Queen Molly was trying very hard not to explode.
Ginny just smiled sweetly at her mother and sipped delicately at her tea, the very model of a perfect daughter.
The Queen glowered angrily at her before having to hastily plaster on her own sweetly pleasant expression as their eminent guest asked her a question.
“Sorry, Master Dumbledore,” she apologised, “I didn’t quite catch that. Could you repeat it?”
Ginny tried not to snigger.
It had been a very different story only an hour ago. The Queen’s temper was infamous throughout the Court – possibly even the entire country – and Ginny had the impression that this time the wrath of Queen Molly was going to be bad.
That isn’t to say that Ginny had just been preparing to stand there and take it. On the contrary, Ginny had just as many reasons to be angry with her mother as her mother with her. If Ginny was going to be yelled at then she was going to yell back for all she was worth.
So, during the long walk across the palace, Ginny had been busy constructing some very careful – and some not so careful and rather more unpleasant – arguments, remarks and defences to throw at her mother.
She hadn’t been too caught up in her own anger and self-pity, however, to pay attention to the rather amusing conversation Lady Luna and her brother (Ron. Not Percy; he was striding ahead full of self-righteous importance and was never one to converse with his siblings about trivial matters. ‘What a loss,’ Ginny had thought, sarcastically) were having.
“Do girls just do that?” her brother burst out suddenly. “Just utterly confuse you, before insulting you, pass moral judgement and then disappear?”
“Some do,” Luna agreed in her usual dreamy way. “Some disappear first, of course.”
Ron obviously decided to ignore that last part as the innate Luna weirdness that they’d all become very familiar with over the past hour.
‘Has it really only been two hours?’ Ginny thought, astonished. The fight in the wood felt like a life time ago. Thinking back to the wood brought her back to the Death Eaters and all the disturbing facts she’d learnt about them from Kingsley. ‘I wonder if…’ she thought, before giving herself a stern shake. ‘Concentrate on one battle at a time, Ginevra,’ she told herself sternly.
Meanwhile, Ron was still ranting about his mysterious lady. “I mean, she called me arrogant: me! She should try having 5 older brothers and being arrogant; I don’t think it’s physically possible! Especially when they’re all better than you in some way,” he added sulkily.
Ginny rolled her eyes. He thought having 5 older brothers was bad? ‘He should try having six!’ she thought grumpily. ‘AND being the only girl to boot.’
“And then, right after accusing me of thinking too much of myself she accuses me of not thinking enough!” Ron continued angrily, swatting at an ornamental tree as they passed through one of the many open courtyards.
Luna suddenly stopped walking, whipped out a pair of strangely coloured pink spectacles, placed them delicately on her nose and looked very carefully at Ron. Obligated to stop, Ron immediately started going even redder as the lady peered at him with what seemed to be rather painstaking scrutiny. After two minutes of this meticulous examination – during which Ron’s face had completely transformed into an as yet undiscovered shade of crimson and Ginny’s suppressed giggles were threatening to break out – Luna removed the strange glasses and declared the Prince to have the normal amount of Wrackspurts.
Ron probably meant to say “I beg your pardon.” However, extreme awkwardness and embarrassment meant he actually came out with the slightly ruder, “You what?!”
“They’re invisible creatures,” Luna said. She apparently didn’t notice or care about Ron’s lack of decorum. Ginny bet it was probably a combination of both. “They make your brain go fuzzy. Most people have them; I’d say you have just the right amount of Wrackspurts for a Prince. I wouldn’t worry too much about it or your ability to think the right amount.”
“Oh, er, Wrackspurts, right, I remember them…”
Ginny had given up on finding suitable defences. “If they’re invisible how can you see them?” she asked, ignoring the filthy glance Ron threw at her. Clearly he thought Ginny was being an idiot.
Luna held up her strange spectacles. “They’re called spectrespecs. My guardian helped me to make them.”
“May I?” she asked and Luna handed them over quite happily. Ginny looked at the spectrespecs closely. Truly they were extremely bizarre; the pink structure was etched with all sorts of different runes, whilst the two different coloured lenses – one pink, one blue – glittered and swum slightly under what was clearly an enchantment.
Putting them on, Ginny gave a shout of laughter as she looked over at her brother. Seemingly darting around his head were golden little specs of light – the Wracksuprts, she presumed – although if that multitudes she saw were a normal amount then she hated to think what a proper infestation would be. For that matter, she hated to think what her Wracksuprt level would be.
Taking them off, she felt disorientated to be going back to a world of normal colour rather than vivid blues, pinks and purples. Looking again at her brother he had such a look of desperation about himself that Ginny decided to take pity on him.
“What exactly did she say then?” she asked with a sigh, handing back the enchanted spectacles with a sigh.
Ron threw her a grateful look. “Something about my not talking enough to or thinking enough about commoners.”
Ginny stared at him. “Really?” she asked, rather astonished. None of the ladies she had known at Beauxbatons would have even dreamt of even thinking about such a ‘lowly’ thing. She felt her respect for this mysterious noble rise even higher. “What a strange thing for a Lady to say.”
Ron waved his arms emphatically. “I know!”
“I’m not saying she’s wrong, Ron,” Ginny pointed out, folding her arms. “Just that it’s unusual for a noble lady to think of something other than her own reflection.”
