Ever After


Ginny lay on her bed, stared at the ceiling and tried her hardest not to cry.

She hated crying. It never did her any good, just made her blotchy eyed and gave her a headache. It also meant that everyone could tell she had been crying and she hated that even more.

“Why are you crying, Princess?” they would say and then snigger behind her back.

She hated Court. Hated it! Why the hell couldn’t she cry her eyes out if she wanted? Why couldn’t she rage and scream, yell and curse in her rooms without being taken out of the palace? She scowled up at the ceiling, because it was easier to deal with anger than the despair she currently felt.

Yesterday she had felt so thankful for that stupid chicken, even if it did mean she couldn’t speak to Dursley’s servants. The maid she wanted obviously wasn’t there, anyhow, so she doubted it made any difference. But when they had eventually gotten back to the palace Dursley had immediately ordered for her carriage to be brought round.

Ginny was so gleeful at the idea they would be leaving that she hardly heard a word Dursley had said at that, only just remembering to curtsy. Not only would she be rid of that stupid git and his awful aunt but she would finally have some free time to find a way out of the marriage.

She had spent the afternoon watching from the tower overlooking the main Courtyard, trying to decide which nobleman to approach and calling for iced pumpkin juice to be brought whenever she got too hot.

It had started out a much better afternoon than the morning. Her spirits had been lifted by her unexpected freedom and the sight, of course, of Dursley and Potter being squished as Ron was attacked by a chicken. However, the shadows grew longer and longer and Ginny had grown more and more desperate.

This is stupid,’ she told herself angrily as she had dismissed another noble candidate for no real reason. ‘You said it yourself; anyone, ANY bloody one, is better than Potter… if I just pick randomly from a list of names then that will do the trick.

But she couldn’t do it.

This was marriage – the rest of her life. Someone she would see every day, talk to every morning, share her bed at night… she shuddered. She wasn’t like her parents, coolly assigning some random noble to be her lifetime companion. She couldn’t just pick someone and hope for the best. She wanted someone to woo her, court her… someone who would love her before asking her to marry him, not someone who may eventually fall in love with her after a year of being her husband.

And,’ Ginny thought, ‘I want someone I love, too.

Once that thought had occurred to her all was hopeless. This was impossible – she had had it right the first time. She couldn’t find someone to love her within two days… and even if she could, she didn’t think she could find someone she loved in ten times that long. Equally, she couldn’t think of a single way to get out of this marriage.

The thought of running away again had crossed her mind a few times but a quick cursory investigation into all avenues of escape had quickly crushed that idea.

So now Ginny laid there, completely despondent and battling tears.

I wish I’d never become a Princess…

Ron, on the over hand, was near to dancing with joy. In fact, when he had first received the owl late last night, he had leaped around his room ecstatically until he had tripped over a stool and almost knocked himself out.

It was quite a short letter and Ron had reread it so many times that the simple parchment was beginning to wear. It read;

Your Highness, Prince Ronald,

I hope you do not find this letter too presumptuous – we have only known each for a few days after all! – but I was wondering if you would be free to spend some time with me tomorrow? I find myself missing your company.

If you are free, I would be honoured by your presence at the Whomping Willow at half nine of the clock tomorrow. I will wait for you.


Countess Ravenclaw

Although there were many aspects of the short letter that excited him, his eyes kept being drawn to that one little word above her signature… ‘Yours’. If he were a girl then he’d no doubt be squealing or whatever it was that girls did when they got excited. Probably pass out like Lady Lavender.

Well at least I’m not going have to talk to her this evening,’ he thought with considerable relief. He’d thought Lavender was going to launch herself at him at one point. Lucky escape, he thought, before his mind moved on from poor Lavender and back to Lily.

“Ginny! Ginny, you won’t believe what’s happened!” he called excitedly, bursting into her sitting room before stopping in horror.

Ginny looked up at him from where she was crying on a couch, Lady Luna one arm round in her in support. Ron felt immediately awkward… crying girls completely mystified him, even when they were his sister. Especially when they were his sister.

Luna smiled dreamily at Ron. “There are rain clouds in Ginevra’s windows,” she told the uneasy prince knowingly. “She can’t see the sun at all, poor thing. She needs good strong wind to blow them away.”

Uncomfortable as he was, it was all Ron could do not to snigger at that one. “Ginny needs wind?” he repeated, trying to keep a straight face.

