Nymphadora Tonks was not the stealthiest of people. Her mother thought it was due to a divine sort of balancing act; she had such amazing magical gifts in form of her metamorphmagi ability that something had to be taken away to compensate. Tonks thought it ironic that something to help keep her ‘balanced’ was the inability to keep her balance.
As for Tonks’ view on the matter, she just got on with it, resigned to the fact that she would always be falling flat on her face. She had once, after overhearing a customer’s comment, even tried to give herself two left feet.
It had not been a good idea.
Whatever the reason for Tonks’ innate klutziness, she resigned herself to a rather horrendous journey. The number of trips and falls she took increased tenfold if she was hurt, nervous, hungry or trying to be unnoticed.
In other words, everything she was trying to do right now.
It had been a very long day locked in the manor’s wine cellar. As she’d been dragged there her head had been spinning like crazy, courtesy of the confundus charm she’d been hit by. Consequently it took quite a while for her to be able to think of anything at all and even longer to think of anything coherently.
She had got the general gist of what was going on – Dudley impersonating Harry at the palace – but everything had happened so quickly… She’d been chatting quietly with Remus in the kitchen, trying to keep their minds off where Hermione was. She’d been gone a lot longer than they were expecting and, what was worse, Petunia had asked where she was. Remus had to quickly make up some lie about taking some farming equipment into town to be repaired. Tonks wasn’t sure Petunia had believed him.
Anyway, they’d heard a commotion from the entrance hall and had raced upstairs only to see Sirius roaring in frustration and several smoking spell craters in the walls.
“What – ” Tonks had started to say but Sirius just raced off up the spells.
“Intruders?” Remus had questioned, already moving after his best friend.
Tonks opened her mouth to respond but stopped as a red-faced, breathless Hermione shot through the door. She, too, didn’t pause, just gasped out something about Harry and the Dursleys and raced on up the stairs. Remus and Tonks exchanged glances and then followed suit.
And then there she was, trapped in an airless, pitch black cellar with no idea what was going on.
‘You blooming idiot, Nymphadora,’ she had cursed herself. ‘All that time you were at the palace and you didn’t notice anything?’
But of course she hadn’t; Petunia was too smart for that. Before they’d barely passed the Palace gates she had ordered Tonks stop and let them out. Tonks had always been surprised at that as usually they travelled as far as physically possible in the carriage to save Dudley any unnecessary exercise. But, like an idiot, she had assumed that it was all because of her; that Petunia was embarrassed as per usual to be seen as employing such an ‘abomination’ for her servant.
So not being allowed into the palace proper, that clearly wasn’t her fault. She had to obey Petunia and Petunia was sneaky enough to bar her access.
‘But I still could’ve heard something,’ Tonks had thought gloomily. ‘Nearly everybody in the Palace goes through the stables at one point. I was in a prime spot to gather information and what did I do? I mooned over the bloody aurors.’
There was something about the way the golden gild glinted in the sun; how the purple robes flickered as the aurors moved; most of all, the way they used magic without censure or fear.
To say that Tonks was content with her life would be an outright lie. Indeed, she would have to be certifiably insane to have felt that way. Who could be happy under the thumb of the cruellest, most vindictive human beings in the world? The only reason she had stayed was for her family and because Harry would one day take back what was rightfully his.
And that time was imminent. Tonks had never given much thought to what she wanted to do after the Dursleys before; it had always seemed like a far-off dream. But that dream was rapidly turning to reality and she found she was thinking about it more and more.
“What do you have to do to become an auror?” she asked a group of passing aurors.
As they turned to face her in surprise one of the aurors looked her up and down, a derisive look on his face. “You need to go back in time, be born to a family that’s actually important and apply four years ago. Oh, and be a man.”
Some of his companions laughed at that and Tonks found herself going red – with anger or embarrassment she wasn’t sure. She opened her mouth to say something rude but a deep voice barked at the auror first.
“Well then, Dawlish, might I suggest you go back in time and arrange to be born with some brains? And some manners, too.”
The rest of the aurors had roared with laughter at that and Tonks had turned to grin at her defender.
The auror in question was big and bulky with muscles. His dark eyes twinkled at her in amusement but his expression otherwise remained disapproving as he stared down the first auror.
