Ever After

Burrow

All Harry could see was red.

Some distant, disconnected part of him knew what he was doing was racing at full sprint across fields and roads to Godric’s Hollow but he couldn’t feel it; couldn’t feel his legs pounding at the ground; couldn’t hear his breathing loud in his ears; couldn’t feel when small stones hit him in the shins as they were kicked up. For Harry the scenery ran into one long red-hued blur.

Despicable, disgusting, manipulative, deceitful…

That disconnected part of him could also hear Hermione, frantic and breathless, calling behind him, begging him to stop, but he paid her no attention.

‘Didn’t think even they could stoop so low…’

It seemed to take but an instant for Harry to get back to the Hollow, thoughts screaming and yelling in his head all the way home. He didn’t pause to take in the view of Godric’s Hollow, a patchwork of soft yellow light against the starry backdrop, just kept racing across the sweeping emerald lawn. He no longer cared if the Dursleys saw him, all rational thought driven out of his mind at what he had just learnt.

He didn’t know why Sirius happened to be standing in the entrance hall at that particular moment; maybe it was some instinct or flash of divination. More likely it was Harry’s sheer dumb luck. Whatever the reason, as soon as Harry had barrelled his way through the large door Sirius was there, grabbing his arms and stopping him.

“Oh no you don’t you bast – Harry?” Sirius stared at his Godson in astonished recognition. That quickly turned into fear. “Merlin, Harry, what are you doing? The Dursleys are still up – it isn’t safe!”

But Harry wasn’t listening. As soon as Sirius had mentioned their names a fresh surge of rage overtook him and his common sense was swept completely away.

Sirius swore as he struggled to keep the frantic Harry in his grip. The detached part of Harry could see the dilemma in his eyes. What he really needed to do was stun the young wizard but to get to his wand he’d need to let go and Harry would be off to murder his relatives in a flash.

“Harry, stop it!” he snapped instead, hoping to get through the mist of rage surrounding the Earl. “Think about all our careful plans – you’ll ruin them all and we’ll all end up in Azkaban!”

Harry laughed bitterly at that. “They’re already ruined, Padfoot,” he choked through sudden tears. “You see, Earl Potter has already made his appearance at Court in the form of Dudley!”

“Wh- what?”

In his shock, Sirius’ vice-like grip on Harry’s arms loosened and Harry was off like a shot, racing up the curved staircase and towards his goal. He could hear Sirius swear and the zing of spellwork as it ricocheted off the walls. Harry had always disliked the spiral staircases that riddled the Hollow but now he thanked Merlin for them; Sirius couldn’t get a clean shot.

So Harry raced on unhindered towards the drawing room and his treacherous relatives. As he ran thoughts, arguments, angry comments, insults all stumbled around in his head in a messy blur till he almost didn’t realise he’d reached the drawing room door. Stumbling to a halt he wrenched open the door, charged in and yelled the first thought that came to mind.

“I am NOT going to let Ginevra marry that thing!”

The Dursleys stared at him from where they were sat. Vernon bristled angrily although both he and Dudley looked unsettled by the sight of a deranged Harry.

Petunia on the other hand…

“So you did escape,” she commented coolly.

Harry stared at her, taken aback. “What do you mean? You knew!” he snarled. It was only then that he realised that none of the Dursleys had actually looked surprised to see him. Nagging suspicion and worry began to eat away at his anger.

She laughed, an icy thing that sent shivers down Harry’s spine and served to cool down even more of his temper. “It’s amazing the things you can learn from court gossip,” she said eventually. “Dudders and I – or, should I say, Harry and I – had an engagement today with his fiancée at the palace – ”

“You mean my fiancée!” Harry interrupted angrily, ignoring the weirdness he felt at ‘claiming’ Ginevra as his bride.

You,” Petunia sneered, “what in all the world makes you think you’re worthy of even speaking to royalty, you miserable, pathetic freak!”

