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Dances, Dulcimers and Marginalia Dragons

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It is often said that witches and wizards can correct any illness not caused by magic, but this is untrue. While we can usually survive unscathed accidents that would kill most Muggles, few witches or wizards have concerned themselves with healing contagious non-magical diseases. We scarcely acknowledge that a mind can be racked by fear, hatred, rage, depression, guilt and grief as anguish-inducing as the Cruciatus Curse, though far less magical; we house the worst at St. Mungo's and ignore the pain of those who are still nominally functional. And despite the existence of Squibs, we rarely admit that children can be born without other physical abilities that many consider almost as vital as the inborn magical power we value so highly.

It is no wonder, then, that the pre-Hogwarts tale of Helga Hufflepuff and Rowena Ravenclaw now has been largely forgotten. For it is also a tale of Helga's Muggleborn students—Astrugona Alcon, a rabbi's daughter from what is now known as Valencia, Spain; Oswyn, the bastard son of a fisherwoman of Roman blood and a Norse sailor who had gone a-viking; and Merwenna, a merchant's child who was born deaf—and what it meant to teach "the rest" at a time when only tutoring the purebloods, the knights and nobles, and the natural scholars was deemed acceptable…

—Introduction to Teaching the Rest: The Biography of Helga Hufflepuff by Zipporah Tully, St. Martin's Land Publishers, London, UK, ©1934, p. viii.


Written in Rochester this Thursday, the third day after Lady Day, 972

My dearest Rowena,

I am snatching a moment to tell you how sorely I miss you. All is upside down and inside out at the moment, as three children of eleven years, all of whom need teaching, have descended on my house here in what used to be, not long ago, the Kingdom of Wessex. How I miss the Lwyd Valley in springtime! But I am fairly certain that no one would have brought these three to me if I were still so isolated. I am at my wits' end as to how to teach them--one speaks, reads and writes, so far as I can ascertain, Arabic, Hebrew, Spanish and Latin; one speaks only the roughest Saxon and can neither read nor write yet; and one may be able to read and write eventually, but...well, I shall get to her in due course.

The scholar is called Astrugona, and she reminds me of you: long heavy black hair and fierce falcon's eyes… though hers are almost black and not pale grey. Her complexion is a golden tan of the shade that some call "olive," though I have no notion why; I have seen green and black olives, but never tan ones. She would have made an excellent goddess of war and wisdom in classical times, though I must remember not to tell her that; such blasphemy would shock and offend her.

As you may have deduced from the languages that she speaks, she is from Al-Andalus (the city of Balansiyya in Khilāfat Qurṭuba—the Caliphate of Córdoba—if you want me to be precise, and I know that you do). I asked her why she was not studying magic in the city of Córdoba, which is not so far from her home; after all, Al-Nur has been there for a hundred years, and it is a fine school.

"It is," said Astrugona, replying in Latin. "But there is no place for me there; Al-Nur is only for those who follow Mohammed’s faith. Jewish boys with magic study with scholars and rabbis. And Christians…who knows where they study?"

Monasteries and convents, most likely, I thought but did not say. "So your father has pupils to whom he teaches magic?" I asked, wondering why he was not teaching his daughter.

Her eyes glinted with amusement at that. "Oh, no. I am the only one in the family who possesses any magic. My parents are willing enough to let me learn—they say it is a talent granted by the Lord—but there have not been any girls with magic in my father's congregation for decades. It would not be decent for a wizard-scholar to teach me; men and women are supposed to be separate in study so that we do not distract one another. Only a scholarly witch will do, and Father and Mother can find none back home." She did smile then. "But then Father thought of you."

"If they wanted a scholarly witch, Rowena Ravenclaw would have been better," I admitted. "She is without equal."

"But she's also in Scotland." Her tone said that Scotland might as well be named Ultima Thule—the back of beyond, the very edge of the world. "You're famous for your skill with charms, and well-known for teaching…improbable students. And so he wrote you a letter telling you that I was coming, and sent me sailing out into the Mediterranean and around Al-Andalus and past Gascony and Brittany..." She drooped as if just speaking of her journey exhausted her and then started with shock. "You did get the letter, didn't you? I can stay?"

