|by Van © 2015|
|OUR STORY CONTINUES
Ginny couldn't speak for Luna, but the worst part of their evening of "detention" was the boredom. Granted, towards the end of the first hour locked in the pillory, her lower back began complaining about its bent condition, but Ginny was in good shape and it wasn't that bad. By the end of her second hour, however, she was seriously considering revising her opinion. With her neck locked in the pillory's central cavity and the face of the device continuing for a few inches past her incarcerated wrists to either side, not all of the detention chamber was within her field of view, but she could examine a few features. It helped pass the time.
In a shallow alcove off to one side was a tall basket full of what appeared to be thin, tapered rods. They were far too long to be wands and too short and thin to be canes, so their purpose was unclear. Then, Ginny swallowed nervously. The light had dawned. The rods were switches, implements of corporal punishment.
There was also a tall iron birdcage on a stand. It was round, with a dome top, and was empty, except for a scatter of white feathers on the cage floor.
"I suspect the cage was for Cornish pixies," Luna said, smiling her usual vacant smile. Cornish pixies are small, elfish, bright blue creatures with long ears, antennae, and insect-like wings. They are notorious mischief makers and could be quite a nuisance if allowed to loiter around humans.
"Cornish pixies?" Ginny scoffed. "I suspect birds. Look at the feathers."
"Yes, the feathers," Luna nodded. "They're primary and secondary flight feathers, every one, and a mix of goose and dove, I believe."
"Oh," Ginny huffed. "Point taken."
"In years past, Cornish pixies were sometimes kept and trained in simple tasks," Luna continued. "This was most successful if the task at hand was to their liking, of course, but tickling naked students locked in pillories and stocks or dangling by their thumbs would suit their nature."
Ginny shivered in distress at the very thought, then frowned. "Wait, naked?"
Luna shifted her vacantly smiling gaze to a second alcove set in the wall opposite the basket of switches and the pixie cage and pointed with her manacled hands. The alcove was empty except for a long bench and a row of wooden pegs set in a horizontal plank mounted on the wall at shoulder height. "Shorter first-years probably had to stand on the bench to hang their clothes from the pegs," Luna noted.
"Wait," Ginny frowned, "tickling naked first-years? That's... medieval!"
"Literally," Luna agreed.
Before further discussion of the loathsome evil of Cornish pixies tickling giggling, squealing, naked students could ensue, there was a loud snap, followed by more snaps at regular intervals. Ginny and Luna watched as the door bolts disengaged, one-by-one.
"It's about bloody time," Ginny muttered as the door swung open.
"Good news," Hermione said as she strolled into the chamber. "We're not in trouble."
"Wonderful," Ginny drawled.
"Delightful," Luna agreed with greater enthusiasm.
"Also," Hermione continued as she paused midway between Ginny's pillory and Luna's stocks, "I found some wrope seeds in Ffion's—I mean the Sentinel Magus' office."
"Wrope seeds?" Ginny demanded.
Hermione nodded. "From a living vine!"
"A remarkable coincidence," Luna said, "or possibly a serendipitous sympathetic concomitance influenced by intersecting lay-lines."
"Yes, or that," Ginny muttered, then glared at Hermione. "Well?"
"She asked me to take some uncatalogued books to the library and as I was leaving I noticed the vine and managed to borrow a few seeds." She lifted her sweater and pulled a tiny, clear glass vial with a cork stopper from the secret waistband pocket of her uniform skirt. There were tiny dark-brown or black pellets in the vial, but the distance was too great for either Ginny or Luna to see any detail.
"Borrowed?" Ginny purred. "Was that all you nicked, or did you toss the whole place?"
Hermione blushed. "Borrowed," she reiterated, then waved her wand in Luna's direction. Its tip wove a complex pattern in the still dungeon air.
"Thank you," Luna said as the manacles confining her wrists popped open, the stocks unlocked, and the top beam lifted on its hinge. She lifted her ankles from the holes, swung her legs to the side and stood, then stretched.
"You're welcome." Hermione shifted her smile to Ginny. "We need to borrow a suitable pot and some soil from the greenhouse and find a pretty oak branch in the Forbidden Forest for the baby vine to climb on."
"That would be nice," Luna agreed, "and wrope vines have a known affection for oaks."
