The Princess and the Ring
Somewhere in the far off distance there was a beautiful princess held prisoner by an evil wizard. She was guarded by a fierce dragon and sent to live in the dungeon of a mighty castle. Her captor, an evil man named Snape, had bound her with a curse of this own design; a curse that made escaping her dark prison impossible. Her tiny cell had no windows and only one door and if she tried to escape the door would burn her hand as though it were on fire.
Every day the vile wizard Snape would enter the room and demand that she marry him and every day she would firmly refuse. She would tell him that the knight who already held her heart would soon be there and that Snape would pay for his crimes against her. He laughed evilly at her declaration and swept dramatically from the room with his black robes billowing out around him. The magically cursed door never harmed him.
One day he took her from her dungeon cell and led her through the castle, showing her everything that could be hers if only she would consent to be his wife. It was a beautiful castle and a far cry from her dark prison but she knew she could not be tempted, even with the promise of freedom. She tried to plead with him to understand. She threw herself down at his feet and pulled his hands into hers, crying for him to let her go. He cruelly laughed at her tears and called for the guards to return her to her cell.
After the brightness of the upper castle, her room seemed impossibly depressing and she cried. She tried to ignore the guards' taunts as they threw her to the hard floor. They closed the door behind them and she turned away and opened her hand to find the small, round object that she clenched tightly in her hand.
She had noticed that every time Snape came to see her he would have this ring on his right middle finger. The guards outside also had identical rings on the same hand and on the same finger. The door never hurt them. Except the one time when she saw one of the guards playing with the ring on his finger. The ring was not sitting quite straight and when he reached for the door he yelled and pulled away as though he had been burned.
And now, here she stood with the ring from Snape's own finger that the princess had slyly slipped away from his hand when pretending to beg for freedom.
"That is not how it happened!"
James Potter looked up to find his wife looking down on him as he sat on the floor in front of their son. She had her hands defiantly balled into fists and resting on her hips. "I'm telling this story, I'll tell it any way I want."
Lily Potter shook her head, her auburn hair bobbing around with each movement. "I will not have you filling Harry's head with lies about Severus like that."
Harry babbled in baby talk and chewed on his rattle.
"Lily, my love, they aren't exactly lies."
She hated when he was right about something she didn't want him to be right about. Severus Snape, her friend through childhood, had given himself over to some pretty nasty choices. "That entire story was riddled with lies. I know you don't like him and I don't like what he's done with his life but he was my friend and you aren't going to make him out to be this evil being that was bent on harming me. If you're going to tell Harry a faerie story, please do it right."
James nearly laughed at the ferocity in Lily's determination but knew it would be safer if he didn't. Snape was a touchy subject with her ever since she found out what he truly was.
"Okay, why don't you sit down with us and tell him the story your way?"
That would appease her, he was sure of it.
"All right," she put on a funny face for Harry, laughing when he cooed a baby laugh.
Once upon a time there was a knight. He was wealthy, handsome, and incredibly arrogant.
"Hey! That's not fair!"
He had his free pick of any maiden in the land and every young lady was madly in love with him. They all wanted to be his but the one he wanted was the beautiful princess who saw him for who he really was. Everyday he would come to her castle and propose marriage but every day she turned him down. This bothered the knight and after six full years of rejection he went to the castle one more time to see the princess.
"My love, I come to you today," the knight bowed low to the princess.
"I am hardly your love, sir knight," she glared down at him as he continued to approach her throne.
"Princess, my love," he said again, "for six years I have begged for your hand. I am wealthy with many servants and land, I am intelligent, I am handsome and have the adoration of every maiden in the land, and I am skilled in my craft as a knight. Please, my love, I must know why it is you reject me so."
The princess looked down on him from her seat high on the throne chair and said, "I am not your love, sir knight. How can I be when you love only yourself? You have the adoration of every maiden in the land but they have eyes for only your features and money but not your heart and you delight exceedingly in their affections. You are wealthy with many servants but I have seen you treat them badly. And you are intelligent and skilled in the craft of being a knight but you ensure that others know of your great deeds and adore you for them, rather than humbly doing them because they simply needed done. Your heart is already taken and there cannot possibly be any room in there for me as well."