Of course I reassured her that she could stay and that I would be delighted to teach her. I cannot help but wonder why that letter went astray, however.

The second, Oswyn of Mercia, has no desire to be here in a town burned by the Danes not long ago. I cannot blame him for this, because his red curls, like mine, proclaim that he is half Norse. At least he doesn't have to contend with a Norse name like Olaf. There have been times when I think it would have been much easier to be a Helena than a Helga.

He was brought here by a good-natured Benedictine monk who told me something of his history. His mother, Eadgyth, now dead, was a fisher lass in the kingdom to the north of Wessex; she claimed to be the descendent of a Roman soldier…which is possible, I suppose. The boy does have light brown skin and African features, and, as you well know, there were many such men amongst the Roman legions when they ruled our little island.

As for Oswyn's father…no one seems to remember much about him except that he was Norse and, naturally, redheaded. Brother Ben (I am sorry, Rowena, but I can't recollect his name and "Benedict" seems fitting) said that no one even knows if Eadgyth dallied with the man or was cruelly used by him. This says less about Eadgyth and more about her neighbors, to my way of thinking.

As Oswyn glared at us both—and no wonder, since the monk was speaking Latin rather than his native English—Brother Ben added that crockery and tools tend to fly around and break in the boy's presence. Sometimes he mends them. Often he does not. And since his mother’s death there have been complaints in his village—that he lazes about, would rather play instead of work, and has been stealing food. Though I cannot blame him for much of this. Few children would rather work than play—and who doesn't enjoy the sheer pleasure of doing nothing now and again? As for the stealing, so far as I can see, the boy has nothing to call his own. His mother's coracle, nets and traps were sold at her death to pay some of her debts and to buy a few candles for her soul; no one can afford to buy him an apprenticeship; and he is illegitimate, which means that he cannot become a priest. (Which is most fortunate, as I cannot envision that ending well.) Oswyn doesn't seem to belong anywhere.

He was lucky in one respect. Someone recognized that his smashing things involved magic, and someone else knew where he could be sent for training. And I think that he'll stay now that he's here. I am, after all, an excellent cook.

The third child…

Her name is Merwenna, and she's the daughter of a merchant from Northumbria. She has boyishly short hair the color of dry sand—I suspect that its length was her companion's idea—and eyes like a North Sea storm. And she cannot hear. She has been as deaf and as mute as a swan from the time she was born.

Her eldest brother brought her, and it was very clear from her thundercloud expression and his haste in departing that she does not want to be here and that he was more than relieved to have Merwenna out of his hands. Indeed, he fairly poured gold into my hands to ensure that I would keep her. As though I would abandon one of my charges!

Merwenna saw that. Perhaps…oh dear. Perhaps she thinks her brother sold her.

I must get in touch with her family. Someone may care about her, even if her brother does not. Or…could you please do so? You're closer to Northumbria than I am. Thurcytal was the brother's name, or so he said, and he stated that he was a merchant of cloth goods.

The children are now abed. Oswyn is slumbering next to the hearth. Astrugona is reading by candlelight while I pretend to think that she is asleep. Merwenna is curled up in a very large and solid oak chair with my old cat, Constance. Until tonight I would have said that Constance believed herself to be a tortoiseshell lioness. Tonight I found out that Constance also believes that Merwenna is her long-lost kitten.

I am eager to begin, and at the same time, I'm furious. In Astrugona's case, her father and mother knew what magic was when they saw it, and her father knew my name. But the other two might never have learned at all. No one in Oswyn's village save Brother Benedict knew that he could do magic, and it was only the barest chance that he chose to bring the boy here. As for Merwenna, her brother mentioned that he had heard of me from some meet-on-the-road traveler as a collector of strays and orphans, nothing more.

It chills me, Rowena, to think of how many we don't find in time. How many never learn what abilities and talents are theirs or about a world that they could truly love? How many are feared for talents that they can't control and don't understand? How many believe that they have made some pact with evil without even realizing it?

It is not fair. And it is not just.


—"Letter CCCLIX by Helga Hufflepuff to Rowena Ravenclaw" [translated from the Latin], from We Two: The Collected Correspondence of Helga and Rowena by Paphnutius Standish, Jorvik Publishing, ©2009, pp. 423-425.


