Feedback: Yes, thank you.
Spoilers: Through book 7
Distribution: The Blackberry Patch and . If you're interested, please let me know.
Summary: Still chasing the horcruxes, Hermione spends an evening telling Ron and Harry the story of Little Red Riding Hood.
Author's Note: The fourth in a series of Muggle fairytales. I'd also like to apologize for not being able to answer the private messages a couple of you have sent, but each time I try to follow the link, my Internet connection crashes. I'm probably going to play with this form some more, though, to answer the questions.
Disclaimer: All characters are owned by J. K. Rowling, a wonderful author whose characters I have borrowed for a completely profit-free flight of fancy. Kindly do not sue me, please, as I am terrified of you. Thank you.
Little Red Riding Ho-w-Is-That-Possible?-od
Harry was pretty sure the rain outside had turned to sleet. Few things could make a person feel colder than the sound of frozen, icy snow and rain mixed together, sliding down the canvas sides of a tent. At least, for once, they'd been able to have a decent dinner. Ron had found a few trout in the pond next to their campsite, and Hermione's bluebell-colored flames had succeeded in cooking them well enough. The problem of the remaining horcruxes weighed heavily on Harry's mind, though, and an abnormal silence was sitting over the three of them. Suddenly, an idea came to him. Well, he thought, it was worth a try.
"Hermione?" Harry asked.
"Yes?" she said, her eyes focusing back from the distant point she'd been staring at vacantly.
"I don't suppose you'd be up for…?"
"Another story?" Ron finished, sounding rather pleased. "That's a good idea. You got any more, Hermione?"
She sighed a little, but she didn't seem about to argue, and that more than anything else worried Harry. She'd been very quiet the last few days, and with a start he realized that they'd just passed her mother's birthday. He winced. It probably hadn't been a good idea to forget that, even if there was nothing he or Ron could say to make it better.
"There are a few," she said. "I don't suppose it matters which I choose since you'll just point out what's wrong with it anyway."
"Aw, come on, Hermione," Ron said, sitting next to her on the couch and giving her a slug in the arm. "Cheer up! It's not your fault that Muggles don't know the first thing about magic."
"Wait," Harry said, getting an idea. "Are there any Muggle fairy tales without magic in them?"
"Hmm," Hermione said, and the frown on her face as she processed the idea made her look more like herself than she had a few moments ago. "I suppose technically there are."
"Well then, give us one of those!" Ron said, clapping an arm around her shoulder in a show of jolly support, but Harry noticed that it just happened to remain there.
"I could tell Little Red Riding Hood," Hermione said slowly. "I'm not saying it's the most logical story, but there aren't any spells or witches in it."
"Little Red Riding Hood?" Ron asked. "What's that? A story about a bank robber on horseback?"
Hermione actually giggled at that, and Harry felt a sense of relief.
"No, that's her name," Hermione said.
"Muggles," Ron said, shaking his head. "They obviously have no idea what to name their daughters. Still, she can be friends with Ashyweeper and Pajamabelle and Albino Girl easily enough."
"Anyway, once upon a time," Hermione began, then paused, waiting for Ron to make some sort of crack.
"Yeah, the usual mental beginning," he said. "Go on."
"There was a little girl who lived with her mother," Hermione said.
"The mother isn't dead this time?" Ron asked, surprised.
"No, she's quite alive," Hermione said, and Harry noticed a little catch in her voice.
"Is she going to die?" Ron continued, and Harry wished frantically that he could charm Ron's mouth shut.
"No, she is not," Hermione said primly.
"Well, that's a pleasant novelty," Ron said, beaming. "Most of the mums have a life expectancy of secon…"
"Yes, do go on, Hermione," Harry said, cutting him off abruptly and earning a dirty look from Ron.
"The little girl had a cape with a hood that her grandmother had made for her out of bright red cloth. She loved to wear it so much that everyone called her Little Red Riding Hood," Hermione continued.