“Shut up, Ron,” Ginny said, although it was weary and not at all like her usual snappy self. She pulled herself out of Luna’s awkward embrace. “What do you want?”

Ron almost didn’t want to tell her. She was obviously so upset that it would almost seem like gloating. “I got a letter from the Countess,” he said eventually, holding it out for her. “She wants to meet me today.”

“Oh.” Ginny tried to smile at him but it looked more like a grimace of pain. “That’s nice – I’m glad you’ve found a way out of this at least, Ron,” she added, although she didn’t look glad. In fact, she looked even more miserable than before.

“Hey, do you want to come?” Ron asked suddenly before he could stop himself. ‘Idiot!’ he thought, ‘What did you do that for?’

But when Ginny looked up and said, “Really?” she looked so hopeful and pathetic that he didn’t have the heart to change his mind. He’d be a right git if he did that to her now and, even though it was his job to be a bit of a git sometimes to his siblings, he wasn’t that mean.

“Yeah, sure,” he said and was utterly shocked by the massive bear hug Ginny gave him. “Um, there, there,” he said, awkwardly patting her back and shooting desperate looks at Luna. She, of course, ignored him and gazed out of the window, humming.

“Thanks, Ron,” Ginny said quietly when she withdrew from his grasp. “I don’t know what I would have done if I’d had to be cooped up here all day. Probably end up murdering Potter,” she joked weakly.

“Maybe I should let you stay then,” Ron joked back. “Git could do with a bit of murdering to smarten him up.”

Ginny laughed at that, even if it was a little wet. “Dursley is worse,” she said. “But maybe Lily will have some ideas on what I can do about the whole mess.”

“Well I think she’s got to be the smartest witch I know,” Ron said and immediately reddened as Ginny smirked at him.

“I’ll change clothes,” was all she said however and headed towards her dressing room. “Where are we going, by the way?”

“I thought I’d take her to Durmstrang,” Ron said as she disappeared out of sight. “It’s got the biggest library in the Kingdom, I think – well, it certainly seemed massive whenever I had to visit it.”

You visit a library?” Ginny called out, already sounding much brighter. “Like that ever happened. What was it – a detention?”

“Anyway,” Ron carried on loudly, “she seems to like reading, so I thought she’d love a chance to see the library.”

There was a pause. “That’s really sweet, Ron,” Ginny said eventually. “Sweet and thoughtful. Who knew?”

Ron didn’t reply, just grinned at Ginny’s approval of his plan. He’d secretly been a bit worried that it was a stupid idea. None of the palace noblewomen would have relished a visit to a fusty old library. But, of course, Countess Ravenclaw wasn’t like any of the palace women. That was one of the things he liked about her.

Still, it wasn’t going to be easy to try and woo her under Ginny’s critical, sniggering eye. He was uncertain and worried enough about it as it was without the potential for humiliation via sibling. But that was one of the things about feeling happy – it was hard to see other people miserable. He couldn’t help wishing, however, that he’d knocked first and been told to ‘bugger off’.

Suddenly, Ron was aware of a gentle humming noise. ‘What the bloody hell… oh, it’s just Luna,’ he realised. And then an idea struck him.

“Hey – er, I mean, excuse me, Lady Luna?”

No one quite knew how the Whomping Willow had come to be in its grove, on the edge of the city limits. The two main schools of thought were that it was brought to the town many years ago by some long-forgotten foreign dignitary or that it had once been an ordinary willow that had been bewitched by some equally long-forgotten master of magic.

Alongside these two ideas ran the rumour that the Willow, backed against a large hill, guarded the entrance to a lair full of forgotten treasures. Over the years trying to duck and dodge your way past the interminably moving branches had become a sort of rite of passage amongst the local commoners. Some of the more fool-hardy nobles had even been known to try.

Hermione watched the limbs flail about chaotically and thought that they rather perfectly symbolised the chaos of her life right now.

I can’t believe it’s already been a week since this chaos all started,’ she thought. ‘Back then I was just worried about getting all the laundry done and about poor Remus… and now I’m preparing to confide in a Prince!

It had been a bit of frantic morning. Although early risings were never Hermione’s problems she had had to run down to Arabella and wake her, sorting out another outfit fit for Countess Lily Ravenclaw. The old lady had been slow to wake but moved surprisingly quickly once she realised what Hermione had needed.

