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Spoilers: Through book 7
Distribution: The Blackberry Patch and . If you're interested, please let me know.
Summary: During book seven's horcrux hunt, Hermione tells Harry and Ron the story of the Frog Prince.
Author's Note: The sixth in a series of Muggle fairytales.
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.
The Frog Pr-In-What-Way-Does-That-Make-Sense?-nce
Ron and Harry stumbled through the door of the tent, drenched and empty-handed.
"Any luck, then?" Hermione asked, sounding uncertain.
"If by luck you mean Harry nearly getting his cloak pulled off while we were trying to pinch some potatoes at the market, yeah, things went great," Ron replied bitterly. "Is there anything left at all?"
"I salvaged some turnips," Hermione said, then quickly added, "don't ask from where. You're happier not knowing."
"Turnips," Ron said, disgusted. "I don't like them even at the best of times."
"Well, better learn to love them, mate," Harry said, taking off one of his shoes and emptying a puddle of water from it onto the floor.
Harry used his wand to dry himself off a bit, but the damp cold was still pressing in upon him as though it had gotten into his bones. Ron, meanwhile, had flopped down on one of the chairs without even bothering to try drying off. He looked despondently at the little pot on their cooktop that was sending sullen clouds of steam in the air and making the tent smell like boiled turnips.
Hermione looked around and sighed.
"How about a bit of entertainment before dinner?" she asked.
"Want me to do my imitation of Cornelius Fudge again?" Ron asked, brightening a little.
"Ehm, no," Harry said, then quickly added, "you'd make us all laugh too much and it might… spoil our appetites?"
Ron looked mollified, but Harry and Hermione exchanged quick glances that showed how grateful they were to have avoided that catastrophe.
"We could have another story," Ron suggested, looking at Hermione.
"Oh, well," Hermione said, blushing and trying not to look too pleased, "I suppose I could try to come up with one, if you like."
"Yeah, but I've got a request after that last little trip down Storyland Lane," Ron said. "The king was a right ponce in it, and then Ashyweeper's prince was a near-sighted moron, and Albino Girl's had a thing for corpses, and the one who woke up the girl who took a nap was all kinds of rotten, and then the woodsman in the fashion victim's story liked operating on animals and sticking rocks in them…"
Hermione looked on in mild amusement as Ron listed off his problems with Muggle fairytales on his fingers.
"When you put it that way, I'm wondering why you want another," she said curiously.
"Oh, they're good fun," Ron said firmly, "but I was wondering if there were any where the fellows don't come off as weirdoes or freaks or some such."
"Hmm," Hermione said, frowning as she considered. "Well, I suppose the Frog Prince is only mildly bad for the male characters. It's really the princess who's rather awful in that one."
"Then in the interest of fairness betwixt the genders, I want that one," Ron said, kicking back in his chair and putting his dripping trainers up on the little end table.
"Your wish is my command," Hermione said, sitting cross-legged on the couch, then adding in an undertone, "at least for the moment since it'll keep the peace."
Harry found himself wandering over to a chair himself and sitting down, wondering what fresh strangeness Hermione was going to tell them this time.
"Once upon a time," Hermione and Ron said simultaneously.
"Would you prefer to tell the story?" she said icily in a very close imitation of Professor McGonagall.
"No, I just like saying that, and really, when else is it appropriate?" Ron said, grinning.
Hermione gave him a disbelieving look but went on.
"There was a good king who lived in a country far, far away, and he had several beautiful daughters, but the most beautiful was the youngest one," Hermione said.
"Where's their mum?" Ron asked.
"Dead again, I'm guessing," Harry chimed in.
"This story doesn't really say, but I suppose as we never hear from her in it, she might well be dead," Hermione said, and Harry noticed that faraway, sad look come into Hermione's eyes again that always seemed to be there when she thought of her parents.
"Or maybe she's just having a nice vacation at a spa," Ron said quickly. "There's no reason to assume the worst or anything, right?"
Harry had to hand it Ron; he was getting a lot more perceptive where girls were concerned. In any case, Hermione gave him a grateful smile and went on.
"Perhaps she was at that," Hermione said. "The youngest daughter…"
"What's her name?" Ron interrupted.
"This is another story where she doesn't have one," Hermione explained with a good deal more patience than usual, Harry thought.
"It's like they're all in the Witness Protection Program or summat," Ron said, shaking his head.
