Ever After

Wedding

Her dress was absolutely beautiful.

Even having grown up submerged almost daily into the world of fine gowns, rich cloths, detailed embroidery and dazzling jewels, Ginny had felt her breath catch at the sight of her elegant white gown.

Not, of course, that she would agree to get into it.

“Please, Your Highness,” the maid tried again nervously, “it’s nearly time for the wedding.”

Ginny simply ignored the poor girl as she had been for the past hour. She felt a twinge of guilt as the maid bit her lip and backed away worriedly to whisper with the other anxious maids. She pushed that guilt away however; this was her life on the line after all!

Hair still in its’ usual post-sleep mess, Ginny continued to stare at her lovely dress, a mixture of emotions swirling round her stomach. It surprised her, this dress. It was as though it had been made especially for her – which, of course, it had – but by that she meant it was what she would want out of a wedding dress.

For a start, it was simple. Ginny had always detested the over the top fripperies and extravagances that were all the fashion amongst the Court. Maybe it had something to do with having six older brothers. More likely it had more to do with how much more difficult such trappings made playing Quidditch or avoiding her mother.

The bodice was simple, plain even, bar the few real diamonds that had been embedded in the corset. A light, almost transparent material covered the entire dress, from sleeves, to bodice to covering the main petticoat and trailing out to make a modest sized train. Here and there were the glimmers of more precious jewels or the slightly raised texture of intricate embroidered flowers. As Ginny leaned closer to inspect them she saw with a surprise they were lilies, an unusual flower to choose for weddings indeed.

It was pure white, also very unusual in a royal wedding (or any other noble match, for that matter). Most weddings opted to show off the colours of their houses or countries. Just look at the over the top ensemble Princess Cho had worn just yesterday! So white was very strange indeed. Although it was not without its own symbolisms; purity, youth, innocence; a lamb to the slaughter...

…or the bed chamber.

Ginny shuddered and scowled at the dress once more. Perfect dress it may be but it was one she would never wear because she not going to be marrying Potter.

Ever.

Hovering behind her, a different maid this time tried her luck. “The Queen will be here soon, Your Highness; she’ll be very… upset if you’re not ready.”

Ginny looked across at the worried maid and again felt sorry for the difficult position she was putting the girl in because she was right; ‘upset’ was a mild way of phrasing her mother’s likely reaction to the undressed Ginny. “I’m sorry, Mary” – at least that’s what she thought the girl’s name was – “but I am not putting on that dress.”

Gone was the zombie of the past two days. Looking back, Ginny couldn’t believe she’d ever sunk so low. What was even worse, she could feel that same state simmering under her skin, waiting for her to give up again. Because that what she’d done; faced with a terrifying future with no foreseeable way out she’d given up.

It wasn’t often Ron did something that put her to shame.

She hadn’t believed it when Chang had walked down the aisle wailing like a toddler denied their favourite treat. Besides her Fred and George had immediately turned aside to try and contain their laughter. Ginny didn’t – couldn’t – find it amusing though. Instead, she felt her fists curl up in her lap.

Stupid girl,’ she thought, glaring at the snivelling bride as she shuffled up the aisle. So she wasn’t happy? Did she think Ron was? But Ron wasn’t making a spectacle out of himself, embarrassing his future partner. He was going to do his duty by his parents and his country and he was doing it with a stiff upper lip. So, whilst her brothers sniggered Ginny just sat and stared and glared.

And then Ron had started laughing.

Ginny felt her mouth drop open in shock. Even the twins were surprised out of their current mirth.

“Bloody hell,” George whispered to Fred, “looks like Court has finally managed to turn one of us mad.”

“Thought it would be Perce though,” Fred hissed back, making George snort.

But as Ron pulled his still sobbing bride to her feet Ginny felt a strange emotion begin to stir in the pit of her stomach. It was only as Ron pointed the suddenly ecstatic Chang to her own paramour that she identified the feeling; it was hope.

In his wake, Ron left a Church and congregation that were in total uproar. Half the populace were either gaping like fish or exclaiming loudly at this shocking development. In the middle of it all, earning scandalised looks, Chang and the strange noble were still locked in their embrace. Across from them, Chang’s family were screaming at each other in angry French.

“And I thought we had it bad,” Ginny heard her father murmur to her mother but she didn’t turn round to hear them. She didn’t turn to see her sister-in-law exclaiming in rapid French to her bemused husband; didn’t turn to hear the scandalised speech Percy was giving to a laughing Charlie; didn’t even turn to see the twins stand up and give Ron a standing ovation (cries of “Bravo!” intermingled with catcalls to the entangled French couple).

Instead, all Ginny’s senses were focused inward, on that ever growing sensation of hope. And with that sensation came a sudden realisation of what exactly the hell she was doing.

I am a bloody idiot!’ Ginny thought suddenly, still staring after where Ron had disappeared to find his love. ‘A bloody useless, weepy, whining idiot! What the hell have I been doing?!’ she wondered, both bewildered and disgusted at herself. ‘Am I really just going to sit back and let my parents sell me off to an arsehole of a man just for bloody duty?!

But he’s just a servant,’ a darker voice whispered but she pushed it aside.

Then she stopped. Why on Earth was she still fighting this? Denying this? So what if James was a servant? Hermione was a servant and Ron was running off to marry her. In the deal they had made with their parents nothing was said of their intended being nobles. No, that assumption was all her and her stupid royal pride; she had never looked anywhere but at those who shared her circle. And even when she had noticed him she had denied it, denied herself, because of a stupid sense of propriety.

Well, propriety be damned; if Ron could marry a servant so could she. Of course, Ginny faltered, it was different for them; Ron knew Hermione loved him. She could not say the same for James. She had never said anything; all they really had was a quidditch match and a few moments by a bonfire. ‘That walk through the forest as well,’ she remembered belatedly. It wasn’t exactly much and James might well not feel anything for her but Merlin knows, she had to try.

