Haesel marched down the hallway of Potter Manor, knees weakening with each step. What in the world was Marvolo doing? Her magic was going haywire. And her body was reacting to it as if he were present, kissing every inch of her body in excruciatingly slow fashion. Her breathing sped up, and she felt her cheeks burn. The ache for him was growing, and it wasn’t at all proper. They weren’t bonded; she shouldn’t feel like this. Not yet.
Mortified, Haesel threw open the door to the billiards room and yelled, “What did you do, Dad?” It was only after the noise in the room vanished that she thought to take a look around; the billiards room was occupied by more than her father. Morgana, now most of the men in her family were witness to her hollering like a shrew and panting as if she had been actively engaged in a rigorous activity of some sort.
Her Uncle Valerius scrutinized her with a pinched look on his face, before glaring at James. “You didn’t.”
James laughed and laughed, Sirius joining him shortly thereafter, clearly ‘in’ on whatever joke they had played.
“Oh, he did all right!” Sirius said. “And I can’t believe he fell for it. Guess Lord Slytherin is disgustingly smitten with my little goddaughter.”
“What did you do?” Haesel demanded, more worried by the minute. She tried to think of options, but nothing came to mind. How could they have possibly made Marvolo’s magic do this to her?
“What were you thinking?” Valerius asked, derision in his voice. He normally got on brilliantly with her dad, but not when she was involved. Her Uncle Valerius always took her side and watched out for her. She had lost count of how many times he had protected her at Hogwarts—and those were just the ones that she knew about! She knew there had to be more, and several of those times could likely explain some of the injuries Madam Pomfrey had healed over the past four or so years.
“The look on his face! Oh, I wish I could see it!” James snorted and clapped a hand over his face, as if to block the sound. “I can’t believe he fell for it!”
“Cancel it. Immediately!” ordered Valerius. His voice brooked no argument, and James flinched at the tone, likely because Valerius had copied it from his older sister—her mother.
“B-But why?” Sirius inquired through his sniggers. “It’s obviously working.”
“And not just on Lord Slytherin, you dolt!” snapped Valerius.
As the attention in the room settled on her, Haesel winced and wrapped her arms around herself. It felt like she was being crushed by a heavy weight atop her, and could not escape. She was trapped and had no idea what was happening, or why. “Stop it!” she screamed, tears in her eyes. Something was wrong, some pull on her magic, and the phantom person covering her on something soft only made it worse.
Then, it was gone. Just like that.
Valerius closed the distance between them and folded her in his arms. “Hey, little lamb, you’re safe. I’m here.”
“You’ll behead the werewolves that come my way,” she whispered. Uncle Valerius was always insisting that she was too innocent for her own good (though he then contradicted himself by saying he wouldn’t have her any other way). So she had told him to kill everything that came to hurt her, so she could stay that way; it had been a joke, but he had taken it seriously.
“Always,” Valerius promised.
“Haesel? You okay?” asked James, abashed. He took a step toward her, but her glare stopped him in place. He leaned his weight on the cue.
“What was that?” she asked. Haesel wasn’t sure if she wanted an answer, though. Because it was almost impossible to remain upset with her dad when he was giving her that look. Still, she needed to know what had happened. It had been . . . disconcerting to say the least. Overwhelming, and altogether wrong. Even as Marvolo’s magic had somehow manipulated hers—and it sounded like that was her dad’s and Siri’s doing—the deepest part of her had fought it. Some instinct or voice, perhaps Magic itself, had whispered that such things were not appropriate before her bonding.
Her magic combined with Marvolo’s had never felt wrong before. The memory of whatever it was made her feel ill.
“I just wanted to mess with your precious Marvolo a bit, seeing as he’s going to be taking you away from me soon.” James met her gaze squarely. “I know you don’t even plan on waiting until you graduate. I’m happy for you, darling, but Yule is so . . .” James swiped a hand beneath his teary eyes. “Anyway, I used the family magic to send him a solid illusion of you.”
“Why on earth would you do that?” The Potter Family illusions were infallible, and their most closely held secret. Only the Head or Heir of the family could utilize them. Otherwise she and Henry would have sent the blasted illusions to school on occasion to spend some time away from all the adulation.
James ducked his head and shrugged. “I thought it would serve as a distraction so you wouldn’t feel his nervous anticipation and anxiousness on top of your own.” He rubbed his neck. “The illusion was supposed to say whatever he most wanted to hear; I didn’t imagine it would affect you at all. I’m sorry, darling.”
What he most wanted to hear? “Excuse me,” mumbled Haesel, pausing only to kiss Valerius’s cheek before leaving the room. What had her illusion self said that resulted in the wrong, trapped feeling? Obviously something very amorous. Perhaps an offer to bond in the Ancient Ways under the Olde Magick? But that made no sense, because she had told him only days ago that she had no intention of doing so. Surely not a suggestion of elopement! She snorted at the mere thought. That was utterly ridiculous! She would never dream of bonding without her family’s presence.
What did that leave?
Haesel sighed and entered her bedchamber, unconsciously spreading her arms outward as her mother and grandmothers undressed her and led her into the bathroom. She sank into the hot water and began picking at her nails.
“Stop that, Haesel. You’ll chip the paint,” Isadore admonished.
“Yes, Mum,” she absently replied, though she kept picking.
She loved Marvolo; he was her lord—there was no question of that. The jeweled necklace lying between her breasts (and, oh, it had been so much fun to explain that to her mother) proved both of their feelings were steadfast. However, what had just happened made her truly realize the vast differences caused by their life experiences.
“Get out of the bath, darling,” Dorea said.
“Yes, Grandmama.” Haesel stood beneath the golden tree and let the family magic dry her, more cognizant of its presence and power than ever before.
