“But, Mummy, it’s still light out!” the small girl squealed as her mother fruitlessly tried to get her into bed, auburn ringlets bobbing as she bounced around her bright fuchsia room.
“It may be light outside, but it’s also eight thirty. Now, are you going to be good, or do I have to get your father?” This comment had completely the opposite effect than intended, as the girl stopped in her tracks, a wide smile lighting up her face.
“Can he tell me a story? Please, Mummy, can he?” The woman rolled her eyes as her daughter gazed up at her imploringly. Changing tactics, she replied:
“Well, if you’re very, very good, and get straight into bed, I’ll go and ask him.” Noting the girl’s immediate compliance, she turned to leave, only to find her husband already waiting by the doorway. “How is it that you’re always busy when they need to get changed, but inexplicably free when they want a story?”
“Magic?” her husband hazarded, trying not to smile.
“You know, for the ‘Boy-Who-Lived’, you do like to flirt with death sometimes,” she warned him, her own smile threatening to give her away.
“Sorry Gin. Work was just...,” he replied more seriously, suddenly feeling guilty over his endless string of late nights.
Shaking her head once more, she responded: “I know; it’s okay. Anyway, you’d better not keep your audience waiting.”
Giving his wife a quick kiss, he stepped into his youngest child’s kingdom.
“So, I hear you’ve been trying to stay up past bedtime. Is this true?” The young girl ducked her head as he gave her a hard stare, hiding behind her favourite cuddly toy.
“Sorry, Daddy,” she replied, peaking up at him, her green eyes wide and imploring. “I just wanted to wait ‘til you got home.”
Torn between guilt over his late nights, and an awareness that he was being manipulated by a six year old, he struggled to find an appropriate response. “Well, alright then, but you should still do what your mother tells you.”
“Alright then. So Lily-Pad, what’ll it be tonight?”
The ringlets started bobbing again as the girl wriggled into bed, biting her lip in concentration. “How about one of the stories from when you and Mummy were little – like when you fought the dragon, or saved her from the Basilock? You were always so brave!”
“Hmm, let me think... I know!” he exclaimed suddenly, as if struck by a stroke of genius. “How about I tell you a story of true bravery?”
Silenced by excitement, the little girl simply nodded fervently.
“Alright then. It all began when a dashing knight – who happened to be called Harry – met the beautiful Princess Ginny. Now, the princess and the knight had many adventures together, as you know, and eventually they fell in love. But the knight was scared of showing how much he loved the princess, for she was the most beautiful girl in all the land, and he was afraid that she would fall in love with someone else.”
“But he’s a dashing knight,” the girl interrupted indignantly. “Why wouldn’t she love him back? And anyways, knights don’t get scared.”
“Well, you see, there were many other knights in the realm, and a lot of them were dashing too. And knights do get scared, when it comes to their hearts. Anyway, the knight wanted to let the princess know how he truly felt, so he decided to ask him to marry her. Then, finally, he would know if she loved him like he loved her, and they could live happily ever after.
“Still, the knight was truly a cowardly knight, and so he told no-one of his plans. Day and night he worried and schemed, but no way seemed right – he knew he would have to do something amazing to convince the princess to say yes, but he couldn’t bear for others to know in case she said no. Even worse, he knew that all about the kingdom, there were evil bugs trying to find out about their relationship, so that they could twist things and tell lies, and so he knew that whatever he did would have to be perfect.
“Finally, he decided to cook her a beautiful dinner, with dancing and music and all her favourite foods. He set the date with her, and then spent days preparing, choosing just the right music, the right food, and the right ring – a big sparkly diamond on a plain gold band. Then all that was left was to talk to the King, because of course you can’t marry a princess without asking the king’s permission. Boldly, he walked straight up to him, and do you know what he said?”
The young girl craned forwards, eager to hear the knight’s speech.
“Well, what did he say, Daddy?” she asked impatiently.
“He said: ‘Um, so yeah. I was wondering if I might... um... I mean to say... would you mind if I asked ... your-daughter-to-marry-me?’” The little girl giggled.
“Luckily,” the father continued, “the king was kind to the knight, and quickly assured him that he would be delighted for him to propose to the princess. He immediately gave his blessing, and began to tell the knight all about the joys of being married, and setting up a home together. Then he suggested that the two of them might even...”
Abruptly the man paused, unsure of how to explain the next part to such a young audience.
“Even..?” the girl prompted.
“Oh, yes. The king suggested that they might want to... bake a cake together, one day.” The girl looked decidedly confused by the sudden turn, but nonetheless snuggled herself back into bed.
“However, the knight became very embarrassed by that idea,” he continued. “You see, he didn’t normally like cakes all that much, and hadn’t planned to have cakes any time soon. He certainly didn’t want the king thinking that he was planning such things already, or that cakes were the only reason he was marrying the princess. So -”
“But that’s just silly – everyone likes cakes, and anyway, why would the king mind if they had been baking?” the girl interjected, as she became increasingly puzzled by the strange tale.
