Chapter 15 : cave
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On the road between Edinburgh and Hogsmeade
Seventeen days till Halloween
Godric was back in the mirror now, and being downright grumpy about it. She wasn’t. She was relieved that it had sucked him back in so soon after he had used Voice to escape the train stations and picked up the rental vehicle that Harry had arranged for them.
Twice now, she’d nearly given him her virginity. In fact, had they not been interrupted, she would have both times. She didn’t understand it. She was a woman who did nothing without a solid, well thought out reason. She knew the largest part of why she hadn’t slept with a man yet was because she’d watched her grandmother go through seven husbands.
Even her own mother had been married three times before finally settling down with Hermione’s father. Birthday dinners and graduations inevitably turned into scheduling disasters. Holidays were a nightmare, which was another reason she has loved getting to spend holidays at Hogwarts.
Hermione was determined to only get married once and having babies with one man. Three or four kids would be just fine; maybe a boy and two girls who would never suffer any confusion about why they were related to, and how, not to mention the often baffling whys.
Hermione wanted a small, insular, well-tended world. The fewer people one tried to love, Hermione believed, the better one could love them. She was a quality girl, not a quantity one.
Yet, with Godric Gryffindor, all her well thought out prequalifiers for relationships went sailing right out the window.
He looked at her and her blood began to boil. He touched her and she melted. He kissed her and her clothing started coming off.
She couldn’t come up with a single reason for it. Yes, he was sexy. Yes, he was pure male and so what if it wasn’t in keeping with the current feminist movement that seemed to prefer emasculated men, she liked manliness in a man.
Yes, he was fascinating, and she really couldn’t wait to get him somewhere that she could pick his brain about the ninth century, and find out just what had happened to him eleven centuries ago.
However, he was also a logistic impossibility. He was currently living in a mirror. He was a very powerful wizard with a blood grudge against another very powerful wizard.
She had already dealt with one wizard war she was not sure she wanted to get involved with another. Plus, he was way older than she was.
He wasn’t the marrying kind. Not even the keeping kind and she knew it, but despite all that, whenever he touched her, she instantly began devolving into one of her primitive ancestors, driven by the three basic prime directives: eat, sleep, and have sex.
Though if she were going to line those directives up in the order she would enjoy them, it would be sex first, while she felt skinny and her tummy was at its flattest, then food with lots of decadently sedating cards, and then sleep, only to wake up and do it all again.
However, that was neither here nor there.
Here was a man she couldn’t seem to keep her hands off of and no doubt when he came out of that mirror, they were going to fall on each other again. She didn’t think that she could count always having an interruption to keep them from making that final leap.
“I’m sliding again, lass,” came the disgruntled growl from the seat beside her. “Naught but a view of the ceiling over here.”
Hermione slowed and pulled over to the side of the road. When they’d gotten into the SUV that Harry had arranged for them, Godric had originally positioned the mirror across the two back rows of seats, then slid into the front passenger’s seat.
However, when the Dark Glass had reclaimed him less than an hour outside of Edinburgh, en route to Hogsmeade, he’d instructed her to push the front seat back as far as it would go, which was pretty far in the roomy SUV, tug the looking glass forward, prop it at an angle, and strap it in with the seat belt so he could see where they were going.
“I’m uncertain of the terrain, lass,” he told her. “I know where I want to go, but I doona ken how it will look after the passage of so much time. There will be roads and buildings and such that weren’t there before; however, I should be able to identify the mountains if I can get a good enough view.”
Unfortunately, the seat belt was designed to hold a person with assorted person sized bumps and lumps, not a flat mirror, and the glass kept slipping down into a more horizontal position. She had tried sticking it in place with a spell.
She had thought that the spell had worked, but when the mirror only slid down again a few minutes later, she had resigned herself to just having to adjust it along the way. If she’d had a single piece of luggage, she might have crammed it at the base of the frame, on the floor, but as it was, they were traveling outlaw light.
The only things in the SUV were three empty fast food bags from lunch they’d grabbed at the train station and a handful of maps and pamphlets he’d snatched from a newsstand while leaving.
As she leaned over to adjust it yet again, he muttered something in that mysterious language of his, and suddenly a book tumbled out of the mirror, narrowly missing her nose, followed by several more. She ducked out of the way. She’d broken her nose once during the final battle at Hogwarts and wasn’t looking forward to ever having that happen again.
“Wedge them at the base,” he commanded.
She blinked. “You have books in there?”
