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Thum(mm, None of This Makes Sense, You Know That, Right?)belina

“You-Know-Who’s gran was a right little ray of sunshine,” Ron said as he entered the tent, closely followed by Harry and Hermione, all of them shivering from the cold of the northern-most part of Scotland.

“She definitely wasn’t a contender for Mother of the Year,” Harry agreed, taking off the mittens Hermione had knit for him, then blowing on his fingers to warm them back into life.

Hermione nodded, but Harry noticed she looked rather sad as she took off her coat.

“What’s up?” he asked.

“Oh, it’s just that I can’t help thinking about how so much of this whole mess we’re in now started generations ago,” Hermione said. “Tom Riddle wasn’t really to blame for a good portion of things since he was under a love potion when You-Know-Who was conceived, so I was hoping there might be some tiny scrap of decency on the Riddle side of things, but it turns out they were nearly as twisted as the Gaunts.”

“Nearly,” Ron repeated, “but not quite. I don’t think the Muggle side were actually into random torture and nailing animals to their doors.”

“I don’t know about the animals, but the bit about torturing others is debatable,” Hermione said with a shudder. “Mary Riddle was simply horrid when she was a girl, and I don’t think she improved much with age.”

Voldemort’s Muggle grandmother, Mary Riddle, whose maiden name had been Bentley, was the latest in their attempts to find some sort of connection for a Horcrux, but the search had once again proved fruitless. Upon breaking into the ancient and prestigious boarding school where Mary had spent her youth, they had vainly combed through her old school records, printed in sloping, old-fashioned handwriting on yellowed paper that seemed likely to crumble at any moment. The story they pieced together from it was disturbingly familiar.

“Yeah, let’s see,” Ron said, counting off points on his fingers. “First, three of the girls in her dormitory left the school under suspicious circumstances due to ‘acquired injuries,’ then there was the case of cheating on exams that she seems to have managed to palm off on someone else who didn’t have as much dosh and who was forced to leave in disgrace, plus that weird note in her file from the one instructor who said she’d been overly interested in poisons right before the unexplained death of the teacher who gave her poor marks. I’d say it’s fair to guess Old Slit-Nose comes from a long line of unpleasantness on both sides.”

“I still don’t see how she got away with all of that,” Harry said.

“Oh, easily enough,” Hermione said. “Her family was wealthy and powerful, and added into the bargain from the class photograph we saw, she was quite beautiful. Those are very strong methods of persuasion.”

“Beautiful?” Ron said with a snort. “Come off it! She looked pretty plain to me.”

“You’re judging by modern standards,” Hermione said. “In the 1890s when the photo was taken, concepts of beauty were rather different from what one sees lauded today.”

“Like what?” Ron asked. “Having slumpy shoulders and an enormous forehead?”

“More like having all of one’s teeth and no scars,” Hermione said, “though a broad forehead and sloping shoulders actually were considered attractive at that point, along with large eyes and very fair skin.”

“Okay, then if that’s the checklist, she hit the mark,” Harry said.

“Not exactly what comes to mind when I think of gorgeous, though,” Ron said.

“Today we tend to see concepts of attractiveness that are dictated by the beauty industry and the fashion world, not just for Muggles but even for witches,” Hermione said. “At least most of their appeal was fairly natural back then, well, except for the bloody corsets. Thank Merlin those are gone at least.”

“Yeah,” Ron said, “they were probably enough to make anyone cranky.”

“So we know Mary Bentley married Thomas Riddle, then a year and a half later gave birth to Tom Riddle, who married Merope Gaunt, who had the last Tom Riddle just prior to her death,” Hermione said, producing a paper and a stub of pencil from her pocket and sketching a family tree.

“That’s a lot of Tom Riddles,” Ron said.

“It’s not at all uncommon in Muggle families for the oldest son to have his father’s name, particularly among families with titles and things,” Hermione said. “Bartemius Crouch did the same with his son, so it’s not like it’s unknown in the wizarding world either.”

“Yeah, but three of them at one time? Wouldn’t they get confused when someone called their name?” Ron asked.

“Well, You-Know-Who never lived with his paternal family, so it wasn’t an issue there, was it? As far as I know, he only ever saw them the one time when he, well,” Hermione drifted off.

“Murdered them,” Harry finished.

“Yes,” Hermione said with a shudder. “Imagine killing one’s father, grandmother, and grandfather in cold blood at what? Age sixteen?”

“I’ve occasionally thought of murdering Percy, but yeah, that’s a bit much for anyone,” Ron said, toeing off his boots.


“What? He’s a prat,” Ron said, then added in a mumble, “and no, I don’t mean it, even if he is a git.”

“Do you think it’s worthwhile continuing to poke around on the Riddle side of things?” Hermione asked Harry.

“I doubt it,” Harry said. “Vol… ehm, You-Know-Who doesn’t seem to have taken an interest in them beyond killing them off.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Hermione said. “I was hoping he might have seen them as some sort of sick trophies from his first murders, as terrible as that sounds. I doubt we’ll find anything different if we look at Tom Riddle.”

“Wait, which Tom Riddle?” Ron asked. “Tom Riddle or Tom Riddle? Or the other Tom Riddle?”

“Any of them, I suppose,” Hermione said. “It does get confusing.”

“Fine, from here on out, I’m calling the oldest one Thomas, the middle one Tom, and the current murderous nutter gets Tommy,” Ron said.

“You’re calling the Dark Lord ‘Tommy’?” Harry said slowly, giving him an incredulous look.

“What’s he gonna do? Hear me?” Ron said. “We’re already in enough trouble, so I doubt giving him a nickname is going to be the tipping point.”

