Chapter 3 – The Terrible Head Dragon
The door to the chamber opened again. Hermione looked up expectantly, her heart yearning for Harry. But, again, it was not he who entered. A witch was approaching them. She was similarly robed to Neville and she moved with a grace and ease that Hermione envied. She’d never really walked properly since that time she’d been disciplined by Ron for staying out too late on one of Susan Bones’ birthday parties.
The witch stepped up onto the platform and stopped at Neville’s side.
“Harry’s injured,” she said sharply. “We need to prepare the ritual circle for healing right away.”
Neville stood. “Where are your manners?” he admonished. “We have guests.”
The witch pulled back her hood. Hermione saw that she was astonishingly beautiful. Porcelain skin framed by shiny black hair, which fell past her shoulders in shimmering waves. She had watery blue eyes and a soft look that made Hermione think of the sun coming out after the rain. And the way she spoke about Harry…it made Hermione unreasonably jealous.
She needn’t have worried.
“Hermione, may I introduce my – rather uncouth – wife, Enola,” said Neville, sliding an arm around the witch’s waist. She smiled back warmly. The affection between them resonated off the pair like a visceral heat. Hermione felt that jealousy and longing surge again.
“Wife?” she repeated, gathering her senses. “Congratulations, Nev. You’ve gone from dead to married in the space of half an hour!”
Enola laughed and held a hand for Hermione to shake. “Wait till you hear about our daughter!”
“Daughter?” said Hermione, her mouth forming a perfect ‘o’. “I’m amazed you brought a child into a world like this.”
Neville fixed her with a steely determined look, but it was his wife who answered.
“She wasn’t planned,” said Enola. “But she was the happiest accident we could have imagined. Besides, when Harry and Neville fix this broken world it will be quite the beautiful playground for her.”
“Is she…I mean…has she shown any signs of witchcraft?”
“Alison is barely one year old,” Neville explained. “She has learned to turn the nightlight of her crib on and off, but that’s about it. Accidental magic doesn’t come easily in my family. I’m sure her babbling counts as advanced spell work in her little mind though.”
Neville and Enola shared a fond look.
“I’d love to meet her, if you’ll allow me,” said Hermione. “Merlin, its been so long since I’ve had anything to be happy about. Meeting a baby might be just the tonic.”
“You’d have to prize her away from the in-laws,” said Enola in a good-natured huff. “I can hardly get a cuddle with my own daughter when those two are around.”
Hermione stared at Neville. He grinned at her. “But your parents, Neville…”
“Were long-stay patients at St. Mungo’s, yes,” said Neville quickly. “Harry and I liberated them a long time ago. We knew that Riddle and his Cleansing Squads would get rid of the elderly and the infirm first to build their new order. The permanently baffled were high on that list too. Harry rescued them years ago.”
“And you leave your daughter with them!” cried Hermione. “Is that wise…you know…with their condition.”
It was Enola who grinned this time. “She doesn’t know?” she queried at her husband. Neville shook his head. They seemed to be taking great delight in shedding wondrous light on Hermione’s world.
“Frank and Alice are perfectly well,” Enola explained. “Harry devised a complex ritual which, with my Nev’s help, managed to repair the damage to their minds. They are quite sane these days. Well, as sane as a Longbottom can be!”
Neville and Enola laughed together. The sound was like honey. Hermione couldn’t remember the last time she’d heard genuine mirth. She looked at Neville in astonishment.
“I told you,” said Neville, smiling. “The things Harry is doing with magic these days…well, they’d take your breath away.”
“Speaking of our Lord and Master,” said Enola. “He’ll be waiting. We need to get the space cleaned.”
“Right you are, love,” said Neville. He offered Hermione a hand and she stood from the armchair. “We have to prepare this space for ritual, Hermione. Only Harry and his inner circle can be in here for that. Let us get you settled so you can rest. Enola can show you to your room.”
“My room? I don’t understand.”
“Ennie will explain, as much as she can,” said Neville. “Harry’s been intending to bring you here for the longest time. He expected you to be coming with that red-headed prick you excuse for a husband, but the suite he prepared will be just yours now. Don’t even bother arguing. You aren’t going anywhere. Harry wont allow you out of his sight now.”
“But he wont see me?” Hermione queried.
“Harry doesn’t need eyes to see,” said Neville. “And a good thing, too.”
He chortled and Enola joined in, somewhat guiltily. Hermione was confused.
“Come on, Miss Hermione, lets get out of here so the boys can play with their little symbols,” said Enola, taking Hermione’s hand from Neville. Hermione was stupefied beyond the point of resistance. Tiredness was hitting hard. She barely registered Neville’s instruction for Enola to administer her a dreamless sleep potion.
“And don’t you go getting too exhausted in the cleansing,” said Enola seriously. “Alison’s with your parents tonight. I fully expect you to fulfil your husbandly duties to me in her absence.”
“Is that a subtle way of asking me to make love to you?” asked Neville, an eyebrow cocked.
