Ever After


Well, Ginevra Weasley, you wanted adventure and excitement. Congratulations: you got it!

The little voice in Ginny’s head sounded suspiciously like her mother and made her falter for a second. What was she doing? She was a Princess, for Merlin’s sake, meant for looking pretty and – her lip curled in disdain – marrying Earls for the good of the Kingdom. She wasn’t supposed to go rescuing damsels in distress or fighting bandits. It was simply Not Done.

Well, Ginny told that little voice defiantly, Princesses weren’t supposed to run away, either, and she had done that. They weren’t supposed to be able to best most of her younger brothers in a wand fight or to fly a broomstick. And she had done all that. So what was one more indiscretion?

Pulling on the broom handle she flew up above the tree line. None of the bandits had seen her yet but it was only a matter of time. Ginny took a deep breath to try and calm her racing heart, something made harder by the cries and screaming beneath her.

That little voice kept trying to persuade her that this was insane – she could barely ride the broomstick and most of the offensive spells she knew involved turning hair pink – but something inside Ginny was stirring. It could be adrenaline, but she rather thought it was excitement. She knew it was probably wrong to feel it, especially when all the people below were suffering, but she couldn’t help it. This was her doing something, not just sitting around doing no one any good.

There is a point to Ginny Weasley,’ she thought, ‘and I’m going to prove it.

Taking a deep breath, Ginny swooped down from the trees. It took a second to orientate herself, but her wand quickly shot out curses. “Expelliarmus! Stupefy! Petrificus Totallus!” She barrel rolled to one side and her wand lashed out a few more spells as she shot back into the tree cover.

Her breathing was hard and her heart seemed to be trying to thump its way out of her chest but Ginny grinned. The angry yells from below were no longer coming from the poor merchants in the caravans but the bandits that had been hit. She hadn’t paused to watch her handiwork – at least some of them probably had bows and arrows – but she had heard several very satisfying thumps as the men she hit were stunned or cursed.

Ginny began to move slowly and carefully over the tree tops to a new position. The element of surprise was gone now and if she attacked from where she had disappeared she’d have been shot with an arrow faster than she could say ‘protego’. Indeed, she could hear one of the men below yelling at the others to rally.

Before they had time to comply Ginny shot back down under the trees, wand already sending out a stunner. The man hardly had time to even look surprised before he was out cold on the floor. The man next to him, however, was more prepared and shot a spell right at her head.

Ginny yelled and rolled away, feeling the rush of the purple spell over her shoulder. Suddenly she was sweating. ‘They’re wizards?!’ she thought, alarmed, even as she managed to send a tarantallegra at the man. It wasn’t the best jinx to use as he still held his wand, but his legs were jerking and leaping about all over the place so he was too distracted to use it on her. ‘I don’t think I can hold off this many wizards!

The others had all zeroed in on her position by now and suddenly Ginny was no longer the attacker but the defender. “Protego!” she yelled, as spell after spell came her way. They were not particularly strong spells and dissipated almost effortlessly, but there were a lot of them and Ginny didn’t dare lower the shield to curse them back. Instead she ducked and rolled and dove through the lights, trying to get back to the safety of the tree tops.

As she was avoiding their spells they seemed to realise she wanted to retreat and concentrated their fire just above her head, trapping her. Beginning to feel panicked, Ginny turned around to face her attackers and now tried in earnest to knock a few of them out. Most of them were still firing at her, but some were frantically still searching through the overturned caravans, flinging aside terrified commoners. Interested, Ginny realised that none of these had wands. Were they that confident or were they just muggles?

Unfortunately, Ginny’s distracted interest served to be her downfall.


The spell caught her unawares as it was not aimed at herself, but at her broom. Ginny only had a split second to realise her mistake before the little brown shattered beneath her and she was falling, falling....

“Wingardium Leviosa!”

And she had stopped.

Hovering above the ground Ginny looked over at her saviour, confused. It was the same voice that had severed the broom in the first place. So why go to all the trouble of making her fall if they didn’t want to hurt her?

The bandit in questioned smirked at her quizzical expression before letting his wand drop. Ginny managed to not fall to her knees as she suddenly dropped the last foot or so to the ground – which she considered all the more incredible as the disintegrating broomstick had given her several nasty splinters in her legs (and other somewhat more unmentionable places) – and glared at the bandit.