“I’m fine with it,” Hermione said. “Besides, I’ve taken a look at the Riddle family records, and Thomas, as you’re calling him, is actually the fifth one with that name, so even one, two, and three wouldn’t really be accurate.”

“So why do you think Mary Bentley married Thomas Riddle?” Ron asked, sitting down on the couch. “From the one picture of him from the newspaper article on the murder he wasn’t exactly a handsome sort.”

“More than likely it was arranged,” Hermione said. “Marriages usually were at that social level, and he had the money and name to command a good match regardless of what he looked like, or more importantly, what he behaved like.”

“I thought maybe standards of male beauty had changed too or something,” Ron said. “If slumpy shoulders and a huge forehead were good, maybe a bloke with a handlebar moustache wider than his own head and a nose that looked like a Quaffle could have made him a stunner.”

“Actually, the moustache was pretty common,” Hermione admitted. “I’m not sure whether to say it was good or bad luck that Tom Riddle inherited his good looks from his mum.”

“As desperate as Merope must have been, I doubt it would have made much difference,” Harry said.

“Wait, I thought you meant the other one. He was handsome at Hogwarts, wasn’t he?” Ron said.

“No, I believe that’s Tommy, not Tom, isn’t it?” Hermione said with a grin.

“Oh, yeah, right,” Ron said. “Blimey, if I have a kid, I’m not naming him Ronald.”

“What if you have a daughter instead?” Hermione suggested.

“I’m not naming her Ronald either,” Ron said firmly.

“Probably wise,” Harry said.

“So if You-Know-Who’s, er, Tommy’s gran and grandfather were an arranged marriage, why wasn’t his father married off the same way?” Ron asked.

“Oh, they probably intended to,” Hermione said. “Most likely the love spell interfered with his parents’ plans, which probably made them livid.”

“I almost feel sorry for him,” Ron said. “At the very least he should be able to pick the girl he’s going to marry.”

“As long as she chooses him as well,” Hermione said.

“Well, yeah, that too,” Ron said, nodding. “That’s only fair.”

“I’m glad you think so,” Hermione said, then paused.

“You’ve got that expression on your face again,” Ron said.

“What expression?” she said, and Harry noticed she looked concerned.

“The expression that means you’re thinking of a story,” Ron said.

“Actually, yes, I was rather,” Hermione said in surprise. “There’s one about a girl who’s moved from one arranged marriage to another. It’s a rather long one again, though.”

“The night’s young, I’m not especially sleepy, and I’m bored,” Ron said. “G’head.”

“Yeah, I think I’d rather have nightmares about one of these weird fairy tales than about Mary Bentley’s school exploits,” Harry said, settling onto the couch.

“Fair enough,” Hermione said. “So, once…”

“Upon a time,” Ron said immediately. “I like that part.”

“Yes, I gathered that,” Hermione said, giving him an exasperated frown, “there was a woman who very much wanted a child.”

“A lot of these seem to start that way,” Ron piped up again. “Is this one a queen?”

“No, she’s just an ordinary woman,” Hermione said.

“And what’s her husband do? Steal lettuce from a witch or contact evil fairies or—“ Ron asked.

“Oh, she’s not married,” Hermione said. “There’s no husband in this story.”

“Exactly how is she planning on having a child then?” Ron said, crossing his arms and giving her a disapproving look.

“Several of the versions state she’s an old woman, so it’s possible she’s a widow who was never able to have children, but others state she just simply wants a child,” Hermione said.

“So she’d better get herself a fellow,” Ron said.

“No, that’s not at all what she does,” Hermione said. “Instead she went to see a witch who lived on the outside of the town and paid her six golden pennies to help her.”

“I’m seeing a basic biological problem there if she was planning on going the old-fashioned route,” Ron said. “What did the witch do? Give the woman a baby or something?”

“No, she gave her a barleycorn,” Hermione said.

“Yes, because that’s completely logical and an obvious answer to the problem,” Ron said, shaking his head.

“The witch told her to go home and plant the barleycorn and see what would happen,” Hermione said, “which is exactly what she did.”

“I still don’t see why these people can’t all just go adopt a kid somewhere,” Ron said.

“Well, in many places I doubt a single woman would have been permitted to do that on her own,” Hermione said.

“Patriarchy thing again?” Ron asked, scrunching up his nose.

“Most likely,” Hermione said.

“I dislike the patriarchy,” Ron said firmly. “I think I’ve definitely decided on that now. I’m still not sure I can spell it, but I’m against it.”

Hermione gave him a warm smile that made Ron turn so red that he looked like someone had been drawing on his face with a crayon. To prevent a possible invasion of miniature Cupids, Harry decided to intervene.

“So the woman went home and planted the barleycorn,” Harry said. “Then what happened?”

“It was obviously a magical seed because by the next morning it had already grown into a beautiful yellow and red tulip, though its bud was tightly closed,” Hermione said.

“A tulip grew out of a barleycorn?” Ron asked.

“Yes,” Hermione said. “That is precisely what I said.”

“Shouldn’t, you know, a barleycorn have grown out of it? Tulips grow from bulbs, right? They wouldn’t even look the same,” Ron said.

“Tulips are indeed a bulb flower,” Hermione said. “Remember, this is supposed to be magic.”

“Professor Sprout would have fits over the Muggle concept of Herbology,” Ron said. “You can’t plant one thing and grow something else from it! Even Jack’s ridiculously gigantic beanstalk at least came from a bean!”

“Oh, if that’s bothering you, you’re in for a bit of a shock for the next bit, I’m afraid,” Hermione said. “The woman looked at the lovely bud and gave it a kiss, and it immediately opened.”