"Well, really, it's that they're not so much full characters as symbols," Hermione said. "The female protagonists in many of the stories, as well as most of the males, really act as intensified personifications of idealized characteristics inherent to the gender concerned. For example, the females are generally defined by beauty, docile, and obedience, except when disobedience is required for the continuation of the plot, which echoes an Eve or Pandora archetype. On the other hand, the villains in the story are often perversions or mirror opposites of the accepted stereotypes. The queen in Snow White, for example, is beautiful yet so vain that she's guilty of attempted murder, while the prince's mother in Sleeping Beauty is seen as the opposite of a unifying matriarch by turning her into a monstrous, cannibalistic ogre who tries to literally destroy the family unit by murdering her progeny, and I'm relatively sure there's some sort of reverse Oedipal complex going on as well."
Harry looked at Ron. Ron looked at Harry.
Suddenly, a pillow thumped Hermione lightly on the side of the head, making her shake her head for a moment.
"I was doing it again, wasn't I?" she said sheepishly. "Sorry."
"No need to apologize," Ron said. "I rather like those bits… even if I don't get half of them. But if we didn't stop you, you'd be writing a treatise on the characterization in fairy tales and we'd never find out about the king's pretty daughter."
Hermione grinned, then continued.
"In any case, one day while the princess was playing outside, she wandered into the deep, dark forest that surrounded the castle," Hermione said.
"Bad idea, that," Ron broke in. "Princesses and forests usually don't go well together. Really, all royal families in these things ought to try moving to a dessert."
Hermione gave him a look and went on.
"She came to a pond with great lily pads floating on its surface, and she found the spot so charming that she stopped there to play with her favorite toy, a ball made of purest gold," Hermione said.
"Pretty expensive toy," Ron said with a snort.
"I agree," Hermione said, "and it turned out to be trouble for her. You see, her favorite game was to toss the ball up in the air and then catch it over and over."
"Sounds dull," Ron said, shrugging.
Harry, however, couldn't help thinking of someone he had once seen, tossing a Snitch into the air over and over again and catching it. The image of his father was a strange one to come to mind just then, but oddly, he didn't find it morbid so much as strangely comforting.
"Maybe she was just practicing to be a Seeker," Harry suggested.
"Hey, yeah!" Ron said. "That'd work, wouldn't it? Little gold ball she's catching?"
Hermione seemed to consider this.
"I suppose it's possible that Quidditch is being inferred," she said slowly. "It is quite a coincidence, isn't it?"
"Sure is," Ron agreed. "Crikey, I miss Quidditch. I wonder how the Canons are doing this season. Anyway, so what happens next?"
"Well, she unfortunately dropped the ball," Hermione said.
"So she was the Canons' Seeker, then?" Harry teased, and sure enough a pillow caught him rather more roughly on the head than it had Hermione.
"The ball ended up falling into the pond. The princess couldn't swim, and the pond was so deep that she couldn't even see the bottom of it. She sat down by the pond and began to cry," Hermione said.
"Another weepy one," Ron said, shaking his head. "Still, I don't think I can blame her. I'd cry too if I lost a solid gold ball."
"However, it turned out the princess wasn't as alone as she thought. She heard a voice that said, 'Tell me, fair maiden, what troubles you?'" Hermione said. "The princess was so startled that she stopped crying and looked around for the source of the voice, but she couldn't see anyone."
"Invisibility cloak?" Harry asked.
"No. The voice said, 'I am in the water. Lean close and you shall see me,' and the princess came closer to the water's edge," Hermione said.
"And then a Grindylow grabbed her by the throat and drowned her, the end," Ron said. "Idiot girl."
"No, it was a large frog," Hermione said.
"A frog?" Ron said. "Is this like that talking wolf?"
"Well, yes and no. There's actually a reason this frog could talk, but it's explained later. In any case, the girl was very surprised to hear a frog speaking to her…"
"Okay, so maybe she's not such an idiot, then," Ron said approvingly.
"She said, 'Oh, frog, I have lost my golden ball in the pond, and I miss it so!' and the frog replied, 'I could retrieve it for you.' 'If you do so,' the princess said, 'I shall give you my golden crown and the jewels I am wearing, my silk gown and the slippers on my feet and all I own besides!'" Hermione continued.
"That's mental. I'm betting the crown is worth more than the ball is without all the other stuff thrown in," Harry said.
"Yeah, besides, what's a frog going to do with a crown and jewels and a dress and…" Ron said, then his eyes glazed over.
"What?" Harry asked.
