The Once and Future King
Hermione marveled at their seats in the Old Vic theatre, named so by clever promoters after a single visit by Queen Victoria and her mum, Duchess Victoria. Her parent had taken her here to a few Shakespeare plays over the years but she had never expected to sit in the front row, so close that she could see the actors sweat under the stage lights. This was the last showing of The Once and the Future King on Christmas Eve, and the Grangers eagerly awaited the retelling of King Arthur's rise and fall.
In the few minutes before the light dimmed, Hermione blitzed through the play guide. The Once and Future King was the first true adaption of the complete works by T.H. White. Other versions which included an animated Disney movie focused only on the first of the four books, The Sword in the Stone. She was familiar with that story - of young Arthur being taught by Merlin and meeting Robin Wood, mistaken as Robin Hood. The director, an ambitious Hollywood refugee, had cast an action hero star as Merlin and a teen heartthrob from a vampire movie as Arthur. The reviews of the British newspapers had been less than kind.
The curtain rose, and Hermione leaned forward to take in the show. Arthur had grown up with a foster family, not knowing his destiny and nicknamed the Wart. Kay, his older foster brother, bullied the young boy, and left him in the woods on a wild hawk chase where Arthur meets Merlin. The wizard was odd - easily befuddled and living backwards in time. Merlin had great powers of foresight but forgot to tell important details to Arthur, claiming those omissions imparted wisdom. Right before Arthur took the sword from the stone, Merlin left and the young boy cried. But after the coronation, Merlin returned as an advisor, promising to guide the king to a glorious doom - the finale for Book One.
Hermione mused about the similarities between Arthur and Harry. They were both orphans, brave but unexceptional, neglected by a foster family. Harry should have grown up as a magical prince, but Dumbledore had decided to take that away to teach him lessons about the world. Was that how all the heroes grew up? Harry, Arthur, Taran Assistant Pig Keeper, Frodo Baggins, Anne of the Green Gables, Lyra Belacqua - forced to come from nothing to fulfil their destiny. And was Harry more like Arthur or Lancelot, bold and reckless to the point of foolishness? Harry was brave and had near miraculous adventures - like riding a hippogriff and defeating a basilisk. Hermione was still trying to decide when the curtains rose again on four young boys telling stories at night and then their mother walked onto the stage.
The second book of The Once and Future King was The Queen of Air and Darkness, and Hermione gasped when she saw Queen Morgause, a great beauty with black hair and dark eyes, a seductive laugh and effervescent smile who could care less about her four children - Gawain, Agravaine, Gaheris and Gareth. The Orkney children grew up without love - their father King Lot off battling King Arthur, their mother experimenting with magic and seducing knights. The four boys tried to catch a unicorn to impress the queen, but in a fit of rage, Agravaine killed the unicorn, thinking the beast was touching his mother with the horn. Hermione was shocked - a child killing an unicorn was a horrible sin - and then that child lusted for his mum.
The four would become knights of the Round Table, but simmering under the banners of chivalry and heroism, something dark and hideous - hidden from casual observers - threatened Arthur's reign far more than battles with enemy kings. Orkney was a cursed island, and even after they left, violence and ill fortune would haunt the rest of their lives. But Hermione could not truly blame the boys. The four brothers were wild and unmannered and yes, a bit cruel, but only children starved for their mother's attention. The Queen of Air and Darkness had corrupted their spirits and nurtured the wrath and anger that would poison Camelot.
Then she traveled to England with her four children to beg King Arthur for a pardon. The Queen brought a spancel, an enchanted collar made of human flesh that would bewitch men into love. She seduced her half brother, a fact that Merlin, in his infinite wisdom,was too sleepy and muddled to tell Arthur. Nine months later, Mordred was born - a product of incest who grew to be a vain, colorless, scheming villain taught by his mother to hate his father. Mordred would tear down Arthur's dream and break the Round Table.
As the curtains fell on the second Act, Hermione jumped out of her seat.
"Whatever is the matter?" Emma asked.
"Mum, I have to go. I just realized something important." Hermione said.
