What if Helena Ravenclaw was Slytherin’s protégé?

Silly question, I know. She wouldn’t have even been in his house; she was a Ravenclaw, after all. But they have a lot in common. They both played a direct part in the founding of Hogwarts, Slytherin as one of the founders, Helena as a founder’s child and part of the first generation of students. They both grew apart from the other three founders and eventually fled the castle, never to return. They both did something or took something with them that left Hogwarts in a fractured state. And they both played an unknowing role in Voldemort’s rise to power, Slytherin as his ancestor and inspiration, Helena by telling him where to find Ravenclaw’s lost diadem.

Helena didn’t have the greatest relationship with her mother, so perhaps there was another teacher she saw as a role model instead – and there’s not much Gryffindor or Hufflepuff about her. Perhaps she looked up to Slytherin and wanted to be more like him; perhaps he even told her that if she weren’t Rowena’s daughter, he would have picked her for his own house. The lover who comes to find her when she runs away was a Slytherin, so perhaps she associated herself with Slytherin house in other ways as well.

Depending on the timing, her decision to steal the diadem and flee might even have been influenced by Slytherin’s own departure. She didn’t steal it out of longing for the wisdom it could bring, but rather, because she thought it would help her become greater than her mother. That’s pure ambition right there. If she witnessed Slytherin’s fight with Gryffindor and subsequent departure, if she knew what he had left lurking inside the school, if she saw the growing fracture between the houses and perhaps felt torn between her mother and her mentor, she might not have had much reason to want to stay.

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Four Founders, Four Visions

Said Slytherin, “We’ll teach just those
Whose ancestry is purest.”
Said Ravenclaw, “We’ll teach those whose
Intelligence is surest.”
Said Gryffindor, “We’ll teach all those
With brave deeds to their name.”
Said Hufflepuff, “I’ll teach the lot,
And treat them just the same.”

Maybe it’s just me, but these seem like odd things for a school’s founders to say. Hufflepuff, sure, she valued fairness and wanted to educate everyone. And Ravenclaw’s vision was different from Hufflepuff’s, but there are plenty of private schools that have academic criteria for the students they accept. But Slytherin’s obsession with ancestry seems out of place, and ambition – cited in the Goblet of Fire song – seems more like the sort of thing you demonstrate to get into an exclusive university, not a secondary school. And as for brave deeds, how many eleven-year-olds have done anything very brave? Modern-day Gryffindor certainly selects for potential, rather than choosing only kids who already have “brave deeds to their name”.

It’s almost as if the four founders had very different ideas about what kind of school Hogwarts was going to be.

Remember, Hogwarts was founded 1,000 years ago, in the early middle ages. Even muggle education did not look a thing like it does today, and was not widely available to ordinary people. Magical education was nonexistent in Britain. Ravenclaw may very well have seen Hogwarts as an elite school for the most intelligent students of magic, rather than a public institution where nearly every witch and wizard in Britain would be educated.

Slytherin, on the other hand, might have seen Hogwarts as a place to train magical leaders, since he valued ambition and cunning in his students. In a time period where positions of power were inherited, his obsession with ancestry actually makes a certain amount of sense; he was probably looking to form his own magical aristocracy. Although, of course, sending a basilisk to kill the muggle-borns was uncalled for.

And Gryffindor? A school for the bravest students may seem odd by modern standards,  but the middle ages were a bloody time, when the unforgivable curses were not yet illegal and most wizards’ duels ended in death. Gryffindor may have wanted to take the most courageous young witches and wizards and teach them combative magic, in order to turn them into warriors and protectors, essentially the knights of the magical world.

None of those attitudes would be out of place in their era, but it’s Hufflepuff’s vision for Hogwarts that survives in the present day. Hogwarts takes any student with magical abilities, and they are all given access to the same education. No one, from muggle-borns to werewolves to students who don’t quite fit into any of the houses, is turned away. I think it’s fair to say that, without her belief in fairness and acceptance, Hogwarts wouldn’t be what it is today.