"Nothing, just… realized the princess would have to walk home pretty much starkers," Ron said, coloring.
"Honestly!" Hermione said huffily. "She's a fictional character in a children's story! Is that all boys think about?"
"You really don't want an answer to that," Ron said. "Besides, you said she was pretty. That's really all I need to know."
Hermione muttered, "Boys…," under her breath, but went on with the story.
"The frog, however, said, 'I want none of these things,'" Hermione said.
"That's big of him," Ron said.
"'Instead, I want you to let me live in the castle with you and be your companion, that you should love me and let me eat from your plate and sleep on your pillow at night,'" Hermione said.
"Doesn't ask for much, does he?" Harry said with a laugh. "All for a ball?"
"Golden ball, don't forget," Ron said quickly. "It does make a difference. If I'd lost a solid gold ball, I'd be willing to share my dinner with a frog, but I might draw the line at letting him sleep on my pillow. Warts and all that."
"That's a myth, you know," Hermione said. "You can't get warts off a frog, or a toad either for that matter."
"Yeah, Neville would be covered in them by now what with Trevor," Harry said reasonably.
"I don't know, "Ron said. "Neville does get a few spots now and again. Better safe than sorry. Anyway, what'd the princess do?"
"Well, she did something very dishonest," Hermione said, sounding indignant. "She promised the frog that she would agree to all of his demands, but secretly she thought there was no possible way for the little frog to get all the way to the castle, and if she refused to carry him there, she'd never have to live up to her promise."
"That's rotten," Ron said. "So she's pretty but apparently completely stuck on herself and a liar in the deal too, huh? I think I've got a name for her now: Pansy!"
Harry couldn't help raising an eyebrow and Ron's use of the words "pretty" and "Pansy" so close together. Personally, he couldn't get past the shape of her nose. He noticed Hermione giving him a rather sharp look as well.
"Yes, well, the frog croaked happily then dived deep into the pool. The princess waited anxiously on the bank, biting her knuckles in anticipation, until suddenly the frog reappeared and tossed the ball into the air. She caught it at once, laughing in delight, and ran away, leaving the frog sitting sadly in the pond," Hermione said.
"That's pathetic," Ron said. "Not so much as a thank you or a nice pile of flies for a tip?"
"Not a thing," Hermione said, shaking her head. "She ran all the way back to the castle. Many hours later, when she and her father the king were having dinner, there was an enormous, loud pounding on the castle door."
"Let me guess. Kermit's come calling?" Harry said.
"Who?" Ron asked, confused.
"Kermit the Frog. He's a Muppet, well, a puppet, actually," Harry explained. "I saw him a couple of times when Dudley was watching telly. He's like a lime green felt lizard, really, with a pointy collar. He doesn't look all that much like a frog, when you get to it. Oh, and he sings and dances, and his best friend is a bear with low self-esteem who's a terrible comedian and wears a bowler hat and a white bowtie with pink spots."
Ron stared at him for nearly a full minute.
"You people are deeply bizarre," Ron said.
"Harry's actually right," Hermione said, "ehm, not about it being Kermit specifically, but about the frog being the one pounding on the door."
"How exactly did a frog manage to pound on the castle door so hard that the king and his daughter could hear it all the way up in the dining room, or had they decided to eat in the foyer with the Wellies?" Ron asked.
"You know, I don't really know how he managed that," Hermione said, frowning. "I suppose he could have… no, that really wouldn't have worked. Maybe he tried jumping up and down and then… but that really shouldn't make that loud of a noise, should it? Could he have thrown something at the door? He shouldn't be able to hold things properly without opposable thumbs, but then he did manage to carry the ball back to the surface of the pond, and if it was solid gold it must have been relatively weighty, so perhaps he could have been hurling fairly large rocks at the door…"
"Hermione," Ron said, patting her arm, "don't overthink it."
"Doctor, heal thyself," Hermione said with a snort. "A butler answered the door and brought a message to the king and princess, saying there was a frog at the front door who claimed the princess had promised he could eat with her."
"That is one of the strangest sentences I've ever heard, and yet I completely understand it," Ron said.
"The king asked the princess if it were true, and she said, 'Oh father, I did promise the frog he could eat with us if he retrieved my golden ball from the pond, but I never dreamed he would really come!' 'Did he fetch thy ball for thee?' the king asked. 'Yes," she admitted. 'Then thou must keep thy promise and let him eat beside thee," the king said severely. 'To do less is an offense against thy honor.'"
