General disclaimer - I do not own Harry Potter. If I did I would have been brave enough to write it the way that I wanted to, and wouldn't have appeased the big wigs demanding my story remained on 'track'.
The carriage once again bumped on the uneven road, her mask slipped, the ribbon dislodging from its bow. Across the way the other girl sighed once again, reaching forward to tighten the older girls mask for her. When the mask was secured the red head settled back into her seat and let out another heart breaking sigh, prompting the brunette to finally speak up since the beginning of the journey.
"What is the matter, Ginerva?"
"You have been pouting for hours."
"I just don't see the point."
"A few years ago you wanted nothing more than to travel to Slytherin Castle."
"That was before...Harry."
"He is not going to let you be swept off your feet by some other lord."
"But he is not just a lord, Hermione. He is the king, and they are going to parade princesses and other ladies in front of him. What if-"
"He loves you, Ginerva, he isn't going to go after some other girl, especially not a girl from Slytherin."
The rain poured outside the carriage, lending to the dreary mood within. Hermione had put up quite a fight about the tradition that was thrust upon her. She had grown up watching it, observing from a small distance all of the injuries and broken hearts that occurred.
Once a year the ladies of marrying age would be whisked away to the foreign countries to find acceptable suitors. It kept the magic equal amongst the kingdoms for united corners. The women masked themselves for half a season, until the games would begin. This year Slytherin would be hosting the grand games. Ladies from Gryffindor would travel to Slytherin, Slytherin to Gryffindor, Ravenclaw to Hufflepuff and so on.
It was barbaric as far as Hermione was concerned. She spent the past year helping Harry defeat the Dark Lord only to end up some cattle for sale.
The carriages skid to a halt. Everything went silent for moment before hoof beats surrounded them. Hermione reached for the curtain, pushing it out of the way. Just as looked out a pair of grey eyes met hers. He leaned forward on his white horse to get a good look inside the carriage, his armor glinting in the flickering torchlight. She straightened up, shutting the curtain before he could peek on them more.
"He could not get enough of you." Ginny said with a giggle.
"Perhaps it was just surprise."
"If his eyes could they would have devoured you."
"He looked highborn."
"Hermione, it is about time you take advantage of your title."
"You know I'm against this tradition."
"But you know what your life is going to be now." The carriages started to move again, the rumble returning yet it was no longer like the gentle rocking she had once equated to the feel of a mother coddling her child.
When they arrived the drivers opened the doors for him, helping them down from the height. Hermione glanced around at the other young women, dresses flowing out, each looking like a bright flower amongst the gloom of the castle. The rain had stopped but the dark clouds loomed over the height of the castle. The dark stone walls towered over them.
"It can be imposing when you look at it." A voice tickled her ear.
She didn't jump, which was strange for a lady. Instead she turned deliberately slow. "Perhaps that is what the owner wanted?" She caught the grey eyes again. He stood in full armor, black with silver snakes wrapped around the chest, tail to mouth. Emerald eyes stared out from the armor, as if they were alive.
"I can't speak for my ancestors, but I would assume that is exactly what they wanted." he smirked holding his arm out for her. "Let me escort you inside before it starts to rain again. It would be a shame for such a lovely dress to get ruined."
"With that persuasion I don't think I could refuse you." she smiled and wrapped a hand around his arm. Ginvera winked at her from across the way.
Hermione tried her hardest not to stiffen up as she was paraded in front of the king by the prince himself. When they were finally seated for the feast she started cutting up her food, and once she was satisfied with the pieces, she cut them even smaller.
Ginerva turned to Hermione, trying to utter her name only to be silenced. Her lips moved, but the words didn't come out. She had forgotten all about the spell placed on them. The second they crossed the threshold of the castle they were spelled not to speak each other's names.
"Yes, Red?" Of course Hermione remembered the spell. She had researched it intently. The spell was created to protect the women, and give them a chance at animinity. They could fall in love with them for who they were.
Hermione disagreed with it of course. She didn't believe in hiding behind a mask. She wanted the man to know who she was beyond her face. She was a muggleborn and that sickened the majority of them. Her title was given to her, she wasn't born into it.
"The prince is staring at you."
"I suppose he is." she continued to cut the food into even smaller pieces, pushing it around her plate in an inconspicuous manner.
"He has first pick, Bell."
"I am aware."
"But you're not worried?"
"There is no reason to worry. He will most likely pick a Slytherin girl that he knows. A pureblood."
"She's beautiful." The King leaned towards his son approvingly. "Do you have any idea who she is?"
"No, but I can almost feel her magic from here."
"You've always been astute in that." his father waved his hand as if to wave away his sons thoughts.
The ladies retired to their new rooms after dinner, tipsy from the wine and tired from the trip. Ginerva and Hermione had adjoining rooms, much to their enjoyment. Their status allowed them the freedom of their own rooms.
The walls were ice-cold, the inside matched. The maid had not lit the fire for her, a misstep that any other lady would have punished her for. Hermione walked to it, lifting her hand and effortlessly casting the flames in the fire, her flames. Blue bell shaped flames licked at the logs, until they took light, warming the room and the occupant inside. With a protection spell cast she guaranteed that her room wouldn't be set ablaze in the night, finally feeling able to rest.
"I'm telling you the flames were blue." Sarah urged as she folded the clean linens for her new lady.
"I saw it with my own eyes. I went in to light the fire and there was blue flames dancing in the fire."
"That shouldn't surprise you, she is a witch, all of the ladies are."
"I've heard about those flames before though."
"Hold your tongue, Sarah." the scullery maid urged, pushing the young one along. "You need to go wake up your lady. It's enough that she was forced to light her own fire last night."
Sarah tried to recall the memory locked away about the blue flames, having a harder time than she should, she decided. The lady was asleep on the bed with a book draped across her chest. Her mask lay on the night stand, exposing the top half of her face. Sarah took a moment to stare at the milky skin of her ladies face, small freckles dotted her cheeks and her long eyelashes curled upwards. This woman was one of the most beautiful she had ever seen. She twisted in her sleep, the book dropped to the floor with a resounding echo. In a moment the lady was awake with her hand stretched out and flames billowing in her palm. Blue flames.