"More borrowing," Ginny sighed, then tugged on her pillory confined wrists to emphasize her imprisonment.
Hermione couldn't have missed the gesture, but did nothing to free her fellow Gryffindor. Instead, she produced Luna's wand and handed it to the smiling Ravenclaw.
"We were discussing how the medieval proctors probably required students sentenced to detention to strip naked," Luna said, "then used trained Cornish pixies to tickle them with feathers as punishment."
Hermione's smile vanished. "W-what?"
"I'm going for a spot of peach blossom tea," Luna said as she strolled towards the open door, "or possibly some pumpkin juice. Ginny will explain. Goodnight." She broke into a skip as she cleared the threshold... and was gone.
"Uh, goodnight, Luna!" Hermione called after her, then turned to Ginny's pillory. "Naked? Tickling?"
Ginny tugged on her wrists, again. "There wasn't a lot to talk about before you finally decided to return," she explained, then nodded to the alcove with the bench and pegs. "Luna thinks they undressed over there..." She pointed to the opposite alcove. "And the empty cage with the feathers was for Cornish pixies. It's all nonsense, of course."
"Oh, I don't know," Hermione said. Her smile had returned. "It makes sense in a perverse sort of way. Imagine..." She flicked her wand and Ginny's uniform skirt rose, as if lifted by a strong wind, exposing her pastel green knickers... then fluttered back down. "Naked," Hermione continued, "helpless, and being tickled relentlessly by pesky pixies. Just imagine."
Ginny favored her friend with an unamused stare, then her frown thawed and transformed into a grin. "The next time I see Ron, I'll be sure and tell him you find the idea to be so very interesting."
"Don't you dare!" Hermione gasped in horror, then waved her wand. Ginny's pillory unlocked itself and the top beam lifted on its hinge.
Ginny lifted her wrists and neck from the openings, groaned as she stood erect and stretched, than shuffled towards her friend and fellow Gryffindor.
Hermione lowered the pillory's top beam, handed Ginny her wand, and they headed for the door.
"Really," Ginny drawled, "I'm going to have to keep an eye on you. Filching seeds? Threatening your friends with naked tickling? Perhaps you need to be resorted into Slitherin House."
"Very funny," Hermione huffed. "Tea or pumpkin juice?"
"Butterbeer," Ginny answered. "I have a few bottles stashed in my trunk."
Hermione was scandalized. "That's against school rules."
Ginny shrugged as they crossed the detention chamber's threshold. "Illegal butterbeer should be nothing to a notorious herbological larcenist."
"Stop," Hermione giggled as the door closed behind them.
Back in the chamber, the forlorn feathers in the bottom of the pixie cage rustled in disappointment, ever so slightly. They'd had visitors, and it had been so very long since their last taste of giggling student flesh.
& the Wrappity Wrope
Ginny accepted the task of filching a pot. That is, she went to the greenhouse and asked Professor Sprout if she could borrow one of the pots on the discard pile. It wasn't that she was above a little harmless pilfering, but it was an innocent request, so why not just ask? Permission granted, she selected a five-gallon pot with a built-in dish to collect excess water and a barely noticeable nick in its rim. As an added bonus, it was one of the specialized vine-pots, with integrated clamps in one side to anchor a vertical pole to support a growing vine. Ginny tossed in potting soil and a little compost, mixed the result together with a trowel, then headed back to Gryffindor Tower.
Meanwhile, Hermione went to Hagrid's shack, borrowed one of his brush knives, then made her way to a stand of oaks a hundred or so yards inside the Forbidden Forest and began examining the lower branches of the nearest trees.
Suddenly, Hermione realized she wasn't alone. A centaur was gazing at her from beside a holly tree. He—and the centaur was unmistakeably male—was the youngest Hermione had ever seen. His equine body was that of a yearling colt and his human head, arms, and torso those of a teenager, or perhaps a youth in his early twenties. He was beardless and his long mane and tail were dark brown, his human skin bronze-tan, and his equine hide palomino. A bow and quiver were slung across his back.
