Author: Meltha

Rating: PG

Feedback: Yes, thank you.

Spoilers: Through book 7

Distribution: The Blackberry Patch and . If you're interested, please let me know.


Author's Note: The seventh in a series of Muggle fairytales. Her

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.


Darkness was starting to fall earlier and earlier, and it did nothing to lighten the sometimes dismal mood inside the tent the trio of friends had called home for months now. Harry did his best to think and rethink of any possible hiding place for the remaining horcruxes, but a small, nagging corner of his brain was starting to believe their quest was futile. Ron was deeply homesick and starting to get on Harry's nerves. At least, he thought, when this was all over Ron would have a home to go back to. Harry had lost the pathetic home he'd had with his aunt and uncle, and they'd be lucky if the Death-Eaters hadn't blown it to smithereens in retaliation anyway. He had absolutely no idea where he was going to live. Sirius's house, he supposed with a shudder. Hermione said nothing about the possibility that her parents might never remember her, but he knew that, even if it was a distant chance that their memories would be permanently altered, it was still there. Consequently, cheerful thoughts were becoming hard to come by. When the mood got this bad, there was only one thing that could lift their spirits.

"Hermione," Harry asked, "would you tell us another story?"

"Oh, I don't know," Hermione said, tucking her hair behind her ears as she looked up from her little beaded purse. "I've been trying to find that book on fifteenth century wizards in Britain. It's possible that one of the horcruxes might be hidden in a place that has to do with a major event in wizarding history, but I can't find the stupid thing. I think it's lodged somewhere behind the extra jumpers."

She gave the bag a vicious shake, and a racket of tumbling objects made Harry wince.

"Repairo," Hermione said tiredly as the sound of tinkling glass being pulled back together again came from the bag.

"Come on, Hermione," Ron said. "We need some diversion, and those stories are loads better than what we can get on the WWN. Who wants to listen to Celestina Warbeck caterwauling… well, besides Mum, bless her heart."

Hermione regarded him carefully, and Harry too noted that Ron was once again lapsing into homesickness.

"Alright then," Hermione said, relenting. "I'll come up with something."

Ron smiled at her, and she flushed a little. Harry was starting to grow weary of the endless foreplay between the two of them. If they were still searching by the time Christmas came, he was going to lock them in the tiny pantry with a very large sprig of mistletoe, nargle infestation or not.

"Once upon a time," Ron began expectantly. "Then what?"

Hermione laughed, then began.

"Once upon a time, in a kingdom far away, there lived a married couple who very much wanted a child," Hermione said.

"Were they a king and queen? Because that usually doesn't go so well, as I recall," Ron said.

"No, they were a poor couple," Hermione said. "Finally, the wife was with child."

"With child?" Ron said. "Odd way of putting it."

"It just means she was pregnant," Hermione said.

"Yeah, but when I eat steak and kidney pie, I don't say I'm 'with pie,'" Ron said, drawing little quotation marks around the words. "Or that Heinrich fellow in that one with the frog, no one said he was 'with iron bands' when he stuck them around his heart."

"I still don't get how he did that," Harry said, shaking his head.

"Well obviously, no, you wouldn't say that, but then it's not really the same thing, is it?" Hermione said huffily.

"I wish I really was with pie," Ron said gloomily and looking at the empty kitchen. "Maybe with salad and with pudding as well."

"Would that count as triplets?" Harry asked, feigning seriousness.

Hermione gave them both a withering look and continued.

"However, the woman's health was not good, and she began to feel faint and sick," Hermione said. "Her husband asked if there was anything he could do, and she said, 'Oh, how I would love to eat some rampion!'"

"Rampion? What's that?" Ron asked.

"It's like a kind of lettuce," Hermione said. "In some of the other versions of the stories it's a radish she wants, or parsley."

