(Author's Note: Thanks to Andrew MacRobb and Pooca for their beta-reading skills. Thanks also to countless pantomimes, movies, books and even a ballet performance for the original story. Also, various minor tips of the hat to Terry Pratchett for sending up fairytales in his novel Witches Abroad, among others.)
Once upon a time, high in the hills of Scotland, where the cows are hairy and the humans are hairier, there is a magic castle. You and I, if we were to see this castle, would think that it were ruined and abandoned.
We'd be wrong.
For this castle is Hogwarts, home to the only school of witchcraft and wizardry in all of Britain.
And deep inside, far from prying eyes, there works a young girl, no more than sixteen years of age, possessed of clear skin, perfect white teeth and the most beautiful, glossy red hair.
That is, she has these when she's clean—-which she generally isn't.
For young Ginny is a maid at the castle, forced to slave day and night for her magical education, grudgingly allowed to study by the cruel Severus Snape who happens to be young Ginny's stepfather.
All day long Ginny works her fingers to the bone. All night long she studies until she falls asleep. She is an embarrassment to Severus Snape, whose own children have the best education money can buy, but are rather stupid and very ugly.
Oh, yes, Severus' daughters. Pansy is marginally the prettier, Millicent marginally more intelligent. But there's not much in it, nor indeed is there much to them. Their sole saving grace is their tendency to ignore young Ginny as much as is possible, if only because the last time they teased her, she broke a broomstick on Pansy's thick skull. For all her many fine qualities, young Ginny had an absolutely filthy temper at times. I wouldn't resort to stereotypes or anything, but did you ever hear that old limerick?
"There was a red-head from Nantucket,
Who was often heard saying 'Go f—'"
You know, I don't know if that's really suitable for this story... back to Ginny, then.
The two sisters have a nickname for Ginny, the closest they dare come to teasing her. Ginderella, they call her. They took it from a Muggle fairy tale and, being not overly blessed with brains, think it an insult. Cinderella, after all, was generally covered in soot and dirt and stuff.
Ginny, however, rather likes the name. Let's face it, as fairytale heroine's go, Cinderella had it easy. Snow White and Sleeping Beauty were poisoned, Rapunzel was imprisoned, Red Riding Hood got eaten by the wolf and the Little Mermaid had her tongue cut out.
Cinderella? She had to walk home from the Prince's ball. Ginny thought she could live with that.
Especially as there was a ball coming up. Uncanny, that.
The end of the school year was approaching, and Hogwarts was preparing for its annual summer ball. It was to be the grandest of affairs, with all proceeds going to charity. The charity this year was to be the War Orphans fund, to help those children whose parents had been killed by Voldemort in the war.
In fact, the only orphans were the children of Death Eaters who'd been rather too stupid to get out of the way when the handsome prince, who went by the name of Harry Potter, and Voldemort began their duel.
Not that Harry had killed anyone other than Voldemort. It's just that the Dark Lord had a hissy fit when he realised that he was going to lose and tried expelling all his magical energy in one blast.
The Death Eaters died in the blast.
Harry's hair lay flat on his head.
Doomsayers declared that the world was about to end.
It didn't, obviously, or we wouldn't be here.
But seriously, Harry Potter's hair actually lay flat.
It was a close thing.
Fortunately, Harry did some incredibly complicated magic and everyone else survived, apart from Voldemort, who blew up like someone had dropped a stick of dynamite down his stomach.
It was messy.
Still, Voldemort died, the Death Eaters died and there was a bunch of orphaned kids which Harry tried to adopt in an attempt to make sure that they'd have the happy life which he'd missed out on.
Professor Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts and Harry's mentor, explained that being raised by the person whom they believed had killed their parents would probably lead to issues later in life.
Harry insisted on arranging the Ball, at least, to bring in some money for the orphanage.
"A Masquerade Ball," he declared. "And I shall dress as a Seeker!"
"Now there's a surprise," said Hagrid, Harry's butler and veterinarian.
"You think I should choose another costume, Hagrid?"
"Aye," Hagrid replied. "Summat a bit less obvious, if yeh catch my meanin'."
"A... Chaser?" Harry suggested, dubiously.
