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The Lord of Tang by tgfoy
Chapter 16 : Wild Rides and Celebrations.
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 2

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Disclaimer: Anything you recognise from her books remains the property of JKR, I make no claim on it at all.

Warning: The 10th century portion of this chapter contains a description of a mass animal sacrifice, reflecting a religious belief and ritual of the time. I do not condone cruelty to animals, it is simply a reflection of attitudes of the time. Whilst I do not consider the scene to be too graphic it could upset some readers. This story is rated “mature” it is therefore up to the reader to decide if they wish to read the portrayal of the final day of Yule presented towards the end of this chapter.

Chapter 16.
Wild Rides and Celebrations.

With a brief intense heat a blinding white flash of silent flame appeared above the chest and a Phoenix appeared. The magnificent bird stretched it's wings as if waking from a long slumber and glowed as it's soothing song filled the room with optimistic beauty.

“Fawkes?” Harry asked.

“That's not Fawkes, Harry.” Ginny's voice was thoughtful.

The Phoenix opened it's eyes and Harry could see Ginny was correct; where Fawkes' eyes had been intense golden, this Phoenix had green eyes that appeared just as deep and intelligent. The bird looked the couple over, as if appraising them. Suddenly, at lightening speed, the bird slashed at the couples hands with it's beak, drawing blood. Instantly it cried, the tears falling on the lacerations it had created, then settled on the table as if nothing untoward had happened, watching them. Harry and Ginny had no time to react to the pain of their palms being ripped open before they were healed again. They looked at each other, then at their hands, turning them over and flexing them as if checking their appendages retained all the digits they should have.

“It is all right young humans, I acted thus in order that we be bonded and so you could hear the words in my song.”

The voice seemed to surround them with warmth and reassurance, in a manner Harry remembered Fawkes' singing could do, he looked at the Phoenix that had just become theirs. “Welcome Phoenix, my name is Harry and this is my wife, Ginny. What do we call you, or should we name you?”

“You are the heir, by birth, of Gryffindor and his daughter's child Tigelwotta of Hvits Settlement and Hogsmeade; Harry defeater of the heir of Slytherin. Ginny, you are the descendent of Leoforwic, husband of Godiva, twin of Egil, Creaftas all, and sworn men of Utred Huntrodds, Lord of Tang. You are both heirs by bequest of Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff, I know you both, Godric was my Master, his grandson my last human bonded, they called me Flame, that name will suffice. Now descendants of Tigelwotta, Peverill, Gryffindor and Wesele you have at last united your houses with that of Bleac, it is time. Open the closet the Tigelwotta's have protected for a thousand years, the content is now yours.” The Phoenix replied.

Poppy looked wide eyed at the golden coloured bird. “I thought Fawkes was magnificent, and he was, but even his feathers weren’t this brilliant.”

Flame looked to the nurse and blinked. Harry and Ginny chuckled.

“I know what you mean Poppy, it looks like Hogwarts is going to be home to a Phoenix again, though.” Harry grinned. “Hagrid will be surprised.”
The healer nodded. “He will indeed Harry, but I don't think I'll tell him about it, I'll leave it as a surprise. Anyway, I must get back there myself, now I know you are all right. Have a good Christmas you two.”

“And you, Poppy.” They both called as she left to Floo from the lounge.

Once she had left, Harry and Ginny once again reached to release the hasps, Flame flashed to the top of the chest, deposited two metal bars, then flew to the top of the bureau to observe. The bars were about six inches long, one end curled round decoratively, while the other widened to create a disk which was bent ninety degrees to the majority of the bar, the disk pierced with a square hole.

Harry inspected the bar, then the lock on the hasp nearest him, after a few moments, grasping the barrel he inserted the disk end into the slot on the base swinging the handle through a right angle and pushed it upwards into the body of the barrel. A slight clanking noise was heard as the barrel was forced off a U shaped piece of bar, pointed at one end while the other prong had a V-shaped leaf spring on either side, which had locked it in place. Harry's key had compressed the springs allowing the lock barrel to drop off.

Seeing what her husband had done, Ginny repeated the process, then they both remove the U clips from the loops and opened the lid

There were bundles of papers of course, Bill would go through them later. The first book they brought out, initially appeared written in Runes, but as they lifted it out, the letters changed to form more familiar English words. It was by Tigelwotta and the title indicated it was about the Creaftas. A stack of books, which in common with them all, seemed to self translate as they were removed, were by Hufflepuff and were her notes on various healing techniques, disguise methods and potions.

Other books about Ravenclaw's charms and Transfiguration work were followed by Gryffindor's spell books, defence books, curse and counter curse books. The last book they found was a detailed book on the foundation of the school and how to deal with its personality.

“These are the notes made by three of the founders, Tigelwotta bound them when he saw the Christians priests doing the same with their Holy books and records. He used magic to stitch and bind them of course whilst they worked by hand.” Flame chuckled.

Harry nodded as he absently put them to one side, looking up as Ginny sharply drew a breath, and caught the one that had fallen from the top of the stack he had created.

“Harry, we are going to have to be careful with these books. These are books of legend, probably the most valuable books on the Magical world in existence.” She scolded, her voice reflected awe as she gazed at the book in her hand, with a look reminiscent of Hermione. “Not just in a monetary sense either.” She added.

Harry nodded at her words. He knew his wife's awe at books was not like his friend's, it was this that gave him pause to think. “That's true, we know several in the department of Mysteries who would almost literally kill to get their hands on these. Much as we have got to know the people in the Ministry, we would never see these again if they got hold of them.”

“There is much knowledge in those books; it is intended for you initially, but the authors were educators too.” Flame trilled from his perch.

“You're right Flame. We need to think of ways the knowledge in them can be shared. In the mean time lets put them in our room with the closet. Flame, did Slytherin make similar notes?”

“Yes Harry, they are in his vault at Gringotts, one that his descendants never bothered exploring, as it contains no gold, so it's existence was forgotten by them centuries ago. That vault now belongs to Hogwarts, though as you are the last descendant of a founder, since Salazar’s family have died out, only you can access it.”

“Might be as well leaving his notes there, if what the stories about him indicate are true.” Ginny said firmly. “I know you knew him Flame, but all the pure blood supremacists and the last dark lord, who was also his last descendant, used him and the stories as the reason they believe they are above everyone else.

The Phoenix squawked indignantly. “He wasn't evil, and the only reason he didn't want to teach those not raised by his own kind was to protect wizard folk, and themselves from persecution from the Christian Muggles. Even Godric knew his worry was valid, if misdirected, as it was his own apprentice that betrayed Wizard kind in the early years of the School.”

The rest of the evening was spent listening to Flame tell stories about all four founders, and Hogwarts itself. They discovered that not only were assumptions on Slytherin not necessarily correct, he was a dour character, rather than evil, but there were many differences in the story of the cursed family that had been recorded, and what had actually happened. By the time the Phoenix had finished her story it was late, so they replaced everything into the chest and levitated it to their room; Flame settling on one end of Tiberius' perch, the Owl was out hunting. Harry and Ginny swiftly fell asleep, missing the arrival of their Owl to find a sleeping Phoenix at his favourite end of his perch.