"Of all the things she could crave, she picks lettuce?" Ron said, then snorted. "How boring is that? Why not go for ice cream or sirloin or something? When Mum was pregnant with the twins, she told me she had this phase when she ate fish curry every day. She still blames how spicy it was for how rebellious Fred and George wound up."

"Even if it was only a sort of lettuce, I suppose the rampion was very rare, though," Hermione said, "because there was only one place to get it, and that was a garden surrounded by a high wall and owned by a very powerful witch named Mother Gothel."

"Then how could she crave it if she'd never had it?" Ron asked.

Hermione seemed to consider this carefully.

"I don't quite know," Hermione said. "Maybe she'd had some once somehow, or maybe the witch performed a spell to make her want it very badly."

"Yet another one of the infamous loose ends, eh?" Ron said.

"I suppose. In any case, the husband, fearing for his wife's health, climbed over the wall and stole some of the rampion," Hermione went on.

"Why didn't he just ask the witch if he could have some?" Ron asked.

"I guess he was afraid of her," Hermione said, shrugging.

"Yeah, he's terrified of talking to her, but climbing over her wall and stealing stuff in the middle of the night? Oh, that's bloody brilliant, that is. We have yet another dunderhead to add to the collection," Ron said triumphantly. "Granted, he's still not on a par with the one who couldn't figure out who the girl was because she was wearing a different dress, but still, fairly dumb."

"However, he wasn't caught," Hermione said.

"Pretty poor defensive spells she had set up along her perimeter, then," Ron said, shaking his head. "She could have done with a lesson or two from us."

"Perhaps," Hermione said, and Harry noted that while she didn't correct Ron by noting that "us" was really just her, she did look a little deflated. "The husband took the rampion back to his wife, and she made it into a salad and ate it. This made things both better and worse. While the rampion was delicious and exactly what she needed, it also created a burning desire in her for more."

"She sounds like she's a rampion addict," Harry said, raising an eyebrow.

"Sad, that," Ron said. "Pregnant woman strung out on lettuce."

Hermione gave them a look that suggested she thought they were both insane, but continued on.

"The wife begged her husband to get her more rampion or else she would die, and reluctantly, he agreed to scale the wall again to steal more rampion," Hermione said.

"Just think. This whole problem could have been avoided with a decent vegetable market," Harry said.

"Or a lettuce addiction support group," Ron agreed.

"Unfortunately, the witch had noticed her garden had been visited by a thief, and when the man climbed the wall that night and dropped to the other side, there the witch stood, waiting for him," Hermione said.

"That's not going to end well," Harry said.

"Reminds me of McGonagall in a bad mood," Ron agreed. "Hey, you know, 'Mother Gothel' and 'McGonagall' do sound something alike, don't they?"

"Actual, it's just a common nickname for a godmother in Germany, and that's where this story comes from," Hermione explained. "Still, it is sort of a funny coincidence, isn't it? Anyway, the witch was furious at the man and was on the point of killing him, but he fell to his knees and begged her forgiveness, explaining that he had taken the rampion only because his pregnant wife was nearly on the point of death from desiring it."

"I don't know that I've ever heard that particular defense given for theft before," Harry said. "Pretty sure there's no precedent there."

"Actually, the witch agreed not to kill him," Hermione said.

"Oh, well, good for him then," Ron said, smiling.

"Instead, she said that as payment for the rampion, she would accept the child," Hermione said.

"Wait. You're telling me the going price for a head of fancy lettuce was a kid?" Ron said, his eyes goggling.

"In this particular case, yes," Hermione said.

"But he couldn't possibly have agreed to trade his baby for a few poxy leaves of this stuff," Ron said, his brow furrowed.

"I'm afraid that's exactly what he did," Hermione said.

"Okay, we've got a father who actually beats the one in that stupid story about the gold spinning elf for worst father award," Ron said. "That's beyond horrid."

"Still, if you see it from his perspective, he thought if he let the witch kill him, the wife would die from not having the rampion, and so would the child," Hermione said. "It's a difficult moral situation."