“Not listening to commoners is probably why we get bands of criminals like the Death Eaters,” she explained.
Ron looked at her somewhat incredulously. “I beg your pardon, Princess Ginevra, when was the last time you conversed with any peasants?”
Ginny went a bit red. “This morning, actually,” she retorted, sticking her nose up.
“Ordering someone to turn over their broom doesn’t count as a conversation, sister dear.”
“I like conversing with peasants,” Luna cut in suddenly, stopping Ginny from snapping back. It was probably for the best because, like it or not, Ron was right; ordering a frightened servant girl to keep silent couldn’t exactly be classed as a real tête-à-tête. “Nobles seem to be trapped inside their houses and all the windows are mirrors that turn back inside. The windows of commoners are all glass, full of air and sunshine.”
Ron looked even more frustrated and bewildered than before but Ginny shot Luna a shrewd look. Clearly beneath the layers of madness Luna was rather wise.
“Where HAVE you been!”
All three nobles jumped violently, both royals suddenly fearing that their mother had come to find them. They were almost relieved when they turned round to find it was only Percy.
“What do you think you’re doing here, just standing gossiping in the courtyard?” Percy hissed angrily, shooting anxious glances around to see if any of the court were around to see the appalling behaviour of his younger siblings. “You’re supposed to be following me to see their Majesties!”
Ginny rolled her eyes. “For Merlin’s sake, Percy, just say ‘Mum and Dad’.”
Percy’s face went a red that even rivalled Ron’s crimson of earlier. “It’s not proper,” he said stiffly. Ginny and Ron exchanged an amused look. Really, it was far too easy to wind their older brother up. “And neither is keeping the monarchs waiting.”
“Oh dear, Prince Percival,” Luna said, suddenly stepping right up to the elder royal, spectrespecs perched back on her nose, “you appear to have quite the worst infestation of Wrackspurts I have ever seen.”
Percy stepped back in alarm. “Infection of what?” he asked, slightly rattled.
“Wrackspurts,” Luna repeated amiably, tilting her head to consider him. “I think you’re in dire need of turning mirrors into windows or it will only get worse.”
Throwing a glance at Ron and Ginny, who were both trying hard not to snigger, Percy straightened up in anger. He had obviously decided that they were making fun of him but, as Luna was a member of the court, there was nothing that Percy could say to any of them.
Glaring at his siblings, Percy made his voice as stern and disapproving as possible. “If you would keep up with me this time?” he asked coldly and then turned on his heel and began striding away.
“Nicely said, my Lady,” Ron said, grinning. Apparently his dislike of Percy had temporarily overridden his earlier discomfort. “It takes a special skill to shut up our especially bothersome older brother; I envy you.”
“I did not mean to offend him,” Luna said, somewhat sadly, pocketing her spectrespecs again. “But nothing can get through the windows when there are only mirrors.”
Ginny just laughed. She decided that she rather liked the strange Lady Lovegood. “Come on,” she said, taking Luna’s arm in a surprisingly familiar way. “Let’s go catch up with him before you have to embarrass him again.”
Suffice it to say, by the time the three of them had walked into the receiving chamber all of Ginny’s carefully thought-out sharp remarks and arguments had flown from her mind.
As such, her first thought had been ‘Bollocks!’ Her second, after having looked around, was ‘Bloody hell!’
This second comment was directed to the most eccentrically dressed man Ginny had ever seen. She couldn’t help but stare, no matter how rude it looked, and she could see Ron out of the corner of her eye staring quite as openly.
‘Well,’ she thought a little vindictively, ‘at least my mouth isn’t wide open.’ Ron’s mouth was wide enough to catch a small bird.
“Dumbles!” came a loud shriek from next to them and they both jumped as Luna launched herself across the room at the stranger. Ginny could suddenly see where the inspiration for her sense of fashion came from.
The stranger was tall and, if the whiteness of his very long beard was anything to go by, quite old. Piercing blue eyes were partially hidden behind half-moon spectacles and his nose was slightly crooked as though it had been broken twice before.
All this Ginny accepted quite happily. His clothes however…
A large, pointed purple hat, adorned with a shower of stars sat atop his head at a jaunty angle. And when Ginny said ‘shower of stars’ she meant it quite literally; silvery stars kept falling down the length of the hat only to disappear at the rim. Occasionally a couple seemed to escape the rim and start their own little cosmic dance before exploding like miniature fireworks.
His robes on their own were a rather eccentric choice; hardly anyone wore robes anymore. The wizard’s robes were similarly bewitched but rather than stars, they were enchanted with very life-like golden snidgets. They flew around the offensively bright blue material and sat on the embroidered green trees, watching the newcomers with interest. A few of them were fluttering around where Luna was embracing the stranger looking quite disappointed that they couldn’t get out of the fabric. Ginny was rather surprised that she couldn’t hear them cheeping, they were so life-like.
“Ah, Ronald, Ginevra.”
They turned, Ron shutting his mouth with an audible click. “Father,” he intoned formally, bowing, as King Arthur moved towards them. Ginny followed suit, dropping into a tidy curtsy as she hastily closed her face off of all emotion. Queen Molly was not far behind her husband, trying very hard not to scowl.