Teddy had, in the last hour, discovered a new source of entertainment, one his Godparents had been witnessing all morning.

The arrival of Flame had, it seemed, put Tiberius' beak out of joint slightly. Used to being top avian in the lives of Harry and Ginny, the owl had been very obviously miffed at the arrival of the flashy looking newcomer. He decided that the morning after the phoenix’s appearance he would show his displeasure. Harry had chuckled as he recognised the signs of a sulking owl, who was actively dropping large hints of displeasure at sharing his perch. Having woken feeling better than he had for almost a year he had spotted the rivalry as soon as he had placed his glasses on his nose.

Whilst the owl sulked, Harry was further amused to notice that the phoenix seemed to be optimistically attempting to coax the owl out from its doldrums. Flame edged her way across the perch to nudge the owl, nuzzling her head against his wing, shoving gently, trying to coax the owl into beginning friendly relations. Unfortunately, the yellow eyed Strigidae was having none of it, and forcefully shrugged off Flame's friendly overtures firmly, by extending his wings, prompting the Phoenix to retreat to the other end of the perch and start the process again.

Ginny woke after Harry had observed three cycles of this behaviour.

“Morning, Harry.” She smiled.

“Morning, my love,” he leant over and they kissed. “Our feathered friends are getting acquainted.” he chuckled.

“Oh, how's it going?” she inquired.

“See for yourself.” He answered.

It wasn't long before she too was giggling at the birds.

After a little while, they both decided to get up and get ready for the arrival of the first of the seasonal house-guests they were expecting. They followed their usual morning routine, returning to the bedroom having bathed together, to find their tray of breakfast on the table waiting for them, in front of the fire.

The birds only interrupted their routine when the couple stood to go downstairs, at which point the owl flew through the open door and swooped down the stairs. Winky opened the lounge door, just in time for Tiberius to glide through. Meanwhile Flame watched, waited, then flamed to the lounge and flew round until Tiberius settled, huffily, on the back of a chair next to the table. Trilling, Flame settled next to the owl and the routine from upstairs continued, until Teddy arrived.

The growing toddler burst into the room as usual, greeting Harry and Ginny in his enthusiastic way his hair changing colour in his excitement.

As Andromeda entered at a more sedate pace, her Grandson spotted Tiberius

“Tiberius” he exclaimed excitedly then he saw the Phoenix. “Ooh, Harry get a pawot.”

The Phoenix shot the toddler a look that would have killed a basilisk, while Tiberius suddenly appeared much more cheerful, hooted at the youngster appreciatively, before hopping over to Teddy and affectionately rubbing his head on the toddlers cheek.

“Me stwoke pawot too pwees Harry.” Teddy asked as he petted Tiberius head gently.

Trying not to laugh at the owls antic's Harry smiled. “Flame isn't a parrot Teddy, she is a Phoenix and we'll have to ask her if you can stroke her.”

Tiberius, having received his usual greeting flew imperiously back to the chair, puffing out his chest proudly.

“Ok Harry, Fame can I stwoke you hello too pwees?” Teddy looked at the bird with pleading eye's.

The Phoenix didn't move for a moment so Harry encouraged her through the link. “Come on Flame, my godson isn't quite two yet and has never seen a Phoenix before, he didn't know what you were.”

Flame replied in the same way “Very well Harry, but only because he is a young-ling” She hopped to the toddler and allowed him to pet her.

“I sowy I fought you was a pawot Fame. I'm Teddy and I like you and Tiberius too.” The toddler said and changed his hair so half matched the colours of Flame, the other Tiberius.

Greeting done Flame joined Tiberius on the perch, where Flame's efforts with the owl resumed, until Tiberius flew off.

The rest of the morning the two birds dodged round the room, owl trying to avoid Phoenix, Teddy laughing at them, until just before lunch when both birds settled again on the perch.

Teddy looked determinedly at them “Tiberius and Fame be friends now?” he asked them firmly.

The two birds looked at him.

“That's what I have been trying to be with his Owliness” Flame sighed through the link.

Ginny took pity on the phoenix, “Yes I think they will be now Teddy, won't you” She looked sternly at Tiberius

The owl hooted his surrender and briefly rubbed his head against the phoenix.

Andromeda laughed “Well last year was the growing house, this year avian peace keeping, how are you two going to top it next year?”

“No idea Andromeda, might be your turn to supply the entertainment then.” Ginny giggled. “Bit livelier here at Christmas than when it was the Black's house then?”

“Wouldn't know really.” She replied. “We rarely came here as children, Sirius' mum preferred it that way, so we hardly knew the place.”

“That's true.” Sirius portrait agreed “Mum never held with purely family parties or gatherings and the like, no political gain from it. Even I didn't know about the ballroom complex you found last year, it was never used while I was growing up here.”

After lunch both Andromeda and Teddy went to their rooms for a nap, Winky keeping an eye on the youngster. Harry and Ginny dealt with some paper work from the ministry that they had brought with them from the last cabinet meeting, finishing just before Arthur and Molly's arrival. This signalled that the gathering of the family for the festivities had begun.

Next to arrive was Bill, who came straight from Gringotts, carrying more papers for Harry and Ginny.

“Thanks Bill! Are these urgent, or can they wait?” Harry asked.

“Not too urgent Harry, but we need to go through them before you go back to Hogwarts.”

Harry nodded. “Good, give you chance to go through some stuff we found last night.”

Bill groaned “More? Where did it come from?”

They told him about the founders closet, he chuckled. “Never a dull moment for the Potters, eh, I’ll look at it all later for you.”

This agreed, they settled down to await the next arrival.

They didn't have long to wait, as within minutes Petunia arrived with Horace, who was pleased to have been included. Next came Fleur with Victoire and the twins, who had spent the day with her; Delilah was carefully carrying the growing baby's crib into the room. Last to arrive was Aunt Muriel who was escorted by Charlie; she happily greeted everyone individually, assuring Teddy he was becoming a big boy, cooing over Victoire. Finally she warmly welcomed first Tarquin, then Delilah, to her family, surreptitiously slipping a chocolate frog to both of them, much to their delight.

Dudley, George, Ron and Hermione would arrive in a couple of days with Maria, once Wheezes had closed for Christmas. In the meantime, Dudley, Ron, George and the team were busy fulfilling Christmas orders.

Winky and Kreacher fussed over providing drinks for everyone then went to take luggage up to the rooms. Kreacher showed Winky how to lock the house's room of requirement to ensure that it would default back to the extra suites of rooms for the guests after any other uses over the holiday.

Dinner that night was a noisy affair, following which Horace retired back to Hogwarts to prepare for his traditional gathering of the slug club the next day; he would return for Christmas. His departure was the cue for Andromeda, Molly and Fleur to start quizzing Petunia about her friendship with the professor.

Hearing a “girly” conversation starting, the men swiftly withdrew. Arthur went to bring Hermione's parents who were closing their surgery for the festive period, a locum would be on call for any emergencies. The others headed to the workshop where they reviewed what they could next restore from various machines stored next to the Daimler and Dudley’s car. About an hour later only Bill and Harry remained, sat on the benches in the stern of the steam boat, drinking butter beer from bottles. This was where Ginny found them discussing the possibility of taking the boat to Hogwarts to sail on the Black Lake.