"He should have just gone to a ruddy salad bar," Ron said, shaking his head. "So what happened?"

"The witch let the man go with the rampion, and when he told his wife what had happened, she was stricken with great grief," Hermione said.

"Should be, greedy pig," Ron said.

"Well, she's not the one who bartered away her firstborn for a salad, you know!" Hermione said defensively.

"No, but the husband wouldn't have been put in that position if it hadn't been for his wife demanding the stupid rampion," Ron said, and rather loudly Harry noticed. "'Oh, poor me! If you don't steal the vegetables out of the very dangerous witch's garden, I'm going to up and die and it'll be your fault!' Yeah, that's likely."

"You know, the story never even says that she knew he was breaking into the witch's garden," Hermione said coldly.

"What did she think, then? That he'd become a green grocer overnight and was dipping into his vast private stores of rampion?" Ron shot back.

"Time out!" Harry interrupted them. "Can we all agree that the witch is basically the one at fault here? I mean, she's the one asking for payment in human beings."

Ron looked at him, considering for a moment, then sighed. "Fine. Swapping babies for veggies is vile, I'll agree on that."

"So will I," Hermione said, "though I do wish we'd see a decent witch in here occasionally. It's all blatant prejudice."

"Whatever," Ron said with a wave of his hand. "What happened when the kid was born?"

"True to his word, the father delivered his newborn baby girl to the witch," Hermione said, "and he never laid eyes on her again."

"Not sure he's that much of a waste, but what happened to the daughter? The witch didn't eat her or anything," Ron said, a note of concern in his voice.

"No, it turns out the witch really did want to have a daughter. She named her Rapunzel after the rampion plant," Hermione said.

"But rampion and Rapunzel don't really sound that much alike," Ron said.

"Well, they sound a little alike," Hermione said.

"I suppose it's better than calling her Cabbage Leaf or Turnip Head or something," Ron said, "but still, why not Rampiona? Rampionette? Rampionella?"

"This from the boy who thinks Hermione is a tragic name," she said, rolling her eyes.

"Hey, I've got it! Rampo!" Ron said. "The witch can raise her to hunt down bad guys with a semi-automatic machine gun in the jungle!"

"I take it that was another one of Fred and George's illicit movie rentals?" Hermione said in a voice that was perhaps a trifle too dry as Harry laughed so hard he actually fell off his chair.

"Yeah," Ron said, grinning. "Good times, there. They nicked some Muggle popcorn from a cinema, too, and we had a day of it while Mum and Dad were in Hogsmeade once."

"Charming," Hermione said. "Nothing like minors viewing violent material without parental knowledge while stealing snacks."

"Yeah," Ron said, sighing blissfully. "I miss that."

"Going back to the story you're currently listening to, the witch proved to be deeply jealous when it came to her daughter's affections. This wasn't helped by the fact Rapunzel was incredibly beautiful even as a little girl, so much so that the witch feared someone would fall in love with her and marry her," Hermione said.

"Sounds a little like Mum's opinion of Ginny," Ron said.

Harry tried not to blush to the roots of his hair, but he knew he was failing miserably.

"I think most mothers worry about things like that, but this witch took it too far. When Rapunzel turned twelve years old, the witch spirited her away into the darkest part of the forest."

"Uh oh. That never winds up going well for girls," Ron said.

"Indeed it didn't. She shut her up in a room at the top of a very tall, round tower with no doors and no staircase, and only one small window," Hermione said.

"What the hell? It sounds like Azkaban minus the Dementors!" Ron said, incensed.

"Yeah, and given the circumstances I'm not sure she'd need Dementors to go crazy," Harry said.

Hermione nodded in agreement and appeared to be about to go on, but Ron was frowning.

"How'd she go to the loo?" he asked suddenly.

Hermione blinked in silent disbelief.