Hagrid sighed tolerantly. Clearly it would be a long night.
In the kitchens, it was also a long night, but then it always was. By order of Albus Dumbledore, every day in the kitchens lasted for at least thirty-three hours. As Hogwarts was his castle, the order was obeyed.
Ginny was sewing robes. It was quarter-past-twenty nine, well past her usual bedtime. But she'd been dreadfully busy that evening, and hadn't managed to get a scrap of schoolwork done.
"Ginderella," Pansy had trilled as she and her sister swept into the kitchen at half-past-nineteen. "You will make us robes."
"Robes?" Ginny asked, looking up from her Arithmancy work.
"For the Ball, girl," Millicent growled. "You have heard of the Ball?"
The Ball, the Ball, of course Ginny had heard of the Ball. Everyone had heard of the Ball. What a thing it would be to go to the Ball! The Ball would be the most wonderful thing on earth, and the heroic Harry Potter would be there...
Ginny sighed, lost in a reverie.
Then she sighed again, as she realised that she was naught but a servant and would only ever attend a Ball to hand around canapés and cocktails, and that there were house-elves enough for that already.
"Oh, stop huffing," Pansy snapped. "We must be at our finest when Harry Potter arrives. One of us is bound to snare him, whatever father says."
Severus Snape was certainly no fan of Harry Potter, a fact that would have endeared the handsome prince still more to young Ginny, were that possible.
For Ginny had loved Harry Potter since first she laid eyes on him. For a time she had had something of a shrine to him in her dusty corner of the kitchen, but had long since given that up as being almost unbearably creepy and bordering on stalker-like.
Nowadays she merely exercised her entirely healthy fascination by conjuring fantasies of Harry and her together. All it would take, she was sure, was one evening with him...
She sighed again, but was interrupted when Pansy dumped a roll of black cloth in her lap.
"Stop sighing!" Pansy screeched. "We will be attending the ball as courtesans. Now sew!"
Ginny sighed defiantly, but quietly, and set to work on Pansy's costume. She wasn't sure about the colour of the material, or the cut of the dress, but it was what her stepsister wanted. Her stepsister definitely didn't want fashion advice from the younger girl.
When Pansy's costume was finished, Ginny just had time to blink before it was whisked away from her and Pansy disappeared in the direction of the changing room
Yes, the kitchens at Hogwarts have changing rooms. How else could Pansy have changed down there?
Ginny knew what was coming next. A bolt of yellow cloth dropped from Millicent's hands and landed in her lap. Millicent held up a - very - rough sketch of the dress she wanted.
Ginny was of the opinion that it would make Millicent look very rough. Canary yellow? With Millicent's blotchy red face?
Oh well... It certainly wouldn't be either of Ginny's stepsisters who would win over Harry at the Ball. Millicent's dress would suit her about as well as the deep purple outfit Ginny had just finished would suit the green-eyed Pansy.
But now it was half-past-twenty-nine and Ginny was drowsy. Her fingers ached from the intricate, lightning-fast stitching that she had produced to keep her stepsisters happy. However, she thought that the look on her stepfather's face as he blanched at the sight of his daughters' attire would keep her happy for weeks.
The days between back then and right now passed, and Pansy and Millicent were frequently to be found in the kitchen.
Not that the two sisters were working, or helping Ginny with her studies of course. No, they were pestering the younger girl to alter the robes. To let out and take in. To raise and drop. To change and amend. To rinse and repeat.
Ginny's schoolwork suffered. Her stepfather noticed.
"Clearly the excitement of the Ball is distracting you," he said witheringly as he handed back a pile of homework that was literally dripping in red ink. "I am afraid that more work of this nature will see you banished from the school. You certainly shall not be allowed to serve at the Ball tomorrow, as I had originally intended. You shall need the time to catch up on your work, most especially your Potions."
Ginny slouched back to the kitchens, her head hung low and her heart riding even lower. She hadn't even thought that she would be at the Ball, even as a servant. But to learn that she would have been, and that her stepsisters were the cause of her absence...
Ginny broke another broomstick on the dummy that Pansy had been using to display her dress.
"Something wrong, Ginny?"