“I’d like to introduce you to Master Dumbledore,” King Arthur said happily. “Master Dumbledore, these are my two youngest; Prince Ronald and Princess Ginvera.”
Master Dumbledore smiled merrily at them, eyes twinkling. “Pleased to meet you, Your Highnesses,” he greeted, bowing.
For a second Ron and Ginny reverted to their expressions of astonishment. This time however, rather than being filled with incredulity, both royals were filled with an overwhelming sense of awe.
Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore was the most powerful wizard in the world. Not only could he do all sorts of things with a wand that no one else could even dream of doing, he was a political activist, a committed progressionist and one of the wizards at the forefront of the magical renaissance that was happening over in mainland Europe.
And now he was here; the very paragon of modern times sitting in the same room as a King and Queen who were forcing their poor children into one of the most archaic and out-dated practices around.
Ginny tried very hard not to let the inner joy – and evil smirk – she was feeling show on her face. Sinking into another curtsy she said, “Master Dumbledore, we are honoured by your presence.”
Dumbledore’s smile, if possible, grew even wider. “Actually, Your Highness, it is I who am honoured to be in your presence.” He looked over at the King and Queen, who were looking a little confused, and explained, “Apparently during the attack on my companions Princess Ginevra was the sole reason that, not only was the attack thwarted, but that Master Ollivander was not kidnapped by the same bandits.”
Ginny tuned pink as her parents looked at her with surprise but she tried not to look too closely at them. She’d like to think that they’d be proud of her – well, her Dad probably would be – but she was sure the Queen would turn it into another round in her armament. Ron she could see quite clearly and he just rolled his eyes in disgust, expression sulky once more.
“I did what anyone would do, Master Dumbledore,” she said meekly, trying not to dwell on the fact that she had, in fact, tried to ignore it all to start off.
“I have met all sorts of people in my travels, Your Highness,” Dumbledore said, a tinge of sadness in his voice. “I assure you; you are quite the rarity.”
‘Bright crimson seems to be catching today,’ Ginny thought as her face flamed to an unpleasantly familiar hue. Before she could make another protest for modesty’s sake, Ronald chipped in. “How long are you staying with us, Master Dumbledore?” he asked, politeness masking the sourness he obviously felt at his younger sister stealing all the attention. Again.
“For as long as I am needed,” was his rather cryptic answer. “Truth be told, it will probably be quite a while, your Majesties permitting,” he added, bowing in their direction. “My dear friend, Garrick, is not as young as he once was and my constant travelling does not agree with him. His niece, my Goddaughter the Lady Luna Lovegood, is also too old to have no roots. Sending her to Beauxbatons was not an option and it is time she had friends her own age.” He smiled down fondly at Luna who smiled dreamily back up at him.
“Besides,” Dumbledore continued, “England was my first home and I always strove to return here when my journeying was at an end.”
King Arthur looked at him, surprised. “I was not aware you are an Englishman, Master Dumbledore.”
“My estate is quite far from the capital, your Majesty, and my sole remaining relative has never been one to grace the world of court finery. And, quite honestly, I have spent very little time in England since my youth. You may be able to tell,” he added quite merrily, “that was a considerably long time ago.”
There was a short silence before Queen Molly took control. “Well, Master Dumbledore, your journey – and that of your companions – has been very long and tiring,” she said briskly, smiling at Lady Luna. “I assume you wish to retire to your rooms and rest before taking some lunch with us?”
Ginny immediately froze. Oh dear. Getting rid of their guests was just a polite veneer so her mother could let rip her notorious temper on her only daughter. In the first few years of their reign not even distinguished guests could prevent a wrath explosion from the Queen. However, years of rule had taught Molly Weasley the self-control she needed to contain her temper in front of the court. Now she only displayed her temper in private.
In short, the only way to postpone her inevitable shouting match with her mother was to find a way to keep Master Dumbledore around a lot longer.
Without quite realising what she was doing, Ginny threw a desperate glance towards Master Dumbledore.
He didn’t seem to notice, but his eyes twinkled even more merrily as he responded to the Queen, “Actually, your Majesty, I feel quite refreshed at the moment. If it would not inconvenience you, I am sure that Lady Luna and I would be more than grateful for something to eat now.”
“I’m afraid I haven’t eaten anything all day,” Ginny added, cheekily, trying not to laugh as her mother twitched. “I was planning on having breakfast but afraid got rather distracted rescuing innocent civillians.”
King Arthur, well aware of what was going on, chipped in with his own comment, trying not to smile. “Well, I think we can all manage lunch now, can’t we, Molly dear?”
And Molly, finding herself outnumbered, had no choice but to give in.
“Another sandwich, mother?” Ginny asked, forty minutes later.
‘I am SO paying for this later,’ she thought as she caught the barely suppressed glare her mother sent her, ‘but I just can’t help myself.’ It was fun winding her mother up sometimes.
They’d enjoyed a surprisingly merry lunch, despite the slight coolness displayed by the Queen towards her youngest offspring. Percy had rather shamelessly been hanging off of Master Dumbledore’s every word, whilst Luna was trying to explain Wrackspurts, nargles and crumple horned snorkacks to a rather bemused King. Ginny and Ron drifted between talking to Master Dumbledore (and sniggering at Percy) and listening with bemusement to Luna.