“I could just say, ‘get up to bed in an hour and fuck the arse off of me,’ if you’d prefer.”
“I would definitely prefer,” said Neville. He leaned in and pecked his wife on the cheek. “You keep that filth for later.”
“You know I will,” said Enola. She turned and guided Hermione away from the ritual chamber and out of a different side door to the one she’d entered via.
Hermione was mindless of her surroundings as they walked. She was loosely aware of handsome corridors, like that of a stately home, but little else. It was dimly lit, but not by candlelight. Hermione totted up the new questions that arose in her foggy mind. She was on one hundred and twelve by now. She allowed herself to be led up a large flight of red and gold carpeted stairs and into a vast sitting chamber, and further on into a spacious circular bedroom.
Enola helped Hermione to sit on the bed. It was firm but comfy and seemed to mould itself to the contours of her body. Enola drew a slim, whitewood wand and cast a Concealing Charm over Hermione from the neck down, before easing her out of her clothes. She was powerless to protest, but Neville’s wife was gentle and considerate and Hermione felt safe in her hands. Enola frowned at each bruise on Hermione’s skin, dark even through the shimmering cloak of the charm.
“Then it’s true what he’s been doing to you?” Enola muttered angrily. “No wonder Harry is so furious.”
Hermione tried to regain some cogency. “Do you know Harry well?”
Enola smiled. “Very. He performed the Marriage Bond for me and Nev. And he’s Alison’s Godfather. He dotes on her like she’s his own. She may be the only human not terrified of him at first sight, because of his scar, obviously. I think he loves her fiercely for that. I couldn’t have wished for a better brother-in-law.”
Hermione felt her heart swell at the tender tone in Enola’s voice. She felt a pang of longing cut through her chest. The need to see Harry was intense just now. Then she swung back into the conversation.
“His scar isn’t that bad.”
Enola started. She looked down guiltily. “Oh, shit, I forgot how much you don’t know. Nev will be pissed with me for giving that away. He’ll spank me for it…well, if I’m lucky.”
She winked at Hermione, then looked horrified in the next breath. “Oh, Hermione, I’m sorry…I didn’t think…forgive me.”
“There’s nothing to forgive,” said Hermione dryly. “I can still remember there’s a difference between sex spanking and being whacked across the thighs with a sharp-napped paddle. Or being punched in the face. I’ve had that more times than I care to remember.”
Enola couldn’t resist anymore. She pulled Hermione into a bone-breaking hug. “You poor, poor thing! I’m so sorry for you. It wont make up for it, but I know that Harry plans to punish your husband just as badly as Tom Riddle. He speaks even more bitterly about him than the Twat Lord, if you can imagine it. And when Harry talks angrily, things tend to blow up or shatter. I wouldn’t want to be in either of their shoes.”
Hermione’s chest swirled again. She couldn’t help it. She wasn’t one to normally advocate violence, but the last five years had conditioned her to thinking it was simply part of life now. The very thought that Harry was so angry with Ron over his treatment of her that his very words would smash him to pieces…well, there was something almost darkly sexual about that.
“You should get some rest, Miss Hermione,” said Enola, holding open the covers and coaxing Hermione under them. “I’ll find you a nightie and a dressing gown for the morning. You’re okay to sleep in just your underwear for tonight?”
“Yes, and thank you, Enola,” said Hermione. “I can call you that, yeah?”
“Well, it is my name,” said Enola grinning lightly.
“You’ve been so kind. Thank you.”
“It’s the least I can do,” said Enola. “Looks like no-one’s shown you any sort of love in a good while. And I hope we can be friends. I’d like to think I’d get on with the person Harry speaks the most highly about in the world. I’ve been ever so keen to meet you for the longest time.”
Hermione felt herself blush. What had happened to make Harry express such sentiments about her? It was curious to say the least. It did nothing to ease the ache of knowing he was so close, but apparently determined to keep his distance from her. She wanted to go and shake the silliness out of him. But this was tempered by the notion that ‘silly’ wasn’t something to be associated with Harry Potter these days. There was that undeniable edge in the tones of people who spoke about him. It painted him as dangerous.
“Do you think Harry will see me tomorrow?”
Enola sighed sadly. “No, not tomorrow. The healing ritual will tire him out. He’ll need to rest up himself.”
“Was he badly injured?” asked Hermione, sitting up.
“Don’t you worry yourself about that,” said Enola, rounding the bed and fluffing the pillows for Hermione to lay back on. “Harry’s tough as dragonhide. And Neville and the other members of his Inner Circle will fix him up right enough. He wouldn’t be thrilled to think you were bothering yourself about it. He thinks you’re worth the injuries, so just put it from your mind. If the lights flicker a bit, don’t panic. These rituals require a lot of power. Harry will pull it from all over the palace if he needs it.”
Enola laughed. “It’ll all be explained. You just need to get some rest. Do you need a potion to help you sleep?”
“No, I’m knackered in truth,” said Hermione. She bit on her bottom lip. “Will you sit with me until I drift off?”