It was Neville, Ginny's only real friend. He was another one excited about the Ball. He was going with Eloise Midgen, a stunning girl whom Neville had befriended when she had been the laughing stock of the school for hexing her own nose off.
Not like it's something we haven't all done at some point, right?
Ginny wanted to break down, there and then, but she stopped herself. Neville was her friend, and she wouldn't do anything to spoil his day, not when his big date was only twenty-four hours away (or thirty-seven, by the kitchen clock). She felt her anger and frustration dissipate before Neville's hesitant, uncertain smile.
"Nothing's wrong," she said, beaming at her friend. "I've just been letting my marks slip. Father isn't very impressed."
"Oh," Neville said. He looked thoughtful. "I'll help you, if you like. I need something to do."
Ginny's smile widened. "Thank you, but father hates for me to have any help with my work. Besides, shouldn't you be getting ready for the Ball?"
Neville looked panicked. "It's not until tomorrow, is it?"
"Don't you want to look smart for Eloise?" Ginny laughed. "You'll have to fight the other boys for mirror space if you wait until tomorrow."
Neville smiled, but made no attempt to leave.
"I wish you were coming to the Ball as well," he said. "It's not fair, you being stuck down here while everyone else is having fun."
"Better for me to be down here and catching up on my work then to be mooning all over the beautiful people upstairs," Ginny sighed. To her faint surprise, she found that she actually meant it. She didn't want to be serving at the Ball. If she couldn't be there in a beautiful gown, then she wouldn't be there at all. She didn't think that she would be able to abide Harry Potter looking through her as he would any other servant.
"I'll be fine," she grinned, affecting a curtsey in her sooty robes. "I shall have my own Ball, and I will be the most beautiful girl there."
"You'd be the most beautiful girl at any Ball," Neville declared, hugging her impulsively.
Ginny laughed when he released her. "Now you really need to go and wash up," she said, looking at his now-filthy robes.
Hogwarts was awoken at five-fifteen the next morning by the simultaneous squeals of Padma and Parvati Patil as they realised that the day of the Ball was here at last. Their excited squeaking was joined by that of a hundred other easily excited girls, rhapsodising over materials, colours, cuts and contours.
The boys, meanwhile, awoke less noisily, although there was a collective groan as they realised that the day of the Ball was there at last. Soon, they knew, they would be expected to don their costumes and dance at least as well as their date's best friend's date, for such things are important, after all.
Ginny, deep down in the kitchens, was awoken at five seventeen as her stepsisters burst into the kitchen, setting a new record for the dormitory-to-kitchen steeplechase in the process.
"Improvements! Now!" Severus Snape barked, swooping in after his daughters like a falcon snatching a rabbit from its hole. "You know as well as I do that your sisters will look ridiculous in these creations. You will slave day and night to prepare costumes that will flatter them."
"How can I slave day and night when the Ball starts in fourteen hours?" Ginny asked.
"More time can be arranged," Severus snarled snarkily. "Work hard and work fast, and perhaps I will allow you an extra day to finish your school work."
An extra day to replace the one he's taking from me, Ginny had the sense to think without saying aloud, although she had the feeling that her stepfather had heard the thought, such was the sneer that he shot her way.
The school buzzed for the rest of the day, not least because a certain pair of pranksters set loose a nest of hornets in the Great Hall.
Come the evening, Ginny had worked her fingers to the bone, mainly thanks to an enchanted pair of scissors that Pansy had 'forgotten' were in her sewing box. Millicent was kind enough to cast a flesh-regrowing charm, although Ginny suspected that this was only because her costume still needed work.
Fingers firmly intact, Ginny finished the final stitch on Millicent's fulsome costume. She sighed.
There was no denying it. In their beautiful costumes, and with masks firmly in place, Ginny's stepsisters were bound to catch Harry's attention.
Ginny hadn't been able to help herself. Subconsciously, she had selected Harry's favourite colours. Millicent would look glorious in red, while Pansy glittered in gold. They were both dressed as Quidditch players, and Ginny had nearly trashed the designs when she realised how good they were. Even with magic to help her, however, she didn't have time to redo everything form the beginning.
Ginny watched in barely concealed loathing as the sisters paraded their wares around the kitchen, miming catching the Golden Snitch, or tossing a Quaffle.