When she had seen herself in the mirror most of Hermione’s nerves had vanished. The silvery-blue dress, elegant hair do and small jewelled headdress cloaked the nervous servant Hermione Granger, once again leaving behind Countess Ravenclaw.

Harry’s face had been a picture when he saw her. “Hermione, you look beautiful!” he cried, whirling her around. “And it’s not just the dress,” he added, squinting at her. “You look… I don’t know… more like yourself.”

Hermionehad laughed at that. “Like Countess Ravenclaw, you mean,” she corrected.

But Harry didn’t laugh. “No, that’s not what I mean,” he said, completely serious. “You look strong, beautiful and confident, like the real Hermione – the person you should be if there weren’t any Malfoys or Dursleys in the world.”

Hermione didn’t have a clue what to say to that. Luckily Harry didn’t seem to need a reply. He just squeezed her hand and then stepped back, playing the role of faithful servant once more.

As Hermione waited for Ronald she thought about what Harry had said. At first she thought it ridiculous; if the Malfoys and Dursleys had never existed then she would still have been a peasant, not graced with the clothes of a Courtier. But Harry, she soon realised, had struck a good point. The Malfoy’s policy on magical servants had caused her heart-ache and betrayal as her parents abandoned her. She had found it nearly impossible to trust anyone for a long time after. And the Dursleys, although not causing her such heartache, wore down at her every day, niggling away at her self-esteem, her confidence.

Putting on the Countess’ clothes seemed to lift away all those nagging doubts and Harry was right; she did feel like her real self.

Hermione looked sidelong at Harry, stood next to her a little way back. She wondered if he ever felt like the real Harry, like playing the Countess did for her. She doubted it. Although their backgrounds were vastly different, his life too had featured betrayal by his family, heartache and repeated self-doubts. She shuddered to think how different he would be if he had not had Sirius and Remus there to protect and love him. He would have been nothing but a shadow.

“He’s coming!” Harry hissed suddenly and Hermione jumped, her head swivelling to look down the road. To her surprise she did not see the lonely horse and rider that she had envisioned but rather a hefty carriage, guarded by two purple-robed aurors.

As the entourage came to a stop in front of the astonished Hermione, Prince Ronald popped open the door of the carriage and leapt out, disgruntled expression on his face. Upon catching sight of Hermione, though, this immediately turned into such a big smile that she blushed straight away.

“Your Highness,” she said, curtsying to him. “I am so glad you came because there was something I wished to – oh!” Hermione stopped, suddenly realising the need for a carriage as another person climbed out of the carriage. “Princess Ginevra!”

“Thanks, brother dear,” she grumbled, glaring at him, “for your gentlemanly hand down from the carriage.”

“Well, I told you that we would only be stopping a moment,” he snapped back. “I don’t see why you had to come out at all.”

“It’s stuffy in there!”

Brother and sister glared at each other. Hermione cleared her throat lightly and the two looked over at her, the Prince turning red again.

“I hope you don’t mind my inviting Ginevra along,” Ronald said nervously. “She’s been having some problems with – ”

What, my dear brother means is, that I would like to ask your advice about something later on, if that’s convenient,” Ginevra interrupted, sending an embarrassed glare at her brother.

“I would be honoured, Your Highness,” Hermione curtsied, feeling both flattered and panicked at the request.

“Thank you, Countess,” Ginny said, smiling at her with such gratitude that Hermione suspected the matter at hand was very important to her.

“Anyway, Countess,” Ronald said, “you didn’t specify anything in particular in your letter so, I hope you don’t mind, but I have arranged for us to go to Durmstrang. They have a massive library and I thought, since you are so fond of reading, that you…er, might join me?”

He finished looking at her apprehensively but Hermione couldn’t see it; all she could see were rows and rows of precious books. “Oh, Your Highness, really?” she exclaimed, fighting the urge to envelop him in a massive hug. She had always longed to somehow sneak her way into the libraries of Durmstrang and Beauxbatons but it had always been an impossible dream. ‘All those books,’ she thought, half-giddy.

“Yes, really,” he confirmed, looking both bemused at her reaction and highly pleased. She felt a sudden rush of affection for him – how could he know her so well after just two encounters?

“It’s not fair, Your Highness,” she told him, still beaming. “You’ve found my weakness, but I haven’t found yours.”

Ronald went bright red at that whilst Ginevra laughed. “Oh my dear Countess,” she sniggered, “that is pretty obvious.”