So she stood up and, much to the astonishment of her family, ran out the Church after her brother.

By the time Ginny had fought her way through the gossiping crowd Ron had long gone but she didn’t let that bother her; after all, she knew exactly where he had gone.

She found it harder than she would’ve expected to find a horse. She supposed it didn’t help that the news of what had happened in the Church had spilled out into the streets along with the various nobles who were eager to find someone to share the latest gossip with.

By the time she’d managed to commandeer a horse she had difficulty getting her horse out of the surging crowd without trampling someone. Luckily it was one of the few times having instantly recognisable Weasley red hair was useful.

“Make way for Her Highness,” someone yelled and, miraculously, some semblance of a path appeared in front of her. Not that it actually led to where she wanted to go, but still… it was a start. Eventually breaking free of the annoying crowd Ginny turned her newly acquired horse in the vague direction of Godric’s Hollow wishing she had paid more attention the night she ran away. At the time she was too concerned with escaping to pay attention to where exactly she was heading and then, once she learned it was Potter’s estate…

The good news was, by sheer dumb luck, she had managed to head off in the right direction. The bad news? She only knew that because the auror team, sent out by their Majesties to intercept Ron, caught up with her first.

Once she had been dragged back, kicking, screaming, swearing and jinxing, the rest of her day had been shut up inside the palace. Not that she had just moped in her room like the Ginny of the day before; that passive Ginevra had disappeared for good. Instead the Ginevra that constantly drove her parents barmy had resurfaced; every escape plan she had ever had was re-enacted, Ginny surprising herself by coming up with several new ones (involving tunnels and flying carpets to name a few).

Despite all her ingenuity and determination however the furthest she had managed to get was the Courtyard (although Ginny maintained if her makeshift flying carpet hadn’t suddenly developed a major fault over the ornamental flower garden she would be footloose and fancy free by now).

By nightfall Ginny was exhausted, but determined not to fall back into the defeatist role she had been portraying up till now. ‘They might be able to keep me in here but they can’t make me walk down that aisle,’ she consoled herself, staring out at the stars. ‘They can’t make me say ‘I do’.’

But as she dwelt on that thought her mind inevitably turned towards her captors (aka her parents). Why were they making her do this? True, Ginny sometimes didn’t get on with her mother – they both had fierce tempers and very different ideas about what Ginny should do – but she did love her. And Ginny knew that her parents loved their children more than anything else in the world. So why were they making her go through with this when it was obvious – blatantly obvious – that Ginny was miserable?

When she posed that question to Bill – the only relative brave enough to risk her wrath – he kept his expression carefully neutral. “You’ve got to look at it from their perspective, Gin,” he said carefully, leaning against the wall. “Ron just humiliated the crown by walking out on Chang – ”

“Pretty sure Chang did all the humiliating,” Ginny muttered.

“ – and they have to protect their reputation,” Bill continued as though he couldn’t hear her. “If they don’t go ahead with this marriage too then it severely damages the country in the eyes of our neighbours.”

“Duty,” Ginny translated flatly, glaring at him.

“Duty,” Bill agreed.

There was a small pause as Ginny tried not to both burst into tears and scream with frustration at her favourite brother. “If any of our neighbours could meet my ‘duty’,” she said, through gritted teeth, “I’m pretty sure they’d agree that my not marrying him would be much better for the country – and the human race in general,” she added, shuddering at the thought of him procreating (especially with her).

Bill didn’t say anything for a while, just stared at her carefully. “Potter might surprise you, Ginny,” he said eventually. “He might be more than he seems.”

Ginny squinted at him in suspicion and confusion. “Yesterday you couldn’t stand him and now you’re defending him? Why?”

“Because Mum and Dad are determined that at least one royal marriage will go according to plan,” he said with a sigh, looking at her sympathetically. “And I don’t think you’re getting out of it.”

Ginny’s suspicious look instantly changed into a scowl. “I think you should leave now, Bill,” she said coolly.

And leave he did, but not without one last pitying look that made Ginny want to slap him. So even Bill had given up had he? Just typical. As soon as she started fighting for herself everyone else stopped. And all that stuff about Potter being more than he seemed was bollocks. In fact, without Dursley there to carry the conversation he was probably even less than he seemed already.

Now ensconced in the small waiting room to one side of the cathedral Ginny pushed those thoughts away. Thinking about Bill – or any of her family – left her feeling upset and abandoned, things she didn’t feel like feeling right now. Ron hadn’t reappeared either which made Ginny feel both relieved and angry. Relieved because it meant he’d probably found Hermione and was running away somewhere with her; angry because he hadn’t had the decency to come rescue her first.

Behind her the door clicked and the maids jumped nervously. Ginny didn’t move from her position, but already her stomach was beginning to twist, ready for the inevitable argument with her mother. Indeed, when she had taken in Ginny’s state of dress – or lack thereof – the Queen’s expression tightened but she addressed her stubborn daughter as civilly as she could. “What’s the matter, Ginevra? Why aren’t you ready?”

“I’m not ready, Mother, because I am not marrying that moron out there,” Ginny said as calmly as she could.

Instinctively she tensed herself for her mother’s answering yell. The Queen, however, didn’t change her expression and, when she spoke, her voice was level and calm. “You will be marrying Earl Potter today, Ginevra, whether you like it or not,” she said, sweeping towards her daughter and taking the beautiful dress down. “Now, Marion, Amelia, help my daughter into her dress.”

Even as the two maids uncertainly moved forward Ginny shot to her feet incredulously. “Didn’t you hear me? I. Am. Not. Marrying. Him!”

“Yes, Ginny, you are.”

Ginny threw her arms up in the air in exasperation. “No, Mum, I’m not and you can’t make me get into that dress!”

The Queen studied her for a few moments. “Alright, Ginny,” she said and turned to the confused maids. “Marion, Amelia, I’m letting you go.”