He was quite young, possibly only a couple of years older than Ginny herself, but his eyes were cold and hard. He was dark skinned, with short black hair that looked like someone had hacked at it with a blunt knife as it was in strange little clumps all over his head. His clothes were ragged and worn, covered in mud and leaves, and the wand he was now pointing at her again looked old and battered.

He was obviously the leader, which surprised Ginny as most of the others looked quite a bit older than him. They all sneered at her angrily, but their eyes kept flickering up to her forehead uncertainly. Ginny wondered what on earth they were looking at before she realised: her hood had come off and her stupid royal crown was on full display to everyone.

Once again that unfamiliar fear swept over her. Fear was not something that Ginny was accustomed to, living in the luxurious palace, where an auror was never far away. She clenched her fists and raised her own wand arm. If they wanted to take her for a captive then fine: but she would not go willingly.

The men all burst into laughter at that. Ginny knew it must look ridiculous: one little witch against a whole group of older wizards. ‘Let them laugh’ she told herself grimly, ignoring the fluttering of panic. Hadn’t she just proved to them she was a force to be reckoned with?

“Little witchy come out to play?” one of the men taunted, followed by more laughter.

Ginny felt herself going red, but this time it was not in embarrassment. That was the kind of stupid thing her brothers always said to her whenever she sneaked out of an elocution lesson to play-duel with them. It had pissed her off then and it still pissed her off now.

Smiling sweetly at him, Ginny flicked her wand, said her favourite spell and watched as the bat-bogey curse hit him full on in the head. Now it was her turn to laugh as he screamed and ran away, batting at the gelatinous blobs chasing him. She looked back at the other men, still smiling sweetly. “Anyone else want a go?”

They still looked scornful, but were a bit more wary now. Ginny looked at the dark skinned leader, who seemed to be trying not to laugh. “Not exactly a spell I would expect your Highness to know,” he said, wryly.

“Well, I’m not exactly your usual type of Princess,” Ginny retorted hotly.

Again that small quirk, as if he was trying not to smile. “That seems quite obvious, Your Highness.”

There was a small pause where the two of them eyed each other warily. Ginny hoped he couldn’t see the small tremors in her hand or how much she was sweating. He looked cool as a cucumber and that annoyed her almost as much as the jeering comment from earlier. He obviously didn’t think she was a threat at all.

“Well, come on then!” Ginny snapped, anger making her rash. “Which one of you is next?”

She didn’t really expect any of them to respond: she was just trying to rile up the leader into some sort of reaction. So when they all yelled and ran away, she was somewhat shocked. Well, at least until she turned around...

“Great. Just great. I decide to be heroic and save innocent people and this is my reward?!” Ginny scowled up at the heavens. “Thanks a lot.”

She glanced back at the approaching riders anxiously. They were quite far off still, but you would have to be an idiot to not realise what all the flashing purple and gold meant. It was the official colours of the Royal Guard, the aurors, and they were out to bring her back.

She glanced back at the fleeing bandits uncertainly. They were nearly all gone now and, somewhat surprisingly, had picked up their unconscious comrades and were dragging them away. She’d have thought that they would just leave them behind and save their own skins.

But then how much did she really know about bandits and their criminal ways? She’d spent most of her life stuck behind the palatial walls.

And speaking of which...

Come on, Ginny, move!

Ginny began to hurriedly move away from the rapidly approaching aurors. She looked mournfully at the little broom. She may have only had it less than an hour, but she had built up quite a bit of affection for it and now it was in splintered pieces on the floor. It didn’t seem quite a fair ending for the poor chap.

And, of course, there was no way she could out run the aurors without it.

Well, maybe luck is on my side,’ Ginny thought, as she began to dart her way through the overturned carriages and trees (and keep an eye out for the lingering bandits that may decide they wanted a royal hostage after all). ‘I mean, they’re not exactly going to be able to just leave these people here. They’ll have to help them and maybe I can lose them in the trees...

Ginny’s suddenly gleeful mood, however, did not last very long.

“Oh, wait!”

Ginny yelped as something yellow shot out in front of her. She tried to stop, but tripped over a stone and ended up crashing into the yellow entity, causing them both to tumble to the ground.

“Ow!” Ginny snapped, annoyed, rubbing her sore ribs. “What are you doing?”