Now it was Hermione’s turn to go bright red. “Coming?” Ronald asked, holding out a hand to her. As she reached out her hand, however, she caught sight of movement in the corner of her eye. ‘Harry!’ she thought, suddenly ashamed how quickly she’d completely forgotten about their plan in light of new old books. ‘Some friend I am,’ she thought, although she couldn’t help the disappointment that rose.

Turning back to her ‘servant’, however, she saw that he was making little shooing motions with his hands. Did Harry want her to go?

Then she saw the same hint of longing in his eyes and realised that he, too, had been quite desperate to see Durmstrang all his life, although for quite different reasons. It was where his father and Sirius had first met and Sirius was always filling their heads with tales of their time there.

Why shouldn’t we see it?’ Hermione thought defiantly, smiling at Harry and giving a tiny nod to show he understood. ‘After all, Durmstrang is as good a place as any to tell-all to the Prince and Princess. Better, even, because I’m pretty sure Petunia can’t worm her way in there to catch us out!

Turning back to Ronald, who was beginning to look a little bit puzzled, she asked him where her servant could sit. Ron blinked but had clearly learnt something for he didn’t protest. He indicated to Harry that he could sit at the front with the driver, even remembering Harry’s pseudonym.

“Thank you, Your Highness,” said Hermione gratefully as Harry was settled. Ginevra had clambered back into the carriage and Ronald was waiting to help her inside.

“My friends call me Ron,” he said, going red again.

I really must look up an anti-blushing spell at the library,’ Hermione thought, as her traitorous cheeks flared up for the fiftieth time that day. “Then you must call me H-Lily,” she told him softly, hoping he didn’t notice her slip up.

He hadn’t. “Lily,” he repeated, smiling at her.

How long they stood there, staring at each other like idiots, Hermione didn’t know, but it was long enough for Ginevra to shout down at them, “Hurry up, Ron! The sooner you get in this stupid thing the sooner I can get out again!”

They both jumped and Hermione, horribly embarrassed, scrambled inside the carriage in a way that was not at all ladylike or graceful. Ron scurried after her just as quickly and she could feel the heat from his face from where he sat across her.

In fact, she was so aware of his presence that she didn’t realise for quite some time that there was a fourth person in the carriage with them. “Oh! Hello, Lady Luna,” she rushed when she saw the golden haired noble looking at her.

Or she thought she was looking at her.

“Hello, Lily,” she responded informally. Then she leant forward in her seat and, whispering in a voice that was not at all quiet, she said, “I think Ron may be in danger from nargles. – they seem to be stealing away all his thoughts.” She paused and cocked her head curiously. “It only seems to happen around you though – maybe you are controlling the nargles?”

As Ron choked and Ginny tried desperately to smother her laughs, Hermione began to think quite desperately of that library and, most specifically, that potential spell on preventing blushing.

It was going to be a very long journey.

Countess Lily’s reaction was better than he could have hoped for.

He had almost immediately regretted inviting Luna along to be Ginny’s companion because he’d forgotten that it meant he would have to listen to her for the whole of the journey to Durmstrang. Whilst he was beginning to like the strange little witch, he could handle her a lot better if there was always an avenue of escape nearby. Cooped up in an increasingly stuffy carriage whilst she prattled on about how Baron Fudge was in cahoots with goblins was enough to drive a person barmy.

But once they were out into the open air, looking at the imposing structure of Durmstrang Castle, then everything seemed to get much better. Lily and her servant, Gryffindor, had both stared in amazement at the magnificent sight and even Luna had managed to focus her gaze on it for once.

As they were given a tour by the bowing Headmaster, Ginny dropped back with Luna, just as planned, Gryffindor even consenting to walk behind them. He had gotten Lily on her own!

And then, here they were, in the library and all the misery of the last hour was forgotten as he saw her delighted face, staring round in complete admiration and happiness. This made everything worthwhile.

“I feel I could cry,” she told him softly, reverently running a finger down the spine of an old leather bound encyclopaedia.

Ron gazed at her, shocked at how happy he too felt. Ordinarily the sight of so many books would fill him with dread but to see her face light up… Before Ron had become a Prince of the realm he had been just another noble, born into a large and loving but poor family. Ron’s memories of those times were hazy, vague impressions; Ginny had none at all. What Ron did remember, however, was the chaotic period of change when suddenly they had moved into the palace and been given everything he had ever wanted as a child but that his parents couldn’t afford. Ever since then Ron had always looked on getting a present as the highlight of birthdays, Christmases and various royal occasions.

