Ginny stared into the mirror and didn’t recognise the woman staring back at her. The woman in the mirror was as blank and hollow as a wooden doll. The eyes, shadowed by dark bags, were empty, lifeless to behold.
Around the sides of that blank expression there was lots of bustling movement as maids brushed out her long red hair. She was freshly bathed and covered with a robe whilst the stylist prepared to tease her hair into the current fashion. Behind her the maids chatted quietly, complimenting the Princess on her beautiful hair but Ginny couldn’t hear them.
She had woken to a headache that morning, only in part due to the firewhiskey. Most of it, she suspected, had come from crying herself to sleep. The first thing she had done was to go and find Ron to find out what had happened after she’d run away from her parents last night.
“Nothing,” he’d said and, when she started pestering him, he’d added, “Really, Ginny – I told Mum that whatever else we had to say we would say it together in the morning.”
Ginny was surprised at that. In the past Ron would probably have just taken the credit for the school idea and Ginny would be the one facing the consequences alone. “I don’t think I can face them this morning,” she’d confessed.
Ron had grimaced. “Well you’re going to have to,” he’d told her. “I’ve already seen Mum and it seems Potter’s here today to talk to you.”
Ginny had blanched. “But – but it’s my last day, Ron; my last day! How am I going to get out of this if I’m stuck by his side all day?” Ron looked uncomfortable and then she’d remembered what he’d said the night before. “Ron, you’ve got to take me with you!” she’d said desperately. Whatever funny business had gone on at the end of last night she was sure if she had another chance to speak to the Countess everything would be alright.
Ron had stared at her like she’d grown an extra head. “No bloody way, Ginny!”
“Come on, Ron, I’ll be really quiet!”
“No!” Ron had repeated, slowly turning red. “I can’t – not while you’re watching – no!”
Ginny had glared at him angrily and stalked off, leaving him watching after her awkwardly. She’d calmed down a bit since then and realised that it was completely unfair of her to keep pushing herself on Ron when he obviously just wanted to talk to his lady.
Jealously and resentment suddenly surged their way upwards but Ginny clamped them down. She couldn’t begrudge Ron his Countess, although it was very hard work. Then again she wasn’t sure how she could look at the older girl again after she and James had shunned her the night before.
James expression as she’d told them of her problems suddenly floated into existence in front of her eyes. It had been dark but even so the shock, horror and pure fury on his face had been hard to miss. That anger had hurt her even more than Lily’s quick exit. She just wasn’t sure why.
Ginny closed her eyes, fighting back tears. It was ridiculous. She barely knew either of them but somehow in the space of a few days – hours, even – they’d managed to worm their way into her small circle of friends. She hadn’t really had many friends before. The majority of the noble ladies were idiots, quite frankly, and Ginny couldn’t respect them enough to be friends with them. Some of the noble men she got along with a little better but they always came attached to scheming mothers, aunts or grandmothers.
With the Countess she had finally found a friend, someone she would have quite happily called sister. Even though Ginny knew it probably was nothing to do with her, she couldn’t help seeing Lily’s abandonment as a betrayal.
And James… Truth be told Ginny wasn’t quite sure what he meant to her. All she knew was that she was hurting; a lot.
When Ron had arrived back home later on that afternoon, change of heart or no, she was fully intending to rip into him for not rescuing her from another day of Potter hell. The stupid feather was back today although the sword had yet to make an appearance after Ron had embarrassed the oaf that first day.
She didn’t know if it had been the fact that the official engagement announcement was imminent or just that he’d eaten a fat ton of sugar but Earl Potter had been very happy that day. Not that he’d actually managed to carry off a proper conversation with her, but every now and then she’d catch this gleeful expression on his face that made him shudder.
The only good thing about today’s rendezvous was the absence of Dursley. However much Potter disgusted her, Dursley just made her skin crawl. When asked for his aunt’s absence, Potter had just grinned and said that his aunt was ‘dealing with staffing issues’.
Ginny had felt cold at that. ‘I hope that’s not the poor maid,’ she thought, thinking back to what she’d let slip at the marketplace two days ago. That was all she needed to make herself feel better; guilt at getting someone fired.
So with Ginny feeling withdrawn, Potter a complete prat and no Dursley to chatter incessantly time actually seemed to run backwards, it went by so slowly. By the end of the appointment Ginny was ready to face down a dragon, she was so angry.
