The Sugar Quill
Author: Ara Kane (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Wizard King  Chapter: Chapter Two
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The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Chapter Two

 

Technical Notes: I forgot to mention (though Iím sure youíve noticed) that I changed "Molly" to "Melinda." This is for the same reason as why Ginny is "Guinevere" in this fic.

Authorís Notes: Iím sure you know by now which aspects of this story belong to me and, by elimination, those which do not; hence, a single disclaimer (found at the beginning of Chapter One) should suffice for the entire story. Again, thanks to Seldes Katne for beta reading!

 

Henry looked up at the sky as Ronald launched into a fresh barrage against Hermioneís belated pronouncement. It was nearly noon. His friend had been grousing for almost half a day. Henry had been very glad to know that Ronald could join the Seeking, but this was becoming annoying. "What did your parents say when you told them that you were joining us?" he asked, hoping to change the subject.

The question shut Ronald up more effectively than the Lockjaw Curse Henry had been seriously contemplating. "Erm-nothing," the redheaded young man replied in a casually clipped tone.

"Nothing?" Hermione asked sweetly. "After all that was said by them and the Warders to prevent you from going? Interesting."

"Well, Iím the Loyal One," he told her, now sounding defensive, "and if I was bent on disobeying everyoneís orders, then they couldnít do anything about it, could they?"

"No one knows," Henry concluded dryly.

His friend looked away from the smug expression on the Divinerís face. "All right, they donít," Ronald admitted grudgingly. "When we returned from the funeral, I pretended I had left something undone in Hogsmeade."

"How did you know that we were to leave today?"

He shrugged, looking perplexed. "I just did. I have watched the city gates for three days. I fell asleep at about midnight last night, planning to get some castle guards drunk or bribe a servant or two," Ronald went on, "then I suddenly just awoke, knowing I had to come quickly."

"Thank Merlin it did not come to bribery," Henry said. "We would have had a grave breach of security on our hands."

"I was going to make the servant tell Sirius about the bribe," he defended himself, "and while the Warders were busy I would have slipped away and joined you."

Hermione laughed, an unexpectedly throaty sound. "An ingenious ploy, Lord Ronald, but in this group you are the Loyal One. Someone else will take care of the subterfuge."

"Someone else?" Both young men looked at her with interest. "Who?"

"We shall see," she replied mysteriously.

"Iím certain we will," Ronald said, a flat expression on his face.

"We must see your parents and let them know you will be joining the Seeking," Henry told him before his friend could begin a new tirade.

As before, the mention of his parents brought Ronald up short. "Must we?"

"Yes" was the firm reply. "What would your mother have done if you left and never came back?"

"My brothers never came back."

"Nevertheless, you will do her the courtesy of saying goodbye and assuring her that you intend to return." Ronaldís parents had always been very kind to him, and Henry wanted to at least observe the proprieties where they were concerned.

"Will I return?" Ronald asked, with a sidelong glance at Hermione.

"We must go to your parents," she said, as if she had not heard him. "Something important is to happen there."

"And in the meantime, Ron," Henry interrupted, as his friend glowered dangerously again, "I suggest that you think of what you will say to them when we get there."

* * *

Night befell them just outside one of the hinterland towns along the main highway and Henry wasted no time in finding an inn.

"What kin I do fer you, Yer Honors?" the innkeeper asked as Ronald joined his companions inside the warm, noisy front room.

"We need a hot supper," Henry told him, "food and shelter for our horses, and rooms for the night."

"Aní how many rooms will that be?" he asked then, stroking his full brown beard and eyeing them suspiciously.

The three travelers looked at each other quickly. "Just one," Hermione announced.

"One?"

"Yes, just one," the young woman repeated, drawing herself up to her full height. "I am traveling with my brother and our man-at-arms. It is important that they stay close by to protect my person."

"Yer brotherÖand yer man-at-arms." Henry and Ronald held their breath as the innkeeper inspected them closely. After a seeming eternity, the man grunted and nodded. "I may have summat with three beds upstairs, right this way..."

