Hermione stood at the open window of the Silver Chamber, staring down through the dreary day at the misty castle grounds.
Godric was striding across the vast, manicured expanse of front lawn. He’d removed the braids from his hair and it slicked wetly back from his regal face in a long dark fall. The sky was leaden, the horizon of mountains obscured by dark thunderheads. A light, drizzling rain was falling, and patches of fog clung, here and there, to damp thatches of grass, gusting in drowsy, dreamy swirls as Godric sliced through them.
He was wearing only a plaid, slung low around his hips, and soft leather boots, despite the chill in the air. He looked like a magnificent half savage ninth century Highland laird out surveying his mountain domain. He turned towards her direction and she noticed that he was bleeding.
Blood trickled down his rain-slicked chest, slipped between the ridges of muscles in that sculpted stomach that, only the night before last, she’d tasted with her tongue, covered with kisses. Freshly dyed tattoos covered the right side of his chest and part of his right arm, the tiny needle pricks still beading with a wet sheen of blood.
More mystic runes climbed up over his right shoulder and, as he turned his back on her once again to walk down a cobbled stone walkway, she could see that either he or one of the twins had branded a fair portion of his back crimson and black, as well.
She was so absorbed in watching him that she didn’t hear the door to the bedchamber open and someone slip in until Harry said softly, “He’s supposedly transmutting the soil. He saw you up here and sent me to find you. He wants me to ask you not to watch. “
“Why?” Hermione said tonelessly.
Harry drew a deep breath and exhaled slowly.
“It is pretty Dark magic he is trying to do. It has some ghastly side effects, but even Drustan agreed that it was necessary, and I tend to agree.”
Harry paused trying to gauge her reaction, but Hermione refused to let him see what she was really thinking. She didn’t want him to know how much she was hurting inside knowing that Godric had never had any intention of giving her more than a few weeks from the very start.
“It will neutralize Salazar’s powers if he comes here,” Harry told her, “and Godric is convinced that he will.”
“If the bastard comes here, can we kill him?” Hermione said fiercely. “If the wards have neutralized him?”
“No, the glass still keeps him immortal, just like Godric. He can’t be killed. The wards will only inhibit his use of magic on Gryffindor lands. He won’t be able to work spells and he won’t be able to enter the castle proper. Godric is doing the most intense warding around the perimeter that I have ever seen, and I have seen a lot during my Auror training. It’s why he wants you not to watch. Apparently, if anything is dead within the castle grounds, the spell might cause the bodies to rise.”
“Let me guess,” Hermione countered. “Without his protection runes, those bodies that happen to rise might turn on him?”
“That’s the way I understand it.”
Hermione shivered and fell silent again. In the past forty-eight hours, she’d soared to the greatest hieghts she had ever known, only to plummet into the deepest abyss. She’d been blissfully, idiotically thinking she’d found her soul mate, only to discover that said soul mate was not only going to die in two weeks’ time, but she was going to be forced to occupy a front-row seat to the spectacle.
At Harry’s suggestion, Dageus and Drustan had confined her to the castle. She was not allowed to leave unless and until they said otherwise. The three of them believed that if she left, Salazar would either try to use her to get to Godric (frankly, she wasn’t sure he’d care, why care about her body when he’d not cared about her heart?) or kill her outright if he got his hands on her.
She bought into the killing her outright part, which meant she had to stay put if she wanted to survive. That also meant that she had to watch her Highlander die.
“Dageus and Drustan are trying to find another way, Hermione,” Harry said softy. “Their personal library is more indepth than even the Auror records or even Hogwarts. There must be some alternative to get Godric out of the glass and defeat Salazar.”
“If Godric knows of no way, then do you really think they’ll be able to find one?”
“You can’t give up hope, Hermione. It is obvious the way you two feel about each other.”
“Whatever, and why shouldn’t I be allowed to give up; he already did.” She said bitterly.
Harry sucked in a breath.
“It’s the only way he knows to stop Salazar. At least right now it is. Let the rest of us work on it I am sure we can figure something out, but don’t hate him for this. Now before you jump down my throat, I am with you that he should have told you. I would be pissed off too, but I think you need to ponder why he didn’t tell you and think about this too,” he paused to look out the window with Hermione.
Below them, Godric was entering a small copse of trees, moving with the same grace of an animal on the prowl.