"Well, the king seems to be a pretty decent sort," Ron said. "For once, a parent who isn't dead or evil. Sort of a novelty in this stories. I think I rather like him, well, except for the thee and thou bit. Kind of pretentious, that."
"It's how people spoke back then," Hermione said rather defensively. "It was used as the familiar case of the second person singular where today we would use the words you or your, though thee would be the objective case as opposed to thou, which is the nominative."
"How do you stuff all that in your brain?" he said, looking mildly impressed.
Hermione blushed a lovely shade of pink and continued.
"The frog was carried into the dining room and was placed next to the princess's plate. There he insisted upon eating from her golden dishes and drinking from her cup, and the king, stating the princess had made a promise, insisted that she permit the frog to do these things. Still, she made her displeasure and reluctance very obvious," Hermione said.
"Okay, I can see not really wanting to eat the same food the frog is eating," Ron said, "still, though, she's all but throwing a tantrum."
"I don't think I'd particularly fancy drinking water a frog's been sipping from either," Harry said with a shudder. "Ron's right, though; she's Pansy Parkinson's moral twin."
"After dinner was over, the princess said she was very tired and wished to go to sleep, and the frog chimed in, 'I too am tired, and as thou promised to let me sleep on thy pillow, thou must carry me to thy bedchamber also,'" Hermione went on.
"See, now right here, there's a line and the frog's crossing it," Ron said.
"Yeah," Harry agreed. "It's a bit… unsavory, the frog demanding to sleep in the girl's bed."
"There do seem to be certain… connotations," Hermione agreed, shuddering, "but the king agreed that if his daughter had promised to take the frog to bed, then she must keep her promise."
"I hope she's got a good wart remover potion," Ron said grimly.
"The princess agreed but was barely able to tolerate carrying the frog up the stairs because it sickened and frightened her so. When she reached her bedroom, she put him down in a far corner of the room and thought that would satisfy him. 'I want to be as comfortable as thou,' the frog croaked testily. 'Put me upon thy pillow or I shall tell thy father!' And you see, this is where the story can go two different ways depending upon which version you read," Hermione said.
"What's way number one?" Ron asked.
"In one version of the story, the princess relents and puts the frog on her pillow, then kisses him good night," Hermione said.
"Yuck," Ron said. "That's beyond disgusting and into downright disturbing."
"When she woke up the next morning, instead of a frog there was a handsome prince standing in her room," Hermione said.
"That had to be rather frightening," Ron said, raising an eyebrow. "Handsome fellow or not, I'm betting no girl wants to wake up with a stranger hovering over her while she's sleeping. What's option number two?"
"Well, in that one, the princess picks up the frog from the corner, but she's so angry at him because of all his demands that instead of putting him on her pillow, she throws him at the wall as hard as she can," Hermione said.
"Ouch," Ron said, shuddering. "Now that sounds more like Pansy. At least the brat princess had to live with frog guts splattered on her wall for the rest of her life. Those things are a pain to get out."
"No," Hermione said.
"She got the guts out? How? I tried everything I could think of when Snape made me clean up his dungeon after that little explosion when we were brewing that potion that had all the amphibian bits in it, and it just wouldn't move," Ron said.
"There weren't any guts to remove. Instead, when the frog hit the wall, there was a great puff of smoke and a handsome prince appeared," Hermione said.
"You're kidding," Ron said, his mouth hanging open. "In both stories, the same thing happens?"
"Yes. The prince explains that he'd been enchanted by a wicked fairy who was passing by his castle one day, and that only when a princess allowed him to eat from her plate and drink from her cup and sleep on her pillow would he be free of the curse," Hermione said.
"Okay, so basically, the fairy took Mad-Eye Moody's view on transfiguration as punishment, although really being a frog is worse than a ferret. At least some girls think those are cute," Ron said. "It doesn't sound like the prince really did anything wrong, though, so why'd she do it?"
"The fairy was just wicked and didn't need a reason, I suppose," Hermione said.
"Fairly accurate, then," Ron said. "It's the sort of thing they'd do for fun, though he still shouldn't have been able to talk after she transfigured him. But it doesn't make sense. If she had to let him sleep on her pillow, it shouldn't have broken the curse because all she did in the one story was smack him into the wall like a bludger!"
"It doesn't make sense," Hermione agreed. "She was really trying to kill him, but somehow it broke the curse anyway."
"Stupid," Ron said, shaking his head. "Then what happened?"