The room was small but comfortable, with a well-scrubbed floor and low ceiling. The beds were made with sheets and blankets that smelled of sunshine. Hermione ran two fingers along a windowsill, inspected them closely, and finally nodded her satisfaction. "This will do."

"Iím certain yeíll be very comfortable here, milady," the innkeeper said.

"Right, then," Ronald said briskly, rubbing his large hands together. "Shall we discuss price?"

* * *

"Shall we wager on which one of us is the man-at-arms?" Ronald muttered to his friend as he struggled up the stairs with both his and Hermioneís packs.

"Hush, Ron," Henry muttered back. "It will be awkward, but it is only for one night. And you must admit, it was incredibly quick thinking."

"And how, pray tell, was that quick thinking?"

"Well, we could have asked for two rooms, but it would not have been seemly to leave her all alone-" The remainder of his reply deteriorated to a dry wheeze when they entered their room.

Inside was a shocked-looking young woman, perhaps the innkeeperís daughter. She sat by a large tin tub, in which Hermione was now submerged to the chin.

The Diviner glared up at them. "If you gentlemen would be so kindÖ!"

Henry turned red, dropped his packs, and left the room, dragging Ronald with him. The other young man, however, refused to budge. "But, my Lady, we must stay close by to protect your person, do we not?" he asked, slowly setting down his burden and lounging in the doorway.

"I am perfectly capable of protecting myself, thank you very much," she replied tightly.

"What are you going to do to your attackers?" Ronald laughed. "Wash their ears?"

"Ron," Henry said, prodding him sharply. "Letís go."

"Do you not have some drinking to do?" Hermione asked.

"But we cannot protect you properly if weíre falling-down drunk," Ronald replied.

"Rose and I will be fine," she said in an acid-sweet voice as she extended a pale, slender arm and groped for her wand in the heap of clothes beside the tub.

"Ron!" Henry hissed. "Letís go!"

Ronald arched an eyebrow at the wand now in Hermioneís hand. "Even if you are capable of looking after yourself, my lady, I shall still worry about you. And I cannot get properly drunk if Iím worried about something."

"Nonsense. Please, go below stairs and drink to your heartís content. I insist," she told him, her voice rising.

"What about when weíre hung over?" he persisted. Judging from the frantic tugging on his arm, Ronald could tell that Henry, like him, sensed danger; but unlike his friend, Ronald wanted to see the Diviner lose her temper. He was sure it would be spectacular.

He did not have long to wait. "Then I shall cure your ale head in the morning!" Hermione, eyes flashing and all patience finally gone, brandished her wand. "Now OUT! Fermio!"

Ronald lunged out of the doorway and the stout oak door slammed shut, almost on his fingers. "Youíre the one whoís barking mad," Henry told him as they descended to the taproom. "The lady was at her bath! What in Merlinís name were you thinking?"

He laughed. "Harry, sheís been insufferable all morning. She needed to be taken down a notch or two."

"Not in that way. It was most unmannerly of you."

"Iím an unmannerly sort of fellow." He was still grinning when they returned to the crowded front room. "Now, Harry, when you entered our room just now, how much did you see?"

Henry turned red and gave his friend a rough shove toward their table.

* * *

The gray owl fluttered down beside Severus and waited patiently to be relieved of the bit of parchment tied to its leg before spreading its wings and soaring silently away.

Sirius watched his fellow Warder open and read the note by the light of his wand, the green light casting harsh shadows on the manís bony face. "What does it say?"

"They have reached Wimbourne."

"Ah." Sirius dipped his quill into an inkpot and marked the path of the Seeking on a map of the kingdom spread out before him. He similarly marked the whereabouts of the Death Eaters, based on other dispatches, and noted with satisfaction that Henry and his companions were safe - at present.

"Anything else?" asked Remus, noting the thin smile on Severusí face.

"Rose says our two young men accidentally interrupted the Divinerís bath." The Warder set the dispatch afire and released it just before it burned away into thin air. "Lord Ronald was most appreciative."

Remus frowned. "We must tell that boy to behave himself."

"Worry not, Remus," Sirius told him, grinning broadly. "Ronald will not foil the Seeking simply because he is a healthy young man." Then he, too, frowned. "How about Harry? Did he look, too?"