Exiting the room as though she were racing for freedom, Ginny had immediately headed down towards the stables. Rules be damned, she was getting hold of a broomstick if she had to knock out every single auror to do it!
“Ron!” Ron’s red hair was quite unmistakeable in the haze of browns, blacks and blondes. She was surprised to see him back so soon but surprise quickly turned into anger. He was the reason she’d had such an awful afternoon, after all. If only he’d taken her with him! “Ron, I’m going to kill you, you wouldn’t believe the utterly sh – bloody Merlin, Ron, what’s wrong?”
As Ron had turned to face her Ginny’s anger vanished and she was left with a stomach-clenching worry. Ron’s face, which had been radiating happiness for the last few days, looked desolate. His mouth was turned down in a sulky grimace and his eyes… ‘Merlin’s balls, has he been crying?!’
“It’s…” he started and then stopped.
“Is it Lily?” He started at her name and then looked at the floor miserably.
Whatever Ginny had been expecting it was not that! “She’s – you what?”
“Engaged,” Ron repeated gloomily, kicking a loose stone. “To a Spaniard.”
“To a – that’s impossible. There has to be some mistake!”
Ron gave a hollow laugh. “That’s what I thought, but no; she’s travelling by boat this afternoon. She didn’t say much about it.”
Ginny made a disbelieving noise. “And I can see why. I can’t believe this – engaged? If she was betrothed then she bloody well should have said!”
“I know!” Ron agreed. “Who does things like that?”
‘We do,’ Ginny thought suddenly, feeling guilty. But their situation was totally different. They were only engaged if they couldn’t find someone to love. They weren’t necessarily being deceptive just… withholding a few facts.
For some reason James’ furious expression from the night before once again swam into her head. Then the thought connected. “Oh – oh, bloody hell; last night!” she swore, waving her hands in frustration. When Ron just looked at her blankly she elaborated; “Last night when I mentioned being engaged and they ran off… all this time I thought it was because of something I’d done…” Ginny sighed. “Maybe she realised what she was doing and went away before it could go any further.”
“What do you mean ‘realised’ what she was doing?” Ron asked incredulously. “How can you bloody forget that you’re engaged to someone else?”
“I did,” Ginny reminded him gently. “All yesterday, I did everything I could to forget about Potter. That evening when I was talking to James I should have been talking to Lily. But I didn’t because thinking about my fiancée was horrible and I was enjoying myself.” Ginny shrugged. “Maybe she doesn’t love her fiancée. Maybe it’s an arranged marriage, just like ours are, and she wanted a way out.”
“She still should have told me.”
Ginny laughed bitterly. “Like you told her about France?”
Ron blustered indignantly. “That’s different!”
“No, Ron, it isn’t.” Ginny sighed, anger completely gone now to be replaced by a hollow sadness. It seemed that everyone she met was bound to be miserable in love. She, Ron and Lily all married off to people they didn’t love. And if the bright, intelligent Lily couldn’t think of a way out of her own unhappy fate, how on earth would Ginny?
“There you are, Your Highness.”
The voice of the stylist brought Ginny back to herself in an instant. She blinked and saw that the reflection in the mirror had changed. Not the hollow, dead doll staring out at her, but the doll’s hair. Now it had been curled into tight ringlets and pinned to her head in a style that made it look as though loose curls were just tumbling out of place. Small pearls glowed softly from where they had been dotted and it was all offset by her heavy white-gold and pearl tiara.
“It looks lovely,” Ginny responded by matter of rote. Satisfied, the stylist moved off to grab the makeup.
Unbidden, Ginny’s glance caught on a small wooden box on the table and she felt tears prick at her eyes again. Inside was a brand new wand, made from phoenix feather and holly. She had thought it would be harder to convince Ollivander to part with one of his new wands but she had forgotten that she had saved his life in the woods. He hadn’t even asked many questions, just about the owner she had in mind (wands, she was told, were tricky customers).
She could have given the box to Ron when he went to see Lily but she had held back. It was she who had promised James a new wand, after all; she who had gone to Ollivander and chosen one. She wanted to give it to him, to see his eyes light up at the gift, to see him smile. Now, because she had been silly, James would never get the wand.
A Princess always keeps her promises, but this was one that would have to remain undone.
If Hermione thought she had cried a lot
the night before that was nothing to now.
