The two years following the Battle of Hogwarts were very hard times for many a magical household. That was especially true for families who had lost members in Voldemort’s year back in power when Death Eaters and bands of Snatchers rampaged the magical world trying to purge all Muggles and Mudbloods.
Few were more hard-pressed than Tira Kitner and her granddaughter Maggie. Both of Tira’s sons had been killed along with all their families, sparing only little Maggie who was now ten. They had lost everything. They survived in a highland hut above the village of Gilfenning, just a fair broom-ride from Hogwart’s Castle.
As the shortest day of the year passed and Christmas came and went, the weather grew more severe. Maggie was now old enough to share her grandmother’s struggles as well as anxieties that the dour Scottish matron did nothing to hide. Of the necessities for winter they had little, little oats for porridge, hardly enough wood for the fire to last another week, none of anything else.
Then began first bright glimmers. A few days before Hogmanay two people from Gilfenning made their way up to Tira and Maggie’s hut with a proposal.
“We are going to revive the ‘old way’ a wee bit,” they explained. For years Gilfenning was one of the few places in Scotland to end the year with the burning of the Clevie. To that custom they wanted to add another vague tradition from the distant past.
“Make us a Sun Goddess, will’ye?” Ailie Gordon asked.
Maggie was mystified but Thira was alarmed. Anything that drew attention to the ‘old way’ was going to arouse suspicions. But Ailie produced a picture from the Inverness Courier of “the Catalonian Sun Goddess” used in a Hogmanay parade in Edinburgh.
“If they can do it down there, we can do it up here,” Ailie declared.
The picture placated Tira a little, but she said, “Why do ya come ta me?” She tried to keep the fact she was a witch a secret. Had they found out? Was trouble on the way?”
“Who knows the old ways better?” was the only answer Ailie would give. “Tell us what you need.”
“Just some flour for paste and some strips of cloth.”
Ailie and her friend left a bag of oatmeal “as a down-payment”.
Within two days the sun goddess image was ready for delivery.
Meanwhile, preparations were underway for the burning of the Clavie. An oaken whiskey barrel was sawed in half and securely mounted on a pole. It was split apart and stuffed with twigs and splintered wood doused in coal oil.
As far as the villagers knew this was just one of many ways of sending off the old year with fire. In other places burning balls were hurled, torch parades were held, and bonfires were set. In larger cities fireworks were colorful. Some brave and foolhardy fellows breathed fire or twirled spectacularly burning batons. The Clavie was spectacular enough for Gilfenning. After it was lit, the parade wended its way to the top of Gilfenning Ridge led by three strangely dressed sisters carrying the Sun Goddess.
The whole parade could be seen from Tira and Maggie’s hut, but Tira merely stood in the shadows and huffed at this imaginary magic.
The ruckus was still going on when Tira and Maggie were startled to hear a male voice call from the path to their door.
“It’s a brigand!” Maggie squealed.
“Brigands don’t announce their coming,” Tira retorted. “But if it’s after midnight it’s our ‘first footing’! Light the lamp and see who it is.”
At Maggie’s invitation a tall dark man stepped into the circle of lamp-light. He was followed by two younger versions of himself, all dressed for the chilly New Year’s night, not in tartan wool but distinctly wizardly attire, complete with peaked hats.
Tira held her breath. Yes! The first foot across her threshold on Hogmanay night was a tall dark man. Their luck had turned! Tira could hardly keep from smiling.
The dark stranger said not a word but set a bag on the table in the middle of the room before waving a stick in his hand at the glowing fire in the hearth causing it to blaze brightly again as if an armload of kindling had been thrown on it. One of the pair with him unpacked the sack, bringing out a bottle of whiskey (not the local Gilfinning kind, a mellower brand in a triangular bottle with a name that was very well known). Then came a ‘black bun’ stuffed with rich candied fruit and sweetmeat, a small symbolic sack of coal, one lump of which the other young wizard tossed onto the hearth producing a magically warm, multi-colored flame that would go on burning throughout the winter, and a heavy package of shortbread.
Tira was beside herself. Not in decades had she seen such an auspicious thing as this first footing and set of gifts, and never had it happened to her. These were the traditional Hogmanay promises of a prosperous New Year.
“I would not object to a slice of the black bun,” the tall man hinted, removing his hat. In better light, he was seen to be younger than Tira had first thought. Maggie scurried to cut the bun into six pieces for the five of them. Tira regained her wits as well, and opened the tall green bottle, tipping a splash into each of the two glasses she owned, offering one to the stranger.
It was such a night and such an occasion that normal social formalities were foregone, but not forgotten. Tirathought of asking the names of the visitors and all the customary banter to become acquainted, but it felt wrong to interrupt this quiet event that seemed so fraught.
Laughter and cavorting on the ridge were still going strong, but it no longer intruded into the hut where the dark stranger said, “Now for the last piece of the black bun,” as if it was special rather than simply left over. He handed it to Maggie. She was unsure what to do with it. Her hesitation ended when she was told, “Eat it carefully.” The reason was immediately clear when her bite produced a substantial gold coin. There were three others in that slice.
“Now, two final things,” the stranger said. “Do you know of Hogwarts?”
“Maggie misunderstood. “Tonight is Hogmanay,” she said.
“Hogwarts,” the stranger repeated. Maggie lapsed into embarrassed silence.
“It’s the witch school,” Tira replied, making it clear she had not been there.
“I am a graduate, a year ago. My name is Dean Thomas and I have news. Next month you will be eleven, Maggie,” Dean said, as if Maggie might not know. “On September first I will come back here to take you to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, if you would like to go.”
Rather than pleased, Maggie was alarmed. “Oh, I cannot leave Grandma here alone,” she protested.
Dean smiled for the first time. “Tira Kitner, your wand has been recovered from the scene where your family was massacred.” He drew the knobby shaft from his sleeve. “And with this and the help of these two,” he indicated his helpers, “you will produce brooms.”
Thea did not need to be told what kind of brooms. It had been the craft of Kitner women all the way back to Poland.
Tirastreaks would soon be the most sought-after magical brooms in Europe by those who could afford one.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.