My dearest friend Helga,

How are you managing with your three students? You are right; I do envy you Astrugona. She sounds quite accomplished for her years. You wrote of an idea you had involving Merwenna signaling with her hands. It may help her make herself understood, but will it function with magic? So many spells must be performed with a wand and a spoken word. If you put a wand in one hand, will that not limit her speech to what she can signal with the other?

Would it be permissible for me to come and visit? I might be able to help.


— "Translation Example #3 for Lesson 27," An Elementary Guide to Magical Latin, Vol. I by Calpurnia Agricola, Navis Stultorum Press, ©1885. Severely truncated form of Letter CCCXCVIII, which was written, so far as can be determined from the magical news touched on in the full letter (Rowena's gift of a magically illuminated German manuscript—using a technique which had only been invented ten years before—to Helga, and the results of the annual 300-mile Kopparberg-Arjeplog broom race), on or about 29-30 September, 972. At the time that Professor Agricola published her book, however, Letter CCCXCVIII was considered wholly fictitious.


…My students never fail to astonish me.

I received the illuminated manuscript from a passing centaur perhaps two weeks ago. (A pity that such manuscripts are both large and heavy, not to mention incapable of being rolled up like a scroll; it would be wonderful to pop one into a sealed leather tube enchanted with Impervio and send it winging on its way with a sturdy owl, as we do with letters.)

Astrugona and Oswyn were amazed—and small wonder, since one is from a city of stone and the other is from a coastal village, and centaurs love neither cities nor the sea.

They were polite, though. Astrugona smiled, bowed, and recited a traveler's blessing in Hebrew—whether prayer or spell, I am not sure, as I could only make out one sentence, but its intent seemed to be protection.May you be saved from every enemy and ambush, from robbers and wild beasts on the journey, and from all kinds of punishments that rage and come to the world. Oswyn was unabashedly enthusiastic. I don't think anyone has been so pleased to see a centaur since Chiron was a foal. He begged the messenger, whose name was Gerasimos, to dine with us outdoors that evening, promising delicacies that would delight both his stomachs.

Yes, beloved, I did make Oswyn help me prepare the meal that he'd promised. The girls joined in, though—Astrugona because she needs to be sure that what she's eating is permitted by dietary law, and Merwenna because she seems to enjoy experimenting with food. She will help to prepare the main meal properly if she's given a lump of bread dough, a handful of apple slices, or a bunch of radishes to work with later. Often, I must admit, her creations are horrible. But once in a while, she concocts something tasty. From the glimpses that I get, I know that she has a good mind and an imaginative one.

Which brings me to what happened at dinner.

She did not see Gerasimos arrive, so she did not know we were having a guest at our table (well, a table under an overgrown apple tree) that evening. And…well, none of us could tell her. So I was not certain what her reaction would be.

She was carrying a bucket of crisp autumn apples to the table when she saw Gerasimos. I have never seen happiness light a human face so clearly. She put the bucket down on the table gently, and then took three very precise steps forward, backed away, repeated the three steps. Then she spun and dodged to the right, spun and dodged to the left, and, after pawing the air, brought her hands together over her heart and then slowly reached out to Gerasimos, one small hand nesting within the other.

Astrugona and Oswyn were staring. I'm sure that I was as well. But Gerasimos was delighted.

"It is how our foals greet their elders," he said, beaming. "It is a way of saying that they greet them happily, and with open hearts and hands."

And that was when I realized—Merwenna had spoken. She had danced a complex greeting, and it had been understood.

I have never heard of dancing a language before, much less dancing nonverbal spells. But…I believe that I may need some of your books on the human body, Rowena. And music. And dance, if you possess such things.

As for the manuscript, it has inspired Oswyn. He is—if you will forgive the pun—bewitched by the illustrations and insists on learning how to create images that move. He is particularly in love with a long, rippling red dragon dodging a book in the right margin of one page. It seems to have adopted him in return; whenever it sees him, it gives the book floating just to its right an exasperated glance, and then winks at Oswyn and puffs out painted orange fire.

For her part, Astrugona is trying to work out how to create and play a stringed instrument pictured in that same manuscript—a long wooden instrument shaped like a stretched-out hourglass.

