Once upon a time there lived a young Princess with pretty red tresses who lived in a beautiful castle near a vast lake. She often spent her leisure hours sitting by the edge of the lake, gazing peacefully at the glacier surface and playing with a golden ball that she was given as a gift by her eldest brother, the first Prince. She used to sit in the shade of the splendid willow tree where the solemn bow of its branches overlapped the surface of the crystalline waters, the golden ball resting in the pocket of her robes until the desire to play with it arose.
Then she would draw it out, throw it into the air and catch it before the plaything managed to escape out of her grasp. What made the game so blissfully engaging was the fact that the ball was enchanted and could flutter about and away like a small hummingbird fairy as it continuously tried to flee. It was fortunate, however, that the Princess’ fingers were nimbler and quicker than the frantic ball and she could quite easily catch it time and time again.
But just once, the fair princess threw the ball too high, giving it a bit more leeway, and realizing that she immediately reached out towards it. But it was already too late. The gilded surface glistened under the bright sunlight and then the ball dashed away from the Princess across the great lake. Stricken with panic and grief at the possible loss of her most cherished plaything, the Princess pulled out her magic wand and, pointing at the escaping bauble, shouted,
“Stupefy, you stupid piece of junk!”
The gossamer wings on the gleeful ball froze midair and the golden Snitch dropped into the peaceful waters like a small rock. The drop disturbed the calm surface, sending circlets of lazy ripples towards the shores, clearly indicating the exact spot where the Snitch had fallen..
Glancing into the water and seeing no bottom in sight, Ginny Weasley did not wish to think of the yawning depths in the middle of the reservoir. Her eyes returned to the still circling ripples and she at once cursed two facts – first, that she had acted so quickly and cast the spell while the ball was still flying over water; and second, that she had never cared enough to learn how to swim.
What to do? What to do? She had nicked the Snitch – the Snitch, the one with the most sacred autograph of Eunice Murray, Captain of the Montrose Magpies - from Bill during the Easter holiday and, cackling with delight at the prospect of playing with it, brought it with her to Hogwarts. However, once he had discovered the culprit of the then-much-discussed theft, he had demanded the thing to be returned over summer vacation when the whole family convened for the second annual victory celebrations. He would never believe her that she had really lost it and would definitely proceed in making her life a living hell until the item was magically restored to him. He would probably even enlist the twins as well because they were always the unofficial familial assistants in anything that involved the infliction of torture on the guilty party.
But she did not know how to swim and there was a depth of at least ten feet beneath her. Though she was a Gryffindor, she wasn’t stupid enough to be negotiating with gravity over an unknown body of water. She could ask Colin to help out – he could swim pretty well and was easily coaxed into doing anything with the help of butterscotch cookies – but it was probably not a good idea, since he was the one initially blamed for the missing Snitch and was subjected to thorough interrogations by the three elder Weasleys. He still refused to talk about that afternoon and it still gave him the occasional nightmare.
Bill was going to kill her. He was going to smile at her in that creepy Weasley way the twins used, then he would take her into the woods “for a talk”, and bury her alive beneath the haunted willow tree. He would tell their parents that she had decided to spend a few days at Luna’s, and when they finally ventured out to look for her, it would be too late. No one would ever know what really happened to little Ginny Weasley, because no one would ever think to doubt the story of her eldest brother. He would look grave and shed heart-wrenching tears, all the while cackling maniacally within his little black heart!
All right, perhaps she was overreacting a bit.
She could have used a spell to retrieve the Snitch if only she could see the damn thing, but it was hopeless because the bottomless lake rendered the waters black and unassailable. She could have simply bought a new Snitch and faked the autograph, if she hadn’t wasted the last galleons she had on a batch of Sugar Quills to replace the ones that she had “accidentally borrowed” from Ron. No, she didn’t have kleptomaniac tendencies, as Ron so graciously noted! Some things were simply better off in her possession than that of others.
“Why the long face, Weasley? It looks like a Niffler ate your purse. Wait, you do know what a purse is, right?”