Now he suddenly understood why everyone talked about how much pleasure there was in giving gifts. He’d always thought such people were either barmy or stuck up do-gooders. If you got a gift then you’d gained something at no trouble to yourself. If you gave a gift then you dished out a load of galleons and got nothing in return.

Someone could give me all the galleons in the world,’ Ron thought, watching the delighted Countess with mesmerised eyes, ‘and it wouldn’t make me as happy as I am right now. And then I’d spend all those galleons building her a library of her own just to see her so joyful again.

It was a most un-Ron-like thought but he didn’t care. He just wanted to give her anything she wanted. “You should pick one,” he told her. “I’m sure the librarian will let you borrow one.”

He hadn’t thought she could get any more ecstatic. He was wrong.

“Pick one?” she asked, laughing disbelievingly. “There’s so many… it would be easier to pick a favourite star from the sky!”

“What do you like so much about books?” Ron asked. It was part honest curiosity and part amazement. For him books were long, dreary pages of tiny script that more often than not made no sense whatsoever.

Lily frowned as though she had never considered the questions. “I guess… there was a time in my life when I had nothing,” she started. “My parents had… died and I felt abandoned by everyone. Then someone, a sort of uncle, came into my life and introduced me to books. My parents had been quite neglectful, you see,” she added hastily, “and hadn’t taught me to read or write.

“I hated them – and him – at first, but he didn’t let me give up. He would stay up late and read to me, slowly making me feel as though I could trust the world again. I would fall asleep listening to him most nights.”

“What sort of books?” Ron asked, fascinated by the different emotions that had flitted across her face.

“Science,” Lily shrugged, smiling, “philosophy, magic… he was addicted to learning anything he could and shared it with me. Utopia was the first book I ever read completely on my own.”

“I guess that explains why you quote it,” Ron said quietly, feeling a sudden sadness loom inside.

“It’s not just that,” Lily said, shaking her head. “The message of equality and harmony… sometimes I still feel like it’s missing in my life. I want to find it and hold onto it.” There was a pause and then she said quietly, “Is something wrong?”

“No,” Ron said automatically. Then he realised Lily had opened herself up to him – the least he could do was do the same. “Yes,” he said suddenly. “I’ve never… the passion – no, the conviction – you have from just one memory… I don’t think I’ve ever felt that way my whole life. I just wander from moment to moment, never really involving myself… what kind of a Prince am I? There is more life and fire in you in that one memory than I have in my little finger!”

Lily looked at him anxiously. “Your Highness,” she said timidly, “if there is anything I have said – ”

“No!” Ron said quickly. “No, don’t. It’s not you.”

It’s me,’ he thought, sadly.

And he wondered how he could be so high one moment and then come crashing down the next.

Ginny sneaked a glance round the book shelves to see Countess Lily wandering around in a happy daze, her brother following her around like a devoted, little lamb. She tried not to giggle at his ridiculous puppy dog expression but a snort still escaped. ‘Well at least one of us will end up happily ever after.

She tried not to feel too resentful of Ron’s attention of Countess Lily but it was hard when she was desperate for the other girl’s advice. A day away from the palace confines – and hideous Potter – had buoyed her spirits somewhat though and she was enjoying comparing forbidding Durmstrang with the ornamental Beauxbatons.

“Let’s leave the library,” she said to Luna, turning away from her brother and Lily. “I feel like some sunshine.”

“That’s very wise, Ginny,” Luna said sagely. “If your head is full of books then where will life fit in?”

Luna had been an unexpected blessing. If Ginny had been alone with the other two… well, either way one of the royal siblings would have been resentful with poor Lily stuck in the middle. Now she could wander the castle, laughing at Luna’s odd comments and look forward to some good, practical advice.

There was, however, a downside.

James Gryffindor.

It was stupid, Ginny told herself over and over, to be bothered by the servant’s presence. He was just a servant after all, but it was as though every nerve in her body was tuned to his presence. Even when she was talking to Luna her back tingled as though his very gaze was affecting her. That, of course, was ridiculous. She was just uncomfortable because he had beaten her at Quidditch. Although it wasn’t as if he was gloating, teasing her about it – on the contrary, he had been perfectly silent and respectful all afternoon.