"No, really. They all had outside ones back then, didn't they? So if she's stuck at the top of a tall tower with no way in or out, how'd she use the toilet?" Ron said earnestly as though this were of the utmost importance.

"Really, Ronald!" Hermione said, annoyed. "This isn't part of the plot!"

"No, but it's bothering me!" Ron insisted. "I'm not going to be able to concentrate until I figure it out."

"Oh, fine," Hermione said in defeat. "We'll assume she had a chamber pot. Happy?"

"Eh, it'll do," Ron said, shrugging. "Still, there'd have to be a right mess under the one window."

"That's… actually, that's a really disturbing image considering what happens later," Hermione said, making a face. "Anyway, the witch used to visit Rapunzel each day to bring her food and water."

"Well, at least she visited her," Ron said. "That's something, at any rate."

"Yes, but the way she visited her was really rather odd. Rapunzel had very beautiful, very long golden hair that she wore in a braid, and the witch would walk through the forest and stand at the base of the tower and call up, 'Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your golden hair!' Then Rapunzel would loop her hair twice through a hook next to the window and lower the braid to the ground so the witch could climb up," Hermione explained.

Ron stared. Hermione blithely returned his puzzled gaze, waiting patiently for the flood of questions that was about to occur.

"I'm trying to decide exactly which part of that ridiculous image I should attack first," Ron said, "and it's hard, because there's so many."

"Take your time," Hermione said, raising an eyebrow at him.

"Fine, let's start with the basic one. Why doesn't the witch just fly a broomstick through the window rather than climbing up her poor kid's hair?" Ron asked.

"An excellent question for which I have absolutely no answer," Hermione said. "Apparently, witches don't use brooms in this story."

"Alright, we've got a broomphobic witch or some such," Ron said. "Now, how tall is this tower supposed to be? Two, maybe three feet off the ground? Because I thought you said it was a very tall tower."

"Different stories say different heights, but it's at least a good thirty feet tall or so," Hermione said. "In fact, the shape of the tower, when looked at from a symbolic perspective, could be seen as a representation of… ehm… you know, that thing the spindle in Sleeping Beauty represented. Which really underlines the futility of the witch locking up Rapunzel so she won't meet anyone of the opposite sex."

"Putting aside that," Ron said, "not that a thirty foot tall… one of those… isn't making me feel a bit inferior, but how long was this girl's hair then?"

"Well, taking into account the sideways motions of plaiting on top of the thirty foot drop and the bit wound twice around the hook, and assuming she didn't have her head pressed directly against the windowsill, mathematically speaking, it would have to be," Hermione paused, and Harry saw her ticking things off on her fingers, "I'd say, give or take for texture, probably at least forty or so feet long."

"Forty… feet… long," Ron said slowly. "You do realize that's impossible, right?"

"Well, obviously," Hermione said, "but then so is sleeping for a hundred years or spinning straw into gold or surviving being eaten by a wolf. These stories aren't meant to be taken literally, you know."

"But she wouldn't be able to move," Ron said, punctuating the last word with a stab of his finger. "Her hair'd weigh a ton! And in that tiny little room, where is she going to stuff that mess? She'd be tripping over it every few seconds even if it didn't take up every cubic foot of space! And how long would it take to dry after a wash? And what about shampoo? The witch would need to bring it by the quart or something!"

Harry looked in some worry at his friend, who was currently so red in the face that his freckles were entirely camouflaged.

"Ron, breathe," Harry said, patting him on the back. "It's a story."

"But it makes absolutely no bloody sense at all! Why doesn't the witch use a ladder? Why does she climb up the girl's braid, because I don't care how many times she wraps it around a hook, that's gotta hurt! And does she have constant, incessant migraines? Does her scalp have bulging muscles?" Ron let go in a burst, then sat panting.

"Done?" Hermione asked kindly after a moment.

"Yeah, I think so," Ron said. "Okay, go on."