“So this is where you disappeared to,” she teased. “Come on, Dad and the Granger's will be here in a minute; if Dad and Mr. Granger come in here tonight, I doubt either will survive the wrath of Mum or Mrs. Granger. I've had Kreacher set a tray for the Granger's by the way; I know they said they wouldn't want anything, but they are running late so they may not have eaten as planned.”

Harry and Bill followed her back upstairs where only Fleur remained as they waited for the last arrival of the day.

The next day Harry and Ginny took Teddy to Diagon Alley to see Father Christmas, Bill and Fleur went with them to take Victoire for the first time. Both Delilah and Tarquin had claimed to be too old, until they reached the front of the queue, when both had eagerly gone to speak with the jolly red suited man. Andromeda and Petunia got on with some Christmas shopping in the alley while they could, meeting the Santa delegation at Florean's before they all went home to help the elves with the decorations.

Even Muriel had eagerly set off with the Granger's who had taken the other Weasley's into Muggle London to shop. They had gone early, knowing that crowds would hold them up, as would Arthur, while they wandered Regent Street and the shops along it. They were not expected back until late afternoon, at the very earliest.

The next few days passed in a bit of a whirlwind of Ministry parties for Harry and Ginny. They joined Ron, Hermione and Neville as the departments they worked with celebrated the season. Luna was still travelling in South America; she and Neville had recently decided to end their relationship, but remain very close friends.

The Ministry Ball, on the day before Christmas eve, was, this year, a family affair so the whole household attended. It was, as always, a spectacular affair, and more than just a dance. In one room were the entertainments for the children, including Muggle party games, usually with a magical twist. Although, when pass the parcel became “Chase the parcel that's grown eight legs and is trying to escape,” it was agreed that perhaps more thought into the magical part would have been good, even though the youngsters had thought that part hilarious.

Harry and Ginny visited his parents' grave on Christmas eve; Dudley arrived that morning in time to join them with his mother, for his first visit to the village. They were accompanied by Andromeda and Teddy again this year, but with Charlie and Percy joining them as well. Again, the Gresley's and other villagers ensured the family could conduct their visit with minimum disruption. The vicar of the church spotted the Gresley's watching the young couple and party, and came to wish them well. Harry took the opportunity to ask if it would be possible to erect a memorial stone next to his parents' grave for Sirius, explaining there could be no grave for his Godfather as there was no body to bury.

The vicar was a little taken aback at the request which was unusual, but readily agreed none-the-less. They arranged to meet and finalise the details after the festive season, when both would have more time. After visiting the house and memorial, which Dudley had wanted to see, the group returned to Grimmauld Place to begin the celebration of Christmas

Hermione took the opportunity to speak with her parents about what she had discovered so far. With Ron, they all settled in the drawing room, where a very old chest had been placed on the table. Runic symbols were carved into the side, amongst ornate depictions of all manner of beasts, including eight legged horses surrounding a Norse style ship in front of what looked like Hogwarts castle. Hermione ignored the chest, and began by telling them the results of her own researches, her parents stopping her to ask questions occasionally, and to make suggestions on other avenues her findings could have opened up.

Eventually she told them of receiving the Gringotts letter. “After Harry had gone, I placed Frayja's book carefully with my papers then Flooed to Gringotts where I met Godroc. It seems that my impending marriage to Ron automatically caused a search of their records to create a family tree to be instigated. They check any other surnames that appear against their vault catalogue and their own inheritance records to see if there are any unclaimed vaults I am entitled to.”

Her father looked at her. “I take it they found one?” he smiled nodding to the chest.

“Yes!” She affirmed.” Just one, it was magically sealed once Utred and Frayja died, it could only be reopened by a descendant of theirs who is magical. Most of the gold went to their children of course, as well as Muggle lands they were legally entitled to. All that is long gone, dispersed amongst many descendants, or as in the case of the Lands at Tang and some other lands in Yorkshire, sold off centuries ago. However, we do now have some Land in Godric's Hollow, and Hogsmeade By the way Ron, we shall be getting our payments on Titch Marsh cottage back, as it's Huntrodds property, so mine any way.”

Ron's eyes widened in surprise.

Hermione continued. “We also own some land gifted to us by Constantine the second of Scotland as well. Besides that, the titles Utred held come to us, but because the laws of the time dictate they can only be held by males, they will go to our sons if we have any.”

“And not too soon; I, for one, am not quite ready to be a grandma” Her mum grinned.

Ron blushed deeply at that comment; Hermione rolled her eyes. “Mum, we aren't quite ready to be parents either. Shall I continue?”

Her parents laughed and nodded, Hermione slipped her hand into Ron's. “I think we have enough titles anyway, but it's nice to know about these anyway,” she continued. “So, to recap, I now own land in Wales and a chunk of Scotland, close to Hogwarts, and when we are married Ron will also become part owner of course. Now in the vault were a number of artefacts, including a ship that was apparently used on the great lake; there are a number of chests of jewellery, weapons and other belongings. This chest was also in there; it contains all the paperwork on Utred's properties as well as his father's ring.”

She opened the chest for them all. “I haven't been through it all, but there are two puzzles. Utred's sword is missing, and there was a more recent note inside the chest, placed on top of everything. It's in English; Utred could read and write, but in Runes, and he spoke a mixture of Saxon and Norse as did most people then; he had never heard English, so we know the note is more recent. The puzzle is how it got there; study of the wards on the vault show no one has entered in a millennium. Anyway, the Goblins are up in arms about it.”

She took a piece of parchment from the chest and read.

“To my descendant, after 500 years the school my mentor owned and with three friends has fallen into debauchery and is no longer teaching its charges in the spirit the school was founded for; its occupants no long deserve the complete protection I saw my mentors give it. I have taken the shield of Gryffindor, I shall keep it protected and safe, in the hope that one day the occupants of the castle we built shall return to learning with honour. We shall meet on your fulfilment of your destiny, at the grave of your joined ancestors. You must find, and fulfil, the ritual discovered by Salazar as prescribed by Godric, and left with his family, my fellow Creafta and sworn man Tigelwotta. My wife Frayja foresaw you would know his heir. If I find in you and those who accompany you, that the school has returned to proper manner, then I will return all it has lost; if not, then it shall be lost forever, just as if you fail in your destiny I and all your ancestors shall be. Frayja will come to you as the time draws near, she at least can move between the two realms.

Utred Huntrodds Lord of Tang, Creafta, Guardian of Hogwarts. “

There was silence for a moment as they all digested what she had read out.

Ron finally spoke. “Well we know the shield went missing, now we know who took it, the spirit of Utred. We also know where to look for more information, Harry is the heir of Tigelwotta.”

“And we saw Lady Frayja at Halloween; her ghost visited us, remember?” Hermione noted.

Ron nodded; Mr. Granger sighed, “There’s another thing, until you came into this world I was quite happy believing things like ghosts didn't exist. You ruin all my self assurances you know.” he grinned.

“I know Daddy.”Hermione grinned and went to hug him. “Don't worry though, I love you enough to try to restore one of your lost beliefs too.” She kissed him on the top of the head tenderly.