As lunch drew to a close conversation became a bit more stilted but Ginny still persevered. Ron, uncomfortable, quickly excused himself to their parents, offering to take Lady Luna on a tour of the castle. Ginny, sensing an avenue of escape, quickly volunteered to join them, but that plan was quickly thwarted by her mother.
“Oh no, Ginny, dear, you’re far too tired to go traipsing all over the palace,” she had said, smiling just as sweetly as Ginny earlier. “I’m sure Ron will perform admirably on his own although I am sure Percy will assist to the best of his abilities, won’t you, dear? Percy is quite the historian you know, Master Dumbledore,” Molly said proudly to Dumbledore as a rather startled Percy jumped quickly to his feet.
So that left just the four of them in idle conversation. Ginny had thought that her doom was imminent at that point but she was pleasantly surprised at how well she and Master Dumbledore could keep the discussion going. Every time there seemed to be a lull in the conversation either she or Master Dumbledore would come up with a new topic that would keep them going for another good few minutes.
Having found what appeared to be a staunch ally in Master Dumbledore, Ginny found herself relaxing even more and was even beginning to enjoy making her mother squirm in frustration. She wasn’t a bad daughter, she reminded herself. Her mother was going to yell for a good twenty minutes no matter what happened so she might as well have a little fun first.
As her mother declined the sandwich, Ginny turned her attention back to Master Dumbledore having finally relaxed enough to bring up the topic she so desperately wanted to. “So, Master Dumbledore, you are hailed by many as the founder of forward thinking,” Ginny said conversationally. “I hear that you are quite vocal abroad about archaic, outdated practices that are practiced by our royal cousins.”
Master Dumbledore smiled at her, apparently oblivious to the slight stiffening of the King and Queen. “Indeed I am, your Highness,” he agreed. “Much of what we think and practice – especially by some of the older families – makes no sense in the modern world we are living in today. Sadly it seems be an incurable disease amongst most of our noble cousins to cling onto what no longer makes any sense simply due to the unwavering grip of ‘tradition’.”
“I am sure you must encounter many such ‘traditions’ in your travels, sir,” Ginny remarked innocently. “I wonder if you wouldn’t mind sharing your thoughts with us on a few examples? Arranged marriages, perhaps?”
Both King and Queen gasped slightly at that, the latter glaring rather openly at Ginny. Dumbledore looked at her shrewdly. “You suffer from an arranged marriage, I presume, Princess Ginevra?”
“Among other things,” Queen Molly muttered angrily under her breath.
“Indeed, both Ronald and myself are being forced into this slavery,” Ginny concurred agreeably. “I was wondering if you could convince my parents to join everyone else in the 17th century, rather than floundering around in the Dark Ages.”
“Ginny!” her father reprimanded, although it was half hearted. She ignored him and looked to Master Dumbledore expectantly.
Dumbledore didn’t say anything for a while, placing his fingers together and leaning his chin against them. You could hear a pin drop, the room was so quiet. Ginny was surprised that her mother hadn’t used the opportunity to try and distract the wizard from the subject but when she looked at her she saw that she was just as intent on Dumbledore as Ginny.
Eventually Dumbledore spoke and his answer wasn’t what Ginny wanted to hear. “Well, it would be foolish to ignore all the excellent opportunities that arise from an arranged marriage,” he said. “Arranged marriages allow countries to form strong alliances with one another; noble families with other noble families. It is also a way of ensuring the continuation of many a noble blood line; marriage means children, heirs.”
Ginny was stunned. Was he saying that he thought arranged marriages – no, sorry, selling people into slavery – were a good thing?! She opened her mouth angrily to retort when she caught the eyes of her father. He shook his head slightly and motioned back to Dumbledore.
“However,” Dumbledore said, eyes twinkling as though he had witnessed the silent communication by father and daughter, “a marriage is about people. Not countries, not politicians, but living, breathing people. No matter how well intentioned, the likelihood that real love will bloom is one in a million. And let’s not forget that love is the most powerful force on this planet; might and magic are powerful, yes, but love… If you cannot understand love then you cannot understand life. For a life lived without love is no life at all.”
Stunned silence met his words. Ginny, despite getting what she wanted, was staring at Dumbledore in something like terrified awe. Ok, so yes; she wanted him to vote against the whole arranged marriage thing, but she was expecting something along the lines of ‘it’s slavery!’ card. This sudden pronouncement of love as the most powerful force in the universe… well, that also freaked her out but in a completely different way. How on earth would she ever find love like that?
“Thank you, Master Dumbledore, for your words on this subject,” King Arthur said eventually, inclining his head towards the older man. He looked across at his wife before adding, “You have given us a lot to think about.”
Dumbledore inclined his head too. “I am glad that my thoughts are of some use.” Suddenly he rose to his feet. “Now, if your Majesties would permit me, I would be very grateful to partake in that rest you mentioned earlier and also to visit Garrick in the hospital wing. Princess Ginevra,” he said, turning towards her, “I would be honoured if you would show me around.” He smiled ruefully. “I am afraid in my old age I cannot easily recall the many meanderings of the palace I memorised as a young courtier.”