The yellow thing moved and its features resolved into that of a young girl. Ginny stared at her, somewhat bemused. The girl was unlike anyone else she had ever seen before. True, her straw-like blond hair was nothing out of the ordinary and her eyes, whilst very wide and unblinking, were a normal shade of grey.

But what got Ginny was what the girl was wearing. The overwhelming sense of yellow seemed to be the colour of her weird, shapeless dress which was decorated in odd collections of runes and hieroglyphs. Her earrings seemed to be some sort of purple vegetable, whilst her necklace seemed to be corks from beer barrels and there appeared to be an extremely wilted looking daisy stuck in her hair.

“Hello, Ginevra,” the girl said, in an odd, dreamy sort of way, and Ginny immediately found herself bristling with indignation. Not only did this bizarre girl know exactly who she was, but she had the audacity to call herself by her first name.

You just don’t go round calling Princesses by their first name.

“How dare – ” Ginny started, hotly, before the strange girl interrupted her.

“They’ve stolen my Uncle,” she said, still in that odd detached manner.

Now Ginny was completely thrown. “Your Uncle?” she started, “but – ”

“They’re getting quite far away now,” she continued, “I was wondering if you could bring him back. I would, but I’m afraid I may have twisted my ankle.”

Ginny looked to where the girl pointed and saw two of the bandits dragging a third man between them through the woods. Ginny felt her heart clench. She had assumed that the people being dragged away were just the ones she had magically knocked out. She didn’t consider that they might actually be the people she was trying to protect. And she had just watched them being kidnapped!

She supposed she could catch up to them quite quickly, unburdened with an unconscious body, but then what? The bandits could well find themselves with two hostages instead of one! And all the time the Royal Guard were getting closer...

“I can’t help him,” she said, turning to the girl and scrambling to her feet. “I don’t know how... the aurors can help you. I cannot!”

Then the girl, for the first time, looked straight at her and Ginny cursed. Odd the girl may be, but that didn’t mean she didn’t love her uncle any less than anyone else. And when she looked Ginny right in the eye, those eyes were sad and tearing.

“Oh, bloody Merlin!”

It really wasn’t her day.

Resigned, Ginny set off running. It was a lot more complicated than it sounded, at least for Ginny. The bandits had turned off the main road and were now weaving in and around the trees. This meant that Ginny was in constant danger of tripping over tree roots, stumbling over pebbles, whacking into low-lying branches and slipping over the general detritus of the forest floor. Add to that the fact that she had never run for anything in her life (“Princesses don’t run, Ginevra. They glide.”) she found she wasn’t catching up to the bandits anywhere near as fast as she wanted.

But she was catching up to them. As they got closer, Ginny could see the frail old man they were dragging – the girl’s uncle – between them and immediately felt sorry for him. He was certainly very old, but he had one of those faces that looked as though they could be any age from 50 to 150. His silvery eyes were partly open and she realised he was not unconscious at all, but simply too terrified to move. He caught her eye as she caught up, huffing, puffing and rather red in the face, and his expression seemed to say “Save me.”

That did it for Ginny. He looked petrified. Her anger took over and, quite forgetting she was a witch, she simply launched herself at the bandits. “Aaargh!”

As she tumbled into the nearest one she caught a half glimpse of his face and realised, with dismay, that it was the dark skinned leader. He shot her a shocked look but that was all she could see before they were, all three of them tumbling, tumbling, tumbling, with the frantic yells of the other bandit behind them.

And as they tumbled, Ginny swore out loud, in a manner that would most definitely have thrown her mother into a coma. Because, between views of the sky, ground and her own flailing legs, she caught glimpses of where they were headed and it did not look good.

They were heading to a cliff edge.

‘I HATE this bloody day!’ was Ginny’s last thought as, screaming for all her worth, she was flying with no broom yet again, the dull blue of the river below rushing towards her...

“Do you think it will work?”

Sirius and Remus looked at each other and only a blind man would miss the desperate hope in their eyes. Hermione watched them with bated breath. This was only a little less dangerous than breaking into the jail and could see Hermione thrown in right alongside with Harry if she failed.

“I don’t know, Hermione,” Sirius said slowly, as though it pained him to say it. “It’s dangerous – you’d be risking a hell of a lot.”

“I know, Sirius,” Hermione said quietly. “But if it gets Harry back, it’s worth it.”