Ginny blinked the deep contemplation away and glanced down, discovering the pale face of one Draco Malfoy framed by extremely wet, extremely fair locks of hair, bopping on the surface of the lake. It took her a few moments to decipher the image of the detached head as being connected to an actual body beneath the water surface, and when she did, it took another few moments to cultivate an appropriate reaction.
“Bugger off, Malfoy, I’m in the middle of a crisis.”
Draco wasn’t the enemy anymore, hadn’t been for a long time actually. At first, he had been a refugee, a cowardly child forced to do things he did not comprehend. Then, after the Final Battle in which Dementors had targeted all the defectors, he had become a drab shadow of his former self. Finally, with the help of potent sleeping draughts and vast mercy shown by the Hogwarts Headmistress, he had started to gain some color and some character back. Officially, he had been placed at Hogwarts as the replacement for the recently deceased gamekeeper. Unofficially, he was safe at the school, guarded from the remaining Death Eaters while being kept under a sort of a house arrest for his own sake.
Ginny had become acquainted with the new “gamekeeper” quite by accident when once, during one of the seizures of boredom that often occupied her free hours, she watched some chickens prattling near the Forbidden Forest and randomly remembered killing them in her first year when she was all possessed and whatnot. Struck by nostalgia – or rabies, as Draco had later suggested– she tried to recapture the glorious moments of her youth by trying to catch a chicken right then and there. Thirty-three falls, twelve bruises, six bleeding wounds from their pecking beaks, and one torn robe later, Ginny decided to quit while she was ahead. Not soon enough, however, to escape the vigil watch – and the snapping camera - of the hiding gamekeeper.
So, of course, in a truly Slytherin manner he had to blackmail her, if only for old times’ sake. And Ginny, being the Head Girl in her final year at Hogwarts, a top student and a prim and proper example of Gryffindor valor and strength, could not afford the public circulation of the pictures that young Malfoy had so kindly taken of her chasing savage chickens around the backyard of his hut.
So, she fed him Weasley-cooked meals and he kept the pictures for his own personal amusement. She growled at him and walked around with a sour face while she was in his presence, and he kept ribbing and jeering at her until she exploded into those grand outbursts of temper that he enjoyed so much. After a while he forgot to act like a villain and she forgot to sulk when he was there, and somehow things worked into an odd sort of mutual acceptance. Not quite friendship – Ew, snake cooties, Ginny shuddered inwardly when contemplating the issue – but rather a reciprocated agreement that the other party had some rights for an existence on the same castle grounds.
“What is it? Finally saw your reflection in the lake? I’ve tried to warn you about the hair,” he tutted, looking at her with mock pity. “And the freckles. And the clothes. And—“
“Another word, Malfoy, and I’ll rearrange your face so that each time you blow your nose, you will taste your own snot,” Ginny grumbled, frowning at the grinning boy beneath her with exasperation.
“Ouch, Weasley, you are in a bad mood,” Draco commented, heaving himself partly out of the water and plopping his soaked self on the ground beside her. Ginny briefly grateful for the fact that his random venture into the lake was not a planned skinny dipping, and that for some reason – though what reason, her mind could not possible fathom - he swam in his breeches. “What is it, Weasel Queen? Contemplating the heavy issues of what’s to follow your impending graduation? Further education? Future occupation? The inescapable necessity of all the beautifying charms you’ll have to learn by heart – and apply daily - if you wish to ever attract a suitor?”
“Malfoy, stop it,” she groaned tiredly, not quite in the sparring mode when the thoughts of her upcoming death loomed so closely above her head. “Besides, I don’t need to attract anyone with charms. I’ll have you know I’ve already been approached by three fine men with propositions of marriages,” she said haughtily.
“Neither of the Creevey brothers count, since both of them are extremely gay – and don’t look at me that way, I know because Blaise knows – and…” he paused, mulling over the identity of the third proposition. “Arnold can’t legally marry you, you know that, right? There are laws defending the Pygmy Puffs against lecherous perverts such as yourself.”
“Bloody beard, you’ve mucked up all my plans,” she quipped, stifling the smile that threatened to ruin her gloomy disposition. “Malfoy, stop trying to make me feel better; I told you I’m in the middle of a crisis!”
“Well, what is it then?”