"Are you sure?" she asked.

"Yeah, I want to know what happens to ol' Rampo," Ron said.

"Say, I just thought of something," Harry said, sounding surprised. "What girl do we know who's got the most hair?"

Ron looked around uncomfortably, avoiding Hermione's eyes, before saying, "Ehm, you talking length or mass?"

Hermione sniffed at him in disdain, then said, "Luna, obviously."

"Yeah, who lives in a big, tall, round tower," Harry said. "I mean, that's not exactly a common floor plan. Isn't it kind of an odd coincidence?"

"Huh," Ron said. "Yeah, it is, now you mention it. But her dad's place has a door at least, and Luna's hair isn't anywhere near long enough to use as a makeshift ladder, but still, yeah, kind of weird."

"It's odd, I grant you, but still, it's only a coincidence," Hermione said, though she looked a little unnerved, but she pressed on. "Years passed, and Rapunzel grew in beauty and grace…"

"…and hair…," Ron added.

"…and all continued just as the witch planned. Rapunzel had never seen a single other human being besides the witch in all her memory, and though she was often lonely, she never dreamed there were any other humans in the world but the witch and herself," Hermione said.

"That has got to give you a warped view of the world," Ron said, "with no company but that wacko around."

"I suppose it would," Hermione said, and something about her tone made Harry wonder if she was still thinking of the Lovegoods. "Rapunzel also had a very beautiful singing voice, and this proved to be the witch's downfall. One day, a prince was riding through the forest, hunting a doe, when he heard the ethereally beautiful voice of an unknown girl floating on the breeze."

"Yeah, and the song she sang went something like this," Ron said, then, in an awful, out of tune falsetto he warbled, "Oh, I wiiiiish I weeeeern't stuck up iiiiin this toooooooower! Does aaaannnybooody have the pooooooower to save me from this stinking booooweeer? My haiiiir's reaaaal looooong, buuut not my sooooong!"

"Yes, well, I doubt Rapunzel had learned the finer points of Aerosmith's power ballads so well as that," Hermione said, rubbing her ears.

"Who's Arrow Smith?" Ron asked.

"Nevermind. The prince followed the sound of her singing and came to the strange tower in the middle of the forest. He was just wondering why someone would build a tower in the middle of nowhere when he heard the sound of the witch approaching, and he hid himself in a cluster of bushes to watch what would happen," Hermione said.

"A peeping Tom. Nice," Harry said.

"Does it really count as peeping if the girl is in a tower so high that it's impossible to see anything?" Ron asked reasonably.

"The witch called out, 'Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your golden hair,' and sure enough, a few seconds later the golden braid descended and the witch climbed up it and through the window," Hermione said.

"And the prince got straight out of there because that was just too bizarre," Ron provided helpfully, "except I'm sure he didn't because that would require a brain, and no one in these stories has that particular commodity."

"You're catching on well," Hermione said with an impish grin. "He was so intrigued he stayed and waited until the braid reappeared and the witch descended and went off through the forest once more. When he was quite sure she was gone, he decided to try his own luck. He walked to the base of the tower…"

"…mind the poo there, mate…" Ron chimed in.

"…and called up, 'Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your golden hair,' and a few moments later, the braid emerged and he used it as a rope to climb up the tower and through her window," Hermione said.

"Uh, Hermione, did this fellow have some sort of hormonal problem?" Ron asked.

"No," Hermione said carefully. "Why?"

"Then why did his voice sound exactly like an old woman's?" he asked. "Or is Rapunzel just hard of hearing or deeply stupid?"

"Ron! She's a very sheltered, naive girl who's never heard a human voice before other than the witch's and her own and doesn't even know that other human beings exist! If she heard someone speaking, she was bound to be curious or assume it was the witch with a bad cold or something!" Hermione said.

"So, considering the witch just left three minutes ago without a cold, she falls into the 'deeply stupid' category, then," Ron said.