“Of course, Master Dumbledore,” Ginny said, rather hurriedly getting to her feet. “It would be my pleasure.” She couldn’t help but sneak a look at her parents, expecting a rebuttal to keep her there or at least an angry glare. To her surprise, neither monarch was looking at her, instead staring at each other.
“Erm, I’ll see you later, Mum, Dad,” Ginny said tentatively, curtsying uncertainly. They both looked over at her with surprise at that, getting quickly to their feet when they noticed their guest standing and ready to withdrawer.
“Of course, Ginevra,” her father said quickly, shaking hands with Master Dumbledore. “Thank you again, sir, for your kind counsel. I hope there are many more discussions to come.”
“But of course, your Majesties,” Dumbledore agreed amiably.
As they exited the hall Ginny couldn’t help but steal a glance back at her parents. Was her mother crying? Shaking her head and wondering about the weirdness of mothers – and fathers – Ginny started to head towards the hospital wing.
On the very edge of Godric’s Hollow by the river was, putting it
politely, a somewhat dilapidated cottage.
In less polite – but probably more accurate – terms it was a rotting,
decrepit, hideous, miserable little shack.
And, in fact, that’s what it was called: the Shrieking Shack.
A careful analysis into the estates archives would show that when it was built some 250 years prior the then Earl Potter had named it Hazelwood House. However it turned out that he was also a bit of a cheapskate as, barely twenty years since its christening, the house was already beginning to fall apart. As the wood decomposed and fell to pieces, the wind wailed and shrieked through the shoddy workmanship, hence its current nickname.
Hazelwood House, Shrieking Shack or Hideous Hovel, the best thing about it was that the Dursleys were completely oblivious to its existence which made it the perfect hide-out for wanted criminals.
Well, that or a fugitive disempowered Earl hiding from his treacherous relatives.
“I still can’t believe you managed to pull that off!” Harry exclaimed, not for the first time, watching his best friend in awe. “Although I guess I shouldn’t be surprised; you are bloody brilliant, after all.”
A few hours ago Hermione would have blushed and smiled shyly at him. Now, however, she just rolled her eyes.
“Yes, yes, I’m a genius,” she agreed, grinning.
“But the way you just talked down the Prince – the Prince, Hermione!” Harry burst out into laughter. “Sweet Merlin, the look on his face!”
Hermione’s face didn’t lose the grin but now she did blush. Right now she felt rather embarrassed and ashamed at how she had treated the Prince. At the time she had rather relished the chance to let loose her tongue – and temper – on one of the stuffy, aristocratic nobles that had made her life miserable. Now she had calmed down enough to realise that the Prince wasn’t like that, not exactly. He was just caught up in his own little world of royalty and never had the opportunity or the inclination to look beyond the bubble. In fact, she –
With a start Hermione snapped out of her own thoughts and looked over at her best friend, fighting down another blush. “Sorry, Harry, I was thinking.”
“About Prince Ronald’s startling blue eyes?” Harry asked, innocently.
Hermione promptly lost the battle and her face flushed bright pink. She glared at Harry. “No, I wasn’t!” she snapped, indignantly.
“His beautiful red hair then?”
Hermione slapped him on the arm and none-too lightly either. “Honestly, Harry,” she grumbled, “if this is how you’re going to behave then maybe we should have just left you behind.”
She immediately regretted her words.
Harry’s silly grin snapped off in an instant and he looked away into the fire.
“I’m sorry, Harry,” she said, quietly, now fighting back tears.
For a while he didn’t say anything and Hermione was left to silently curse her idiocy. How could she say something like that? She was searching for something else she could say, another way to apologise, anything to break this Merlin-damned awkward silence. But before she could find the words, the unexpected happened.
“It was… awful, Hermione.”
Hermione looked at him in shock. They’d escaped from the palace nearly 5 hours ago now and, throughout the whole thing, Harry had been laughing, giddy and cheery. Of course, she hadn’t honestly thought that he’d escaped with no emotional scars but Harry was notorious for bottling things up. The more awful the experience, the longer he tended to hold onto it and wallow in misery and guilt.
Consequently, Hermione had expected at least a week to go by before it would explode out of him (willingly, anyway). She had been planning on waiting at least until tomorrow to get Remus, who was the best ‘wheedler’ among them, to coax it out of him.
So for Harry to broach the subject after less than even 12 hours… she had a feeling this was a whole new level of bad.
“I’ve never felt so worthless in my life,” he carried on, suddenly springing to his feet. “I mean, I could understand the reaction of the guards and the townsfolk; in their eyes we were criminals, bandits, vandals and were responsible for every bad thing that happens in their lives. I get that. I get mistreating us, calling us names, even the occasional punch or kick.
“But the nobles… oh, Merlin, you know I actually wanted them to notice me. I’d call out to them, they’d listen to me, they’d let me out of that hell hole…” Harry laughed mirthlessly, running a hand through his hair absently. “They didn’t see me, Hermione. They didn’t see anyone; nothing that was worth their time, anyway. We were something like less than human, something smelly they’d accidentally got on their shoe… We weren’t human beings – just things.”
Hermione didn’t say anything, just watched Harry rant and rave and feeling slightly out of her depth. Sure, she was Harry’s best friend, and she’d dealt with some of his rants before, but this was completely different. This wasn’t bitching about the Dursleys. It was so much bigger than that.