“Bill’s Snitch fell into the water and I’m supposed to give it back when I get home. But I’ve stupefied it and it fell into the water and now its wings are wet and unable to fly even when the spell wears off and I can’t swim,” she mumbled dejectedly, all in one paining breath. She inhaled deeply, scrunching up her face and glancing at Draco morbidly. “And I don’t want to be killed.”
“Snitch? The autographed one? The one that caused him to send ten consecutive Extra Hollering Howlers here when he found out it was you who pinched it?” he asked, both brows arching at the answering nod. Then his lips curled into a horribly obnoxious grin abundant with malicious glee. “Oh, he’s going to kill you!”
“Not helping!” she shouted at him, shoving him back into the water. “If he comes after me, I’m coming to live with you in that shabby hut of yours, Malfoy, so shut it.”
“There is no need to cry, Princess,” croaked the Frog, bopping atop the flat stone on his hind legs. “I can dive deeper than any fish indeed, and fetch you the ball in no time.”
Shock and relief filled the young Princess to the brink of her heart. “Oh you would? Oh, you ugly thing, please do! Please fetch me my beloved toy from the bottom of the lake!”
“I shall, I shall,” assured her the Frog readily with a grin. But there was a strange twinkle in his black beady eyes and Princess felt a wary feeling settling in her stomach. “However, I have one condition which you’ll have to meet if you wish for me to perform this service for you.”
“What is it? What is it, Frog? I shall do anything, almost anything to get my precious golden ball back,” exclaimed the eager Princess, not heeding the smirk quivering on the Frog’s slimy lips.
“You must take me with you this summer, to your castle,” said the Frog. “This lake becomes isolated and there is a strange large-eyed insect trying to snare me all summer long, and I cannot live here. You must promise to take me home with you, Princess, let me sit by your side, let me eat from your plate and let me sleep on your pillow, and I shall bring you your plaything at once.”
‘What is this thing thinking?’ the Princess thought to herself. ‘He is not allowed to leave the lake no matter how much he desires to. Oh, I shall acquiesce to his request and then simply leave without him. He shall never make it to my castle alone!’
So thought the desperate Princess and had agreed to the Frog’s condition. Rejoicing at her words, the Frog jumped off the rock at once and gaily dove into the lake, reaching its bottom effortlessly. It was a simple thing then, to find the golden trinket in the bottom of the black waters. He heaved it upwards and a moment later, the Princess was embracing the ball to her heart, overwhelmed with delight.
Lost in her own rejoicing, she hurried away from the lake, forgetting all about the kind Frog and her promise to him.
When time had come to leave for her home, thoughts of the Frog or the great service he had performed for her did not graze her mind, and she safely arrived to her beloved castle all on her lonesome. The King, the Queen, all of the six Princes with their wives and other honorary guests were all thrilled to see the young Princess return after such a long stay away. The King had declared the evening of her arrival dedicated to special celebrations And so, when the evening settled in around the castle, the royal family gathered around the royal table for the grand feast. However, just as everyone settled down, an odd noise carried from the entrance to the table - Plip-plop, plop-plip – and then an eager knock resounded to their ears.
“Princess, dear,” called the Queen to her lovely daughter. “Do go see who it is at the gates and what it is they wish of us.”
The Princess obeyed quietly and hurried to the entrance, opening them to reveal a small green frog present there, grinning at the Princess and cooing softly.
“Fair Princess, you did not forget The promise that your lips did shed To take and treat me as your peer, In your own house to hold me dear.”
Disgusted and afraid, the Princess screamed and shut the front gates quickly, at once returning to the celebratory supper without a word.
“Who was is, Princess?” inquired her father, the King, seeing his child’s face pale and frightened. “Who was at the gates?”
“Oh, worry not, dear father,” replied the Princess dismissively. “It was merely the Frog from the lake. I had promised to take him home with me, sit him by my side, and feed him from my plate. But I obviously did not mean it seriously. What a silly thing he is to think so.”
The King’s kind expression shifted at the sound of his daughter’s words, his deep brows settling into an upset frown. “My dear daughter, you’ve uttered words of promise and now wish to back away from them? You wish to leave that poor animal outside at night when he had traveled such a long way after you by your words’ fault? No such thing shall be done by a child of mine, Princess! Hurry out immediately and fetch the Frog at once! And you shall keep on your word like the noblewoman that you are! Now hurry, child! Invite the Frog in!”