Dawlish flushed red and he scowled at the second auror but made no response. Instead he motioned to his companions and they left. The second auror watched them go and then turned back to Tonks.
“I apologise for me Auror Dawlish, ma’am,” he said, bald head gleaming in the sun. “He could do with a few more bumps to the head in training.”
Tonks found herself laughing. “Reckon if you bump him anymore he won’t have any brain left.”
The auror laughed. “Unfortunately true,” he agreed. “Why do you want to join the aurors, ma’am? We don’t normally take women; it is a hard life.”
“My life now is hard,” Tonks countered. “But things are… changing and I’m looking for something else. Something worthwhile.”
The auror considered her carefully. “Being an auror is worthwhile,” he said slowly, “but it’s not something to join lightly. You need to be a trained witch or wizard to start off with; we don’t offer training.”
“Not a problem,” Tonks said, getting out her wand and giving it a quick flick. Immediately a flock of sparrows flew out of her wand and soared off, twittering happily. The auror watched them go expressionless.
“Interesting,” he said finally. He turned back to look at her. “I’m not promising anything, ma’am, but if that change you’re expecting does happen come and see me.” He started to walk off but then spun around again. “And I’m Shacklebolt, Auror Captain.”
Thinking back on that short encounter now was a painful experience. That brief moment of time when everything had been getting better seemed like a million miles away. Now her dream of being an auror was dashed to pieces.
Tonks didn’t know how long she’d laid there, miserable guilty thoughts circling round. It must have been quite a while because eventually she drifted off and fell into dreams just as confusing and despondent. When Tonks had jolted awake however it was as though someone had lit a fire in her.
’Right,’ she had told herself firmly. ‘I am not going to sit here and be miserable and pathetic. I’m bloody well going to find a way out of here and rescue everyone.’
At the time she didn’t have any real idea how. In fact as she stumbled her way to the door she only held vague ideas of forcing out some kind of wandless magic. That had been spectacularly unsuccessful and only resulted in giving her a headache and making her thirsty. Unfortunately the Dursleys hadn’t thought to provide anything as humane as food or water in her little prison so she had to feel around until she found a bottle of wine.
The fact that the idea to turn her fingers into keys came only after she’d had a fair bit of wine should have been an indication of how idiotic her plan actually was.
‘Yep, definitely not one of my better ideas,’ Tonks acknowledged as she tripped over a loose stone and flung a purpling hand out to catch herself. Her vision almost completely blacked out at the pain but she ignored it. She was their only hope!
As luck would have it town was absolutely heaving. The absence of guards and influx of servants meant that the taverns were fit to burst with patrons and Tonks was forced to take an extra circuitous route to avoid any unwanted company. As a result, by the time she’d reached the outskirts of the palace Tonks was close to passing out with exhaustion. She’d had those few sips of wine in the cellar and Hermione had slipped her some stale bread but it was precious little.
‘So,’ Tonks thought, ‘I’ve managed to get across town without being attached, getting lost or breaking a leg: now I just need to break into the palace.
She’d managed to sneak her way up the incline towards the main palace gate. A set of guards – 4 ordinary, one auror – were stopping the few latecomers and checking the carriages and their passengers. Luckily they were too distracted to notice Tonks as she crouched rather ineffectively behind a pillar. Surprise, surprise, the entranceway to the palace wasn’t particularly well built for sneaking.
A voice groaned nearby.
Tonks jumped and looked around fearfully before realising the sound had come from below. Running underneath the bridge was a small lane for the servants entrance and it was from here that the noise had come.
Leaning over the edge, Tonks snorted and barely refrained from laughing out loud. An auror, unable to hold it in, was relieving himself against the wall, completely unaware of his audience. As he shifted his head slightly Tonks’ glee increased ten-fold: it was Dawlish.
It was amazing how many random bits of rock littered the palace way. What was even more amazing was how Tonks managed to hit Dawlish right on the head with 8 broken fingers.
As Dawlish crumpled to the ground, bemused expression still on his face, Tonks was already backtracking. Scrambling down to the lower level she prayed that she reached the comatose auror before any other guard appeared.
