Breath-taking chapter image by chocolat. @ TDA
I claim no ownership of Rowling’s work. Also, this story is a work of fantasy, not historical fiction. I have taken many historical liberties while writing this piece and most of it may be considered anachronistic.
Helga Hufflepuff - Leelee Sobieski
Godric Gryffindor - Sean Bean
Salazar Slytherin - Joaquin Phoenix
Rowena Ravenclaw - Lena Headey
Ailbhe, Rowena’s handmaiden - Bryce Dallas Howard
Riol - Steven Mackintosh
The Abbott - Max von Sydow
The Captain-General of Alba - Bernard Hill
Near Hadrian’s Wall--between Britannia and Alba
The cold traveled in gusts, poisoning the wind until it shrieked like a demon or some mad, mad spirit from the haunted past. Even beneath his layers of leather and fur and calloused flesh, Godric could feel the unwelcome chill and his heart was frosted with spears of worry and misplaced dread.
Two days ride from Helga’s encampment in Northern Britannia, the advance guard was attacked by a force much stronger than the most potent magic; nature.
A mid-winter storm was harassing the borders of Alba and the barren moors themselves provided little protection from the driving snow, which drifted into the old Roman roads and prevented even the draft horses from passing through.
Godric was forced to call off the march until the blizzard passed and his army of nearly one hundred foot soldiers and fifty mounted cavalry hunkered down on the lee side of a stony crag. With canvases stretched against scavenged wooden poles, they were able to construct some meager shelter from the ice and snow, although Godric half-feared they would all freeze to death before the night passed.
He spent most of his time conjuring magical fires to keep the men warm, although the flames themselves were more of a threat than a necessary safeguard. Any curious native of Alba wandering along the borders might spot the dashes of crimson amongst the overwhelming white and so discover the advance guard of Cornish soldiers come to penetrate Rowena’s weak underbelly. And Godric wasn’t certain his men would be able to fight off an attack right now, huddled and frozen as they were in their mean lean-tos.
It was with an uneasy mind then that he settled down for a night’s rest in his own shelter, squatting next to none other than Riol, his second-in-command.
The slight, skinny man was hidden in the folds of his heavy fur cloak, his aquiline features protruding slightly from the hood.
Godric dropped to his knees by the fire he had built and warmed his raw hands. His joints were stiffened with the cold and his very flesh protested the heat it so sorely carved. Sluggishly, his blood began to pump through his limbs until only the very tips of his fingers were numb.
Riol was watching him closely, he sensed and Godric rubbed his flushed cheeks with a rough hand.
Suddenly, Riol laughed. It was a low, fluttering sound. Uneasy.
“Do you despise me too, Gryffindor, because I am no wizard?”
The question caught Godric completely off guard and he sank moodily against the canvas wall behind him.
“What is this?” he grunted.
“Salazar Slytherin thought I was most unworthy,” Riol continued, drawing back his hood to reveal a face that might have been noble despite his sycophantic smile. “It did not matter to him that I had been counselor to Helga’s father and that she herself trusted me more than any magician. But Slytherin did not understand his role in this game. Do you, Gryffindor?”
There was something of cold manipulation in Riol’s manner that did not suit Godric well. He stamped his feet on the cold ground, hearing the frozen grass crunch under his boots. Snow was fast encroaching on their shelter, mingling with the tongues of flame and black smoke.
“Perhaps it is not my place to understand,” he said at length. “Do you think all wizards are omnipotent?”
Riol brightened. “Oh yes, I like you much better. Much better than Slytherin. Good riddance, I should say. And Helga must agree. The man was a worm…a snake. And he thought to oust me, all because…all because I was more dear to Helga than he could ever be. But you certainly would not be so rash, Gryffindor? You understand that we all have parts to play…that I am needed, just as you are.”
“You wish us to work in tandem?” Godric asked. He didn’t fully catch Riol’s meaning, although the man clearly hated Slytherin. Did he perhaps feel entitled to Helga’s favor and was now soliciting Godric’s support?
At once, he understood how dangerous these things could become. How politics could be played even here, now, in the middle of a blinding snow-storm.
And Riol was neither a pawn nor a king.
Godric felt vaguely disturbed.
“I have confused you.” Riol sat forward, his hands now thrown about his knees. They were pale and slender--not the meaty hands of a veteran soldier.
A sudden thought occurred to Godric. “Did Helga send you along to watch me?”
Riol recoiled into the shadows. “This is most troubling,” he said, speaking swiftly. “You are questioning Helga’s trust. Not now, Gryffindor. Do not waver now!”