“Of course,” Enola smiled. She really was breathtakingly beautiful. She brushed a lock of stray hair from Hermione’s temple. “You poor girl. You must be exhausted all through.”
Hermione nodded her agreement.
“Don’t worry. Get a good nights sleep and it’ll all start to look better in the morning. These beds are spelled so you’ll be well rested when you get up.”
“Thank you again,” said Hermione, yawning widely. Three seconds later and she was in the deepest sleep she’d had in years.
Harry stood up from the centre of the ritual circle. The rune markings around the dais dimmed as the ritual ended. Neville drew his wand and pulled the remaining magic from the runes. He slashed a new shape in the air, like a crooked goalpost of red fire, infused it with the lingering magic and pressed it into Harry as he gingerly got to his feet. Harry groaned as the healing rune swept through him.
“Thanks,” he croaked. “You’re getting fucking good at that.”
Neville grinned. “I’ve been practising with Enola.”
“For fucks sake, Nev,” said Harry, pulling his robe on. “I do not want to know about you and Ennie and your runic sex.”
“Why not? You taught me how to do it. And you’re right…it’s fucking hot. With the right combos she squirts like a fucking volcano!”
“Neville – shut up,” said Harry.
“I have to heal her to calm her down…”
Harry shook his head and threw his deep hood on. He took a steadying breath, glancing briefly at Neville from the corner of his eye. “How is she?”
“Normally so turned on I can get her to a screaming orgasm just through anal.”
Harry huffed. “I’ll tell Enola you’re sharing all this with me, you know.”
“Go ahead,” said Neville, unabashed. “You know you’re welcome to join us any time. She’s often suggested I invite you along.”
“Fuck me, Nev.”
“That’s kind of the idea, but as technically we’re related…”
“I will curse that filth out of you,” said Harry lowly. Neville just laughed. “You know what I meant. How’s Hermione?”
“Wounded beyond belief,” Neville replied, sighing deeply. “Worse than we could have imagined.”
Harry clenched his fists, his jaw grinding. The runes in the room flickered again. Neville placed a firm hand on his chest. They breathed together and Harry mastered his anger, pushing it into the well he was building. It had the potency of a small nuclear device at this point.
“Don’t waste that,” Neville hissed warningly. “Now isn’t the time.”
“I know, I know,” said Harry, his breath coming in ragged, shallow spurts.
“She wants to see you, Harry,” Neville went on. “She doesn’t blame you. You should give her more credit. She’s stronger than you think.”
“I know that, too,” said Harry, pulling away. “I just can’t, Nev. I don’t deserve to. After all I did to her…”
“You didn’t do anything, brother,” said Neville turning Harry firmly by the shoulders. He was the only person that Harry let this close, let alone allowed to touch him. Anyone else would be ashes by now. “That cunt Ron did all this to her. Failed her in every way imaginable. If you’d guessed what was happening you’d have kidnapped her years ago, you know that.”
“She’ll never forgive me. Not if she’s as bad as you say.”
“Her physical wounds will heal,” said Neville. “Her emotional ones will be harder but if you bring her into ritual, we can cleanse her of those, too. She wants to see you, she needs to. And you know what? You need to, too. You don’t want to admit it, but you need her to heal you. Do yourself a favour, go to her. Let her fix all that’s broken with you. Fix each other, for fucks sake. Then just shag the fuck out of each other like you should have back at Hogwarts!”
Harry couldn’t stop a laugh at this. He didn’t approve of his own laughter as a rule. There wasn’t much call for it in his life these days. But the idea of shagging Hermione was as laughable as it was desired. She’d never let him that close, and even if she did she’d be repulsed by him when she saw his condition. He pulled up his scarf under his hood as he thought about it, hiding his scar.
“I can’t see her, Nev. Not yet. She wont understand.”
“No, she wont,” Neville agreed. “But you’d better find somewhere good to hide, because if I know Hermione, she’ll be plotting seven different ways to find you, whether you like it or not.”
The morning light suffused the pink lilies in the big vase on the windowsill. It was a bizarrely pretty sight for Hermione to wake up to. She was used to the drab grey of the bedroom she was assigned at the Hengest camp manor. This room was elegant, furnished with taste and beautifully decorated. It was like something out of a regency novel.
The window had been opened slightly and a slight breeze was filtering in. May was proving to be quite a warm one this year and Hermione was glad of the airiness of the room. The fluffy quilt was lovely and comforting, but a little stifling in the early morning warmth. Not that she was about to complain. She stretched on the huge bed and yawned with a creaky groan. Then she was startled by a little squeak.
“Ah! Miss Hermione not supposed to be awake! She not supposed to see!”
Hermione sat up, startled, to see a little house-elf at the foot of the bed. She was laying out a cotton night-dress and a long, cosy dressing gown. She froze as Hermione looked at her.
“Hello,” said Hermione sleepily.
“Miss Hermione not supposed to see!” the elf whispered again. She was visibly shaking. “Master Harry be very clear. Oh! He be so cross when he finds out.”