“I’ve accumulated a few items over the centuries. Things I believed Salazar wouldn’t miss. Once stolen and in transit, when the opportunity presented itself, I picked up still more.”
She arranged the books at the foot of the mirror, laying them end to end, gawking at the titles: Stephen King’s The Dome; Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language; Stephen Hawking’s A brief history of time; and Geographica, a massive book of maps and charts.
“Like a little light reading, huh?” she muttered.
Personally, she went for Richelle Mead’s Vampire Accademy series or any Hannah Howell book, on those rare occasions she got to read for pleasure.
“I have endeavored to keep up with the passage of the centuries.”
She glanced into the mirror. After seeing him in the flesh only a short time ago, it was weird to be seeing him as one dimensional, flat figure in the glass. She didn’t like it at all. She was beginning to resent that mirror.
Resent that it could take him back anytime it wanted to. She shook her head. A few minutes ago she’d been glad it had reclaimed him. Now she was irritated that it had.
Would she ever be of a single mind around him?
“For the day you’d finally be free? That’s why you kept up?”
He stared down at her, his gaze unfathomable. “Aye.”
After eleven centuries, the ninth century Highlander was going to be free in a little over two weeks.
“Seventeen more days,” Hermione breathed wonderingly. “Merlin, you must be climbing the… er… walls… or whatever’s in there, huh?”
“So, just what is in there, anyway?” She tested the glass by shaking it gently, and deemed it secure enough. It shouldn’t slide now.
“Stone,” he said flatly.
“Gray stone of varying sizes.” His voice dropped to a colorless monotone. “There are fifty two thousand nine hundred and eighty seven stones in total. Out of all of those twenty six thousand two hundred and six of them are slightly paler gray than the rest. There are nine hundred that have a vaguely hexagonal shape and thirty six hundred that are more rectangular than the rest. Three of them are crack and ninety of them have a vein of bronze running through them. Three paces from the center is a stone that protrudes slightly above the rest, over which I have tripped over for the first few centuries. Any other questions?”
Hermione flinched as his words impacted her, taking her breath away. Her chest and throat felt suddenly tight. How in the world did he stay sane in there? What in the world kept you from going stark raving mad? How did he manage to survive over a thousand years in such a hell?
She didn’t ask him those questions because it would have been like asking a mountain why it was still standing, as it had been since the dawn of time, perhaps reshaped in subtle ways, but there, always there.
The man was strong, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. A rock of a man, the kind a woman could lean on through the worst of times and never have to worry that things might fall apart, because a man like him simply wouldn’t let them.
She never met anyone like Godric before. Her best friend Harry was the closest and even he paled in comparison to Godric.
“Nope,” she managed. “No other questions.”
Eleven centuries of captivity hung on his hated enemy’s study wall. Eleven centuries of not touching, not eating, and not getting to feel love. Had he anyone to talk to? Her face must have betrayed her thoughts, for he startled her by saying softly.
“Tis no longer consequence, lass, but thank you for the compassion. Tis nigh over, only seventeen more days, Hermione, and that’s all.”
For some reason his words brought a sudden hot burn of tears to the backs of her eyes. Not only hadn’t eleven centuries turned him into a monster, he was trying to soothe her, to make her feel better about his imprisionment.
“Ye weep for me, woman?”
She turned away. “It’s been a long day. Bloody hell, it’s been a long week.”
“Hermione.” Her name was a soft command. She disobeyed it, staring out the window at the rolling hills.
“Hermione, look at me.”
Eyes bright with unshed tears, she whipped her head around and glared at him.
“I weep for you, okay?” she snapped. “For eleven centuries stuck in there. Can I start driving again or do you need something else?”
He smiled faintly, raised his hand, and splayed his palm against the inside of the silvery glass. Without an ounce of conscious thought, her hand rose to meet his, aligning on the cool silver, palm to palm, finger to finger, thumb to thumb, and though she felt only a cold hardness beneath her palm, the gesture made something go all warm and soft in her heart.
Neither of them spoke or moved for a moment.
Then she glanced hastily away, fished a napkin from the fast food bags, blew her nose, shifted into drive, and resumed their winding ascent into the rugged Scottish Highlands.
It had taken him most of the day to find the caves he’d played in as a lad, located a good day’s journey from the castle.
The terrain had changed greatly over the past thousand years, and new roads and homes had made it difficult to recognize landmarks he’d once thought immutable and uniquely unmistakable. Even mountains looked different when one was gazing up at them from the busy streets of a city, as opposed to regarding them across a wide open expanse of sheep dotted field.