Godric growled, his irritation growing. Who was this weakling of a man to question his loyalty to Helga?
“I have faith in her,” he bit back.
Riol nodded. “That is good, but is it enough?”
“I am no philosopher. What is this game you play?”
The wind picked up, issuing a throaty shriek that chilled Godric to the very bone. He remembered the time he had spent with Helga several days ago, when she had charmed a wild bird to perform tame tricks…and nearly dash its brains out on the frozen ground.
After some consideration, he decided to try another tactic with Riol. Riddles, after all, were painfully frustrating.
“You speak of a long acquaintance with Helga,” he said, directing the smoke of their fire away from the shelter with a flick of his wand. “You must know her well.”
Riol did not flinch, but grinned into the flames. “I was her father’s counselor for a time and I taught Helga to read. Latin. Greek. The languages of the old empires.”
“You are learned man. Wise.”
“Do you think it wise then, for Helga to trust me so? A strange, clannish wizard from the rotten Hollow?”
Riol showed Godric his teeth when he smiled. “I do not think you strange or clannish. Slytherin was strange. Dark. Wizards from the East often are.”
“And the wizards of Britain?”
“I cannot tell.”
They sat in uncomfortable silence for a time. Godric squinted into the blinding storm, straining to pick out the hulking forms of his soldiers through the high drifts and dunes of white. Riol, however, only watched him.
And at length, he dared to speak.
“Do you not think it strange, even for a competent tactician such as Helga, to stage a siege in the middle of winter?”
Godric was certain the question was a trick. He decided to answer it only with a shrug.
Riol laughed and the sound was dry, hopeless. “But perhaps there is a reason to this…perhaps time is against our Queen.”
Again, Godric did not answer.
This seemed to vex his companion a fair bit. Carefully, Riol drew his feet from underneath his cloak, stamping his boot heels until the ashes from the fire dirtied Godric’s trousers.
The wizard felt his own ire raise, slithering into his veins like venom. He dropped his hand over the hilt of the goblin-made sword Helga had given him and immediately felt a rush of power.
Power that he owed only to her.
Because she was as Riol had said, a great tactician. A Caesar. Someone who could turn the world on it’s head and convince the masses that it was for the best.
And Godric himself was just as willing to believe her. Had she not, in fact, acted for his good and his good alone?
Riol, however, was as keen and unfriendly as a sharpened sword.
“Take heed, Gryffindor!” he crowed. “I only wish to help you.”
Godric wrinkled his nose and stared at the man.
But Riol would not meet his gaze. Instead, he leapt to his feet, leaving the protective light of the fire for storm. His hand, thin and limp as a fishbone, dropped down on Godric’s shoulder.
Grudgingly, Godric squinted into the billowing snow. The wind was cold enough to drive icicles through a man’s flesh and he wasn’t eager to abandoned the little warmth his magical fire had provided. But then he saw it, what had caused Riol to turn pale and tremble and forsake the clarity of his cunning tongue.
Instead, the man stuttered helplessly. “If…if only I…I had not wished in…vain…”
And Godric too rose to his feet, the gale pulling back his hood and leaving his face exposed to the elements. Hail gnawed at his bearded cheeks, freezing in the hair of his eyebrows.
Slowly, he dropped his hand from his sword.
Through the drifts and dunes, coughing and spitting blood, came Salazar Slytherin, his feet bound in cloth and his face blackened with bruises.
Helga watched as flames fingered the thatched roofs of the monastery’s pitiful barn. Pigs squealed as they were dragged from their sties and into the muddy snow. A horse reared and plunged, balking at the end of its lead. Frantic hooves kicked up slush onto the hem of her grey cloak.
Helga sighed and used her wand to siphon the icy water off her boots. Her lower back was aching and the chaos from the monastery annoyed her to the point of absolute frustration.
“Do you not see,” she said to the Abbott, who was laying prostrate at her feet, one hand clamped over scythe-shaped gash that ran from his temple to his jaw, “do you not see how easy things might have been…how painless…if only you had heeded my request and forfeited your grain stores?”
The Abbot spat blood onto the snow, his broken teeth causing him to lisp whenever he spoke. “Your hubris will be your downfall, witch,” he panted. “You will make your war with our grains and our livestock and our crosses melted down for swords, but remember, as Christ said, for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
This made Helga smile despite the unworthy aches that had of late settled into her young bones. “And did Christ not also say, my pious Abbot, render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s
As she was speaking, the roof of the barn collapsed in a shower of eager embers and singed straw.