For the first time that journey she was in luck. Painfully stripping Dawlish of his robe she somehow managed to shove his saggy body into one of the regular recesses and blew out the nearest torches. If everything went according to plan nobody should miss him till morning.
Shrugging on the purple robes Tonks hesitated for the first time when she felt Dawlish’s wand. If she took the wand then she wouldn’t need to find Lady Lovegood; she could free Remus and Hermione on her own.
‘And then what?’ Tonks thoughts, torn. ‘It’s a bloody big country – how are you going to find Harry and Sirius?’ She refused to believe they were dead; life was depressing enough as it was.
In the end she decided to leave the wand. They were going to need the support of the nobility and theft probably wasn’t the smartest way to go.
Having carefully and regretfully placed Dawlish’s wand back with his unconscious body, Tonks screwed up her face in concentration. Slowly her features began to change; bones lengthened; cartilage rearranged itself; her mousy hair lightened and seemed to retreat back in her head.
The eyes, when they opened, were a watery blue.
2 minutes later Tonks walked past the guards at the fate. None of them so much as glanced her way.
She was in.
A royal ball involved a lot of careful
thought and even more money to put on.
It was, after all, a way for the English to show off to their neighbouring
royals their affluence, artfulness and creativity. They also had to satisfy the rather high
expectations of its noble guest list so it was not unheard of for their
Majesties to spend several thousand galleons.
Rumour had it the one before last had cost in excess of one hundred thousand galleons.
Tonks didn’t know how much this one had cost the crown but she was willing to bet it wasn’t far off that excessive figure. She knew she should be keeping an eye out for the ‘unmistakable’ Lady Lovegood but she’d defy anyone not to be distracted by the extravagance on display.
Magical streams of sparkling multi-coloured light flowed down from the walls of the palace into the courtyard, criss-crossing the open air in a riot of colour. Tables piled high with dishes of every kind were dotted around the space and Tonks quickly managed to snag a small pastry which she ate as best she could as she wandered around. There were also different entertainers in every corner; acrobats, jugglers, dancers and actors. Tonks even spied some young wizards performing charms for some of the delighted muggle nobility. She suspected they’d been pulled from Durmstrang for the evening.
Despite Hermione’s assumptions that she would easily find Lovegood Tonks was not so certain. For starters the younger witch hadn’t mentioned that it was a masque ball. As Tonks made her way through the throng she came face to face with horses, peacocks, rabbits, dogs, lions, elephants and even a fish. She rather felt like a fish herself, gaping at all the bizarre costumes and finery.
The other reason Tonks was struggling was because she kept being distracted by the pain in her fingers. The ball was extremely crowded and, try as she might, people kept bumping into her and jostling her broken digits.
‘Maybe I should have tried healing my fingers after all,’ she thought miserably. Problem was she was blooming awful at healing charms at the best of times, let alone when trying to use a stranger’s wand with broken fingers.
Someone bumped forcefully into her then, strange cane they were carrying rapping forcefully on her mutilated fingers as they brushed past. The pain from that encounter caused her vision to black out completely and her head spin like crazy.
As she struggled backwards, trying to regain her balance and fearing to be crushed, she was unexpectedly rescued.
Vision clearing, Tonks looked up into what was the most elaborate masque she had seen yet.
A large curved beak covered the stranger’s nose and either it was enchanted or it was covered in real gold. The beak flowed seamlessly into the crimson visage of a regal bird complete with a crest of luxuriant feathers almost as tall as Dudley’s ridiculous feather. Judging by the fact that the whole masque was on fire, Tonks assumed the bird was a Phoenix.
“Are you alright, my dear?” Behind the gold-rimmed eye holes blue eyes looked at her with concern.
“Oh, erm, yes, just fine. Um, sir,” Tonks responded, getting her weight fully back on her feet. “Thank you.”
“I did not think they let women join the aurors,” the man commented mildly, although his eyes gazed at her sharply.
‘Women – oh, bollocks!’ Tonks swore again. It didn’t take much to maintain a metamorphic change in the ordinary way of things. However it did take something and in her brief-moment of black-out the Dawlish guise had melted away. ‘I hope he didn’t see…’
“Erm, well, it’s a trial, my Lord. New century and all.” Before the wizard could rip her pathetic lie to shreds she rushed on. “I’m actually looking for someone – do you know her? The Lady Lovegood?”