She sent the knight away from her, confident she had made a wise decision. The next day she expected the knight to return to her and propose marriage like he did every day. She prepared herself a nice tirade of a lecture for when he arrived but he never showed. Three days passed before she conceded that whatever feelings he thought he had for her must certainly be finished. It was not until a fortnight later that the large doors were flung open in the fashion that the knight always entered, but it was not his handsome face that she saw come into the throne room.
No, this face was twisted and pale, and his red eyes gleamed with the evil that lurked behind them and beside him were two guards with their faces covered. He carried himself across the room with smooth grace and bowed low to her. This wizard needed no introduction. She knew him, though they had never before met.
He bowed with a great flourish and grandly announced himself as Lord Moldywart. The princess felt her heart jump in fear but worked hard to keep her feelings from her face. She knew that name even more than the physical description of the man belonging to the name. Everyone knew that name, though none ever dared to speak it aloud for the evil associated with that name.
"Fair princess," he began in a soft voice, "I have been told that you are the wisest and brightest of this land."
He smiled and she felt a shiver run up her spine. She held her chin high and answered him, "I am wise and, of this land, I am the brightest." Though frightened, she could not help finding him charming, as smooth as oil on water. His red eyes pierced hers and she found it hard to look away from him.
"Then, my princess," he smiled at her even wider, "you would do wonderfully as my servant."
"I will not be your servant, Lord Moldywart. I already have my duties of being the princess of this land. I could not possibly accept your offer."
"I am afraid you have no choice, Princess. I have already made my decision and your services will be quite useful."
Before she could call for her guards, he motioned for the two beside him. She was carried off to a large castle high on a hill far from her home. She was thrown into a dungeon cell where there was a magic door made of solid wood that burned your hand if you touched it.
She found herself locked in the darkness and wishing that she had not turned away the knight so harshly. Had she not been so cruel to him, perhaps he would have been at the castle when Lord Moldywart walked in and he could have helped her. She wished his arrogant, handsome face was there with her now. He would know what to do.
She was allowed outside her dark cell for a few hours every day for the purpose of helping Lord Moldywart with his evil causes. She was forced to brew potions, to cast charms, and to help tame wild dragons to do Moldywart's wicked bidding. One day, whilst brewing a decidedly complicated potion, a familiar face walked in and examined her work.
Her heart nearly jumped out of her chest with absolute joy at seeing the face of her old childhood friend, Severus Snape. But at the same time, she understood what exactly Severus must be doing there and she felt her overjoyed heart sink.
He avoided her eyes as he stirred the brew, adding a dried basil leaf.
"Severus," she said sadly, "what have you done?" She could see that hearing the disappointment in her voice had bothered him.
She reached for his hand that rested on the table. He brought his eyes to meet hers and she could see his sadness. "I gave him your name." In anger she started to pull her hand away from him but he stretched to hold her. "Princess, he is bent on killing all who will not meet his needs and I wanted to protect you. I told him of your talents. I told him you were worth keeping."
"And you are a prisoner as well?" She knew the answer before she even spoke the question. He had always followed a dark path but she had hoped he would one day find another way.
"No," he looked back down at the potion brewing in the cauldron. "No, Princess, I am here because I am evil." After a long pause he continued, "If you refuse to serve him willingly, he will eventually kill you." And with that he left her to finish her work.
Every day thereafter he would find her working on the day's project and plead with her to give herself to the Dark Lord (as his servants called him) and be his servant. "I do not want to lose you, Princess," he would beg of her. She would, in turn, beg him to find a way for her to escape. "There is no escaping the Dark Lord," he would say, "I should know that above all."
She did not know how long she was kept prisoner. She had lost count after the first few weeks. Severus continued to come to see her, sometimes trying to convince her to change her mind, sometimes just to keep her company.