"He took one look, then turned away," Severus reported.

"Now I am worried."

* * *

"Are we near?" Hermione asked no one in particular as they traveled past a still-green field one crisp afternoon.

"We are perhaps a dayís ride from Lord Arthurís estate," Henry responded.

"Good." She smiled at him despite her rather clipped tone of voice. The incident at the Wimbourne inn had embarrassed Henry terribly, and Hermione took special care to let him know that he was not to blame for anything.

However, the redheaded lout traveling with them was another story. His behavior that evening had been unacceptable. He knew it, and yet he showed no remorse. She sent Ronald a pointed little glare, and he had the audacity to wink in return. The gall of that knave! He clearly did not intend to let her forget about that evening anytime soon.

Well, Hermione told herself, she was not going to let him get the better of her. It was indeed embarrassing to be caught in oneís bath, but he saw nothing. Nothing!

"You know, my Lady," Ronald told her, grinning in his incorrigible fashion, "if you sit any more stiffly, you will fall right out of your saddle."

She opened her mouth, ready with a fitting reply, when his suddenly took on a dead-serious expression.

Leading his horse past her, Ronald joined Henry before a sandy-haired young man standing by the side of the road. "Please, my Lords," he said in a country ladís warbling tenor, "will you buy my owl? My hog has warts and the cure is costly."

As Hermione rode up, she saw a brown barn owl perched on the young manís shoulder. A noticeably smooth-skinned hog sat placidly at his feet, snuffling to itself.

"Will you take three Galleons for your owl?" Henry asked.

At the Seekerís reply, the young man lost his pleading look and grinned impishly. "Harry. I am ever so glad to see you."

"Hello, Seamus." Henry and Ronald dismounted. Hermione, too, slipped off her saddle to join them.

"I truly am very glad to see you," Seamus said, shaking their hands. His voice was much lower and sounded more urbane than a few moments ago. Hermione surmised that the conversation about the hog had been some sort of password. "Iíve been standing here all day."

"Next time, bring a stool," Ronald told him.

Henry chuckled and introduced Hermione to the owl seller. "Hermione, this is Seamus, one of Severusí spies. Seamus, may I present the Lady Hermione, the Diviner."

Seamus smiled, conjured up a bunch of daffodils with his wand and presented them to her. "My Lady. I never knew Diviners were selected for their beauty as well as their brains."

Hermione smiled at him, ignoring a derisive snort from someone so uncouth he merited no attention, and curtsied in return. "You are too kind, my Lord."

"You have news from the Warders?" Henry asked quietly after all the courtesies were observed.

"Yes. They say that Death Eaters have been sighted, but they are too far west at present to interfere with the Seeking. Sirius is taking steps to keep it so." The spy handed Henry a bit of parchment. "Also, a child has been found in Puddlemere. Born on the second day of the ninth month, and at precisely the right hour, give or take a few minutes."

Henryís brilliant green eyes glowed at the news. "Wonderful."

"Severus said he will let you know if more are found. I wouldnít be surprised if there are. Quite a few babies are born during the ninth month, perhaps due to an excess of holiday cheer." Seamusí grin faded as he remembered that a lady was present. "Your pardon, my Lady."

"Sirius must see to the protection of those children," Hermione told him, pretending she hadnít heard a thing. "Much must be done before the Seeking can truly begin."

"That means more will be added to our group," Ronald translated.

"You will not be going to Puddlemere?" Seamus asked, taking a scrap of parchment from a pouch at his belt.

"Not yet. First, weíre going to my fatherís. Something important is supposed to happen there."

Using a thin, charred stick, the spy wrote down the information. "Have you need of anything?" he asked then. "Remus instructed that he be told if your supplies were running low."

"We are all right," Henry answered. "We have been staying in inns thus far."

"Weíll be sleeping on the ground and burning our food later," Ronald added.

Seamus chuckled and added to his dispatch. "All right. Is that all you wish to say?"

"To the Warders, yes," Henry said, "but is there a way that we could also inform Lord Arthur and Lady Melinda that we are a dayís ride from their estateÖ?"