She thought the blue eyes looked surprised at that but it was hard to tell with the flames wavering around his cheeks.
“I do know her, ma’am,” was all he said. “You will find her on the dance floor.” Beneath the golden beak his mouth quirked up in a small smile. “She’s quite hard to miss, actually; she came as the Sun.”
Tonks heaved a great sigh of relief. “Thank you, my Lord,” she said, bowing, and then turning about face began edging her way to the dance floor. As she went she slowly, painfully, altered her features once more. Although she was in the palace already she couldn’t risk Petunia spotting her; it was safer this way.
The dance floor was the most beautiful, graceful thing she’d ever seen. Multi-coloured couples swirled around in perfect unison, skirts flaring on spins to create the impression of a wave-ridden sea. A unicorn and dragon swept past her in a dazzling array of pearls, rubies and emeralds but Tonks only had eyes for one couple.
Tonks was not quite sure who Lady Luna Lovegood had managed to get to accompany her to the ball but she was pretty sure he was very brave. Well, either that or completely clueless.
Lovegood’s mask more resembled the elaborate headdresses explorers had brought back from the new world than the delicate masques her peers were wearing. A full sun covered her face, only a small section cut out for her mouth. Rather worryingly there was no space cut out for her eyes but judging from the way she was twirling around her partner some sort of enchantment was in place to compensate. From her headdress down she was clad in a shimmering gown that shifted colours constantly from bright yellow to orange in a mimicry of the sun.
Her outfit was also on fire.
Tonks steeled herself a moment and then launched herself into the dancing, swirling crowd. It took a few stepped toes and several eye-watering collisions but eventually she fought her way through.
“Lady Lovegood, I must speak to you,” she called, voice low as she could make it.
The sun stopped dancing and she and her partner turned to look at her. It was very disconcerting to stare at a blank flaming fireball instead of a face and Tonks shifted uncomfortably. She wasn’t used to being unable to get a read on someone and it unnerved her greatly.
The Lady seemed to be inclined to listen at the very least. “Neville, why don’t you get some drinks for you Grandmother,” she said, looking over to her partner. “She looks as though she’s suffering from a case of apoplexy.” Underneath the headdress the Lady’s mouth curved up into a small smile.
‘Neville’, however, frowned at Tonks. To tie in with his partner the noble had come dressed as the moon. His mask was a lot smaller and whilst his robes were enchanted they simply glowed with a faint pearlescent light rather than being ablaze with flames. “What’s your name?” he asked suspiciously. “I’ve never seen you before.”
‘Great, just great,’ Tonks thought, wishing she had changed back completely into Dawlish. “I’m new, my Lord. My name’s” – ‘Crap, think of a name!’ – “Hufflepuff. Edward.”
Neville continued to stare at her; no matter how soft and luminous the costume was his expression remained just as unyielding and Tonks started to sweat.
“It’s alright, Neville,” Lady Luna interjected dreamily. “A storm has many instruments.”
From the look on Neville’s face he didn’t understand that any better than she did but he sighed and let it go. “I’ll be by the acrobats, my Lady,” he said eventually and, with one last warning look to Tonks, bowed and left.
Turning back to Lady Lovegood in relief Tonks had a moment of panic when she seemed to have disappeared. Luckily a person dressed in bright yellow and set on fire was quite easy to find. Tonks shot off after her, starting another round of tripping and apologies.
When the Lady finally stopped she had led Tonks into a corridor running just off the main courtyard. There were enough people around that it wasn’t completely isolated but the noise of the party was much quieter. As she turned to face Tonks, the latter suddenly realised she had no idea how to phrase what she wanted to say. She’d been thinking about it almost the entire journey over but when she had caught sight of all the glamour and riches of the ball all her fine arguments had fled.
As Tonks was struggling with words Lovegood reached up to remove her headdress. Underneath the fiery orb was a girl with straw-coloured hair, dreamy blue-grey eyes and a vacant expression. Tonks felt her confidence drop significantly.
“May I offer you some dandelion paste?”
“Some what?” Tonks responded, baffled. Too late she realised that she’d forgotten to lower her voice but the Lady didn’t take any notice.