“Well, clearly this knight had never known any good cakes. And as for why the king would mind... you’ll understand when you’re older. Anyway, the point is that he told the king that he wasn’t really a cake person and that this wasn’t the reason for marrying the princess. The king accepted this, and all seemed well.
“However – though neither the king nor the knight knew this – the princess had just passed by the door, and had heard what the knight said about cakes. Now, this was bad, because it turned out that the princess was actually baking the knight a cake at that very moment, and had planned to tell him at their romantic dinner. When she realised what he thought of such a thing, she assumed that he undoubtedly did not love her at all. Heartbroken, she fled the kingdom, stopping only to write him a quick note.
“The knight, of course, knew nothing about this, and so went home believing all to be well. He finished preparing the beautiful meal, lit the pretty candles, turned on the beautiful music, and hid the sparkling diamond ring. But when the time came for the princess to arrive, he was instead greeted by a solitary owl, carrying the princess’s note. It read:
“‘Dear knight, I love you more than words can say. However, after hearing you talk to my father this afternoon, I realise that we want different things from life, and that if I stay, I will only hold you back from your destiny. Please, don’t look for me; it’s for the best. All my love, Princess.’
“Now the knight – reading this – thought that the princess had overheard the first part of the conversation rather than the last, and that she was telling him that she did not want to marry him. Devastated, he hid in his castle for many days, talking to no one, and turning away any owls that arrived. The evil bugs realised something was afoot, and wrote stories about what might be troubling him, but as he would not talk to anyone, no one knew.
“Finally, his friends could stand it no longer, and so one of his closest friends – the wisest witch in all the land – apparated straight into his bedroom.”
“Into his bedroom?” the little girl questioned sleepily. “But, he might have been in his pyjamas.”
“Indeed he was in his pyjamas, but the witch didn’t care, as she knew that he needed her, even if he didn’t know it himself. So, she apparated in, forced him out of bed, and made him drink a big cup of coffee to wake him up. Then, when he was ready, she made him tell her what had happened.
“However, by the end of the tale, she was just as confused as he was. She knew that the princess loved the knight, because she was friends with the princess too. Indeed, she even knew that the princess had been baking him a cake, though she had been sworn to secrecy about this. Thus, she argued with the knight, telling him that he must be mistaken, and that he should talk to the princess to find out the truth.
“But the knight would not be swayed. As much as he loved the princess, he was still too cowardly to find her and confess his love, particularly now that he thought she didn’t want him back. Every point the witch made, he refused to listen to, until at last she realised there was only one thing left to do.
“Sending a silent apology to the princess, wherever she might be, the wise witch told the knight about the cake, and begged him to see that she must surely love him if she was willing to do that – because of course you only bake cakes for those you love. The knight was shocked by the news, and fell silent. Then he jumped up from his chair, and raced to where he had left the letter, to re-read its words.
“Realising his mistake, he jumped on his trusty steed – called Firebolt – and raced across the kingdom, anxious to find the princess before any more damage was done. He visited all of her favourite places, and spoke to every friend they had, hoping to find some sign of her, and to explain their terrible misunderstanding. His embarrassment and concerns about having a cake were nothing now that he knew she wanted to bake him one, and he vowed he would search every last inch of the kingdom to tell her so, and make her his wife.
“But the princess simply couldn’t be found, and after many days searching, the knight realised she simply wouldn’t let him find her. He was terribly sad, and particularly when he realised that so much of the problem had been caused by his own reluctance to tell the princess, and the entire world, just how much he loved her. Being a coward had ruined the best thing in his life, and so, finally finding his courage, he pointed his wand at the sky and put it all on the line.
“The princess, who had gone to a castle at the very edge of the kingdom, was very sad herself. She knew that the knight was the love of her life, and she was sure she would never find another to replace him. Day after day, she sat by the window of a tower and watched the sun rise and set, until one day, the most remarkable thing happened.
“As she watched the sky, the clouds swirled and shifted into strange and mysterious patterns, until eventually they spelled out the knight’s message, for the entire magical kingdom to see. And do you know what it said?”
“No, what did it ... did it say?” the girl murmured around her yawns, as she tried to stay awake until the story’s end.
“It said ‘Princess, will you marry me?’ And when the princess read it, and realised that the knight truly did love her, and that maybe they really could be together. Immediately, she apparated back to him, and after assuring her that he would never be unhappy about any cake that she baked, he got down on one knee and proposed. They got married that very year, and have been living happily ever after ever since. Indeed, they’ve even baked some more cakes, and it turned out that he really does think they are the loveliest cakes of all.”
Finishing his tale, the man paused, watching as his daughter’s eyes drifted shut, and her breathing turned to quiet snores. Smiling, he placed a gentle kiss on her forehead and crept to the door, closing it behind him and leaving his youngest cake to her dreams.