Ginny’s horrified expression mirrored those of the maids. “What? Why?”

“Their job is to get you dressed and ready,” the Queen said simply. “They haven’t managed to do that so I’ve no choice but to fire them.”

Ginny was all at once impressed at her mother’s cold heartedness and horrified. “You can’t do that – it’s my fault!” she protested.

“Well, Ginevra, I’ll leave this to your conscience then; if they manage to get you into your dress then their jobs are safe.” And she walked out the room.

Ginny was left gaping at where she had exited, furious at how her mother had manipulated her. She very well couldn’t get the two girls fired, even more so when she realised that she hadn’t even managed to learn their names. Shame now intermingled with the anger.

“We’ll be alright, Your Highness,” the maid that was Marion, not Mary, said, although both she and Amelia looked terrified and very upset. And for good reason, because Ginny knew that the two girls would not be alright. Having learned a little of the stigma surrounding servants in the past week she knew very well that having been fired from the palace would be a black mark against the two girls for the rest of their lives.

Ginny sighed. ‘Well, at least they can’t force me down the aisle.

Apparently they could.

It had happened so fast, Ginny still felt a bit dazed as she stood at the top of the long aisle. Her mother had come back in to find Ginny dressed but still refusing to move. In another very un-mother like move however this still didn’t seem to bother her Majesty that much. She had simply told Ginny that she looked beautiful (something to which Ginny had responded to with rather a lot of angry swearing), disappeared and then her father had arrived and here she was.

As the royal fanfare sounded out Ginny had a brief moment of panic and, for a split second, considered making one last dash out the doors. As though he could tell what she was thinking however, her father’s arm on hers seemed to tense. “No running away from this one, Gin-Gin. Trust me, everything will work out ok.”

Work out ok?! Was the man insane? Ginny couldn’t help but look up at him incredulously – had he seen the imbecile they had forced her to marry? But, to her utter disbelief, Ginny could swear there was a bloody smile playing around his face. Her mother, she could almost believe of such a crime, but her father?! Ginny always believed he was on their side – that she was his special little girl whom he would do anything for – yet here he was, merrily selling her to the most disgusting, glutinous blob she had ever seen in her life. Instead of making her angry, however, Ginny had to restrain a sob.

So now, after 16 years, did she finally realise how her parents actually saw her; a piece of meat, used for trading and bargaining, but no more useful than that.

Well they may have got me in the dress and got me down the aisle,’ Ginny thought in her head, ‘but there is nothing – absolutely nothing – they can do to make me say yes at the altar.’ They should have worried more about their daughters happiness than embarrassing the country because when Ginny refused to marry Potter she wasn’t going to do it in any sort of way that was polite, politically correct or graceful. And it would serve her parents right.

A welcome flash of bright yellow distracted Ginny’s focus from the ever clearer Potter at the end of her journey and she realised, somewhat incredulously, that Luna had reappeared. In between her tantrums and self-pitying moments, Ginny had asked several times for the strange noble as she often found comfort in the seemingly nonsensical things she said. However, the guards and aurors she’d asked always reported back that she was nowhere to be found. Ginny had assumed that she had fled to wherever Dumbledore had so conveniently vanished to when it was clear that she and Ron were both useless at falling in love.

Luna was dressed much the same way she had been when the two of them had first meet. In other words, she resembled nothing less than a solid wall of yellow. A large sunflower was perched merrily in her hair and she was swaying dreamily, a smile on her face. Unlike with her parents, however, Ginny couldn’t blame Luna for her smile. Merlin knows the girl lived in a completely different world from the rest of them most of the time. She did feel some resentment towards the girl, however, for not being there to offer advice or just comfort yesterday when she needed it.

The King suddenly stopped walking and Ginny realised with a start that she was at the end of the aisle. She didn’t look at her father as he gave her a kiss on the cheek and wished her luck. The fact that he had been needed to walk her down the aisle at all – not conventional in the slightest – spoke volumes about how she felt about this ‘wedding’ and how furious she was at him.

Besides her, Potter didn’t seem to notice her tense and angry state, instead rather gleefully grabbing her hand in his sweaty paw and pulling her rather roughly to her knees with him.

“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

As the rest of the congregation rumbled out the rote response, Ginny wrenched her hand away from Potters, scowling at the oblivious priest. Peering at her ‘beloved’ out of the corner of her eye Ginny shuddered; she didn’t think she could wait until the time for the vows came to get out of the cathedral. ‘When he calls for an objection, I’ll use that instead,’ she thought, trying not to grimace as the archbishop spoke about the joining of two in love together in marriage. ‘I think that comes first… doesn’t it?’ Bill and Fleur’s wedding was a long time ago so she couldn’t be sure. ‘I’ll just keep an ear out.

As she tried to listen out for her cue Ginny found herself wishing that Potter and she were facing the congregation. Not that ordinarily being the centre of attention for something so embarrassing and infuriating as this ‘wedding’ was something she enjoyed, but she really wished she could see Dursleys face when she outright refused to marry her disgusting nephew. She had caught a glimpse of the lady as she was led down the aisle; she looked far too satisfied and triumphant for Ginny’s liking. ‘Well that’s all about to change,’ Ginny thought, surprising herself by feeling slightly gleeful.

So absorbed in imagining the horror and fury on Durselys face, when Ginny’s cue came she almost missed it.

“If any person knows of a reason why these two should not be wed, speak now or forever hold your peace.”

“I do: I object!”

Mouth open, the words on the tip of her tongue, it took Ginny a split second to realise that she hadn’t, in fact, uttered them. Someone else had. At first Ginny was a little angry – someone had stolen her line! – and then, as she realised exactly what was happening, she turned round so fast she almost fell over.

Standing at the end of the aisle were three figures, partly obscured by shadows. Around them the stunned congregation were whispering in shock, turning back and forth between the to-be-married couple and the mysterious trio. She could guess what they were hissing about because it was what she wanted to know too; who the hell were these people?