Sirius still winced whenever he heard Harry’s name, but the expression of longing on his face was almost painful in its intensity. Remus said nothing, watching her silently from the bed.

“I’ve thought about it,” Hermione went on, trying to fill the uneasy silence. “I know the risks, I really do, and I don’t suggest this lightly, but I don’t think there’s any other way we can get Harry out.”

“We can try the King,” Sirius said, but he sounded a little unsure. “This is King Arthur, here – not Ignatius. Ignatius really couldn’t give a hoot about anyone but Arthur... he might understand. He might listen.”

Might is still not will, Sirius,” Hermione pointed out. “And even if he does listen to us how long will it take us to work through all the underlings first? By the time we get an audience, Harry could already have been shipped off and we’d never get him back!”

“Then we – Remus and I – will break him out ourselves,” Sirius said. “There’s no reason why this all has to hang on you. If they suspect anything...”

“All I need to do is hold my nerve.”

Sirius gave a funny little laugh. “What if the same guards are there?” he pointed out. “If they recognise you...”

“I promise if any of them are there I won’t do it. But it’s our only realistic chance, Sirius.”

The dog animagus just snorted again and leapt to his feet, nervous energy making him pace. Hermione watched him, determined. This plan would work – is going to work, she told herself. And if Sirius and Remus said no?

She’d bloody well do it anyway.

“Do you think you can do it?”

The quiet question came from Remus. She looked over at him, finding his blue eyes staring intently back at her. She stuck out her chin obstinately. “Yes,” she affirmed. “For Harry I can.”

Sirius looked at him. “Remus, you can’t seriously be suggesting we send Hermione off on her own,” he protested. “It’s too dangerous.”

“No,” Remus said with finality. “It’s dangerous, but Hermione can do this. She’s the only one who can and she can save our family. I believe in you, Hermione.”

Hermione found her eyes watering. “Thank you, Remus,” she said quietly, swallowing the sudden lump in her throat. She almost couldn’t look at Sirius, just in case he didn’t feel the same way, but Sirius pulled her into a one armed hug.

“Now, Hermione, this doesn’t look much like holding your nerve,” he teased, giving her a gentle shake. “Just cause Moony here decided to get all sentimental doesn’t mean you have to blubber all over him. Strokes his ego,” he said in a stage whisper. Hermione gave a wet giggle and Remus hit him around the head.


“Seriously, though, Hermione,” Sirius added, looking serious now (no pun intended), “I believe in you, too.”

They sat there in silence for a while. Hermione mused on her odd little family. When she was younger – before she had magic – she always thought that family was something given to you and you had to make do with what you had. When her parents had sent her away she thought she’d never have a proper family again, but now she had come to realise that a family – a true family – was something you made for yourself.

And she be damned if she let the Dursleys rip this one apart.

“Let’s do this.”

Ronald Weasley, Prince of England, was annoyed.

No, make that extremely pissed off.

“Ginny, when we find you I am going to bloody kill you,” he swore, glowering, as he walked his horse carefully through the debris and discarded possessions that littered the ground. The commoners were milled all about, trying to find lost valuables and comforting crying children and wives. The aurors were spread out just as far, helping the men right the toppled caravans, talking to witnesses and helping treat the injured. More still were branching out into the woods, trying to find the perpetrators.

Ron scowled at them, not noticing how some of the commoners eyed him a little uncertainly. Life, he had decided, was simply Not Fair. Not only had he received the news yesterday that he was to marry a French Princess against his will, but his younger sister had promptly run away causing his parents to wake him up at a totally unreasonably hour and send him out to fetch her back.

This was even the more unfair because, rather than fetch her back, what he actually wanted to do was go with her and he was inwardly cursing himself for not agreeing when she had suggested it yesterday. But he hadn’t thought she was actually serious this time...

Being a Prince was nice, Ron acknowledged. He didn’t have to worry about little things like clothes or money and there was always plenty of food. But there were the little things, like always being continually watched, never being allowed to say what he really thought about some people and, let’s not forget, the whole arranged marriage debacle.

So, not only had Ginny managed to do what he wanted to do and escape, but she had managed to take on and fight several criminals all at once whilst he, being older than her by an entire year, had to content himself with sitting on his stupid horse and being told to ‘stay out of the way’.

Laughter brought him out of his gloomy thoughts and he swivelled to turn his glare at his supposed best friend, Neville Longbottom. “What are you laughing at?” he snapped, feeling even grumpier.