They had decided to overnight in the caves to get some well needed rest before heading towards the castle the next day.
He had been unwilling to permit her to enter the caves until he had a chance to explore them for potential animal or erosive threats, he’d bade her prop the mirror securely next to the entrance to the stone lair so he could keep close watch on the vista around her.
Armed with knives and guns that he had snatched over the years from Salazar’s unsuspecting assasins when they had visited the study, he was prepared for any threat, though he truly doubted one would come this evening, or even the next.
Now, from high atop a rugged mountain, Godric stared out of the Dark Glass at two of the loveliest sights that had ever graced his existence: Scotland at a fiery dusk and Hermione Granger.
His beloved country made a worthy backdrop for the woman.
Sitting crossed legged, facing him, scarce a foot beyond his glass, her long, glossy curls were backlit by flaming crimson and gold, her forehead and cheekbones dusted burnt rose, her lips plush red velvet.Pretty white teeth flashed when she smiled, her eyes lit with an inner fire that nigh matched the sky behind her when she laughed.
She’d been laughing often as they’d talked. She was a woman who seemed able to find something humorous in nearly all things, even her own grim lot right now, which was a warrior’s strength in Godric’s estimation.
Humor and tenacity could frequently see one through the most difficult of times, and she possessed both in spades.
At his urging, she’d been telling him about her trials and tribulations while trying to reclaim his mirror at the train station. When she grew excited about one part or another, she spoke with her hands, accompanying her words with gestures, and her fingertips would brush his glass.
He was so physically attuned to her that it gave him the kiss of a shiver each time, as if she were brushing her fingers against him not a cool mirror.
For the first time in over a millennium, he got to watch the night take his Highlands, a thing he’d missed fiercely, yet he found himself savoring even more listening to Hermione’s tale, laughing at the images she painted for him.
He could see this wee hellion vaulting over the counter, stunning the contrary woman and stuffing her in a closet. There was a bit of a heathen inside Hermione Granger. It was just one more thing he liked about the lass, he thought, smiling faintly.
He stared, drinking her in, his smile fading. She had his plaid draped around her shoulders, and was snuggled into its warmth as the sun worked its way slowly down to kiss the dark ridge of mountains filling the horizon.
It did something to him, seeing her in his tartan. Though it wasn’t the Gryffindor weave or colors, only a bit of Scots-woven cloth he’d swiped centuries ago, heartsick for his home, he still thought of it as his.
‘Twas as if she belonged in it. Crimson and black suited her well. She was a vibrant woman, fashioned by a generous creator of bold jewel tones: jade and raven and rose and skin of sun kissed gold.
They’d been talking for some time now. For the first time since they’d cast their lots together, all manner of calamity was not erupting around them. He could so nothing further to ensure her safety at this time from inside the mirror, so he’d seized the opportunity to learn more about Hermione.
Where had she grown up? Did she have clan? How many, who, and where were they? What was she learning at her university? What kind of things did she one day dream of doing?
“I’m learning about digging in the dirt,” she’d told him with a cheeky smile, “and that’s what I one day dream of doing.”
Once she’d explained what she really meant, he realized twas but another thing that drew him to her. She was curious about things. In his mind’s eye he could see her toiling in the soil for treasures of the past, delightedly unearthing pottery shards and bits of armor and weapons.
Och, Christ, how he’d like to be there beside her while she did it! To tell her stories of those things she found and, later, take her beneath him and show her another real, live artifact.
If she could have anything in the world, he’d asked her, what would it be?
She’d answered that one without hesitation: a companion.
She’d hastily added, "not just a friend since I already have those, but a companion all my own. One that I couldn’t wait to talk to first thing in the morning as soon as I woke up, and one that I still wanted to be talking to, right up to the last minute before I went to sleep."
He’d smiled faintly. She means a soul mate; he’d thought but not said. She’d meant a man, a lifetime lover. He could set it in her eyes.
Now she was telling him how she’d decided to be an archeologist; that she’d read a book when she was young that had inspired her and set her on her path. He listened intently, watched intently. He fancied he could sit like this for two eternities, mayhap more, drinking her in.
He wanted to hear the minute details of her life, to know as much of this woman as he possibly could.
“So there I was, in college, second year into my major, realizing that it wasn’t going to be at all as I had imagined. That it wasn’t glamour, travel and the thrill of discovery. That it was really a lot of grunt work and paperwork. Most archaeologists never get to dig in the dirt.”
