Chapter One – Gold Leaf and Red Ink

Harry James Evans sat in the Come and Go Room, a solemn look on his face as he gazed ahead at the light filtering through the stained glass windows.  He remembered finding the room his very first month at Hogwarts, when he was a small child of eleven who was trying to hold in his tears as Professor Flitwick had kindly informed him that students—or rather students who happened not to be Muggleborns—weren’t permitted into the village unless they were in their third year and that there wasn’t even a small chapel at Hogwarts for him to pray in.

The little wizard’s eyes had been full of aged kindness, and Harry had found himself smiling at him quietly, thankful that he hadn’t just brushed his request like his Head of House who insisted, in her stern Scottish brogue, that nonsense such as religion had no place in the wizarding world and that a Potter of all people should know better than to ask such inane questions.

Harry had decided at that moment he didn’t much care for being a Potter.

His Aunt Petunia had taken him faithfully to church with Dudley when they were small boys, and had told him quite confidently when he asked at the age of eight that his mother had been confirmed an Anglican where they grew up in Manchester.  That was all he needed to know.  If his father—who was the only other Potter he knew of, thank you very much—hadn’t believed in the nonsense of faith, then he had decided he didn’t much want to be a Potter any longer.

A small smile played on his face as he remembered, replacing his previous pious visage.  He’d startled all of his professors only a month into his first year by publicly asking at the beginning of each class to be called “Mr. Evans.”  He’d even taken quiet joy when he added in Transfiguration that it was because an Evans believed in the nonsense of religion if a Potter did not.

He’d started rumors that hadn’t ended until well after Christmas.  Snape had even given him several calculated looks before he had commended him on a Potion partway through November and then said that Evanses were always excellent at Potions.  He’d been friendly—or what Harry supposed was friendly for Snape—ever since, and Harry found himself battling for the top slot with Hermione Granger.  Although they had been technically friends since Halloween their first year, Harry didn’t really like her.  Ron had just fallen in with her and, well, Harry just went along with it as the argument “she thinks that religion is only for Muggles” didn’t seem to hold much sway with his dorm mate—er, friend—for whatever reason—not that he’d ever really call Ron Weasley a friend even though Ron insisted brashly that they were.

Aunt Petunia had been pleased when he’d sent her an owl around Christmas and asked if he could have his name changed, explaining that Potters were apparently godless, and he didn’t appreciate being named for one.  He didn’t like the thought of his father not going to heaven, but he didn’t know what else to think.  At least his mum was with the angels.  That brought him comfort.

He sighed, turning his thoughts to the present, wishing there were a priesst present to serve the sacrament.  Harry wasn’t quite certain how the room did it, but when he arrived every Sunday as he had faithfully for every week since he had first come across the room—which was strange in and of itself as he’d found a badly penned note by his bed explaining how to get there and what to think; in his fourth year, he realized that the house elves must have realized his plight and given him the room—the sacrament was magically there. 

Harry stood and walked quietly toward the front of the little church that never was, and kneeled dutifully before the cross.  He felt a sense of peace come over him, which he so desperately needed after his last detention with Umbridge and the cruel words that were now etched on his right hand—I must not believe in nonsense—and he smiled quietly. 

“Oh, Father, that art in heaven,” he intoned quietly, his voice echoing off the stone walls and ricocheting between the stained glass panels that portrayed angels blessing witches and wizards, “hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Soft organ music, although an organ wasn’t present in the small chapel, began to play, and Harry relaxed even further, finishing the Lord’s Prayer.  He reached forward and took the small piece of bread that was on a waiting table and he ate it dutifully before drinking the bitter wine from a chalice. 

He settled more comfortably on his knees and rested his elbows on the rail that separated him from the unused altar and just let the music and the peaceful atmosphere of the room wash over him. 

A quiet pop sounded somewhere behind him and he sighed inwardly.  Carefully he crossed himself and then stood, taking one last look at the ornate cross hanging on the wall before turning around, unsurprised when he saw Winky waiting for him.  She was his favorite house elf at the castle much to Dobby’s displeasure.

Harry had managed to get her off her dependency to Butterbeer as soon as he discovered it early his fourth year, and the elf had been faithful to him ever since, binding herself magically to him and promising to follow him wherever he went when he finally left Hogwarts.  She also rather mothered him quite a bit, but he didn’t mind. 