“Whoever wrote this one needs remedial gardening,” Ron said. “Also, therapy. Snogging a tulip, I ask you!”

“Oh, it gets stranger,” Hermione said. “Inside the red and yellow petals was a tiny little girl.”

Harry and Ron looked at one another in confusion.

“I take it back,” Ron said. “Whoever wrote this needs remedial biology a lot more than gardening lessons. Therapy is still on the to-do list, though. There’s a kid in the tulip?”

“Yes,” Hermione said, “a girl no bigger than the woman’s thumb, so she named her Thumbelina.”

“Well, that’s about par for the mental naming conventions in these things, but can we go back a second to the idea of a barleycorn-tulip-kid?” Ron said.

“It does sound remarkably odd, I grant you,” Hermione said, “but this is Andersen again, and—“

“Oh, him!” Ron said. “Well, that explains it all. The woman’s lucky she’d didn’t have to chop off her own feet and bury them in the flowerpot then.”

Harry snorted in laughter, and even Hermione had a hard time suppressing a grin.

“As I was saying, Andersen was writing during the early Victorian period, and at that point Muggle children were largely kept in the dark concerning the basics of human reproduction. It was fairly common for Muggle parents to tell their children they had been delivered by a stork or even found under a cabbage leaf, so having a child born out of a tulip really isn’t terribly out of line with the acceptable story at that time,” Hermione said.

“A… cabbage… leaf…” Ron said slowly in disbelief. “Did these children never go near a farm or something where they might bump into animals having litters or something? Didn’t they wonder why their mums occasionally got very fat, then became normal-sized again after the cabbage kid showed up? How does that even work!”

“I’m sure eventually the concept crumbled in the face of reality, but even so, much of the general process was kept highly secret, particularly from girls,” Hermione said. “A great many young brides actually went to their wedding nights having no idea what was expected of them.”

“Kind of like Rapunzel and the twins?” Harry asked.

“Precisely,” Hermione said. “Innocence and ignorance were considered the same thing, so a frank understand of biological, let alone reproductive, facts is probably not going to show up in a Victorian fairy tale.”

“Okay, fine, so I’ll just attempt to accept that this woman has a child via a tulip,” Ron said. “And she’s tiny.”

“Yes, the size of her thumb,” Hermione repeated. “The woman was delighted with her new daughter and made sure she was safe and protected. Every day, the girl grew in grace and beauty until in a few weeks she was a lovely young maiden.”

“That was fast,” Harry said.

“Yeah, how big is she now?” Ron asked. “Aging at that rate, she’s going to be a giant.”

“Oh, she didn’t grow at all. She stayed exactly the same height,” Hermione said.

“That’s going to be dead inconvenient,” Harry said.

“It would certainly seem so, but Thumbelina wasn’t unhappy at all,” Hermione said. “Her mother took a bowl and filled it with water, then wreathed it around with lovely flowers and gave her daughter a tulip petal for a boat and horsehairs for oars, and she rowed about her little pond quite merrily.”

“Okay, even I have to admit that’s a cute image,” Ron said, “possibly bordering on twee, but it’s nice everyone is happy.”

“Yes, but it wasn’t destined to be so for long,” Hermione said. “One night, as Thumbelina was sleeping in her bed, which was made of a walnut shell with a rose petal for a blanket, an old toad hopped onto the windowsill.”

“A walnut shell and rose petal bed?” Ron said. “This sounds like a blueprint for some sort of craft project from one of Mum’s magazines.”

“Did you miss the bit about the toad showing up?” Hermione said.

“No, I just had to put in my thoughts on the overly adorable bed,” Ron said. “So what’s the toad do?”

“The toad saw the lovely girl sleeping in her bed and thought she would make an excellent bride for her son, so she grabbed the walnut shell with her still inside it and hopped away with her back to the river,” Hermione said.

“Aw, the poor thing’s kidnapped?” Ron said. “And by a toad who wants to marry her off to her son. That’s… actually that’s another pretty good example of a biological impossibility. Don’t toads lay eggs?”

“Yes, they do,” Hermione said.

“Well, how’s that going to work with the whole barleycorn-tulip thing?” Ron said.

“It’s a poor match at every level,” Hermione said, “not least of all because it’s arranged without Thumbelina’s consent. The girl slept through the whole abduction and awoke alone, on a lily pad in the middle of the river, and having no idea how she got there and being unable to swim, she was most upset.”

“I’d say so,” Ron said. “Too bad her mum didn’t teach her how to dogpaddle in that flower bowl. Would have been useful.”

“True, but I can’t think she would have ever foreseen this possibility,” Hermione said. “Not long after, the toad returned with her hideous son in tow and said, ‘I have brought you here to be my son’s wife. Just now we are putting together a lovely bridal chamber in the mud for you. I’m sure you will be very happy there.’ The son, for his part only croaked loudly and said nothing else but stared at her with his great watery eyes.”

“Being goggled at by a giant toad while trapped a lily pad in the middle of the water, unable to escape: that’s nightmare fuel right there,” Harry said. “That’ll probably show up off and on in my dreams for at least the next thirty years.”

On the other hand, Harry silently thought, if it replaced the lingering nightmares regarding Cedric’s murder, he’d welcome a whole slew of toads as a replacement.

“Thumbelina begged them to let her go home to her mother, but the toad became very angry with her and told her she was trapped forever and had better learn to like it, then dived back into the mud with her son, leaving her to weep alone on the lily pad,” Hermione said.

“I’d say she’s got a right to a bit of a sob,” Ron said. “That’s rotten luck.”

