Title: Hermione and the Knight, or Harry Potter and the fractured Cinderella story
Summary: There once was a girl who was forced into servitude by a cruel Stepmother. But her plight would change with the help o a capable friend and a fateful ball… HP/HG and others. AU.
Once upon a time, in a land where Muggles and wizards lived in relative harmony, there lived a Muggle Lord. Through many generations of loyal service to the Wizard King, the Granger clan had been granted noble status, despite the lack of magical blood in their line. Lord Granger took pride in his family's status and holdings. He managed his manor with a firm but gentle hand. His servants respected him and were loyal to the family. The manor was prosperous, and he never withheld help from those who needed it. His loving wife had died giving birth to their only child, a daughter named Hermione, whom he loved dearly.
He doted on the little girl constantly and stayed with her in the manor as much as possible, but when duty called him away he always returned home bearing gifts for her. He brought enchanted trinkets and exotic flowers, but invariably her favorite gifts were the books. She loved books of all kinds and from an early age seemed to have an insatiable hunger for knowledge, which her father was only too happy to feed. The books he brought ranged from history and science to literature and magic. He secretly wished that someday she would show signs of possessing magic, becoming the first witch in their family.
After one particularly long trip away when Hermione was eight, her father came home with fewer presents and much more important news. Lord Granger was betrothed and would, on his next return, be bringing home with him a wife and two daughters. Hermione was thrilled. Her father had found a companion, and she would have playmates her own age. Not that she didn't have any friends. Well, she had one friend, Neville, the healer's son. He was a good and loyal friend and even let her hold his mother's wand occasionally, but she was looking forward to having sisters. She eagerly awaited the day when she would meet the new additions to her family.
They came a month later. Lady Pansy and her daughters Millicent and Daphne all were witches, and Hermione looked up to them with unconcealed awe. She didn't think life could get any better when she had first met them, but things quickly changed around the manor after their arrival. As the days passed, her father became more and more distant until he no longer seemed himself. He wouldn't respond to anyone and only wandered around the manor aimlessly. With the master so incapacitated, the new mistress of the manor quickly took control.
The servants learned that Lady Pansy was a stricter task master than Lord Granger. She ruled the manor with a tight iron fist. The slightest infractions or perceived misconduct were punished severely. After a few months of harsh treatment, some began to leave. Only a handful of the most loyal, those who saw their poor master wander the grounds like a lost child, stayed on despite her cruelty. Hermione was loath to see her family home and holdings go to ruin, so she began doing a few things around the house and looking after her father to help what few servants they had left.
All too soon she no longer looked to be the daughter of the household. She became just another maid. Her days, once spent sitting in the library reading with Neville, were now full with cooking and cleaning for her stepmother and stepsisters. The only time she had to herself was right before she slept. It was during that time she would read by the dying embers of the kitchen hearth. Often she would be so tired, she would fall asleep right there. Her stepsisters teased her mercilessly for constantly being covered in ashes, calling her Cinderella. "That's where you belong, Cinderella," they taunted, "wallowing in filth with the rest of the worthless Muggles."
Life continued like that for years. Hermione grew comfortable in her new role. She ignored her stepsisters' taunts and her stepmother's cold cruelty, went about her work, and read her father's books by the light of the hearth. She was still jealous of Millicent and Daphne, who were taking magic lessons from a wizard tutor. Even Neville was learning how to use his magic from his father. Despite her envy, she accepted her lot and lived her life as she could.
On the first day of spring each year, her stepmother and stepsisters left the manor to spend her family's money on frivolous dresses and things, allowing the servants a few weeks respite. This year she and Neville sat in their old childhood haunt, the library, and were able to chat like they hadn't in months. Neville told her excitedly about all of the magic his father had showed him and noted the sadly wistful look in Hermione's eye as she listened. He was reminded of times when the two of them would sneak into his mother's room when she was away and take turns holding her wand. He remembered that the wand always sparked when Hermione held it, but never when he had. He wondered if she might be a witch, despite her Muggle parentage.
Neville offered to let her hold his wand, and it took ten minutes of convincing before she would. Just like when they were young, the wand gave a spark the moment it touched her hand. He asked her to give it a wave. When she complied, brilliant colored light filled the room. Hermione looked down at the wand in her hand in awe. "You are most certainly a witch, Mione," he proclaimed proudly, and she smiled more brightly than she ever had before.
From then on, Neville loaned Hermione his textbooks and secretly tutored her whenever he could. It was hard to learn magic without her own wand, but she did her best. For her eighteenth birthday, Neville had managed to procure one for her from the traveling wizard salesman that sold his mother potion ingredients. Hermione was overjoyed and spent every available minute practicing. She progressed so quickly that by mid-summer she was starting on fourth year material and would know as much as he by the end of the year.