"That's not so terrible, then," Ron said. "I mean, if she'd actually been christened Little Red Riding Hood, that would have been horrid, but if it's just her nickname, that's alright."
"I'm glad it meets with your approval," Hermione said disdainfully.
"So what was her real name?" Ron asked.
"I don't know," Hermione said with a resigned sigh, but Harry was glad to see that she really did seem to be thinking of the story and not the rest of their problems at the moment. "It's not important to the story, Ron."
"Cindy," Ron said.
"What?" Hermione asked, confused.
"Cindy. I've decided to name the girl Cindy," Ron said. "It'll make me feel like it's not so bizarre."
"Who, pray tell, is Cindy?" Hermione asked, and Harry noticed that her expression was more than passingly curious.
"No one," Ron said abruptly.
"You just pulled the name Cindy out of thin air, did you?" she said, a note of disbelief in her voice.
"Well…" Ron started to blush, and once again Harry was seized with an urge to tape Ron's mouth shut, "it's a Muggle name, isn't it?"
"Yes, it is," Hermione said icily. "So what Muggle do you know named Cindy?"
"No one, just… there's this one bird with a mole," he said.
"Cindy Crawford?" Hermione said, staring at him.
"Well, yeah," he admitted. "She's sort of… pretty."
Harry held his breath a minute as Hermione appeared to be considering how to react.
"I suppose she is," Hermione said, and Harry thought he heard her mumble, "I can deal with that."
"So Red Hood is a fashion victim. Then what?" Ron asked, trying to deftly reroute the conversation.
"One day, Little Red Riding Hood's mother said, 'Dear, your grandmother is feeling very ill and is sick in bed,'" Hermione said.
"Aw, poor thing," Ron said. "I know how she feels, what with me currently being stuck in bed with spattergoit."
Hermione gave him a withering look and continued, saying, "'So, dear daughter, take this basket of goodies to your grandmother, travelling through the forest until you get to her home, but mind you do not speak to strangers upon the way and that you always keep to the path.'"
"Or what? She'll be attacked by giant spiders?" Harry said, laughing, then paused. It did sound a bit like the Forbidden Forest, didn't it?
Ron, however, had a dreamy look, and his complete lack of a witty remark or a reaction to the word "spiders" made both Harry and Hermione look at him in surprise.
"What?" she said, taking in his expression with a raised eyebrow.
"A whole basket full to the brim with goodies," Ron said, sighing blissfully. "Do you suppose the mum packed apple tart, maybe chocolate biscuits, or a big fudge cake with whipped cream and strawberries?"
They both looked at him, not sure whether to be amused or disturbed by the look of unparalleled lust in his eyes. Granted, yes, it had been a while since they'd last had a good dose of pudding, but the look currently on his face was usually reserved for… well, Harry thought, for that picture of Cindy Crawford he'd to kept under his bed in Gryffindor Tower.
"I think one of the stories says there was a cake, some butter, and a jug of wine," Hermione said, giving him an appraising look.
"Sounds ruddy lovely," Ron replied, smacking his lips. "You should tell this story every night, Hermione."
Hermione gave Harry a slightly confused look, but then shrugged and went on.
"Off Little Red Riding Hood went, taking with her a large straw basket full of food for her grandmother," Hermione said.
"Pickles," Ron murmured. "She should bring her pickles. Maybe there's some oranges in there, too, and a great pile of Honeyduke's chocolate. Chocolate Frogs. I could go for a nice pot of tea, too, and a good ham sandwich with mustard."
Harry elbowed him in the side none too gently.
"We're all hungry, Ronald," Hermione said angrily, then relented a bit and added, "though the fish tonight was very good."
"Hmm," he said. "Right, sorry. Little Red's off to the grandmother's house with… things. Why didn't the mother go instead of sending the little girl, by the way, especially if the woods were so dangerous?"
