hush," she whispered. "I understand."

Soon the wound was bandaged and a hot meal sent for. Little Salazar felt warm and safe in his father's embrace, with his mother close by and smiling. But his sharp eyes and perceptiveness – even at such a young age – led him to observe the fear and anger in his father's eyes when he spoke of "Muggles" and "muggle-borns".

Helga Hufflepuff laughed happily as she waded through the cool and beautiful creek in her bare feet. She bent down and gently fingered the emerald-green and mossy plant. "How beautiful," she murmured softly. "What a unique plant!" Her wide eyes sparkled with interest as she examined the plant. "I've never seen something like this before."

She squealed suddenly; another long and curling plant was winding itself around her arm. It felt cool and silky around her bare skin. Her eyes widened in surprise. Plants – even magical plants dealing with witchcraft – of this sort never behaved like this. Even as a little girl she had an extensive knowledge about herbs and plants. "Oooh," she whispered as she reached up and touched the green plant. "What are you? Uncle!" she called lightly.

A tall and thin white-haired man came into view; he was also treading through the creek in bare feet. "What is it, my dear?" he asked kindly. His green eyes widened in shock as he saw the huge twisting plant trying to twist itself around his niece. "My goodness!" he exclaimed. "Helga! What on earth is going on here?"

"I don't know," Helga responded. "Plants are never supposed to act like this!"

"I should say," agreed the old man. "Let me see, let me see."

The young girl giggled as the plant tickled her elbows. "Stop it!" she cried. To her astonishment, the plant stopped tickling and resumed winding around her arms. "Uncle, help me!"

Her uncle smiled despite himself. "You know, this is one sight I have to remember." He began to untangle the plant from his niece and murmured softly to himself. "I've never seen anything like this. It is incredible!" His green eyes shone with shock. "Helga, this may be history in the making!"

Helga waited patiently as her uncle untangled her from the twisting plant, then squealed again as she tripped once she was free and fell backwards into the muddy creek. "Uncle!" she screamed with a choked laugh. "Uncle!" She raised herself up on her elbows, muddy to the bone. "You did that on purpose!" she accused.

The man smiled innocently. "I did nothing of the sort," he replied smoothly. "How could you even suggest such a thing, my dear Helga?"

Helga sputtered indignantly as her uncle graciously extended a hand toward her. A mistake. A wicked gleam lit her eyes as she pulled as hard as she could and yanked her uncle down into the creek with her. His shocked laughter rang out. "Helga!" he exclaimed.

The little girl rose clumsily and grinned wickedly at her uncle with childish glee. "Whatever did I do, uncle?" she asked with her best angelic expression. "How can you even think that I did something of the sort?" Their laughter echoed around the place.

"But really, my dear, this is extraordinary," the man commented. "I have never seen anything so unusual. Never has the aquitaeus liquae acted like this before in plant history. Normally, such plants attempt to strangle any within a twenty-foot radius. It is unheard of!"

"Is it really so unusual?" Helga turned wide eyes to her uncle.

Her uncle smiled fondly. "It is, my love. You have extraordinary gifts, Helga, and I have no doubt that you will become an excellent witch in the future. Even now, you are a fine asset to your aunt and I. You make the two of us proud, and I am sure that you would have made your parents proud had they seen the girl you are now."

Helga smiled happily at her uncle as her eyes sparkled with tears. She had missed her parents dearly – but this was nonsense, she reminded herself sternly. She was exceptionally lucky to have such kind, loving relatives who loved her dearly and taught her all she wished to know about her beloved subject: herbs and plants. "Thank you, uncle."

Her uncle squeezed her hand. "You're very welcome," he answered quietly.

The girl laughed merrily – all good cheer and happiness returned. "Come on!" she cried as she tugged on his hand. "Let's go home!"

Godric Gryffindor threw back his head and laughed. "You're insane!" he called to his friend.