Hurt and belittled by her father’s harsh words, the Princess hurried to the gates and once again opened them, finding the Frog still there, sitting on the front stairs of the castle.
“I can’t believe you actually came, you prat,” Ginny grumbled, stepping out of the house and taking a seat beside him on the front porch steps. “I was kidding!”
Draco glanced at her icily and turned to stare straight on, his fingers fiddling with a stray straw. “And I wasn’t. You obviously don’t get it how unnerving Trelawney can get when she repeatedly invites you for tea after nightfall. Besides, you promised, you chit! Aren’t you Gryffindors supposed to be true and righteous? What a sham!”
“Alright, alright, I’ve already received an earful from Dad about it,” she groaned, standing up. “Come on in already. I can’t actually leave you alone and cowering in some rural area in the middle of the night.”
“I don’t need your pity, Weasley,” Draco huffed proudly. “I was about to summon the Knight Bus and return to Hogwarts anyways.”
“Shut up!” Ginny barked, whacking him upside the head. She grabbed the back of his collar, trying to drag him into the house, but he continued resisting the pull like an indignant toddler. Finally growing tired of the tag game, she pulled out her wand behind his back and muttered, “Levicorpus,” sending him up into the air and into an awfully unbecoming upside down position.
“Weasley, what the hell?” he barked irritably, swiping his arms at her and trying to ignore the feeling of all his blood rushing to his head. “Put me down, you wench!”
“Yes, yes, in a moment,” she chirped the reply and pushed his levitating body into the house, locking the door behind them and taking the key with her. “There,” she added, replanting him onto the floor. “Now, behave yourself.”
At the table, she brought an extra chair for him and placed it beside her own, and during the meal often turned a blind eye when he kept nicking chicken wings from her plate. The evening passed as raucously as ever with loud conversations around the table, violent games of Exploding Snap near the fire afterwards, almost barbarian wrestling matches over the last piece of treacle pie (which Charlie stole while the others were still fighting), and Bill’s incessant reminders to Ginny about a certain rabid Bludger she’d encounter if she ever laid her sticky fingers on his Snitch ever again. All in all, it was a mostly average gathering of the Weasley Clan, despite the salient presence of an outsider that night.
Draco kept quiet most of the evening, being a tad bit overwhelmed by the vast amount of people surrounding him and how loudly all could speak at once. He had become accustomed to the silence of the Hogwarts grounds over the past year, perhaps disturbed by calls of magic beings from the Forbidden Forest; however, that evening he was ruthlessly submerged in a pure cacophony of voices, laughter and red hair. That was to be expected, and he had known it, yet still he was utterly unprepared. By the end of the night, he sported ringing ears, a bruise from the Treacle Pie Championship that had born no prize, and a smarting headache.
Ginny watched him throughout the evening, at first reluctantly and then amusedly, jeering and cheering him the entire time to integrate with the others if he wished her house’s company so much. She teased him into participating in the Treacle Pie Championship, coaxed him into asking for seconds from her mother if he was still hungry, and challenged him to play a Wizards’ Chess match with Ron, all the while amused by how horrified he tried not to appear at times.
At the conclusion of the evening, when the crowd dissipated each to their designated rooms, Ginny made the couch for Draco to sleep on, leaving additional blankets out, just in case.
“I’m on the third floor at the end of the hall, so if you need something else, come and find me,” she called over her shoulder, climbing the staircase to her own bedroom. It was the same small and childishly frilly room she had left nine months ago, but now it seemed different. However, she realized that while realizing that it hadn’t changed at all over the past year but rather that she has. It wasn’t a painful or sudden realization, because it was mostly cushioned by the banality in it, but still, One should never belittle epiphanies.
She sat down on her bed, for the first time since she’d arrived home, and looked at the wallpaper, the writing desk, the knitted bedspread, the frilly pillows and finally out of the window. Moon was reigning high that night – high and solemn. Ginny couldn’t help the sense of soft melancholy that crowned her in that moment. She allowed herself, if only for a short while, to feel small and silver, like a wayfarer fairy caught in the cords of a pretty spider web. She had graduated with honors and now had the entire world at her feet - countless paths and endless futures to choose from – and yet, she was standing there alone with no pointing signs, no guiding hands and no hints to help her choose correctly.