Harry gaped at her, trying to put his anger into words. Luckily, he didn’t have to.

“How about because he is by birth Earl Harry James Potter?” an icy voice asked.

Harry whirled around to see that not only Sirius but Remus, Tonks and Hermione behind him. All of them looked furious, wands clenched openly in their fists. At the sight of so many angry and armed witches and wizards Dudley and Vernon whimpered slightly but Petunia didn’t budge. Instead she just transferred her glare onto Remus, who had been speaking.

“Because that’s who’s marrying the Princess, isn’t it?” he continued, voice as angry as Harry had ever heard. “Not Dudley Dursley – you had to steal Harry’s name to get Dudley in. On your own you just weren’t good enough for royalty.”

“Shut up!” Petunia shrieked, for the first time coming close to losing her cool. “It was me who did all the arrangements, worked up the contracts, spoke to the palace representatives. Me! And all for that brat? Why should he get to connect with royalty just because his father was an important freak whilst Dudley left to scramble in his wake? Dudley deserves this so I took it for him.”

“That’s why you tried to sell me,” Harry realised angrily. He was clenching his fists so tightly he could hear his bones creaking.

Petunia sneered at him. “Well, I couldn’t have you in the way when I introduced Dudley to his peers. And, in typical Potter fashion, you couldn’t even get imprisoned properly. That whore you call friend managed to squirrel you away.” At Hermione’s surprised look she added, “Oh, yes, I know all about your little charade, Countess Ravenclaw.”

“How did you know that was me?” Hermione asked, wand arm shaking. “You didn’t… didn’t tell – ”

“Tell their Majesties their son was mooning over a servant girl?” Petunia finished with a sneer. “My sister sent me letters all about her life, as if I cared what unnatural things that witch was doing. But I read them all, to remind me what she was, and she talked about quidditch,” she said as though even the word itself was dirty. “All about those stupid games and those equally stupid names that fool of a husband thought up.

“I didn’t recognise it at first, when that idiotic woman Brown was gushing about the heroic Prince Ronald and the mysterious Countess he had fallen in love with,” Petunia mocked. “But then someone mentioned the woman who had argued with him to set one of the prisoners free and I knew. I knew it was you, that you had somehow managed to bewitch everyone into freeing the brat. I don’t know what he could see in you, a dirty, ugly cow. But then you’re one of them, aren’t you. You have your devil’s ways.”

“I – you – that’s NOT how it happened!” Hermione shrieked, sparks shooting out the end of her wand she was so furious. Petunia didn’t even step back at the flash and Harry wondered for the first time if his Aunt was truly sane. Didn’t she realise she was completely surrounded by witches and wizards?

“Very clever, Petunia,” Remus said mildly, although he too was shaking with suppressed anger. “But it’s all over now. You’ve lied to the King and Queen; committed a felony; there’s no hope for you all.”

“What are you going to do about it, werewolf?” Petunia sneered, no hint of fear in her eyes.

Harry looked at her incredulously. “Aunt Petunia,” he said, “you are completely surrounded by wands. We’re taking you to the King and Queen right now where they can – and will – make you confess.”

“Please struggle,” Sirius put in darkly, for once his large grin making him look exactly like the feral dog of his animagus form. “No, really – I’d love any excuse to mar that horse face of yours, my lady.”

“It’s over, Aunt Petunia,” Harry said triumphantly. “You’ve lost.”

Petunia laughed. “You still don’t get it, boy,” she hissed. “I don’t lose. I’m not letting you ruin plans I’ve had in place for years. And you forget,” she added, icy triumphant smile back in place; “I knew you were coming.”

Before Harry had time to process those words he was hit by a flash of light. He crashed into whoever was behind him with a yell and collapsed onto the floor. Hitting his head hard enough to make his eyes water he heard groaning around him and realised, for the second time that day, he’d been ambushed.

“Thank you, MacNair,” he heard his aunt say primly as his vision cleared. “You know what to do with them?”