"The prince asks her to marry him," Hermione said.
"You're joking?" Harry said, then laughed. "But… why?"
"Yeah," Ron agreed. "I mean, she's pretty and all, but she was a liar and a cheat and then tried to kill him on top of all that. Why would he want to marry her?"
"An excellent question," Hermione said, and Harry noticed she had quite a large grin. "I guess what you're saying is he really should have looked for a girl with more that just beauty to her credit, right?"
"I guess," Ron said, though Harry just caught him whispering under his breath, "unless she was spectacularly hot."
"The princess accepted," Hermione said.
"Because, of course, she'd want to marry some fellow who just appeared from nowhere and proposed," Ron said.
"Well, I do think he mentioned he was rich," Hermione added.
"Now that explains it," Ron agreed. "Just think, ol' Pansy can have as many golden balls as she wants!"
"The next day they were married, and a great coach pulled up to the castle driven by a team of beautiful horses, and out of the carriage hopped the prince's faithful servant, Heinrich," Hermione said.
"Heinrich?" Ron asked. "He gets a name? Why's he so special?"
"Or Henry, whichever you prefer," Hermione said. "He's sort of a personification of loyalty. He had been so sorry that his master the prince was turned into a frog that he had put three great bands of iron around his heart to keep it from shattering to pieces so that he could help the prince if he could. In fact, some of the versions of the story are called Iron Henry."
"That's disgusting," Ron said. "He implanted iron bands in his body to keep his heart from breaking?"
"Yeah, and before anesthesia, too," Harry chimed in.
"Anna who?" Ron asked.
"Anesthesia," Harry corrected him. "It's a Muggle medical thing that makes people sleep through operations and things, but it wasn't around back when these stories took place."
"The things Muggles think up. Hey, maybe Heinrich Henry or whatever his name is carried the frog to the door and did the pounding!" Ron suggested.
"You know, that would make a great deal of sense," Hermione said, and the relief in her voice convinced Harry that the problem of the pounding frog really had been weighing heavily on her mind. "It's the sort of thing a servant would do for a prince, too. I don't suppose they usually knock on doors for themselves. Well done, Ron!"
Ron blushed brightly and made a pleased noise in his throat. If that boy didn't make a move on Hermione soon, Harry was going to slap him.
"As the princess and the prince…," Hermione began.
"Neither of whom had proper names, which made them a perfect match," Ron added.
"…drove back to the castle, the sound of metal breaking was heard. 'Is the carriage going to bits?' asked the prince, but Heinrich answered, 'No, that was one of the bands around my heart breaking as my heart swells with joy that you are free!'" Hermione said.
"Rather House-elfish, isn't he?" Ron said distastefully. "Besides, did the band break and then come rocketing out of the bloke's chest? Because, really, getting hit in the face with an exploded, bloody iron band probably isn't the best way to start off a honeymoon."
"Twice more the sound of metal was heard, and each time the prince thought the carriage was falling to pieces, and each time Heinrich said one of the bands around his heart had snapped from happiness," Hermione said.
"You'd think the prince would catch on after the first time, or at least the first two if he were a bit slow," Ron said. "Still, I'm guessing the carriage really was falling apart because Heinrich hadn't been oiling it or what have you, and he just didn't want the prince to know."
"And the prince and princess lived happily ever after," Hermione ended.
"And Heinrich died of self-inflicted shrapnel wounds," Ron added. "The end."
"For once, the father really does seem to be the one intelligent one in the story," Harry said.
"Yeah," Ron agreed, "he got rid of the brat daughter by marrying her off to a dunderheaded dimwit and lived happily ever after with his other, hopefully more normal daughters," Ron agreed.
"And the moral of the story is, if you're a pretty princess, be as much of a brat as you like and smack frogs into walls because sooner or later one will turn into a prince," Harry said, amused.
"Or just kiss frogs and hope your lips don't turn into giant, pus-filled warts," Ron said. "It seems kissing solves just about everything in these stories: curses, over-sleeping, being dead…"
"Yeah," Harry agreed, thinking of Ginny hundreds of miles away and hoping she wasn't kissing anyone else, as selfish as that might be.
No sooner did he start to look sad than a pillow whapped him on the side of the head.
"Hey!" Ron said sharply. "No deep thinking until at least morning, so quit it!"
Harry laughed and found himself more than happy to comply with the order. For some reason, that night's steamed turnips tasted inexplicably delicious. It was almost like magic.