Harry was still raging about his peers. “Yes, things. Stupid, unintelligent, unfeeling vermin that exist solely to do their bidding. Who cares about making sure that they have enough food or water? Who cares that any of them work from dawn till after midnight with no time for themselves? Who cares that not one of those stupid courtiers has any idea how the world works, how to even bloody think for themselves? No, none of it matters, as long as they can wash the dishes and scrub the floors and do all the stupid mindless tasks nobles seem to think themselves above? And who cares if they get hurt, or sick, or ill… that’s fine, we’ll just toss them aside, throw them in jail to get a bit more money and then we can just get a new one!
“Well, NOT ME!” Harry roared, so suddenly that Hermione jumped violently. “I am NOT going to STAND FOR THIS SHIT ANYMORE! Servants are not worthless – Merlin knows that, just look at the Dursleys! What on earth do they do that makes them better than anyone else? In fact, one servant has got to be worth more than all the bloody nobles put together!
“I’m not going to be Earl Potter! I renounce it! I’m going to be a servant or nothing at all – and I’m going to make sure that everyone sees that a servant is NOT NOTHING!”
At the end of his rant, Harry took several deep, gasping breaths, face bright red with anger. Hermione was simply staring at him, mouth wide open.
“You… you want to renounce your title?” she whispered eventually, shocked. “What about Lily and James?”
Harry hesitated slightly at that. “They would know I’m in the right,” he said, eventually. “Look at the servants Mum and Dad employed, how the estate was run; they placed value on their servants.”
“True,” Hermione conceded, still look nervous. “But they also never renounced their title.”
Harry glared at her. “I don’t want to be a noble,” he repeated, angrily. “I’m ashamed to be one. Just look at the Dursleys – for that matter, look at the Malfoys!”
“What about Sirius and Remus?” Hermione countered.
“Yes, Sirius and Remus… Well, what do you know? They’re actually decent people, so of course the aristocracy couldn’t have that!” Harry exclaimed sarcastically. “’We must purge the ancient bloodlines so we can remain as inbred and atrociously nasty as possible!’ Their families kicked them out, disinherited them, simply because they were different and decent human beings.”
Not quite true, for Remus, but Hermione let that one slide. She didn’t want to add social justice for werewolves to Harry’s agenda. ‘Oh, I wish Sirius and Remus were here!’ Hermione thought, desperately. If Harry got it into his head to relinquish his claim to the Potter title with a magical oath there would be nothing they could do about it and the title would legally pass onto the Dursleys.
“Ok, ok, I get it,” Hermione cried, hastily. “Nobles are the scum of the earth; unfeeling, heartless bastards who treat fellow human beings like doxy shit. So be the one to change that, Harry. Lead the revolution from within; be the best kind of noble that you can be and fight with law and reason!”
Harry still looked mutinous. “I don’t want to – ”
“Harry, LISTEN TO ME! Do you know what will happen if you try and start a social revolution?” Hermione asked. “Sure, the commoners will listen to you and a few of you will get angry enough to join your cause. Most of those that join up, however, won’t be ordinary servants like you and me: they’ll be unemployed, angry men and women that just want to make trouble and don’t care what ideals they’re spouting as they do so.
“But – “ she held up a hand to stop Harry before he could interrupt. “But, say you do get your followers. What then?”
Harry looked a little stumped at that, but quickly recovered, snapping, “Get the King to listen to us, of course!”
Hermione raised an eyebrow at him. “The King? The King wouldn’t listen to two high-ranking servants – noble servants – about concerns over an underage Earl,” she reminded him, matter of factly. “What makes you think he’ll listen to a rabble of commoners?”
“We’ll make him listen!”
“How?” Hermione asked plainly, ghost of a sad smile about her lips. “Marches? Protests? Burning down a few prominent buildings?”
Harry looked slightly aghast at that. “No – I.. I mean – ”
“And do you know what’ll happen after that, Harry? The King will execute you. You, your followers, will all be dead and, far from making life better for commoners and servants, we’ll all be worse off than before.”
Harry stared at her, blinking, for a few more seconds before collapsing in defeat back to the floor, tears of frustration leaking from his eyes. Hermione rushed over to his side then, now that the anger had drained away from him. She held him in a big hug and that’s how both of them remained for the next few minutes, in comfortable silence.
Eventually, Harry stirred. “I’m sorry,” he whispered quietly, not meeting her eyes. “I was just so… so angry. I’ve never felt that way before, even about the Dursleys.”
“That’s ok,” Hermione said quietly, although she was secretly relieved. She hadn’t wanted to admit it, but Harry had scared her slightly. “I’m angry, too.”
Harry gave a weak chuckle. “Yeah, but you’re still sensible when you’re angry. I, apparently, am not.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that… Don’t forget that I argued quite forcibly with a Prince of the Realm in front of quite a lot of courtiers just 5 hours ago.”
They both laughed at that.
“What was he like?” Harry asked. “Honestly.”
“Honestly? I suppose he wasn’t too bad,” Hermione admitted, mind wandering back to the Prince again. “I mean, he did let you go – “
“Not like he had much choice.”
“ – and he’d read Utopia,” Hermione continued, the only sign that she’d heard Harry’s comment was the punch she gave to his arm. “I don’t know, I think he’s alright, just completely ignorant.”