While Hermione and Neville fretted over textbooks and spells in the country, the Wizard King worried over his best friend in the palace. Queen Lavender sat in her throne as her husband's second in command stood on the other side of the King's throne. Said husband was currently pacing the floor in front of the dais. "Harry, mate, you need a wife." The man to her right rolled his eyes, but didn't answer. "I think that you and Ginny would be great together."
"You keep saying that Ron, but it's not going to happen. She's as much my sister as you are my brother," the dark haired man replied. "I could never think of her like that."
"Well, you need a wife."
"You said that already."
"Well you do," the King responded petulantly.
"Because you don't need to be gallivanting around after all the milk maids. I figure a wife will keep you in line."
"No woman could keep me in line," the knight smirked. The King scowled in response. "Seriously, mate, what does it matter?"
"Because it isn't fitting for my second in command to be unmarried."
The Queen fought the urge to roll her eyes as the familiar conversation played out like it always did. She could almost quote Sir Harry's next reply from memory.
"I refuse to marry some snobby pureblood witch just because it's expected of me."
"Well you can't marry any of the Muggle milk maids you so ardently enjoy," the King retorted.
"And why can't he?" the Queen interjected. The two men paused and looked at her strangely. "Marry a Muggle that is," she clarified.
"I guess he could…" the King replied warily, still not liking the idea of his best friend tied to a mere servant. Harry needs someone unpretentious and smart and witty who will interest and challenge him. I supposed that someone could very well be a Muggle, but how am I to find such a woman? He silently paced another moment considering. He stopped mid-stride and his face lit up. Sir Harry was scared to see the maniacal glint in King Ronald's eye. "Get out your dancing shoes, mate. We're having a ball."
"A ball?" the knight asked incredulously.
"Yes a ball. With every single eligible maiden in the entire bloody country invited," he exclaimed gleefully. His friend looked at him in wide-eyed shock, and Queen Lavender groaned. This was going to be a logistical nightmare.
The Granger Manor was a whir of activity when Hermione returned from her morning walk in the forest. She asked one of the kitchen hands what all the fuss was about.
"The King is holding a ball, Mistress," the girl replied. All of the servants took to calling her Mistress when the tyrants weren't around. "His Royal Wizardness has invited ALL eligible maidens, magic or Muggle, to attend." She was all atwitter. "Which means you are invited, too, Mistress!"
Hermione was shocked, to say the least. "Why in Merlin's name would King Weasley do such a thing?" she asked in awe.
The girl leaned in to whisper conspiringly in her ear. "They say he is looking for a wife for his second in command, the handsome wizard Sir Potter," she giggled. She looked Hermione in the eye. "You should go, Mistress," the girl intoned seriously.
"I couldn't possibly…" Hermione was interrupted by the screeching of her stepsisters.
"CINDERELLA! WHERE IN SALAZAR'S NAME ARE YOU?!" they bellowed. Hermione winced.
"Duty calls." The kitchen maid shook her head as Hermione made her way up the stairs toward her yelling stepsisters. "Coming," she called to them.
The moment she reached the landing, she was assaulted by two overly excited whirlwinds. She was commanded to stop all other chores in order to help the two of them find dresses, fix outfits, and pamper themselves for the ball scheduled for that night. For the next eight hours, she held fabric, found shoes, secured dresses, fastened jewelry, searched for ribbon, massaged feet, lotioned arms, plucked eyebrows, brushed hair, applied makeup, and did a million other trivial things as they tried on dress after dress, fretted over hairstyles, and primped and powdered themselves until they smelled overwhelmingly of sickly flower gardens. Lady Pansy would occasionally steal her services or comment on their choices, but for the most part she was left alone with her self-absorbed stepsisters.
By the time of their departure, she was so worn out she didn't think she would be able to walk for a week. The three noble witches left in a flurry of petticoats with nothing more than sneers for Hermione on their way out. Not that she expected thanks from them.
Once they were finally gone, she let out a weary sigh. "So much for going to the ball myself," she muttered dejectedly. She had let herself dream of going to the ball and meeting a handsome knight who would sweep her off her feet and save her from her wretched step family.
She was still collapsed on a chair in the main entranceway when Neville, dressed smartly in formal wizard robes, abruptly opened the doors and made his way to where she sat. "Okay. Now that they're gone, let's leave," he said breathlessly while trying to haul her up by her arms. "Come on, get a move on. We haven't got all night," he reprimanded when she looked at him oddly and didn't move.
"Neville, what are you going on about?" she asked tiredly. "Shouldn't you be on your way to the ball already?"
"Not without you on my arm."
"What?" she exclaimed.
"You are going to that ball if I have to drag you all the way to the palace myself," he responded.
"Neville, no, I can't."
"Yes, you can."