“Oh, and which one is that, oh fair daughter of mine?” He grinned hugging her.

She stepped back a little, looked him in the eye and dead panned as she said “Why father dear, as a dentist, you really ought to meet the tooth fairy, if I can find her.”

Compared with the year before it was relatively quiet at Grimmauld Place on Christmas day, there were no further rooms to discover in the house, although the family was a few people larger, meaning more noise and participants at the Quidditch match. Petunia and Dudley had thought their past Christmas's had been good, but they had never had one with so many people, especially people who were so happy to be in each others company.

Almost all were surprised to see another side to Horace though; he was not quite as lively, nor was he his usual ebullient, life and soul of the party self. He still enjoyed himself certainly, but if he could, he avoided getting anywhere near Muriel, who, when looking at him, had a strange gleam in her eye; and an odd grin would appear, making her look like a predator who was certain their prey was trapped.

Whenever the potions master came near, the same look would appear, and he would rapidly walk away. It was almost as if she knew something about “Young Horry” as she insisted on gleefully calling him, much to his embarrassment by his reaction.

Muriel teasing Horace both intrigued and amused all those who had been taught by him during his career. The intrigue would remain however, as both parties refused to reveal what was going on between them; when asked she replied “Poor Horry, it was funny for the rest of us.” with a smirk of mischief.

He would respond “I had no idea it would do that.” with a sigh of defeat, but would not elaborate while Muriel smirked.

Maria arrived on boxing day, she and Dudley spent the day showing each other their own sides of London. Kingsley and Minerva arriving back with them that evening as planned for dinner.

Harry and Ginny spent the day with the twins and Teddy, the afternoon taken up with the first annual Potter Weasley indoor Quidditch rematch, as George called it. Even Percy joined the game, though of course, Hermione didn't, so stayed with Fleur, Victoire and Teddy watching with the older guests present. The four-a-side teams were made up of Harry, Ron, Delilah and Bill, against Ginny, Percy, Tarquin and Charlie. Only one Bludger was used, and Ron and Percy kept goal for their respective teams. Harry and Charlie were of course seekers, both relishing going up against each other.

The next day, the twins reminded Dudley he had promised them a proper ride in his car; Maria suggested a trip to London zoo. Dudley saw he was being ganged up on, and agreed after only a little persuasion. Charlie asked if he could tag along, eager to see how Muggles looked after captive animals.

On their return, the twins were excited about their day, just as children younger than they would have been. They believed they had discovered something that Dudley was scared of.

“Charlie and Maria took us into the reptile house.....” Tarquin began.

“.....Dudley waited outside, refusing to go in.” continued Delilah wide eyed.

“Kept muttering something about big snakes...”the boy added.

“and disappearing glass.” His sister concluded then looked puzzled “But, there was no missing glass or big snake.”

“Oh, Merlin!” Harry began to laugh. “I had forgotten about that.”

“I hadn't” muttered a slowly reddening, embarrassed Dudley.

Petunia suddenly remembered and gasped “Oh yes, I remember, your birthday treat when you turned eleven was to go to London zoo wasn't it Dud?” She burst into laughter

“Mum!” A shocked Dudley look at her amazed.

Petunia calmed for a moment. “Oh I’m sorry Dud, but looking back, you splashing about in that little pool did look funny, even if I didn't see it at the time.” Then with a look of glee in her eyes, she burst into laughter again.

The twins looked at each other and burst into gales of laughter.

Maria looked between Dudley and Harry intrigued. “Is this some regular impulse I need to be aware of, should I keep you away from little pools of water Dud?” She asked a wry grin on her face.

Dudley looked at her appalled, then saw her face as she tried not to laugh, he could hold his sullen expression no longer, he too began to laugh.

It was several minutes before Harry calmed enough to speak again. “You know that was an accident, don't you Dud?”

His cousin sighed through his tears of laughter. “Yes I do now, certainly didn't then. It was a hell of a birthday treat that trip though.”

For the first time Harry heard the tale from Dudley's point of view as his cousin recounted the story, to the amusement of all.

Although they had no party to organise to see in the New Year, the household was still busy.

The cordial relationship between Tiberius and Flame occasionally broke down, usually when the Phoenix decided to prick the owl's dignified bubble, at which point avian mayhem usually ensued. The two didn't actually fight, but a game of chase round the house usually led to an entertaining display. It seemed the two birds had, in fact, settled into an amicable understanding though, at least, that is what Flame told Harry and Ginny. It was clear that whilst Tiberius took his responsibility very seriously, Flame felt the owl needed to learn how to relax a bit.

The humans in the house enjoyed time in Muggle London, where the Magicals were surprised to discover that the Muggles were preparing to not just celebrate a new year, but a new Millennium too.

Arthur discussed this with Petunia one evening amazed that Muggles seemingly couldn't add up.

“Arthur,” Petunia responded “I agree with you, there was no year zero so the new millennium would start next year not this. However there has been similar debate in the Muggle world, I think it's a case of it changing from nineteen ninety nine to two thousand that governments see as significant. The dome will be open all year though.”

“The what?” had been Arthur’s response.

Petunia and Dudley spent the next couple of hours describing what they knew of the planned celebrations in the capital. The Granger's knew some more from newspaper, reports, but it was decided that as Harry and Ginny were taking Teddy and the twins to the London transport museum, they would be the ones to obtained definitive information so the family could decide what they might attend.

Teddy and the twins thoroughly enjoyed the transport museum and found plenty of information on the celebrations planned for welcoming the year two thousand. It seemed public celebrations would be divided between Trafalgar Square, as was traditional, and a firework display centred on the new big wheel erected beside the river. The most intriguing part of the display was the planned river of fire, which the leaflets claimed, would mean the Thames would appear to be covered in flame. It had, however, taken quite some time to convince Molly that they wouldn't all become ill because of the expected Millennium Bug mentioned in one of the leaflets; reassured she agreed they should join the Muggles next to the river Thames to see how they set it on fire.

They arrived on the embankment quite late to find hoards of people lining the river, Arthur was excited to see the ingenuity of the Muggles in action for the celebration. They managed to spot an area clear of people and quickly made there way towards it with the children. Along the centre line of the river was a line of barges bristling with fireworks. The back drop of the large observation wheel with it's large capsules appeared to be the focus of attention. Some big screens which showed celebrations around the world were, however, the focus of Arthur. He was spell bound by them.

“I thought Muggles needed a projector inside a building to make moving pictures that size.” He puzzled.

Dudley shook his head. “No, Mr. Weasley; there are still cinemas where that happens, but those are basically big televisions.”

Arthur's eyes lit up. “Oh yes, those are those box things they have in their houses aren't they?”

Dudley nodded. “I suppose that's as good a description as any.” he smiled.

This was not the first thing Dudley had explained to the older man, nor was it the last, the younger man patiently answered each question as fully as he could. Each answer was delivered in tones hopefully not noticed outside the group; they were trying to blend in after all.

