Hermione Granger tapped her toe and shifted the books in her arm. It was 9 o’clock already by her watch, yet, the Monomouthshire Public Library’s little green door stood stubbornly shut. At ten years old, the bushy-haired, buck-toothed, brown-skinned girl was the youngest of the three people waiting to get inside. From behind her, Hermione heard a woman’s panting,
“Oh hello! Welcome, welcome! Let me just get my key..”
Hermione queued in behind the middle-aged woman as she unlocked the library doors. The grey haired woman shuffled around the small building turning on lights and greeted the other two people who had been waiting warmly. When she finally made it back to the information desk, the little girl with two large fluffy pigtails – under which neon green plastic baubles were barely visible – was waiting.
“Hello,” Hermione started while unloading the books from her bag and piling them on top of those she had already deposited on the desk, “I’m done with this one on England and Wales during Roman times, Penyard’s Castle, Little Dean Hall, and Owen Tudor, but I’m really interested in something that came up while reading about the -”
She was interrupted by the jingle of a bell. The door creaked open and a burly man with a newspaper tucked under his arm strolled in and called,
“S’mae, Old Ellen!”
Hermione’s bushy eyebrows furrowed, “well that’s very rude!”
The man didn’t hear Hermione but the woman behind the counter – Ellen – was smiling so broadly that her pleasantly plump and weathered cheeks almost hid her clear blue eyes. She said,
“It’s okay, dear! That’s my name: Ellen Hayward. Now you were saying you’re already done with all of these books? But you only took them out yesterday, I -”
Hermione began explaining again,
“Yes. See, these books were informative, but I came across a mention of pwcas – if I’m saying that right – they’re these little mischievous creatures -”
This time Ellen finished the thought,
“- who used to help farmers in exchange for a little bit of milk.”
Hermione’s eyes lit up. At her first visit Ellen hadn’t been there. The man behind the desk took her straight to the children’s section and to a very slim illustrated Children’s History of Southern England. It was a good place to start, but she had found all these other books about South English history in the adult nonfiction section on her own. Hermione felt hopeful that Ellen might have some better leads,
“Yes! Yes, that’s right. Do you have any more books specifically about Welsh or South English folklore? There were a lot of interesting stories about King Arthur, dragons, and witches. I think it would be interesting to investigate while we’re here and see if there’s any truth in them.”
The little girl was so genuinely sincere that Ellen quickly adopted a similarly serious nature. Though she was just tall enough to see over the counter, the girl obviously meant business. Ellen came out from behind the desk and said,
Hermione’s parents were not at all surprised to see their daughter struggling under the weight of her backpack from a window in the Old Nag’s Head, where they were meeting for lunch. Mr. Granger chuckled and gazed at his wife’s round face and large almond eyes; at the sight of their daughter she grinned but started chewing her lip. He gently held her hand across the table and said firmly,
“She’s going to be okay.”
Mrs. Granger closed her eyes and took a swallow from her beer. Then she said, almost to herself,
“I just – I remember what it was like, when we were young. Growing up different and separate…”
She trailed off and her husband forced her to look at him when he said gently,
“Starting Stage 4 early, in a class of kids older than her, doesn’t compare to going to school in Johannesburg, love. She’s too smart to be with the other ten-year-olds. Frankly, I think she’s smarter than me most of the time.”
His eyes twinkled and Mrs. Granger relaxed. She wanted to thoroughly enjoy their holiday together before Hermione started her new year. So, when her daughter plopped down at their table, panting, and immediately began talking about her productive morning at the library, Mrs. Granger couldn’t help but lean over and squeeze her in a tight hug. Hermione, who had just snuck a french fry from her dad’s plate, squeezed back.
The Grangers ate their meals, with occasional outbursts of laughter, causing the very drowsy barkeep to startle and snort loudly, making the family peel off into another round of muffled sniggering.
After dark, the Granger family was snuggled up in the Ebberley House bed and breakfast, relaxing after a long afternoon of wandering in the Forest of Dean. Mr. Granger was snoring softly with a guidebook open on his chest. Mrs. Granger was with her daughter on the floor of their room, surrounded by the books Hermione had found earlier in the day.
Hermione’s hair was free from its ties and now hid her face from view as she hunched over a tome called Witches and Brimstone: Gloucestershire and the Reign of Terror. At varying intervals, Mrs. Granger and Hermione would read aloud something they found particularly compelling and consider the likelihood of its being real. Pwacs, for instance, were deemed totally unrealistic and the Grangers decided there was no substantial evidence to prove they ever existed.
Hermione’s eyelids were starting to drag over her eyes, but she wanted to finish the chapter. Turning the page, a sepia toned photograph caught her eye. There was something familiar about the woman pictured, who was wearing an old-fashioned dress. The number 1906 had been scribbled in the corner. Hermione rubbed her eyes and looked closer. Written above the photograph was the title, “The Last Witch of Gloucester.” Underneath, the woman’s name was listed with her last known address. Hermione gasped and her mother looked up, startled. Hermione replied before Mrs Granger could ask a question and said in a whisper,
“The librarian?” Her mother asked, confused.
Hermione replied, astonished, “The Last Witch of Gloucester!”
Find out more about the Forest of Dean myths and legends at the Forest of Dean tourism website here: http://www.wyedeantourism.co.uk/myths