Hermione frowned. “Harry will be cross with you? Because I’ve seen you?”
The elf nodded. “Master Harry know Miss Hermione’s thinkings on house-elves. Though she be totally wrong, he knows her thinkings. And he be so cross.”
“He wont punish you, will he?”
The elf snorted. “Master Harry? Punish an elf? Oh no. But he request me do other jobs, and I so wanted this one. All elves did. I did Dance of Joy for six hours when I got picked.”
“Picked for what?”
“To take care of Miss Hermione,” said the elf, hopping up onto the bed. “All elves be wanting the job of looking after Master Harry’s favouritest witch, and Master Harry be picking me. Even though I be one of the youngest.”
Hermione blushed furiously at the elf’s gushing words, and the sentiment behind them. She decided that when she finally found Harry she was either going to slap him silly or kiss him senseless at this rate. She just hadn’t decided which just yet.
“But now Master Harry be sending me to the greenhouses or something,” said the elf sadly. “Miss Hermione only been here two days and Sally gets herself seen already.”
“Sally? Is that your name?” the elf nodded. “Wait…two days? I’ve been here two days??”
“Oh yes,” said Sally simply. “Miss Hermione be very tired. Need to rest a lot. Master Harry came in and did the prettiest spells on you. You sleep like baby Ally. Though Master Harry not sing to you. Sally thinks this for the best, Miss!”
The elf giggled.
Hermione was sat fully up now. “Did you say Harry came in to see me?”
“Yes, Miss,” said Sally, excitedly. She seemed to enjoy talking about Harry. “Only when he sure you be sleeping, Miss. Sally had to triple-look. Then Master Harry come in and just sit with you for hours. Then he cast pretty spells on you before he goes away. Healing ones, Miss. Powerful. Sally not seen the like.”
Hermione fluttered all over. The images swashing about in her brain were enough to make her giddy. But she was sensible enough to know that she felt better, more so than she had in years. She was energetic, invigorated. She wanted to get up and run about. It was a weird sensation.
“Is Harry here now?” she asked.
“Oh no, Miss,” said Sally. “Master Harry always be coming and going, Miss. And now he be going. But he be back. He always come back.”
“Where’s he gone?”
“Sally not be knowing this, Miss. Master Harry have lots of secrets. Only Master Neville know, and not even he half the time.”
There was a little pop and another elf blinked into view. This one was older, and much sterner looking. Her bulb like eyes swelled when she saw Hermione and Sally openly chatting.
“Sally-elf!” she admonished. “You’s be being seen, silly elf! Master Harry be so cross with you when he knows!”
“Please tell Harry not to be cross,” Hermione pleaded. “I woke up early and saw Sally. It’s my fault. Please, tell Harry not to punish her.”
The elder elf looked swarthily at Hermione. “Master Harry never punish an elf, ‘cept by being disappointed in them.”
“That punishment enough,” Sally sobbed suddenly.
“Please don’t cry,” said Hermione, getting up and drawing Sally into a hug as her little body was wracked with rocking tears. She turned to the other elf. “Excuse me, can you tell me your name?”
“I is Rhian, Master Harry’s Head Elf,” said Rhian proudly, puffing out her little chest.
“Well, Rhian, it’s nice to meet you,” said Hermione. “Could you please tell Harry not to punish Sally and I’d be very grateful if she could be allowed to continue to look after me. Tell him it would be a great favour to me.”
Rhian eyed her blithely. “I be’s thinking Miss Hermione already know how to bend Master Harry’s will. She know he wont deny her any favour. I be keeping close eye on you, Miss.”
Hermione blushed. “Thank you.”
“Hmm. Lady Enola be wanting to know if you awake. She be looking forward to breakfast with you, Miss.”
Hermione’s stomach rumbled at the mention of breakfast. She realised she was very hungry.
“I’d be delighted to, but…I don’t know the way,” said Hermione.
“Sally show you, Miss!” said Sally euphorically, bouncing off the bed. “Dressed then brekkie. Come along, Miss. Sally help.”
Rhian shook her head, making her large ears flop ridiculously, then popped away to leave them to it. Sally was a vivacious elf. She conjured a dozen outfits before Hermione finally settled on simple summer dress, floral patterned with a white cotton cardigan to complete the look. Sally then led Hermione back through the house to the breakfast room.
The trip allowed Hermione a better look at her surroundings. The house was expensively decorated, but tastefully so. There was nothing opulent or gaudy about any of the furniture or decorations, but the wealth of its owner was obvious in every piece Hermione saw. Whoever was mistress of this place must be one lucky witch, she thought to herself. It was like an alternate universe outside of the dark country now ruled over by Lord Voldemort. Hermione marvelled that such a place could even exist in her modern idea of the world.
Sally opened the doors to a pretty parlour and bowed Hermione inside before scuttling away. The windows were full East and sunlight steamed in from the floor-to-ceiling panes. A large table was set with pastries and toast and crumpets and vats of coffee and tea. Enola was sat there with a few other witches and rose to greet Hermione as she entered the room.