"I'm exhausted." Wordlessly he handed her a bottle of potion she recognized as Pepper Up Potion. "My ears will…"
"stop steaming after a minute," he interrupted.
"I look a fright," she protested.
"Easily remedied," he replied waving dismissively. She snorted.
"I haven't got a dress," she challenged.
"Am I a wizard or am I not?" he asked proudly as he produced his wand out of a pocket. "Now take your potion and stand up like a good girl," he added cheekily. She rolled her eyes fondly and did as he asked. "Good. Now, since I'm not wonderful at transfiguration and we don't have time to teach you to do it properly, you'll have to make due with a charmed dress. I can transfigure the shoes, but not the dress."
"A charm?" she asked wearily as copious amounts of smoke spilled from her ears.
"Yes. I can still make it look like whatever you would like it to, but the charm only lasts a few hours. Meaning you must be out of the palace by midnight, unless you want everyone there to see you in Cinderella's finest. Understand?" She nodded. "Good," he smiled at her brightly. "Now, how would Lady Granger like her dress to look?" he asked obsequiously.
Harry could kill Ron. He was still trying to work out how he could accomplish such a thing in a ballroom with several hundred witnesses, but he was determined to find a way. He was currently shooting death glares at said former best friend as he was being introduced to yet another girl. A pretty blonde this time, but forgettable like all the rest. He glanced at the girls awaiting introductions. The line was positively endless. He groaned. He looked up and saw a brunette curtseying this time. If it weren't for the different hair color he would have thought she was the same girl. They were all the same in his eyes. He needed a break from this tedium.
Unable to stand another moment, he motioned for his man servant. "Yes sir?" a chipper voice replied.
"Colin, I can't do this. Make my excuses and make sure no one follows me."
"But sir! What about the ball? What will His Highness say?" Colin squeaked.
"I don't care about the bloody ball," he groused. "And Ron will just have to get over himself."
"Yes sir," the man assented. He noted his master's tense shoulders. "Why don't you go take a walk in the garden?" he suggested. Harry sighed.
"Thanks, Colin. I think I will." With a faint crack, Harry Disapparated.
"I'm sorry we got here so late milady."
"Neville, since when have I been 'milady'? It's weird to hear you call me that."
"Oh, but I insist, Lady Granger," Neville returned with a cheeky smile. "Besides, it's your rightful title." Hermione waved her hand dismissively.
"Even if it is, I'm not used to it and we've been good friends for ages Neville."
"Well then, I'm keeping up pretenses in case someone comes along."
"No one's going to be wandering around the gardens during a ball."
"Still…" he trailed off. They walked a bit in companionable silence
"I am truly sorry Hermione," he intoned sincerely. "I wanted you to meet Sir Potter."
"I told you to stop worrying about it," she chided gently. "It's not like he would have looked twice at me anyway." Neville gave her a look and opened his mouth to argue, but she cut him off. "Alright fine. I'll stop being self-deprecating. Let's not argue, please," she implored. He grudgingly consented. As they walked another moment in silence, neither noticed the other occupant of the gardens approach.
Harry was surprised to find others in the garden. He didn't want to be seen, so he hid behind the nearest bush. He could hear their voices clearly, but in the dark he could only just make out their forms. One was obviously a woman, the other most likely a wizard in formal robes.
"Well, why don't we go inside? The least we could do is dance and enjoy the ball after coming all the way out here," suggested the wizard. The woman laughed lightly, a sound Harry found to be quite lovely.
"Dance? Since when do you dance Neville?" she asked playfully. The wizard, Neville, laughed as well.
"Since today," he determined. "Now come milady, the ballroom awaits," he said theatrically. The woman laughed again and shook her head.
"You go Neville. I have no desire to make a fool of myself on the dance floor." She cut off any protest. "I must insist Wizard Longbottom." The two burst into laughter once more. Harry was intrigued by the pair. A common wizard and a Lady who seemed nothing more than childhood chums.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure. I know you would rather be sweeping a certain royal red-head off her feet than lurking about a dark garden with me. Now go." That gave Harry pause. This Neville thought he could sweep Ginny off her feet? Now that he had to see.
"Go, Neville, or I shall march up to Princess Weasley myself and embarrass you."
"You wouldn't!" the besotted wizard exclaimed.
"Just watch me," came the cheeky reply. Harry could hear the smirk in her voice. There was a beat silence, and Harry imagined the two stubborn friends staring each other down.
"Thank you, milady."
"Will you stop with all this 'milady' nonsense already?" the woman reprimanded fondly before kissing his cheek and pushing him toward the ballroom. "Now, go already."