“As it turned out, her tears were heard by a school of fish in the river, and taking pity on her, they nibbled through the stem of the lily pad, and Thumbelina found herself being carried down the river by the current, far from the toads and off to she knew not where,” Hermione said.

“Still an improvement over marrying Trevor,” Ron said, “but don’t tell Neville I said it. Have we ever had a story with friendly fish before?”

Hermione tipped her head to the side and thought for a while.

“There’s a Chinese variation of Cinderella that involves a talking fish,” she said, “and I can think of a few other ones we haven’t had, but I believe this is a first.”

“Good old Ashyweeper,” Ron said nostalgically. “The disease-sounding one that started this whole barking mess.”

“Yes, it does rather seem we’ve been at this for years now,” Hermione said rather wistfully. “Anyway, Thumbelina actually began to enjoy her voyage down the little river as it was a bright, sunny day with the flowers in bloom. Soon a friendly white dragonfly happened by, and she took the sash from her dress and looped it around the stalk of the lily pad, and tied the other end to him, and she was soon travelling at a great speed down the river, pulled by the insect.”

“I’m guessing this story gets made into a lot of different picture books,” Ron said. “It seems to have one pretty little image right after another.”

“Now that you mention it, there are a fair few,” Hermione said.

“So, assuming the dragonfly doesn’t go whizzing off into the brush and send Thumbelina face first into a big patch of gorse or something, what happens next?” Ron asked.

“A mayfly was flying along and saw Thumbelina and decided she was very pretty and would make a good wife, so he swooped down and carried her off,” Hermione said.

“A toad first, and now a mayfly?” Ron asked. “Does this girl look like some sort of cross between an insect and an amphibian?

“No, she’s supposed to be very pretty,” Hermione said.

“So why do various terrifyingly ugly things keep wanting to marry her? Oh, wait! Is this like Hottie McHotterson and the enchanted buffalo-warthog thing?”

“No, it’s not Beauty and the Beast,” Hermione said, barely stifling a chuckle. “They aren’t transformed people; they really are a toad and a bug. But it wasn’t a bad guess. As it was, the mayfly’s friends quite agreed with you that it was a poor match. Once he had carried Thumbelina back to a tree where the rest of the mayflies lived, they laughed at her, saying she was ugly, had no wings, and might as well be one of those horrid humans that bothered them. The one who had kidnapped her felt embarrassed by his choice and dumped her onto the forest floor below, abandoning her.”

“I guess that’s an improvement?” Harry ventured.

“In a way, though Thumbelina now thought she was horribly ugly,” Hermione said.

“Seriously?” Ron asked. “It was a bunch of bugs! What’s their opinion matter?”

“You’d be surprised,” Hermione said. “She’s a naïve little thing and hasn’t had much experience with the world. The idea is less that a bunch of mayflies found her unattractive, but that even the ugly mayflies thought she was ugly, so she thought it must be true.”

“Girls are weird,” Ron said. “Seriously, Harry, how much time did you spend pondering whether or not you were good looking when you were, oh, say ten?”

“I don’t know,” Harry said. “None?”

“Precisely,” Ron said.

“Yes, but you’re forgetting that culturally speaking a female’s worth as a person is often directly correlated to whether or not she’s regarded as attractive, largely because that would be useful in procuring a mate, something for which Thumbelina was just rejected,” Hermione said. “That’s certainly the case during the time period this was written. I don’t think there’s a direct similarity for males, so of course they don’t worry as much about being attractive, even in childhood.”

“I’m suddenly finding my sister’s nail varnish collection depressing,” Ron said, looking deflated. “Okay, but she’s free now at least, right?”

“Yes, though she worried about the fate of the white dragonfly as she was afraid that he might die from being tied to the lily pad,” Hermione said.

“There’s another depressing thought,” Ron said sadly. “Poor dragonfly.”

“And even more disturbing, Andersen never does address that part of the story again, so we don’t know what happens to it,” Hermione said. “Honestly, that was one of the bits of this story that I always disliked.”

“Well, if you don’t know, just imagine that it got away then,” Ron said.

“That seems unlikely as it’s Andersen,” Hermione pointed out.

“Oh, right,” Ron said, frowning, but then he brightened up. “Imagine it got away but sustained some kind of a serious foot maiming injury in the process.”

Harry snorted in laughter, but Hermione nodded thoughtfully.

“Yes, that would be entirely in character for him,” she said. “Alright, I’ll just go with that possibility. In any case, Thumbelina, abandoned among the tall grass, was actually rather happy that summer, sleeping in a hammock made of spider webs, drinking dewdrops from the flowers, and singing along with the birds.”

“I suppose if you have to be abandoned in the middle of nowhere, she’s fairly comfortable,” Harry said. “Not much of a complainer, that one.”

“No,” Hermione said. “She actually enjoys her time on her own and is able to live independently throughout the summer in a sort of idyllic paradise.”

“So, knowing Andersen, that can’t last. Well, unless she gets bunions or something,” Ron said.

Hermione rolled her eyes as Harry laughed, but she agreed, “Eventually winter comes, and her bird friends leave, the dew stops, and there’s nothing more to eat, so she begins to wander, looking for some way to stay warm.”

“I have the oddest feeling something is about to happen,” Ron said.

“And, to make matters worse,” Hermione said, pausing dramatically, “she also had no shoes so her feet were freezing.”

“I knew it!” Ron yelled triumphantly, hopping on top of the couch and bouncing on the cushion. “I knew it! Andersen had to put in some weird foot thing at some point!”