Luckily the garish red atop his head made identifying one of them ridiculously easy. The man on the left hand side was her idiotic brother who, far from wanting to kill like she had several times over the past day for abandoning her, Ginny now wanted to kiss for joy.

The second figure, immediately next to Ron, was a lady, wearing what Ginny only belatedly realised was one of her own dresses – the one in heavy bronze and blue which Ginny had never much cared for as it just seemed to clash rather horribly with her own red hair. This lady, however, suited it incredibly well, the strong lighter colours emphasising her own slightly tanned skin and flowing brown hair. The expression on the face was exceedingly happy, she was practically glowing with joy, and also a little bit surprised, as though she was still getting used to the intricate crown that was carefully set on her head. Ginny’s mouth fell open in shock – it was Hermione.

And that lead to…

The last figure stepped forward, again repeating his earlier statement, and Ginny nearly did fall over then in shock. It was James – her James – but unlike she’d ever seen him before. He was standing tall and proud, no longer trying to hide in the background as usual, clothed in rich, stunning black and green clothes that had probably come from one of her brothers. His beautiful emerald eyes were flashing with power, anger and... was that a wee bit of glee she detected? He shot a brilliant smile at her that made her breath catch before looking back at the archbishop, all seriousness again.

The archbishop looked a bit thrown by these turn of events. This was now two weddings – two royal weddings, no less – in two days that hadn’t exactly gone according to plan. “Er… on what grounds do you object?” he asked eventually, having remembered what it was he was supposed to do.

“Does it matter?” Ginny asked, rather a little too audibly, but despite the appalled looks (and a few chuckles) everyone ignored her. She didn’t care; she was too interested to see what James was going to offer as an explanation.

Ginny was impressed. Even with the weight of several hundred members of nobility staring at him, James still spoke strong and proud, treating the archbishop and the Court with the same courtesy and ease that he had with the Death Eaters in the forest. Ginny’s stomach fluttered as his voice rang out clearly through the cathedral. “I object on the grounds that this wedding is being undertaken under false pretences.”

There was confused murmuring at this statement, something Ginny herself wanted to indulge in. She frowned at him, not exactly sure where James was going. There were no false pretences to be had, unless you counted the fact that neither of them loved each other, but, sadly, most marriages didn’t count that as a good enough reason for matrimony. Her own wedding was a good example of that.

“What do you mean?” the archbishop asked, evidently as confused as all of them.

“What he means is,” Hermione said, stepping forward to join her friend, “is that that is not Earl Harry James Potter.” And she pointed triumphantly at Potter.

Honestly, I’m going to have serious neck ache at the end of this evening,’ Ginny thought as she whipped her head round yet again, to stare at Earl Potter. Or not Earl Potter, as apparently was the case. “Wait, what? You’re not Potter?” she repeated, incredulously. ‘Totally didn’t see that one coming! Surely it can’t be true?’ she thought even as she prayed with all her might that it was.

Apparently her prayers were answered. Potter – or fake-Potter – went white as a sheet and began to tremble. Staring at James in horror, fake-Potter looked over desperately at his aunt. Or not-aunt. Petunia, whoever she was.

But Lady Petunia was not looking at the quivering wreck next to the altar. Instead, her venomous look was directed solely at James. “You!” she hissed, eyes bulging in outrage. “You ruined EVERYTHING! We could have been royalty if it weren’t for you and your repulsive unnatural ways! How many times do I have to get rid of you, you good for nothing, disgusting FREAK!”

Ginny couldn’t believe the pure bile that had just poured out of Petunia’s mouth. Judging by the gasps of horror around the chapel, she wasn’t the only one. James, however, merely rolled his eyes. “Whatever you say, Aunt Petunia, whatever you say.”

Wait; did James just say Aunt Petunia?

Ron, looking disgusted and gleeful at the same time, now stepped forward. “Guards!” he commanded. “Arrest them!”

He did just say Aunt Petunia.

There was a bit of a scuffle as the aurors surged forward to grab both fake-Potter and Lady Petunia (a task made harder by the fact that Petunia had started screaming in rage again, froth actually flying from her mouth as she ranted and raved. Fake-Potter on the other hand seemed to have been broken and was led away quite meekly). As they were being led away, however, Petunia’s shrieks were somewhat dampened by the spontaneous cheering. Seemed that Ginny wasn’t the only one utterly relieved by the removal of the Dursleys from court.

Sweet Merlin. Does that mean what I think it does?

James watched his family being taken away with a happy, yet slightly saddened look on his face. Catching sight of her looking at him, however, he walked forward, a little more nervously than before and stopped in front of her. Ginny got to her feet.

Oh my God, he really is. He’s Earl Harry Potter.

“You’re Harry Potter,” she told him faintly, staring at him in shock. Then, “You’re Harry Potter? I don’t believe this! Why in Merlin’s name didn’t you say anything?” She broke off, all the things that James had told her about his family that hated him clicked into place and she felt like a right idiot herself. “Then we wouldn’t have had to go through all this ridiculous drama and my heart wouldn’t be - ” She broke off, exasperated and embarrassed. She’d never come that close to admitting her true feelings to even herself before and there she was, ready to spurt out a confession in front of most of the Court. Butterflies twisted in her stomach as a rosy hue rose in her cheeks at the sudden surge of long-suppressed feelings. “You’re an idiot!” she said eventually, to cover for her blush. And, to make her point extra clear, she hit him.

Harry looked a little bit hurt at that (not the punch, she wasn’t sure he actually felt that under all those muscles, but at her words). “I wanted to tell you, but you wouldn’t have believed me. No,” he added, when she tried to protest that she bloody well would have. “No, Your Highness, you wouldn’t – not when we first met. And then, when we both thought you would trust us enough, it was too late.”