The crowd had grown, and was still swelling in number, as the midnight hour approached; all were in friendly celebratory mood, mostly helped along by ingestion of alcohol. The big screen was showing events in Paris, which was an hour ahead of London, where celebrations revolved around the Eiffel Tower, the fireworks there were spectacular, utilising the tower as a launch platform. Coverage on the screen changed once the French fireworks ended, now it showed scenes from Edinburgh, and the Millennium Dome, where numerous dignitaries were assembling, as well as the wheel they were at.

A few minutes before midnight the image changed to the clock on Westminster tower, the home of the bell called Big Ben. As the minutes passed a silence of anticipation fell over the excited crowds, tension growing as the familiar tune was rung out, then the tone of the bell of Big Ben marked the hour. The first chime was heard, but no more were, as the crowd cheered the new year in, the noise almost masking the explosion of the first shell of a spectacular fire works display above them.

Both river and wheel were used as platforms for the display, which was truly spectacular, if lacking the inventiveness of a Weasley display; no one seemed to have seen the river on fire once the display was complete. The crowd lapped it up, through many were worse for drink; the atmosphere remained one of camaraderie, united in celebration. Hearing and participating in the singing of Auld Lang’s Syne by so many people was memorable, and somewhat reminiscent of the singing of the Hogwarts song though on a larger scale although at least all were roughly using the same tune. The variety of speeds, and number of sometimes wildly off key notes was most likely the result of over exuberance, combined with a lack of sobriety of the singer, rather than any other reason. At least that was what the party from Grimmauld Place decided anyway.

The family rose late on New Year's Day, much to the amusement of the twins and Andromeda who, along with Teddy, had remained at home; they had risen at their usual time. Tiberius and Flame had, it appeared, finally reached a lasting understanding, and were sat calmly on their perches in the living room. The Daily Prophet lay on the sofa when Harry entered the room, he sat down and glanced at the headline, which called into question the Muggles decision to celebrate the turn of the century one year early. The photograph showed the wheel with fireworks radiating from it, it looked like it was probably taken from the roof of St Mungo's.

Ron and Hermione returned to Titchmarsh cottage on the second of January, they sat cuddling in the sitting room. Ron noticed that Hermione still stared at the picture; he knew that soon they would be revisiting Whitby.

He sighed “'Mione, did you get any more on the Huntrodds from Harry and Ginny love?”

She jumped at his words her mind had obviously been miles away “What? Oh yes I have more to read and Flame has told them what he can for now, he says he will be happy to talk more after I have read what Tigelwotta and Godric left in that closet.”

“Good, hopefully you are getting closer to the answer and we can do what you need to do.” he sighed.

Harry and Ginny's return to the school with a Phoenix caused a stir amongst the pupils, the older students remembered the phoenix at Dumbledore's funeral and wondered if it were the same one. The younger students were simply amazed by the large bird that either sat on a perch in the defence class room or rode on one of the professors Potter shoulder around the school on occasion.

Ginny had totally revamped the sports lessons by linking them with other classes especially Muggle studies. Of course she still assisted in the training of the Quidditch teams, and the first years still had flying classes, but the other years were learning all manner of different sports. Even so, hers was not the subject which had seen most change.

Petunia had settled into teaching with few problems and those that there were, having more to do with her not having magic rather than anything else. She and Horace were enjoying their friendship. They had long since agreed that neither wanted a romantic relationship, rather simple companionship. They spent many an evening talking over drinks, preparing the next get together of Horace's favoured students.

Over the last few months as her confidence had grown, she had totally re-worked the entire curriculum for Muggle studies. When she started it was obvious to her that the subject was woefully outdated and pointless, despite Hermione's efforts. Now, through discussions with her predecessor, and Minerva, she was instituting radical change. Her lessons had become more and more interesting to the students; as she had learned more of Wizarding Britain, she was able to adjust her lesson plans to make them more relevant to how things were done in the magical world. The lessons alternated between academic, when subjects such as Muggle history and science would be taught. The practical lessons in between concentrated on passing as a Muggle in dress and behaviour. Teaching the Wizarding students how to safely cross the road without magic was, to say the least, interesting.

Learning about the magical world had greatly helped her to teach things she would otherwise assume the students would know as basic skills. As she learnt, they had explored how Muggles managed each day without magic. Topics such as cooking and transport for Muggles took on a whole new relevance to her, and the students, as a result. Many wizard-born had found dealing with Muggle money as scary as the Muggleborn found learning how to deal with galleons, sickles and knuts when they first arrived in Diagon Alley. Her newly learnt knowledge of the Wizarding world had helped her realise that part of the problem for those from Magical Britain was that sterling was not made of gold, silver or bronze. It was made of what seemed to be worthless paper and alloys to the wizard raised. At first, they had difficulty understanding that the tokens had value simply because of what was stamped or printed on them, not what they were made of any more Learning about how easily such tokens could be conjured or transfigured helped identify where the Wizard born's disbelief was coming from. So, with the help of those used to it, as well as a visit from a Gringotts Goblin who discussed the exchange rate and how the two economies interacted, all of them soon became confident that Pounds and Pence were real money and in their use. Even the different coins and notes made by the three banks in Scotland and those of Northern Ireland now held no mystery. The lessons were growing more and more popular amongst the students, the subject now seen as relevant and exciting, rather than as the bit of a joke it had been before.

The changes had been so effective in enthusing them that unknown to the students, the governors and Minister had agreed to allow them on a field trip to experience a small Muggle city which had a Wizarding hotel and community in it's centre. It was a historic city, usually very full of visitors, so a group of students was not an unusual sight on it's streets, so it was expected they would all blend in well and would benefit from the visit which would take place early in the Easter holiday.

10th century

Utred had been surprised that upon his arrival, Salazar approached him and asked him to meet with him that evening. Although the two had never been close friends, they both worked well together and respected each other. After briefing the King's council on his troops activities whilst on patrol, and a meal with Godric and the Creaftas who were not away, Utred left with Erik, Ulf and Orin, to the entrance of the Slytherin students rooms with their outlook beneath the waters of the lake.

Slytherin's apprentices looked up as they entered, but did not seem surprised; one of the older students approached them.

“Welcome to our common room, Salazar will be here soon, Lord Utred. Please join us.” The student indicated a seating area near the fireplace.

Utred led his three longest serving sworn men to the seats where they all sat, with a few of the cunning founders students.

“We were discussing Salazar’s concerns on Muggleborn students entering the school Lord Utred.” One of the students told them. “I wonder if you found any difficulty adapting.”

Utred snorted “I arrived here in the early days of the school, so it wasn't as difficult as it could have been. Also, I had seen my home at Tang destroyed, and fought off invaders at our Thwing Estate, alongside Godric. So this place soon became home to me.”

The students were happy with that, it seemed.

“That's an interesting answer, Lord Utred” a familiar voice smiled behind him “I wonder though, if we were ready for you.”

“Good question, Salazar.” Utred laughed “Our arrival, as I recall, certainly made its mark with you.”

Orin, Ulf and Erik laughed, the elder being the first to recover.

“You did get a new pair of shoes out of it, though” he reminded the founder.

This caused a new bout of laughter from the four, whilst Salazar rolled his eyes. “Aye that I did lad, but it meant that Muggle Durslieg got some gold out of you, didn't it.”