“Yes, my Lady,” a gravelly voice replied and Harry peered up to see a dark robed wizard with a large black moustache and dark, gleeful eyes. When he saw Harry watching him he gave him a kick with his boot making Harry groan in pain.

“Oh, good, you’re still conscious,” Petunia said and Harry reopened his eyes to see Petunia’s face hovering just above him. Her face was twisted into a menacing triumphant expression and Harry realised suddenly that he had really lost, this time. He’d escaped her before; this time she was going to make sure that wherever Harry was, he was never going to get out.

Apparently she could see the defeat in his eyes because her smile widened. “Yes, Potter; it is all over now,” she told him quietly. “And you are never going to see the light of day again. I never wanted you, a pebble in my shoe, thorn in my side, but I have to thank you, Harry; if it weren’t for you, Dudley would never have become a Prince.”

And with that she got back to her feet and swept out the room, never once looking back.

As he was tugged to his feet, magically restraints once more clapped onto his fists, he couldn’t help but feel a sense of déjà vu. But many things had changed since last week; for one thing, he wasn’t fighting. How could he? His aunt had blocked him at every turn without him even realising it. There would be no rescue coming for him because all his potential rescuers – Tonks, Remus, Sirius, Hermione – were all being grabbed and restrained, their wands snapped and pocketed. Sirius wasn’t going easily and three of the mysterious dark robed figures pounced on him, punching and kicking him until he stopped moving. Tonks and Hermione were being dragged off, unresisting, although Hermione’s face was awash with tears. Remus wasn’t fighting either, although he had gone extremely pale. Harry saw why as they turned and dragged him out the room; his handcuffs were pure silver.

Harry felt numb as his guards picked him up and dragged him out the drawing room. He watched the familiar shapes and contours of Godric’s Hollow pass him by and realised that the Hollow had never been his. It had always been the Dursleys, from the very day they’d moved in.

Dudley was going to marry Ginevra and that was that.

He felt his stomach clench at that thought. Poor Ginevra, who had been so miserable last night. Again he cursed himself for an idiot. If only he hadn’t gone running off like a mindless bull and stayed, told her what they knew, then maybe she and Ronald would have believed them. After all, that’s why they were meeting up with them that day; to tell them. If he’d kept his cool then Hermione wouldn’t be being thrown down into the kitchen right now; Sirius would be up plotting with Tonks; Remus would be recovering not thrown down into the Wolf Room to slowly die from the poison of its walls.

It was all his fault.


Hermione was shaking.

How did I go from such a perfect day to this nightmare?’ she thought miserably, huddled by the fireplace. She was freezing but lacked the will to get up and light the fire. Not to mention they didn’t keep any flints down in the kitchen because they all could light a roaring fire with a word.

Not anymore.

She had only been a witch for four of her 17 years but it was amazing how quickly having magic became an intricate part of her. Now she felt completely naked without her wand. She wondered how Harry had coped these past few days without the knowledge that his wand was only a split second away. ‘Then again,’ she reminded herself, ‘he had other things to think about.

So, for that matter, did she. She was currently locked, unarmed, in the kitchen of Godric’s Hollow where she was awaiting Merlin knew what fate. As she’d been thrown unceremoniously down the steps the man who’d been holding her warned her that she’d better behave or Harry and Sirius would suffer for it.

“Wait!” she’d called after him, struggling back up the stairs, “Where are they? What have you done with them?”

But the door had simply slammed shut in her face.

Now, left alone with her thoughts for several hours, she was berating herself for being such a smug idiot. ‘I thought it was going along so nicely,’ she thought, despairingly. ‘Petunia would never find out what we’re doing, oh no. What idiots we were. All this time and we never realised what she was doing until it was too late and Dudley was firmly embedded at Court as poor Harry. We should have put the pieces together sooner but no, there we were, happily running around Petunia’s back thinking we were going to bring her down.’ She gave a hollow laugh that quickly turned into hiccups.