"Oh, I don't know," Hermione said with a shrug. "I suppose it's because the young girl is always the one put in jeopardy in these stories, and so many times it involves a journey through the woods. I wonder, if the woods represent a movement away from traditional society and back to a more primeval mode of existence, which it almost always does in these stories, then why does the grandmother, the symbol of family stability, live in the middle of the forest? It would seem to contradict the allegorical significance."
Ron looked at Harry, shrugged, then snapped his fingers twice under Hermione's nose.
"Right! Sorry, I drifted a bit. So Little Red Riding Hood went into the dark, frightening forest, but she was entirely unafraid," Hermione said.
"Either she's brave or stupid," Ron said to Harry.
"Along the way, she saw butterflies flitting through the trees, and she had a good deal of fun chasing them, entirely forgetting her mother's warning and making the dreadful mistake of wandering from the path," Hermione continued.
"So stupid, then," Ron said knowingly.
"Suddenly, just as she was picking some little flowers that grew in the shade, a wolf shambled into view and caught sight of the little girl," Hermione said.
"That's not going to end well," Ron said. "Wait, it's not a werewolf, is it?"
"No, just a wolf," Hermione said.
"It'd be more exciting if it was a werewolf," Ron said, "and the girl got chased through the forest by it at night."
"No thanks," Harry chimed in. "I think I've already lived that scene, and it's not one I'd like to revisit."
"Seconded," Hermione said, nodding, "though technically we did revisit that scene, if you recall."
Harry laughed at the memory of the two of them using the Time Turner to go back to free Sirius, though the memory of his godfather always brought a bittersweet smile with it.
"The wolf, who was unusually large and frightening, with a pitch black coat of shaggy fur and red eyes, walked up to Little Red Riding Hood," Hermione continued.
"Who promptly turned tail and ran or screamed or pulled out a gun or did something else sensible," Ron said with a grin, "except considering these stories are crazier than Gilderoy Lockhart, I'm guessing she didn't."
"You're right," Hermione admitted. "Instead, the wolf bowed to her and said, 'Good day, little girl. What, may I ask, are you doing in the wood on so fine a day in such a lovely red riding hood?'"
"The wolf talked to her?" Ron said, his eyes bulging. "But wolves don't talk!"
"In this story they do," Hermione explained.
"But they don't!" Ron said firmly. "Even if he was an animagus, which would have made some sense, a wizard in animal form can't talk!"
"He's right," Harry agreed. "I know Sirius didn't, and McGonagall never does."
"And Scabbers never said anything either," Ron said.
"Yes, but this story isn't about an animagus," Hermione said with a despairing sigh. "It's about a plain, ordinary, regular, everyday wolf who just happens to talk like a human being."
Ron shook his head sadly at what Harry could only presume was the strangeness of Muggles in general.
"Okay, if you say so, Hermione," he said. "But there aren't any talking squirrels or bluebirds or bunnies or something in this, are there?"
"Not in this particular story, no," Hermione said.
"So what did good old Cindy do when the wolf started talking to her?" Harry asked.
"She proved how very unwise she was by forgetting her mother's other rule, not to talk to strangers…" Hermione said.
"…and they don't come much stranger than talking wolves," Ron added.
"…and saying, 'Why, Mr. Wolf, your manners are lovely! I'm going to see my dear sick granny who lives in the cottage in the center of the wood, and I'm taking with me a basket of goodies so she will feel better,'" Hermione finished.
"This one was standing behind the door when brains were passed out, no question," Ron said, shaking his head. "The only thing she didn't do was give him the address. Even Crabbe and Goyle weren't that thick."
"No, I suppose they weren't," Hermione said. "Really, the girl is terribly stupid. In any case, the wolf tipped his hat…"
"Hat?" Ron asked. "The wolf was wearing a hat?"
"Just go with it Ron," Harry said, patting him on the arm.
"…and bid her a good day before walking back through the forest," Hermione said.
"That's it?" Ron said.