The manuscript calls it a dulcimer...

—"Excerpt of Letter CDXXIV by Helga Hufflepuff to Rowena Ravenclaw" [translated from the Latin], from We Two: The Collected Correspondence of Helga and Rowena by Paphnutius Standish, Jorvik Publishing, ©2009, pp. 486-488.


Choose your wood no less carefully than if you were crafting a wand. A blackthorn flute will sing with power, but its songs will attract the attention of Fate and Prophecy; a willow psaltery will grant you wisdom and inspiration; the beat of a tabor of juniper will cause the hearts of those who hear it to swell with love. Under no circumstances use yew; while it is acceptable for wands, the songs of an instrument crafted from it will bring only sorrow and death to the hearers.

Underneath this passage is written (in Hebrew, as all comments by this author are):

Cherry wood has the brightest song; walnut's wood is warmer and more mellow. Poplar is light, cheap and easy to obtain. Focus on the sound you wish to produce, not the spells that you might someday cast with it. Though I have read of one exception to my rule: cedar wood, which is said to be best for sacred songs.

You must not let your mind drift. Ever. The power in you and the power in the instrument amplify each other. Playing when you are overtired is extremely dangerous.

In the margins has been scrawled:

Amhrán is only half-right. Your power does not merely amplify the instrument’s if you are not concentrating; they combine. An exhausted wizard who was good at charms might, while playing on a hand-held harp anointed with oil of asphodel and bathed in moonlight, unwittingly cast a charm of slumber (though not eternal slumber) around the surrounding town.

I wonder if he ever tested any of the things that he said not to do?

Never let anyone dance to a magical instrument. It is an invitation to peril and misfortune.

Above and around this has been added the following commentary:

If you are working with someone who both speaks and casts spells through dancing, ignore the above injunction but be extremely careful.

Make sure that you know what spell she is casting, if any, when she is conversing with you, and how to tell the difference between speech and spellcasting. This means lots of questions and lots of "I don't understand—could you please explain that again?" from both of you. You will get on each other's nerves. I can find no way around that, which is very annoying.

Also, when your foster brother interrupts you in the middle of a long and extremely frustrating music-and-dance practice to tell you that he has found a way to grind and mix paints and inks in mid-air without spilling a single grain, try not to cast the Full-Body Bind upon him, not matter how pleasant that thought might be.

Under no circumstances should you transfigure him into, hypothetically, a blue-shelled sea turtle, after he interrupts you for the eighth time that day, because sea turtles are extremely stubborn and hard to change back into human beings.

—"On the Enchanting of a Magical Instrument" from Advice to a Young Bard, allegedly by notable Irish wizard-bard Amhrán Vates (c.812-914), with scribbled commentary from twelve-year-old Astrugona Alcon (961-1054).

Translation of Vates' work from the Greek by Dhvanil Jhaveri, Ph.D., Professor of Linguistics (1983-present) at the Indian Institute for Magical Studies, Bangalore University; translation of Alcon's comments from the Hebrew by Bruriah Zamar, D. M. Mus. A. (Doctor of Magical Musical Arts), Director of Magical Music (1991-present), The Julliard School of Music.


Excerpts from the Diary of Rowena Ravenclaw:

Written in Rochester on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, 975

I had not expected Rochester to be so crowded. I brought my two students, as I had told Helga that I would. Of course, her three artisan wizards are here, happily brewing potions—no, coloured inks—that allow images to move and think (and feel, perhaps?), fitting together a harp so seamlessly that it requires no iron nails, and scrawling (so far as I could make out, for of course there are no standard symbols for music) notes and dance steps on a rough parchment. Helga pointed out that it might have been a spell, but Astrugona said that was unlikely.

"Merwenna worked out how to cast spells years ago," she told me, placing the dulcimer aside while the glue dried. "Hardly any are so complex that she needs to plan them in such detail. Most only take a movement of the wrist—the one she'd make if she were holding a wand and casting that spell—combined with hand signs, head signs or dance steps in place of the words."

"It seems a great deal to remember."

