Ron could hardly believe his luck!
There he had been, sitting with Neville on the river bank, watching slightly enviously as Ginny and Lady Luna had been gliding along on the surface river and brooding silently about his problems. Now that the initial euphoria of escaping France had worn off, he was beginning to get very worried about what he had to do.
You would have thought that being a Prince of the realm would make courting someone easy, nothing to worry about! And he was pretty sure, if he had bothered to ever ask anyone, that no lady would dream of refusing his attentions. The problem was that there had never been anyone he wanted to court before and he was totally lost on how to go about it. Neville was almost as useless as him and as for asking his brothers… Ron shuddered.
Not that knowing how to court Countess Lily Ravenclaw was going to be any use at present. He still didn’t have a clue who she was – his parents didn’t recognise the name, nor Neville and Ginny. He had even, remembering her scathing comments, enquired with a servant if they knew who she was. They too had no clue.
‘Maybe she’s a ghost,’ he had thought glumly. ‘Maybe I had completely imagined her. Maybe all the pressure’s got to me and I’m going mad.’
And then his prayers were answered!
Ron had leapt to his feet with a start, swearing as he just caught the last of Ginny’s bright red hair disappearing under water. ‘Bloody typical,’ he had thought, running and tearing off his shoes as he made to swim out to her. ‘Here I am, enjoying my own misery when I have to go off and save my stupid little sister. Again!’
Splashing behind him told him that Neville was hot on Ron’s heels but Ron didn’t stop to check. Launching himself into the water, he swam towards where his sister had disappeared only to come up short.
Ginny had already been rescued! Spluttering and trying to clear her eyes from the water, Ginny was being grasped firmly around the middle by a dark haired, green-eyed man who was treading water, trying to keep her steady whilst he checked her head visually for bumps.
Despite being grateful that Ginny had been saved, Ron was not going to let anyone manhandle his little sister!
“Oi!” he yelled, resuming his strokes towards the pair. “Get your hands off – Lily!”
Ron stopped and stared at the lady who had just resurfaced before his head disappeared beneath the water line. Cursing himself for a fool and resuming his kicking, Ron shot back to the surface and stared again. It wasn’t a mirage – there was Countess Lily Ravenclaw, long brown hair flowing round her freely in the water, looking at him with a strange expression on her face. Ron couldn’t tell if it was happiness, relief, embarrassment or – was that fear?
“Your Highness!” she exclaimed, glancing over at where the strange man still struggled with Ginny. “What are you doing here?”
“I could ask you the same thing!” Ron retorted, before cursing inwardly. ‘Come on, Ron, you’re trying to court her not interrogate her. Gentlemanly – be chivalrous.’
“Let me help you to shore, my Lady,” he said quickly, before she could snap anything back at him.
She looked a little uncertain as he swam carefully towards her. “That really won’t be necessary, your Highness.”
“No, really, I insist,” he said, taking her arm and pulling her gently back to the river bank. There he discovered that swimming whilst holding someone’s arm was a lot more difficult than he it looked. He could tell within two strokes that he was very much in danger of either kicking Countess Lily or accidentally dislocating her shoulder. ‘Be chivalrous… what a dipstick!’
Difficulties aside, he had persevered and, luckily, the distance to waist height was very short and the Countess a very strong swimmer. As he helped her climb up the muddy embankment, he could hear splashing behind him and realised with a jolt that he had completely forgotten about his sister!
‘Idiot! Mum and Dad will kill me if she’s nabbed by someone whilst I make eyes at a lady.’
But, once more, luck was definitely in Ron’s favour as when he turned around he saw his sister being helped out by that strange man again. Neville stood behind them, an amused look on his face. Ginny slipped then and the man’s arm shot out to hold her waist. “Careful, Your Highness. It’s very slippery right there.”
Ron glared at him. Taking liberties with his sister. Again! But as he opened his mouth to once again try and order the man to leave his sister, Countess Lily spoke to him.
“I thank you, Your Highness,” she said, curtsying to him in her sodden, slightly muddy dress.
“You’re, erm, welcome,” Ron replied, going a bit red as she gave him a timid smile. ‘She really is quite beautiful,’ he thought wistfully. ‘What deep brown eyes she has...’
“Ahem. Ronald. Aren’t you going to introduce us?”
Ron jumped as Ginny’s voice brought him back to reality. He glared at her and she smiled sweetly back. “Of course,” he grumbled. “Countess Lily Ravenclaw, this is Her Royal Highness, Princess Ginevra Weasley, and Lord Neville Longbottom.” The three nobles all bowed and curtsied to each other, Lily trying not to go red as the other two stared at her curiously. Although both had observed her the day previously, they had not had a chance yet to properly converse with the young noble.
There was a small noise and the Countess jumped before going fully red. As she turned to the green-eyed stranger, Ron realised that the noise had been him clearing his throat. “Oh, I do beg your pardon,” she said, nervously. “Your Highnesses, my Lord, this is, um, James Gryffindor, my, er, servant.”