“We really do seem to have stumbled upon some bizarre foot-related theme in his work,” Hermione said thoughtfully as Ron and Harry high-fived one another, hooting in delight. “I should do more research on that when I have the opportunity. I don’t know whether anyone has pursued that line of critical theory. It could be fascinating.”

“Or he was a weirdo,” Ron said, pausing in his jumping to flop boneless onto the couch, grinning.

“Or that,” Hermione agree. “In any case, Thumbelina wandered through the snow—“

“Barefoot,” Ron pointed out.

“Yes, barefoot, until she came upon a field mouse’s burrow,” Hermione said. “She knocked timidly at the door, and when it opened, she begged the mouse for a bite to eat.”

“The mouse has a door?” Ron asked.

“Yes, the mouse has a door,” Hermione said with a tired sigh. “We’ve already specified the animals can speak, and the toad was building a bridal chamber in the mud, so this is a case of anthropomorphized animals. The mouse has a door. Learn to cope.”

“Okay, fine, the mouse has a door,” Ron said, shrugging. “It’s not that big of a point. Does he let Thumbelina in?”

“She does, yes, as it’s a female mouse,” Hermione said. “Bit of a gender bias there, Ronald.”

“Oh,” Ron said, looking uncomfortable, then brightened up again. “Well, it’s nice she doesn’t let the tiny barefoot girl starve.”

“The mouse is actually quite kind to her, at least at first, and she enjoys Thumbelina’s company so much that she allows her to live with her all winter in exchange for her doing chores and telling her stories or singing to her,” Hermione said.

“That’s a fair trade, all told,” Ron said.

“Indeed, it’s less like the sort of involuntary servitude in Cinderella, at any rate,” Hermione said. “In this case, she’s offered decent room and board for her work, which while perhaps not entirely equitable is at least moderately tolerable.”

“And she’s not freezing to death,” Ron said.

“And that,” Hermione agreed. “However, it wasn’t long before Miss Mouse mentioned that her wealthy neighbor would soon be paying them a call, and that Thumbelina should be particularly kind and sensitive to him as he was rather easily offended.”

“Sounds like a fun sort,” Harry said.

“It doesn’t bode well, does it?” Hermione said. “She mentioned that he had a very large home and a beautiful fur coat and as much food and wealth as she could imagine.”

“That sounds a bit better I suppose,” Ron said.

Harry shrugged. Whoever this was sounded a bit too much like Lockhart to him still.

“Sure enough, that evening, a mole came around to call,” Hermione said.

“A mole?” Ron said. “Okay, I was going to say that was odd, but if he’s courting the mouse, at least they’re both rodents. I was half expecting a gorilla or a shark or something.”

“A shark?” Hermione said, looking at him as though he’d lost his mind. “How exactly would a shark come walking up to the front door of a mouse’s home in the middle of a field with no water nearby?”

“How exactly does a tulip produce a miniature human child?” Ron countered. “It’s not like the laws of nature apply normally in this thing.”

Hermione considered this for a moment, then shrugged.

“Point taken,” she said. “The mole was indeed a very important person, and what’s more, he knew it. Miss Mouse made sure that Thumbelina waited upon him and treated him with the utmost respect. She was also careful to make sure Thumbelina made no reference at all to the outside world as the mole hated it, along with birds and sunlight and anything else that belonged above the surface of the earth.”

“Why?” Ron asked.

“Partly because he was nearly blind, I suppose,” Hermione said, “but that really doesn’t explain why he would detest birds since he could hear them perfectly well or sunlight since he could feel its warmth. I think mostly it’s because he couldn’t control things above ground, but below ground he was wealthy and powerful and could do what he liked.”

Harry silently amended his picture of the mole as Lockhart. He was starting to sound significantly more like Lucius Malfoy.

“Miss Mouse asked Thumbelina to entertain them, and she sang songs for them and told them stories, and the mole was frankly enchanted by her,” Hermione said.

“Again? It can’t be that she’s stunningly attractive this time since the fellow’s blind,” Ron said.

“No, but she had a lovely voice as well,” Hermione said.

“I suppose,” Ron said, shaking his head. “A mole and a human, I ask you!”

“The mole continued to come by quite often, and he even dug a tunnel between Miss Mouse’s house and his own to visit more easily,” Hermione said. “One evening, as he was strolling with Miss Mouse and Thumbelina through the connecting tunnel, they reached a spot where part of the roof had caved in.”

“Shoddy craftsmanship on the mole’s part,” Ron said. “That’s not going to impress the ladies.”

“There was an explanation, though,” Hermione said. “A swallow had crashed through the tunnel’s roof and was lying dead in the passageway.”

“Also not especially impressive,” Ron said, wrinkling his nose.

“The mole and the mouse were both very rude about the bird, the mole going so far as to kick the corpse and say what stupid and useless animals birds were and that they did nothing of importance, like digging tunnels, and the mouse quite agreed with him, but Thumbelina kept silent. The dead bird made her very sad as she thought it might be one of the ones she had listened to during the summer, and she was sorry that it had frozen to death,” Hermione said.

“Okay, I get that the bird crashing through his roof is going to make him cranky, but kicking the poor thing is taking it too far,” Ron said, frowning. “I’m surprised at Miss Mouse, too. I rather liked her to this point.”

“She was so desperate for his approval that she would agree with practically anything the mole said, I think,” Hermione said. “She seems to be trying to get him to court her still at this point, which seems to have been the case before Thumbelina’s arrival.”

“Even so, making fun of a corpse isn’t right,” Harry said. “There’s something off about this.”

“It does seems that way,” Hermione agreed. “In any case, after they were through with their walk, Thumbelina and Miss Mouse went back to their own home, but Thumbelina couldn’t sleep for thinking about the dead bird lying alone in the passage.”