The wizard left the intriguing woman alone in the dim garden. She continued to amble about, admiring the flowers in the veiled moonlight. She turned toward him, and the full moon finally emerged from behind a cloud. His breath hitched in his throat. She was no ravishing beauty, but she was unpretentiously elegant, and he was suddenly smitten. Tendrils of her wild hair escaped from a simple updo to curl about her kind face. Her full dress seemed to shimmer and hover above her pale skin. But her eyes, her warm brown eyes were what captivated him. In them sparkled intelligence and wit, and they shone with genuine joy at the simple sight of a flower.
Unconsciously, he began to creep silently from his hiding place toward her. He had to meet her. Not watching his footing, he stepped on a twig. She spun and drew a wand on him faster than most of his fellow knights were capable of.
"Who's there?" she demanded. He cursed himself for startling her and for failing to notice she was armed. Where had his training gone? He stepped fully into the moonlight and held his arms up in surrender.
"I'm sorry to have frightened you milady. I mean no harm," he apologized with a charming smile, but she was not won over so quickly.
"What business have you to spy on a lady?" she asked suspiciously. He was further intrigued. She was the first woman who hadn't immediately succumbed to his charm.
"None milady," he faltered. "I mean I was only trying to get away from the ball and happened upon yourself. Fearing discovery, I hid. I didn't mean to spy." The truth rushed from his lips before he could stop it. "Again, my sincerest apologizes milady." He realized the scene must be a sight. Here he was babbling with his arms up in the air, at the mercy of a witch in a gown in the royal garden. The thought made him chuckle.
"And what do you find so funny sir?" she asked coldly, her wand hand rock steady and still trained on him.
"Nothing," he denied before laughing openly. She quirked an eyebrow at him. He noticed a corner of her lip twitched as if she were suppressing a smile. "Well, you must admit the situation we find ourselves in is amusing."
"Oh?" she asked, trying hard not to fall victim to his expressive green eyes.
"Well, I never thought I would ever find myself completely at the mercy of any witch or woman. Yet, here I am," he said with a gallant bow and disarming grin, "unarmed in the royal garden, held at wand point by an elegant lady in a stunning dress." He was proud to see a blush color her cheeks at the compliment and was further rewarded with the ghost of a smile.
"I guess you're harmless enough," she declared as she lowered her wand and tucked it away in an unseen pocket in her ample skirts.
"As harmless as a unicorn," he claimed.
"I very much doubt that," she snorted. "Now if you'll excuse me milord, I shall continue my walk and leave you to hide in the bushes in peace," she announced before walking off.
He couldn't believe this woman. She obviously didn't know who he was or she wouldn't be speaking to him so. She had insinuated he was a coward, for Merlin's sake! He stood dumbfounded a moment as she strode away, deeper into the garden, before he followed after her.
"Now see her milady, I am not a coward," he declared once he had caught up with her. She turned to him with a smirk on her lips.
"I never said that you were, milord," she intoned, still smirking, and punctuated the honorific with an obsequious bow of the head. He was just working up a righteous anger when she made a muffled noise. He looked at her and saw suppressed laughter dancing in her eyes.
"You!" He tried to stay angry in the face of her mirth, but found he couldn't help but burst into gales of laughter with her.
"The look on your face was priceless!" she exclaimed when their outburst had calmed to giddy giggles.
"Well, I had every right to be angry. You cast my courage into doubt."
"Oh heaven forbid I do such a thing!" she said sarcastically. "Did I wound your poor fragile manly pride?" she asked cooingly. "It's bad enough that you were without your wand and had a woman hold such a phallic symbol of power against you, but then I went on to doubt your courage and damage your pride. Shame on me," she tsked sardonically. Every time this woman opened her mouth she managed to shock him.
She sighed to herself when he just gaped at her. "Now off to the ball with you, and I shall return from whence I came. In the morning I shall awake as I always do, and this will have all been a fantastic dream." She moved to walk away again, but this time he didn't let her. His hand was on her arm before she had a chance to get away.
"And what of me?" he asked softly.
"You will remember nothing of this shocking phantasm," she murmured gesturing to herself.
"What if I want to remember her." She was silent. He tried a different approach.
"Why should the dream end now?" he asked lightly. When she still didn't reply he continued. "I mean, what use is a dream if you don't get to dance at the ball with a dashing young knight?" She still wouldn't turn and face him. "Please, don't go. Come back to the ball with me," he implored sincerely.
"No knight would dance with plain old me," she said without turning around.
"Nonsense, I'll dance with you." She made a small noise, a stifled snort or sniffle, he couldn't tell.
"You? Mr. Cowardly?" she asked incredulously, but she was smiling as she turned around.
"Yes me," he declared and tucked her hand into the crook of his arm. "And that's Sir Cowardly to you milady," he said with a cheeky smile and she laughed.
"Alright, kind sir," she consented with a brilliant smile. "Lead the way."