One day, charged with attempting to charm a piece of metal into a slab of gold, Severus came to her. He looked at her in that calm expression he always held and took her hand in his. He whispered urgently, his frantic eyes betraying his calm exterior, "You have to escape, Princess. The Dark Lord has said that you have outlasted your usefulness." He pressed a small, round object into the hand he held, "Right hand, middle finger. I will come for you," and then walked away. She opened her hand to find a small ring and puzzled over what Severus had said.
After her allotted time in the upper part of the castle she was thrown back into her cell. She happened to glance over to the hand that held her and noticed that the guard wore a ring identical to the one Severus had given her. It was on his right hand, middle finger.
She slipped the ring on her middle finger and gently laid her hand on the door. It did not burn her. Beside herself with happiness, she touch the door again and again, nearly doing an embarrassing jig right there in her cell. She thought of trying the handle and escaping but she heard the guards outside. She remembered what Severus had said, "I will come for you."
"That's all well and good," James could stand the pro-Snape dialogue no longer, "what about the knight?"
"Would you like to tell that part?" Lily gave Harry a bite of mushy carrots and laughed when he squished it from his mouth instead of swallowing it.
Meanwhile the knight, having left the castle feeling both angry and ashamed at the same time, traveled back to his castle. He walked around the surrounding village and saw a pretty maid serving at the tavern. She smiled at him as she saw him approach her. She batted her eyes flirtatiously and brought a drink to him before he even asked.
"If I asked you a question," he said to her without taking the drink, "would you answer me honestly?"
Puzzled, the young woman answered, "Of course, m'lord."
"If I asked for your hand in marriage, would you reject me?"
If possible, her smile brightened even more, "M'lord," she giggled, "are you proposing marriage to me?"
Realizing what she had thought he meant, the threw his hands in the air, "No. No, I was just asking a question. Am I worthy of affections from a woman?"
"M'lord, how could you think you are not? You are wealthy and handsome. You have every maiden in the land chasing you with her affections in hopes that you will choose her to be your bride."
He thanked the young woman and paid her a coin for the drink. Temporarily reassured by her answer, he approached another young woman selling flowers along the side of the road and asked her the same question.
"Any lady who would refuse you must be a fool," she answered with the same bright smile as the tavern maid. "You have a position of power and money to spare. You are easy to look upon and any wife you selected would be very lucky indeed."
"Laying it on a bit thick, aren't you?" Lily sighed impatiently.
"Did I say anything when and you and Snape were hand holding and gazing into each other's eyes?"
Again, temporarily reassured by her answer, he went back to his castle. In his bedchambers he found one of his personal servants dusting. She was an older woman, but a female nonetheless so he asked her the same question. She gave the same response as the other two, also with a bright, hopeful smile that suggested to him that she wanted him to choose her.
The knight tried to sleep that night but something bothered him and he found himself lying awake, trying the shake away the doubt that had crept in. He walked across the room and threw open the doors to the dressing cupboard. He found the rattiest bit of clothing he owned and took some of the mud still on his boots from his journey and rubbed it into his hair and on his face. Looking into the mirror's reflection, he felt satisfied that he no longer looked like himself.
He climbed out the high window, a trick he had done many times as a child, and went down the hill to the village below. He walked around with a strange feeling of freedom when no one seemed to recognize him. He walked into the tavern where he had talked to the young maid. She was still there. He smiled at her but she only gave him a half-hearted polite greeting and took his order, having barely glanced at him. This confused him. His charming smile usually got a different reaction out of women.
Inside the tavern was very busy with many of his servants and others he recalled knowing from the village. He sat at the table where he saw the flower girl and the servant woman he had talked to earlier both sitting together.
The flower girl looked over to the knight and asked if he was new to the village. The knight lied and said he was from the next town over. Taking advantage of his anonymity, he inquired on the knight he was told lived in that grand castle up on the hill.
The flower girl scoffed, "That knight. He certainly has done well for himself, has he not?"