“Giving her the collywobbles?” Ron asked.

“No, she just felt someone should do something for it,” Hermione said. “Eventually, she quietly got up and, taking her blanket with her, went back down the passage and laid it over the bird to put it to rest.”

“So essentially she buried it?” Ron said. “It’s already underground. Isn’t that a bit redundant?”

“A body sitting about in a cellar is technically underground but I don’t think you’d call it decently buried, would you?” Hermione countered.

“I suppose not,” Ron admitted.

“Really, if she did regard the bird as a sort of friend, I suppose burying him as best she could was the least she could do,” Harry said.

Ron thought about it for a second, then said, “Okay, I get it. She’s being nicer than the other two by a long mile, anyway.”

“Yes, but the most amazing thing is that the bird turned out not to be dead,” Hermione said. “It was only very cold and had an injured wing. The warmth of the blanket revived him.”

“That must have terrified her,” Ron said. “Zombie bird. Or maybe an Inferius. I never really got the difference between the two of those.”

“Actually she was quite happy to have a friend again,” Hermione said. “She’d been rather lonely shut up with just Miss Mouse and the mole for company.”

“Yeah, I’m guessing Miss Mouse is getting a bit jealous as well,” Ron said.

“Most likely, and not without cause,” Hermione said. “Thumbelina continued to go secretly each night to visit the bird and nurse him back to health. The mole had decided to dig a second tunnel rather than repair the old one, so it was quite abandoned. The bird explained that he had been late in flying south for the winter, and he had torn his wing on a thorn bush and plummeted to the ground, unable to move and freezing.”

“Sounds painful,” Harry said, wincing.

“It does, but he did slowly heal under Thumbelina’s care,” Hermione said.

“Does the bird fall in love with her too?” Ron asked reluctantly. “Everybody else does.”

“No, actually,” Hermione said, “though they are friends.”

“Well, that’s something at least,” Ron said.

“Eventually the bird was well enough to fly again, and he asked Thumbelina to go with him to the sunlit lands where it was never winter, but though Thumbelina wanted to see such a wonderful place, she thought of how kind the mouse had been to her and said that she couldn’t leave those who had been so good to her,” Hermione said.

“I don’t know,” Ron said. “Sounds like the swallow is at least a little in love with her.”

“Suit yourself,” Hermione said. “Still, the swallow flew away, and Thumbelina missed him dearly as he was her one friend.”

“Poor kid,” Ron said. “I think she should have gone with the bird.”

“Maybe so, as we’ll see. After a while, Miss Mouse called Thumbelina aside from her chores and said, ‘A wonderful chance has come your way, far more than you deserve. The mole has asked for your hand in marriage,’” Hermione said, giving the mouse a squeaky little voice.

“Saw that one coming,” Ron said.

“You may have, Ronald, but Thumbelina hadn’t,” Hermione said. “She was quite surprised, but Miss Mouse went on and on about what a lucky girl she was and how wealthy her husband would be and how very grateful she ought to be.”

“You know, when I think of people getting engaged, I’m not sure ‘grateful’ or ‘more than you deserve’ are really the terms that should pop to mind,” Harry said. “It sounds like the mouse thinks Thumbelina should be happy with anyone, particularly the mole, regardless of how she feels about him.”

“Precisely,” Hermione said, “and that’s very similar to the betrothal process in the upper class levels traditionally. Usually a much older man would choose a young girl as his bride, or a younger man might have his bride chosen for him by his parents, and as long as he was wealthy and powerful and had a historically important family, it was expected that the girl would go along willingly. Sometimes she did. I doubt Mary Bentley objected to Tom Riddle’s proposal, but then I don’t know if she was really asked.”

“Do you suppose the same holds true for Lucius Malfoy and Narcissa?” Harry asked, still thinking of the parallels between the mole and Draco’s father.

“I would assume so,” Hermione said with ill-disguised dislike. “I’d never really thought about it. I’m sure her pureblood family would have approved of the match at any rate.”

“But if she hadn’t wanted to? Or if he hadn’t?” Harry asked.

“I don’t know,” Hermione said, softening a bit. “I assume it wouldn’t have gone over well. That’s what happened with Thumbelina. She was appalled at the idea of becoming the mole’s wife, not only because she did not love him but because he insisted that she should live only in his home and never see the daylight world again.”

“What’s he going to do? Stick her in a hole in the ground and never let her out again?” Ron asked.

“In this case, that’s literally true,” Hermione said.

“Okay, that’s bang out of order,” Ron said angrily. “So what did Thumbelina do?”

“She told the mouse that she didn’t want to marry the mole, and the mouse threated to bite her with her sharp little teeth if she didn’t see sense and agree to the match,” Hermione said.

“Also bang out of order,” Ron said. “That’s terrible! They can’t make her marry him, can they?”

“Not exactly, but they can threaten to throw her out into the cold again or attack her,” Hermione said. “It would be much the same thing. Plenty of brides faced those possibilities if they said no instead of yes, if they were even asked at all. The mouse may well have thought she was behaving for the best for the girl since the match, from all outward appearances, would have been a good one, and Thumbelina’s refusal doesn’t make any sense from a completely pragmatic view.”

“So what does Thumbelina do?” Harry asked.

“Nothing, really,” Hermione said. “Miss Mouse told the mole that the engagement was acceptable to her, though Thumbelina actually hadn’t said that, and the mole arranged for the wedding to take place in the autumn so he could build an even larger and more splendid house and so Thumbelina could finish her wedding gown. The veil was to be spun of silk by six spiders.”

“Spiders?” Ron said queasily. “Okay, that’s the last straw. I really do not like this mole.”