The three nobles stared at the servant in surprise as he, after a moment’s hesitation, got down onto his knees as full obeisance to royalty. “Your Highnesses, my Lord,” the servant intoned, but none of the others were listening. Instead they were staring at Countess Lily, who went fully red under their gazes but stared back defiantly.
“You go bathing with your servant?” Ron asked, incredulous.
Lily frowned at him. “I go swimming with my friend, Your Highness,” she corrected.
Ron was even more incredulous now. “A servant as a friend?” he repeated. “You cannot be serious!”
“Why not?” she asked fiercely. “First and foremost, a servant is a person, your Highness, not a thing.”
“But – but they’re commoners!” Ron repeated, still unable to grasp Lily’s point. “They don’t – they’re not the same as you and I.”
There was a rather poignant pause there and Ron felt like shrivelling up when she looked at him, for her look was one of sadness and disappointment. Anger would have been much easier to deal with. “I wish I could think so little of my servants as you do yours,” she said eventually, moving away from him. “Or need I remind you that James is the one that saved Princess Ginevra today? Come on, James,” she said and the servant, who Ron was ashamed to realise had been prostrated on the muddy bank the whole time, got to his feet. As he turned around, he astonishingly caught Ron’s eyes! That a commoner had the audacity to meet a noble’s eyes… and furthermore he wore that same look of disappointment and pity on his face. Ron had never seen the like before!
As the strange Countess and her equally strange servant trudged up the river bank, Ginny stormed over to Ron and hit him round the head.
“Bloody hell, Ginny, what was that for?” he snapped, rubbing his head.
“For being a total idiot, Ron!” she retorted angrily. “Go and apologise!”
“But I didn’t say anything wrong!” Ron protested, although he did feel a bit guilty. “Having a servant as a friend is just bloody weird!”
“I’m sorry, whose best friend growing up was Denny, the local pickpocket?”
“That was different, we weren’t royalty then – this is now, Ginny!”
“Yes, this is now and you need to find someone to marry you in three days’ time or else you’re condemned to the French!” she reminded him, glaring angrily. “Go. Get. Her. Back!”
Ron shot a desperate look over to Neville who just shrugged. “Fine!” he snapped. “Fine – lot of bloody good you are as an advisor, mate. Off I go to apologise to the mad woman who goes swimming with servants!”
“Why didn’t you tell them I was Earl Potter, Hermione?”
Harry whispered, as they scurried away from the royal party.
Hermione bit her lip. “I panicked a little bit,” she admitted, lifting her soaking skirts as she stepped over a large root. “I mean, we don’t know what we’re going to do about you yet. If we tell them then it’s bound to get about Court and the Dursleys will hear it through the gossip that filters down through the town. Then Petunia will realise that you’ve escaped somehow and will race to eliminate you by any means necessary before you can incriminate them. Or the royals would try and call on us at Godric’s Hollow and you wouldn’t be there, just the awful Dursleys, and then they – Prince Ronald – would think you’d lied – I’d lied – and then we’d both by thrown in jail, or executed or something just awful and it wasn’t worth the risk!”
Harry stared at her as she took a great gulp of air. “I think panicked a ‘little bit’ might be a bit of an understatement.”
Hermione grinned quickly before a sudden thought flashed across her mind. “What is it?” Harry asked anxiously, obviously catching something in her expression.
“Oh, don’t worry, nothing really serious it’s just…” she sighed unhappily. “Prince Ronald was being a pig-headed stubborn idiot back then. I don’t think he’d be any use for your crusade against the ill-treatment of servants.” She had thought there was hope for the Prince, but it was going to take a lot of hard work to get him to see their point of view. He just didn’t even try to listen!
“Yeah, I thought that, too,” Harry admitted. “But it’s weird, isn’t it, that if my parents had lived I would have more or less grown up with the two of them – Prince Ronald and Lord Longbottom. Maybe if I had then they would have felt differently about servants – I would have had time to work on them, like my Dad on Sirius.”
“Or you would have turned into a stuck up, arrogant git like Malfoy!” Hermione teased and they both laughed. Hermione couldn’t even imagine Harry being anyone but Harry. She had the feeling that, even if he had had all the luxuries and fortune that he should have been entitled to, he still would have turned out exactly the same.
“Er, Countess Ravenclaw?”
Both Harry and Hermione jumped and turned round. Hermione just about managed to register the shock on Harry’s face before he disappeared from view, flinging himself to the ground. She heard his mumbled, “Your Highness”, but was too busy staring in shock at the slightly red faced Prince.
‘What in Merlin’s name is he doing here?’ she thought uneasily, even as she greeted him.
“Countess,” the Prince repeated, before pausing. He shifted about on his squelching shoes uneasily. “Countess, I have come to, erm, apologise and request that you join me – and my friends, of course – back at the river.”
Hermione stared at him in complete shock once more, before trying to school her face into a blank expression. ‘An apology, yes, but more about how he spoke to me than about what he was saying.’ Still, it was a start, but it did make her wonder again why he had come racing after her and Harry. ‘After all, he’s still ignoring poor Harry with his face in the mud. So why is he… oh. Oh dear.’