"Not quite," Hermione said, "for the wolf was only pretending to go away. Instead, he circled back around and went to the grandmother's house long before Little Red Riding Hood was near. He knocked at the door, and the old woman called out, 'Who's there?' The wolf answered in a false high voice, 'It's your grand-daughter. I've come with a basket of sweets for you.'"
"The wolf faked the kid's voice?" Ron said in disbelief.
"That is what I just said," Hermione said through gritted teeth.
"But wouldn't he have a much deeper voice than a little girl?" he asked, pushing the point.
"Have you ever spoken with a wolf, Ron?" Hermione said snippily. "Maybe they all sound like little girls. Or maybe the grandmother was hard of hearing."
"Now that I can believe," Ron said, nodding happily. "That's logical, that is. Makes her sound a bit like Auntie Muriel."
"I'm glad you've provided yourself with a visual aid. The old grandmother, not knowing anything was wrong, told the wolf to lift the latch and let himself in," Hermione said.
"I'm guessing that didn't end well," Ron said.
"No. He ate her," Hermione said.
"How droll," Ron said. "So now poor, sick gran, who looks just like Auntie Muriel in my head, is dead. I wonder if the wolf could catch whatever she had."
"Serve him right," Harry said, nodding.
"That really doesn't come into the story," Hermione said. "Instead, the wolf puts on the grandmother's nightgown and cap and got into bed in her place."
"He what?" Ron said, looking completely confused.
"You heard me," Hermione said.
"So the wolf is a transvestite?" he asked, still sounding deeply perplexed.
"Well, I suppose there could be some latent criticism of questioning of gender roles in the story," Hermione said, tipping her head to one side, thoughtfully.
"Say, where'd he get the nightgown from, anyway?" Ron said suspiciously. "Wasn't the grandmother sick in bed?"
"Yes," Hermione said, trying to sound patient when she was anything but.
"So the grandmother should have been wearing the dress and cap when he ate her," Ron pointed out. "Are you trying to tell me the wolf undressed the grandmother, stole her clothes, and then ate her?"
"Be a little hard to do that, what with wolves not having opposable thumbs and all," Harry said.
"I don't know," Hermione said, shrugging. "Maybe the grandmother had a whole wardrobe full of nightgowns and caps. Is it really important?"
"I had a moment of thinking of naked Auntie Muriel," Ron said, shuddering. "Okay, so the wolf has decided to take a nap."
"Not really," Hermione said. "You see, only a couple minutes later, the real Little Red Riding Hood knocked on the cottage door. The wolf called out 'Who's there?' using the grandmother's voice, and Little Red Riding Hood said, "It's your grand-daughter. I've come with a basket of sweets for you.'"
"Pretty good guesswork there on the wolf's part as to what she'd say," Ron snorted. "Old Trelawney would be impressed with his power to foresee the future."
"Anyway," Hermione continued, "the wolf told the grand-daughter to lift the latch and let herself in."
"Now I can understand the grandmother's hearing going a bit and not catching that the voice isn't Cindy's," Ron said. "but the kid can't tell the difference between the wolf's voice and her grandmother's?"
"Apparently not," Hermione said. "He must have been a very good mimic."
"Or these people are all crazy," Ron said. "Six of one, half a dozen of the other."
"Little Red Riding Hood came in and put her basket on the table, then went to see her grandmother, who was curled up in bed under the blankets," Hermione said. "When she came close enough to see her, Little Red Riding Hood said, 'Why, Grandmother! What big eyes you have!'"
"Wait, the girl actually sees the wolf and still thinks it's her grandmother?" Ron said, his tone rising in disbelief. "What, did the grandmother have a hormone condition that made her really hairy or something?"
"It's just part of the story, Ron," Hermione ground out with a clenched jaw.
"But that's silly! She can't hear and she's blind as well? Who is this girl? Helen Keller?" Ron said, his voice getting louder. "There's a wolf in the bed and she doesn't notice because, gosh, it's Granny's nightcap and dress, so it must be her! This is like that idiot prince who didn't recognize Cinderella because she changed her dress!"