Hermione sighed so loudly in suppressed fury that Harry wondered if it was audible outside the tent.

"In any case, when the prince climbed through the window, Rapunzel was absolutely terrified because she'd never seen a man before," she said.

"Okay, now that I can buy," Ron said. "Poor kid."

"I thought you said she was stupid?" Hermione said disdainfully.

"Well, yeah, but still," Ron said, blushing. "She didn't do anyone any harm or anything."

Hermione smiled a little and went on.

"The prince quickly tried to reassure her that he meant her no harm, and he soon came to realize that she had spent all her life in deep seclusion. He began to tell her stories of the world outside of the forest, of people and cities and ships and a thousand other wonders that she couldn't properly understand but marveled over, and she said she very much wanted to see all these things," Hermione said.

"You know," Harry said slowly. "That's kind of sad, really."

"Yeah," Ron said. "Alright, I'm sorry I called her stupid. Not her fault she's locked up by the world's most over-protective mum."

"The prince promised to return the next day and bring with him a skein of silk that she could use to begin making a ladder, then he climbed back down her hair and rode away on his horse," Hermione said.

"Why doesn't he just come back with a ladder?" Ron asked.

"Well, I don't know. I expect it would have to be a really tall ladder," Hermione said.

"How about a rope, then?" Ron suggested.

"See, now that would make sense, but there needs to be a passage of time in the story," Hermione said.

"Why?" Ron asked.

"Well, Rapunzel has to fall in love with the prince… among other things," she said.

"That sounds interesting," Ron said. "The prince is a man with a plan, I take it."

"Actually, maybe he really is," Hermione said, and Harry could practically see the cogs turning behind her eyes. "He has to very gradually earn her trust, and he does so by bringing a single skein of silk with him each time he visits, insuring that she gets to know him so well that she'll prefer him to anyone else she might meet in the outside world. It could be a form of subtle manipulation of her affections on his part."

"Or not," Ron said. "Maybe he just couldn't find a rope."

Hermione seemed to think this over for a minute, then shrugged and muttered, "Works for me."

"So, Rapunzel starts knotting together skeins of silk, of all things, for a ladder, because it wouldn't do at all for her to climb down a rope made of shredded bedsheets that were probably already in the room," Ron said. "Then what?"

"Well, that's where the story can go one of three different ways," Hermione said. "In one version, after several months, the witch is visiting Rapunzel in her tower and finds the ladder she's making under her bed."

"Busted," Ron said ruefully. "Mum sort of found out about Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes the way. Well, really the cat did. He was nosing about under the bed and ate a stray Canary Cream while Mum was dusting."

"Do they work on cats?" Hermione asked.

"And how! Poor thing sprouted feathers and then tried to chase himself around the room. Nearly wound up eating himself," Ron said, chuckling.

"Sort of like the cat that ate the canary, only in reverse… and forward," Harry said, looking both repulsed and intrigued.

"Yeah. Mum nearly had a heart attack over that one, then nearly matched it with an aneurysm when the feathers all molted off in an explosion around the room. She claims she's still picking up stray ones," Ron said. "Anyway, you said there were three ways the story could go. What about the other ones?"

"Well, in one she does something that really you can only call silly. One day, after she's pulled up the witch, she asks, 'Why are you so much heavier than the prince?'" Hermione said.

"As slip-ups go," Harry said, "that's the equivalent of hitting thirty miles of pavement covered in jam."

"Yeah, that's pretty bad, but I can still kind of imagine somebody saying that off-hand if they didn't have any experience at all with lying," Ron said.

"Probably true," Hermione said. "The last one is, well, rather less innocent. One day when the witch is visiting, Rapunzel asks her, 'Why is my dress getting so much tighter around my middle?'"

"What, was the prince bringing her lots of chocolates or something?" Ron asked, confused. "I mean, really, she can't get much exercise stuck in one room in a tower."