“Oh. Oh. Well, I thank you, Your Highness, but I do feel that I should be going,” Hermione said, annoyed at how flustered her voice sounded and how she could feel her cheeks burning a red to rival the Prince’s hair. By her feet Harry twitched slightly and she tried to refrain from kicking him. No doubt the same thought had occurred to him and he was trying very hard not to laugh.
“You’re angry with me,” Ronald said, suddenly.
“Of course you are,” the Prince objected, gloomy again, “and quite rightly, too. I’ve been horribly… well, just horrible to you.” There was a pause when neither Hermione nor Ronald seemed to know what to say. Then suddenly the Prince burst out, “It’s just I don’t understand you. You don’t make any sense!”
“Oh?” ‘That came out of nowhere!’ she thought.
“Well you’re a noble Lady, a Countess of the Court… but you talk about making friends with servants and equality. The two just… well, they don’t go together.”
“Well, Your Highness, you and your family technically own all the land there is, yet you take no pride in working it,” Hermione retorted. “That, to me, makes even less sense.”
Ronald snorted. “So yesterday I was arrogant but today I have no pride at all,” he said, a hint of sarcasm in his voice. “Who’s not making sense now?”
Hermione was getting angry now. “You have everything – the whole Kingdom – and you still seem to be miserable and find fault with everything in it!” she snapped. “Don’t mock those who actually take some joy in the world around them and the possibilities it holds.”
There was another poignant pause and Hermione felt herself filled with horror as her brain caught up to what her mouth and temper had said. To have spoken to a Prince like that… Hermione tried not to fling herself on the ground like Harry. If she had not been masquerading under the guise of Countess Lily then she would have been thrown straight onto a ship bound to the Americas. Then again, she reminded herself, if she had not been playing Countess Lily Ravenclaw then she would never have been in a position to speak to Prince Ronald thus.
“How do you do it?” Prince Ronald asked, eventually.
Hermione looked at him nervously. “Do what?”
He shook his head. “No, no – live each day with this kind of… passion? Don’t you find it, well, exhausting?”
Hermione immediately felt relief and even managed a sad smile. He wasn’t angry with her! “Only when I’m around you, Your Highness,” she replied honestly.
Ronald went red again, clearly couldn’t find a response to that, and hurriedly changed the subject. “So would you join us, Countess? My sister would love to speak to you.”
Hermione looked at him, considering. She did sorely want to meet the Princess, although she would have to be careful Ginevra didn’t recognise her. Then again, this masquerade had already gone on far too long and it was getting more and more dangerous. Could she really risk it for a conversation?
Movement by her feet caused her to glance down at Harry. He was nodding his head, just oh so slightly. He obviously thought it was a good idea – he would get a better idea of what this group of young, but important, nobles were like. She didn’t want them ignoring him, however. And then the solution presented itself and she smiled at Ronald.
“On one condition, Your Highness,” she said.
“Of course, whatever you want.”
“You have that conversation with a peasant.”
If Harry was being honest, he would say that he had had a
very informative but utterly
frustrating afternoon. Whilst it was a
thrill to get this close to his future peers that excitement quickly dissipated
when he realised that he was completely ignored.
Although being invisible wasn’t exactly a new feeling to Harry, it was much harder to take amongst these nobles than it was from his repulsive aunt and uncle. In fact, coming from the horror he had suffered the day before, it was all he could do to refrain from screaming and raging aloud.
However Hermione had been right – screaming and ranting would get him nowhere except back in jail. The need to start a revolution from within the noble ranks was never more apparent than now. The Prince, Princess and Lord Longbottom all seemed like decent people. He could tell at a glance that they were nothing like the Dursleys, Malfoys or Blacks which was a great relief. But, just as Hermione had said, none had ever had to look beyond their own world or consider something different before. That Harry – or James – was a person who might have an opinion on a certain subject just didn’t occur to them.
So instead, as Ginevra quizzed an awkward Hermione on where she had been educated and what her life had been like, and as Ronald tried and failed to find a way into the conversation whilst Longbottom looked on amused, Harry studied his peers.
Being the subject of much teasing the night before, Harry studied Ronald as closely as he dared. He could see the evidence of the gloom and doom attitude Hermione had accused him of in his face; as Ginevra continued to ignore him his face dropped into a sulky, angry expression that it seemed rather comfortable with. But there was laughter in there, somewhere hidden under his lightly tanned skin and mass of freckles. He was fairly well built, but Harry suspected that he was someone who didn’t do much harder work than riding a horse every now and then or using his wand. He wasn’t the sort to go looking for harder work if he didn’t need to.
Harry next moved onto the Princess. She had, of course, the same vibrant red hair as her brother but that was about where the likeness ended. Her skin was much paler and almost blemish free from being kept out of the sun, bar a small smattering of defiant freckles across her nose. Her eyes were brown, but unlike Hermione’s calm orbs, Princess Ginevra’s had something much wilder and freer about them.