Anyone but Neville would probably have immediately simpered after him at that, but not Neville. Neville had been one of Ron’s best friends for nearly 6 years now, ever since they started Durmstrang together. He was the heir to a ducal estate up near Scotland, which was currently being tended to by servants whilst Neville’s parents were serving as Ambassadors to Florence. Ron had met the iron-haired Dowager Duchess Augusta Longbottom who was Neville’s only remaining relative in the country and immediately felt sorry for Neville. Not that she wasn’t caring and loved him very much, but she had a will of steel to rival even the Queen’s and that was saying something.

Neville had changed a lot since Ron had first met him. Back in the first year he had been quite shy, moving down to London from Scotland being a big shock. Now, however, he was a happy, confident young noble man who was one of the few people that Ron allowed to call him by his first name. He even got on well with Ginny and she was such a hot tempered firecracker that that was quite an achievement. Ron had hoped, for a little while, that Neville would end up courting Ginny but alas it was not to be. There had been something, right at the beginning, but that had faded all too quickly and now they were just friends.

“Just your face, mate,” Neville said, slipping off his own horse, still grinning. “Anyone would think that Ginny had done all this on purpose, just to annoy you.”

Well, Ron certainly didn’t discount that.

“I’m just sick of being told to ‘sit there’ and watch,” Ron said, not altogether untruthfully. “I’m seventeen now, legally an adult, and I still can’t seem to go anywhere without being babysat by aurors.”

One of the aurors nearby seemed to hear that comment and glared at him, but Ron ignored him. Dawlish was a bit of an idiot, anyway.

“Well, you are an heir to the throne,” Neville pointed out, fairly.

“Yeah, fifth in line, and that’s just if you count Fred and George as one person,” Ron muttered, darkly.

“And they probably don’t want you to get yourself hurt or killed in some stupid duel,” Neville continued, as if he hadn’t heard Ron’s mutter.

“But I’m not stupid,” Ron said. “We’ve done duelling at Durmstrangs before and I was good at that. Only that stupid Malfoy git bested me there – and you of course,” he added, grinning slightly before his face fell again. “I don’t see why I shouldn’t be able to help at least. And Ginny’s a year younger than me and a girl and she got to fight a whole horde of bandits on her own.” He kicked a broken bit of broomstick in annoyance. “I don’t see why I don’t get to fight just one.”

Neville watched him. “Well, Ron, they didn’t exactly let her fight anyone,” he said, frowning slightly. “She ran away and their Majesties have dispatched nearly the entire Royal Guard to bring her back. She’ll probably be lucky if she sees sunlight in the next 10 years.”

Ron knew that was true, but it still didn’t mean that it didn’t hurt. “Yeah, well, like I said. Life just isn’t fair.”

“You look as though you’re suffering from an infestation of wrackspurts.”

The dreamy voice cut across Ron’s brooding and made him jump. He whirled around to see who had spoken and came across the strangest and scariest looking girl he had ever seen.

And Ron lived at Court. He had seen more than his fair share of scary females.

She wasn’t one of the determined-to-marry-a-member-of-royalty-and-would-do-whatever-it-took-to-get-it sort of girl. She was worse: the I-am-absolutely-crazy-and-live-in-my-own-little-world kind of girl. Ron could feel himself beginning to panic. He sort of knew how to deal with the first kind of girl. Sadly, they were all too common amongst the nobility. You just remained completely cold and unresponsive until they got the hint and went away.

The other kind... this kind... he had absolutely no idea what to do with them. He looked at the girl, feeling his heart fall even further. She had grey, spaced out eyes, that both seemed to be staring right into his soul and not looking at him at all. Her expression was one of vague interest and a wilted daisy seemed to be stuck in her straggly blond hair. She also seemed to be glowing faintly yellow which was due to her extremely bright, all over yellow robes dotted with mad, undecipherable runes, accentuated by her cork necklace and radish earrings.

She was, in two words, completely barmy.

Ron suddenly realised that she had spoken. “I beg your pardon,” he said, as politely as he could, “er, what?” Neville was also looking completely bemused.

“It’s an invisible being that floats through your ears and makes your brain go all fuzzy,” the girl said, still in that light, dreamy voice. She turned her half gaze over to Neville who went pink. “They’re very hard to fend off.”