“The only coin he ever got out of me too, the ignorant slob.” Utred grinned. “I never worked out how Godric got it all through the wards, to land right next to you like that; hell of a good prank though.”

Salazar huffed at the continued teasing.“Just because Godric decided to transport a whole hunting lodge, complete with contents and weak bowelled horses attached outside, doesn't mean his aim was good. Those poor animals were scared silly; I'm surprised they ever recovered.”

The students had watched this unexpected, good natured banter with interest, but they weren’t in Slytherin's house for nothing. Some tried to hide their laughter, whilst other's jaws fell open as they realised what must have happened to ruin their mentors shoes.

Salazar ignored the reactions of his students. “Besides, you are living proof that I am right to question bringing Muggleborns here. You, my dear Lord Utred, have created chaos since your arrival, not least with the castle. Thanks to your error, the castle has a consciousness, a mistake entirely made because you are Muggleborn and did not fully understand the consequences of your action, as a pure-blood would have.” The founder grinned slyly, he was not above teasing the Lord when he got the opportunity.

“Not to mention the moving stairs, eh Salazar” Utred grinned, recognising the attempt to needle him. “Anyway, you wanted to see us Salazar”

Salazar’s demeanour instantly changed and he became his usual serious self. “Indeed, I have much to tell you, not least of which is the details of my vow to Styr.”

Utred reacted suddenly, “What?” he asked shocked, his wand suddenly in his hand.

Erik, Ulf reacted by drawing their swords; the Slytherin students gaped at the reactions of the four, slowly comprehending it. Some began to draw their wands to defend their mentor.

“No.” Slytherin shouted to the students, “Wands away, now.”

The students know better than to argue, but kept a wary eye on the four visitors to their common room.

Salazar lifted his hands showing they were empty. “Orin knows of this Utred, as do the other founders; it is time you understood too. Please trust me, I know we don't always see eye to eye, but we have always respected each others abilities, and we share a loyalty to this school, and our kind.”

All in the room were taken aback at the founder's words, it was true the two had disagreed, many times, not least over the moving and trick stairs; not to mention the other Creafta adaptations and antics. Even so it was also clear that each respected the other, and worked well together. Still, for Salazar to speak in such terms, was an indication of how serious what he wanted to speak about was; clearly the founder felt his honour was at stake. The surprise at what had been said thus far was nothing to how the observers reacted to his next words. “As a sign of my trust in you my Lord, I suggest we could adjourn to my chamber; I will share the secret of my students house lessons and my most trusted companion.”

His students stared at him as if he had lost his mind; they all knew these secrets of course, for it to be shared with these outsiders either demonstrated how much their mentor trusted these men, or alternatively, that he had gone mad. Although they were unsure which of the two it was yet, none of them argued; they simply followed on, as Salazar led Utred and his escort towards the corridor they knew held the entrance to Slytherin's chamber and the secret he had, until now, only shared with his students and the other founders. They reached the second floor room, and Salazar waited until the door shut, before he spoke strange words of strangely sibilant pronunciation. The floor they were stood on began to sink.

Utred swore loudly, Salazar looked at him, slightly grinning. “For a man who made moving staircases, how the hell can a sinking floor worry him?” He grinned, earning another bout of expletives, whilst the students laughed.

It seemed that Salazar was enjoying this small revenge on Utred for some of the pranks he had been the victim of over the years. Still, it was not long before they reached the bottom of the shaft, and the older wizard led them into a tunnel. As they followed, torches fixed to the walls lit as they approached them, illuminating the rough cut walls and ceiling. Reaching a second door, again Salazar spoke in that sibilant tongue; this time Utred recognised it.

“I didn't know you knew Parseltongue, Salazar.” He commented casually.

“No, few outside my house do; it enables me to receive information and have sources few would suspect.” Salazar grinned, as he made his way through the now open door into the chambers beyond.

Utred laughed as well, “Good one Salazar, very useful. Of course, if Christians found out and caught you, I dread to think what would happen to you.” Utred was through the door.

“That’s one of the things I must speak with you about, Lord Utred.”

Utred stopped and stared at the mentor; was that fear, regret even, in the voice of the coolest man he knew. A look at the man’s face told the younger he was right, and this man, who was the nearest to a wizard fundamentalist he knew, actually needed his help. Needed assistance from a
Muggleborn, the very kind of student Salazar refused in his own house, no matter what.

“Salazar, what is it? If I can, I will help.” Utred gently tried to assure the man.

“I don't think you can in some respects Utred, it has to do with my past. Come, I will explain all and introduce you to my familiar.” Salazar sighed gently.

The Slytherin students muttered among themselves, they wondered what their mentor was playing at. This chamber and its contents were their secret; this place was where they learnt directly from him. His familiar was to guard them during their studies; bringing Utred here was puzzling, bringing a squib and two Muggles incomprehensible.

The oldest student finally could stand no more. “I thought this chamber was only for your students my mentor; why do you show it to these people, how does it benefit us?” he asked accusingly.

“Because they are worthy. Pupil, you must learn to recognise when an enemy is your friend, and when they are truly opposed to you. This is one reason you need to work with those it is useful to, no matter your feelings for them. You all need to see when it is time to work together for our collective benefit. This does not mean our secret will be revealed to all, this is my chamber. I will decide who will be brought here. Though from today, if any of you wish to bring others here, you may ask me to consider the individual, my decision however, will be final.”

The pupil subsided, and he humbly apologised to his mentor.

Salazar looked to Utred, Orin, Ulf and Erik. “As you can tell, you are the first not of my house to be allowed access. Each of my students learns to mimic the words I used to enter here. This is the lair of my familiar, who, because I am here will remain calm and will not attack. Understand the being you are about to meet is young, but it's venom and stare are fatal.” Salazar told them, then led the group towards a partly carved sculpture. “Please remain calm whilst my familiar enters.” Salazar spoke once more in the sibilant language, and a section of the sculpture moved down to create an opening.

Utred looked to his three men of Tang. “Given that Salazar spoke the language of serpents, my guess is his familiar will be one, though knowing Sal, probably not an ordinary one, if his warning is anything to go by. Hands on pommels as a precaution I think, but only use them if any of us are threatened.”

The three nodded, and almost imperceptibly, each had his hand on the pommel of his sword as they watched the movement apparent within the chamber that had opened in the massive stone sculpture.

The head of the beast appeared, it was about the same size as a man’s head; it's body, covered in vivid green scales, was about 10ft long and only a little thinner than the head. It's piercing bright yellow eyes reflecting deadly danger, it's tongue flicking in and out tasting the air. The young Basilisk slid across the floor to Salazar, hissing a greeting.

Utred smiled. “I've wanted to see the king of serpents since I learnt they existed. This is certainly a beautiful example, Salazar”

The snake hissed and Salazar chuckled before hissing back, and the serpent slid over to the Creafta and smelt him on her tongue.

“She says she thanks you Utred, although you cannot understand her, she understands you perfectly. Perhaps I should introduce you, this is Septimus, my familiar, named for a Roman Emperor.” Salazar explained, then with a wicked grin added. “She enjoys the masculine name of the ancient ruler, though that is all either of us know of him. I've had her for ten years now, she is a baby by the standard of her species, not yet one hundred years old.”