"The wolf responded, 'The better to see you with, my dear,'" Hermione continued as though Ron hadn't spoken. "Then Little Red Riding Hood said, 'Grandmother! What big ears you have!'"
"Which apparently stick directly out of the top of your head!" Ron said in a high falsetto. "I don't find that suspicious in the least!"
"'The better to hear you with, my dear,' said the wolf, and Ron so help me if you make a single remark about neither one of them being able to hear well in the first place, you can darn your own socks!" Hermione said very quickly.
"Fine, fine, but I can think it really loudly," Ron said with a grimace.
"At long last, the little girl had gone quite near the bed, and she said with a trembling voice, 'Grandmother, what big teeth you have!'" Hermione said, giving the line its appropriate horrified gasp.
"Unless Grandma was a vampire, that really should have been a tip off," Harry admitted.
"Actually, if you notice your Gran has enormous incisors, don't stop to comment on it. Just run," Ron said sagely.
"'All the better to EAT YOU WITH MY DEAR!'" Hermione said, her voice rising into a scream of fiendish laughter that actually made both boys jump. She blinked. "What? Too much?"
"Just a bit," Ron said, his voice quivering. "You people really tell this story to kids? The girl's grandmother becoming a wolf and threatening to eat her alive? That doesn't bother you?"
"Oh, we almost all wind up in therapy anyway," Hermione said with an airy wave of her hand. "Really, what's the difference if it's from having to deal with Mum and Dad's middle crisis or creepy children's stories that involve cannibalistic undertones? In any case, the wolf leaped out of the bed, chased Little Red Riding Hood around and around the cottage, and then ate her all up."
Ron and Harry looked at her expectantly, but she didn't seem to be going on.
"What, is that the end of the story?" Ron asked.
"Yes, well, in some of the versions," Hermione said.
"That's a bloody stupid ending!" Ron said. "The wolf eats Cindy and her grandmother and that's that?! Where's that whole happily ever after thing?"
"The whole point of the story is to emphasize the danger of talking to strangers and disobeying your parents," Hermione said. "Little Red Riding Hood did both, and she wound up dying because of it, which is the real symbolism of the hood's blood-red color."
"That's depressing," Ron said. "You said there's other versions though?"
"Yes," Hermione said. "In a different one, a woodsman hears Red Riding Hood's calls for help, but by the time he arrives, the wolf has already eaten her and has fallen fast asleep from gluttony."
"Sounds like Bill and Charlie after Christmas dinner," Ron said. "Say, is this the same woodsman who left Snow White in the forest instead of killing her?"
"Not that I know of," Hermione said.
"But there's no reason he can't be," Ron pointed out. "I mean, he could be, right?"
"Oh, I suppose so if it makes you happier," Hermione said with a martyr-like sigh. "In any case, the woodsman put two and two together when he saw the wolf dressed in the grandmother's clothes and with a great swollen belly."
"Not a dim fellow, this woodsman. Also, he seems to have a working pair of eyes," Ron said, pleased. "Finally, some sanity."
"So the woodsman took his ax and split open the wolf's belly, and out popped the grandmother and Little Red Riding Hood, alive but very shaken," Hermione said, though her tone suggested she was expecting the outcry that came a split second later.
"They just… popped out… alive… from the wolf's belly?" Ron said, looking disgusted and puzzled all at once. "Didn't he chew them at all?"
"Apparently he swallowed them whole," Hermione said.
"But even if he had… no wolf could fit two live human beings in his gullet, and the digestive juices! No oxygen! They'd have to be dead! It's just not possible!" Ron said, exasperated.
"I agree with you," Hermione said, patting him sympathetically. "It's not at all rational, but it's only a story."
"A story? Some kid's going to think it'd be neat to see what the inside of a wolf looks like, and the next thing you know Junior's head is stuck in Fido's mouth," Ron said. "This is ridiculous. Well, at least the wolf's dead now."