Ginny paused and considered that for a little while. He was right, she knew he was right – it was part of the same reasons why Hermione had never told Ron that she was just a commoner. She had understood that completely, and even tried to beat Ron into seeing sense about it, too. It was obviously, she thought ruefully, a lot harder when you were on the receiving end of it.

“Ginny,” she said, suddenly. Harry blinked and stared at her in confusion. She huffed, a little playfully. “If we’re going to be married, you should at least get to call me by my first name. A little awkward otherwise, don’t you think?”

Harry blushed then, but he tried to keep his expression serious. “Look, I lied to you about who I was and you’ve been tricked and duped so many times in the last week… I spoke to your parents last night and if you don’t want to marry me then you don’t have to, Your.. er, Ginny.”

Ginny stared at him, not quite sure what he meant by that. Did it mean he didn’t want to marry her? No, Ginny decided, trying not roll her eyes. He did, he was just being noble. Idiot.

“You, Earl Harry Potter, are an idiot.”

And she gave him the biggest kiss she could.


Harry was cold, miserable and finding it extremely hard to focus.

Shivering, he tried in vain to find a more comfortable spot on the hard, rough floor but there was no point; not while the dementors were so close.

Next to him Padfoot whined and tried to curl up closer to his side. The dog animagus was like a hot water bottle but there was no use in sharing his warmth when the cold came from inside. Harry gave him a weak smile and ran shaky fingers through Padfoot’s coarse, shaggy fur. “I’m alright, Padfoot.”

He was not alright.

It had been two days since he’d been captured and dragged away from his home; two days since he’d seen Tonks, Remus and Hermione; two days since Aunt Petunia had shown she had outwitted them all.

Two days since Harry had given up.

Almost as soon as they’d been dragged away from the house he had felt that first shiver of clammy despair curling up his spine. He’d still been in shock and too dazed from the spells to realise what had been going on until it was too late. By the time he’d even thought about fighting back the dementors were surrounding them and all resistance had fled right alongside all his happy thoughts.

It had been two very long, very difficult days. From what he and Sirius could overhear they were being taken to Azkaban, the realm’s most secure prison. How Petunia had managed to arrange for the two of them to be imprisoned there without going through the standard royal channels surprised Harry for only a short while before he brushed it off with a surge of anger and disgust. It seemed corruption was everywhere in the Kingdom.

However Petunia had managed to bribe and blackmail their way into Azkaban, she couldn’t make the realities of travelling there any faster. All prisoners had to spend the entire journey under dementor guard by royal decree… which meant that nearly all such journeys had to take place on foot. For some unknown reason, horses were on of the few creatures that reacted to a dementor’s presence, ensuing that carts, wagons and carriages were out of the question. Harry knew that high-profile prisoners were sent by portkey but there were only five authorised portkey creators in the Kingdom and each request had to be approved by their Majesties first. Triumphant she may be, but Petunia wasn’t completely foolish; she wasn’t going to risk that, not when they were so close.

What that had meant for Harry and Sirius was two days of non-stop walking. Ordinarily this would be no problem for the servants but add in the constant drain from the dementors, sever lack of food and scant hours of sleep then it was the most exhausting trial either of them had faced before.

As though sensing his dark thoughts, Padfoot whined again and gave Harry’s hand a slobbery kiss. Harry grimaced, wiping the drool off on his trousers, and fought to keep the surge of jealousy at bay. As an animagus, Sirius had a way of retreating at night from the drain of the dementor’s relentless presence. Harry had no such ability; he had to endure the long nights as best he could.

But I don’t deserve that respite,’ Harry thought bitterly, hand clenching into a fist as he thought back to his idiocy that night. The presence of the dementors made this very easy; he barely had to think of it before the memory was swimming into focus in his mind. He could still feel that incredible anger when he realised exactly what Petunia was planning, that stupid reckless anger that caused him to dash off like a hot-headed idiot and confront his relatives.

Why didn’t I stay and explain to her? She might have believed me or at least lent enough doubt for a proper investigation. And now I’ve condemned her to live with Dudley for the rest of her life.’ He buried his head in his hands. ‘Not to mention condemned everyone I’ve ever loved and cared about,’ he added, dementors helping to easily bring to mind the horrified faces of Remus, Hermione and Tonks.

No, Harry definitely deserved to be caught.

The others didn’t.

“You’ve got to stop that, Harry.”

Harry turned to stare dully at the recently transformed Sirius. It had only been two days but already he could see the marks the dementors had left on Sirius’ face. It was there in the sudden gauntness of his cheek’ the tightness around his lips’ the hint of despair swimming in his eyes. Harry briefly wondered how much worse he would look. “Stop what?”

Blaming yourself!” Sirius replied exasperated. “This is not your fault.”

Harry gave a hollow laugh. “Not my fault, Sirius?” he repeated incredulously. He motioned around them; at the dingy small stone hut they were ensconced in; at the four silent dementors standing at the corners, watching them, just waiting for their chance to administer one last kiss. “Look around, look at where we are. We’re surrounded by dementors, in a locked hut, surrounded by armed guards, heading to Azkaban and all because it acted like a hot-headed idiot.”

As Harry’s waving hand made to hit the dirt floor for emphasis Sirius caught it with his own. “No, Harry: this is Petunia’s fault. All of it.” They’d had this conversation many times before, enough that Harry knew exactly what Sirius would say next. “What we need to do is find a way to escape.”

“Sirius…”

“No, Harry, I mean it,” Sirius said, fresh determination giving him a surge of energy. “I know you think it’s hopeless, but I’ve been thinking about it all day. The guards don’t know about Padfoot – I can startle them, even knock a few down.”

“Sirius…”

“Padfoot confuses the dementors, they won’t realise what’s happening,” Sirius carried on, purposefully ignoring Harry’s weary protests. “I can get a wand off one of the guards. Then all I need to do is to get back to you and we can side-along apparate back to Godric’s Hollow.”