“But by then it was too late,” she told him with a sheepish smile, “I’d fallen in love with it for totally different reasons. I’d gotten addicted to the history. I’d been sucked in by the mysteries of our origins, of the world’s origins, of trying to piece together the big picture.”
“Some of my friends hate my choice of major,” she confided. “Ron still can’t understand how I could prefer to spend time with artifacts when I could be out dating and having a life.”
His gut twisted at the thought of her dating some other man. He hated the thought, it pissed him off to the last fiery drop of blood in his veins.
“Why have ye no man?” he said tightly.
Her smile faded. She was quiet for a moment and then she smiled again, but this one was softer, older than her years, and achingly bittersweet.
“I think I’m misplaced in time, Godric. I think that’s part of the reason I’m drawn to the past. I’m an old fashioned girl. My grandmother has had seven husbands and my mother was married twice before she met my father. If it wasn’t for being around Ron’s parents and seeing how happy my own parents were, I would have given up on the idea of marriage all together years ago.”
“Have these past husbands died?” he asked.
He wondered if she had any idea what she did to him, sitting there like that. Plaid soft and rumpled around her shoulders, her dainty hands relaxed in her lap, her palms upward, fingers half curled. She was utterly unself-conscious, reflective, her shimmering gaze turned inward.
“No,” she said, shaking her head slowly. “They just seem to decide they don’t love each other anymore. If they ever did. Usually my grandmother leaves them.”
“They let her?”
Were grandmother aught like her granddaughter, ‘twas unfathomable that a man would let her go, inconceivable that a husband wouldn’t do all in his power to make her happy, to breathe life into every last one of his woman’s dreams.
He would never understand modern marriages. Divorce was beyond his comprehension, though at times he made light of it, the truth was, a Gryffindor wizard lived for his binding vows and the day he could give them.
For him, that day would never come, but for him, many days would never come.
“I donna ken it, Hermione. Love, once given, is forever. It canna simply go away. Do they not love her, these men she marries?”
She shrugged, looking as baffled by it as he felt.
“I don’t know. I wonder sometimes if people even know what love is anymore. Some days, when I’m watching my friends at school change lovers as unperturbedly as they change shoes, I think the world just got filled with too many people, and all our technological advances made things so easy that it cheapened our most basic, essential values somehow,” she told him.
“It’s like spouses are commodities nowadays; disposable, constantly getting tossed back out for trade on the market, and everyone’s trying to trade up, like there is a trading up in love.” She rolled her eyes. “Not for me, I’m getting married once and to one husband. When you know going in that you’re staying for life, it makes you think harder about it, go slower, choose really well.”
When she fell pensively silent, Godric smiled bitterly, brooding over the vagaries of fate. Hermione Granger was strong, impassioned, true of heart, funny, fierce, and sexy as hell.
She was perfect for him. Right down to his frustrating inability to use legimency or compel her. She, alone, was forever beyond his magic, that wild talent that had always made his life so easy. This woman had been custom crafted for a man of his ilk.
“What about you?” she said finally. “Were you married in your century?”
He didn’t miss the shadow that flickered in her lovely sparkling eyes. She didn’t like the thought that he might have been wed. She didn’t like the thought of him loving another woman. That knowledge eased some of the pain that twisted in his gut.
“Nay, lass, I had not found the woman for me before I was imprisoned in the Dark Glass.”
Her brow furrowed and she looked as if she would pursue that thought further, but then she seemed to change her mind.
“Merlin, there are so many questions I keep wanting to ask you but I never seem to get around to them! How old are you, anyway? I mean, excluding the time you’ve been in the mirror.”
“A score and ten. I’d gained a new year shortly before I was imprisoned and you?”
“In my time, you would have…”
“I know, I would have been an old maid, right?” she laughed.
“Nay,” he told her, “you’d not have been unwed. Like as not, you’d have been on your third or fourth husband. Beauty such as yours would have been highly sought by the richest men in the land. Unfortunately they were often the oldest.”
“Oh great,” she said flashed him a cheeky smile. “I get married; he dies. I get married again; he dies, and it’s not like I would have been left a wealthy widow to do what I wanted, either. Some male relative would have just married me off again, wouldn’t he? Keeping me in the family so they could hold the dowry and lands?”
Godric nodded. “Though my clan was not so barbaric. Having seven sisters who could all talk at once, and very loudly when fashed, taught me a thing or two.”
Hermione laughed and they both fell silent.
Leaning forward, she said in a hushed voice, “How did it happen, Godric? How did you end up in the mirror?”