"No more than the rest of us have to," said Oswyn, pausing in his stirring of a small pot of crimson ink—which smelled of birchbark (good for fresh beginnings and new lives)—to chop some mistletoe berries (which helps ward off forgetfulness) and ginger root (to sharpen wits). It would be difficult to forget the pages of any spellbook illustrated with that ink. "And 'Wenna has a good memory."

I knew that she had, for on my arrival, she had curtesyed and then handed me a book portraying hands and feet in various positions. The words and phrases that each meant were written beneath each picture. I found myself glancing from picture to picture, wondering how I would recollect each miniscule difference. But Merwenna seemed to have no trouble at all. Eventually she sighed, patted my hand in evident consolation, picked up a slate and chalk and began writing simple messages in Latin and English. I felt myself to be an outstanding dullard for not understanding a language that was, I must confess, quite beautiful….


Rochester, feast of Saint Thomas the Apostle, 975

I overheard and espied a conversation today between my students—Ciniod and Nechtan, Pictish youths from the isles of Scetis and Malaius respectively—and Helga’s three artisans. I think that Ciniod and Nechtan were amazed how much of the Trivium Helga's students had learned; after all, apprentices do not commonly spend much time learning rhetoric, grammar or logic. Though, as Astrugona put it a trifle waspishly, arithmetic and geometry are the tools of artists and artisans, and two of the three are composers of music, so all of them having more than a passing familiarity with the Quadrivium should hardly be a surprise.

"What of astronomy?" demanded Nechtan, who loves the stars and Divination with equal fervor.

Not easy, wrote Merwenna on her slate, dancing what I was sure was a far more complex statement before she continued to use her chalk. Towers needed. Or hills. Sky hills towers closer.

As I mentally translated this into hills and towers are closer to the sky—Helga had mentioned that Merwenna's language of gestures and dance followed an object-subject-verb pattern—Oswyn spoke up. "Of course, we do learn other things. Like history. "

"Magical history, you mean," said Ciniod with assurance.

"No," Oswyn replied, looking confused. "Magical and non-magical."

Potions, Merwenna wrote. Charms.

"Herbology," Astrugona added. "And…transfiguration. Which we probably never would have studied if not for Oswyn."

"You had a little to do with it," replied Oswyn, grinning.

As the five wandered off, Nechtan offering, no doubt out of curiosity, to swap lessons in Divination for those in non-magical history, I felt despair enveloping me like a shroud. They're well-taught, all of them, but there are only five…


Rochester, Octave of the Visitation, 975

…four more children arrived at Helga's door yesterday, all ragged and tired. One appears to be a runaway—a painfully thin Muggleborn girl of twelve (or so she says; ten would be my guess) who has a tendency to transfigure things without intending to do so and who has not yet learned how to turn things back. Her father, a cruel man, commanded her to turn stones, chaff, even the filthiest straw into gold, silver and jewels, which, naturally, she could not do without proper training. (Not to mention that there are laws against transfiguring ordinary objects into "fairy gold"—counterfeit coin or metal.) For her own peace of mind, she insists on sleeping in an empty storeroom far away from everyone else.

Helga convinced me that turning the girl’s father into a monkey would not be helpful, for the poor girl might hear of it and believe that she was responsible. However, I cannot deny that turning him into a monkey would make me happy.

Two of the remaining three are brother and sister, and are so silent that I have no notion of what they are like. The last is a Welsh boy even thinner than the first girl. I sense no magic at all in him. But Helga is determined to keep him.

"Even if he is a Squib," she told me once we were abed, wrapping her arms about me, "he can still learn."

"Not magic," I reminded her. "Not even potions."

"He can learn herblore. And how to take care of magical beasts and birds. And astronomy." She smiled wryly at me. "Not to mention that there's no particular magic in logic or grammar."

"Or cooking," I added, thinking of Merwenna's baking. "Or reading and writing, I suppose. Or apprenticeships."

"Exactly!" she said, kissing me on the nose. For a moment I thought that she would laugh and kiss me again, but instead the smile slid away like water from a duck's back. "I only wish that I knew where to find all the magical children. I have no idea how many try to find me—or how many will never reach my home."

The tears came then. I held her close and gently rubbed her back as she wept for all the lost ones who died on a journey that should not have been deadly and those who would never know what gifts they possessed—or be punished for them by unknowing Muggles.