“Hermione! You’re awake!” she squealed as she hugged her. “How are you feeling?”
Hermione considered her answer. “Actually, I’m alright. And trust me, that’s a massive improvement.”
“I bet,” said Enola. “Come on, let me introduce you to the other girls.”
There were four other witches at the table. One was an older lady that looked distinctly like Neville. Hermione could only stare in wonder as she was introduced to Alice Longbottom, the famous Auror tortured by Bellatrix Lestrange. That was an experience they had in common and, one day, perhaps they’d get to exchange notes on it. She was holding a baby swaddled in blankets. Little Alison Longbottom looked like she wasn’t going to be free any time soon. Hermione grinned at the notion.
The other three witches were all around Hermione’s age. None older than twenty-five. The youngest was Enola’s best friend, Cassiopeia, though she promptly told Hermione that she would refuse to respond to her unless she called her Cassie. The other two were called Myfanwy and Angharad, which quickly allowed Hermione to guess their location. Their language was a little more difficult to decipher. The rapid Welsh dialect might as well have been an alien language for all Hermione could understand of it.
“Don’t mind Fan and Ann,” said Enola, smirking as she watched Hermione fruitlessly trying to dissect their conversation. “They are so lezzed up that they even invented their own language to keep cocks away.”
Cassie and Alice laughed as Hermione blushed.
“First mention of cock and it’s not even midday,” said Myfanwy shaking her head. “You seriously need to get laid, Ennie.”
“There’s always room in our bed,” Angharad added, nodding in agreement. “And we have more dildos than you can shake a wand at.” She turned to Hermione. “When you’re all fixed up, love, you’re welcome to borrow some. You must be in dire need of an orgasm or twelve.”
Hermione’s blush was giving off its own heat by this point.
“Ann, give it a rest,” said Alice, quietly. She cooed at the baby in her arms.
Angharad was unmoved. “What? Too soon? She’s been battered black and blue by some arsehole wizard. Probably raped to fuck by him to boot. If he hasn’t ruined her completely, some self-love will be a hell of a therapy. Sorry, love, Enola had to tell us about the bruises.”
Hermione cowered under their collective pity and drew her cardigan tight around her, as though she could disappear if she wished hard enough for it. Enola reached out and gave her forearm a comforting squeeze.
“Sorry, I couldn’t help it,” Enola whispered. “I was just so mad when I saw. We’re here for you if you need anything, I hope you know that.”
Hermione choked back a sob that slammed into her throat, as tears of gratitude stung behind her eyes. Words utterly failed her.
“She wont need fake cock anyway,” Myfanwy went on, hoping to lighten the mood. “If Harry’s attention to her is anything to go by, she’ll have him on tap if she wants.”
Myfanwy winked at Hermione, who smiled sheepishly back.
“Fan!” cried Enola. “For Merlin’s sake. The girls’ been through hell and back. This is the last thing she’s thinking about right now.”
“Bollocks,” Myfanwy retorted dismissively, taking a crumpet and buttering it. “Let’s be fair, we’d all shag the shite out of Harry given half the chance. I’m a pussy girl, myself, and I’d still let him fuck me blind.”
“Here, here,” said Alice, tipping her tea cup in salute. “But lets tone the language down, ladies. There are infants in the room.”
“It doesn’t even matter about the one eye thing,” Cassie pondered over her tea cup. “It’s the other thing with one eye that matters. And I bet that works all too well!”
Alice and Myfanwy laughed but Enola looked at Cassie in pointed horror. She hissed an admonishment at her. “Cass! She doesn’t know!”
Hermione shifted uncomfortably. The air around the table became suddenly dense and serious.
“Oh crap,” said Cassie, utterly ashamed. “I’m really sorry. I didn’t think…”
“What don’t I know?” asked Hermione, trying to keep her voice steady.
“A hell of lot about where we are, and what’s happened to Harry,” said Alice, taking on the mantle of mouthpiece. “Forgive us, dear, we forget that you’ve been in the throes of that hellish world out there. We take what we have for granted. We can laugh and joke and talk about sex toys at breakfast. The real world seems like another universe sometimes.”
“That’s mostly Harry’s doing,” said Myfanwy, her voice much softer now. “He’s done so much to provide us with a protected world here.”
“And Neville, too,” added Angharad, nodding at Enola, who swelled with pride. “Together they have worked so hard for us all.”
“But its had its price,” Alice went on. “They both have the battle scars to prove it. Harry’s are more obvious, but I know my boy suffers much more than he lets on.”
Hermione shook in horror. Harry had more scars? Was that what Enola meant about her daughter not judging Harry as she was only a baby? How bad was it?
Both Myfanwy and Angharad visibly winced. Even Enola shifted in her seat. Cassie scrunched her eyes tight and gulped her tea with a shiver. Alice, however, was staunchly unmoved.