“Neither did Thumbelina, but she saw no recourse for herself. She worked on the dress, though she every moment made her sadder. The summer hurried past far too quickly, and one day she woke to realize that it was her wedding day.”

“I still say she should have flown off with the bird,” Ron said gloomily.

“Thumbelina put on her wedding dress and went outside alone to bid goodbye to the sunlight and the world above for the last time,” Hermione said.

“Why does this sound weirdly familiar to me?” Harry said. “I keep trying to place it, but I can’t put my finger on it.”

“I think I know what it is,” Hermione said. “You’re remembering the story of Hades and Persephone.”

“The Greek myth bloke who rules the dead and the spring girl?” Ron asked.

“Yes,” Hermione said, looking a little surprised. “Precisely.”

“Mum used to tell use some of those stories before bedtime,” Ron said. “We’ve got enough witches and wizards named after the characters in them.”

“I suppose you do,” Hermione said. “In any case, our story deals with a girl who is kidnapped from her mother and forced into a different world, and eventually has a very wealthy character who lives underground try to compel her into marriage, which is extremely similar to the plot with Hades, who is often called the Rich One, and Persephone.”

“That’s it!” Harry said. “They read that one to use at school once when I was maybe seven or so. It’s supposed to explain the change of seasons, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it’s a nature myth,” Hermione said, “but Andersen almost definitely used it as inspiration here.”

“If I recall, things didn’t go too well for Persephone in that one,” Ron said. “Hades gets to keep her for half the year and her mum has her the other half?”

“Right,” Hermione said. “You’re remembering it very well. When she’s with her mother, it’s spring and summer, and when she’s with Hades, it’s autumn and winter.”

“So if Andersen is using that story as source, Thumbelina does marry the mole, then,” Ron said, looking downcast.

“Actually, no,” Hermione said.

“No?” Ron said, brightening up.

“No, when she goes outside, weeping over having to say goodbye to the sunlit world, the swallow lands by her feet and asks her what her trouble is,” Hermione said.

“Well done, swallow!” Ron said, practically cheering.

“She told him, and he said that, as summer was now over, he was going back to the south again, and he repeated his offer to let her ride on his back,” Hermione said. “This time, she said yes.”

“Good choice,” Harry said.

“I’ll say,” Ron agreed.

“So in all her wedding finery, she hopped upon the swallow’s back and flew into the sunlight, leaving her veil behind,” Hermione said.

“Good riddance to spidery rubbish,” Ron said firmly. “I wonder what the guests at the wedding thought?”

“I don’t know,” Hermione said. “Perhaps the mole married Miss Mouse in Thumbelina’s place instead. They certainly seem better suited to one another.”

“Fine by me,” Ron said. “So where do they go?”

“Anderesen doesn’t spell it out exactly, but the swallow flies over mountains and valleys until finally he comes to a place that’s warm and sunny and full of orange trees,” Hermione said.

“He flew to Florida?” Ron asked.

“I don’t think the swallow could fly across the entire Atlantic Ocean, Ron,” Hermione said patiently.

“Oh,” Ron said, blushing. “Probably not.”

“He also mentions there was a big castle and the ruins of an old temple with toppled white marble columns, so I think he may have intended his readers to assume they were in Italy or possibly Greece,” Hermione said. “That would rather underscore the classical element in the story as well.”

“Nice bit of a tip of the hat to the original,” Ron said. “So what happens?”

“The swallow says that he and the other birds live in nests built under the eaves of the old castle, and while he would love to have her stay with him, he doesn’t think that would be comfortable for Thumbelina,” Hermione said.

“I think he’s the first one to think about what she might like rather than what he wants,” Harry said. “I’m really starting to like this bird.”

“Yeah, he’s a good sort,” Ron said approvingly.

“Instead, he says that there is a garden of beautiful flowers growing wild over the old temple, and perhaps she might like to choose one of those as her own and live there,” Hermione said.

“She seems to like flowers and such,” Ron said. “It’s not a bad idea. Well, aside from being eaten by wild animals or blown away in a thunderstorm, I suppose.”

“Yes, well, leaving the less pleasant environmental factors out of it, Thumbelina picked a lovely white flower, and the swallow landed there and let her climb down. Then he flew away with a heavy heart, for he would miss his friend,” Hermione said.

“Hey, she’s literally next door. He can drop round for tea any time,” Ron pointed out.

“True enough,” Hermione said. “However, Thumbelina soon realized she was not alone on the flower.”

“Oh, Merlin, if that mayfly or some other stupid thing kidnaps her again or eats her, I’m going to dig up Andersen and give him a stern talking to!” Ron said in exasperation.

“No, it wasn’t an insect or any other sort of animal,” Hermione said, hiding a smile at Ron’s emotional investment in the story. “Thumbelina was stunned to see another little person just her own size, a handsome little man who wore a crown on his head.”

“I suppose it would make sense there would have to be more of them somewhere,” Harry said.

“Convenient, maybe too convenient, but I’ll let it pass since she’s had one heck of a life to this point,” Ron said. “Also, I’m glad she’s not about to be eaten. Wait, is she?”

“No, thankfully, the little man was not a cannibal,” Hermione said. “Instead, he looked at her and said, ‘You are the fairest maiden I have ever seen. Will you not tell me your tale?’ Thumbelina told him all that had happened to her. After, he said, ‘I see you are both brave and kind. I am the king of the flower angels, and I believe you would make a most fitting queen. Would you marry me?’”

“Another one?” Ron said.

“Well, at least this one actually asked her,” Harry pointed out.