When she had walked out of the Burrow Macnair was ready for her. Still under the effects of the curse he had
simply grabbed her arm and side-along apparated her back to Godric’s Hollow.
Petunia was waiting for them.
“It’s done?” she enquired. Macnair nodded. She smiled triumphantly. “Good. Throw the witch back in the kitchen and take the curse off. I want her to feel what she’s just done.”
Hermione was ashamed to admit that as soon as the curse had come off she’d nearly begged Macnair to put it back. Being under the Imperius curse was like floating on some heavenly cloud where your worries didn’t seem important. In fact nothing really mattered under the curse; it was an awful lot like peace.
But when the spell had been taken away the outside world roared back on in, a confusing mess of noise, aches and hurt. “Oh Merlin… Ron,” she whispered and burst into tears.
It was as though the scene was being replayed back in slow motion; the elated smile when he’d first seen her; how he’d remembered her book in all the stupid confusion of yesterday; how he had shared his memories with her; how he had got down on one knee.
How he had told her he loved her.
She had seen all this already, of course. Under the Imperius curse she was completely aware of what was going on but just didn’t care about it. When Ron had handed her the book she’d felt nothing but dull confusion. As he had poured out his worries the words just slid into her brain and then out again.
She’d almost broken the curse, once. When he had proposed to her it was as if that jolted her briefly from her insulating bubble. But the moment had been too brief and she hadn’t been strong enough; she had lost.
She didn’t know how long she sat there, feeling miserable and full of self-loathing, the remnants of the Imperius curse pressing on her mind like a slick oil. Time didn’t seem to matter anymore. Everything was lost, anyway, what did the passing of the hours count for?
Hermione jumped, jolted almost as suddenly from her cloud of misery as she had been from the Imperius curse. She looked up at the door, half-expecting to see Macnair waiting again. She shuddered involuntarily as ghost sensations from the cruciatus ran down her limbs.
Hermione frowned. ‘Where is that coming – Merlin’s saggy pants!’
“Merlin’s saggy pants!” she repeated out loud, mouth dropping open. “Tonks? How did you – I don’t… are the others with you?”
The metamorphmagi grimaced as she squinted down at Hermione through the kitchen’s tiny windows. “Turned my fingers into keys,” she grunted and waggled the aforementioned appendages at Hermione. Whatever they were, they certainly didn’t resemble fingers. All of them were a strange purple-green and none of them were in a straight line.
“Into – Tonks, that’s genius!”
“Bloody idiotic, more like,” she winced. “Broke every bloody one to do it.”
Hermione’s eyes widened. No wonder they didn’t look much like fingers anymore. ‘Wait… broken all of them – that means…’
“I can’t get you out, Hermione, I’m sorry,” Tonks said, confirming her fears. “I tried to get Remus but…” She looked away and Hermione realised she was crying. “They put him in the Wolf Room, Hermione,” she whispered. “I went to try and open the door but there doesn’t even seem to be a door anymore. That bastard wizard must have done something. He’ll die in there, Hermione – what do I do?!”
Hermione stared up at her friend aghast. Silver wasn’t as poisonous to Remus in his human form as it was for his wolf form but it would still be working away at him. He was still weak from the last full moon and all the extra work everyone had been doing. If they didn’t get him out soon…
“Go to the Prince!” Hermione said suddenly, inspiration striking. “Tell him what’s happened!” Then recent events caught up to her. “No… wait.” She sighed. She could not rely on Ron to come racing to her rescue or even listen to anything remotely connected to her. Nor could she rely on Ginevra. ‘Well, that was a short lived plan,’ she thought miserably. Then…
“The Lady Luna! Luna Lovegood – go to her!” Hermione instructed. “I’m sure she’ll listen to you.”
Tonks looked at her incredulously. “A lady, listen to the likes of me?” she said slowly. “You’ve got to be joking.”
“Lady Luna will listen to you, trust me,” Hermione insisted. Of course, she wasn’t entirely too sure the other girl would actually do anything with the information but she would listen. And if she was listening, maybe she could pass the information along to Ron or Ginevra. Or even Dumbledore. For a split second Hermione considered telling Tonks to find Dumbledore instead. In the end she stuck with Lady Luna; she was the known element in all this. And even if all she did was come back with Tonks… well, she had a wand, didn’t she?
“How will I know her?” Tonks asked, seemingly resigned to the plan.