A sudden sound from upstairs made her jump and she realised with a start that the sun had risen. As fingers of light lanced their way across the kitchen she decided that she wasn’t going to sit there and feel sorry for herself. That noise might have been from one of the Dursleys. Hermione didn’t know why she hadn’t been taken away like the others but she assumed that Petunia might want to speak to her and she was determined not to give that cow the satisfaction of her tear stained face.

Getting to her feet she stumbled and almost fell from the stiffness and cramp in her limbs; she had been huddled by the fireplace all night. Rubbing her legs until the pain eased Hermione hobbled over to the table to see if any food had been left out from last night. It was as she moved that she discovered the headache.

That’s right, Hermione, just drink loads of firewhiskey right before you’re captured,’ she thought sarcastically. ‘There’s no way that wasn’t a good idea!

But not everything firewhiskey related was bad. As she shakily splashed some water over her face her mind flew back to happier times… talking with Ron by the bonfire; the look in his eyes as he asked her to meet him tomorrow; the way his mouth felt on hers…

That is the last thing I need to be thinking about right now,’ she told herself, eyes tearing up once more as she realised she would never see the Prince again. ‘He’ll wait all day for me and I’ll never come.

She allowed herself a moment’s reverie before snapping herself back into action. She had bigger things to worry about than a lost love right now, far bigger things. Like, for example, how on earth she was going to save Harry this time when she had no idea where he was or who he was held by. She didn’t even know if he was alive.

Then again, that was a problem for another day. First she had to worry about how to save herself.

The door crashed open with a jolt. Hermione jumped and whirled around, head loudly protesting the movement. She ignored the pain and glared up at the dark robed wizard that stood there.

“What do you want?” she snapped, hand reaching for a wand that wasn’t there.

The wizard sneered at her. It wasn’t the same wizard that had taken Harry away to the King but a different one. Stood to sense, Hermione thought, as the red-robed wizard had been an employ of the King. If he had stood witness to their argument last night he would have overheard Petunia confessing what Hermione had told him was the truth; Harry was the rightful Earl of Godric’s Hollow. A King’s man he would have been obligated to act on that information and take Petunia and the Dursleys in for questioning.

The man who stood before her today clearly didn’t give two hoots about who owned what so he could only be one thing; a mercenary.

“I would be a bit nicer to me, little witch,” the mercenary said, walking down the stairs towards her. Under his big black moustache the mouth turned into a twisted smile. “Especially with what I’m doing with you today.”

Hermione found her heart hammering and she inadvertently took a few shaky steps back. “What do you mean?”

The grin grew wider. “No, no, my dear; that would be telling.” And before she could even blink he reached out and grabbed her. She tried kicking out at him but he just shook her. That, coupled with what could only be described as a hangover, made her head spin so violently it was a wonder she wasn’t sick all over him.

As it was she could barely stumble after him as he pulled her up the stairs of the kitchen. In fact, she was so inept that he ended up losing patience and carrying her on his back in a sick parody of how she had carried Ron the day before. That had been a rescue. This was anything but.

She tried to keep her mind focussed on where they were going but the mercenary’s jolting footsteps and her growing migraine meant pain blurred her vision. She didn’t need to see where they were going; she had a pretty good guess.

She was right.

As her eyes blinked and slowly adjusted to the dim lighting of the drawing room, Hermione’s eyes managed to focus on Petunia. She spat at her.

She ignored that pathetic attempt at defiance and signalled for the doors to be closed. “Now, witch,” she said, voice cold as ice, “you’re going to tell us everything that went on with you and the Prince.”

“I won’t tell you anything!” Hermione snapped defiantly.

A hand smashed across her face and Hermione felt her head lip split from the force of impact. As the blood trickled down her chin she looked dazedly across at the mercenary.

“No need to be rude, little witch,” he said. “I won’t tell you anything, my Lady.”