“True,” Ron said, “and it’s not like he’s a beetle or a slug or something else totally incompatible. But what’s a flower angel supposed to be?”

“I’m not really sure,” Hermione said. “Andersen does use that term specifically rather than a fairy or something similar. It seems like they’re a more spiritual version of a fairy, so the reader is supposed to assume that they’re very good beings. He does also mention that all the flower fairies have wings as well.”

“Okay, so maybe not a perfect fit,” Ron said, “but close enough.”

“Thumbelina must have agreed with you, because she happily accepted the king’s proposal and they were wed at once, with the swallow singing joyously during the wedding,” Hermione said.

“That was fast,” Ron said. “Then again, she was already wearing the wedding dress, so why bother waiting?”

“The flower angels brought Thumbelina beautiful and wonderful gifts, but the most wonderful of all was her own pair of wings that looked very much like those of the white dragonfly from the lily pad,” Hermione said.

“They killed it and gave her its wings?” Ron said, looking horrified.

“I don’t think so,” Hermione said. “I think we’re just supposed to think they’re pretty.”

“Yeah, well, that dragonfly is still bothering me, so bully for her that she got wings, but I hope he got away too,” Ron said.

“I agree,” Hermione said. “Then the king said, ‘Thumbelina is an ugly name for one so fair. From now on, your name shall be Maia.’”

“He renames her?” Harry asked. “That’s rather disturbing.”

“Again, I tend to agree. It’s not unusual in feminist stories for women to change their names at some point as a part of the heroine’s journey as a way of showing self-determination, but here it’s his choice, not hers, which does cast a sinister shadow over the happy ending. I believe Andersen just wanted to show that Thumbelina was now where she was supposed to be and starting a new life, but it does sound a false note,” Hermione said.

“And it’s rude,” Ron said.

“That too,” Hermione said, “but Thumbelina seems to be quite happy, and she lived happily ever after. The swallow flew all the way to Denmark, though, and sat outside the window of a storyteller and sang of her adventures in a song, and the storyteller listened, and that’s how the tale of Thumbelina came to be. The end.”

Ron and Harry looked at each other for a moment, then Ron took a deep breath.

“Oh dear,” Hermione mumbled. “Here we go again.”

“So what happened to her mum?” Ron asked.

“Though a lot of modern interpretations do somehow have the mother show up again, in Andersen’s version, they’re never reunited,” Hermione said.

“Well, that’s even sadder than the dragonfly,” Ron said.

“Possibly, but I think there might be an undercurrent of punishment here as well,” Hermione said. “The mother didn’t choose to wonder where Thumbelina came from, and it does seem as though she was stolen from the flower angels prior to her birth.”

“Even so, that’s sad,” Ron said. “Then again, it’s Andersen. What should I expect?”

“Foot pain?” Harry said.

“She’s got wings now, so her feet aren’t really even a point anymore,” Ron said, waving it away, then stopping. “Wait, was that the reasoning behind that? She’s finally escaped from the whole foot thing?”

“I don’t know,” Hermione said with a surprised blink. “Possibly?”

“I’m going to go with that, then,” Ron said. “And then they lived happily ever after.”

“Or as much as anyone does in these things,” Harry said, though even he had to admit that living in a flowery meadow and getting wings did sound pretty idyllic.

“So, that sort of explains the courtship of Mary Bentley and Thomas Riddle, who is not Tom Riddle or Tommy Riddle,” Hermione said, ticking them off on her fingers. “What it doesn’t do is suggest where we should go next.”

“Sure it does,” Ron said. “I say we try Italy.”

“Italy?” Hermione said uncertainly.

“Why not?” Ron said.

“Because there’s absolutely no connection between You-Know-Who and Italy that I’ve ever heard of?” Hermione said carefully.

“Okay, hear me out,” Ron said. “What if he just picked a spot that really does have no connection to him whatsoever for at least one Horcrux? Maybe he was going for high symbolism and ego stroking with some of them, but wouldn’t it make sense for him to put one Horcrux in a completely random place with no known history with him?”

“It would,” Harry said, “but if he did I’m afraid we don’t have any chance at all of finding it.”

“It’s a nightmarish thought, but certainly possible,” Hermione said, shuddering.

“So, why not at least try Italy then?” Ron said. “There’s loads of wizarding history over there. Maybe we should check the catacombs in Rome or something.”

Harry found himself considered this, which was surprising to him.

“Here’s a thought,” Harry said finally. “I say we take it in turns to pick the next place that we think is likely. Hermione, you picked Riddle’s gran’s school. Ron, if you think there’s a chance that Vol—“

“Tommy!” Ron yelled quickly.

“Fine, Tommy,” Harry said, still wondering why everyone was so afraid of a name, “might have put a Horcrux in the catacombs in Rome, then that’s where we’ll go.”

Ron was silent for a moment.

“It is possible,” Hermione said slowly. “The catacombs do have an entire wizarding section the Muggles don’t know exists, it is a place connected to death, and it’s certainly considered a great honor to be buried there.”

“Okay, then we’ll try Rome,” Ron said, looking slightly stunned that his idea had been picked.

They turned in for bed for the night, but Harry’s mind was uneasy. In truth, Harry had no hope at all that Voldemort had ever been in Italy. He had made the suggestion only so that Ron would be less likely to feel he was being ignored. However, the wasted time was worth it if it kept Ron from becoming too depressed, and the Horcrux seemed to be affecting him worse each day. The story of Thumbelina might have been about a tiny girl who was taken from one adventure to the next, but she’d also eventually run away from the mouse and mole, fed up with a life of others’ decisions, and left them. He hoped Ron wouldn’t someday do the same.
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