"No, she was pregnant," Hermione said, "though she didn't know what was happening."

"And once again these stories go to a disturbing place," Ron said. "The prince gets her pregnant and she doesn't even really know what she's doing?"

"Pretty much," Hermione admitted. "It's sort of ironic that the innocence Mother Gothel insisted on left Rapunzel so ignorant about the world that the very thing she was afraid would happen to her did happen as a result of her ignorance."

"Poor kid," Ron said again, shaking his head again. "Well, in any case, the witch finds out. What'd she do?"

"She went into a crazed fury and screamed, 'Oh, you wicked, wicked child! You have met a man in spite of all I have done for you!'" Hermione said, making her voice thin and croaky.

"Yeah, locking you up in solitary confinement, lying to you about the existence of other human beings, probably making her go crazy," Ron counted off on her fingers. "I'm thinking the wicked one here isn't the child."

"I tend to agree," Hermione said. "Then, the witch wrapped Rapunzel braid three times around her left hand, and with a great pair of shears in her left, cut her hair off quite short."

"That may have been an improvement," Ron said with a shrug.

"Then the witch forced her to climb down her own braid and spirited her away to a lonely desert and abandoned her there to fend for herself," Hermione went on.

"Whoa, she made the pregnant girl who's never seen the world go die in a desert? That's deeply wrong," Ron said.

"I didn't say she died, did I?" Hermione said.

"Oh, well, that's a little better than," Ron said, calming down.

"The witch climbed back up the braid, pulling it up behind her, and waited for the arrival of the prince. When he called out, 'Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your golden hair,' he climbed up the braid once more, only to find when he went through the window that Rapunzel was gone and the braid was hanging next to the witch. 'She is gone, and you shall never set eyes upon her again!' she screamed, her eyes blazing. In despair, the prince flung himself from the tower," Hermione said.

"What a way to go," Ron said, grimacing. "Take a header off a thirty foot tower into a several-years-high pile of poo."

Harry laughed so hard that Hermione actually punched him in the ribs to get him to stop.

"The prince did not die, though, because a rose bush planted at the base of the tower caught his fall," Hermione said.

"Yeah, I hear they thrive on manure," Ron said, and Harry tried ineffectively to hide a guffaw.

"Unfortunately, the great thorns of the bush scratched his eyes so badly that he was left entirely blind," Hermione said.

"Oh, come on! Now that's not fair," Ron said indignantly. "The witch punishes the prince with blindness and Rapunzel just gets off with a bad haircut!"

"Well, really, the witch didn't touch the prince," Hermione said. "He actually did the damage to himself. Also, I can't help wondering if there isn't something sort of Oedipal about the whole thing, what with the gouging out of eyes. I mean, several scholars suggest that eyes are the equivalent of… ehm, nevermind."

Hermione blushed once more, and both Ron and Harry, who had taken the intellectual leap, gave sympathetic whimpers of shared pain.

"The prince began to wander blindly from place to place, desperate for some word of Rapunzel, but he could find no sign of her," Hermione went on. "A few years passed, and at long last he came to the desert."

"And stumbled over her bleached bones left out in the sun," Ron said. "The end."

"Not quite. Just as he was on the point of dying of thirst, he heard the sound of a far off voice singing a lullaby, and he recognized it as Rapunzel's. He stumbled towards it, and Rapunzel saw him and cried out for joy. He collapsed into her arms, and when she saw his ruined eyes, she began to weep, but the moment her tears touched his eyes, they healed, and he could see perfectly well not only Rapunzel but the twin children she had borne him," Hermione said.

"So, somehow, when she starts blubbering, that's a cure for blindness? She really should bottle that. Make a fortune," Ron said. "And on top of that, it wasn't just one kid but twins?"

"That's how the story goes," Hermione said shrugging.