Hermione realized her heart was hammering in her chest. The beast (and centaurs were classified as Beasts, rather than Magical Beings, by the Ministry of Magic at their own request) was quite handsome, with noble, symmetrical features, high cheekbones, and warm, intelligent, amber eyes. His torso was muscular, but not excessively so. That is, he was, in Hermione's opinion, manly... like Ron when he took off his shirt and they went swimming... or snogging. Hermione ignored the blush coloring her cheeks and remembered her manners. The Forbidden Forest was centaur territory and she was a visitor.
"Forgive this intrusion," Hermione said with a bow, then placed the borrowed brush knife on the ground with the handle towards the centaur. "I'm looking for an oak branch to support a sprouting vine."
"You are known to us, Hermione Granger," the centaur said. His voice was a strong, melodious tenor. "And you are welcome in this forest. My name is Finnbar."
"I greet you, Finnbar," Hermione said with another bow.
Finnbar bowed in return, then stepped to the oak tree, drew a curved knife from a sheath sewn into his quiver, pulled down a long, thin, straight branch, and with a sweep of the blade, severed it from the tree. With a flurry of additional sweeps, the green leaves growing from the branch fluttered to the forest floor. The result was a slender, six foot staff with two side branches, more or less in the shape of a trident or the runic "Algiz" character. He handed it to Hermione.
"It's perfect, Finnbar," Hermione said with a smile. "Thank you."
"You are welcome, Hermione Granger," Finnbar said, his eyes locked with Hermione's. He used the knife to sever a long, fluttering lock of a few dozen strands from his mane to the left of his smiling face, sheathed the blade with practiced ease, then looped the lock around the central branch of the staff and tied a clove-hitch. "A token of this meeting," he explained, "and proof that you have the herd's permission to possess this staff."
Suddenly, an arrow flew across the clearing and embedded itself in the oak's trunk with a twang, passing not a hand's breadth above Finnbar's smiling head. Hermione gasped and flinched in horror, but Finnbar's smile broadened and he reached up and plucked the arrow from the tree.
"Stop flirting with the human!" a deep male voice resonated from somewhere in the distant green shadows. "This is a hunt!"
"I'm coming, Uncle!" Finnbar called back over his shoulder as he reached back and slid the arrow into his quiver. His gaze and smile remained fixed on Hermione. "Farewell, Hermione Granger," he said, lifted himself high onto his hind legs, spun to the side, and thundered away in the direction from which the arrow had sped.
"Farewell, Finnbar!" Hermione shouted after him. The centaur youth waved as he leaped gracefully over a fallen tree, then disappeared among the gray trunks and gnarled branches. Hermione realized her heart was hammering again, if it had ever stopped. Flirting? she thought, and her blush deepened. Wait 'til I tell Ginny! She retrieved Hagrid's knife and turned to retrace her steps back to his shack. Finnbar's token fluttered from the slender staff like a gauzy ribbon. "At least I have proof it wasn't a dream," she muttered under her breath.
& the Wrappity Wrope
"I've always thought you had beastly taste in boyfriends," Ginny purred, "but a centaur?"
"Beastly," Hermione said, rolling her eyes. "How very droll. I'm dating your brother, remember."
"That's what I meant," Ginny chuckled. "Beastly."
The Gryffindors had changed into their respective pj's, completed their evening toilettes, and were in their respective beds. Unlike two evenings before, they were not bound and gagged from ankles to mouth by tight, inescapable webs of magic rope generated by the Incarcerous spell.
"They say in pre-Roman times the druids used to sacrifice maidens to the centaurs," Ginny said. "I don't mean kill them, of course, but deliver them to their local herd as slaves."
Hermione gazed across the dark dorm room at Ginny. Only the stove and a single small nightlight lantern were glowing, but it was enough light for Hermione to see Ginny's smiling face. "I know," she sighed. "I achieved an 'Outstanding' in History of Magic, as you might recall."
"Yes, I know," Ginny sighed. "Everyone knows. You were 'Outstanding' in everything except Defense Against the Dark Arts."
Everyone did, indeed, know Hermione had nearly maxed out her scores on the Ministry of Magic's O.W.L. exams. And that was the year Delores Umbridge taught (meaning sabotaged) the D.A.D.A. course, so nobody held an O.W.L score of 'Exceeds Expectations' against anyone, much less Hermione Granger.
"Anyway," Ginny continued with a smile, "I was suggesting you might present yourself to... Finnbar?"