"Certainly." After sending his owl on its way with the note, Seamus wrote another note and turned his hog into another owl.

"Can he fly?" Ronald asked, looking dubiously at the former hog.

"Oh, she really is an owl. I always keep an extra one handy." Seamus tied his second note to the owlís leg, then released it. "Off you go, Aurora."

"Ouch!" Ronald rubbed his head and glared after the retreating bird. Aurora had tugged sharply at his hair before flying off. Hermione giggled, earning her a dark look of her own.

"Thank you, Seamus," Henry said.

"Thank you, Harry," he replied with a grin. "Now that Iíve seen you, I can finally go home, sit down and have a bit of supper. Speaking of supper, you had best be on your way. Perhaps you can reach a village by nightfall."

* * *

They did not, and after making camp in a stand of trees by the roadside, Henry and his companions were on their way again with Ronald in the lead. He seldom rode home by way of Wimbourne, but the landscape was familiar, and the village of Ottery St. Catchpole soon appeared in the distance.

His stomach began to roil as they rode on. Ronald went over his prepared speech and told himself to calm down. He was the Loyal One. The Seeking would fail if he did not come along. His parents would understand. They were used to having their children leave home. And he was going to return, was he not?

Ronald tried to focus on the meal his mother would serve when they got there. It was going to be delicious, especially after last nightís meal. But his mother had a devil of a temper. Maybe, instead of scolding him for disobeying orders, she would poison him.

Perhaps he wouldnít taste it and at least die with a full belly.

"Are you all right?" Henry asked him. "You look like youíre on your way to the headsmanís block."

"Iím fine," Ronald croaked, then cleared his throat. "Iím fine," he repeated more firmly.

"You are rather pale," Hermione said, looking at him critically. It was the first time she had spoken to him directly since they left Wimbourne. "Perhaps you are ill."

"If Iím ill, then so should you be," he retorted. "We all ate the same thing last night."

"Perhaps some of us just have more delicate stomachs than others," she shot back, huffing in annoyance and turning away. She had cooked last nightís burnt stew, teaching the two young men the hard way that skills in the kitchen did not come naturally to all women.

It was sundown when they came to the border of Lord Arthurís estate; but before they could go any further, an enormous, many-legged creature, easily the size of a house, crawled up to meet them.

Ronald cried out and snatched up his bow, loosing three arrows almost all at once. They hit the creatureís body with loud thunks, but fell to the ground and were crushed underfoot as the creature continued its creaking, ponderous advance.

"Hermione, get back!" Henry ordered, drawing his sword as Ronald loosed another volley of arrows.

There were more thunks and the creature finally stopped as it began to bleed. "Bloody-!" the creature sputtered.

Ronald lowered his bow at the startled oath. The creature sounded just like his- "Father?" He squinted in the waning daylight at the behemoth standing before them. "Father, what on earth is that thing?"

A lid opened at the top of the creatureís body and Lord Arthurís lanky silhouette, strikingly similar to his sonís, climbed out. "This was my watering machine, before you riddled it with holes," he said, pointing to the leak caused by Ronaldís arrow. "I was giving it a try and decided to wait by the roadside to meet you."

He sighed. His father was a passing fair wizard. Why Lord Arthur persisted in fooling around with such harebrained inventions, Ronald had not the faintest idea. "Meeting me while riding a giant spider is not a good idea," he said, trying to stop the pounding of his heart.

"It is not a spider, it is a watering machine," his father insisted. He then caught sight Henry and Hermione. "Lord Henry, Lady Hermione," he greeted them with a lordly salute. "Well met. We received your message and have been expecting you."

"Well met, Lord Arthur," Henry replied, returning the salute before placing a calming hand on Fireboltís neck. The horse snorted and shuffled, eyeing Lord Arthurís mechanical mount uneasily.

"That is an impressive watering machine, my Lord," Hermione praised.

"Thank you, my dear. I am very pleased with it," Lord Arthur said modestly, ignoring his sonís rather audible groan. "Shall we go on to the house? Melinda has been cooking all day."