He liked the look of her immensely. She looked like someone who would go her own way and would have no patience against anyone who annoyed her. He almost laughed aloud when he thought of Petunia’s aspirations of marrying blundering Dudley off to this firecracker of a Princess. He would pay good money to see that encounter!
Lord Longbottom was a bit harder for Harry to get a handle on, however. He was much quieter than the other two for starters, seemingly content to watch on with amusement as the two siblings fought each other for Hermione’s attention. But there was a sort of quiet strength about him that impressed Harry. Compared to Ronald he was very well muscled and Harry wondered whether he practiced sword work in his spare time. Certainly it looked as though Longbottom was not afraid of hard work which certainly boded well for Harry.
“Hang on!” Ginevra’s cry brought Harry out of his thoughts. The Princess was looking around them, worried. “Where’s Lady Luna? She can’t possibly still be skating!”
“Skating?” Harry heard Hermione ask as the others started and began calling out for her.
“It’s a spell, quite brilliant actually,” Ginevra explained, peering along the river bank. “Let’s you skate along the river as though it were frozen. That’s, er, how I tripped over you,” she added, looking apologetically at the older girl.
Hermione, however, didn’t notice. “What a fascinating spell!” she said instead, looking enthralled. “I’ve never heard of it! What book did you find it in?”
“One of Lady Luna’s inventions, apparently,” Ginevra said.
“Really?” squealed Hermione. Ginevra nodded, surprised, but Harry had to bite back a shout of laughter. Hermione’s thirst for knowledge even outweighed her nervousness around nobility. “She must be a genius!”
“That’s very kind of you.”
Everyone jumped and turned around. Harry tried not to stare, but honestly, how was he not expected to stare at someone who appeared to be draped in so many different types of greenery that she resembled a small tree?
“Oh, Lady Luna!” Ginevra said, relieved, and Harry could tell that she liked this strange girl. “We were worried – where did you go?”
“Adding to my dress,” was all the mysterious new noble would say and the others didn’t seem to need to question her much more than that. Instead Lady Luna looked at Harry and Hermione carefully. “You two are beautifully see through,” she told them solemnly. “So much sunlight, it’s really rather wonderful.”
“Oh. Er, thank you?” Hermione asked, looking at the other’s for help. They looked quite as confused as Harry and Hermione felt, although Ginevra was looking at them shrewdly.
There was a slightly awkward pause before Ronald, obviously having just been elbowed by Ginevra, stumbled forward to introduce them.
“Lady Luna Lovegood, this is Countess Lily Ravenclaw,” he intoned, embarrassed, “and” – after a slight glare from Hermione – “her, er, servant, James Gryffindor.” Ronald rather looked as though he couldn’t believe he had just said that, but Harry ignored him, dropping to his knee before the strange lady.
As he rose, he found Lady Luna looking not at Hermione, but just at him this time, a peculiar expression in her grey eyes. “A lightning bearer,” she proclaimed mysteriously, before drifting over to pick even more flowers from the bushes and adding them to her outfit.
Harry watched her, confused. What on earth was a ‘lightning bearer’? He wasn’t quite sure what to make of this strange new noble that had been added to their group. He had managed to get an impression of all the others almost immediately but Lady Luna… he couldn’t decide if she was mad, pretending to be mad whilst really being quite sane, or if she was mad and sane together.
“Sorry about that,” Prince Ronald said, eventually. “She’s a little… strange.”
“So, Countess Ravenclaw,” Ginevra said, trying to break the lingering awkwardness, “I must congratulate you. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone outside the family manage to wind my youngest brother up so completely.”
Hermione and Ronald both went bright red for very different reasons. Ginevra waved off Hermione’s apology saying, “Don’t be silly – he needs someone to shut him up every now and then.” She rolled her eyes. “He’s such a prat, sometimes.”
Ronald scowled at his sister. “Shu – ” he started to say, before glancing at Hermione worriedly. “Please ignore, Ginny, Countess,” he said instead. “She isn’t exactly known for her refinement and ladylikeness.”
Ginevra laughed. “No, I suppose I’m not,” she said agreeably. “But I’ve got a brain, more so than you Ronald, so I don’t see why I shouldn’t get to use it every once in a while.”
Lord Longbottom – and Hermione, after a moment’s hesitation – laughed, whilst Harry fought his own laughter. He had been right about her, at least – a real firecracker!
“You don’t like the refineries of Court, Your Highness?” Hermione asked.
Ginevra sighed. “I suppose I wouldn’t mind it, Countess, but my peers seem perfectly content to sit and gossip and embroider and contrive to get themselves married off to the most eligible suitor possible as soon as they can.” She scowled. “I can think of a hundred better, more useful things to do with my time.”
“Like sneaking off to play Quidditch?” Ron mocked.
Ginevra went bright red, but Harry found his interest piqued immensely. He loved Quidditch, or at least the mockery of the sport he played with his little family. Part of his joy came from just having fun with the ones he loved. So often any time they spent together was with the fear of the Dursleys hanging over them. The other part – greater part, he acknowledged, guiltily – came from the absolute freedom he felt at soaring above the ground. Sirius and Remus had called him a natural on the broom and that was how Harry felt when he was whirling, diving and swooping in the air: that that was where he belonged.