On the whole Harry supposed it wasn’t that bad a plan. There were, however, one or two big flaws that he could see. “And when the dementors feel something going wrong – or even if the guards just let out a yell – then they’ll be headed straight for me.”

Sirius’ face fell a little at that. “I hadn’t thought of… you’ll have to just, erm… bob and weave.”

Despite their dire situation Harry couldn’t help the small snort that forced its way out at that. “’Bob and weave’ to avoid the dementors?” he said, trying hard not to laugh as his imagination brought forth images of him ducking and rolling around dementors to mind. "Yes, that’ll work like a charm.”

Sirius even managed a smile at that one, but it quickly slid off his face. “Careful, Harry; you’re getting the dementors excited.” That part was definitely true at least. Harry had barely enough time to register his own amusement before the feeling was sucked out of him, leaving him even more despondent and cold than before.

“Forget it, Sirius,” Harry said, sighing and moving to lay back down on the cold floor again. “Petunia’s won.”

Next to him, Sirius shifted slightly as though he were about to protest, but he said not a word. Instead he sighed and, with a quiet pop, transformed back into Padfoot and once more snuggled into Harry’s side. It was hard to remain optimistic too long with the dementors figuratively breathing down their necks.

Sleep had been an elusive beast the past few nights for Harry and any sleep he did manage to grab almost invariable ended as a nightmare. Tonight was no exception. He was chained and bound to the floor of a side-room in a strange large space. Even unconscious the dementor’s presence couldn’t be escaped from; they surrounded him as they had in every dream thus far, their chilling presence still felt even through sleep. As Harry struggled uselessly against the bonds that bound him, grand organ music began to play and he looked about him, confused.

Then he saw something that made him forget to struggle all at once.

The Princess was walking down the aisle, clad in splendid red and gold, diamonds sparkling from her hair and face veiled in fine gold netting. As she walked across the room other figures materialised out of the strange void, filling the space with shadowy, well dressed men and women. As someone large and rotund materialised in the direction Ginevra was walking Harry belatedly realised where he was and what exactly was going on.

This is a Church – this is her wedding!

As Ginevra walked up to the smirking Dudley he lifted back her veil and Harry could see how miserable she looked, tears streaking down her face. As Dudley took her hand and led her towards the priest thick, black manacles materialised around her wrists. Even though the added weight made her arms drop, the Princess made no sound. Silent as she was, however, the clanking of the chains carried loudly in the vast space.

Harry tried to call out to her, yelling at Dudley to let go off her…

… But no sound came out.

Struggling quickly exhausted him and he was left panting, helplessly watching as Dudley and Ginevra mimed their way through the wedding ceremony. Ginevra was clearly reluctant but she had no choice – the chains would jerk her arms this way or that, depending on what she needed to do. Harry’s gaze followed the links of the chain back, racing along the links to find who was controlling them.

His stomach dropped.

Aunt Petunia held a fistful of chains in her hands, an expression of pure glee on her face as she jerked poor Ginevra all about. She had never looked so triumphant – ‘Or evil,’ Harry thought, shuddering – as she did in that moment, extending her grip to control the royal family. This was evident in the number of chain’s she held within her grasp; only one of those led to the Princess. Following the other links, Harry’s horrified gaze fell on Ronald, whose manacled hands grasped a shadowy bride, whilst ethereal chains were approaching other members of the Royal family. They weren’t solid, not yet, but even as Harry watched the metal became thicker, darker and more solid. Following the other chains to see who else Petunia had ensnared, Harry felt his breath catch once more.

At the very back of the Church, four dark figures were strung up by their wrists, arms hoisted painfully behind their backs. They dangled and jerked in time as Petunia pulled on their restraints, legs swinging uncontrollably. Harry swallowed uncomfortably as he took in their pained faces; Remus, Tonks, Sirius and Hermione.

Almost as though they could sense his gaze all four figures turned and stared at him with accusing eyes. “Your fault,” Remus whispered softly and this time Harry could clearly hear him. As the other three added their hissing condemnations to his Harry wished he was deaf again. Their hissing remarks echoed round the cavernous Church, getting louder and louder.

Harry turned away from them, tears in his eyes, hoping if he couldn’t see them then he wouldn’t be able to hear them either. His plan didn’t work, however; as soon as he turned back to the main congregation he discovered that they were all staring at him, too.

“Your fault,” Ronald hissed, lifting his manacled hands.

Harry swallowed as Ginevra too turned to him. Her eyes were full of despair but hatred filled them as she looked over at him. “Your fault,” she whispered, motioning with her chained hands to the triumphant Dudley.

“No!” Harry cried out. “No, I tried, it was her – all her!”

But even as he tried to motion with his bound hands to his aunt, he knew it was no use. Ginevra was already turning away from him, tears silently falling. She couldn’t hear him. No one could.

“I can hear you, Potter.”

Harry looked up at his aunt, a fury and hatred he never knew he could feel before was suddenly coursing through his veins. In this surge of loathing even the effect of the dementors was diminished. “You won’t get away with this!” he mouthed soundlessly, raging against his constraints.

She just laughed at him. “Get away, Potter?” she questioned, smirking. “I’ve already got away with it.” And then she held up a chain.

With a start Harry realised that the chain she held now was his; and Harry suddenly saw that he was no longer on the floor but hovering above it, dangling above a bottomless pit; and then she was letting the chain go; and Harry was falling, falling…

Falling.

But the dementors weren’t letting him go that easy. Even as he fell, as he was buffeted and shaken from the roaring wind of the tunnel , he could see them swooping down towards him, hands reaching out as though to save him. But they weren’t trying to save him…

As he fell Harry belatedly wondered what would be worse – dying from impact or having his soul lost long before he hit the ground. The argument was moot in any case; the choice was not up to him. It was up to the dementor, the one that had managed to grasp his arm and that was pulling him close in a sick parody of a lover’s embrace. And now his head was being forced upwards and the hood was down and the dementor was coming closer…

… closer…

“Harry! Harry wake up – something’s happening!”