There was a pause before Harry asked what he’d clearly been trying to find out. “Do you think he would listen? If I started fighting for more rights for commoners, laws to be passed, that sort of thing… do you think he would agree?”
Hermione considered that carefully. “Right now? No, I don’t think so,” she admitted. “But like I said; he’s never really thought about it before. If you made friends with him, talked to him, I think you could make him listen.”
“Or I could always send you to argue after him,” Harry teased. “The undefeatable Lady Hermione Granger.”
“Countess Lily Ravenclaw, actually,” Hermione said quietly, blushing when Harry shifted to look at her in surprise. “I couldn’t give him my real name – what if the Dursleys found out somehow?” she said defensively, when Harry raised an eyebrow. “Then Petunia would put two and two together…”
Harry smiled at her. “Why Ravenclaw? Why not Slytherin or any of the others?”
Hermione grinned as she shrugged. To be truthful, she didn’t know why she’d picked that name out from the other names. Once a month, the four of them – five, if Tonks was around – got together to play a rather rag-tag game of Quidditch. To make it fair, they’d play in a different combination each time and gave the combinations names; Ravenclaw, Slytherin, Gryffindor and Hufflepuff. A Ravenclaw match consisted of Hermione and Remus, Slytherin Hermione and Sirius and Gryffindor Hermione and Harry. Tonks wasn’t often around for matches, but when she was it became a Hufflepuff match and often turned into a bit of a free for all.
The slightly bizarre names were inherited from Harry’s parents; more specifically James and his friends. Sirius claimed to not know where they had come from although Remus said that was just because he couldn’t remember. It was surprising how two bottles of Firewhiskey could affect memories of a night at the town pub.
But, of course, she couldn’t tell Harry that it was just random. “Ravenclaw is blue, right?” she said, grinning. “I guess it just sprang to mind because I was lost in those ‘startling blue eyes’ of Prince Ronald’s.”
Harry outright laughed at that one and Hermione joined in, relieved to see Harry’s rage had dissipated. His anger wasn’t gone, but he had calmed and focussed his wrath into a plan of action. In a way, the plan of action was the same as it ever was; incarcerate the Dursleys and get back his title. Now, however, it was bundled alongside a life-long commitment to fighting for social rights and improving the lives of those less fortunate.
‘If you’re watching up there,’ Hermione thought to the late Earl and Lady Potter, ‘I hope you’re proud of him. I bloody well am.’
Ron was feeling nervous.
‘It’s only to be expected,’ he tried to convince himself, ambling anxiously towards the family room. ‘Last time I had a royal summons it was to be told I was going to have to marry a French princess! Who wouldn’t be nervous at another one the next day?’
As a result, his footsteps got slower and slower, feet dragging unconsciously at the floor. He didn’t think his situation could get much worse but he sure as hell didn’t want to find out he was mistaken.
“You’ve got the call too, I see.”
Ron felt his stomach drop as he turned to see Ginny walking towards him, looking equally nervous. If Ginny was being summoned as well then it was most likely about their imminent marriages. ‘Just great.’
“I would’ve thought Mum had screamed at you enough for one day already,” was what Ron actually said. “Unless you’ve done something else?”
Ginny looked affronted. “I haven’t done a thing!” she snapped. “Although… Mum hasn’t shouted at me yet. Not about this morning.” Her expression melted back into gloom. “That’s probably what it’s about, isn’t it? Just great.”
Ron didn’t listen to that last bit however. “What do you mean Mum hasn’t lectured you yet?” he asked incredulously. “I thought you were dead for sure when you couldn’t escape with Luna and me. How the bloody hell did you manage that?”
Ginny shrugged. “Not quite sure, but I managed to get Master Dumbledore talking about arranged marriages,” she admitted.
“Already?!” Ron gaped. Now he was rather regretting making his escape as soon as he could. “What did he say?”
“Something about love being the most powerful force in the Universe,” Ginny said, glaring at Ron when he snorted. “It’s true!” she protested. “If you think about it, even magic can’t really create real love.”
“What are love potions then?” Ron argued.
Ginny rolled her eyes. “Love potions, dear Ronald, mimic infatuation and lust but they all fade away. It’s not real love.”
Ron pulled a face. “Even so, love more powerful than a good reducto? It’s just absurd; you’re not exactly going to beat an attacker by projecting love at them. What a stupid idea. Girls!”
Ginny looked at him, incredulity turning into exasperation. “Boys!” she eventually exclaimed in reply. “You’re bloody hopeless! And,” she added, “it wasn’t my idea; Master Dumbledore was the one who said it and he’s a boy. Man, even!” she amended, hastily.
“Yes, and I’m going to take the word of a batty old wizard who charms his clothes with flying birds and shooting stars.”
“No, you’re going to take the word of the greatest wizard in the world!”
“Erm, Your Highnesses?”
Both Ron and Ginny turned from the glaring match to stare in surprise at the footman that hovered nervously nearby. Of even greater surprise was the fact that they had reached the family room.
“Yes?” Ron asked, regretting how snappy he sounded as soon as it left his mouth.
The footman did not seem to mind, simply bowing to the irate Prince and Princess. “Apologies on interrupting you, Your Highnesses, but their Majesties instructed me to fetch you into their presence.”