"Wonderful," Ronald said. "Iím starving. Will you ride with me, Father?"

"Whatever for? I shall ride my watering machine. I put a very comfortable chair inside."

* * *

Lord Arthurís estate was humble, but it was as much of a home to Henry as his own. He and Ronald had grown up together, training in the Wizard Kingís household, and the redheaded family had embraced him to its collective bosom right from the beginning. Lady Melinda hugged Henry to hers as soon as he handed Fireboltís reins over to Errol, the elderly steward. "Dear, dear Harry! I am delighted that you could visit!"

"As am I, my Lady," he replied, smiling fondly down at the plump woman.

"Goodness, you must be tired!" she said briskly after giving Hermione a hug of her own. "Come inside, now, your rooms are waitingÖNo, we absolutely insist that you stay the night. The Seeking can wait until morningÖErrol and Hermes will see to the horsesÖ"

Clucking that they were probably exhausted, starving, and perhaps even ill, Lady Melinda hustled Henry and Hermione to their chambers. They emerged that evening, refreshed and dressed in clean clothing, to take supper with their host and his family.

"Where are all the servants?" Hermione asked softly as she followed Henry down a gallery lined to the rafters with portraits of redheaded people, all waving madly at them.

"There are only a few that I know of," the young man replied. "Most of Lord Arthurís children have left home and those that remained here live simply."

"I see." She smiled at a portrait of a man and woman holding an infant and beaming proudly. "They seem like lovely people."

"They are." Privately, Henry wondered why Guinevere had not yet appeared to greet them.

He found her with her parents, in conversation with a bluff, bald, bearded older man. Two dark-haired women, presumably a mother and her daughter, and a handsome young man stood behind him.

"Goodman Amos and his family," Ronald explained in a low voice as he came up behind them. He, too, was freshly bathed and clothed. "They bought some of our land some time ago."

"Ronald, my boy!" the bald man boomed. "Good to see you!"

"Likewise, Goodman Amos," he replied, nodding to the other guests before gesturing toward his companions. "May I introduce some friends from the city, Lord Henry and Lady Hermione-"

"Merlinís beard!" Amos exclaimed as he caught sight of the mark on Henryís forehead. "íTis the Seeker and the Diviner!" He pumped Henryís hand and bent floridly over Hermioneís. "I saw you both at the Wizard Kingís funeral. This is an honor!

"Allow me to present my wife, Gertrude; and our children, Cedric and Anna," he went on, beckoning his wife and children forward. Gertrude and Anna curtsied prettily but said nothing, while Cedric smiled and greeted them in a friendly manner. "Weíre new in the area," Amos explained. "Bought some land from Lord Arthur here. Figured it was time Cedric had his own farm, give the boy some space to settle down and start a familyÖ"

"Of course," Henry replied politely, noting that Cedric had colored and sent a look in Guinevereís direction that he did not particularly care for.

Guinevere smiled back at the young man, then turned to her brother and his friends. "Welcome back, Ronald, Lord Henry," she said with a graceful curtsy. "And welcome, Lady Hermione, to our home."

"It is a pleasure to be here," Hermione replied.

Supper was held in the castleís hall, where the family standard - a mighty explosion and the motto "Let us all keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best" on a lurid orange background - fluttered bravely overhead. Attending them was a young lad who ran energetically up and down the length of the dining table, passing dishes and pouring wine with gusto. It was amusing, but if one were to serve Lord Arthurís entire family all at once, Henry reflected as he watched Guinevere smile and reward the boy with a sweetmeat, he would indeed have to be very quick on his feet.

"This is truly delicious, Lady Melinda," Cedric complimented their hostess, bringing a flush of pleasure to the good womanís cheeks.

"Donít tell me Cedricís coming with us," Ronald muttered.

"No, he is not," Hermione replied curtly. They were definitely not getting on well.

"Thank Merlin. So what are we doing here, then?"

"Your visit is a pleasant surprise, Harry," Lord Arthur said before the young woman could reply. An ambulant saltcellar - another of his inventions - creaked by.

"I could not pass through the area without paying my respects to you and Lady Melinda, my Lord," Henry replied.