He drew rippled of silver around him, sliding deeper into his prison.
“Another time,” he said. Though, on occasion, some perverse part of him seemed determined to make her think the worst of him, he relished the intimacy taking root between them. He had no desire to besmirch it with tales of ancient sins.
“For now sleep, sweet Hermione. We have much to do on the morrow.”
Later that night, Godric stood naked behind the silvery glass, armed with knives, watching over Hermione as she slept.
Clad in an assortment of oversized garments, she was curled on a pallet of his clothing at the foot of the mirror. Over the centuries, he’d accumulated various items of attire. As full night had fallen and the temperature dropped still more, he’d tossed out every last piece of it to her, right down to the jeans and T-shirt he’d been wearing, in an effort to warm her against the chilly October night.
Sleep was obsolete within his mirror, as were all physical needs. He would stand guard until she awoke. He’d made her as safe as he could for now. It was not nearly as safe as he could and would make her, using any and all means at his disposal, no matter the cost.
It was the truth that they had much to do on the coming day. One the morrow, they would make it to Hogsmeade. On the morrow he would be walking onto Gryffindor property for the first time in eleven centuries.
On the morrow he would find something to tattoo himself with, for he would need more protection runes on his body to keep him safe from the backlash of the black arts he must call upon to lay the traps necessary to ensure her safety from Salazar and any of his minions.
One the morrow he would transmute the soil, in the fashion those most ancient of burial grounds had once been alchemized, brutally forcing the earth to change, calling it alive, making it answerable to him and only him.
If there were anything dead in the soil he’d chosen, things could get unpleasant, but he would shield her. If he had to tattoo himself from head to toe, he would shield her.
“One day you’ll have tattooed your entire body.”
Tears had shimmered in his mother’s eyes when she’d spotted the fresh crimson tattoos on his neck, so fresh his own blood was still beading, mingled inseparably with the dye.
“How will you safeguard your soul? Godric you must stop. Send him away.”
He laughed at her. “I’ve scarce yielded a tenth of my body, Mother. Salazar may be a learned man, but he hasn’t enough power to be dangerous.”
“You’re wrong and he’s making you dangerous.”
“Mother you know naught of what you speak.”
However, she had known. From that first blustery winter’s eve the dark Welsh stranger had appeared at their gates petitioning shelter, claiming to have lost his way in the storm, she’d known.
“Turn him away, Godric,” she’d begged. “He comes to our step with darkness at his back in more ways than one.”
“We will, but feed and shelter him for an eve,” he’d said to please her.
There’d been a time when pleasing those he loved had pleased him most. His sisters and mother especially. The eight of them had been a cluster of bright, feminine butterflies, swooping through his days, brilliantly coloring his existence, making him impatient for a mate of his own.
Then he’d discovered a fellow wizard in the man across his table that eve; a thing he’d not encountered before, and he’d been too curious to turn him away. His da had died before his birth, he’d had no brothers, and he’d never heard of another like himself in all of Albania.
One thing led to another. Ego and arrogance had played no small part.
“I can work this spell, can you?”
“Aye, can ye work this one?”
“Aye, ken ye how to summon the elements?”
“Aye, ken ye Voice? Have ye heard of the Hallows?”
“Ah, so ye’ve heard not of the Scrying Glass?”
It was what Salazar had called it then, the Dark Glass. The Welsh wizard had begun laying his trap that very eve, baiting it brilliantly.
“Can you imagine foretelling the winds of political change or knowing which contender for king with which to ally your clan? When a loved one might suffer a tragedy? ‘Tis said the glass reveals the future in exacting detail, unlike anything our spells could ever hope to achieve.”
Mayhap, Godric’s blood had quickened at the thought, it could even show the coming of a Gryffindor life mate. The mere opening of a door that night, of not heeding a mother’s words, how life drew its complex design from the simplest of choices, the smallest of moments.
All those he once loved had been dead for more than a thousand years. Was Salazar out there, counting the hours to Halloween, or the Welshman’s counterpart known as Hollantide, a night of ghostly visitation, divination games, and bonfire burning, as was he?
Though he spoke aloud of days, Godric knew to the minute how long he had.
“A little over sixteen days, Salazar,” he growled into the chill Highland night, “and you will answer for all you took for me.”
In three hundred eighty four hours and forty three minutes, to be precise vengeance would finally be his. His gaze dark, he glanced down at Hermione.
He’d never thought it would be such a double edged sword.
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