King Ronald was beside himself in anger. "I can't believe he just up and Disapparated!" he muttered angrily to his wife. He was currently dragging her all over the ballroom floor in a fast polka. "The nerve of him!" He continued to mutter to himself as she tried desperately to keep up with his long stride. Her husband certainly was a sight when he was angry. She ignored his rant and, instead, surveyed the guests as they danced. A couple walked in from the garden entrance, and the sight made her gasp. She pinched her husband's shoulder hard, knowing it was the only thing that would get his attention.
"Ouch! What in bloody hell was that for Lav?" he exclaimed in a harsh whisper.
"Look at the couple over by the windows facing the garden," she commanded. He complied and twirled her in a tight spin to face the other direction. The Queen smiled smugly when he too gasped at the sight.
Harry was currently entranced in a conversation with a lovely witch on the other side of the room.
"Merlin's beard," he cursed in awe. "Where did he find her?"
"I don't know, but he looks quite taken with her, whoever she is," Queen Lavender commented, glad her husband had finally calmed down.
The two turned quite a few heads as they ambled around the edge of the ballroom, paying attention to no one but each other. They talked about everything, from magic education to politics, from Chauser to the feudal system. When they had walked the circuit of the ballroom twice without one lull in the conversation, the orchestra began to play a lively waltz.
"Well, milord," Hermione smiled brilliantly at Harry. "I thought it was your intention to dance with me, but since you have yet to ask I might have to go find some other handsome knight with enough courage to ask," she teased.
"Well, milady, I was too entranced by your conversation to remember my promise. But if you wish to, I would be delighted if you would dance with me," he said with a charming smile and kissed the back of her hand.
"It would be my pleasure." He led her to the very center of the ballroom and took her into his arms. Neither noticed the floor empty almost immediately when they began to dance. When the music stopped, they stopped moving, but didn't step away from each other or stop gazing into each other's eyes. The King was now determined to meet this mysterious woman. No one seemed to know who she was.
Harry looked into Hermione's eyes and brushed a wayward piece of hair from her face. "I just realized I don't even know your name, milady," he said tenderly. Her cheeks colored, not from the dance or what he had said, but because of the way he was looking at her.
"I'm terribly sorry milord," she stammered, trying to get her bearings under his intense gaze. "I mean, my name, good sir," she fumbled, "my name is…" Should she tell him her true name? Before she could decide, another man interrupted them.
"Excuse me." The King tapped Harry's shoulder. He shrugged it off and waved a hand impatiently.
"The lady and I were dancing, go bother someone else," he dismissed rudely without looking at the one who had interrupted them. Hermione was just about to reprimand him for his behavior when another feminine voice beat her to the punch.
"Sir Harry," the smooth voice tsked, "It is not at all polite to dismiss your friend, much less the King, in such a fashion." Hermione stopped herself from dropping her jaw in shock. The King?! Harry turned and, sure enough, there he was, King Ronald Weasley himself. And if the possessive bejeweled hand on his arm was any indication, the dazzling woman with him was his wife, Queen Lavender. Hermione's brain whirled at the implications of their presence.
"I'm sorry Your Highness. Please forgive my rudeness, but if you don't mind, the lady and I were about to have another dance," Harry said with the air of an equal, not a subject. He moved to pull her away from the King and Queen when King Weasley put a hand on his arm.
"Sir Harry," he said with a bright smile and showing no indication he took offense at Harry's behavior, "Surely you won't be so rude as to fail to introduce us to your charming dance partner."
Hermione almost fainted when the red-headed King winked at her. She couldn't believe this was happening. She was standing in the middle of the royal ballroom, mere feet away from the Royal Couple. She knew she had been dancing with a knight, but now it was obvious he was one of high standing, considering the familiarity with which he spoke to the King. What had they called him? she thought frantically. Sir Harry? They couldn't have meant… Sir Harry POTTER?! Her knees felt weak, and she paled considerably when she realized the identity of her charming knight. THE Sir Harry Potter. The arm around her waist tightened before she could faint, and three concerned gazes looked at her.
"Are you alright dear?" the Queen asked. Hermione opened her mouth to respond when she heard the clock tower begin to chime the hour. Oh No! It's midnight! Before anyone could bat an eye, she turned and fled past the rest of the guests toward the main entrance. After a moment of shocked stillness, Harry chased after her.
"Wait!" he called desperately, but she wouldn't stop. Even with all of his training and renowned speed, he couldn't catch up to her. She ran like a woman possessed, stumbling once at the bottom of the grand staircase. She lost a shoe and stopped only long enough to stand and pull off the other one before she was running again into the surrounding forest. By the time Harry made it to the bottom step, she was no where in sight, and all that was left was one delicate shoe.
By the time the charm on the dress had completely faded, she had collapsed on the forest floor panting heavily and clutching one transfigured shoe. She didn't know where she was, and she was terribly confused about what had happened. It all seemed too extraordinary to be real.