Harry had never had much by way of maternal affection—his aunt Petunia was grudgingly fond of him as he was such a devout little boy and didn’t flaunt his magic like his mother had when she and Petunia were children.  And Mrs. Weasley—he shivered at the thought of her.  After the summer before his second year he had refused to go back to the Burrow no matter how much Ron pleaded with him.  He’d had a rather vocal argument with Mrs. Weasley, who had previously been all hugs and giving him more sweets than he could possibly ever eat, when he had quietly asked where the nearest parish was his first Saturday there.  Mrs. Weasley hadn’t helped matters during Harry’s fourth year when she accused him of trying to convert her daughter, who had developed a rather terrifying habit of trying to learn all about angels and then tell Harry how he must be an angel as he was perfect in every way.

He frowned and Winky blinked apologetically at him. 

“Master has an owl in dorm and its is being most persistent,” she squeaked and he nodded in understanding.  “Its is having a red ribbonses.”

Harry looked at her curiously.  “A red ribbon?”

She nodded emphatically, her large tennis ball eyes widening more than Harry thought possible.  “I is trying to gets owl, but owl would not let me.  I ams so sorry, young master.”  Large tears began to drip down her face and Harry looked at her in astonishment.

“That’s all right, Winky,” he soothed, placing a gentle hand on her small shoulder.  “You tried and it’s just a letter.”

“It’s not just a l-l-letter,” she hiccupped, brushing away her remaining tears.  “It-it’s a red ribbonses.”

“A red ribbon,” he reiterated.

She looked up at him adoringly, which was an odd contrast with her scrunched up eyes and large tear drops that were somehow sliding down to the tip of her long nose.

“What’s a red ribbon?”

Winky gasped.  “Young master doesn’t knowses,” she whispered dejectedly.  “It’s great honor.  It’s for marriage.”

His looked at her, startled.

“Marriage?”  Of everything Harry expected Winky to say, he hadn’t been thinking that it might be some kind of marriage proposal.  At least, he hoped it was a proposal.  He’d heard from Neville that there were sometimes still marriage contracts, and he refused to find himself in one of those.  He’d break his wand in a heartbeat and leave the wizarding world if it came to that—not that he hadn’t already considered it several times since he first arrived at Hogwarts.  He was surprised more Muggle-borns didn’t do it within their first or second year, though with ones like Granger it wasn’t at all surprising that they wanted to stay in a place that said that religion was the wizarding equivalent of fairy stories.

“Yes.  And it’s in your dorm and someones might sees!”

“Right,” he said quietly, realizing just how bad it might be if Ron saw it.  He’d tell Granger, who would tell Ginny, and then she would start crying—all over him.  It was a pattern that invariably repeated itself.  He grimaced just thinking of the Yule Ball.  He had taken Parvati Patil because Cho was already going with someone (Diggory, it turned out) and had been half-enjoying himself when she had come up to him and insisted that he was being cruel to her and then started sobbing. 

Neville hadn’t spoken to Ginny since as she had been his date.

Harry just liked to avoid Ginny as much as possible if he could help it.  Fortunately, Parvati had been understanding and agreed not to spread any gossip about him about the incident—though that didn’t stop her from giggling with Lavender over the situation for months, which just made Ginny cry even more.

“I better be going then.”  He turned and looked at the cross once more before he slipped out of the room, leaning up against the door momentarily as it faded back into a stone wall.

He smiled quietly to himself as he rushed along the corridor.  No one was up this early on a Sunday, but he found that he couldn’t help himself.  He enjoyed the quiet of a Sunday morning when everyone was asleep and he was the only student—or human, actually—wandering around by himself.

The Come and Go Room was his best kept secret.  He’d never told Ron—he would have told Hermione Granger immediately.  He never told anyone much of anything really, except for Kevin and Dean, who was Muggle-born and not as anti-Muggle as Hermione Granger appeared, for all of her pro-Muggle-born attitude. 

Granger had briefly mentioned at the beginning of the year that they should form some sort of defense association and that Harry should lead, but he had refused.  He had automatically been on Umbridge’s bad side as he hadn’t denied Dumbledore’s claim that he had informed the headmaster that Voldemort was back and then, somehow, it had come to her attention that he was a devout Christian.  Harry wasn’t going to do anything else to garner attention, especially in Granger’s need to control everyone’s lives around her.

She’d been trying to govern his for years, ever since she had become friends with Ron, and became furious their first year when she discovered that the mysterious person who had the top slot in most of her classes—when it wasn’t Draco Malfoy who excelled in Potions and History of Magic—had been him when she had been insisting all along that he do his homework to get his deplorable grades up.