"I'll discover a way to find them," I promised. A rash statement, but what else could I say? "I don't know how you'll manage here, though. Your house is not large enough for eight, much less eight residents and three guests."

She looked up at me, not moving. "I am not going to live in your tower."

I shuddered at the thought of that. I love Helga dearly, but I need my solitude betimes, and my tower is my sanctum. "I was thinking of an abbey in Kaerness. It's old and abandoned, but in good shape…though the Muggles don't think so. It's called Teagh-na-n-cailichan-dbuh, the house of the old women in black." I tried not to laugh at her indignant face. "Yes, I know that neither of us is old, but you must admit that it sounds like a home for witches."

She nestled against me. "I will let you if it's acceptable once we fly to—where in Kaerness is it? That's a large area."

"It's near the church of St. Pharaer," I told her, "in a town called Molista."


...the precursor to the magical quill which we now use to identify magical children at birth was an illuminated manuscript enchanted by Rowena Ravenclaw in 979, shortly before the birth of her daughter Helena. (It is sometimes said that she named the child after her close friend Helga Hufflepuff, but this seems impossible.) The manuscript is a book of days, describing significant events in magical and Muggle history for each day of the year, including leap years, and is riotously decorated in brilliantly colored and intricate illustrations and odd and often rude moving marginalia, including fish ensnaring fishermen in nets, a knight whose helmet is transforming in a green cat, and a blue creature with a long and extremely bendable neck blowing what can only be described as an extremely inappropriately situated trumpet.

It was not until recently that anyone realized that three items appear on each page, and always close to each other: a red dragon, a dulcimer, and a young girl dancing beside it. When a child's name and approximate location appear on the page proper, the dragon swims around the margins, trailing a banner after itself; the dulcimer plays audibly, a sheet of what experts say is a song of victory materializing behind it, and the girl dances in what may be some sort of code. This suggests that even in the time of the Founders, Muggles were still to be feared. Otherwise, there would be no reason for such a code to exist.

While it is known that Rowena crafted the name and location spells, no one knows the source of the manuscript, the artist-composer who created the illustrations and the song of the dulcimer, or the mysterious writer of codes who slipped an unknown message into the artefact. It is presumed that the artist-composer was one of Rowena's pupils and that he was affiliated with an early group dedicating to protecting witches and wizards…

Magical Inventors and Their Inventions by Ananias Ashworth, Kaleidoscope Publishing, London, UK, © 1723, p. 382.


…Molista Abbey—the proto-Hogwarts, founded in 980—did not last long. This was due mainly to two factors: size and sex. Though it had been constructed for a religious community of average size, this was not ideal for numerous children and teens ranging in age from four (the youngest, a child oblate found in a monastery) to nineteen. And though Rowena's and Helga's charms upon the Abbey did indeed make passing Muggles see it as a religious house, and while what might be called mixed convents (half for monks and half for nuns) had existed in the past, by the 980s such an abbey ran afoul of the newer Church laws and was considered lax and undisciplined. It did not help when young laymen such as the artist Oswyn of Mercia were seen entering and leaving the Abbey on a regular basis, despite the fact that there was no wrong in this; they simply regarded Molista Abbey as their home, because it was Helga's and Rowena's home.

The Abbey also created problems for those not of the Christian faith, i.e. many purebloods, as well as the luthier Astrugona Alcon, who departed England for Al-Andalus soon after the school was founded, saying that she was unwilling to pretend to a faith she did not hold. No good could come of such lies, she said. After much serious discussion with her teacher Helga Hufflepuff, Alcon sailed for Valencia, Spain, where she rejoined her family and her father's congregation. She became a noteworthy teacher there, eventually founding Binah, a school for Jewish witches (which, after 1501, became a university as well). In the aftermath of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, the grounds on which Binah rested were transformed by its teachers into an island which could fly to any nation on Europe's mainland. This allowed the teachers to find prospective students--as well as anyone, witch, wizard or Muggle, who might be fleeing war or pogroms--bring them onto the island, and float away again. Binah has been seen now and again by Muggles, giving rise to the phrase "castles in the air" to describe extravagant wishes and dreams that cannot possibly come true.