Had it been a dream? Had she really gone to the ball? Had she really been in the presence of the Royal Couple? Did King Weasley really wink at her?! Had she really met Sir Harry Potter? Did he really dance with her?!
The delicate shoe in her hand was the only thing that kept her from being convinced it had all been a sensational hallucination. Weary not only from her flight from the palace, but also her scampering thoughts, she managed to pull out her wand, cushion the hard ground beneath her with a charm, and pass out from exhaustion right there.
When she woke mid-morning, it took a moment to realize why she was lying on magically softened earth in the middle of a forest. Again she was plagued by doubts of the validity of her memories, but the sight of her single transfigured shoe confirmed the reality of the previous night. It hadn't been a dream.
She held the shoe so the light could dance on its diamond encrusted point. It might as well have been a dream, she sighed wistfully. I'll never see any of those lovely important people again, she thought as she picked herself off of the damp ground. With the help of a handy 'point me' spell Neville had taught her, she found the road, and after an hour or so of walking, caught a ride with a passing wagon. It was late evening before she set foot on her family grounds, shoe and wand carefully tucked away in a pocket.
Queen Lavender wearily looked from her frowning husband to his pacing best friend and sighed. "You were with her a good portion of the night and you don't have the slightest clue about her identity?" Her ever tactful husband was incredulous. She rolled her eyes.
"No Ron, I don't," Harry replied tensely. "I had just asked her name when you two interrupted us." He shot King Ronald a glare that blamed him for the mysterious girl's disappearance. Before this argument got out of hand, she intervened.
"She didn't mention anyone? Perhaps the name of a friend who we could track down and lead us to her?" she interjected. Sir Harry continued pacing like he hadn't heard her.
"Harry, mate, sit down. You're giving me a headache," Ron commanded tiredly. The guests as well as the cleaning elves were long gone from the ballroom. It had to be past five in the morning. After a thorough search of the grounds surrounding the palace, the three of them had retired to the ballroom, and Harry had begun to pace. He didn't look to be stopping any time soon either. He was walking at a furious pace now and mumbling something they couldn't understand to himself. The two were just about to give up and go to bed when he turned to them with a triumphant look on his face.
"WIZARD NEVILLE LONGBOTTOM!" he exclaimed and nearly began bouncing up and down in joy. He strode purposefully toward the door that led toward the private wing of the palace.
The Royal Couple looked bewildered. Queen Lavender shot her husband a glare that said 'He's your friend.' Ron looked to his best friend's retreating back and yelled after him, "Who?!"
"The wizard from the garden!" he replied on his way out the door. "I'll find him, and he'll lead me to her," he stated gleefully.
Without so much as a knock, Harry bound into the chamber. He quickly crossed the anteroom, past several protesting ladies in waiting, and didn't even pause at the door to her bedroom. "Sorry if I'm interrupting anything Ginny," he apologized insincerely upon entering her room.
"What in Merlin's Name!" she exclaimed while tugging at the bed sheets covering her and the mysterious man sized lump next to her. "What is the meaning of this Harry," an irate Ginevra Weasley demanded while the lump quivered. "If my brother sent you…"
"My apologizes again, Princess, but the King did not send me," he interrupted with a gentlemanly bow. He waved a hand to cut off her angry tirade. "I came on my own. I was wondering if you happen to know of a Wizard Longbottom." The lump jumped and began to shake even more. The Princess looked questioningly at Harry as he began again without waiting for her answer. "If you do, please inform him I need to speak with him as soon as humanly possible." And with another bow and a charming smile, he returned to the anteroom and closed the door behind him.
Again the Manor was awhirl with activity when she returned from the forest. She had noticed a regal looking carriage sitting in the stables and wondered who had come to call on her stepmother. She absently pulled at a few leaves stuck in her tangled hair as she wandered into the busy kitchen. When one of the maids noticed her presence, she screamed. "THERE YOU ARE!" The entire room stopped and stared at Hermione.
"Umm… Hi?" she greeted tentatively. After a beat, everyone began talking to her at once. The noise was so deafening she couldn't hear someone enter the kitchen until the door slammed shut.
"WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE?!" Lady Pansy yelled at the top of her lungs, silencing everyone else. Looking likely to spit fire, she glared at everyone in the room. "You," she said menacingly when her eyes locked on her stepdaughter. The servants parted before her as she slowly made her way toward Hermione. "You ungrateful little heathen," she spat. "I let you and your doddering old fool of a father stay here and take care of your pathetic little manor and THIS is how you repay me," she accused. But before she got close to Hermione or finished her rant the kitchen door opened with a loud bang.
"Lady Granger!" Neville exclaimed exuberantly. "So good of you to return!"