"Not really," Hermione said.
"He used an ax to split open the thing's stomach wide enough for two people to jump out of him! He's got to be dead," Ron fairly screamed. "Hermione, this story makes no sense at all!"
"It really doesn't," she admitted. "Do you want me to finish it?"
"I suppose," Ron said. "It can't really get that much weirder."
Hermione gave him an uncertain look but went on.
"The wolf was still asleep…," Hermione said.
"…in spite of the mind-numbing pain of anesthesia-free abdominal surgery accomplished via ax," Harry put in.
"Yes, and the woodsman took two great stones from the yard and put them inside the wolf's stomach, then sewed the wound shut," Hermione said.
"He what?" Ron said. "Why would he do that?"
"I'm about to explain," Hermione said. "When the wolf finally awoke, the huntsman stood in the front yard, on the other side of a well. The wolf, still greedy for more, went tearing towards him by the most direct route, intent on killing and eating him all in one bite, so he tried to jump right over the well. He hadn't planned on the great weight of the stones that were in his belly, though, and the heaviness of the rocks made him fall down the well, drowning him. Then the woodsman married Little Red Riding Hood, and they all lived happily ever after."
Harry looked at Ron. Ron looked at Harry.
"Mind if I point out a few things?" Ron said.
"Go ahead," Hermione said, leaning back in the old, worn chair. "The story's finished."
"First off, why didn't the wolf just eat Red Riding Hood the first time he met her in the forest?" Ron asked.
"I suppose he wanted both her and the grandmother," Hermione said.
"Yeah, but he already had directions to the cottage. Why not eat Red Riding Hood in the woods, then go eat the grandmother without having to dress up like her or try to match voices and things?" he asked.
"Well… when you put it that way, I don't really see a reason why," Hermione admitted.
"The wolf had a flare for the dramatic," Harry said. "He didn't just want to kill them; he wanted to make them all look like idiots, too."
"Doesn't make any sense, but still, okay, for whatever reason, the wolf decides to do things this way, then sleeps off his binge. When the woodsman cuts open the wolf's belly—and I'm hoping it really was a spare nightdress the wolf was wearing otherwise the grandmother is popping out naked and probably covered in wolf's blood which is an image I really don't need of Auntie Muriel, and the poor woodsman doesn't need that for a thank you either—why doesn't he just chop the wolf's head off? Why stick stones in there and attempt drowning him in the well?" Ron said.
"Oh, come on! Is there some life-changing moral in that I'm not picking up on?" Ron asked.
"Not as far as I can see," Hermione said, "but it's still the way the story's told. I suppose there could be notions of purification via water in the undertones of the drowning, but it's a pretty big stretch."
"Finally, the woodsman marries Little Red Riding Hood. Exactly how old is this girl?" Ron asked.
"I don't really know," Hermione said. "The 'little' in her name suggests she's quite young, and very young marriages were common a long time ago, but it's never mentioned."
"Maybe 'little' just means she's really short," Harry suggested. "It would explain how she and her grandmother could both fit in a wolf's belly without being crushed."
"Particularly if it was a genetic condition she shared with the grandmother," Hermione said, nodding slightly in agreement. "Yes, I suppose it could be a reference to her height instead of her age."
"Hermione?" Ron said, drawing her attention back from the academic treatise Harry was sure she was outlining in her head. "Just so you know, even without magic, Muggle fairytales are plain bizarre."
"I suppose so," Hermione said, stretching. "It's getting late, though. I'm going to turn in."
"Might as well do the same," Harry agreed. "You coming, Ron?"
"Yeah. Night all," he said, climbing into his lower bunk.
"Oh, and Ron," Hermione called over her shoulder. "I moved your photo of Miss Crawford while I was tidying up today, but I think I put it back under your pillow correctly. I do hope you don't mind."
With a wicked smile of revenge as Ron blushed the color of his hair, Hermione turned out the light.