Translation: Mum and Dad could hear them arguing inside the room and wanted them to stop making a scene in the corridor.
“Oh, yes, of course,” Ginny said before Ron could reply, glaring at him. Whether this was as indication that their argument wasn’t over or in reprimand for speaking so harshly to the servant he couldn’t tell but he didn’t particularly care either way. Suddenly he remembered exactly why he was walking the palace corridors this late at night and all the trepidation of before came soaring back.
Consequently, when Ginny brushed rudely past him to enter the chamber, he just followed meekly, trying not to look as sulky – or worried – as he felt as he and Ginny greeted their parents. Surely it couldn’t be all that bad?
It was worse.
“In honour of Masters Dumbledore and Ollivander I have decided to throw a ball. A masked ball.”
‘Sodding hell.’ Ron looked at his father, expression a cross between horror and confusion. Whilst balls were an important part of a courtier’s life, Ron had always detested them. Fawning ladies, having to try and negotiate the dance floor and all that Merlin be damned choreography… they were a nightmare.
‘Although this time maybe she will be there,’ Ron thought suddenly, mood lightening. Then, of course, he remembered his upcoming doom (aka marriage) and his mood immediately soured once more. Present or not, seeing Countess Lily Ravenclaw would only serve to make him more miserable.
Wrenching his thoughts back to his father, Ron wondered just why exactly their parents had summoned both he and Ginny to tell them about the ball in person. Expecting a very different kind of conversation, mentions of masked balls had utterly thrown him.
Seemed like he wasn’t the only one.
“Oh, a masked ball. Yay,” Ginny said uncertainly. “Er, why are you telling us this in person?”
“At this ball,” their father continued, “we will strike a compromise with the two of you.”
Ron and Ginny exchanged glances. He hoped the hope in his eyes wasn’t as easy to read as the hope in hers. “A compromise?” he repeated cautiously. “What kind of compromise?”
“If love is what you want we suggest you find it before then,” Queen Molly said quietly. “Five days hence at the stroke of midnight you will both announce your engagements to the partner of your choice… or we will announce them for you. Are we agreed?”
“Find love in 5 days?” Ginny yelped, staring at her parents incredulously. “You’ve got to be joking! That’s not possible!”
“You listened, just the same as us both, to what Master Dumbledore had to say on marriages and love, Ginny,” the King reminded her. Hearing this, Ron rapidly changed his opinion about Dumbledore’s idea about love. If that was what changed his parents mind then hooray for love! “We talked it over and we are willing to give you both a chance to find love. We advise you take it.”
Ginny just stared at them both, flabbergasted.
“What of your treaties?” Ron asked carefully, trying to not get his hopes up. Treaties – especially those formed between countries – were long, tedious and complicated. Surely it would not be that easy to wipe all that away?
“Let me worry about France, Ron,” the King said with a smile. “You’ve got bigger problems.”
“Choose wisely, you two,” their mother warned. “Once made the decision will not be easily undone.”
Ginny stared at them both, mouth open as wide as possible, seemingly lost for words. Then, letting out a scream of frustration, she turned and stomped out the room, yelling, “I don’t believe you two sometimes!”
Ron felt a pang of sympathy for his sister but that was quickly overwhelmed by his own inner feelings of joy. Suddenly the prospect of dancing with a certain lady at the Ball was no longer a painful thought. He was somewhat aware that he was still stood where he had been, mouth spreading into an ever-widening grin as his thoughts circled and danced, but he didn’t care. He had a shot at freedom and by Merlin he was going to take it.
Queen Molly stopped at the door, turning around to her youngest son with an inquisitive look on her face. “Yes, dear?”
“Do you know Countess Lily Ravenclaw?”
“Countess Lily Ravenclaw,” Ron repeated, watching his mother carefully for recognition. “She’s a cousin of… actually, I don’t know who her cousin is. You have heard of her, haven’t you?”
His mum smiled sadly. “Oh, sweetie, there are simply too many courtiers to remember them all by name.” The smile turned a bit more pointed. “Why do you ask?”
“Oh, no reason,” Ron lied quickly, trying to ignore the blush that spread as the Queen smiled knowingly.
“Oh no, of course not. Goodnight, Ron.”
Ron murmured a goodbye as his thoughts turned once more to Countess Lily Ravenclaw. So far she was the only noble lady he’d come across that seemed to have a mediocre of life and intelligence in her. All the others were either clingy, shallow airheads – Lady Lavender Brown, for instance – or extremely weird – Lady Luna Lovegood. Neither choice of bride would make him happy. In either case he would end up hiding from them in his own castle; not the recipe for a healthy marriage.
Countess Lily Ravenclaw on the other hand…
‘Although,’ Ron remembered anxiously, ‘she did rather seem to despise me.’ He winced again as he thought of the rather unpleasant remarks she had made on his character. Maybe she didn’t like him at all?
No, Ron decided, that wasn’t it. It was more as though he had disappointed her; that he fell short of what she had expected him to be.
If that was the case then he knew the solution; become the sort of person that she wanted him to be. It would be tricky – she had used a lot of confusing arguments and seemed to have rather bizarre high expectations – but it was possible.
Ron grinned. ‘Watch out Countess: here I come!’