Ginny scowled. Her stepsisters knew nothing about Quidditch.
But, with the uniforms in place, they looked the part. And the masks that they would both be wearing would remove their faces from consideration.
Ginny turned away. Her stepsisters would have a better chance than anyone of catching Harry Potter's attention. Ginny was tempted to weep, sure that if she had had the chance to dress herself, then she would have been the one that Harry noticed.
Ginny was tempted to weep, but she didn't. Because her stepsisters would have laughed, because weeping would have taken up time she needed for schoolwork, and mostly because weeping is a rather pointless waste of time and no man could grow to like a woman who looked and felt like a used handkerchief.
Being rather sensible at heart, Ginny instead picked up a large knife and began chopping two potatoes. One of the potatoes was big and chunky, like Millicent. The other was shorter and skinny, like Pansy.
But any similarity to her stepsisters was purely coincidental, and any relief that Ginny gained from the chopping was related solely to the therapeutic qualities of hard work.
Anyway, the two older girls went away somewhere - it doesn't really matter where, they're not the stars of the story, after all - and Ginny was left alone to chop more potatoes.
Time passed, although it took rather longer to pass in the kitchens than elsewhere, thanks to Dumbledore's bizarre tastes in temporal sorcery.
The light outside dimmed. The candles guttered in their holders, for Dobby and the other house-elves had been too busy during the day to replace them. Ginny had been awake since five-seventeen, and in the kitchen that was twenty-two hours ago.
She was tired.
But not so tired that she didn't hear the cacophonous crash that heralded the unceremonious arrival of something big, heavy and above all annoyed in the middle of the Hogwarts washing up.
"Ron!" This single word, delivered in a female whisper, managed to express anxiety, annoyance, frustration and despair. All in all, it had really done a lot with itself, especially for a uni-syllabled word, and probably deserves a round of applause of its own.
"Ron!" the voice repeated. The word, having seized its opportunity, decided not to push its luck and restricted itself to simple annoyance this time. Clever word. No one likes a show-off.
"Look, I told you, it's bloody hard to Apparate in this sort of getup."
"You're used to wearing this sort of thing."
"That's not the point. If you just concentrated-"
"Anyway," the male voice, Ron, interjected. "What are we doing here?"
"Didn't you listen in the briefing?" the female voice replied, obviously scandalised. Ginny found herself edging closer to the voices.
"Hermione, I never listen in briefings. What's the point? You memorise everything, so all I have to do is ask you."
There was a loud "Tuh!" from the female, Hermione. Ginny took her wand in one hand and picked up the old, viciously sharp, foot-long meat cleaver that she'd never used but which she felt added a certain gravitas to her appearance.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Ron asked.
"You never try!" she said. "If you'd just put a little bit of effort into your work, then we wouldn't be in this situation. We'd get a bit more respect. We'd get better wands. You'd not have to wear those second hand robes."
Ginny edged around the fireplace and for the first time saw the owners of the two voices. Her jaw dropped.
Not, to be fair, because of the way the owners of the voices looked. Not exactly, anyway. The female was a bushy-haired brunette with blue eyes and a way of standing that screamed "Teacher, caring soul, brainy type."
The male was a tall, skinny red head with freckles that almost matched Ginny's own in number.
They were both holding cheap-looking wands, to the ends of which had been applied silvery stars that were definitely lacking in lustre, and a large number of their sequins as well.
But what had made Ginny's jaw drop was their robes.
They were identical down to the last faded star.
They were worn.
They were torn.
And they were definitely meant for witches rather than wizards.
Ginny stared at Ron in unabashed shock. There was several inches of pale leg showing below the hem of the hooped dress, and the neckline, which showed a small amount of Hermione's cleavage, appeared to descend halfway to Ron's stomach. The silvery robes, with their flared dress and puffed sleeves, actually suited Hermione rather well, complementing her brown hair and tanned skin. Ron, with his milk-white skin and carrot-orange hair, looked like a total idiot.
Quite apart from being a guy.
In a skirt.
Ginny didn't really have a problem with guys in skirts - almost everyone she knew wore long, flowing robes, after all - but Ron was not meant to be a transvestite, drag queen, female impersonator or any other breed of dress wearer.