“It’s not the most pleasant thing, to be sure,” she said. “It happened when he was cursed in the Forbidden Forest. Killing Curses leave a hell of an impression, Hermione. Tom Riddle was very angry with Harry when he tried to kill him that night. The curse reflects that. Try not to react too badly when you see it. Most people are shocked to their foundations. It’s a reflexive response and Harry understands that. Sort of. But that sound of a disgusted gasp is a sure-fire way to make Harry shut down in front of your eyes. I’ve seen it happen. It takes a little bit of light from his face each time it does.”
“How bad it is?”
“It took one of his eyes. In truth, it took much of that whole side of his face.”
Hermione threw up a hand to catch her gasp. Tears spilled from her own eyes without warning.
“Harry will probably tell me off for telling you any of this,” said Alice. “But it isn’t right that you aren’t prepared for it. I know that Harry is pinning a lot of hope on you not completely hating and rejecting him on sight. He wont say a word of it, of course, but it’s the worst kept secret in the entire palace. I’d hate for him to be so devastated by your reaction that he retreats back into himself again. It’s taken so long to get him out of there.”
Enola nodded in agreement and closed her eyes. Baby Alison began to cry at that moment.
“She needs a feed and a change,” said Enola. “Slide her over, Alice. I’ll take her to the nursery. I’m sure we don’t need nappies at the breakfast table.”
“Eww, no,” said Myfanwy. “Pass the coffee before you go.”
Enola raised her eyebrows. “Lesbianism is not an excuse for laziness.” She passed the coffee pot anyway as Myfanwy made a face back at her. Enola turned to Hermione. “Fancy helping me change a baby? You’ll have to take a turn looking after her at some point if you’re staying. No better way of introducing you to each other than to have you wipe her bum!”
“Ennie you are disgusting,” said Cassie. “Please do it, Hermione. It saves me a turn. And I’ve just done my nails this morning.”
Hermione grinned. Three days ago the idea of changing a baby might as well have been the stuff of science fiction. Now, Hermione was relishing the prospect of such a task.
“I’d be happy to,” said Hermione. Cassie beamed at her and mouthed a silent ‘thank you‘. Hermione smiled back before following Enola, who was gently rocking her baby as she left the room.
The nursery was on an upper floor of the house, which was looking more like the ‘palace’ everyone kept calling it with each of the many new rooms Hermione clocked as she made her way around. She seriously doubted she’d find her way about without a map. The nursery itself was a cute little room. The paint on the walls was charmed to reflect baby Alison’s mood. Now it was a vibrant, daisy-yellow, as she laughed and giggled as Enola blew raspberries against her little belly. Hermione watched them fondly. She was loathe to even think the word broody.
“No kids yourself?” asked Enola when she caught Hermione staring.
“No, thank fuck,” Hermione blurted out. She blushed sheepishly. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to swear. Or to decry your motherhood.”
Enola laughed. “It’s fine, really. Alison’s first word will be a swear of some sort. Neville has a filthy mouth. His mother is always on at him about it. And I love being a Mum, now I’m used to it. I was terrified at first, but I have a great husband and Harry is like a second father to my little girl, really. I’m so, so lucky. I literally cant imagine what it was like for you…out in the real world.”
Hermione scuffed her foot sadly. “I don’t have a strong enough vocabulary to do it justice. I think not getting pregnant is my only blessing. I don’t know whether my body or my magic just refused to let it happen or what. It was wrong to conceive something so pure from an act so false and forced.”
Enola fastened a nappy to Alison, who was doing her utmost to squirm free. “Wasn’t it ever nice?”
Hermione sat on a chair in the corner. “No, never. As soon as Voldemort took over he gave all the families a simple choice – align with him or die. The Purebloods went right to the top. Positions of power and authority, no matter how mediocre they were. Half-bloods and Muggleborns were put on lists and assigned to work based on usefulness. We were promised it would make us free, and earn higher status. Especially if we married into Pureblood lines. We were given menial tasks, forced labour, the grunt work for the New Order. Then when that usefulness passed, people just disappeared.
“I never thought Ron would go along with it. Never. Arthur, his father, tried to escape abroad with his family. But Ron, his elder brothers Charles and Percy, and his sister, refused to go. Even after their mother had been smuggled out. They’d all been made promises by Voldemort and took them. Ginny even became one of Voldemort’s chief concubines. A Mother of the New Order, as they call them. She has at least two children by him.”
Hermione shuddered at the thought and hugged into herself, as though trying to forget. But these were wounds that ran very deep.
“Arthur was so broken at leaving them behind. Especially when his son, George, took his own life in a suicide attack on Diagon Alley about a year after The Accession.”
“Where are they now?” asked Enola.
“I have no idea,” said Hermione. “Ron tried to use his connections in Europe to track them, but his oldest brother and his wife took Arthur and Molly to Egypt. Ron couldn’t get any further after the European Council of Magic closed the borders on Great Britain. We did learn that his mother died shortly after reaching Egypt. I imagine it was of a broken heart. Her family were everything to her.”