“Some dandelion paste,” Lovegood repeated. “Wrackspurts don’t like the taste. It’s not as good as fending them off physically but the last time I tried to help like that it didn’t go so well.” She looked very sad at that.
“I, er… no thank you?” Tonks said, only slightly less bewildered. She gave herself a shake and decided to take the plunge before Lovegood confused her anymore. “I’ve come from Her – er, ladyship, Countess Ravenclaw,” she carried on, only just remembering the pseudonym in time. “She’s in danger and she needs your help – I don’t know what will happen otherwise. The… some acquaintances attacked us and have locked her away along with…” Tonks’ voice choked on Remus’ name. “I tried to rescue them but, well…” Tonks lifted up her swollen fingers. “She sent me to find you for help.” Lovegood didn’t say anything right away. Tonks was becoming desperate. “I know it sounds bloody insane and you don’t know me but – ”
Tonks stopped mid-sentence and stared in astonishment at Lovegood. “A-Alright?” she stuttered, surprised. “I didn’t think you’d believe me.”
Lovegood gave her another dreamy smile. “We see very little, that’s true, but I see enough.”
“Erm…” Tonks wasn’t quite sure what she was supposed to do with that. She settled on ignoring it. “Great. We need to get back to the estate as soon as possible, we don’t have much time.” She hesitated. “Um, I don’t have any horses, my Lady… I don’t suppose you…?”
“We won’t need horses, auror,” the Lady replied mysteriously before her eyes flickered over Tonks’ shoulder.
Tonks whirled around and almost leapt backwards in fright before the burning figure resolved itself back into the wizard who had helped her earlier.
“Sorry, my dear, I didn’t mean to startle you,” he said, removing his masque to reveal an elderly white-haired man.
“Well what do you expect if you sneak up on people?” she snapped without thinking. She immediately went red but the wizard’s smile just widened.
“Well said, auror,” he chuckled. “Although you look different from when last we met.”
“I, er – ”
“I’m sure you were just doing it to protect your mistress,” the wizard brushed it off. “Loyalty is an admirable trait.”
“First things first, auror-who-is-not-an-auror, let’s fix those fingers.” Without waiting for a response he pulled out his wand and waved it over Tonks’ hands. The immediate sensation of relief made her realise just exactly how much they’d been paining her before. She stared down at her newly fixed appendages and almost cried with relief; she had been trying not to think about it but the purple and swollen sausages that had once been fingers had been greatly worrying her. What if she left it too long and they couldn’t be fixed, even magically? “And the next is to go rescue the lovely Countess Ravenclaw,” the wizard continued, waving away Tonks’ stumbling thanks. “Can you picture clearly the location in your mind?”
“Yes, but – ”
“Excellent; hold onto my arm please.”
Lovegood immediately latched onto the wizard's left arm but Tonks just stared, feeling slightly blown away. “Wait – why are you helping us?” she asked, finally managing to get a word in edgewise. She ignored the little voice in her head that was screaming ‘Who cares?!’
The wizard looked at her seriously for a moment. “My dear, you were obviously infiltrating the palace under some guise,” he said. “It would be remiss of me to let you wander around unsupervised, especially when you enquired after my Goddaughter who has been on the end of two kidnapping attempts.”
“You followed me?” Tonks asked, more surprised than angry. “I didn’t see you.”
“Let’s just say I have ways of making myself invisible,” the wizard said with a faint smile. “And to answer your original question I am helping you because you need it and because my Goddaughter believes you.”
Tonks studied him carefully for a minute before reaching out her hand. The wizard smiled at her and inclined his head. “Now; keep the image of where you want to go clear in your mind,” he warned.
“Why? What are we going to – ”
The noise made Hermione fall off her
She’d been trying to see if she could reach the small window and maybe somehow work out the bars. It was rather a longshot but if Hermione wasn’t moving then there was nothing to stop her from sinking back into painful memories.
She’d just managed to get a-hold of one of the bars when –
“Merlin!” Hermione swore as the stool skittered sideways under her and she crashed to the floor.
“ – do?” There was a pause as Hermione’s head spun round and round and she wondered what had happened. Then; “Bloody hell, Hermione, are you ok?”