“Well, he’s lived, let’s see… forty seven maybe forty eight times, almost fifty times as long as you have, trapped inside a looking glass. For more than a thousand years he’s been by himself, imprisoned, and powerless. He has had nothing with which to pass the time. He’d believed, for the past millennium that Salazar had wiped out his entire family. The only companion he had in that mirror with him was his bitter regret and his determination to one day get revenge. I am not sure I could have managed as well as he has. I am sure I probably would have gone insane.”
Tears burned the backs of Hermione’s eyes. She thought she had cried herself out yesterday. She’d wondered the same thing, how he had stayed sane, but then she’d realized he was a mountain.
Yesterday had been the most awful day of her life. If she could have collected together all the tears she’d ever cried, beginning with that first wailed protest at the shock of being born, through childhood pains, adolescent indignities, the pain and torture she had gone through in the war, and normal womanly hurts, they’d not have made a drop in the bucket of tears she’d wept yesterday.
When she realized what Godric meant to do, she’d raced from the library as fast as her feet had been able to take her. She’d tried to flee the castle, as well, but Harry had caught up with her and stopped her, gently leading her back to the twin’s wives, who then lead her to the chamber they’d readied for her.
She’d locked herself in and collapsed across the bed, weeping. Eventually she’d sobbed herself into a deep, exhausted sleep.
The worst of it was, the whole time she’d been crying, hating him for making her care about him, knowing he was going to die, and not telling her, every ounce of her had nonetheless ached to go back downstairs and sit as close to his blasted mirror as she could possibly get.
To regain that intense, tender intimacy they’d just shared. To touch the glass, if she couldn’t touch him, to settle for anything at all.
She’d thought of what Gwen had said to her yesterday during one of her lucid moments in between when she was pitying herself and furious with Godric.
Yes, of course she could see how he would not just be willing to die, but might actually be ready to embrace death after an eternity in a cold stone hell all by himself.
Understanding all that didn’t make it any better.
She’d read once a story in which a nurse fell in love with one of her terminal patients. A man who had no more than ten or twelve months left to live from some disease or another. The article hadn’t been her cup of tea, but she’d gotten sucked into it.
She’d thought how incredibly stupid the nurse had been to let it happen. She should have transferred his case to someone else the moment she’d started liking him, and fallen in love with a different man. At least the nurse had gotten nearly a year, her terminal patient had a more fourteen days.
“Go away, please,” Hermione said.
“Please, just leave me alone for a while. You can tell him I won’t watch, I promise.” She meant it.
She would respect his wishes. Moving woodenly, she closed the window, flipped the latch, and let the heavy drape fall over the mullioned panes. There was silence behind her.
“Go, I am sure that Ginny is starting to wonder where you have disappeared to.”
A few moments later there was a gusty sigh, then the chamber door clicked softly shut.
Salazar threaded his fingers through his hair, smoothing it back from his temples. His palms were hot, the flesh singed, his nails blackened. It was no matter in a moment, the lingering traces of the man’s misfortune would be gone.
He stepped over the charred body dispassionately. It smelled and needed to be removed from the pub. Winding his way through the posh, paneled bar with its high backed wooden booths cushioned in tufted leather upholstery, Salazar murmured a series of spells beneath his breath, concealing from the pub’s animated patrons both the man he’d just scorched to a cinder, and his true appearance.
Centuries ago, tattoo’s had taken what remained of his face, including his ears, eyelids, lips, and tongue, making him far too memorable to observers. His eyes had changed shortly after he’d finished scoring the final black and crimson brands inside his nose.
After one unfortunate incident, Salazar had found it easier just to keep his true image hidden from all who laid eyes upon him. People often had a strongly unfavorable reaction when seeing his true form.
He shouldn’t have agreed to meet the man in a pub. Lately, several of his employees had displayed a preference for public meeting places, as if that made a difference.
Godric Gryffindor had indeed returned to the Highlands, as Salazar had known he would. The man wanted to die in Scotland on Gryffindor lands.
The castle the ninth century Highlander had once lived in had been turned into a wizard school two years before Salazar had tricked the man into the mirror. According to his late employee members of the Gryffindor family had lived and thrived in silence after the Highlander’s disappearance.
A second castle had been constructed on a distant part of the Gryffindor estate at some time during the sixteenth century, years after he’d quite paying attention to that rocky little corner of the world.
It was in that castle, or so his employee had suspected, that the mirror was being kept. A man and woman fitting Godric and miss Granger’s description had been seen in a store not from the castle. There his man had encountered the confusion typical of the aftereffects of compulsion, but he’d managed to obtain the information Salazar had wanted.