Marvolo was more than fifty years her senior. He had traveled widely, learned exotic magic, and experienced things she had not. And, as had been made blatantly clear to her not an hour ago, had expertise in intimate matters—something she hadn’t considered before. She knew her father had only been with her mother, and Henry would never even think of being with anyone but Iolanthe, but the same could not be said for her Marvolo.
“I think he expects certain . . . things,” whispered Haesel.
Her mother halted, hands still twisted up in Haesel’s hair as the brush ceased smoothing out the strands. “How do you feel about that?” Isadore asked softly.
Haesel met her Grandmother Vaisey’s eyes in the mirror; they were identical to hers and her mother’s. “I . . . I love him,” she said resolutely, “but I’m not ready for that.”
“Then he vill vait.” The accent was still strong after a lifetime spent in England. It was hard to imagine that Haesel might never have been born if the Krums hadn’t chosen a foreign fostering for their second daughter.
“What if he doesn’t want to, Nana?” Because his intense desire and passion had been revealed to her in unmistakable clarity. How long could she expect him to bridle his passions? And how long would he be willing to wait? Because this was something she could not condone rushing into. This was giving her virtue, her very self, to a man.
“He luffs you child; he vill vait.” Her Nana patted her cheek lightly.
“Okay,” said Haesel. “Okay.” She closed her eyes to shut out all her worries, to force them inside a box and bury it deep in her mind, where no one could find it. When she returned her attention to her surroundings, she was alone in her bedchamber. Music drifted through the corridors, and she knew that it must be about time for her and Marvolo to enter the ballroom together.
She opened her door and then stopped. “Uncle Valerius?” His blond hair hung down to his shoulders in soft waves, and his chocolaty eyes were smiling at her.
“Henry was making googly eyes at the little Malfoy girl. I offered to escort you.” He proffered his arm.
“Thank you.” Haesel placed hers atop it, before tangling their fingers and swinging their arms with each step.
Before they rounded the last corner, Valerius stopped walking. Haesel tilted her head back and asked, “What’s wrong?”
“You might have chosen him as your lord, little lamb, but I think you’re forgetting something.” Solemn, again. He was so serious.
“And what’s that?” she inquired.
Valerius leaned down and breathed the answer in her ear. “That you’re his lady.”
Haesel staggered for a moment and leaned her head against his chest. Uncle Valerius was right. She hadn’t been giving that any consideration. If she felt the need to please Marvolo and make him happy, surely he felt the same in return, with an added sense of protection—if only because he was a member of the oligarchy and their magic prodded them to guide and guard. Marvolo would never push for more than she was willing to give, no matter how much he might anticipate their bonding.
“No problem, little lamb. Now, let’s hurry up. Or else everyone will think you’ve snubbed Lord Slytherin at your own engagement ball,” he teased.
With more confidence in her step, Haesel turned the corner. Marvolo waited for her, his eyes speaking nothing but appreciation as they perused her. The gown was ridiculously expensive, but very flattering. It fit like a glove from her chest to the bottom of her bum, and then the skirt flared out in a dramatic fashion, swishing with each step she took. Her shoulders were bare, but sleeves started at her upper arms and swept down in the shape of petals to cover her hands—the ends dragging on the floor and slit all the way up. It shimmered like the priciest of pearls and, judging by the awe on Marvolo’s face, her mother and grandmother had chosen wisely.
“I’ll leave you here,” Valerius said before kissing her cheek. He nodded once to Marvolo and then entered the ballroom and fired a set of golden sparks into the air.
Marvolo grasped her hands and kissed the insides of her wrists. “Darling, Haesel, Yule cannot come fast enough.”
Haesel inhaled deeply, tore her gaze from his, and studied the hem of her skirt. “And if Yule comes too soon—for me?”
The ballroom quieted, and she could just hear her grandfather Charlus beginning their official introductions—titles and all.
Marvolo placed one finger beneath her chin and lifted her head. “Then I shall eagerly await Imbolc. And if that’s too soon, I shall await Ostara. And if that’s too soon, I shall await Beltane. And if that’s too soon, I shall await Litha. And if that’s too soon, I shall await Lughnassadh. And if that’s too soon, I shall await Mabon. And if that’s too soon, I shall await Samhain. And if that’s too soon, my beloved, then I shall await Yule next year—and every following year—until you’re ready.”
What an amazing man she had chosen, even more so than she had previously believed.
Haesel beamed at him and then studiously glanced down at her fingernails. “I’ll have to check my calendar and get back to you about next Yule. I’m afraid this year’s is already booked.”
“Oh?” Marvolo narrowed his eyes.
Nodding, Haesel smirked cheekily. “Indeed. An extremely rich and devastatingly handsome man has asked me to bond with him on Yule. I’m simply unavailable.”
“You don’t say.” Marvolo tugged her closer.
“Oh, but I do! He’s horribly possessive. And, from what I’ve learned, much too powerful for his own good. He’s attracted to it, you see? That’s why he found me, of course. And since I’m the only witch who’s prestigious enough for him, well, I had to put the poor fellow out of his misery. Don’t you agree?”
“Oh, yes. It’s only proper,” Marvolo breathed against her lips.
“I can’t promise I’ll be ready this Yule,” Haesel confessed, tears in her eyes. “But I’ll try.”
Marvolo squeezed her hands and nuzzled her cheek. “I can promise I’ll wait as long as you need.” His magic testified his words were the truth, and sealed them to her. “Because you, Lady Haesel Potter,” he said with a wry twist to his lips that she didn’t quite comprehend, “called me.” He took a step to the side and set her arm atop his, before leading her into the ballroom.
Haesel almost didn’t hear his final whispered words, because the applause was so loud at their entrance. But even if her ears had missed them, his magic had declared them so emphatically that she couldn’t have overlooked them.
And I came.