"Finnbar," Hermione confirmed in an even voice.
"You might present yourself to Finnbar to be his slave," Ginny purred. "Imagine the research possibilities. Bestial scholars have very little actual data about centaur society."
"Absolutely hilarious," Hermione drawled. "Changing the subject from Magical Creatures to Herbology, if the wrope seeds don't sprout in a week, I'll send an owl to Neville for advice."
The seeds in question—three seeds, to be precise, with the others still safe in Hermione's vial—had been planted in Ginny's borrowed pot, which was in the corner of the dorm room beside Hermione's wardrobe. They'd agreed the wrope plant probably needed very little light, since its natural habitat was the understory of mature oak forests; however, it's known that the seeds of some species have to pass through the gut of a bird, bat, or pixie in order to germinate, and they were afraid that might be the case with the wrope plant. Hermione was unsuccessful finding any relevant information in the library, and while they could ask Professor Sprout, she might confiscate the seeds. Neville Longbottom had graduated and was training to be an Auror, like Harry, but he was an absolute genius at Herbology and his knowlege of magical plants was encyclopedic.
"If they sprout, they sprout," Ginny said, referring to the three experimental seeds in the pot.
"It's difficult to argue with that," Hermione said with a smile.
"Good night, Hermione," Ginny said.
"Goodnight, Ginny," Hermione replied.
"Pleasant dreams," Ginny added, "of centaurs."
"Don't be a tosser, Ginny Weasley," Hermione sighed. "At least make the attempt."
Ginny smiled, rolled over in her bed, and closed her eyes.
Hermione closed her eyes, as well.
& the Wrappity Wrope
It was absolutely dreadful! Hermione was naked, and she was tied up! Also, she was about to be presented to the centaurs as a tributary slave!
As a young maiden of the tribe and generally considered to be not unpleasant in appearance, she'd known that some such a fate might be her lot. Married-off to a neighboring chieftain, indentured to the Witches of the Green (a.k.a. the Druid Auxiliary), indentured to the Druids themselves, even shipped across the channel to be bartered to the Romans—such things happened. But enslaved to the centaurs? What had Hermione ever done to offend the goddess Brigid that She should allow this to happen?
Not counting her rope bonds, Hermione wasn't quite naked. She'd been bathed, her body anointed with floral infusions and rendered animal musk, and a garland-crown of flowers had been woven through her combed and lightly oiled auburn hair. All things considered—and again, not counting her bonds—Hermione presented a very pretty picture and had a pleasant stink.
As for her bonds, a rope noose was around her throat. Practically, the rope was a leash, preventing her from trying to run. Ceremonially, it marked her as a sacrifice. More rope pinned her upper arms to her sides, passed above and below her pert breasts and yoked her shoulders, and lashed her crossed wrists behind her back and against her spine, just below her shoulder blades. From the waist down... nothing.
The far end of Hermione's noose/leash was in the strong but elderly left hand of her tribe's strong but elderly druid priest, Albus. His oak staff of office was in his right hand and he was dressed, as always, in long white robes. A garland-stole of oak leaves was draped over his shoulders and his long, long gray beard was interwoven with long, long narrow braids bound with leather thongs and decorated with glass beads. He was there to do the honors, to turn Hermione over to her new masters.
The Weasley clan had been given the honor of escort and Arthur and his four surviving sons, Bill, Percy, George, and Ron, were resplendent in their best plaid trousers and blue body-paint. They were carrying wooden shields and spears, with axes thrust in their belts. The exception was Arthur. As a clan patriarch and a tribal sub-chieftain, he had a longsword sheathed at his side.
Also present was Ginevra, the youngest Weasley and only daughter. As such, she wasn't officially part of the escort, but "Ginny" was a shieldmaiden, a formidable archer, and Hermione's best friend, despite their difference in social standing within the tribe. Hermione's family was dirt poor, whereas Arthur Weasley was loaded. He had pigs out the wazoo. Anyway, Ginny was dressed in a plaid kilt, her body was painted in a similar manner as her father and brothers, and she was armed with a bow, quiver, and a pair of long, wicked knives.