"And it was such a coincidence that you would turn up with Ronald."

"Mm," he agreed. "Yes, it was."

"Just where did you meet up with Henry, dear?" Lady Melinda asked her son.

"In Hogsmeade," Ronald said truthfully. "We met in Hogsmeade."

"And you invited him to visit while you were still in Hogsmeade?"

"No, Mother."

"When did you invite him, then?" she asked.

"Come now, Melinda," her husband chided gently. "You know Henry does not need an invitation. He and his friends are welcome here anytime."

"Of course, dear," Lady Melinda replied, wide-eyed. "I was just ever so worried that our Ronald had not returned from Hogsmeade and am very happy to have him home, safe and sound."

Henry suppressed a laugh at the look of consternation on his friendís face. After raising seven children, six of them boys, Lord Arthur and Lady Melinda were seasoned veterans at ferreting out the truth.

Ronald sighed, knowing that he was beaten. "I did meet Harry in Hogsmeade, Mother, and Iíve been traveling with him ever since. I have joined the Seeking."

Guinevere frowned. "Were you not forbidden to do so?"

"I found nothing in the books of law."

"You were still expressly forbidden to join the Seeking," she persisted. "I was there. I heard the Warders tell you so."

"Well, as I said, I am not breaking any laws."

"You are disobeying orders!"

"Guinevere," Lord Arthur chided gently. "We have guests."

"Apparently, I was supposed to disobey orders," Ronald said, smiling triumphantly at his sister. "The Diviner says I am to come along."

"Oh, honestly," Henry heard Hermione sputter beside him. "He could not win an argument on his own and had to use me as a last resort! The gall of that knave!"

* * *

Guinevere was not on hand to see them off the next morning.

"Take care of yourself, Ronald," Lady Melinda said as she pressed another cloak upon him. "It is autumn, I do not want you catching a chill-"

"Yes, Mother. I promise I wonít get my feet wet. Will you bid Ginny farewell for me?" Ronald smiled sheepishly. "Tell her I will miss her."

His mother smiled and squeezed his hands. "Certainly, dear."

"Send us a message or two from time to time," Lord Arthur, standing at her side, instructed. "Let us know how you are doing." He paused and smiled. "The way the Warders have."

Ronald blinked. They had known all along! "We will, Father."

"And look after Hermione!" Lady Melinda ordered. Hermione smiled sweetly down at him from atop her gray mare. Taking care to keep his face averted from his parents, Ronald grimaced at her.

"We will, Lady Melinda," Henry said dutifully.

Ronaldís mother nodded briskly, then her eyes filled with tears. "I want you home safely, do you hear?"

"Aw, Mother. Of course I will come home safely." He embraced her tightly and managed a laugh. "I might even bring home a sister-in-law for Ginny to play with."

Lady Melinda smiled and pinched her youngest sonís cheek. "That will be the day."

* * *

They had scarcely left Ottery St. Catchpole when Ronald spied a dappled gray horse some distance down the highway, tethered to the worn road marker. Someone, presumably the horseís rider, huddled against the marker, wrapped in a cloak. "A traveler in distress?" Henry suggested.

Hermione stood up in her stirrups to peer at the figure. "That is the Bearer."

"The what?"

"The Bearer. He - or she - is to join the Seeking."

Ronald looked at her. "You cannot be serious! Hermione, we are not going to pick up a stranger off the road!" Given a choice was between Cedric and a random roadside stranger, he would choose the pretty boy any day! "This could be a trap!"

"This is not a trap," she said calmly.

They scanned the landscape. There were no trees or bushes nearby behind which one may hide. The horse and its rider seemed to be alone. "Well, what if that person doesnít want to come along?"

She gave him the glare Ronald had come to hate. It always made him feel like worm entrails. "Must you always be so contrary? He will come. It has been foreordained. And if he refuses to come, you might as well find out what he is doing on the road. He could be lost, or sick, or dead-"

"-or a Death Eater."

Hermione gave him another worm-entrails glare. "My Lord-"

"All right, all right," he said before she could start in on him again. "If itíll make you happy, weíll wake the Bearer. Harry, go wake the Bearer."