"In the middle of a play?" Daniel Granger said. His brilliant daughter nodded.
"Hermione, it is Christmas Eve. Even if you saw something that surprised you, it can wait. And if you learnt something from the first half, why not see the rest of the play. Maybe there is another lesson there." Emma said.
"Plus, the bloke from the Marvel movies playing Merlin might hit someone." Daniel added.
"Dear, Merlin is gone after Act Two. You should know from reading the books." Emma said.
Hermione sat down again, the rest of the play passing in a blur. Lancelot lamented his many mistakes and abandoned the mother of his child. He then failed in the Quest for the Holy Grail while his guiltless but very dull son succeeded. The tragedy came to a head in the final act, and Mordred and Agravaine exposed the openly known secret - that the King's best friend slept with the Queen. In the ensuing war, the kingdom was shattered, betrayed by Lancelot and Guinevere's infidelity, and Arthur's incest, the original sin that had finally come home to roost. The Queen of Air and Darkness had won, and only the the dream of a better world remained, where Might was not Right, and justice prevailed : a candle in the wind for future generations.
Hermione was silent as her parents drove away from the Old Vic, discussing the play.
"There should have been more fight scenes. You have knights and swords - and action heroes. Why did they stop before the big fight between Arthur and Mordred?" Dan Granger groused.
"The book ends on the eve of battle. Arthur knows he might die or go to Avalon, but it is more important that Mallory keeps the idea of Camelot alive." Emma replied as they drove home.
"No wonder they could never make this into a decent movie." Dan said.
Hermione waited until her parents had gone to bed before activating the Protean charm. The fake galleon gleamed as the signal went out to Dobby and the Seven Sisters, or more accurately, the six other witches involved in the Bloody Halloween. Luna Lovegood popped in first, a stuffed Crumple Horned Snorkack doll clutched to her nightgown. Susan Bones came next, her wand gripped tightly, prepared to attack or defend. Dobby then brought Lavender and Parvati Patil, both witches drowsy and ready for bed. Lastly, the Slytherins came, dressed to the nines as if they just left a cocktail party.
"Do youse need anything else from Dobby, Missy Granger?" The house elf asked, after laying out a few snacks and drinks for the witches. He popped away after Hermione declined.
"What is so important that you summoned us on Christmas Eve?" Daphne asked.
"Christmas Day actually. It is after midnight." Tracey said.
"I have found something very important." Hermione said. She then related the events of the night and the details of the Second Act to the keenly interested witches.
A perplexed Daphne placed her hands on her cheeks, deep in thought. "But could that really be the Faerie Queen? Morgause was killed by her son."
"Maybe the Queen allowed that body to die. But don't you see? This Queen of Air and Darkness isn't like Voldemort. Ruling doesn't interest her. She wants to corrupt and twist everything that is good and innocent. " Hermione said.
"So she raises four boys to become violent killers. She seduces her half brother and she brings up Mordred to hate his father. Wow - she is quite the bitch." Luna said.
"Eh, men have been blaming women for centuries. Was it her fault that Lancelot slept with his best friend's wife? Why not blame the men as well - it takes more than just the woman to sleep around." Tracey said.
"Other people were guilty too. Arthur wasn't forced to sleep with Morgause - although the spancel had magical powers. But her scheme were instrumental to destroying Arthur and the ruin of Camelot. She succeeded and now she is rising again." Hermione said.
"But, even if that is true, what can we do? There are no answers for an immortal witch queen that can take whatever body she desires." Lavender said.
"We need to stop her plots. We have to oppose her somehow." Susan said.
"Harry Potter." Luna said in a dreamy voice.
"Maybe some faerie magic has corrupted Harry. He did not become a normal unicorn. He is a black unicorn. His next form was a nundu. The Queen could be turning him into a destructive weapon against Hogwarts." Parvati said.
Before Hermione could argue that Harry would not be corrupted, Daphne retorted. "That doesn't make sense. If the Queen already corrupted Potter, why would her servants hunt him still? And Potter has saved all of us, twice. Hermione, where do you think this Queen will strike next?"