“You play Quidditch, Your Highness?” Hermione enquired, just as surprised as Harry had been. Hermione herself played of course but never let herself go like Harry did. Instead, she played because it made the others happy. To find Princess Ginevra enjoyed it was surprising; Harry did not think noble females were allowed to play it.
Turned out he was right. “Yes,” Ginevra said at the same time as Ronald said, “No.”
Whilst both siblings glared at each, Longbottom explained to Hermione, “Technically Princess Ginny has been forbidden to play, but she can play – and very well, too.”
Ginevra beamed at him, whilst Ronald glared. “She’s okay,” he protested, sulkily.
“I’m better than you, Ronald,” she snapped, rounding on him. “You miss one little quaffle and your game goes to pieces.”
“You’re a chaser?” Hermione asked, trying to keep another argument from brewing between the two.
“Keeper actually,” Ronald said, looking pleased with the attention. “Do you know Quidditch, Countess?”
“Yes, Your Highness. I, er, play a little myself, actually.”
“Do you?” Ginevra sounded delighted. “That’s brilliant! What position?”
“Oh, er, well Chaser I guess. Whenever we play it’s usually in much smaller sides,” she explained, hurriedly adding, “It’s hard to get enough people together for a full game where I live.”
“Well, this is brilliant!” Ginevra repeated, elated to find another lady that enjoyed her beloved game. She was grinning from ear to ear. “Why don’t we have a little game now?” she said, rushing on too excitedly to hear any protests from the suddenly horrified Hermione. “Lady Luna!” she yelled, dashing across to the flower bestrewn girl. “Would you like to join us in a game of Quidditch?”
To everyone’s shock, Luna cocked her head and said “I like flying” which was clearly a ‘yes’.
“No, really, you don’t have to – ”
“Ron, send a message back to the palace – we need brooms and balls.”
“Why don’t you do it?”
“Because, idiot, if I sent it then Mum would step in somehow and refuse.”
“Please, Princess Ginevra, I don’t wish to cause any bother!”
“It’s no bother at all, Countess, really.”
Ginevra looked at Longbottom, confused. “What, Neville?”
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed,” the young Lord said, “but we have an odd number. It wouldn’t be a good idea to play with uneven teams.”
As Ginevra cursed angrily, Harry saw an opening. He nudged Hermione carefully in the back and, turning her head towards him, he whispered, “Tell them I’ll play.”
“What?” Hermione said, before hurriedly lowering her voice. “What?”
“Tell them I’ll play,” Harry repeated, eyes on the annoyed Princess. “It’s a way in, Hermione – a way for them to look at a servant as more than a thing.”
Hermione frowned worriedly. “I don’t know, Harry,” she whispered back. “This is already getting out of hand as it is. And I don’t want to play Quidditch and make a fool of myself in front of the Prince!”
Harry raised his eyes as Hermione turned bright red. “Forget I said that!” she hissed hurriedly. “Oh, alright, although I can think of a hundred ways this could go wrong.”
“As long as it opens their eyes, it’ll be worth it.” Harry failed to mention that selfish part of him again, the one that just wanted to soar in the skies. Besides, it looked as though both Royals would be good competition. That was something he hadn’t had in a long time.
“Your Highness,” Hermione called out, trying to look calm. “I believe I have a solution to your problem.”
“Really?” Ginevra’s face popped up in anticipation.
“James can play.”
It saddened Harry how long it took for confusion to dawn into realisation at who Hermione meant. But when the meaning triggered, both Longbottom and Ginevra looked at him in incredulity.
“Your servant is a wizard?” Longbottom asked, surprised.
“Yes, my Lord, I am,” Harry said defiantly before Hermione could answer for him.
They almost jumped to hear him speak. “Oh,” they both said. “What position do you play?” asked Ginevra, somewhat untrustingly, as though Harry didn’t know anything about the game.
Harry bowed, trying not to let his irritation show. “Seeker, Your Highness.”
Ginevra’s eyebrows rose. “Same as me,” she commented, almost to herself. She paused for a moment, as if gathering her thoughts. “You are the strangest noble I have ever met, Countess,” she said eventually. “And that group includes Lady Lovegood. Alright,” she decided, “we’ll play as two teams of six. Myself, Neville and Lady Luna against yourself, Countess, Ron and, er, Gryffindor. Two chasers, one seeker for each side and we’ll have one free bludger. Does that sound good?”
“Erm, yes, just fine,” Hermione agreed although she looked clearly uncomfortable. As they headed off to a large field nearby for the game, Hermione turned and hissed at him, “I’m going to kill you, Harry!”
Ginny hovered on her broomstick, quickly settling into the
strange broom thanks to her short recap on flying day before. ‘Bloody
hell, was that just yesterday?’ she thought to herself, amazed. The battle in the woods seemed years ago – so
much had happened since then! ‘Whoa, wait, don’t think about all that,
Ginny,’ she told herself sternly. ‘Flying is for being free, not worrying.’ Besides, she had the feeling that if she
really stopped to think about everything that had happened to her and what she
had left to do then she would start crying.