“Er.... right,” Neville said, looking extremely awkward.

“I don’t suffer with them much myself,” she continued, swinging that penetrating gaze back to Ron.

Ron shot a helpless look at Neville who looked helplessly back at him. Neville was even worse at getting rid of girls than Ron was.

“Your Highness!”

Ron turned, relieved, to see Kingsley walking up towards them, purple robes swirling impressively around him. Kingsley was one of the few aurors that Ron really liked. He was the head of the Royal Guard so Ron didn’t see him that often – he was more likely to be assigned to their Majesties – but when he did... well, Ron was in awe.

“Your Highness,” Kingsley said, bald head glinting as he bowed to Ron. “Our teams in the wood have not managed to capture any of the bandits, although we have found several signs of conflict and the passage of some large heavy objects. I have dispatched a few of the aurors to follow them, but we can only spare a few until we have found her Highness.”

“Oh, Princess Ginevra?” the girl said, still in that vague, drifting sort of way. “She’s off rescuing my Uncle.”

All three stared at her, shocked. “What?” Ron was the first to get words out. “What do you mean?”

“The bandits took him and she went to take him back,” the girl repeated, staring at Kingsley now. “I think she suffers from wrackspurts, too. Maybe it runs in the family,” she added, now staring back at Ron.

Kingsley swore, before apologising, but Ron waved him off. So now Ginny was chasing after kidnappers, was she? Ron groaned. ‘Great,’ he thought. ‘Now she’s probably got herself captured and they’ll hold her to ransom...

Kingsley seemed to be thinking the same thing because he immediately started yelling at the nearest aurors to join the others tracking down the fleeing bandits. Then he rounded on the girl, asking her quick questions. Unfortunately, the girl didn’t seem to feel the need to respond in anything but her usual, drifting way.

“Miss, did you see which way that she went?” he asked.

She looked at him vaguely. “She went after my uncle,” she repeated, tilting her head to one side. “She’s alright, you know. Just a bit angry.”

Ron stared at her in confusion. Was that ‘she’s alright’ as in she wasn’t dead, or that she was an ok sort of person? Kingsley, too, seemed quite perplexed, although he was better at hiding it than Ron.

“But which direction, Miss?”

Almost as if she didn’t know she was doing it, the girl raised her arm to point somewhere north-east of them. “She went that way,” she said, “but be careful of the mistletoe. It’s probably full of nargles,” she whispered conspiratorially to Neville, whose eyes went wide with panic.

“What are nargles?” he mouthed to Ron, as the girl turned her head away.

Ron shrugged, helpless, to say “No idea”.

Kingsley, however, was not able to venture his opinion on nargles as he had shot off as soon as the girl pointed, calling to the nearest auror teams and pointing them in the right direction, shouting orders. But they had gone only a few paces when there was a cry from behind them and they all turned around.

“Oh... bloody Merlin!”

Ron cracked up with laughter, followed a bit more discretely by Neville, at the sight of a sopping wet Ginny before them. She glared at them, but the effect was somewhat ruined by her crown sliding off her sopping wet hair and crashing to the floor, causing a fresh shower of water to pour over her already soaking clothes.

“Shut up, Ronald!” Ginny snapped, hand clutching her wand fiercely.

“What – what happened to you?” he managed to choke out, feeling as though he would burst from trying not to laugh. But try he did – Merlin knew Ginny would already be furious enough without him rubbing his foot in it. But Ron had been having such an awful day that seeing Ginny soaking wet, furious and embarrassed helped alleviate the depression.

Just a little.

“Fell off a cliff,” Ginny said shortly. Being wet did apparently not agree with her, although Ron thought it was probably something more to do with the fact that she had been caught. Again. “Here,” she added, half pushing forwards an equally sopping elderly man who Ron had not immediately noticed, “there’s your uncle, miss.”

With a glad cry, the blonde girl hobbled forward and caught the soaking man just as he overbalanced and fell forward. She smiled in the most direct way Ron had seen yet and her uncle enveloped her in a big hug. She didn’t seem to care that he was dripping all over her.

Kingsley had now jogged back to them, trying to look stern but failing somewhat because it was obvious he was trying not to laugh. Shame, really, because Ron knew he was one of the few people that could get away with laughing at the hot tempered Princess. Not only did she like him, but she was too much in awe of him to try and hex him in revenge. “Your Highness, you promised you wouldn’t run away again,” he said, frowning.