She had every right to be petrified for just this tiny little moment in time, sitting on her childhood bed and gazing and her womanhood’s deity. Just for now, just for a little bit. The next moment she’d be as strong and as confident as all her brothers were before her as they embarked on the same path, but just now… she’d be small, and childish, and scared.
A soft knock echoed in the darkness and Ginny rose to the door, quietly opening it and glancing outside. There stood Draco, dressed for bed and looking a bit mussed, as if he had spent the past hour tossing and turning on his lodge.
“Have you been crying?” It’s the first thing that left his lips, voice and the slight frown laced with subtle concern.
She blinked at him a few times dumbly, surprised to see him standing there, and then nodded. “I think so,” she rasped out and hurried to clear her throat. “Umm, you needed something?”
“A pillow,” he said, watching her carefully. “The couch’s armrest is killing my neck.”
“Oh,” she breathed quietly, remembering that she had forgotten to leave one out for him. “Sorry,” she added and turned away from him, grabbing one of the pillows on her bed and handing it to Draco, who had meanwhile allowed himself to step into the room. “My mind is a bit scattered at nighttime.”
“Finally settles in, doesn’t it?” he said suddenly, taking the proffered pillow from her. “That now you’re on your own.”
She paused in her place, staring at him for a long while as the tears she didn’t notice previously dried in their tracks. “Yeah,” she finally managed. “It does.”
The sides of his mouth – too wide for his face, too expressive for his Slytherin heritage – quirked into neither a smile nor a smirk, making him appear odd in the darkened moonlit illumination. He took a step away from the entrance and towards her, and only then she had noticed something else in his eyes, something that she had never noticed nor paid attention to before.
He came closer still, even when seeing her unease at his approach, but she did not back away so he finally stopped mere inches from her. “You don’t have to do it alone,” he said softly, his voice losing clarity somewhere in the shroud of her mind. “You can cheat.”
“I don’t know how to cheat, I’m a Gryffindor,” she countered meekly, nervous and somewhat confused by his proximity. Her mouth felt dry and her stomach churned not quite unpleasantly, but her hands were shaking and she honestly didn’t know what to do.
He smirked this time at her answer. “I’ll teach you,” he breathed onto the nook of her shoulder, dipping his face into the curve and planting a soft kiss there.
She almost flinched away, but then an arm encircled her waist and brought her closer to him, closing the miniscule distance between them. She found the air to be lacking in her lungs, so her hands gripped his arms for support while that mouth – too wide, too expressive, too soft and too close – burned the skin with butterfly brands. The pillow was dropped onto the bed and his other hand delved into the red tresses, combing and stroking the worries away.
Her body tensed and her skin crawled from all the contact, all the warmth. Something was happening, and though Ginny understood perfectly the motions, she did not understand the unspoken language. It was too heavy, too hot. She felt his tongue graze the fair skin peppered with freckles and gripped on to him tighter.
I can’t breathe, the desperate thought rushed through the haze of her mind, causing her to panic and inhale more sharply, though the air was still reluctant to flow freely as long as she was touched in such an intimate way.
As if she had spoken her thoughts aloud, desperately and pleadingly, he lifted his face and gazed into her eyes. “I’ll teach you,” he whispered again and sought her lips with his own.
And in the morning, the princess awoke from her slumber to find the head of the most handsome Prince resting on the pillow beside her instead of the small frog she had invited into her castle the previous night. She had kissed the top of the Prince’s head and settled back to sleep with a smile, knowing that though she had a long and cumbersome road in front of her, she would not tread the trail alone, but with a cherished companion.
Thus the Princess and the handsome Frog Prince lived happily ever after.
At least for the next twenty minutes, before Ron decided to wake his sister up and barged into her room, greeted by the image of Draco Malfoy curled by the side of his baby sister on her bed.
But the excessive torture and painful demise of the handsome Frog Prince by the hands of six livid Princes and the surprisingly sadistic King is a story for another time.
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