Again. Instead she decided to
focus on the game ahead.
She eyed the opposite team carefully. Ronald, of course, looked confident on his broom as he glided next to the rather more nervous looking Countess. He would be difficult to get around, of course, but thankfully she knew his weak areas and limitations very well from years of sulky observance. Due to her ban however his knowledge of her was very limited.
The Countess flew well and surprisingly confidently, although it was clear that she didn’t enjoy flying that much. Ginny found that last fact even more surprising – if she disliked flying so much why was it clear that she had had a lot of practice? Very curious, but the more Ginny got to know the Countess, the more mysterious and bizarre she seemed. She was very well versed in some matters, most especially witchcraft. Ginny, Neville and Ron had all gone to schools considered to be the best in Europe yet Lily’s knowledge seemed to outstrip them all. As well as knowing all of the defensive spells the boys did, she also knew handy little practical charms, such as the one she used to dry all their soaking clothes in an instant, which would never have been taught by Durmstrang and Beauxbatons.
She was also rather closed about her past. Ginny gathered from the little she would say that her parents had died when she was eleven and that she had decided to come to Court shortly after coming of age and being able to claim the family title.
‘So we have secretive about her past,’ Ginny thought, daring to attempt a couple of dives as she thought about her newest friend. ‘And then fantastic magical knowledge although she must have been home schooled. And, of course, strangest of all, the way she treats her servant!’
Ginny shot a quick glance over to the servant – Gryffindor. She had been very surprised to learn that, not only was he a trained wizard but that he also knew how to play Quidditch. She didn’t think servants had much time for playing games and she doubted even fewer could afford a magical broomstick and then actually find enough people to play even the simplified version of Quidditch they were playing now.
Ginny watched him now, the last member of the opposing team. He was the only player that had yet to take to the sky yet, looking carefully at his broomstick. Ginny smirked. She was pretty sure that he was terrified and dismissed him from her thoughts. She didn’t think she’d have to worry about him.
No, her main problem, Ginny decided, was on how exactly to thoroughly trounce her brother without offending or hurting the Countess. Ron would not thank her if she caused Lily to break her head open on the ground. Come to think of it, Ginny didn’t want to either. Mysterious or not, Lily seemed to have more life and vigour in her then all the rest of the Court ladies put together.
‘Well, almost all,’ Ginny amended with a grin as Lady Luna flew past her, dreamily weaving figure eights with her broomstick as she sat side-saddle. “Isn’t that a little bit dangerous, Lady Luna?” Ginny called, but Luna ignored her, now performing the loop the loop that Ginny herself had been too nervous to try, and her clasping the broom with both legs!
Neville flew over to her, grinning. “Plotting how best to take out your brother, my Lady?” he teased.
Ginny swatted at him. “Of course, my Lord,” she said, smirking. Neville, whilst he was a good, steady flier and confident in the air was not given to the certain aerial acrobatics needed to be an excellent Quidditch player. ‘In fact,’ Ginny thought, ‘this match is very even; two dismissibles, two steady fliers and two really good fliers.’
In other words, it was a fight between her and her brother.
The best kind.
A rather bemused looking Auror walked out onto the pitch, carrying the ball chest with him. Ginny wasn’t sure of his name, mainly because she only paid interest to aurors she found interesting and not idiotic.
As she manoeuvred herself into position for the start, Ginny was surprised to see Gryffindor already in position, looking very comfortable on his broom. ‘So he knows how to fly,’ she thought to herself. ‘Doesn’t mean he can play at Seeker.’
And then a whistle… the snitch flew past Ginny’s nose and she restrained the urge to grab it… and then the Quaffle was up!
3-sided Quidditch, she rapidly discovered, was a lot more involving than the standard game. Usually Ginevra would circle the pitch, dodging the odd bludger, mainly searching everywhere for the little glimmer of gold she wanted. She had very little to do with the main game, almost playing a battle of wits with the opposing seeker.
Immediately she saw that this was not going to work. Whilst Neville had managed to grab the Quaffle straight away from the hand-off, whenever he passed it Luna she simply bounced it back to him using the tail of her broom as a bat. Neville was so surprised that first time that he almost got knocked off his broom!
‘Bloody Merlin!’ Ginny thought, as Ron swopped in and intercepted Luna’s next rebound gleefully. Even worse was that when he passed it to Countess Lily she caught the Quaffle easily and shot off towards the hastily erected goal posts.
‘Bugger,’ Ginny thought feelingly, when Lily’s throw passed perfectly through the centre ring. ‘This is going to be harder than I thought.’
It was time, she decided, for a change in formation. “Luna, get back and guard those goal posts,” she called, banking down to the main playing level. “You’re going to be Keeper, but keep an eye out for the snitch.”
“I like snidgets,” Luna said dreamily. “They cuddle me on Uncle’s cloak.”