"Why me?"

"Youíre the one with the sword."

Henry made a face at him as he dismounted and, sword in hand, cautiously approached the cloak-wrapped figure. Ronald notched an arrow and drew his bow, ready to shoot at the first sign of trouble.

Tensely, he watched Henry draw nearer and reach out to nudge the Bearer awake.

"Oh, no, you donít!"

There was a blur of green and a glint of steel. The Bearerís hood fell back and bright red hair streamed out.

Ronald lowered his bow and groaned. This was worse than any roadside stranger.

Henry, flat on his back, looked incredulously up at his assailant. "Ginny?"

"Hello, Harry." Guinevere removed her knee from atop his chest and stood.

Ronald slid off his horse and strode toward them. "Ginny, what are you doing here?"

"Joining the Seeking," she told him calmly.

"How long have you been waiting here?" he demanded as he hauled Henry to his feet.

She shrugged, smoothing her rumpled cloak. "A few hours. I stole out of the castle while it was still dark. You said you were going east, so I took this road." She smirked at him. "You should never have taught me the Four-point Spell, brother mine."

"You waited here, all alone, in the dead of night?"

"I had a knife," Guinevere said. At her belt was one of their motherís kitchen knives. A kitchen knife!

"A Death Eater would not have cared." He turned his sister around and roughly dusted off the bits of dirt and dead grass that still clung to her clothes. "Merlin knows what you were thinkingÖventuring out here in the middle of the nightÖ" he muttered to himself.

"You sound just like Mother."

Ronald frowned at her amused tone of voice. "Thatís only the beginning of what youíre going to get from her, Guinevere. Now, get back on that horse and go home."

"I cannot go home. I am the Bearer." She smiled brightly, showing that she had heard them talking when she was supposed to have been asleep. (Ronaldís voice tended to rise when he was involved in an argument.) "The Diviner says I am to go."

He folded his long arms and glared at Hermione, who stood a ways behind him. "I will not allow it."

"This is the correct place and the correct time," she confirmed quietly.

"And I am the correct person," Guinevere told her brother. "I am the Bearer, Ronald, so deal with it."

"You did this," Ronald accused the Diviner. "You told her to be here so she could come along and torment me."

"She did nothing of the sort," his sister declared. "I came here on my own and willingly accept my burden - as did you."

"How do I know sheís not just trying to drive me mad?"

"Whoever we met on this road was to come with us, Lord Ronald," Hermione said with a frosty smile. "The fact that the Bearer turned out to be your sister is only a happy coincidence."

He raked his fingers through his hair. "Talk sense, Ginny," he pleaded with her. "We canít have all of us running around loose in the world with no one left to care for Mother and Father. Itíd break their hearts."

"Why must it be me? Why donít you write to Will-or to Charlie-to Percival or the twins? Ask them to drag their lazy arses home for a visit? I need to get out of the estate once in a while myself, Ron." A look of distaste crossed her face. "Before marriage clips my wings."

Oh, for Merlinís sake! "Mother and Father will not marry you off to someone who will keep you shut up at home all day long," Ronald said in an exasperated voice. "Now if you will just-"

"Enough."

He looked at Henry. "Harry, Ginny listens to you. Tell her-"

"If Hermione says she is to go, then she will go." His friend looked them over coolly then swung up onto Fireboltís back. "I did not protest when the Diviner said you were to go, and I will not do so now."

Ronald fell silent, frowning as he looked from one face to another. "Fine." He unwound the grayís reins from around the road marker and tossed them to his sister. "Fine. She goes. But if she gets herself killed during the Seeking, it will be on your head, Harry!"

"I wonít get killed," Guinevere told him sweetly. "You wonít let anyone kill me."

Ronald swore under his breath as he climbed into his saddle.

Henry gave his friend a small smile. "At least Hermione will not have to share a room with us any longer."

"Whatís this about Hermione rooming with you?" Guinevere asked curiously as the small band, now numbering four, continued its journey.

"Never you mind," Ronald and Hermione said together.

 

//
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