His friend just raised his brows. "You're the insane one!" he answered with a laugh. "And oh am I going to make you pay when I catch you! Godric Gryffindor, you are going to pay for what you did! You are going to pay!"

The little golden-haired boy just laughed recklessly. "You'll never catch a Gryffindor!" he tossed over his shoulder as he raced away from the neatly pruned gardens surrounding his home castle and into the thickly clustered woods. "Never!" He dashed through the woods at full speed, not worried in the least. He could handle most of the little animals – he hadn't magical training yet, but he could use it to some extent. As for bears…he shrugged. Who cared about bears?

So he reasoned as he walked happily through the woods, plucking blackberries from bushes and tossing them into his mouth as he strolled. Today was a perfect day: a perfect prank, no studies, cool weather, and a nice stroll in the woods. With the added bonus of his friend's anger. Godric smirked and continued to walk.

A soft cry of pain made him start. Should he go and see what it was? His father would have cautioned him that it was a trap. Godric shrugged recklessly and grinned; caution was for old people, not young boys, and besides, the danger made it fun. He followed the sound to a cool stream in roughly the middle of the forest and started again.

A very young girl lay sprawled on the ground near the lake. The first thing that Godric noticed was that she was very pretty; her navy hair was long and silky, her body was slender and frail, and her skin was pearly and smooth – in the sunlight it seemed to have sparkles of blue and green. She lifted her heart-shaped face at his footsteps and gasped, her long-lashed turquoise eyes widening. Her slender hands flew to her mouth, revealing a translucent filigree of perfect scales around her slim wrists that shone like silver in the sun.

"Who are you?" she whispered. Her voice was musical and sweet.

"Godric Gryffindor," the boy replied promptly without a trace of alarm. "And you?"

The girl looked down for a moment, tears filling her eyes. "Arethusa," she replied softly.

"What's wrong?" Godric asked. "I heard you cry out in pain. Can I do anything to help you?"

Arethusa shifted and gently lifted her water-like skirts a little. Her right ankle – also with a translucent filigree of scales – was caught in a trap set for animals. "When I got out of the water, I accidentally stepped on it and it sprang," she explained, her lovely face tense with pain. "I can't move, and anyway, even if I could, no one would help me." She looked down. "I can't get it off."

"Why not?" the little boy asked. "I mean, why would no one help you?" Confusion was evident on his face. "Are there people living in this place?" He gestured incredulously at the surrounding trees and wildness. "Wild beasts live here!" He examined the trap around the girl's ankle curiously – his father taught him about such things.

Arethusa smiled weakly. "I live here," she replied. "In this stream. I'm a water nymph – a naiad. The others who live here are oreads and dryads and naiads as well – they are my sisters." She flinched as Godric tugged at a part of the trap.

"Then why do they shun you?" Godric wanted to know.

"Because I have something they don't," she answered quietly. "I don't know what it is – no one does. But when I am angry or scared or sad, things happen. Things that I can't explain, that I don't understand. It frightens people."

"I bet you have magic!" Godric cried. "I'm like that too – strange things happen when I lose my temper or I'm really scared. You're a witch – someone who has magic! I'm going to be a wizard! My parents are magical – so is my entire family!"

"Really?" Arethusa's eyes widened. "Really?"

"Yes!" responded the boy eagerly. He examined the trap again and his face fell. "I'm sorry, but the trap really is complicated and I can't get it off. I think that Father can remove it with his magic or something. Here, I'll go and find him and get him to come here. I'll be right back, okay?"

Pain flashed across the girl's face and she nodded. As Godric rose and turned to go, she reached out and caught his hand. "Come back," she pleaded. "Please." She could feel the trap burning against her skin now, and it took every bit of her willpower not to scream. She suspected that it was only her "magic" that she hadn't fainted already. She knew the boy was probably going to leave her, just as her friends and sisters had left her, but she couldn't make him stay.

Godric smiled at her. "I'll be back," he told her as he squeezed her hand. "I promise."