He had wanted to laugh in her face, but decided it would be safer just to turn the other cheek.

Harry took the stairs two at a time as he headed quickly toward Gryffindor Tower and, when he arrived at the portrait of the Fat Lady five minutes later, whispered the password quietly to her before entering.

The room was quiet, whispers in the shadowed corner, and then he was rushing up the steps to his dormitory.

Soft snores immediately met his ears and he sighed in relief, until he saw Ron sitting on the windowsill and holding a beautiful eagle owl in his hands.

“He woke me up,” he muttered, his blue eyes never leaving the letter—it was in fact bound with a red ribbon—that the owl clutched possessively.

“Right,” Harry murmured and moved forward.

The owl hopped out of Ron’s grasp and fluttered to him and he stroked the feathers soothingly.

“You look tired,” he cooed to it affectionately.  “Where did you come from, handsome?”

The regal bird preened under his gentle caresses.

Ron harrumphed loudly, causing Dean to turn over in his bed, mumbling something before drifting back to sleep. 

“Who’s it from then?” Ron wheedled, and Harry looked up coolly. 

“I have no idea,” he replied truthfully and sat down on his bed before untying the parchment from the owl. 

The bird fluffed its feathers and then hopped over to Harry’s pillow and settled in, watching Harry as if it knew the importance of the missive in his hands.

“Aren’t you going to open it?”

Harry looked at his friend, exasperated.  “Some privacy would be nice,” he admitted.

“Who cares about privacy?” Ron asked enthusiastically, jumping on to the bed and dislodging the owl.

It glared at him and Harry cringed at the animal’s ire even though he wasn’t the focus of its disdain.  He’d thought only Hedwig had true character of all the owls he’d ever come across.  Clearly he was wrong.

“It’s a marriage proposal.  You’re only fifteen, mate!  Most people don’t start getting these until they’re of age and they usually know who it’s from.  I think.”

“Yes, well,” Harry began and shifted away from Ron, the letter still clasped tightly in his fingers, the red ribbon flowing across the white scars on his hand.  “I’d appreciate some privacy.”

Ron looked sullen.  “I wonder who he is,” he mumbled, and then lifted himself off the bed.

Harry’s eyes widened.  “He?”

“Yeah, mate, he,” Ron responded absently.  He stretched upward revealing a smooth expanse of freckled skin and scratched at his navel absently. 

Harry pretended that he wasn’t looking.

“Don’t you know anything about wizarding proposals?”

Harry fidgeted with the cuff of his left sleeve.  He always dressed nicely for church, even if he was the only one attending and he was sneaking off to the Come and Go room.

“Er—“

“Right,” Ron said, judgment lacing his tone.  “Only wizards can formally propose like that—it’s from a wizard, mate.”  He flopped down on his bed.  “I didn’t know you were a poof, mate.”

Harry’s eyes widened.  “I’m not—not—“  He swallowed, unable to say it.

Ron laughed loudly at this.

Seamus grunted and then sat up in bed, his eyes blearily looking around.

“Of course not.  Only straight blokes get marriage proposals from wealthy pureblood wizards sent by owl with a red ribbon.”

“Merlin,” Harry swore and quickly drew his curtains, shutting out Ron’s laughing green eyes.

“Who’s wealthy?” Seamus tiredly asked.

Harry quickly erected a Silencing Spell.  He didn’t need to hear the commentary.

He looked down again at the red ribbon and noticed that his fingers were white and that his entire arm was shaking.

Looking up at the owl, he saw that it was watching him.  He swallowed nervously, holding the bird’s gaze, trying to divine something from the black eyes that appeared to know too much for an owl.

A thought flickered across his mind before he discarded it, not wishing to think about his godfather even in passing.

“Marriage to a boy,” he whispered.  “To a man,” he corrected.

The owl hooted in confirmation, startling Harry out of his reverie.

“I’m being proposed to—by a man—on a Sunday.”  It was all too unreal to him.

He reached out a trembling hand to untie the ribbon, that was too vibrant even against his crimson and gold sheets, when his curtains were roughly pushed aside.  A smiling Seamus appeared before him and Harry had to shield his eyes from the sudden onslaught of light. 

“I heard the news,” he said enthusiastically, and then he was sitting beside Harry, the owl once again displaced by the movement and then a shy and sleepy looking Neville was following him in.  Ron was lying on his bed.  Dean, it appeared, was still asleep.

“A red ribbon,” Neville breathed and he reached out reverently to it.  “They’re so rare.”

Harry looked up at him, startled.  “Really?”