The Abbot moaned and covered his face with his hands. Several of his younger monks were still trying to fight off Helga’s soldiers, but to no avail. The Cornish men made their way to and from the refectory with sacks of flour and other, less substantial provisions that would perhaps feed less than a quarter of Helga’s army for a week. In truth, the sacking of the monastery was not so much of a necessity as she had made it out to be to her soldiers, most of whom were Muggles and understandably hesitant to pilfer any house of God.
Her army’s supply train was healthy, even considering the upcoming expedition into Alba which her beloved Godric was currently spearheading. The months she had spent camped in Northern England had given her ample time to stockpile both food and arms, although of late, the harsh weather had made transporting such goods difficult.
Even so, there was little reason for her current raiding of monasteries…outside of her own immediate concern, of course. These holy men had something she wanted--desperately.
“Where do you bury your dead?” she asked, sweeping her cloak aside and away from the Abbot’s grasping fingers.
The man dropped his hand from his face, allowing the blood to pump freely for a moment. It slithered down his cheek in ugly rivulets, clotting in the crevices between his nose and upper lip.
“No, I beg of you!”
Helga rolled her eyes and crossed her hands just over her sword belt. “I have no desire to torture you, Abbott. Please, save yourself the agony and tell me…where do you keep your dead?”
But he only recoiled and spat on her feet. “I know your hellish intentions, witch! I know your dark magic! This…this necromancy!”
“Is that it?” Helga could not believe that she had been misunderstood, although she was slightly impressed at the Abbott’s knowledge of magic. “Do you think I meant to raise the dead to swell the ranks of my army? I assure you, my brave fellow, that such unreliable magic is below me. But listen now and perhaps you shall understand. Your predecessor was a man named Wulfric. He founded this house of your order, yes? A great man, a wise man. Did you know, dear Abbott, that he was also a wizard?”
The Abbott choked and scrambled to his knees. “I…I…”
Helga smiled. “Where is he buried?”
“I do not know.”
“Abbott, where he is buried?” This time, she removed her wand from her belt and pointed it at the bruised space between his eyes.
The Abbott grimaced and Helga felt truly sorry to see the man so defeated, so hopeless.
But in the end, sympathy had never come easy to her.
Groaning, the Abbott climbed to his feet, his robe hanging disheveled and dusty, splattered with soot and blood along the front. Helga opened her palm and pointed at the refectory, but the man shook his head.
“In the chapel,” he grunted, nodding towards the low, stone building that was set apart from the others, a winding, well-trod path leading up its the cross-marked door.
Helga’s smiled widened. “I ought to have known.”
She followed the limping Abbott to the chapel, stopping only once to rub her bare hand over the heavy beams on either side of the door. The wood was worn smooth and the feel of it on her flesh reminded her vaguely of something, or someone.
Helga dropped her hand back to her side. Behind her, soldiers were lifting sacks of grain into already packed carts. The monks were giving up their battle, slinking off to tend to their wounded brothers and the now smoldering barn.
And Helga herself wished she could put into words the necessary evil of conquest, something her father had never understood, although she had spent many years trying to enlighten him.
Perhaps that was her only failure. Her father, though a wise man, could not reconcile her vision of a united, wizarding Britain. He was a clannish man, more concerned for his coastal kingdom and his scattered correspondents throughout Europe with whom he traded magical secrets.
Wulfric had been one such man and Helga remembered stealing her father’s letters, reading of a prized magical artifact the cloistered monk kept. And now, so many years later, she thought she had need of it.
The chapel itself was blessed with an unearthly quiet. Helga tried to ignore the sense of desecration she felt as she crossed the threshold. The Abbott, despite his bleeding head, genuflected before the simple altar on which a solitary cross kept vigil.
Helga gripped her wand tighter. “Where?”
But the Abbott was still on his knees, hands clasped in pray, eyes closed. After a moment, he nodded up the aisle to a patch of grey stone floor.
Helga looked once at him, then back between the rows of benches.
Several paces brought her to the spot and she looked down to see some wording carved into the stone slab.
Wulfric of York
His name was followed by an appropriate, Biblical epitaph, something in Latin that Helga did not bother to read. Instead, she pointed the tip of her wand at the seams around the stone and concentrated.
Cracks appeared, thin at first and then growing until they were as wide as Helga’s wrist. The seams split. Dust shrouded Wulfric’s name.
She paused at her work and looked back at the Abbott. The man had not moved and his breathing, now slowed, only made her pulse jump. Helga jammed her wand back into her belt and gritted her teeth. The stone was loose enough to pry open with her hands and she dare not disturb the tomb with any other spell.