"I don't know. But she is a malevolent force, and may be more dangerous than the Dark Lord." Hermione said.
Susan Bones sighed. "I am sorry Hermione, but this is too flimsy for my aunt and the DMLE to pursue. There is no evidence, just mysteries that we can't really explain. A poem and a play are not enough to assign a team of aurors."
"Let us assume Hermione, you are right - that poets and writers have seen true visions of the Queen of Air and Darkness. That means she destroyed Camelot over a thousand years ago, and outsmarted Merlin - who apparently is not the all knowing wizard that the magical world claims. She has incredibly powerful servants. She has a wealth of arcane knowledge. She is virtually immortal. What would someone like that want to do?" Daphne said.
"She wants to corrupt our world. The First World was a place of great beauty and terrible cruelty - where the powerful fey toyed with and tortured lesser beings. The Queen is the shadow at the heart of the faerie, and she will spread her darkness and corruption - not for power but just to amuse herself." Luna said.
"Thanks for this news on Christmas, Granger." Daphne took a swig of butterbeer.
"Would you rather I kept you in the dark?" Hermione asked snarkily.
"No, at least we can get ready. But this is going to be very bad. And I doubt anyone believes us until it is too late" Daphne said and then laughed.
"What is so funny?" Tracey asked.
"The Dark Lord and Dumbledore believe they are have all the answers. We will see what happens when they face someone more powerful." Daphne said grimly.
"In The Once and Future King, her plot takes decades. King Arthur rules for twenty years before Camelot is destroyed." Lavender said.
"Everything happens faster these days. I don't know but I doubt there is much time left. We have to prepare the best we can.' Hermione said. The witches ate and drank in silence before Dobby came back, to pop them back home. The seven girls wished each other a Merry Christmas but the mood was grim.
Harry Potter looked into the blue and green waters of the faerie pond with loathing. He turned his arm in several directions and different poses, hoping that the reflection would change. It did not. His right hand was now a claw with three talons. And the skin was not the spotted gold of the nundu but covered with scales and cold blooded. Even his teeth were changing, the four pointed canines elongating to the point that he almost bite his tongue off when he closed his mouth. He had hoped that the next form would be a larger cat, or perhaps a sabre toothed tiger, but the reptilian skin refuted that guess. Harry wondered if he was turning into a giant lizard like Curt Connors.
Freak. All his life, even when he was feted by Dumbledore and the school for surviving a deadly adventure, Harry had believed there was something wrong with him, something inside that was shameful. The Dursleys damaged his psyche by branding him a freak, and now the label was undeniable. Harry longed to be an average wizard, with good friends, a loving family and plans for the future with no more worries than passing the OWLs or getting a date for a dance. Instead, he was some hybrid magical creature with no idea what he would become - only that he would become more beast like over time. I am a freak, Harry thought sadly.
Harry had never fit in as a child. Much of that could be blamed on the Dursleys who only grudgingly gave him the bare necessities to survive. He had grown up without a speck of affection, banished to a cupboard under the stairs, with no memory of his parents except dreams of his mother's love. When he discovered Hogwarts, the world had become a brighter place. He was good at magic - not reading gigantic books or potting plants perhaps - but at practical defense and flying. The other students accepted and even admired him for those skills - and now, that was all gone. He couldn't fly and he couldn't cast. He was no longer a wizard.
Last night, Harry had drifted off to sleep in the tent, drained by the physical and mental regimen Morgana had imposed. In the dreams, he walked with friends and teachers to an enormous hall, far grander than Hogwarts, where witches, wizards and muggles were celebrating. He saw the shades of his parents - a tall thin man with a bright smile and unruly hair and a beautiful redheaded woman with bright green eyes. They laughed with their friends - a saner Sirius Black, a happier Remus Lupin, and even a less pigheaded Severus Snape. But when Harry tried to get in, the glass door refused to open. Hermione Granger walked through, as did Neville Longbottom and Ron Weasley and so many of his former classmates. Even Draco Malfoy could enter. Only Harry was locked outside, helpless and stuck as everyone passed, allowed only to watch as others enjoyed the festivities.