As Hermione tried to blink her eyes clear she thought she must have hit her head harder than she thought because the person kneeling over her sounded like Tonks but it she sure as hell didn’t look like her. For starters she was a he and they were dressed in aurors robes.
“Tonks? Is that you?” she asked uncertainly, struggling to sit upright again.
The man looked startled then swore in Tonks’ deep voice. “Disguise – forgot,” the auror muttered and then, with a wince, the features snapped back to the familiar heart-shaped face. “You ok?” she repeated, helping Hermione to her feet.
“Yes I – Master Dumbledore?” Hermione squeaked in surprise. The flaming streak she’d taken to be a concussion induced hallucination smiled genially at her.
“I, ah, overheard your friend talking to my dear Luna,” he said by way of explanation.
Hermione belatedly realised that the second streak of blazing fire was also not a hallucination and blinked until she could distinguish the younger girl’s dreamy features. “Lady Luna – Master Dumbledore – I don’t know how to thank you,” she said eventually, feeling her knees shake with relief. “I – you must realise by now that I’m not what I said I was,” she began awkwardly but Dumbledore brushed her off.
“There are times and places for explanations, my dear,” he told her. “Now is not it. There are more of you?”
‘Shit: Remus.’ All the horror and anxiety came rushing back. “Remus!” she gasped and began racing towards the door. Tonks was already halfway up the stairs as Hermione gasped out, “This way, my Lord!”
For such an old man Dumbledore was surprisingly sprightly. In a trice he had followed Tonks up the stairs and unlocked the door. By the time Hermione had followed suit they were already round the corner.
“He’s through there,” Tonks was saying as Hermione caught up to them. Tonks had told her but the sight of the smooth wall made Hermione’s stomach clench. Somewhere behind that wall of solid stone Remus was dying.
“They removed the door?” Dumbledore said sharply and Tonks nodded, her eyes full of tears. Dumbledore’s expression hardened and he turned to face the door. “Stand back.”
Hermione didn’t hear the spell he muttered but she certainly felt it; a roaring cold poured all around them followed by a pressure so intense that her ears felt close to bursting. Then, when she was about to scream, there was an almighty POP and the wall vanished.
The scholar in Hermione was extremely curious but she had more important things to worry about right now.
“Remus!” Tonks yelled, rushing through almost before the wall had gone. Following Tonks Hermione faltered as she beheld her first teacher. ‘Is he… Oh Merlin, please don’t let him be dead!’
He wasn’t dead but he certainly looked it. Slumped on the floor he didn’t respond to their frantic calls, even when Tonks grabbed him crying. He was deathly pale, somehow more gaunt and frail than before and his breath was short and shallow. Hermione had never felt more useless in her life, not even when she’d been trapped in the cellar. For all her wonderful knowledge she had no clue how to help him.
“We need to move him,” Hermione said suddenly. Going over to Tonks she pulled at the metamorphmagi until she understood.
It was far too easy to carry Remus.
“What exactly has been going on here?”
Hermione jumped and looked up nervously. She had completely forgotten about both Dumbledore and Luna, focussing on Remus. Now the former was looking at the room of silver with an odd expression on his face.
Tonks looked over at her just as nervously, still clutching Remus’ hand. Master Dumbledore was probably the most enlightened wizard of their time… but every man had his sticking points.
“Remus is the gentlest, kindest man I know,” she said carefully. “He taught me to read, looked – looks – after us all… he’s like a father to me.”
“But he’s a werewolf.”
Hermione swallowed nervously. Dumbledore had phrased it more as a statement than a question; he was the cleverest man alive after all. He knew what a room of silver signified. “Yes, he is,” Hermione admitted, “but he can’t help that! He’d never hurt anyone. Sirius and… they became animagi, to help calm the wolf but then the others died and this…” She stopped to hold back a sob. “This was the only way they would let him stay on. He knew it was poison but…” Hermione trailed off and stared at Dumbledore in fright.
Hermione thought she knew what anger looked like; she had lived with the Dursleys for years, after all, and Sirius wasn’t exactly the calmest man in the world. But she had never seen the kind of total fury that was radiating off the Master Magician. For a second she thought he was going to start yelling or just incinerate the room to ashes. Instead he just leant down and grabbed Remus’ hand.