“Well, yes,” Neville admitted.  “Only a wizard of a certain social standing can send one.  I think there’s maybe a dozen families at most in Europe who can offer such a gift.”

Harry swallowed nervously—again.  That explained Winky’s crying reaction then. 

“But it’s from a man,” Harry whispered worriedly.  “Ron said so.”

Seamus leaned back and yawned widely.  “You’ll be a kept man.  God, I hate ye, you lucky bastard.”

“Wha-what?”

“Oh,” Neville said softly.  “I forgot—you—er—don’t know.”

“I know nothing,” Harry agreed.  “Only that it’s a marriage proposal, from a man—“

“And a wealthy bugger at that,” Seamus agreed.  “And older.”

Harry’s eyes widened even more, although he hadn’t thought that was possible.  “How much older?”

“Er,” Seamus began.  “Anywhere over eighteen or nineteen.  He could be an old geezer, if we’re honest.”  He crossed himself sleepily and then lay back on the bed.

Ron rolled his eyes at the scene. 

“He’s probably young or, well, you’d be his second spouse—unless he was a permanent bachelor,” Neville theorized, his eyes still looking longingly at the red ribbon.  “I mean, normally I’d say he hadn’t been one, but you’re, well—Harry Potter—so you’re the type of person to get someone like that to give up their ways.”

“There you are, Harry,” Ron said absently, stretching his arms behind his head.  The threadbare orange pajamas clashed horribly with his ginger hair.  “A rich bachelor who will sweep you off to his castle somewhere.”  A hint of jealousy crossed over his face, and Harry looked away, back at the ribbon. 

He was used to Ron’s jealousy.  It made an appearance at least once a year, and he’d been a bit overdue, he supposed.

“He’ll keep you in a large bedroom with private tutors and all the possessions you could want for.  You’d never have to deal with Umbridge or Snape again.”

Harry’s eyes lightened at the thought, allowing himself to imagine it for a moment before quickly bringing himself back to reality. 

“But it’s a man,” he repeated, looking at Seamus for understanding.  His dad was a Muggle and a Roman Catholic.  Certainly he would understand, at least a little bit.

“Are you low church or high?” Seamus dutifully asked.

“High,” Harry whispered quietly as he noted Ron’s peeved look at the mention of Christianity.  Harry felt like he was constantly hiding from his dorm mate and it vexed him greatly.

“You’ll be fine, then,” Seamus mumbled unhelpfully and Harry sighed. 

Now he really didn’t know what to say.  There were rumors over the number of closeted males there were, but they were just that—rumors. 

“Well, are you going to open it?” Neville asked quietly.

Harry fidgeted with it again, not really wanting to but feeling himself hard pressed not to do it.  He was curious himself and yet he still felt like he knew absolutely nothing.

“How often are they refused?”  His voice trembled and he didn’t look up to meet any of his dorm mates’ eyes though he knew they were all staring at him, the room going eerily silent except for the rustle of sheets in the direction of Dean’s bed.

“Refused?” Neville finally whispered incredulously.  “They’re rarely refused.  It’s an honor, a real honor to even be considered.  Families would never think of refusing and, well, it doesn’t even matter if the person isn’t attracted to the sender.”

“A bloke could not like other blokes and he’d still say yes,” Seamus elaborated before glancing over at Harry, his sandy blond hair sticking up at odd angles. 

Harry heard Ron snort.  “I don’t think that will be a problem.”

Harry blushed.  “I don’t like blokes,” he murmured to himself, although part of his mind knew it was a lie.

A warm, calloused hand covered his trembling one and Harry glanced up to see Neville’s watery blue eyes smiling kindly at him.  “It’s all right, Harry.  I heard that Muggles—they—“

Seamus laughed tiredly and rolled over.

The owl hooted disdainfully.

“Aye, sorry, Harry, I forgot.  Wizards can marry wizards.  Only wealthy wizards, mind ye.  There are international laws that allow the—upper crust, as it were, to marry whom they will.”

“Oligarchy,” Neville corrected.  “It’s more like an oligarchy.  As long as the person’s of age and neither one are married, then it can happen.  They can even get divorced when wizards and witches can’t normally.  Of course,” his eyes shot to the red ribbon again, a flush on his face, “if it’s a red ribbon proposal, divorce isn’t an option.”

“I’m not a pureblood—or wealthy,” he murmured.

Ron snorted.  “No—but you don’t have to be.  You’re receiving the proposal.”