“Enough, Macnair,” Petunia snapped, stepping forward. “I don’t want any visible signs. Use your magic.” She practically shuddered at having to say such a dirty word.

The mercenary scowled but bowed at her. “As you wish, my Lady.”

“Now, girl, what were you doing with the Prince and Princess yesterday?”

Hermione pressed her lips together firmly and didn’t say anything. Petunia just looked calmly across at Macnair who grinned. Hermione only had time for a moment of foreboding before Macnair raised his wand.

“Crucio!”

It was though a thousand red hot knives were stabbing into her, over and over again. The pain built and built until she was screaming at the top of her lungs and still it wouldn’t stop. The knives stabbed and twisted until every single part of her body was a red-hot point of pain. ‘Make it stop, make it stop, make it stop, makeitstopmakeitstopmakeitstop…

And then, just as suddenly as it had begun, the pain vanished. Sound and vision suddenly came back to her and she was aware of how loud and heavy her breathing sounded in the sudden quiet. Every limb, every part of her, was shaking, trembling with the after effects of what she’d just been subjected to.

The cruciatus curse…

As she looked up to glare at Petunia she met blank indifference. Petunia didn’t care that she was torturing a fellow human being. Petunia didn’t see her as a fellow human being. Petunia saw all servants as dogs; lesser beings put there only to serve her. The fact that she was magical to boot…

“I’ll ask you again, you abomination. What were you doing?”

It took all her willpower not to speak, but she managed it. The pain was even worse that time, as though molten lava was running through her arteries instead of blood, burning her from the inside out. When the curse had been lifted that time her stomach roiled and she threw up on the floor. She managed to remain silent through another bout of the curse but then she couldn’t keep quiet any longer and the words came tumbling out her mouth.

Petunia listened to it all unblinking, the only time any emotion coming into play was the sneer when Hermione confessed that she and Ron had kissed. When it finished Hermione sat, breathing as heavily as if she’d just run to town and back and feeling embarrassed and ashamed. Petunia just stood there watching her, deep in thought.

“Where is the place you were meeting the Prince today?” she asked finally.

“It lies on the outskirts of Ottery St Catchpole, my Lady,” Macnair said when Hermione didn’t say anything. “A ruin, now, broken down and good for nothing.”

Petunia paused again, eyes flickering as she made her plans. “Girl,” she said eventually, “you will go to this Burrow today and meet the Prince as planned. Once there you will tell him that you are engaged to another and are leaving Court immediately. Tell him that you could never love him and that you are going to join you fiancée in Spain and that you are never coming back.”

Hermione stared at Petunia, wondering if she had heard her right – or if the Lady had finally gone insane. “You want me to meet the Prince?” she repeated feeling groggy.

Petunia’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t get any ideas about telling him the truth, girl,” she warned. “You’re going to do exactly what I say.”

“No I bloody well will not!” Hermione snapped. She couldn’t do that to Ron, hurt him like that. Besides, Petunia was right; if she saw the Prince then all she was going to do was tell him the truth. The real truth.

But Petunia was smiling at her. “Oh yes, my dear, you will. Macnair?”

“Imperius!”


As Ron walked through the crumbling walls and rooms of the Burrow he felt a strange sensation of peace run through him. This was not a feeling he was usually accustomed to. Even without all the stress of marriage contracts and moronic Earls, having 5 older brothers and being a Prince brought about its fair share of hassle. But peace was what he was feeling right now and he was determined to not let anything disrupt it.

In a way it felt strange not to have Ginny prattling on at him and insulting him every 2 seconds. She’d been around him so much lately that he’d gotten used to her being around. She had tried to come with him that day as well, but Ron had managed to put his foot down and tell her to bugger off. He’d felt quite guilty doing it as he knew it only came of desperation out of her situation but Ron was pretty sure that the romantic meeting he had planned between himself and Lily would not be added to by a weeping, critical Princess in the bushes.