"Yes, because one wouldn't be quite mad enough. She's got to wander in the wilderness for years, in the desert, without any survival skills and probably mad as a March hare, and goes through a full term pregnancy that results in not one but two kids," Ron said. "Don't you think that's a mite of an overkill?"

"Possibly, but it sets me wondering what her story was during those months," Hermione said, tilting her head curiously. "That could be very interesting. I mean, really, how did she survive?"

"Tragically, the world may never know," Ron said solemnly. "So, a second set of Fred and George show up, then what?"

"The usual," Hermione said. "The prince takes her and the children back to his kingdom where he marries her properly and they…"

"Lived happily ever after," Ron and Harry chorused together.

"Yeah, but what about the witch?" Ron asked.

"The story doesn't mention her again, just like the parents," Hermione said.

"Maybe the braid got knocked off when Prince Light-on-His-Feet took a header so she got stranded forever in Poo Tower," Ron said. "It'd be a fitting end, that."

"Ron, you have such a way with words," Hermione said, giving him a fondly exasperated look.

"Yep," he said, sprawling back on the couch. "That's me. The Gryffindor bard."

"You know what I'm trying to figure out? What exactly the moral of the story is," Harry said.

"Whaddaya mean, mate?" Ron asked, sprawling across the couch.

"Actually, that's really intriguing, Harry," Hermione said. "Most of these stories do have a fairly clear moral to them: patience and hard work bring reward in Cinderella or the importance of keeping promises in the Frog Prince…"

"Yeah, but what exactly are you supposed to take away from this one?" Harry said.

"Don't steal rampion?" Ron suggested. "Extremely long hair is both a way to meet a possible love interest and perilous to your health? Towers without doors in them are fire hazards?"

"There wasn't any fire in this," Hermione said, confused.

"Yeah, but there could have been," Ron said sagely. "Exactly how would she have gotten out if there had been? A tower with no doors? That's a firetrap, that is."

"You know, I think that's pretty close to what the story's actually trying to say," Hermione said thoughtfully.

"Really? Mother Gothel needed to install a sprinkler system?" Ron said, surprised.

"No," Hermione said. "That by over-protecting their children, parents put them in even greater dangers sometimes than the outside world might normally offer."

"I suppose," Harry said slowly, and he couldn't help thinking about Mrs. Weasley and her adamant attempts to "save" them, even if it meant condemning them all to a world with Voldemort in it and a price on each of their heads… well, except perhaps for Ron. Her intentions were the best, he knew, but her panic was short-sighted, not unlike the witch in the story.

"Maybe," Ron said, "but I still think it's got something to do with the dangers of leafy vegetables myself. I never did much like lettuce. It always seems so pointless, just lying there on a sandwich, not doing anything except being green."

"Yes, Ronald," Hermione said, pursing her lips. "I'm sure the perils of fresh produce have inspired any number of creators of classic fairytales."

"Hey, don't laugh," Ron said. "Remember, that pumpkin Ashyweeper was riding in split to bits, didn't it?"

"Well, yes, but…" Hermione began.

"And Snow White almost got offed by an apple," Harry added.

"That's true, but still…," Hermione said, frowning.

"Now this one's father nearly gets killed over some sort of posh lettuce," Ron said firmly. "Next thing you know, there'll be enchanted beans or something."

"Actually, there really is a story about enchanted beans," Hermione said, her face becoming more and more disturbed. "Now I'm wondering what the connection is between all the fruit and vegetable imagery."

"And I'm wondering about enchanted beans," Ron said. "Give us another, yeah?"

"We've got to be up in a few hours to move camp before dawn," Hermione reminded him.

"Oh, I suppose my curiosity can wait a bit," he said, yawning widely. "Night all."

"Good night," Hermione said, climbing into her bed.

Harry followed, so tired he could barely lift the blanket. However, he found himself restless that night, plagued by dreams of Ginny, high in Gryffindor Tower, which somehow now had no door and only one window, her long red hair gleaming in the sunlight as she waited for him to hear her song.