A dignified Dumbledore guarded the entrance. "Your friends and family are welcome here but you cannot enter. If you were too happy, they would suffer needlessly." The headmaster said gravely. "You must stay outside to protect us. You have the greatest task - to serve as the shield and the sword against the Dark Lord. Else the world will burn."
Perhaps everything should burn, Harry thought. Why did he have to sacrifice so much when others did so little? Not everyone of course - but besides a few students, no one had helped him. But Harry knew he would never make that choice. He might be tempted but he would never run away to an island in the sun, or a magical school in America, far away from the troubles in Britain. I can't even do wand magic anyway. Harry knew his story - even if he did not know why he chose this path. He would fight to save his friends, his school, Hermione no matter how much it hurt. He would protect them even if they never knew.
So Harry went back to his transformations. He accepted the beast. He changed into the unicorn, and then the nundu, and returned to just plain Harry, a fifteen year old boy on the brink of manhood. Harry was still in wallowing in his despair. Otherwise, he would have noticed the crystal waters of the faerie pool, bubbling and boiling as his magic and anger began to spread and resonate over the Forbidden Forest.
Albus Dumbledore waited in an office in the Defense Against Dark Arts tower for his spy to report. While Minerva had not commandeered his office out of respect, his loss of the title meant his control over the Headmaster portraits was debatable. He was certain that Phineas Nigellus Black would use the opportunity to create trouble or worse gossip with other members of the House of Black, and alert Sirius or Andromeda to his plans.
A hook nosed wizard with greasy black hair dressed in flowing black robes entered.
"What news, Severus?" Dumbledore asked a touch sharply. Recent setbacks had made Albus impatient.
"The Dark Lord is angry." Snape said.
"That is hardly a surprise. Even when he was young, Riddle hated not getting his own way. At the orphanage, he once killed a boy's rabbit when he didn't get his way." Dumbledore said.
Snape wondered why Dumbledore allowed the young Riddle to attend Hogwarts if he knew that disturbing story. "I am afraid it has gone far beyond killing pets. He has ordered the deaths of Bones, Tonks, and Black. I have never seen him so furious."
"Does he plan to come out of hiding and lead a Death Eater attack?" an alarmed Dumbledore asked.
"No but he is demanding results. Voldemort believed that he was on the cusp of victory, but with the battle in Hogsmeade, many families have abandoned him. Headmaster, I may need to deliver him someone in the Order for torture and execution. Otherwise, he will suspect me of being a traitor." Snape said.
"But surely he relies on you for potions. His body is an unstable construct, Severus. He needs your assistance to prevent magical decay." Dumbledore said.
"Perhaps but his moods have gotten worse. He killed a Death Eater for being frightened of the nundu. He is not mentally stable anymore." Snape said.
Albus sighed - another pure blood wizard killed in the war. The headmaster mourned the loss of any magical life, even misguided enemies. "We do not have the resources to defend everyone. We are spread too thin, and there are few new auror recruits for the Order of the Phoenix, now that Amelia Bones has become more active."
"Perhaps, we could sacrifice a few pawns. Hestia Jones or Emmeline Vance are unimportant. Even Sirius Black - now that he is no longer hiding at 12 Grimmauld Place, a Death Eater attack on a Blood Traitor in the Black family would be expected." Snape said.
"No, Severus. Sirius is far too valuable. The Order is using 12 Grimmauld as a base and he is the Secret Keeper. I may need to move the Weasleys there for protection." Dumbledore said. Snape's face curled in disgust, his feelings for the loud bunch of redheads quite obvious. "Black also serves as a conduit to Harry Potter, and we need to know if the boy communicates with his godfather."
"We should focus the Dark Lord's attention on Potter directly. That would be easier than baby-sitting Sirius Black. He knows of the prophecy - and now that Harry Potter has opposed him in Hogsmeade, the Dark Lord will thirst for revenge." Snape said.