‘Besides,’ he thought, trying to banish the feelings of guilt that were rising up again, ‘I did promise to ask Lily some more.

Plus there was a very good chance that the King and Queen would murder both him and Ginny if she disappeared from the palace again.

To say that their Majesties hadn’t been too happy with them when they’d gotten back the night before was an understatement. It turned out that the Queen had planned a day for the Princess and Earl Potter together and she had not been impressed when poor Potter and his aunt had had to wait around all day for a Princess that never materialised. When his mother had started yelling, Ron unconsciously braced himself for the yelling match that would ensue; Ginny was not one who took anything lying down.

Fortunately for Ron’s ears, Ginny was still upset about how the evening had ended, with Lily and Gryffindor fleeing into the night. So, instead of yelling back, she just burst into tears, informed her parents that she hated them and ran off to her room.

Ron didn’t think he’d ever seen his parents look so surprised. “Is she alright?” his father asked, staring after her in consternation.

“Apart from the fact you’re forcing her to marry a complete prick?” Ron asked, sarcastically.

“We’ve given her – both of you – a chance,” his mother started hotly but the King stopped her. “They know, Molly, dear. Now,” he turned his attention to Ron, “where have you been all day?”

“We just went to Durmstrang with some friends,” Ron said evasively.

“You left there hours ago, Ronald,” his mother said. As he looked at her in surprise she added, “Master Dumbledore told us he’d seen you there.”

Ron shrugged. “Well our carriage wheel broke on the way back,” he admitted, not sure why he was so reluctant to bring up Riddle and the Death Eaters. He should be shouting if from the rooftops, it was such an achievement, but two things held him back;

1. It would probably get himself and Ginny – especially Ginny – into more trouble

2. Ginny had played just as vital a role as he; she should be there to break it to their parents

He was a bit surprised at this kindly feeling he was having to his sister. Usually it was a free for all amongst the Weasley siblings, whoever could best the other at anything. But, as he had told the Countess but a few hours ago, he was a better person since he had met her.

His mother narrowed her eyes at him. “There’s more, something you’re not telling us.”

“Yes,” Ron agreed, “there is. But it’s late, I’m tired, and Ginny should be here when we talk about it so with your leave, Mum, Dad, I’m going to bed.”

And so off he had swept to a restless night’s sleep. He had had a long day, with lots of walking, tree climbing, dancing, riding and drinking, but somehow he couldn’t sleep. Part of him was worried that if he fell asleep then those amazing moments by the bonfire would disappear and he would forget. He didn’t want that first kiss to be hazy and like a dream.

Suddenly he heard a rustling, turned around and felt his breath catch.

Countess Lily was dressed in red and cream today with large skirts that flowed behind her as she picked her way towards him. Best of all; she was clearly no dream. She was real and right there, waiting for him. All his careful thoughts disappeared from his mind as she stopped in front of him and gave a small smile. She seemed a little withdrawn but Ron imagined that was due to the hangover she was undoubtedly feeling. He himself had had to beg the palace potions master for his best headache cure. He doubted she had similar access, although she was probably brilliant enough to fix it up herself.

“Hello, Lily,” he said nervously.

“Hello,” she said quietly.

“Erm… how are you feeling?”

“I’m… well, let’s just say I don’t feel like myself today.”

Ron grimaced. “Ah, the dangers of firewhiskey. Although I should thank Riddle for it – I doubt I would have gotten up the courage to ask you here today without it.” He stopped talking immediately, feeling his ears begin to burn. ‘What a bloody stupid thing to say, Ronald,’ he berated himself. ‘At this rate she’ll think you’ve been back on the firewhiskey!

Lily, however, made no comment except to say, “I have something I need to tell you.”

“Funny. I’ve got something to say to you, too,” Ron said, nerves making themselves known again. He suddenly remembered he had something to give her and said, “Oh and here.” He handed her a large hard-backed book. “In all the confusion you left your new book in the carriage.”