Ginny stared at her before realising what she meant. “No, not a snidget,” she corrected, exasperated. “A snitc – oh, never mind! Neville,” she continued, “you and I are going to have to play chasers.”
As her newly reformed team flew back to the centre Ron yelled, “Oi, that’s cheating!”
“What’s the matter, Ron – afraid of losing?”
The look he sent her was pure filth.
But the game had restarted and this time it was Neville and Ginny who were in command, swooping in between the other two players easily. Ron tried his best to intercept them but he was a Keeper at heart, not a chaser. Countess Lily was also struggling, not as comfortable with the movements needed as Ron.
Ginny snatched the Quaffle out of the air once more and was racing towards the goal. It was in sight, Lily was struggling to keep up and Neville had managed to block Ron. The goal was hers for the taking… she heaved her arm back, threw the Quaffle… and then a blur of blue snatched it almost from right in front of her nose.
“What the – ”
Ginny looked around and found her jaw dropping. That blue blur had been Gryffindor – Gryffindor, the servant boy, who she thought would be more likely to fall off his broom than contribute to the game. Now he was shooting his way back up the pitch, effortlessly dodging both the bludger and Neville, heading towards Luna and the goal post…
‘Come on, Luna, save it,’ Ginny thought desperately, but it was hopeless. Gryffindor feinted perfectly to the left before rolling over and shooting the Quaffle through the right hand ring. Countess Lily gave out a laugh.
20-0 to them.
‘Where the bloody Merlin did that come from,’ Ginny thought, almost in awe, as Gryffindor flew past her. She wasn’t the only one taken aback – both Ron and Neville looked slightly dazed. Countess Lily, however, beamed proudly at her servant.
‘This is going to be a lot harder than I thought.’
Twenty minutes later and Ginny was thoroughly frustrated. It had been the toughest Quidditch match of her life and there were only six players! Yet Gryffindor was quite honestly the most amazing flier she had ever seen. It was hard to believe he was on exactly the same type of broom as the rest of the players – he seemed to be zooming about the pitch twice as fast as everyone else. Only Countess Lily seemed unfazed but her face did look rather smug whenever Ginny glanced her way.
Still, Gryffindor couldn’t be everywhere and they had managed to squeeze a few goals past Ron (who was now acting as Keeper) and equally Luna had managed to bat a few away with her broom, leaving the scores at 90-60 in Gryffindor’s favour. In Ginny’s mind the game had boiled down to just the two of them now – nearly everyone else had faded away into the background. She had never had to work so hard at a Quidditch match in her life before! And, beneath the exasperation, frustration and desperation, she rather found she enjoyed it.
‘Wait – what’s that?’
A glimmer of gold – the snitch! If she could catch it, the game would be won. At once she felt her spirits soar. She shot off towards the snitch, glancing at Gryffindor to see if he had seen it, too. He had! Either that or he had realised what Ginny was doing. She squinted between him and the snitch, trying to figure out the distances. Was he closer? No! They were about the same distance.
Ginny gritted her teeth and bent down lower on her handle, trying to coax the tiniest bit of extra speed she could. “Come on, broom, come on!” she muttered. She stretched out her hand. She was almost there… almost!
The snitch suddenly shot upwards before she or Gryffindor could grab hold of it and both of them followed suit, virtually locking their legs together they were so close. Ginny tried not to look at him – she couldn’t lose sight of her prize! – but it was hard, her being so close. The snitch, as though sensing its pursuers, had curved back down, causing both riders to curve backwards into the steepest dive Ginny had ever been in her whole Quidditch career. Her mind was shrieking at her to pull out, pull out, but she was stubbornly refusing. She was going to win this one.
They were getting closer and closer to the ground. Now Ginny was starting to pay attention to her head… if she couldn’t pull up… But luckily the snitch once again changed direction, curving sideways and spiralling across the pitch. Now she caught glimpses of Gryffindor as they spiralled into the snitch. She expected him to be looking determined, all thoughts concentrated on the pursuit like she was, but instead he was grinning. And laughing!
He seemed to catch her eye as they were speeding along and a curious expression crossed his face. ‘He’s going to let me win,’ Ginny thought, suddenly. ‘He’s a commoner, I’m Royalty, he’s going to let me win it!’ She scowled angrily. She wanted to win, but she was going to do it on her own terms, not his!
She threw all attention back to the chase and realised, with delight, that the snitch was curving slightly towards her. She could almost touch it – she was going to win!
And then suddenly something dark seemed to roll right over her. She shrieked and instinctively tried to hit out whatever it was but when she reopened her eyes, nothing was there. And more to the point, she realised, pulling up her broomstick angrily, the snitch had disappeared, too.
Turning around, she went to yell to the others that she had lost the snitch, only to see Gryffindor sitting casually on his broomstick, grinning like a mad thing, and clutching the snitch firmly in his left hand.
“You – you – how did you do that?” Ginny stuttered, shocked and angry. A suspicion formed. “Did you use a spell to distract me?” she asked.