The group was standing at the edge of a forest clearing on the border of the centaurs' territory. It was noon, more or less. It was also hot. Bees were buzzing around the nearby flowers, a light breeze was rustling the tops of the oaks, and towering, fluffy white clouds slowly marched across a cerulean-blue sky. All things considered, it was a perfect day for an enslavement.
"They're late," Arthur said to Albus. "I have things to do, game to hunt, people to slay."
Albus shrugged. "Our time means little to centaurs, and their concept of time is not as we know it. They live in a world of divination and dreams."
"I believe I'm dreaming now," Hermione volunteered.
Arthur sighed and motioned to his youngest son. "Gag."
Ron handed his spear to his brother George, slung his shield, then pulled a long, narrowly folded cloth from his trousers and stepped in front of Hermione.
The soon to be slave-of-the-centaurs sighed and batted her eyes at Ron. They had history. Everyone in the tribe knew they had history. Everyone in the tribe knew they had engaged in snogging, bump-and-tickle, and even hide-the-sausage. Lucky for Albus, who had a quota to fill, the centaurs weren't particular about the virgin aspect of the virgin sacrifices they accepted.
Their eyes locked, Ron thrust the bandage-like cloth in Hermione's mouth, wrapped it completely around her head from both sides and back across, filling and cleaving her mouth, then began tying a knot at the nape of her neck.
"For the love of Brigid," Ginny sighed as she tossed her bow to Percy, stepped behind Hermione, and began pulling her hair free of the gag. "The women spent two hours arranging her hair." The gag layers now under said hair, Ginny untied Ron's knot, gave the ends of the cloth a strong cinch, then tied a knot of her own. "There." She patted Hermione's shoulder. "Sorry, Hermie."
"Yeah," Ron sighed. "Sorry, uh, Hermie."
"Look sharp, you two!" Arthur barked. "They're here."
It was true. A dozen or more centaurs had appeared on the far side of the clearing. All were armed with quivers and bows, with nocked arrows at the ready.
Ron and Ginny scurried back into line and retrieved their weapons.
Meanwhile, the centaurs had begun shaking their bows, shouting insults, and leaping about, stamping the dirt with their large, dangerous hooves. This went on for something like three minutes, then abruptly stopped.
"Our turn," Arthur announced, and the Weasleys began throwing a tantrum of their own. Spears clashed with shields, Ginny waved her bow and flipped the back of her kilt at the centaurs in a rude and provocative manner, insults were shouted, and the male Weasleys made a show of clutching their crotches. One minute became two, then three, then the demonstration stopped.
"Now that the niceties have been exchanged," Albus announced in his stentorian command voice, then gestured with his staff at Hermione. "Here is the maiden presented to the centaur clan of the Green Wood as agreed. Long may peace and friendship reign between our tribes and let either come to the aid of the other in time of war, flood, fire, or pixie infestation."
Two centaurs stepped forward. One was mature, with a long mane and beard, and was wearing a gold torc around his neck. The other was much younger, possibly a centaur teenager. He was beardless, but bore a family resemblance to the elder.
"What kind of a scam are you running here, Albus?" the elder centaur demanded.
Albus heaved a long-suffering sigh. "What is it now, Firenze?"
"That's Chief Firenze to you, human," the youngster said hotly.
"Finnbar, stifle yourself," Chief Firenze huffed, then turned back to Albus. "My son, Prince Finnbar," Firenze explained.
"A pleasure," Albus said with a slight bow.
"All mine," Prince Finnbar muttered. He didn't seem all that sincere.
"You owe us two maidens this year, Albus," Firenze stated. "Planetary conjunction? Year of the Nogtail?"
Albus frowned. "Are you quite certain? I thought it was two maidens next year, and none the year after."
"The planetary conjunction takes precedence to the sun and moon calendars," Firenze stated. "If you can't tell time, Albus, build yourself a stone henge to do it for you."
Albus shrugged. "I'm not going to argue astronomy with a centaur," he sighed, then gestured with his staff at Hermione, "but we only brought one."
"And what would that be?" Firenze demanded, pointing at Ginny.
"Hey, watch it hay-breath!" Ginny huffed. "I'm a shieldmaiden, not a... Okay, I am a maiden, but..." She turned to her father. "Dad!"
"A deal is a deal, Arthur," Albus said quietly.