"At the expense of his servants, I might say," the servant woman replied. "He works us from dusk till dawn, running his errands and washing all of his fancy clothes. My only hope in that castle is that he might fancy me enough to marry me and elevate me to a higher rank than 'servant woman'. At least I would make certain that the servants got a fair shake of it for once." And she chuckled to herself, "But with all you pretty girls around, I have not a prayer." They all laughed at what the knight figured must be a private joke between them.
"Surely he cannot be that bad," the knight said when their giggles had subsided.
"Who is not bad?" the barmaid asked as she sat a pint in front of the knight.
The flower girl managed to not giggle this time, "Our beloved and most humble knight."
The barmaid laughed, "Oh, our most noble knight. He came in here today being his usual, charming self, wanting to hear all about how wonderful he is."
"He did that to me today as well," the flower girl spoke up. " Came over to me all flirtatious-like and asked me if he was worthy of marriage. As if there would be any lady in this land that would not snatch him up if only asked."
"She would be a fool not to," the servant woman piped in. "All that money—it would be like being married to your own personal gold mine."
"And he is well to look upon," the barmaid reasoned. "That would make it easier to tolerate him."
When the conversation turned to the princess persistently rejecting him, the knight excused himself from the table. He left the village that night and did not return to his castle. He wandered very far from his home, spending his time alone reflecting on what the princess and the other women had said about him. The princess hated him but at least she had the courage to tell it straight to him instead of waiting for gossip hour at the tavern.
"They really said those things to you?"
James smiled at her concerned frown and dropped the sliced bits of potato into the pot. "Well, I was using the invisibility cloak. They didn't know I was listening…and I made up the cleaning witch. But yeah." She sighed heavily as she added more meat to the stew boiling over the fire for dinner. "Don't worry though, I probably wouldn't have changed my ways if I hadn't heard it."
And as he aimlessly wandered he began to feel something grow inside him, something he had never felt before. Shame, true shame that came when one realized one was a complete idiot. It was no longer any wonder why the princess rejected him. She was right about everything. He treated his servants badly and sought the attention of any lady willing to pay him a complement. He did things only so others could know of his cleverness. He longed for attention, not true affection. And in this shame he felt a new longing for the princess. Not for her attention, but for her love and he began to feel his heart swell with a true love for someone other than himself.
He returned to the castle of the princess but found that in his absence she had disappeared. The servants told him she had been stolen away by the evil wizard, Lord Moldywart.
The knight took the fastest horse from the stables and rode hard to the distant land where the forbidden castle of Lord Moldywart sat high upon a hill. Several days later, the knight finally saw the dark silhouette of the castle in the moonlight. Two guards stood by the front entrance and the back entrance was covered over by a large troll.
Getting in would not be a problem but getting back out would be a challenge. He had a cloak in his pack that rendered him completely invisible but it was only big enough for one.
But he knew the reputation of Lord Moldywart and knew he could not leave her in there much longer or he would not have a beloved princess to save. Knowing his chances would not improve the longer he waited, he pulled the invisibility cloak over himself and silently made his way to the front gate. The guards did not even notice him as he crept between them and walked inside.
Figuring the evil wizard would not consider the princess worthy of a decent room in the upper levels, the knight took to the dungeons. At the end of the long tunnel he found the only locked door in the whole dungeon. He touched the handle to try to open it but it burned his hand and he yelled out with pain.
He heard a voice call out to him from behind the door. "Princess?" he tried to yell quietly through the door.
James sat the bottle on the table beside the sitting room chair and passed Harry to Lily for a nice bedtime burping. Setting him on her knee and patting his back, she continued the story.
The princess heard someone call out for her from beyond the door. Deciding that Severus must have come for her, she shouted, "Do not touch the door!" Making sure the ring was on the right way, she pushed hard against the door. But when she stepped outside there was no one in the tunnel. "Who is there?" she whispered.
A swoosh of fabric later and the knight was standing before her. She had never before been so happy to see his face and she wrapped her arms tightly around him, overjoyed to know he was really there.
"Princess, my love," he said quietly, and she noticed it was with no flowery embellishments or tone of arrogance. She never thought he would be so happy to hear him say those familiar words. He held her tight in his arms, "Thank Merlin you are safe."