She took it, face strangely blank. “Thank you, Your Highness. I can’t stay very long but I – I had to see you. I’ve got a lot to say.”

“So have I,” Ron said nervously, but after that he couldn’t quite seem to form any coherent words. He’d been stood there blooming ages imagining how he would propose and when it came down to it he was completely at a loss. He opened his mouth several times to begin before giving up and asking Lily to accompany him inside the house.

As they walked under the crumbling archway that had once represented the entrance to the Burrow Ron found he was suddenly talking about his past. “My family used to live here,” he said, “before… well, before Uncle Gideon abdicated to live in Greece. Since we moved to the palace, well…” he gestured around him at where the nearby forest had suddenly invaded. Trees now grew where their battered furniture had once stood, battling each other for the sun much as Ron, Fred and George had battled for the best teddy bear every evening. As well as trees, small shrubs had taken root alongside their taller brethren and flowers turned the mass of otherwise green, grey and brown into a riot of colour.

Lily smiled as a bird flew out of one of the trees as they approached, trilling noisily to its neighbours about the clumsy human invaders. “It’s beautiful,” she said wistfully.

“I didn’t think so,” Ron admitted, leading Lily to where some fallen masonry acted as a bench. “Mum and Dad used to drag us back here every year, to remember how we used to live. I hated those trips. Looking at the crumbling shack, this pathetic excuse for a manor… I was a Prince, living in a grand palace. I didn’t like thinking that at one point I had been so low.

“Now, however…” he turned and looked at her, taking her hands in his. “I used to look on the Burrow as proof of how far I’ve come, but since I met you I realise how far I’ve got to go.” He got down on one knee and looked up into her face. “Lily. You are the strangest, most bizarre but most wonderful woman I have ever met. I’m a better person since I met you. You- you inspire me to be more than I ever thought I could be, to realising that caring about others isn’t a weakness but an important part of my duty as Prince. When I’m with you… I feel free.”

Ron finished in a rush, his face now burnt red with embarrassment. As he searched her face for the first time he felt a twinge of worry. The Countess was looking at him without any emotion, despite the fact that he had just been pouring his heart out to her. He suppressed the unease though; he had to say what he came here to say.

“What I’m trying to say is; Countess Lily Ravenclaw, will you do me the honour of marrying me?”

Her hands jerked in his at that and he looked up to see her staring at him with both shock and, worryingly, sadness. “Why did you have to be so wonderful?” she whispered tearily and then the moment was gone. Her face was closed once more, eyes clear and no emotion anywhere.

“I’m engaged, Your Highness.”

This time Ron was the one to jerk. He scrambled to his feet and looked at her aghast, hoping he’d heard her incorrectly. “You – what?”

“I’m engaged, Sire,” she repeated slowly. “To a Spaniard. I leave on a boat tonight and have no intentions to come back to England.”

Horror was now transforming into anger. “A Spaniard? Why didn’t you tell me you were engaged?” ‘Oh, what a bloody fool I’ve made of myself!

She just gave him a cool look. “What’s done is done, Your Highness.”

“Lily…” Ron reached for her hand again but she pulled back. He didn’t understand. Ok, so he didn’t have a clue about girls but she’d kissed him last night – surely that was a signal even he could read correctly. ‘Although I did kiss her… maybe she was too polite to stop me…’ He shook those doubts away. He did not imagine her feelings for him!

“Please, Lily,” he said, managing to grab an arm successfully this time. “I don’t care if you’re engaged. Leave him, come with me – if you don’t want to stay at Court, if you want to see Spain that’s fine. We’ll run away together. Just see Spain with me and not him. I don’t want to lose you.” He took a deep breath and said the three words he’d never thought he’d be able to say to anyone. “I – I love you.”

Lily didn’t say anything. She just looked at him with that same cool, slightly pitying expression. “I wish you well, Your Highness,” she said finally, curtsying formally and turning around.

“No, Lily, please! Come back!”

She was gone.

Ron was alone.


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