“I know,” Ginny sighed, reaching for the saddle of the nearest horse and pulling herself up into it. Now she was caught she seemed fully resigned to heading back to the palace. Maybe she wanted to change her clothes. “I lied.” Neville snorted at that. Ginny glared at him. “Besides,” she added, turning back to Kingsley, “what was I supposed to do? Just leave him to die?”

Uncle then surprisingly spoke up. “I doubt they would have killed me, your Highness,” he said, in an odd quivering sort of voice that sent shivers up Ron’s spine. “I am Ollivander, the great wand maker. I believe it was for my skill they wanted me.”

“Ollivander?” Ron’s ears perked up at that. He didn’t pay as much attention as he should to the names of important nobles and merchants but that was one name he did recognise. “The Ollivander? You made our wands!”

Ollivander just did a small, bobbing bow in response.

“What do bandits want with a wand maker?” Ginny asked, curious.

“They were Death Eaters, Princess,” Ollivander said. “Wizards born to families who do not have the means nor the money to teach them magic. More often than not they are thrown out on to the streets. Most end up with the Death Eaters, where they scrape by a living in the forest.”

Ron frowned. “Why are they called Death Eaters?” He would have thought that he would have heard of something important enough to have been given its own name but this was the first time. He glanced over at Ginny and Neville and saw they were equally as perplexed.

Ollivander didn’t answer that one, but Kingsley did. “They prey on travellers, often killing the witches and wizards they find, and taking their wands for themselves. That is where their name came from and that is why it is so important that you travel with the protection of the aurors, Your Highnessess,” he finished, scowling at Ginny.

Trust Kingsley to turn information on social awareness into a lecture.

“What are you doing travelling, Sir Ollivander?” Neville asked, politely, to break the uncomfortable silence as Ginny glared at Kingsley.

“The King has asked me to become wand-maker-in-residence,” Ollivander said humbly, giving short bobbing bows once more to Ron and Ginny. “I was travelling with my dear niece, whilst a friend has travelled on ahead.”

“Oh,” Ron said, suddenly feeling dismayed. That meant that he wasn’t going to be rid of the strange girl any time soon. Drat. “And your name, lady?” he asked, politely, realising that he probably should have asked her that before. He hadn’t exactly been treating her with the utmost courtesy. But, then again, he doubted she had noticed.

“Luna,” was all she said, dreamily.

“Er, right, ok,” said Neville, who was looking just as dismayed as Ron felt. It seemed that ‘Luna’ was all they were going to get out of her. What an odd family they made. “Er, may we accompany you both to the palace?”

Ron glared at him as they both accepted. Neville lifted his arms up at him as if to say “What? What else was I to do?”

Ron just pulled a face and clambered back onto his own horse, feeling resigned. He could already hear Luna begin to inform Ginny that she had a seriously bad wrackspurt infestation and Ginny’s short, snappish response. Between an angry Ginny, bizarre Luna and his own bad temper, this was not going to be a pleasant journey back to the palace.

“I’m still not too sure about this.”

Sirius stared out the window, feeling worry gnaw away at his insides. He could remember a time – when James was alive – when he was happy and carefree, but it all seemed so distant and hazy now. He was always worrying about one thing or another and now... well, he’d be lucky if he didn’t have a stroke.

Hermione’s exasperated voice came through the shutter. “For goodness sake, Sirius, we’ve been through this again and again.”

“But what if something goes wrong?” he asked, not for the first time, turning towards the separator. Hermione’s old rags had already been thrown to one side and he could hear the rustling and faint cursing of Arabella as she struggled with Hermione’s new garb. “I should do it. You’ve never been to court before, after all – how will you know how to act?”

“If I’ve – oof – never been to court, then I shan’t be recognised, will I?” Hermione’s voice sounded a little thick, as though she were having something forced over her head. Sirius was suddenly heartily glad that Arabella was there to help Hermione change. Courtier’s dresses were so complicated and layered he wasn’t a hundred percent Hermione could manage on her own and he was sure he would pass out if anyone had handed him a lacy undergarment.

“You’re far too nice, Hermione. You’d stand out like a sore thumb just for that!”

“But they’ll never let me – servant me - buy another servant, much less with just thirty galleons,” she retorted. “It has to be this way – I’m Harry’s only hope.”