Sirius’ shaking jolted Harry back down to Earth, mind swimming as he blinked away the last fragments of his dream. The extreme cold he felt was the one thing that he couldn’t dissipate and he shivered, the memory of that mouth coming back to his mind.

“Harry! Harry!” Sirius was still shaking him, concerned but strangely excited.

“What is it, Sirius?” Harry asked sluggishly. What on earth could Sirius be excited about in their situation?

“Listen!”

Still slightly out of it from his vivid nightmare, it took a while for Harry to recognise what it was that Sirius wanted him to hear. When he did, however, he found all remnants of sleep and dream immediately banished. “Is that… is that spell fire?” he asked, both incredulously and suddenly hopeful.

Sirius was nodding, grinning. “It is, it is!”

“Do you think… could it be…?” Harry didn’t dare even finish his sentence but Sirius knew what he meant and only continued his ecstatic nodding.

“It must be – who else would be so foolish as to attack Azkaban guards?” he reasoned, pulling Harry to his feet. There were no windows in the way station but that didn’t stop either of them from squinting, trying to see any hint of spellwork.

It wasn’t the light of jinxes that caught Harry’s eyes however; it was something far more sinister.

“Erm… Sirius,” he said, looking around. The resurgence of optimism was gradually disappearing. “The dementors…”

Snapping back to their surroundings, Sirius swore as he saw what Harry had seen; the dementors were getting restless.

In fact, they were getting closer.

“Might need to try that bob and weaving now, pup,” he said, all humour from before disappearing as he transformed back to Padfoot. Almost as though this were a signal the dementors gave up any pretence at guarding and began moving in towards the two of them at an alarming speed.

Harry bobbed and weaved for his life.

To say it was difficult would be an extreme understatement. Nearly everything was working against him, after all; forgetting tiredness and hunger, the dementors drain on him was even stronger now that they were so much closer and were excited. Then they were in a very small enclosed space and the dementors didn’t react to Harry’s ducking and rolling as a normal human would. They just pivoted gracefully in whatever new direction Harry turned.

Padfoot helped as best he could, snapping, biting and leaping all over the place. It wasn’t enough. In a frightening echo of his nightmare one of the dementors grabbed hold of his arm as he tried to dodge past. Padfoot let out an anguished howl but as he tried to bite the dementor holding Harry another one intercepted him and threw him off and into a wall.

A million thoughts were swirling round Harry’s head as he faced that gaping maw. Thoughts about his parents, how he’d let them down; how he had condemned his family to suffer and die; how he’d never get a chance to make the world better.

How he’d never get to save Ginevra from his cousin.

“EXPECTO PATRONUM!”

Suddenly Harry’s world was awash with glowing silver. As the silver light brought a swelling of forgotten happiness the dementor gripping his face let out an inhuman shriek and backed away. Collapsing to all fours on the ground Harry panted, muscles trembling both with fear at how close he’d come to being lost and with relief at being warm.

“Harry! Harry, are you alright?”

Sirius was shaking him again, tone fearful. He couldn’t tell if that dementor had kissed him or not and Harry supposed his non-responsive state wasn’t giving his Godfather much reassurance. “I’m… I’m ok, Sirius,” he coughed out eventually, another flash of silver patronus light highlighting Sirius’ frantic face. “Still here.”

“Thank Merlin,” Sirius cried hoarsely, dragging the younger man into a hug. Letting himself be held, Harry stared over his Godfather’s shoulder to see his rescuers and found his mouth drop open.

The dementors safely herded to the back wall of the way station, the two matching otter patroni swam through the air back to their casters. Disappearing in a flash of silver light, Ronald and Hermione stared at each other, mouths open and very red in the face.

“Your… your patronus is an otter?” he asked her, faintly.

Hermione went even redder as she nodded. “Y-yes. Always.”

Ronald opened her mouth as though to say something but then closed it, looking completely blown away. Harry took that as his cue to interrupt.

“Hermione?” he asked faintly, pulling out of Sirius’ embrace. “What’s going on?”

Snapped out of her strange moment with the Prince, Hermione’s gaze snapped over to him in an instant and she flew over to him. “Harry!” she shrieked, grabbing him in a massive hug. “Thank Merlin you’re alright!”

“I’m alright?” Harry repeated, completely bemused and still not entirely sure what had just happened. How did she get there? He asked her that very question as she was embracing Sirius, surreptitiously checking him over for injuries as she went.

Hermione bit her lip, unconsciously rubbing at her wrists. “It’s a long story,” she said slowly. “One I don’t think I can tell more than once and not right now.”

“Remus?” Sirius croaked suddenly. “The basement… did you…?” He broke off, looking both eager for news and afraid to hear it. Unfortunately Hermione could do little relieve his fears.

“We got him out, Sirius,” she said, clasping his hands. “Well, Dumbledore did.”

“Dumbledore?” Harry echoed surprised and all at once feeling hopeful. He craned his head over Hermione’s shoulder as though he would see the older man’s flowing whitebeard glowing in the dark. “Where is he?”

But Hermione was shaking her head. “Remus was… oh, Sirius, he looked awful,” she said in a rush, watching him carefully. “Dumbledore said he had a friend who would be able to help him and he took both Remus and Tonks with him. That was more than a day ago and we haven’t seen him since.”

While Sirius and Harry digested this uncertain news, Harry caught sight of the royal Prince approaching them awkwardly over Hermione’s shoulder. Stumbling to his feet, Harry watched him carefully. “Hello, Your Highness,” he said cautiously.

Ronald jumped at that. “Erm, hello,” he replied, squinting at Harry as though he’d never seen him properly before. “So, um, Hermione says you’re the real Earl Potter.”

Harry shifted awkwardly now. “Yes,” he admitted before he was hit by a flashback of his dream. “Wait, Ginevra – I mean, Her Highness – she hasn’t… is Dudley…” This time it was he who couldn’t bear to finish the sentence.