“I thought to look in a Basilisks eyes meant death?” Orin asked “I take it I was taught wrongly.”

“There is no need to worry, a Basilisk's look can only kill if they intend to. Although I, or my heirs, could order her to do so to. Naturally, it is a hunting or defence mechanism, used to get food or to protect their territory.” Salazar told them “For Septimus, Hogwarts is her dominion, she will defend the castle, even if I weren't here, against any physical threat. However, she is only part of the reason we are here. Come, I don't want to be overheard by any I do not intend to hear us.”

The founder led them through the doorway Septimus had appeared from, and along a short corridor to a door which he opened. They followed him in as Septimus slid past further down the hallway. “She fed up in the forest yesterday, so probably feels lazy today; she will go and rest in her chamber.” Salazar chuckled.

He indicated for them all to sit, once they were in the small stone walled room.

“As I said upstairs, I am subject to a magically binding oath that ties me to Styr, my first student. We are bound to never harm each other, and avenge the death of each other unless that death is of natural causes. You, Lord Utred, are sworn to kill my former student in vengeance for what he has done to your family; quite rightly, I might add. In addition to this, I find myself on the opposite side to my student in a war; a war we must win, and he must lose, to preserve our race as a free one. From all reports, Styr leads a large capable army; we know Constantine leads another hopefully stronger army. In these circumstances, I believe my former student is likely to suffer a violent death when the two armies meet, and when he does, under the terms of my oath, I must avenge him.”

Utred nodded his understanding. “I know of such oaths; Godric and I share one, though because when we made it we were both lords, we did not swear vengeance, but to defend each other to the death. Would Styr release you from the earlier oath in favour of a new one, Salazar?”

The founder considered for a moment then shook his head “No Utred, he knows you are here, he would believe our existing oath would best protect him. In any case, unless any new oath were to kill you, and much as you annoy me at times, I could not fulfil that oath, I fear any new one would not be possible. Not least as I have another oath I made to Godric to protect those who live on his land, that is just as binding anyway.”

Again Utred nodded; he could see Salazar's dilemma. “So you have one oath that says you must avenge the usurper in kind, but if I were to fulfil my oath to avenge my parents by killing him, you have another that says you must protect me conflicting with the first.”

“Yes, so long as you are not attacking me or Godric's lands of course. There are also the natural laws of magic to consider of course; your seeking vengeance is just, it is after all simply seeking justice, after what Styr did to your family. Add to that his actions to wizard-kind in general. So I doubt magic itself would look kindly on my attempting to kill you, or any other from here for that matter; simply for killing him. Magic and nature have ways of eventually balancing such things in my experience.”

“Then we need a solution; presumably to breach either oath would mean you losing your magic? Orin asked Salazar who nodded.

Utred smiled mischievously “Salazar having to live as a Muggle, that would be interesting.”

The founder looked alarmed, “Utred, my stance on Muggleborns is for our protection. One slip from one of them in their homes could end us all.”

“Look at Styr, Salazar” Ulf growled “He is targeting all Magicals, the Muggleborns need to know how to defend themselves at the very least.”

“Then set up a school for them elsewhere.” He snapped, then calmed. “Sorry, I know you are right, though it is mainly the actions of Styr that has increased the risk to us. Still, they are a threat to us here, though perhaps not as much as Styr is proving to be. The man was always ambitious, but I never thought he would betray as all, as he appears to be doing, not until now at least.”

“Not your fault how he turned out, but it shows blood doesn't matter in that regard, Salazar” Erik soothed.

The founder nodded, he had grown to respect these three men without magic. “The truth is, if it wasn't for what Styr and those damnable churchmen are doing, I would have no objection to any other than pure blood students coming here. Sadly the times we live in mean we must take any precautions needed to survive, and Muggleborns have Muggle families who could, inadvertently or not, betray us.

Orin sighed “This is all beside the point. Utred my lord, you don't seriously want Salazar to lose his magic do you? Think of what that would mean to the school and his apprentices.”

Utred's grin increased evilly, then he thought about it and his expression became serious. “No, Orin, I don't, not really; you might be a right miserable pain at times Sal, but you are a good teacher and friend.

Orin nodded. “In that case Salazar, do you think your apprentices and those of Rowena might be able to help? After all, both houses battle-role is strategy.”

The founder did not respond at first, as he considered Orin's words. “Perhaps Orin, my students and hers are working on a strategy for the King, in readiness for the inevitable battle. It would at the very least test the intellect of Rowena's students and the cunning of mine; I will put it to them.

He turned and led them out to the centre of the chamber, which appeared to be a signal to the students, who all stopped what they were doing, and gathered and sat in front of him whilst he outlined the problem. When he had finished speaking, a couple of students asked some questions for clarity, which Salazar answered, then they dispersed into smaller groups in the work areas. Salazar smiled as he turned and walked back to his visitors. “They are starting on the task. I shall ask Rowena later.” He told them.

Leaving his students in the chamber, he led the small group back up to the castle; they all had much to consider.

Utred left his most senior men, and went to his rooms near Gryffindor's, hoping Frayja would be there waiting for him.

Winter had fallen in the land of the Scots and whilst their army continued to gather, the Northumbrians were stuck in Dunholm, except for their advance group. They were camped in a small village; unknown to them, the friendly villagers were in fact some of Constantine's own men and their families, playing the part of simple, harmless Scots, who knew nothing of armies, Northumbrians, or Kings. They would spend the Winter watching the Usurpers men, listening to their plans, and giving them some shelter; slowly gaining the Northumbrian's confidence and trust.

With Winter came the season of Wild Hunts, Utred's favourite time of the year; although it reminded him of his lost home, family and lands; each year at this time he renewed his vow to avenge his parents death. The hunts were successful though, they travelled wider than before with so many men participating. The Creaftas travelled furthest on the Sliepnir, due to the speed of the equine. The hunts produced sufficient meat for the coming Yule festival, twelve days of feasting to herald in the new year, beginning on the solstice, when Odin rode his Sliepnir through the night, hunting. There would be sacrifices to encourage good crops and good fortune throughout the year, and gifts exchanged with family and friends.

Each of the twelve days had it's own feast and ritual. The day after Odin's wild hunt, the first of Yule, was a feast of game. Smoke was rising from outside each group of tents, and the houses in Hogsmeade, as people began cooking the Pheasant, Duck, Goose, Swan, Hare or Squirrel – whatever they had, ready for the feasting that evening.

Utred stirred in the room he shared with Frayja, within the thick walls of the castle. He smiled as he watched her face as she slept, gently brushing her long hair back behind her ear. This was his usual morning ritual as they lay next to each other, naked, beneath the large black bear fur that Godric had bought them when they first started to share a room; where he had got it from, they thought it best not to enquire. It had been Helga who had realised the two had become soul mates as their relationship had developed; then just a few days ago she had convinced them to complete the bond with a ceremony in front of all the founders and their friends. They were now regarded as married in the eyes of all, Muggle and magical, although they had long shared the chambers in the castle, and were yet to hold the ceremony.

Soon Frayja stirred awake, smiling at his gentle touch; she rolled over to face him and wrapped her arms around him, her firm breasts pressed against his chest.