Oswyn, along with the other young men and boys older than thirteen, eventually left as well. This was a bitter blow to Helga, who genuinely believed that she had a responsibility to teach everyone and that depriving people of education and heritage could only lead to trouble. However, when he left, he left with Merwenna; the two were so accustomed to talking together and being with each other that the thought of separation was insupportable. They were wed by Rowena and Helga on Lammas Eve (31 July), 982. It was unusual at the time for a witch to perform a wedding ceremony, let alone two witches, but not unheard of.

Sadly, historians have largely ignored Oswyn and Merwenna, although both of them created a vast body of work for the next hundred and twenty-nine years. Despite their work being overlooked by most scholars, tradition has long said that Merwenna of York wrote the first books in England on nonverbal spell-casting, magical and non-magical dance, and dance-sign language, and that each was illustrated by her husband.

By 983, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff knew that the exodus of the young men had solved nothing; Molista now had a reputation for having men and boys "bothering" the nuns, and the fact that the boys and young men had left did not convince their Muggle neighbours that the youths were not returning periodically. Knowing that they needed another school—one much larger that could accommodate boys and girls alike—Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff began writing letters to the other notable witches and wizards of the time. Two—Godric Gryffindor, the son of a Gascon wizard and a Saxon witch, and Salazar Slytherin, scion of a pureblood family of Basque émigrés—answered.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Perhaps it would be as well to close this section with an excerpt from one of Helga's letters to Godric:

… Salazar and my dear Rowena are discussing the plans for the new school now. My head is dizzy at the thought of so much planning and so many spells. He is determined that it shall be of stone, like the castles in Spain, and not a wattle-daub construction such as we see here in England; stone handles protection spells remarkably well. Rowena likes the idea of moving stairs to confuse and frighten any magical invaders; I have not the heart to tell her that the thought of being on stairs that change direction when I am on them unnerves me as well. I hope that I can persuade her to find a different protective spell.

I am planning apprentices' workshops for children who need to create something with their hands and minds as well as their magic to feel alive, soft beds and identical black robes that soothe the tense, the ill and the homesick with a touch, and the kitchens for my own comfort.

I hope—I dare to hope—that perhaps some of our old students may return…to teach, to build and to learn. We will need teachers as much as students. But more than that, I am hoping that this school of ours—which needs a name, and no, Godric, neither 'Goatweed' nor 'Hogwort' will do—will succeed. At least for the next ten to twenty years.

By then, of course, we will need something much better.


—"Section I: Before the Beginning," Hogwarts: A History by Bathilda Bagshot, Little Red Books, London, UK, © 1949, pp.156-157.




The feast of Saints Peter and Paul is traditionally on June 29. Thomas the Apostle's is on July 3, and the Octave of the Visitation (when the Virgin Mary went to see her cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist) is July 9.


Yes, Astrugona is a real medieval Jewish name from Islamic Spain. I did not make it up. In fact, from what I can tell, "Astrugona" was a fairly common name for Jewish girls in Valencia—or Balansiyya, as it was called at the time of the Founders. "Alcon" appears to be derived from "Al-Kohene"; it's one of the few Jewish surnames I could find for Al-Andalus.

Oswyn and Merwenna are Saxon names. Oswyn appears to have been a name generally given to boys pre-Norman Conquest (Doctor Who characters notwithstanding).

Gerasimos is Byzantine Greek—the more typical Greek of the tenth century—not Classical Greek. Since centaurs are Greek in origin, I wanted this one to have a Greek name. It's also the name of a Christian saint noted for calming wild things that have good reason to be hurt and angry, which I didn't plan, but hey, serendipity.

The names of the authors and translators quoted are deliberate. "Zipporah" means "bird" in Hebrew, while Tully is a corruption of a Gaelic word that means "flood." As the author who first mentions the students that wizarding society has ignored, she is literally a bird in a flood, singing as loudly as she can while the tide of history rolls on. St. Martin's Land, the name of the press that published Zipporah's book, is the land of the dead in English folklore—which seemed appropriate for a magical publishing house and as a comment about Zipporah's work. The dead have an interest in making it known, not the living.