Ron, it was eye-wateringly clear, was meant to wear jeans and a shirt.
He was bony, Ginny decided. His partner had a pleasingly curvy figure that filled out the robes in all the right places. Ron, however, had bones sticking out in any manner of places, the final effect one of the robes appearing to be hanging upon a skeleton.
Ginny, realising that her mouth was still hanging open, shut it.
She realised as well that the two new arrivals had not even noticed her presence yet.
"Hands up!" she said, waving her wand at them.
They ignored her.
"Hermione, even you can't believe that Malfoy would give us good stuff no matter how hard I work."
"You're just giving him excuses to put us down, Ron."
"I said, hands up!" Ginny repeated, feeling rather cross about being ignored.
"He doesn't need excuses!" Ron declared. "He's a git!"
Hermione gave him a Look.
The capital letter was fully justified.
"Ron," she began, and Ginny suspected that what she was seeing was merely a replay of a discussion that the two had almost continually.
"Why are we here?" Ron said quickly.
"Oh, interesting question," Hermione said, brightening up considerably. "Some people say that in the beginning there was nothing, which exploded and created everything. Others think that-"
"I mean why are we here, now, in this kitchen?" Ron said hurriedly, apparently eager to head off any possibility of him learning anything.
"Oh. Well, we have a mission, of course."
"That much I could have guessed," Ron said evenly. "Do you know the details of the mission?"
"Of course," Hermione replied promptly.
Ron sank his head into his hands.
"Can you tell me, please?"
Hermione grinned in a very mischievous way. "If you paid attention in the briefing, you wouldn't have to ask."
"Ginny Snape," she said promptly.
"Ginny Snape?" Ron repeated. "Merlin, someone was hated by her parents. Why not Penelope, or Cecilia, or any name that flows better than Ginny."
Ginny's cheeks burned, and she felt an overwhelming desire to kick Ron in his unmentionables. Assuming she could find them under his dress.
"What about Ginderella?" Hermione asked.
"Ginderella Snape? Yeah, not bad. Sounds familiar."
"It's what her stepsisters call her."
Ron's face fell.
"Good and dutiful father or manipulative and spiteful stepfather?"
"Heroic and handsome."
"Oh, aren't they all. What'd this one do?"
"He killed You-Know-Who."
There was a thoughtful silence.
"You-Know-Who," Ron repeated, slowly.
"That's right," Hermione said.
"I want to be clear about this. When you say You-Know-Who, you don't mean Draco 'I bribed my way into the top job' Malfoy, who I have occasionally referred to as You-Know-Who when running short of inspiration for better, ruder ways in which to refer to him?"
"You mean He Who Must Not Be Named."
"We're here to fix up Harry Potter?"
"Exactly," Hermione said.
Ron grinned. "We're going to be bloody famous. This'll be bigger than anything."
"Ron," Hermione said with a note of exasperation in her voice. "That's not what we're here for."
"Yeah, but it'd be good, wouldn't it? No reason we shouldn't enjoy the fruits of our labour."
Hermione's eyes narrowed.
"I should never have given you that book of aphorisms for your birthday."
"But it was what I wished for," Ron said innocently.
"You also wished for a naked Celestina Warbeck to sing you Cannons Conquer, and I didn't get you that."
Ron grinned. "Shouldn't we do some work?"
"You're changing the subject."
"I know," Ron said.
"Fine," Hermione huffed. "As you're so keen, you can be in charge of the spells. You can explain to Malfoy if anything goes wrong."
Ron's eyes widened, and then he grinned.
"Fine. These ones are dead simple, anyway."
Ginny blinked. Almost for the first time since their arrival, there was silence. She stepped forwards.
"Er, excuse me?"
They spun around, and Ginny found herself staring down their wands. She swallowed nervously.
"Who are you and what do you want?" Ron barked.
"I'm Ginny Snape. Er, I was wondering why you're wearing a dress."
Credit where credit is due, Ron tried. But looking fearsome is virtually impossible when your partner-in-fearsome has collapsed into gales of helpless laughter.