Helga dug her nails under the slab, groaning as she lifted it. The smell of decay that followed was overwhelming, tempered by moss and rotten water.
She choked, dropping the heavy slab. It fell and shattered.
The noise resounded within the tiny building and Helga shut her eyes.
“My apologies, Wulfric,” she muttered. “I did not mean to disrupt your slumber. You know, my father always spoke so highly of you.”
Steeling herself, she reached blindly within the dark crypt, groping about until her hand touched bone…then sturdy leather.
At once, she withdrew a heavy, thick book from the vault, its sturdy binding no doubt preserved by crafty charm. Helga dusted off the cover with her palm and read the flowery, embellished title.
Spells of the Roman Auguries
Ah, leave it Wulfric to possess a coveted magical text! Delight made Helga’s stomach squirm pleasantly. Books such as these were rare in England and she herself was a collector, hoarding what precious manuscripts she could until the day such knowledge could be dispersed to a new generation of wizards.
The discovery of the tome was a boon indeed….though not exactly what she had been looking for. Placing the book to the side, she dipped her hand once more into the crypt.
Helga’s smiled returned once more and her fingers closed around the point of the hat.
Rowena could only think of herself as a mother. A mother of bleeding children, dying children. And she was powerless but not without power. A weakling with strength.
As she sat in the Great Hall of Hogwarts, watching the phantom wind shift the clouds on the enchanted ceiling, she realized her time had come. She must spread her ebony wings to protect Alba and, in order to find victory, she must surrender.
It was an uncomfortable paradox and quite enough to drive her mad.
But ah, she was mad already.
The man standing before her throne was the Captain-General of Alba’s army, an army that was not organized but rather summoned in times of crisis, bringing farmers in from the fields to wield rusty swords and don dented armor. And Rowena knew that Helga, who could be cruel, who had been cruel, would make a mockery of her peasant soldiers.
For once, the path the stars showed her was clear.
Rowena found a wistful smile for the Captain-General, a man who had no teeth and a matted beard and was too old to fight a single campaign and survive. But his dignity, still intact, still hanging by a tremulous thread, gave her heart.
“Do you understand what I am asking of you?” she asked him. “And do you accept your duty? This…this is no easy task.”
In his eyes, the tired light faded, ceding to pools of milky obedience. “Yes, my queen. I shall send riders in the Highlands and the Lowlands. The people must not resist Helga’s armies when they come. They should lay down their arms and join Cornwall…or flee.”
Rowena bowed her head. Yes, he understood…as much as he ever could. And perhaps some day, when the seasons had turned, she would see the light in his eyes again, a light that she had kindled.
When she had dismissed her soldier and listened to his uneven footfalls disrupt the sepulcher silence of her stronghold, Rowena turned to her ever-loyal handmaid, her dear Ailbhe who stood by her throne.
“The potion,” the Queen said. “Do you still have Salazar’s potion?”
Ailbhe, who had never been timid, seemed inclined to remain in the shadows. But her lips moved, softly, slowly.
“Yes, my lady. I have not forgotten.”
Oh my. Have I really not updated this story since March? I feel very, very ashamed and I want to extend my most sincere apologies to everyone who has reviewed/favorited/read this story so far. You all have been exceedingly supportive and I am entirely grateful for your patience. I want to assure you, however, that I do not have writer’s block. To put it frankly, I sometimes find this story just takes longer to write. I don’t know, maybe it’s the plot or the somewhat archaic dialogue or the radically A.U. characters. Whatever the reason, I tend to devote more time to chapters and therefore, updates come less frequently.
The next chapter is in the works and, with summer vacation ahead of me, I do hope to have this story updated more regularly. Again, thank you so much for your understanding and patience.
Take care and be well!
A Supplementary Disclaimer:
In this chapter, Helga attacks and destroys a Roman Catholic monastery. I want to make it absolutely clear to all my readers that her actions are not influenced by ANY anti-Christian sentiment whatsoever. Historically, monasteries were centers of illumination and learning during the so-called dark ages. In a time of almost universal illiteracy, clergymen transcribed precious works of literature into manuscripts, preserving the writings of previous, supposedly enlightened generations. Helga, therefore, only raids the monastery to find such books, which will later fill the shelves of Hogwarts.
The following quotes may be found in the New Testament of the Bible under…
Luke 14: 11, Matthew 23: 12
Matthew 22: 21, Mark 12: 17, Luke 20: 25