Harry’s green gaze flicked up to Ron’s and their eyes clashed.  He could sense Ron’s distrust, his mounting jealousy, his envy, and Harry quickly looked away from him.  This was why he wanted to get up to the tower before anyone found the owl. 

He sighed.  He wished that the owl had found him in the Come and Go Room, but he knew that the windows weren’t really windows to the outside, but rather magical constructs that let in light through magic.  An owl wouldn’t have been able to find him while he was there.  At least, though, it hadn’t found him during breakfast.  Then the entire school would have been staring at him.  Including Granger—and Malfoy.

Malfoy.

“The Malfoys aren’t—are they?” he asked worriedly, looking between Neville and Seamus.  He didn’t much want to see whatever expression was passing across Ron’s features at the moment.  It was sure to be derisive in some degree.  “Please say it’s not from the Malfoys.”

Seamus quirked an eyebrow.  “Malfoy’s not old enough, anyway,” he explained.  “He’s not of age.  One should really be twenty, but ye can push it to nineteen if you’re the head of the family or some such.”

“He has a father,” Harry whispered, horrified.  He almost dropped the proposal as if it were a burning coal, but his fingers were still clasped around it possessively, afraid to allow anyone to open it before he had gotten all of the information.

“The Malfoys,” Neville calmly explained, “aren’t wealthy enough.  Close, but they’re not part of the original European families.”

“Oh,” Harry whispered, immensely thankful.  “That’s something, then.—Who then?”

“That’s the mystery, mate,” Seamus said, gesturing grandly. 

There was more rustle of cloth and then Dean was in front of them.  Everyone, however, ignored him, their attention on Seamus.

“No one really knows for certain.  Occasionally a red ribbon will turn up—“

“—like now,” Neville interjected, a small smile on his pouty lips that Harry tried not to focus on when he glanced at his friend.

“—Like now,” Seamus agreed.  “People will whisper and talk, but you can’t tell anyone who doesn’t see it.  One of those old magics.  If you open it you won’t be able to tell us who it’s from.  You’ll be able to tell us who you’re marrying, and we could guess, but we couldn’t pass that knowledge on.  It’s complicated.”

“What’s complicated?  And since when is Harry getting married?” Dean asked. 

“Not now,” Ron muttered in exasperation.  He’d turned once again toward Harry’s bed, his blue eyes now focusing on the letter as well.  “Well, don’t take all day.”

Harry glared at him.  “I’m not going to do it with people looking over my shoulder, thank you very much.”

Seamus chuckled under his breath and then pushed himself off his bed.  “I’m in the shower, then.  Still, when ye can tell me who this man is, I’d be much obliged.”

Dean looked between the two in confusion and Seamus grabbed his hand, pulling him away toward the showers. 

Neville looked uncomfortable, his eyes still fixated on the ribbon. 

“Nev,” Harry whispered and then their eyes met and he could see the wistfulness in Neville’s expression.  He wasn’t jealous for the sake of being jealous like Ron, but for some reason, he seemed to truly and deeply want a red ribbon for himself.  “I’m sorry, Nev,” he murmured and then, with a smile, Neville had also gotten up and Harry was alone on the bed, Ron and the owl staring at him.

“You won’t even let your best mate read it then?” Ron asked acidly, jealousy twisting his features.

“No—no one,” Harry whispered and then the curtains were drawn around him and he cast a silencing spell on them as well as a locking charm.  He wouldn’t put it past Ron to try and catch him off guard—and then somehow manage to get around the rule and let Hermione know somehow.  He wondered if the magic applied to the red ribbon as well.  Hopefully it did.  Then his dorm mates wouldn’t be able to tell anyone that he’d gotten one.

A plumed head was pressed into his wrist, and he glanced up to see the regal looking owl nudging at him.  He smiled, taking it as quiet encouragement. 

Carefully, he unwrapped the red ribbon and watched it flutter to the crimson bedspread, clashing with it horribly.  The letter fell out of his suddenly limp fingers and unfurled magically until it was laid out before him.

He gasped. 

Harry had never seen anything more ornate or beautiful.  The letters were thick and black, intricately penned with the vowels in red ink and a gold leaf “H” beginning the entire missive.

Hereweald Potterius Evanus, it began elegantly, and then continued on in Latin.  He looked at it in astonishment and traced it gently, the owl hooting his gentle approval. 

He couldn’t understand it, not without a dictionary, but when his fingers came to the final two words, the first letter elaborately coated in gold leaf, he felt his heart skip a beat in surprise: Victorinus Krumus.

Viktor Krum.

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