Ginny rather thought that bothered her more.

“Ah! Princess Ginevra! Luna!”

As they stepped out onto one of the balconies Ginny looked around to find Master Dumbledore striding towards them, a twinkle in his eye. As she curtsied – and Luna performed her apparently routine leaping hug – Ginny tried to sort out her suddenly complicated feelings towards him. True, he had managed to talk her parents into a compromise, but it wasn’t a very good one. And, Ginny suspected, if he had never mentioned his belief in the tremendous power of love then this ordeal would be a whole lot easier for her. She would have simply picked out her prospective fiancée from her tower as she had tried to do last night. Instead, she found herself dismissing nobleman after nobleman, who were probably perfectly lovely and decent gentlemen and a thousand times better than her ‘fiancée’, because she didn’t love them.

As she regarded him, trying to untangle her thoughts, his smile grew even wider as though he knew exactly what she was thinking. “It is a difficult path your parents have given you, Princess,” he told her quietly. “Difficult, but not impossible.”

Ginny lost control of her temper then. “’Not impossible’?” she repeated, angrily. “You are joking?”

Dumbledore smiled. “Life throws at you only what you can handle,” he told her simply. “Sometimes it might not seem that way, but you just need to be strong. And open your eyes a bit more.”

“To what?” Ginny wanted to ask, but found that she was close to crying again. She looked away.

“This is the lightning bearer, Uncle,” Luna said, besides her. “Lightning-bearer, this is my Uncle.”

There was a slight pause and then Dumbledore gave a merry laugh. Ginny, eyes under control, turned back to see an amused looking Dumbledore shake hands with an awkward looking Gryffindor. “Looks like we shall have to introduce each other,” he said. “Albus Wulfric Percival Brian Dumbledore, Uncle of Luna.”

“James Gryffindor,” Gryffindor said, grin slowly forming. “Lightning-bearer. Apparently.”

Dumbledore smiled. “My dear niece may not conform to convention but she is never wrong. You, my boy, are a lightning bearer.”

Gryffindor said nothing, perhaps waiting politely for Dumbledore to explain. Ginny, however, was not inclined to be polite. “And what exactly is a lightning bearer?”

“They bring the lightning,” Luna said happily, staring at Gryffindor with an intensity that Ginny was rather stupidly pleased to see made him uncomfortable. “In all the rain, thunder, wind and storm, the lightning bearer brings the light. He helps everyone to see the way out.”

Ginny was not much clearer on what a lightning bearer was then she had been before that ‘explanation’. Gryffindor however, she was interested to see, had stiffened up and was staring back at Dumbledore in great thought.

“What are you doing at Durmstrang, Master Dumbledore?” Gryffindor asked politely.

“Oh, just pottering here and there, making a nuisance of myself,” Dumbledore said, eyes twinkling. “I’ve been asked to take over as Headmaster here but I don’t think Durmstrang is the place for me. I spent too long wandering the world and I think the traditions of Durmstrang, fine institution though it is, would not sit well with me. In fact,” he added, “I don’t think they sat with me particularly well when I was a student here. I seem to recall setting fire to my dormitory once or twice.”

Ginny laughed. With his long beard and flowing white hair she couldn’t imagine Dumbledore as a young boy. She could, however, quite easily imagine him breaking a few rules. That twinkle just screamed of mischief. She had been just as blasé about rules when she had been ensconced at Beauxbatons.

It took Ginny a split second to realise that she wasn’t the only one laughing – Gryffindor was chuckling along as well. “I once inflated my aunt up like a great balloon,” he admitted, smiling. “She was nearly over the English Channel before Si- someone managed to rescue and deflate her.”

“You blew up your aunt?” Ginny said, not sure whether to be impressed or alarmed. She had a great aunt Muriel that she wouldn’t mind seeing floating off into France but she was pretty sure that her mother would kill her if that happened.

“Not on purpose,” Gryffindor protested before he realised who he was speaking to. “Your Highness,” he added, a little pink. As he switched his attention to her fully Ginny was annoyed to find herself going a little pink, too. ‘Stupid, stupid,’ she told herself but her cheeks weren’t obeying her silent commands. “It was accidental magic. I got beaten black and blue for it, mind, but it was worth it.” His eyes went a little misty. “It was a beautiful sight…”

Ginny stared at him in astonishment even as she couldn’t help laughing. ‘He wins at Quidditch, is a ‘lightning bearer’, converses easily with Royals and even manages a few jokes,’ she thought, completely mystified. ‘Who exactly is this servant?