Despite the miserable situation they were in, Hermione couldn’t help but grin at that. “Trust me; you’ll know her.”
Ron twirled Ginny gracefully around the
dance floor and tried to not look as miserable as she did. It was a difficult feat; it was like a great
big black sticky pit of despair had opened up underneath him and was trying to
suck him down. Everything felt heavy and
slow and he was sure that his usually poor dance performances were even more
awful than usual.
Of course it didn’t help that he’d been forced into this ridiculous costume. Ron wasn’t quite sure who was responsible for designing and making the royal outfits for this particular ball but he was pretty sure the bastard hated him.
Either that or they were just sadists.
The dragon was one of the most magnificent magical creatures that existed. It was glorious and awe-inspiring but a good costume choice it was not. For starters the costume was tight to the point of blood constriction. Not helping with that – or his dance moves – was the tail that had been attached to his costume. Luckily it wasn’t sticking right out from his back but it was spiralled very tightly around his leg.
And then there was the mask.
‘Yeah… I’m not going to think about that.’
Ginny had been luckier than him in the costume front. Her elegant white, pearl and silver unicorn costume was simple and the mask even more so; just a single silver horn spiralling above a plain white mask. Although she looked beautiful, however, the eyes behind the mask were dead.
Ron felt his heart going out to his younger sister. He had never seen her look so utterly broken before. Ginny was a pain in the arse, but that was what made Ginny Ginny. Now the fire had gone from her eyes and her dance steps were as wooden and unfeeling as his own.
Ron felt as though he should be comforting her. Problem was, he was never good with words at the best of times and this was an exceptionally bad time. He wanted to comfort her but more likely what he would end up doing is angering her or, even worse, make her burst into tears.
He didn’t feel like he could handle tears right now.
As they continued to make their methodical way around the dance floor he did see one sight which lifted his spirits; in the middle of the dance floor, seemingly unaware of all the courtiers watching, Lady Lovegood was leaping and spinning around a rather bemused Neville. As Ron watched the Lady managed to spin Neville right round and shot off a small stream of bubbles to encircle him.
“That’s the first time you’ve smiled this evening.”
Ron looked down at his sister. “I don’t know how anyone could watch that and not grin; she’s off her bloody rocker.”
Ginny too managed a small smile at that. “I think it’s more like she doesn’t care what people think about her so she isn’t held back.” She sighed wistfully. “I hate to think what Mum and Dad would do if either of us started prancing around like that.”
“Hopefully disown us,” Ron said. “Maybe we should try it?”
She even managed a laugh at that one and Ron felt pleased. “Oh look; I’ve found someone who finds it very possible to scowl at Luna,” Ginny said suddenly, small laugh turning into a full on snigger. “Neville’s grandmother doesn’t look at all happy.”
As Ron changed direction he suddenly had a clear shot of where the Dowager Duchess Longbottom did indeed look extremely put out. She was stood off to one side, surrounded by a gaggle of elderly courtiers, all staring aghast at the debacle occurring on the dance floor. If looks could kill, Neville would have been dead and buried.
“Did Neville ask her on purpose to annoy her, do you think?” Ron asked, now getting a view of Neville and Luna doing some strange parody of a tango.
Ginny frowned. “As much as Neville likes getting one up on his grandmother he wouldn’t be so cruel to mislead a lady like that,” she said. “More likely she asked him.” Ginny gave a wicked grin. “Either that or he actually likes her.”
They both laughed at that. The thought of mild-mannered sensible Neville liking the illogical, crazy Luna was quite ridiculous.
And then suddenly the laughter stopped.
Earl Potter’s costume was not much better than his own although, unlike the Prince, Potter seemed quite proud of it. As they danced their way into his sights the monstrous antlers angled towards them and underneath the stag mask Potter’s expression was one of pure greed.
Underneath Ron’s Ginny’s hand tensed slightly. He squeezed her hand in comfort. “Want me to dance the next one with you, too?”
Her head barely moved as she nodded. “Please.”
So Ron whirled her away, trying not to think of how he’d imagined dancing at the ball only that morning. ‘Maybe I deserve France,’ he thought, sadly. ‘Can’t even get the woman I love to come to a stupid ball.’ He ignored the fact that she was engaged; if he stopped to think about that then likely he would break down in tears right there on the dance floor.
So instead he just carried on, dancing the night away in sadness.