“There’s always the prison break...” Sirius started, but was cut off by Hermione’s exasperated cry.

“Sirius! You agreed to this plan back at the manor! Nothing has changed since then: why are you asking all these questions?”

Sirius sighed. He wasn’t sure why, really. Hermione was right: nothing had changed, but now it was all too real. They were actually doing it, not talking about it. Remus had accompanied the Dursleys down into town to go shopping – mainly because he could keep up a calm facade and there was still the danger of Sirius murdering all the Dursleys and causing a bit of a scene – and Sirius was watching them from the small room above Madam Malkins that Arabella rented.

Arabella had only been too ready to help them rescue Harry from being shipped to the Americas, much to their relief. She had apparently seen Harry being led away by the guards and had sought them out before they had found her, demanding to know what had happened to her favourite charge. She had sneaked away one of the fancier dresses from downstairs for their use which was a huge risk in itself. If Madam Malkin noticed it missing then Arabella could be arrested for theft.

“I just... worry, Hermione,” Sirius said eventually, scowling as he watched the family converge on the best swordmakers in town. Well, no wonder they had no money if they continued to buy such stupid luxuries. Sirius snorted. He doubted Dudley, the fat lump, could even lift a sword, let alone use it.

Arabella snorted. “You always worry, Sirius,” she told him, voice croaking. “Even I know that.”

“And you said you believed in me back at the manor,” Hermione added. “Is that still true or not?”

Sirius swallowed. “It’s still true.”

“Well, then,” Hermione said, voice sounding final. “You have nothing to fear then.” There was a small pause then. “I’m coming out now,” Hermione said, suddenly quiet. “Don’t you dare laugh.”

Sirius felt his breath catch. She looked wonderful, even if she went red at his gaze and looked down. The dress was a beautiful golden colour, bunching just under the breast line before tapering out and falling elegantly to her feet. There was no complicated embroidery that was so much the fashion, these days. Instead, the dress was plain, the simplicity making it stand out all the more. A silky white underdress went beautifully with the golden yellow of the main dress, small whorls covering the delicate material. The sleeves were a pale green colour and clung tightly to Hermione’s arms, making even the well muscled arms of a servant girl look small and elegant. Arabella stood grinning proudly to one side.

Hermione grew uncomfortable under his gaze and shifted anxiously. “The shoes are too big,” she said nervously, lifting up her voluminous skirts to show the dirty, common brown boots underneath.

Sirius laughed at that. “Trust me, Hermione, no one will be looking at your feet.”

Hermione smiled a little at that and let out a nervous laugh. “All this amazing material, this beautiful gown… I don’t think I’ve ever felt more naked,” she confessed, biting her lips.

“Come now, Hermione,” Sirius said, walking up to her and holding her by her shoulders gently. “If you’re truly going to be a noblewoman you have to play the part.” He put a finger under her chin and pushed it upwards to see her nervous face staring at him. He pushed down another surge of anxiety. Hermione could do this, she was just nervous – if he showed he believed in her then hopefully she wouldn’t doubt herself. “You look down to no one.”

Hermione broke eye contact first, shaking her head and pulling away. “I’m not sure I can do this, Sirius,” she confessed suddenly, a complete reversal of her earlier arguments. He knew what she was feeling. Hermione was way out of her comfort zone here, having to take command and act as though she expected everyone to do everything she said, no questions asked, when she was most comfortable with loosing herself in a book. It was something most servants dreamed about but to live it in reality... and there was so much at stake here...

“No, Hermione, you can do this. And you will,” he told her firmly. “You look the part wonderfully.”

But Hermione shook her head again. “I am just a servant in a nice dress,” she said miserably.

“That,” said Arabella, coming up and taking Hermione’s hand firmly and with a kind smile, “is because we have to do something with your hair.” She flipped Hermione’s bushy, loose hair with a gnarled hand teasingly. “Come along dear. You’ll be taking court by storm in no time.”

As Hermione succumbed to Arabella’s brisk hair brushing Sirius found his eyes drifting back outside the window. The Dursleys were nowhere in sight now, no doubt moved on to another one of the indoor merchants, spending more of Harry’s money that they simply didn’t have.

“Don’t worry, Harry,” Sirius whispered in his head, “we’re on our way to rescue you.”

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