“Master Dumbledore! What a pleasant surprise!”

Ginny turned around to see Ron and Lily walking out to join them, Lily clutching a rather large book to her chest with an expression of utmost bliss. Ron, although outwardly cheerful, seemed slightly thoughtful which surprised Ginny. If she’d been lucky enough to be falling head over heels in love then she would be shouting about it from Durmstrang’s rooftops.

“Master Dumbledore, may I present Countess Lily Ravenclaw?” Ron said proudly, beaming at Lily. “Lily, this is Albus – ”

“ – Wulfric Percival Brian Dumbledore,” Lily finished, eyes almost dancing she was so excited. “Discoverer of the 12 uses of dragon’s blood, defeated Grindelwald, not to mention your work on alchemy… Master Dumbledore, I am honoured.”

Dumbledore beamed at her as he shook her hand. “A scholar,” he commented lightly. “Not what I would expect from your title, Countess.”

Lily blushed. “Well, I’m not one for sitting around doing embroidery,” she confessed. “Ever since I started reading and realised they were so much about the world I didn’t know I haven’t been able to stop searching. I found your work on the possibility of creating a Philosophers Stone with Monsieur Flamel extremely interesting.”

Dumbledore’s smile increased ten-fold. “You understood it?” he asked, delighted. “Most scholars I talk to get too caught up in the intricacies of the arithmancy involved – puts them right off.”

Lily laughed. “Actually, that was my favourite part – especially the intricacies of calculating the exact moment of astrological convergence that would enable the best chance of the potion working. I must confess to having a go myself before looking at your calculations,” she added, embarrassed.

“How did you find it?”

“Not too bad, although I forgot to account for the transit of Venus across Mercury.”

“That is a tricky conjunction; just one misstep and hours of work are wasted.”

“Well – ”

“I hate to interrupt, but we really must head back to town,” Ginny said eventually, getting dizzy from the two of them seemingly speaking another language. Ron had gone completely glaze-eyed at that point, but Gryffindor was watching his mistress with a mixture of happiness and pride. Luna, of course, always looked as though she were a million miles away.

Both Lily and Dumbledore jumped, as though surprised other people were in existence. “Oh, of course, Your Highness,” Lily said, going a bit red. “I got a bit carried away.”

“Really, I couldn’t tell?” Ginny drawled with a grin. How such an obviously intelligent young noble ended up with her daft brother was completely beyond Ginny. She turned to Master Dumbledore and curtsied to him. “A pleasure once again, Master Dumbledore.”

“Ah no, Your Highness, the pleasure was all mine,” Dumbledore said, eyes curiously flicking to Gryffindor before they turned back to her own. “And remember, Princess; open your eyes and your path will become easier.”

Ginny went red as the others stared at her in confusion, her previously forgotten worries rushing back in a flood. She instantly felt heavier, as though a great weight had suddenly been placed round her shoulders. “Right, thanks,” she said rather shortly, abruptly leaving for the carriage without waiting for the others.

As she almost stomped her way back, Ginny’s mind was a roar of blank whiteness. Every time she tried to think about what Dumbledore might possibly mean it was as if she had struck a stone wall. ‘Open my eyes?’ she thought, exasperated. ‘What’s that supposed to mean? Is it meant to mean Potter isn’t that bad?’ She gave a derisive snort. Not bloody likely.

She could feel herself beginning to fall back into a sulk and she tried to fight it off. She’d had a surprisingly nice day at the school and she still had an hour’s stuffy journey back to the palace. She didn’t want to ruin everyone else’s good mood by snapping at them all.

As she reached the carriage door it swung open for her and she stared as Gryffindor held out his hand. Pausing only momentarily, she clasped his hand as he helped her into the carriage, shooting her a small, sympathetic smile before he disappeared from view.

Ginny would have thought she’d imagined it but for the fact her hand still tingled with warmth from where she’d held onto him. ‘He must have run all the way to get here in front of me,’ she thought, wonderingly. And she hadn’t seen him, either, which suggested he’d skirted round the forest. ‘Who is this James Gryffindor?

So when the others, fearing to find a short tempered Ginny when they arrived at the carriage, were pleasantly surprised when they found instead only a quiet, thoughtful one.

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