Hermione was very confused at everyone's strange behavior. Lady Pansy had never said anything more to her than to issue commands or be pettily derisive. The servants were all excited and speaking at once. And now Neville was being overly obsequious. What is going on? Just as she opened her mouth to ask Neville, the kitchen door opened again.
Sir Harry Potter, dressed in full knight regalia, just entered the kitchen of her father's manor.
The room was deathly quiet and still, despite the large number assembled, when he entered the room. His eyes scanned the people quickly, searching for the mysterious and elusive Lady Granger. Frowning after seeing no Lady in the room besides Pansy, his gaze swept over the people a second time. This time his eyes locked on the same warm brown eyes from the night before. The girl's frizzy mess of hair was dotted with a few leafy bits. Her jaw was dropped and her eyes widened with shock. She wore a simple frock that was dirty about the hem and held on to a maid's apron. THIS is the elegant Lady I met?
He took a step toward her and opened his mouth to say something regal and witty and guaranteed to sweep her off her feet. "You're a servant?!" he sputtered. "Here?!" Instantly her demeanor changed. Her gaze hardened and her back straightened impossibly. She seemed to look down her nose at him despite still being a good half a head shorter than he. He wanted to bang his head up against something after realizing his mistake.
"Granger Manor has always been my home," she stated proudly while avoiding his question. If he thought she was below him for being a servant, well he could just shove off.
If he had any previous doubts as to the identity of his mysterious Lady, he didn't now. The fire in her eyes, the set of her shoulders, even the curl of her unruly hair around her face were all unmistakable. At first he had thought she blended in with the other drab maids, but now… Now he could see her practically glow with a powerful presence he had only seen shadows of in a handful of other women. He couldn't pull his eyes away from her.
This was not the way Neville had envisioned Sir Harry and Hermione's reunion. Hermione looked incensed by Harry's tactless question, even if the knight still seemed to be smitten with her. But before he could open his mouth to somehow rectify the situation, two more people stumbled into the kitchen and fell flat on their faces at his feet. He looked down to see Hermione's stepsisters sprawled out, in their finest, on the floor.
The two quickly got up and brushed off the soot from their robes, all the while shooting each other death glares. "Millicent. Daphne," an overly bright and girly voice rang above the silence. "How good of you to finally show your faces." Lady Pansy made her way to Sir Harry and directed him by the arm to face her daughters. "Pay no attention to the filthy servants milord. Good help is always so hard to find." Her light laughter was polite and false. She yanked him forcefully by the arm toward Millicent and Daphne when he tried to look over her shoulder at Hermione. "May I present my two lovely daughters by my first husband, Lord Malfoy." Harry stiffened at the name, but Lady Pansy didn't notice. "Millicent and Daphne." The two girls, hardly looking like sisters at all, curtseyed before him, but he wasn't paying them any attention. He was too busy trying to sneak glances at a slightly less incensed looking Hermione. Lady Pansy kept blocking his line of vision and corralling him toward her unsightly daughters.
Luckily, Neville came to the rescue and pulled him away from the vultures. "Sir Harry, you mustn't forget why we came."
"Hmm?" the knight asked absently. He was staring at Hermione who had finally calmed down and was blushing under his intense gaze.
"The shoe," Neville said lowly, gripping the other wizard's arm more tightly. "Don't forget about the decree and the shoe." Harry stopped staring long enough to look at Neville.
"Oh yeah. That. Well." Neville nodded and let go of his arm as Sir Harry cleared his throat. "Right then." He drew himself up and turned to address the room at large.
"By order of His Majesty King Ronald Weasley," he began as he pulled a piece of parchment from his breast pocket. "It is decreed that the woman to whom this shoe belongs…" Neville produced a shrunken shoe from his pocket and winked at Hermione as he enlarged it to normal size. "…shall marry and become the wife of my trusted knight, Sir Harry Potter." Harry chanced a glance at Hermione. "If she's willing of course," he added hastily after seeing the beginnings of anger spark in her eyes. Neville suppressed a smirk, and Hermione relaxed her clenched fists. "Now." Harry turned to face Hermione, but before he could reach for the shoe, another hand had snatched it away.
"Oooh! My shoe!" a high voice twittered. All eyes turned to Daphne who held the shoe to her scrawny chest and bounced up and down.
"Liar!" a rich alto voice roared. Millicent lunged her bulky form toward her sister and grabbed for the shoe. "That's MY shoe." The two girls began to fight ferociously over the delicate thing. When the dust from the short lived battle cleared, Daphne still clutched the broken spike heel, while Millicent clutched the ripped upper. The sole lay on the ground between them and diamonds were scattered all around.
Daphne looked down at the ruins of the shoe and then up at her towering sister. "You Broke It!" she screeched. The two then began a loud screaming match that degraded into a round of "Did Not!"s and "Did Too!"s.