“Good morning my Lord.” She breathed, grinning.

Utred smiled at the gentle touch of her warm breath on his skin. “Morning my Lady, would you like your gift?.”

She sat up, throwing back the fur exposing her smooth skinned naked upper body, grinning widely. He laughed. “I thought so.”

They exchanged their first Gifts of their first Yule they would spend as they would, when husband and wife; today they would give gifts to friends and family, as was the custom on the first day of the festivities. On the remaining eleven days, couples only exchanged gifts between themselves and their unmarried children, one gift on each day. On the first day of Yule, it was traditional for couples to give each other a small bladed gift, so Utred presented her with a pair of bronze shears for gutting small animals, or cutting thread. Frayja gave him a small eating knife with a decorated antler-tine handle and leather loop to attach it to his belt. Each day of the festival their gift to each other would become a little more lavish, including clothing, furs, shoes and culminating in jewellery, or more valuable items on the twelfth day. Having exchanged their first gifts, they soon rose from the warmth of their bed and dressed. Soon, they were making their way to the Great Hall to exchange gifts with their friends; this year that included King Constantine, once he made it through the freshly snow covered ground to the castle from the tent he had insisted on sleeping in the night before. It turned out that was the last night he spent in it that winter.

The afternoon was spent in the forest, decorating the branches of the trees to remind the nymphs of the forest that the trees would need dressing in foliage and blossom in the spring, and encouraging the onset of growth and plentiful crops.

The advance group of Northumbrians were not having quite so good a Yule as those in and around the castle they sought. True, the food was adequate, though not as plentiful as they were used to. The villagers who had taken them in certainly did their best, but they had only a limited supply of food for the winter, and their houses were old and draughty, with leaky roofs and walls. The Northumbrian's commander was especially unused to these conditions; Thorfin was resentful as he and his men huddled round the fire to keep warm; his men had needed to help the villagers hunt just to ensure there was enough food. The villagers seemed to fair well enough in these conditions, they would be used to it; in fact compared with their guests, they appeared to almost thrive on it. Thorfin was worried though, he had already lost three men due to the damp and cold.

What the young privileged wizard had not realised, was that whilst he and his men slept or went out foraging, the villagers were fetching supplies from Hogwarts for themselves and were eating very well. They used protective spells to keep themselves warm and dry in their huts; after all, Constantine always did his best to ensure that those working for him were as well looked after as possible. He was known to generously reward loyalty, and also for ruthlessness towards those who foolishly opposed him. He was gaining valuable information as the Northumbrians talked to his people in the village, and the Northumbrians would be weaker when they finally left in the spring, and so he ensured his own people in the village were comfortable and well fed.

The last day of Yule dawned, with clear blue skies, with only light cloud looking wonderful; but deceptively cold. Utred and Frayja remained warm under the bearskin as they exchanged their final gifts of Yule. Frayja was overjoyed with the necklace of silver, amber, jet and blue and white twisted glass beads. The final ritual of Yule would take place that afternoon, a sacrifice to Thor on the preferred battle field. Although it was usual to make a small sacrifice each year to Thor, asking the God's favour if any enemy were to attack; this year, because of the expected battle with Styr, a special ritual would be performed; it was hoped this would entertain the gods sufficiently that they would grant the Scots victory.

Following the counsel of his advisers, including the Founders and Creaftas, Constantine had chosen the site, not far from the castle, where they would aim to trap the Northumbrian invaders. He and all his counsellors, as well as their partners, gathered at the place, where a large hole had been dug. Nearby was a stack of some one hundred loaves of bread, the same number of butts of beer and wine, a cow, a sheep, a pig, a hen and a horse were tethered nearby. They all assisted in getting the barrels into the hole so that they lined the edge of the base. The King then descended into the pit; he would make the sacrifices. He carried a knife, a sword and a two handed axe. The loaves of bread were passed down to him, and he placed them around the bottom of the hole; then the animals were led down one by one, smallest to largest, to meet their deaths, swiftly at the hands of the King.

Soaked in blood, the King came out of the pit, stripped and washed, his clothes thrown on top of the pile of gore, followed by the reddened water that was used to wash him. They then all took shovels and refilled the hole, the witches and wizards ensuring the soil was well compacted with magic. Once all the soil was replaced, each person present stood around the edges; taking out their knives, they sliced their own palms and allowed some blood to drip onto the soil. Helga, Rowena and the Creaftas ladies went round healing the wounds. The final task was performed by Utred and Godric, as the only to Lords under the King; using their wands, they caused grass and weeds to grow, masking the site completely, ensuring no one could disrupt the sacrificial remains. Ritual complete, the group grasped the rope provided by Salazar, who after ensuring everyone was ready, touched it with his wand, activating the port key, and whisking them home for the final feast of Yule.

They hoped the sacrifices would be enough; they knew the Gods were fickle, that even wizards were just humans, living simply for the amusement of the Gods. If they had entertained them sufficiently, then perhaps the Gods would, after all, smile on them when the battle came. They would know soon enough, for they were sure that Styr would not wait long after the days warmed and lengthened, before he led his men into the land of the Scots. During the weeks of Winter they would continue to counsel the King, and the students would train and learn. Constantine’s army would also be training, preparing for the war they knew was coming. The weeks of a hard winter, full of snow, passed and the signs of spring awoke, first buds, then leaves appeared as the days began to warm; time was running short.

Authors notes: Once again I hope you have enjoyed this chapter and I think you for your patience waiting for it. My thanks to Jascott for his usual work as Beta on this chapter, even during a period of hospitalisation, I hope you get well soon Scott.

My thanks to those who reviewed the last chapter, I look forward as always to reading your comments on this one if you are kind enough to leave any.

Chapter 17 is with Jascott, it is not as long as this one and will be posted as soon as it is ready.

In the mean time I wish you all a happy and prosperous 2013.


Historical notes:

Butts = Barrels. This is the origin of the name Buttery which was the place used to store the Butts.

The description of Yule is based on our best understanding of how it would have been celebrated a thousand years ago. Whilst Christmas is also a mid winter festival, it and Yule are never on the same date. The closest the last day of Yule ever gets to Christmas eve is December the 23rd so contrary to common belief the Christians did not directly steal Yule, they simply added another festival at the same time of year, there is some evidence that shows some would celebrate both in the past, any excuse for a party perhaps.

Similarly, from what we know of their beliefs Norse Gods were seen as beings that humans had to entertain to stand any chance of receiving their benevolence. It was believed that the Gods manipulated humans for their own entertainment and rewarded those who amused them most, often sending adversity to individuals or groups simply to be amused by the reaction. To them a God that was simply benevolent, seemed ridiculous.

Emperor Septimus Severus, the African Emperor. He was born in Libya in the year 145 AD and became joint Emperor in AD 193. Following the Scot's breaching Hadrian's wall he came with his army to restore order. He became fatally ill before the attempt and died in Eboracum (York) in the year 211 AD

I know it's potentially controversial but future modern era portions will not be headed 21st century but will continue to be late 20th century. The year 2000 was the last year of the 20th century not the first of the 21st as far as I can tell.


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