Arthur Weasley rolled his eyes. "Molly's gonna kill me," he sighed, referring to his wife and Ginny's mother. He then gestured at Ginny with his sword. "Boys."
"Hey! No!" Ginny struggled for all she was worth—which as a sub-chieftan's daughter was several pigs, at the very least—but couldn't prevent various of her brothers from divesting her of her kilt, knives, quiver, bow, and dignity. They then bound her with rope, like Hermione—"Mrrrf!"—and cleave-gagged her with another cloth, also like Hermione.
"She has blue crap on her boobs," Prince Finnbar noted.
"It'll wash off," Ron advised.
"Quiet!" Arthur and Firenze ordered their respective sons.
Percy handed his kid sister's noose/leash to Albus. Then, Albus handed both leashes to Firenze.
"Anything else?" Albus asked.
"There was a good wood-grape crop this year," Firenze said. "A keg of fire-wine mead for two casks of your ale?"
"Throw in a couple of smoked boar, we'll throw in a cask of smoked fish, and it's a deal," Albus responded.
"Agreed!" Firenze shouted.
Across the clearing, the centaurs shook their bows and yodeled.
On the human side, the Weasleys clashed their spears to their shields and howled—all but the Weasley who had unexpectedly just found herself enslaved.
Hermione and Ginny exchanged a gagged sigh, then watched Firenze hand their leashes to Prince Finnbar.
"Don't worry," Finnbar said to Ginny. "I'll wash your boobies myself." He turned and started klopping across the clearing. The new slave-maidens had no choice but to follow, leaving the human world behind them forever. "Do you two know how to wrestle?" Finnbar called back over his shoulder. "We have a large pit full of nice, soupy mud, and we love watching human maidens wrestle."
As Hermione trudged through the grassy meadow at the end of her leash, she noticed something that was both intriguing and alarming. Finnbar might be young and therefore small for a centaur, but he was hung like a horse, literally.
& the Wrappity Wrope
It is widely known that centaurs, as a race, are gifted in the art of divination. Ginny knew it, Hermione could have written a scroll on the subject off the top of her head, and Luna had written a short article on Famous Centaur Divinations of History for The Quibbler, her father's magazine.
Exactly how centaurs conducted their divinations wasn't well understood by human scholars, but the general understanding was that astronomical observation of portents and the burning of certain herbs, such as sage and mellowsweet, and the examination of smoke patterns was involved.
It is also widely known that divination and dreams are inextricably linked, but what no human scholar suspected at the time of Hermione, Ginny, and Luna's wrope germination experiment is that centaur hair has oneiric properties. That is, strands of centaur hair can function as what Cassie Nightingale's Native American, First Nations, and Indio shaman friends would call dreamcatchers. Whether or not Finnbar knew this when he gifted Hermione with a long lock from his mane isn't known, but that may have been the first documented example of a centaur playing an actual prank on a human.
Something else not known at the time, and that would prove highly relevant to the events that were to follow, is that the wrope plant is sensitive to dream energy. The druids might not have found this to be especially surprising. They, themselves, could channel the unfocused dream energy of ancient oaks and knew that wrope vines have an affinity for oaks. Anyway, it wouldn't be until years later, when the future Hogwarts Professor of Herbology Neville Longbottom published his research on the matter in the Journal of Aeromantic Botany, that the oneiric properties of the wrope plant would be scientifically documented.
Anyway, Hermione dreamed, Ginny dreamed, and Finnbar's hair funneled those dreams into the germinating wrope seeds.
That night, Hermione's dreams were vivid, melodramatic, historically questionable, and erotic.
Ginny's dreams were equally vivid, even more erotic, and involved her being transformed into a golden snitch. After an epic pursuit, she was captured, transformed back into a human damsel, bound with golden rope, and diddled senseless by her captor, the famous seeker, Harry Potter. In other words, Ginny experienced a creative and imaginative quidditch-based wet dream!
It's entirely possible Finnbar's dreamcatcher-hair amplified those dreams, and its probable the bondage aspects of the girls' dreams sprang from recent events. It's also probable the dreams somehow influenced the development of the germinating plants.
Across the castle in Ravenclaw Tower, Luna Lovegood also dreamed—about a family of crumple-horned snorkacks. The dream was vivid, creative, and not in any way erotic.
& the Wrappity Wrope