Harry was oblivious to their squabbling and only had eyes for Hermione during the entire ordeal. She tried to ignore his penetrating stare, but found she couldn't. It made her painfully aware of her untamable hair and common clothing. Despite her appearance, she noted he still looked at her as he had at the ball. It was a look that told her she was beautiful no matter what she wore. It thrilled her and made her uncomfortable all at the same time. The familiar sound of her stepsisters wailing did nothing to easer her discomfort.
"Honestly, do you two EVER shut up?" she spat at them. They turned to her and looked absolutely shocked. She had never spoken so harshly to them. "Over a silly little shoe too," she criticized. "If it means that much to you, you can have the other. It's right here in my pocket." To the horror of her stepsisters and stepmother, she pulled out the pair to the ruined shoe.
Harry beamed at her. He quickly crossed the room to stand in front of her, still grinning from ear to ear. "Well, then you have to…. I mean will you…?" he trailed off and took her hand. He looked into her eyes earnestly. "If you'll have me..."
"YOU!" Lady Pansy screamed indignantly. "You can't marry THAT THING! She's… She's… a filthy MUGGLE!"
Harry turned angrily toward the screaming witch. "SHUT UP YOU PUREBLOOD SNOB!" he roared. "You will NOT talk to her like that," he menaced. "She is ten times the woman you are even if she is common and a Muggle. And for your information I don't give a…" Hermione cut him off with a yank on his hand. He turned to her and was surprised to see a wicked twinkle in her eye.
"Let me handle this milord," she said quietly with a wink. She handed him the transfigured shoe and made a big production of reaching in her pocket and pulling out a thin rod of wood, recognizable by most in the room as a wand. She looked in her stepmother's eyes defiantly while addressing Neville. "I would hate to see your lovely transfigured shoes be ruined, Neville." She pointed her wand at the sole on the ground. "Reparo." Harry and Neville beamed at her with pride while the rest of the room gaped. Lady Pansy sputtered incoherently in shock. Millicent and Daphne looked dumbly at the perfectly restored shoe on the ground between them.
Hermione took a step toward her step family. "Now. I am sick and tired of you running my father's household. Pack your things Stepmother. I am kicking you out."
"Oh, but she can," interjected Neville. "You seem to have forgotten that as firstborn, Lady Hermione became Mistress of the Manor the day she came of age." Pansy sputtered indignantly. "Very convenient that you forgot to tell any about that fact."
Before Pansy could make any more feeble protestations, Hermione walked up to her and pointed her wand directly at her heart. "Get out," she growled. "All of you." She glared at Millicent and Daphne who were trying to cower behind their mother. Millicent wasn't exactly succeeding.
Pansy's eyes flicked from Hermione and her wand, to the two armed wizards, to the menacing looking kitchen and house staff who were arming themselves with pots and brooms. She plastered a fake smile on her face and laughed weakly. "I always did think you had a bit of magic in you." Hermione's eyes narrowed. "Yes. Well then. Millie. Daphne. I think it's time we visit your father." The three witches edged their way out of the back kitchen door, not daring to turn their backs. The nearest kitchen maid slammed it in their faces with a triumphant grin, and the room erupted in cheers.
Neville rushed Hermione and engulfed her in a hug. "You were ruddy brilliant!" he gushed. He picked her up and spun her around as they both laughed.
"Thanks Nev," she said in his ear as she hugged him tight. "For everything." He beamed at her when he put her down. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw dark hair and green eyes staring at them.
He leaned down with the pretense of kissing her cheek and whispered in her ear. "There is someone behind you that is extremely jealous. You'd better go over there before he hexes me into oblivion." She blushed and smiled up at him. He squeezed her hand. "Go."
She turned and faced the dark haired man. She looked away from his intense eyes and blushed. He walked up to her and shoved his hands in his pockets nervously. "So. Err. About that decree thing…" he trailed off. She glanced up to see him looking down at her through his long dark lashes. He gave her a sheepish grin. She bit her lip. "Would you, err… like to…" She cut him off by throwing her arms around him and kissing him. She pulled back smiling widely. "… marry me," he breathed before leaning down and claiming her lips again. When they pulled apart, she looked up at him with glazed eyes and nodded. "Yes?" he asked, wanting to hear her say it.
"Yes," she answered breathlessly and pulled him down to kiss her again.
And so, the cruel Lady Pansy and her wretched daughters left the kingdom, never to be heard from again. The longer they were gone, the more Lord Granger seemed like himself. It was decided that Lady Pansy had placed him under an enchantment to keep him incapacitated. After a month of her absence, his mind was completely restored and he was able to resume taking care of the Granger holdings. Back in the palace, King Ronald was excited for his friend, and Queen Lavender graciously began planning the wedding (to which Wizard Neville planned to escort Princess Ginevra). And what of Sir Harry and Lady Hermione? Well, they lived happily ever after of course.