"And how do you propose we do that? Harry Potter is in the Forbidden Forest. We cannot even get into the heart of the Forest. The centaurs refuse to let Hagrid in. They have retreated deeper into isolation, and even Firenze says the stars are not right for them to help." Dumbledore said.
"Headmaster, you know as well as I that Harry Potter's actions are easy to predict. The boy has a hero complex. An attack on his friends will cause him to come running. The Dark Lord is well aware of that." Snape said.
Dumbledore nodded. He did not enjoy the thought of more lives at risk, particularly young ones. Unfortunately, sacrifices had to be made to stop Voldemort. "Please try your best to keep the casualties low." Albus said.
"Headmaster, you greatly overestimate my influence. If you really want minimal violence, then Potter should face him soon. After all, the prophecy says that Potter has the power to vanquish the Dark Lord. Or do you not believe that anymore?" Snape said, examining Dumbledore's face carefully for any hints.
"Harry is the one mentioned in Sybill Trelawney's prophecy. But he may not be ready. I had hoped for more time before the confrontation. He does not know enough about Tom Riddle, the events of the first war, or how to use his powers." Dumbledore said.
Snape snorted. "Two months ago, Harry Potter had no magical power at all. And, the Dark Lord is not a patient person. He returned six months ago. Did you really expect him to wait years for his revenge?"
Dumbledore took the admonishment in stride and then bade Snape good night. The Potions Master did not celebrate Christmas, but he hoped the two weeks off would do Severus some good. The strains of spying on Tom Riddle were obvious despite Snape's vaunted Occlumency.
Dumbledore walked back to the main Tower, deep in thought. Severus was right - he had hoped for more time to marshall the Order of the Phoenix and prepare Harry for his inevitable sacrifice. The strange events of the last two months - the potion, Halloween, and the Hogsmeade attack had accelerated the time table. Dumbledore had expected it would take a year before Riddle fully penetrated the Ministry. Instead, Malfoy and his cronies managed to subvert the government with remarkable speed. The seeming loss of magic for Harry Potter had been an enormous blow to the morale of the Light. Now the boy had returned but Dumbledore feared it was too late.
Harry had turned away from Dumbledore's guidance, rejecting his overture at the Hog's Head Inn. What if the boy turned dark? Harry had been brutal, almost cruel, in his attacks on the Death Eaters at Hogsmeade. Could the horcrux in the scar corrupted his magic? Dumbledore did not think that Voldemort was influencing Harry through the link but soul magic was not predictable. Dumbledore thought the link would provide information on Voldemort's plans but with Potter gone and out of his control, that plan had resulted in nothing useful.
The boy was not strong enough to defeat Voldemort. He was too young, too unskilled to battle a wizard as powerful as Voldemort. The horcruxes were still out there, and the boy had to die before the Dark Lord could truly be defeated. Dumbledore had hoped to engineer a path where Harry would willingly sacrifice himself for the Greater Good to save his friends but an awkward teenage boy was more susceptible to the duties of love than an angry nundu.
Dumbledore wondered how to retrieve his wayward disciple. He would have made Harry a hero, a champion, the Great Hope of the light. If the boy survived through some miracle, the magical world would shower accolades on Harry and himself of course, as the boy's wise guardian. And if he died, his death would inspire the world. Instead, everything had gone to waste.
Harry Potter meant well but this rebellious path would only end in failure. The Dark Lord would triumph without Dumbledore's careful plots and plans. Dumbledore's mastery of Occlumency exceeded even Severus Snape. He still appeared the absolute exemplar of the forgetful avuncular grandfather even as he brooded over these latest troubles.
In his ruminations, Dumbledore did not perceive the subtle changes being made to the wards at Hogwarts. There had been times when the Headmaster allowed interlopers in the castle to play a role in convoluted plans - a troll, a basilisk, and even dementors. This was not one of them. The Queen of Air and Darkness had come to the castle, and she weaved her foul and powerful magicks in the air and the earth. Dumbledore was the greatest wizard of his age, and as skilled in ward creation as any human alive. However he was too absorbed to pay attention to anything besides Voldemort. And so, the Queen created the door to Androlynne.