"You've done it now," he said wearily. "It's going to be sodding ages 'til she stops laughing. Bad enough that I have to through this every time we go out on a mission, now you've set her off when we're supposed to be working."
"Um, sorry," was all Ginny could manage. She was feeling rather lost at sea.
"Well, not your fault, I suppose," he sighed. "Hermione will you please shut up!!!" he added in a bellow, as Hermione caught sight of Ron's milk-white calves and started laughing again.
"I wouldn't mind so much if the dress actually fit," Ron went on. "But it's bloody draughty, you know? And every time there's a breeze, it goes right up around my privates."
This revelation triggered another burst of laughter from Hermione, who collapsed back onto the floor and actually seemed to be having trouble breathing.
"Shouldn't we help her?" Ginny asked.
Ron appeared to be considering not helping, but as Hermione started going red in the face, he sighed and waved his wand at her.
"Sobrus!" he said.
Hermione slumped back onto the floor, giggling slightly, but otherwise normal once more.
"Sorry, Ron," she said, as he took her hand and pulled her upright. Ginny could see her biting her lip in an effort to not laugh.
Ron said nothing, but placed himself slightly behind Hermione so as to be out of her line of vision.
"Who are you?" Ginny asked.
"Didn't we say?" Ron asked.
"I'm sure we did."
"You've been rather busy since you Apparated into the washing-up."
"Yeah, sorry about that. It's really hard, Apparating in this dress."
"Why are you wearing a dress?"
Ron Stunned Hermione before she could collapse again.
"Budget cuts," he said miserably, waving his wand over Hermione and re-awakening her.
"And who are you?"
"Didn't we say?"
"Oh, sorry." Ron and Hermione looked at one another.
"We're your fairy godm-"
"-parents," Ron said quickly, cutting Hermione off in mid-word.
"Godmparents?" Ginny said.
"Godparents," Ron said firmly. He looked at Hermione. "A word, please?"
They walked off a few steps.
"Godmothers, Ron. It's traditional!"
"It's sexist, is what it is! Seamus gets to be a Godfather!"
"Seamus is obsessed with Robert de Niro. Besides he's the best. He gets to rock the boat a little."
"You fancy him, don't you?"
"Seamus? Of course not!"
"Yeah? Well, alright then. It's still bloody sexist, though."
"Oh, come on, Hermione. Who's going to know?"
"They've started doing surveys, Ron, you know that. A month after the event, they send our customers a survey to ask us how satisfied they were with their Godp- Godmothering experience."
"Oh, fine... But it's your fault if it all goes wrong!"
Ron muttered something that sounded rather like "Isn't it always?" but Hermione had turned and was treating Ginny to a brilliant smile.
"Hermione," she said, extending her hand. Ginny shook it gingerly, remembering at the last moment to put down her meat cleaver. "And this is Ron."
"I gathered," Ginny said. "Why are you here?"
"Well, some people say that Blind Io, chief of the Gods, took his fathers entrails and genit-"
"Actually," Ginny said quickly, "I meant here in this kitchen. Now. Tonight. You said something about Harry Potter earlier. He's upstairs, you see. Are you guests for the Ball?"
"Not exactly," Hermione said, while Ron muttered quietly. She treated Ginny to another brilliant grin. "Tonight, Ginderella, you will go to the Ball!"
There was a brief pause.
"No, seriously, why are you here? Did my stepsisters put you up to this?"
"No, although you could say that they are the reason we're here, I suppose."
"Neville, then. It's the sort of thing he'd like."
"No. We're here because of you. To make sure you go to the Ball," Ron said, a bit tetchily. "You know, fancy robes, nice hair, that sort of thing."
"You. Now look a bit happy, will you?"
"Oh," Ginny said. "Sorry."
"That's okay," Ron said, magnanimously.
Thirty minutes later, Ginny was sat in a chair by the sink, Hermione putting the last touches to her freshly watched hair.
"I'm not complaining," Ginny said. "I just thought that there'd be magic involved."
Hermione threaded the last of the flowers into Ginny's hair.
"There should be," Ron said, sitting on the table and trying unsuccessfully to stop his hooped gown from lifting up and flashing his unmentionables. Ginny kept her eyes averted until Ron gave up and stood back up. "Hermione's just a girl, so she likes doing this stuff."