Enola closed her eyes sadly. Hermione’s echoing sentiment was not lost on the young wife and mother, but after years of bottling up her hatred, Hermione’s words were tumbling over themselves to get out of her now.
“Ginny got Ron his job with the Registration Commission, and his promotion to the Squib camp, too. He’s a fucking useless, idle wizard, always has been. But it turns out he has a knack for bullying, torturing and intimidating the weak and helpless. The Squibs have no chance with him. And the more vicious he is, the more he ingratiates himself with the higher-ups. He’s quickly become a poster child for this mania.”
“Yes, we know that much,” said Enola, darkly. “When Harry first found out about Ron’s job he was stunned. I’ve never seen him so shocked. He didn’t speak for fully three days together. He was unbelievably angry. And the guilt…over you…well, it was a phenomenon. Neville had to take him to an ancient Druid ritual space, gather everyone he could to build defensive wards, then just let Harry explode within it. I was there. It’s the only time I’ve ever felt genuinely afraid of Harry. He was like an uncontrollable force. Our Charms barely held. He exhausted himself just before he smashed through. We all had to rest for days after to recover.”
Hermione sat back, shocked. “What would have happened if he’d broken through?”
Enola sighed with a huff. “I imagine he would have given Wales a new fault line in the Earth!”
“Wow!” Hermione breathed. “Is he really that powerful?”
“That and more,” said Enola, conversationally. “He and Neville have delved deep into the old arts of ritual magic since Harry was introduced to them. His mentors on this subject have described his abilities in this area as bordering on the innate. He has an understanding for natural powers and abstract magic that can, at times, seem absurd. I haven’t seen the plans he has for Ron and Riddle, but Neville practically floats when he and Harry have a strategy session about them. And the way he makes love to me after…it takes my breath away.”
Hermione perked up at that. There was something about this vision of Harry that sparked in her. The idea of him dabbling with such forms of magic was almost intoxicating. Hermione was rueful, pounded by regrets that she couldn’t be involved. It sounded fascinating and that bubble of hope that she’d tried to hard to resist was now firmly ensconced within her.
“But how did he get into all that?” Hermione asked.
“Ah, Hermione, that isn’t my story to tell,” said Enola, cuddling and burping baby Alison on her shoulder. “Neville has asked me not to reveal too much about Harry’s missing years. Well, missing to you. I’ve been around for almost all of them. Harry has secrets and stories that he may or may not reveal to anyone. I can’t break that trust. I wont. I hope you can understand.”
Hermione frowned. “Of course I understand. I don’t like it, but I wont ask you to break a promise for someone you barely know.”
Enola smiled. “Harry would be upset if I told you, but he’d forgive me. Only because it’s you, of course. If I told any of the other girls even half of what I know…Harry would probably never speak to me again.”
Hermione felt another of those rushes of heat flow into her chest and her face coloured again. She was truly angry at Harry at that moment. He was making her feel so special and vaunted, but he wasn’t around to ask what the hell he was playing at, or why he was making her feel so giddy and girlish without even being there. Enola smiled knowingly at her but said nothing and simply rocked her baby as Hermione watched.
“Would you like to meet her?” asked Enola. She held out the bundle of blankets and beckoned Hermione forwards. She took the baby uncertainly. “Just cradle her head. There we go. Perfect. She likes you already.”
“How can you tell?” asked Hermione, gently moving the baby and trying not to gush over how beautiful she was.
“She doesn’t smile like that for everyone,” said Enola.
“It could just be wind,” Hermione speculated. “She’s so tiny. So delicate. I’m afraid I’ll break her.”
“You’re doing just fine,” said Enola. “Besides, she’s spelled to bounce if she hits the floor. She’s always trying to climb out of her cot. She’s Mummy’s little adventurer, aren’t you?”
Enola cooed over her baby. Hermione couldn’t resist any longer and joined in. It was surreal for a moment, to be stood there making these babyish sounds. She was used to huffing and groaning and sighing in defeat. This was like waking up after the longest night.
“Why don’t you take her to look outside?” Enola suggested. “She loves that. Nev installed cushions in the bay windows for us to sit on.”
Hermione allowed Enola to guide her to the window, where they sat on red and white striped seating. Alison scrambled up and vainly tried to stand, but her stumpy little legs kept collapsing beneath her as she tried to balance against the glass. Hermione giggled every time.
“It’s beautiful out there,” Hermione commented, as she looked out over acres of gorgeous valley and plush gardens. “Can you even tell me where this place is? Or what it is?”
“I don’t see how that would hurt,” said Enola. “The locals call it Brecon Castle, but it’ not a castle, really. I mean, there are the battlements over on the West Wing, and the round towers at the South Causeway will still fire spells at any intruders, but it’s more of a palace. It’s been rebuilt about a dozen times since Harry’s ancestors founded it over a thousand years ago.”
“Harry’s ancestors built this place?” asked Hermione, astonished again.