The knight knew they had to get out of there and he only had one choice. He pulled away and looked down at her. "Take this," he held up the cloak that had made him invisible. It was only big enough for one to fit under and she feared the answer to the question he already knew was coming. He smiled softly, "My princess, I have my sword and I can defend myself. You need this more than I do."
She planned to protest this decision but he pulled the cloak around her and held out his hand, which she took through the material of the cloak. Any who saw them would see the knight alone.
They did not have any trouble in the lower parts of the castle. She was the only one down there at the moment and she was supposed to be securely locked behind a cursed door. Nobody thought it necessary to post a guard. But when they reached the main hall they found several of Moldywart's servants and guards wandering around. The only way out was to the front entrance, straight across the hall and down the corridor to the right.
"I will create a distraction," the knight whispered, "you run as fast as you can and get to safety."
"No," the princess whispered as she pulled the cloak from her, "I will not leave you here."
"You must get to safety and I will catch up to you. Run out the front entrance and I will be there as soon as I can." Still she protested. "I can handle this," he growled fiercely at her, "you need to get out of here."
"No, James!" It was the first time she had ever called him by his proper name and this took him by surprise. "Not without you!"
"Princess," he plead with her, taking her hands in his, "please, you are my life. Get out of here!"
She could not help herself any longer. She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him soundly and felt him melt into her as he eagerly kissed her back.
He pulled the cloak back around her and she disappeared from his sight. Before she could argue further, he ran out into the open shouting that the princess had escaped which sent everyone in the room into a panic. There was nothing she could do to help the knight as he pulled out his sword and attacked the person nearest that attempted to stop him.
She ran with all her strength across the room, trying to avoid crashing into people and turned the corner. She continued to run down the corridor to the front doors and the guards left their post to see what the commotion in the hall could be about. She looked behind her and saw she was not being followed but did not see, until it was too late, the person walking in front of her. She screamed when she collided with him and he managed to grab some of the fabric of the cloak before he stumbled back. Severus stood with the cloak in one hand and a sword in the other, watching her regain her composure.
"Princess?" his face was a rare display of shock. "I was just coming for you. You were supposed to wait for me."
"The knight," she was breathing heavily from running, "he helped me escape the dungeon."
"The knight?" Severus said angrily. "The knight is here?"
"Yes, he is back there," she pointed behind her. "He needs our help!"
Severus pulled on her sleeve, "No, you are going to get out. I will take you to the door."
"You would leave him to die?" she cried.
Severus grabbed hold of her arm. "I will take you away from here and we can disappear together," he said as he tried to pull her away.
"No, Severus, I cannot leave him." She snatched her arm free, reached for the sword in his hand, and grabbed the cloak from the floor. She ran back down to the large hall where she saw the knight struggling.
"For the record, I was not struggling."
The knight was overwhelmed with opponents and was growing tired from defending blows and desperately trying to regain an offensive position. He tripped over a body that had fallen to the floor and he felt himself crashing down. His opponents surrounded him. He was sure that this must be the end of him but he was glad to know the princess had managed to escape.
He watched, both horrified and absolutely elated at the same time, as the princess came crashing through, her sword skillfully swishing this way and that, never missing a mark.
She helped him from the floor. "I told you to get out of here!" he shouted to her as he cut down the man in front of him."
"Not— without—you!" she shouted back, successfully running through an opponent of her own and opening a path between attackers.
He took hold of her hand and pulled her away from the fight. Together they ran down the long corridor and out the front doors and fled to their homeland.
"My favourite story ever," James grinned impishly as he laid the sleeping baby boy in his cot. "The story of how you decided you were in love with me." He turned and wrapped his arms around the waist of his wife and pulled her close, "I like the mushy kissy part."
Lily couldn't help giggling as she wrapped her arms around his neck. "Isn't that also the story of your first kiss?"
"It was," James bent down to press his lips against hers, tasting her natural sweetness that he loved so much, "and certainly not the last, my princess."
And they lived happily ever after.
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