"Ron, shut up and work on the dress, will you?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Ron grumbled, moving over to the dummy that had held the costume that Ginny had made for Pansy. He waved his wand a couple of times and called "Vestitor!"
A set of smart new dress robes appeared on the dummy.
Male dress robes. In Ron's size.
"What? Oh, sorry," he said, awaking from a reverie of trousers. "Ornatus!"
Ginny watched in awe as the robes took shape. They were a deceptively simple affair, shorn of ruffs or pleats, bows or adornment. "Bombyx!" he added, as the robes began to solidify.
Then they were finished.
And Ginny wanted to weep. This time she let a single tear run down her cheek, drawing a clean line through the soot that lingered there.
"Whoops" Thanks for reminding me," Hermione said quickly. "Scourgify!"
"Wha-" Ginny was interrupted by the unpleasantly pleasant sensation of being thoroughly scrubbed while still wearing all her clothes.
When the process was finished, she staggered backwards, breathing a little heavily, and leaned against the sink.
"Nice?" Ron asked, grinning wickedly as he peered over Hermione's shoulder.
"Um," Ginny replied, shakily.
"Good," he said, holding up a pair of shoes. "To complement your robes, a pair of killer heels, the perfect way to finish off any fantastic outfit."
Hermione looked at him curiously. "I worry about you, sometimes," she said.
She turned to Ginny, took Ron's wand from his hand and pointed her own at the dress on the dummy. "Abalienare!" she said, waving Ron's wand at Ginny.
The process took about a second. Ginny went from shabbily dressed maid to drop-dead gorgeous femme fatale in, as Ron had put it, a killer outfit. The dress, for it was little more than a Muggle evening dress, was cut up to here and down to there.
Ginny looked down at it with a dubious look on her face, but Hermione, who had long experience of Godmo-, er, Godparenting, knew that the red-haired girl just needed some encouragement.
"You look gorgeous," she said.
"D'you like the dress?" Ron asked. "I designed it."
"It's amazing," Ginny breathed, running her hands tentatively over the silk gown.
"Good. We're running late," Ron said briskly. "Stick on the shoes, grab your mask, and let's go."
"Mask?" Ginny asked.
"Masquerade Ball," Hermione replied simply, flicking out a hand. A gold-trimmed piece of card flashed there, and Ginny recognised one of the invitations to the Ball that Pansy and Millicent had crowed over for days.
"Well, okay," Ginny said.
"Right then," Ron said. "Stick your shoes on, grab your mask, and get going. We're late."
"And whose fault is that?" Hermione retorted as Ginny slipped her feet into the shoes. They were very comfortable, and lifted her petite frame a further three inches into the air. They were also not glass for, despite what Cinderella might have us believe, the human foot is not a thing of great beauty. These were simple, black, slingbacks. Ginny loved them.
"Well, it's not my fault," Ron protested, bringing Ginny back to earth with a bump. "I could have done her hair in two shakes of a wand."
"You know the charms for washing hair? You really are spending too much time in that dress."
"What are you implying, Hermione?"
"That you're very in touch with your feminine side," she retorted immediately.
"You may be right," Ron admitted. "Fancy getting me out of this thing once we get back to base?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Idiot."
"Do you have a mask?"
"Yes," Hermione said, rather more firmly then she had intended. "You're wearing it already."
"You are. Sometime between washing your hair and now, you put it on. I almost didn't notice."
"She's being metaphysical," Ron added hurriedly, as Ginny looked at Hermione as though wondering whether to commit the godmother to the lunatic ward at St Mungo's. "It's a confidence thing. You have the look, which is your mask. You already had the personality. Now do you know what we're here for?"
"So that I could go to the Ball?"
"Um, it's something to do with Harry Potter, isn't it?"
Ron sighed, waved a hand in the air and then was holding a stack of what Ginny recognised as her homework papers. He leafed through them.
"Your stepdad reckons you're a bit less thick than a troll. He's a git, but he may be right."
"Ron!" Hermione said, scandalised.
"Look," Ron said. "You're not just here to look good. You're here to get the prince. Harry Potter is up there, waiting for you, okay. You. Not your stepsisters. Trust me on this."