Paphnutius Standish, the collector of Rowena's and Helga's letters, has the first name of a Coptic ascetic. There's no actual reason for this except that it's an unusual name that seems to fit the wizarding world's naming style. Standish, however, is significant; it's an old word for "inkwell." Jorvik Publishing simply has the old name for the city of York when it was under Norse rule. (Which, in terms of this story, would have been about ten to fifteen years before.)

Calpurnia Agricola, who wrote the Latin book, is named for Julius Caesar's wife (the third one, to be precise) and the one of the first words that you learn in Latin class. "Agricola" means "farmer"—she's literally sowing ideas. Her publishing house, Navis Stultorum, which regarded the truncated letter by Rowena as imaginary, is Latin for "ship of fools."

Amhrán is simply the Gaelic word for "song." "Vates" is not actually a last name (though it looks like it) but English slang for an Irish bard. Dhvanil—so far as I can discover—means "the sound from heaven," which seemed appropriate for a linguist writing about a noted singer. His last name, Jhaveri, means "jeweler," and is simply a very common Gujarati last name.

Bruriah is one of the few women mentioned by name in the Talmud as a scholar; she lived in the second century and was the wife of the Tanna Rabbi Meir. I gave her name to the translator of Astrugona's comments to indicate that she, like the woman she's named for, is brilliant. "Zamar" is a Hebrew verb; it means "to make music in praise of God."

"Ananias" is a name associated with a Biblical liar. What he's saying is literally worth ashes. The press's name means something similar; twist a kaleidoscope a little and everything that you're looking at seems to change.

"Brother Ben" —the Benedictine who brings Oswyn to Helga—is intended to be the Fat Friar. He's a monk rather than a friar because friars didn't exist at the time of the Founders, though I could see someone who liked alliteration giving him that soubriquet later.

"Scetis" is now the Isle of Skye. "Malaius" is the island of Mull. Both Ciniod and Nechtan have names of Pictish kings.

Molista Abbey, also known in Gaelic as "the house of the old women in black/black old women", did exist, though it is only in ruins now and has been for centuries.

"Binah," the name of the school that Astrugona founds, is Hebrew for "understanding" or "truth," depending on the context.


Astrugona's blessing of Gerasimos, which Helga thinks might be a spell, is called "the Traveler's Prayer." It's not period; I was looking for something that was both transliterated and translated, and this seemed good.


The Trivium (grammar, logic and rhetoric) and the Quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music) were considered the Seven Great Liberal Arts during the Middle Ages. The tenth century is a bit ahead of the curve for these subjects being the standard, but Rowena and Helga are two of the great teachers of their time.

Bangalore University is the largest university in India, and it is noted for being of top quality. It is affiliated with over 500 colleges, and has spun off a number of others, including Visvesvaraya Technological University, Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences, and the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences. I could see no reason why the university wouldn't have an Indian Institute of Magical Studies; it studies everything else.

The Julliard School of Music, which is located in New York City, is one of the top schools of music in the world—some say the best.

In both cases, the International Statute of Secrecy (1689) does not apply. It seems like the sort of law that would have been disavowed after India and the United States became independent. Two new countries trying to maintain cohesion after revolution would need trust and understanding between the magical and non-magical members of the population, because secrecy breeds ignorance, distrust and fear. (I'm sure that the International Council of Wizards wouldn't have liked that…but then, not everyone obeys the United Nations, either, and that makes very little difference.)


Merwenna's grammar follows an object-subject-verb pattern because that's the grammar of British sign language. The topic is stated first, followed by a comment on it. It doesn't resemble the structure of spoken English at all.


Amhrán's description of what woods are good for which instrument is a mixture of observed wandlore from the books and a site on sacred trees and the effect each is supposed to produce.

I learned to my surprise from Gallaudet College that a deaf dancer cannot feel the vibrations through the floor throughout the dance—leaping up away from the floor at any point would make this impossible, not to mention that not all floors carry vibrations equally well—and that deaf dancers need to know the rhythm beforehand and then count to maintain impeccable timing.

Yes, the illustrations that Oswyn sees and draws are all real. Goofy and bizarre drawings in the margins of manuscripts are well-known.

Finally, to end on a horrible pun: the red dragon in the margins (red dragons being a symbol of Wales, where Helga is from) magically puffs painted fire at Oswyn. It is quite literally Puff the Magic Dragon.