He looked very affronted at this. “Of course not, Your Highness,” he said. “I barrel rolled over the top of you and snatched the snitch out from in front of you.”
“Oh. Oh!” Ginny stared at Gryffindor in amazement. So that dark shadow had been him rolling over the top of her. She felt awe once again at his flying skills. Barrel rolls were tricky to start off with, but not too bad once you knew to hold on. Barrel rolling over someone else was a lot trickier and had to be carefully executed so as to not knock out both fliers. Barrel rolling over someone completely unaware, at top speed, whilst reaching out upside down to grab something as tiny as the snitch… that was incredible.
‘I should tell him that,’she thought suddenly, realising that he was still sitting there, waiting for her to say something. ‘After all, it’s true – and I don’t want to be a sore loser.’ So she opened her mouth, fully intending on congratulating him on his fantastic flying. What she actually said was, “You didn’t let me win!”
He looked at her, surprised, before amusement filled his face. He didn’t look a thing like the cowed servant he should be. “Was I supposed to, Your Highness?” he asked.
Ginny went a bit red. “Well, no, but… I thought you would just cause… well, I’m a Princess,” she blurted out, before slapping a hand over her mouth, mortified. What an awful, whingey, girly thing to say.
Gryffindor grinned at that. “Well, I’m a poor, lowly peasant, Your Highness. Surely you should be the one letting me win? After all, I have nothing else to my name. Where is your chivalry?”
Ginny couldn’t help but stare at him. First he didn’t let her win and now he was teasing her about it! ‘The Countess Ravenclaw really is so strange!’ “I could ask you where yours is!” she managed to retort, eventually, surprised at her light, mocking tone. “Beating a girl, ‘tis most dishonourable.”
“Ah, but where is the honour in cheating, Your Highness,” Gryffindor responded. “And if I had let you win that would be dishonest and unfair to both you and myself.” Whilst Ginny pondered this, he added with a bow, “But I must thank you, Your Highness. It was the most fun I’ve had playing Quidditch in a long time. It’s nice to face a challenge.”
And with that he bowed once more and then angled his broom back down towards the ground. Ginny watched him go, feeling surprised all over again. A challenge – yes, that’s what the game had been. She, like him, had often found it hard to be challenged by the Quidditch games she had played in the past. She now wondered belatedly if what she’d accused him of omitting had been the reason behind past easy wins. Had her opponents been letting her win due to her status?
“Oi! Going to stay up and there and sulk the rest of the evening?”
Ginny scowled down at her brother, who was smirking up at her from the ground. “I am NOT sulking!” she yelled down at him but winced when that came out sounding even more sulky. ‘Bugger,’ she thought and made her way down to the ground, trying not to look as sulky as she suddenly felt. ‘Bother Ron!’
Judging by his grin, it hadn’t worked. “Come on, Gin, let’s face it – at the end of the day, our team was just better than yours,” he teased, laughing as she glared at him.
“Only because you had Gryffindor,” Ginny snapped back and was surprised when Ron dropped his superior attitude.
“Yeah,” he admitted, looking over to where the servant was hovering by the Countess once more. “Bloody hell, I’ve never seen such an amazing flier. Shame he’s just a servant.”
Ginny looked at him shrewdly. She hadn’t thought about it, but Ron was right. Today’s match had been a complete one-off. Gryffindor’s extraordinary flying skills were a complete and total waste for he would never be able to use them. She wondered how many other witches and wizards were out there that could fly like that but never got the chance to even try.
A loud bell tolled somewhere nearby and made them all jump. Neville looked around and laughed. “We chose our pitch right next to the church,” he said, pointing at it. “No wonder it’s so loud.”
“Merlin, is that the time!” Countess Lily yelped suddenly, squinting at the sun in alarm as the bell finished tolling 3 o’clock. She looked alarmed. “I’m so sorry, Your Highnesses, Lord Longbottom, Lady Lovegood – we really need to be going.” She curtsied rather hurriedly at them all before almost running away, she moved so fast. Gryffindor, of course, was trotting at her heels.
“Wait!” Ron called, moving towards them, utterly surprised. “Where are you going?”
“Prior engagement!” was all they could hear of Lily’s reply as she disappeared into the trees.
“Wait – ” Ron started again but gave up – they were too far away to hear him. “Bugger. And I still don’t know where she’s staying,” he moaned. “This is hopeless!”
“I wouldn’t worry too much, mate,” Neville said, patting the dismal Prince on the back. “You thought you’d never find her again yesterday and then she popped up almost on top of you today.”
“Besides, I think she does like you,” Ginny added, squinting where the Countess had vanished into the treeline. “Although she does keep disappearing on you, too.”
“Really? You think she likes me?” Ron asked, hopefully. “She does seem to spend most conversations we have arguing with me.”
“True,” Ginny shrugged, “but I kind of think she likes arguing with you.”
“Really?” Ron repeated.“Yes, Ron, really,” Ginny snapped. She was feeling a little jealous, truth be told. Maybe it was early days, but Ron had found his Princess. Where the hell was her Prince?