“Yes, it was the seat of power when his ancient relatives ruled the kingdom in this area of Wales,” said Enola. “But that’s all I can tell you. We call it the Blue Palace these days, but it’s only because of the lake and the waterfalls in the Valley. Blue for water, see.”
“So…Harry owns this,” Hermione breathed. “This is his home?”
“And home for anyone brave enough to escape Voldemort,” said Enola stoutly. “There are dozens of us living on this land. All protected by Ancient Welsh Celtic magic. Voldemort will never be able to penetrate the wards, or even find us. He doesn’t value the old language of the Druids. He disregards it. Welsh magic is quite as old and quite as powerful as that of our Celtic cousins, the Irish and the Scots. Maybe more so, when you consider…”
“I’ll leave that particular secret for Harry to give you,” Enola smiled covertly. “It’s his favourite one. Well, apart from the one about him being in love with you. But everyone knows that one. It’s obvious.”
Hermione nearly dropped the baby.
“Oh come on, love, why do you think Harry has moved heaven and earth to be good enough for you?” said Enola, swatting off Hermione’s gasp of disbelieving protest. “He’s practically redefined how to use magic just so you can be kept safe. He says it’s for all of us, but nothing but you being in mortal danger would have made him break his cover the other night. I’ve never seen him so frantic as he was when he heard about Malfoy coming for you. If that’s not love I don’t know what is. And I’m actually in love, myself, so I should know, right?”
Hermione just stared open mouthed at Enola, who laughed and took her daughter from Hermione before she dropped her on her head.
Harry and Neville stared at the plinth. It was unremarkable, yet the most remarkable thing ever. It was quite the dichotomy. The other five members, who made up Harry’s Circle, were also peering in consideration at the weather-beaten monolith.
Neville turned to Harry, his hood flapping in the light breeze. “You’re sure you want to do this?”
Harry nodded. “I’ve put off claiming my birthright for too long. Now I’ve revealed myself to Riddle, I have to take this step. I left Malfoy with just enough to tell his Master.”
“What did you do to them? Or do I not want to know?”
“Of those that survived?” asked Harry dryly. He set his jaw. “I blinded five. But I just took off Malfoy’s ears and nose so he could lead the others back. I wanted that cunt Riddle to know exactly what his men can expect if they threaten Hermione again.”
“Only a fool would mess with your witch, My Lord,” said one of the others.
“She is not my witch,” said Harry sternly. “And the next man who refers to her as a piece of property will be cut down where he stands. She is a friend, one I hope will forgive me for my trespasses against her. I have failed her in the most fundamental of ways. I don’t intend to forget that. Tonight I start to make amends.”
Harry stepped forwards. He drew his wand and flicked a spell at the plinth.
The stone transformed immediately. Instead of a dull, granite rock there was now a lush, marble white headstone leading down a vast set of white steps to a door not visible from the surface. The headstone was inscribed with ancient text. Celtic Runes. Harry grinned widely. It was the second such grin he’d allowed himself in the space of a few days….he dared not think about the other one. Being sat at Hermione’s beside, watching her sleep. It was a guilty indulgence. She’d berate him if she ever found out. But he couldn’t resist just one look, even if it last several hours.
Harry translated the Runes quickly. It was the language of his ancestors, his family’s own version, like a secret dialect. He smiled as he reached the end. This was the place. Excitement coursed through him the likes of which he’d almost forgotten.
“Well, are you going to translate it for us, or are we just going to freeze our bollocks off all night!” Neville cajoled. Several of the others laughed.
“Knights of St David, my friends,” Harry announced sagely as he turned to them all. “This is the place I’ve been promising you. A tomb belonging to my most ancient of ancestors. I can now reveal to you the secret Neville and I have been covetously protecting for the past three years, since we invited you into this covenant. I cannot express my gratitude for your patience, and your trust in us. I hope you will understand, and forgive us, when you know the truth.”
Harry cleared his throat and read the inscription.
“Here lies The Terrible Head Dragon, King of Gwynedd.
May he give his enemies no rest in Death, as he gave them none in life.
All Hail the King!”
The Knights didn’t respond at once. Harry hadn’t expect them to. It was Sir David Pincott who spoke first, voicing their collective question.
“Who, or what, is a Terrible Head Dragon?”
Harry grinned mischievously. “Neville – a translation, if you will.”
Neville stepped forward and drew his wand. He began swiping out a series of glowing runes in the air.
“Terrible!” he cried, before speaking the runic translation, an act which made his voice deep and ethereal. “Uther!”
The rune hung in the air, glowing a vivid purple.
“Head!” said Neville. “Pen!” The second rune joined the first. “Dragon! Dragon!”
All three runes joined together. David Pincott looked up, and read the words in a barely audible whisper, as understanding dawned on them all.
“Uther Pendragon…The Terrible Head Dragon…but that would mean…”
Harry smiled widely at them all, bathing in the awestruck look crossing every eye.
And then his Knights dropped to their knees in reverent salute.