Ronald, however, grinned. “Don’t worry; their marriage – er, your marriage – is scheduled for tomorrow.” To Harry’s complete surprise he even let out an evil little laugh. “Bloody hell, I can’t wait to throw that awful Dursley woman in jail! She’ll be cursing and screaming the whole way to Azkaban, I reckon.” Suddenly remembering that Harry was in fact related to Petunia he stopped and looked at him awkwardly again. “I mean, erm, I know she’s your aunt but – ”

“Are you joking?” Harry asked, laughing in turn. “I’ve been waiting to throw her to the dementors my entire life!”

As Ronald’s worried expression dissolved once more into a grin someone poked their head round the hut door. “Hey, Prince Ron,” the man said and Harry was surprised to realise it was that Death Eater – Dean Thomas’ - voice. What on earth were Ron and Hermione doing with them? “Now you’ve had your happy reunion, fancy moving it outside? It’ll be easier to control the dementors that way.”

That was true, Harry realised, looking back with a shudder at the dementors. They were being held back by a couple of strange patronuses, but these were flickering slightly. Although he still scowled at being addressed so informally it was clear that Ronald could see the sense in Thomas’ words too. “Right,” he said, offering a hand to pull Hermione back to her feet. “Coming out now.”

Emerging into the open air, Harry was met with even more surprises. Far from coming with a band of royal aurors – or even standard guards – as he’d supposed, it seemed Ron and Hermione had enlisted their fellow rescuers solely from the country’s most wanted: the Death Eaters.

Well, almost solely…

“Greetings, lightning-bearer!” the Lady Lovegood said, floating over to him with a big smile on her face. Ignoring the very obvious point that Harry had no idea why she was there in the first place, he couldn’t believe that they’d let her come along dressed like that. From what he knew of the Lady it was very ‘Luna’, to be sure, but he wasn’t sure that fluorescent silver and gold robes were the best choice for a midnight ambush.

“Erm… hello, Lady Luna,” he said uncertainly, bowing to her formally as one noble to another. The Lady Luna, however, did not seem to be much in the mind for formality; she grabbed him into a massive hug.

Eventually breaking out from the embrace Harry went red as he beheld Hermione, Sirius and Ronald smirking at him. “You know, we never would have found you if it weren’t for the Lady Luna,” Hermione said, smiling at the younger witch.

Harry and Sirius turned to look at Luna in surprise. “You what?” Sirius asked, forgetting his manners.

Luckily Luna never seemed to mind the discourtesy that followed in her wake. “You are the lightning bearer, Earl,” she said, as though speaking to a small child. “You’re important. I had to find where you were.”

“She came to us a couple of nights ago,” Thomas broke in unexpectedly, studying Harry intently. “Didn’t see why one missing servant – or noble, for that matter – was any of our business. Riddle thought otherwise.”

Harry felt like adding that he agreed with Thomas. He was just one noble and, judging by his track record (kept as a servant, outwitted by his bitchy, scheming muggle aunt), not a very smart or powerful one.

Thomas, however, couldn’t hear Harry’s internal self-deprecation and carried on. “We were running every spell we could think of, investigating in the town like bloody aurors, scouting all over the place.” He grinned. “Actually rather enjoyed it; nice having a purpose.”

“I still don’t understand why you all did that for me though!” Harry said, bewildered. Hermione he could understand and even to some extent Ronald. But Luna’s belief that he was something more than he seemed – a belief that she seemed to have passed on to the Death Eaters, for Merlin’s sake – was overwhelming, confusing and a little bit scary. “And don’t you dare say because I’m the lightning bearer, my Lady, unless you explain it!”

Lady Luna cocked her head to one side and regarded him quietly. Harry had half resigned himself to being left clueless again when Luna began to speak. “A lightning bearer brings change,” she said simply.

Everyone stared at her. “Change?” Ronald said, clearly not sure whether to laugh or be confused. “Is that it?”

Luna turned her solemn eyes on him. “Change is not something trivial and unimportant, Ronald,” she said in the most serious voice Harry had ever heard her use. “It is vital, necessary. Without it Kingdoms fall, cities wither away and we are all forgotten.”

Harry shifted uncomfortably. He had big plans, of course, but they were all for the future; he hadn’t done anything yet. He found it extremely disconcerting that such an odd girl could look at him and proclaim his… well, destiny, for lack of a better word. When he mentioned this to her, however, Luna just smiled in her usual dreamy manner.

“The changes you bring are happening all around you right now, Harry,” she said, waving at everyone in the clearing. “Servants, Death Eaters, nobles and royalty all acting as equals; plans of building a new school; proposals to change several unfair laws… lightning has already brought down a storm of renewal.”

“But that is all because of Hermione, not me,” Harry protested, feeling slightly panicky. “Surely she is the lightning bearer.”

But Luna just smiled again. “She is one of your instruments, yes, but her dreams come from you – and her actions come from both loyalty to and love of you, Earl Potter. You are the lightning bearer.”

There was a heavy silence. Everyone either avoided eye contact with the perplexed Harry or they looked at him with a faint air of disbelief that someone so unimportant looking could play such a vital role. Ronald was one of the former whilst Thomas was definitely one of the latter. Hermione just looked at him proudly. And then there was Sirius…

“I feel like I should be practicing my curtsy,” Sirius said as he performed the most outrageous curtsy he could think of. “My great lord of storm and lightning, what a great honour it is to be in your presence,” he simpered, fawning at Harry’s sleeve.

That broke the tension nicely. “Shut up, Padfoot, you idiot,” Harry laughed, dealing his Godfather a cuff over the head.

“To have been struck by the great lightning bearer!” Sirius wailed ecstatically, nursing his head as though it were a badge of honour. Everyone just laughed.

“Come on, lightning bearer,” Hermione said eventually, giving Harry a one armed hug. “We’ve got a wedding to crash.”


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