“I met someone in the highlands of Scotland who can help your friend,” he said. “He’s… unconventional but one of the only people that would even think about caring for a lycanthrope. I’m not going to lie; he is very weak.”
Hermione blinked as she realised what Dumbledore was saying and felt her knees tremble with relief. ‘Thank Merlin,’ she thought, relieved. Now she felt silly to have even doubted him but it was easy to lose objectivity when it was someone close to your heart.
“Hang on – I’m coming too!” Tonks protested, scrambling to her feet, clutching Remus’ other hand possessively.
Dumbledore didn’t say anything, just gave Tonks a swift look before breaking into a small smile. “Of course, my dear,” he said, “although you must understand; even my friend may not be able to save him now.”
“That’s all the more reason why I should go along too,” Tonks said stubbornly although her hands shook.
“Hang on – what about Harry and Sirius?” Hermione said, feeling panic again.
Dumbledore looked at her gravely. “You need to talk to the Prince.”
Hermione looked at him aghast. “Prince Ronald?” she squeaked, horrified. “I – no, I cannot face him, Master Dumbledore, you don’t understand.”
“He loves you,” Dumbledore said, “and you love him. What more is there to understand?”
Hermione felt water pooling in her eyes. “He loves someone who does not exist. I’m not a Countess – my name isn’t even Lily! I’m just Hermione Granger, a servant.”
“And? My brother is a noble and is the laughing stock of our town for practicing inappropriate charms on goats. The King’s chief potion maker was the bastard son of a peasant. How we are born does not matter nearly half as much as what we strive to make ourselves become.”
“Yes, but they haven’t deceived anyone, Master, it’s completely different!” Hermione replied, desperately. “I have done almost nothing but lie to him from the very start.”
But Dumbledore only smiled at her. “The Prince will understand,” he told her, placing his free hand on her shoulder, before shifting his attention back to the comatose Remus. “Now, we must get going; please hold on tightly to my other arm.” As Tonks followed his instructions, Dumbledore looked over at Hermione one last time. “Have faith, my lady; remember that love is the strongest force in the universe; it always prevails.”
And then, with a quiet pop, they were gone.
Hermione just stared at the space they vacated feeling panic bubbling up inside her. ‘I can’t do it,’ she thought desperately, ‘I just can’t. How can I face him after what I did?’ She felt shame creep through her once more as she thought back to that morning, which seemed so much longer away than just a few hours. Ron’s face as she broke his heart flashed into her mind once more and she shut her eyes, feeling angry and resentful of Dumbledore’s proclamation. ‘If love is the most powerful force in this world then why couldn’t I break out from the Imperius curse?’ she thought bitterly.
“Is that what your costume is going to be?”
Hermione jumped violently. Left alone with her angry, anxious thoughts she had completely forgotten that Dumbledore had not come alone. Lady Luna Lovegood was swaying around in the background to her own imaginary music and if there had been anybody else there Hermione would have assumed they had spoken – she looked as though she were completely in her own world.
“I’m not going to the ball,” she said shortly, watching Luna dance around. She braced herself for the protests she was sure was coming; you can’t let true love pass you by; what about the others, it’s their last hope for a rescue; if you don’t go the Dursleys win… This was, however, Luna so all she said was, “That’s a shame – the song they’re playing now is really nice.” And then carried on dancing.
“I just can’t face him,” Hermione blurted out, even though Luna hadn’t said anything about Ron. She couldn’t stop herself. “After what I’ve done to him… but I know it wasn’t me. If I can get him to listen to the truth, to realise what’s happening…”
“Truth is always nice,” Luna interjected as she twirled around Hermione. “Especially from the one you love.”
“Yes, well… But I’ve been fooling myself – he can’t love me, not now, not when he finds out I’ve been lying to him all along,” Hermione continued, talking more to herself than the errant blonde. “And he’s a noble – he’s a Prince – he’s like a… like a bird and I’m just a fish. We can never live together, it’s impossible!”
“Nothing’s impossible you know,” Luna negated, waving her hands around her head in a complicated gesture. “Not really. And I can solve your problem, easy peasy.”
Hermione looked at her desperately. “How?”
“I’ll make you wings.”