That an heretofore unknown Gryffindor male, who he now knew to a twin male named Dageus, had driven off in a vehicle with a large ornate mirror in the back of it. The employee had recalled the mirror because he had watch “that tattooed guy” rearranging it three times and padding it with blankets before coming into the diner.
Salazar had not anticipated this. He’d expected Godric to head for Hogwart’s castle and that was why he had spent so much time getting someone into the blasted school the moment the mirror had gone missing. He’d expected to be facing one Gryffindor, not three; two of them complete unknowns. In a castle that was probably warded to the bloody rafters.
He frowned over his shoulder at the crisply blackened remains of his man. It would remain concealed by his spell for a few moments more. Then one pub goer or another would take note of the grisly corpse on the floor, women would scream, and men would mill about, gaping, readying their stories for water cooler chats in the morning. Auror’s and muggle law enforcement would be called in.
Salazar quickened his pace, pushing his way through the boisterous after-work crowd. It was damned inconvenient for his minion to be dead right now.
There were other matters to which Salazar would have liked him to attend. He’d not killed him, oh no, not he, he’d brooked no quarrel with the man. The power within him occasionally wont to act with a will of its own.
It was part of being such a powerful dark wizard. The vessel of his tattooed body was no longer sufficient to completely contain his greatness. Magic sometimes overflowed, leaked out, like a young child whose magic sparked uncontrollably, but unlike the child’s magic his sometimes caused people to get burned, literally.
His crimson eyes lit with mirth and he was taken by a sharp bark of laughter, struck by the sheer absurdity of the thought that he, Salazar, could die. It was impossible.
As he quit the pub and stepped into the chilly London evening, he considered his next step. A cry of shock and horror chased him through the closing tavern door into the drizzly night beyond.
He would return to his residence and take another stab at securing a connection with the Granger woman. He’d been attempting regularly to reach her again, but either she was not logging into her account, or he was missing those windows of opportunity when she was.
Women were weak links. There was always something in them begging to be exploited. He just had to find it and exploit it.
Apparating back to his home he wondered how the arrogant Gryffindor would like spending the next thousand years hung in a deep, dark cavern, flush to a stone wall. He’d only kept the mirror in his study for the amusement it had given, and because on occasion, he’d needed his captive to perform some deed he’d not yet possessed the power to do himself.
Once he had the mirror back in his possession, he would accelerate his plans and finally take over the magical world. His time of hiding and quietly building up power was over it was time he showed this world that he was the one in charge.
When that happened Godric Gryffindor was going to rot in the deepest, coldest, blackest hell Salazar could find for him.
Under ideal circumstances, Hermione might have spent days brooding. When she was hurt, she preferred to hole up and lick her wounds alone, not that her friends ever actually let her do so for very long.
However, circumstances were far from ideal, and days were precisely what she didn’t have. As for weeks, she only had two. By the time she finished licking wounds, she would have a much bigger one to tend, and then she would despise herself for time wasted.
Godric had either finished placing his wards, or the mirror had reclaimed him again. She knew because, a little while ago, she’d heard people out on the lawn, laughing and talking. She’d pushed aside the drapes to find diffident rays of late afternoon sunlight trying to push through thick gray clouds and several castle maids standing about, hands on hips, eyes sparkling, flirting with a handful of well-muscled gardeners who were trimming hedges on the still damp lawn.
Unlike other pure blood wizard families, the Gryffin’s preferred to use human servants instead of house elves. Under any other circumstances, Hermione would have been delighted that others shared her beliefs on house elf slavery, but her mind was too occupied on what she should do about Godric.
She’d been startled to realize how late in the day it was. She’d passed most of it staring into space, trying to mull through thoughts hopelessly muddied by emotions, and decide if Godric was a callous bastard who’d just wanted to have sex before (insert word she refused to say or even think about) or if he cared for her at all.
She could argue the case both ways. Especially when she remembered how he had said that she fit him coupled with the way he’d made love to her in front of the fire. She could have sworn she’d felt a part of him bleeding into her through his hands, that he’d been cherishing every last cell of her being with his caresses.
Yet there was a cynical part of her that said a dying man after a millennia old blood vengeance might say just about anything to get: one, somewhere safe so that he could have his vengeance; and two, what about a little great sex along the way with the female helping him.
Bottom line was, the female had finally realized that she wasn’t going to get anywhere sitting in her room alone, groping blindly through her thoughts. So she decided to go find him, and grope blindly though his thoughts, assuming he would cooperate, and see what might come of it.
It ended up being far more than his thoughts she groped.