The Sugar Quill
Author: Evelyn Dreamtrot  Story: The Dragon-Induced Epiphany  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Disclaimer: If I actually claimed these were my characters and ideas, do you think Rowling would sue me

Disclaimer: If I actually claimed these were my characters and ideas, do you think Rowling would sue me? (for the record… they're not…)

 

[AN: Thanks as always to Zsenya for beta-reading. And I promise I will some day get back to the Time-Turner story, but these time traveling plots have to be very thought out and I haven't had the time!]

 

The Dragon-Induced Epiphany

           

            "You know what the first task is, don't you, Ron?"

            Hermione's voice sounded behind me and at shoulder height, mingling with the buzz of chattering students around us. I hadn't realized she was behind me; I had suspected, maybe, in the back of my head, that she'd finally gotten fed up with me. She was pretty upset that Harry wasn't talking to me either, I could tell, but I was the one who had supposedly started it. I had explained to her, and made it very clear, that if Harry's ruddy name had not come out of the ruddy Goblet and if he had just told me the ruddy truth… So it was him that started it, really. He refused to tell his best friend what everybody knew was true.

            Jealous. That's what she'd called me. I was more than a little resentful toward her for that. Leave it to Hermione to say something stupid like that.

            Especially when I knew it was true.

            It's not easy, I'd told her, being the youngest son. I'm not even the baby of the family, there's Ginny, and what's more she's a girl. And of course I went and fell in with the Boy-Who-Lived, so there it is: I'm "second fiddle" again, as Hermione put it.

            "It's dragons," said Hermione, shuffling past shoulders to reach my side as we headed toward a stadium on the grounds.

            "What?" I stopped walking, and Dean Thomas gave me a friendly shove from behind.

            "Move it, Weasley!" said Seamus Finnigan, but I didn't hear him right away.

            "They're making them fight dragons?" I grabbed Hermione's arm and tugged her back toward me against the tide of Gryffindors. She looked slightly vexed, her hair a halo around her head and her robes crooked from the bodies that kept sliding past her.

            "Of course. I forgot no one else would have told you. He doesn't have to fight them, he's just got to get past one."

            "Just? Just?"

            "Well, what did you expect, they were going to play a vicious game of Monopoly?"

            "Huh?"

            "Oh, come on. This is ridiculous. We need to find a good view." She took hold of my arm now and led me to the Gryffindors' assigned benches. I tried not to notice the two seats the rest of the students absent-mindedly left in the front row for us, as Harry's best friends.

            "Still, it can't be that bad, can it? I mean, there're professors all around, and dragon tamers. It- He'll be fine." I stammered a bit, then caught Hermione looking at me solemnly. "Much to my chagrin." She sent her eyes skyward and leaned forward in her seat, resting her arms on the railing in anticipation.

            A few minutes passed while I tried to look relaxed, like I couldn't care less about the outcome. I leaned back and watched the wind blow Hermione's hair about and into her face. She growled at it, frustrated, and tried to hold it back with one hand to better see the field. There was some slight muttering where I could hear the words "left my hair band…"  I felt my hand lift to help hold back the mane of hair and stopped, though I couldn't say why. I chalked it up to slight resentment that she had said I was jealous of Harry and definitely not because of the uncomfortable scene that had played out in my head. It seemed an odd way to touch her, somehow.

            I was mercifully distracted as Ludo Bagman's familiar voice boomed across the field. I bit my lip, nervous for Harry despite my anger towards him. Why dragons? Why couldn't they just play Monie-polly like Hermione had said? Then I wouldn't have this slight tugging dread at the pit of my stomach that hinted that maybe, just maybe this had been a very bad time to give Harry the silent treatment.

            "And now I reveal to you… the First Task!" boomed Bagman. There must have been a charm over the large cage of dragons at the far end of the field, because I hadn't noticed it before. And it's a hard thing to miss, a box of dragons, their tails and teeth a mess of spikes and ivory, their even sharper eyes glinting between scales.

            I forgot to think, to take care not to care and was on my feet with the rest of the students. Hermione's hands immediately went to her face, smacking my shoulder accidentally in their over-excited assent.

            "Oh, Ron… they're awful," she muttered between her fingers, her cheeks pink from the cold wind. "I'd only seen them in books… I knew they were big but…"

            I wasn't paying her mind this time, though. I had seen grown dragons before, once while visiting Charlie in Romania, but my memory of them must not have been clear enough, because the dread I now felt had reached the top of my throat. My eyes grew wide as the beasts thrashed about, and finally as one was coaxed forward to her nest eggs: a Swedish Short-Snout, her dull blue scales strange against the brilliant grass. I tried to swallow, couldn't, and so tried to remember why I had hated Harry these past few days, an odd attempt to comfort myself.

            I didn't listen to Bagman's commentary because it was getting a bit annoying; we could plainly see Cedric dodge the Short-Snout, feeling out the dragon as he built himself up to get past her to the golden egg in her nest. He made several attempts, mostly to distract her, but she kept her eyes locked on him in an awful game of You Blink First. I held my breath.

            I could see the tiny figure of Cedric point with his wand at a large rock across the field from him, and it started barking strangely before it turned into a fairly large dog. The dragon turned toward it, outraged at the racket it was making, and dove, forgetting the quieter Cedric. He raced straight toward the Short-Snout, his arms already out to grab at the golden egg. Right at the last minute she decided that Cedric would be the better meal, and she turned and snorted ferociously, flames licking her nostrils. And then-

            FOOOOOOM.

            I cried out with the rest of the audience, but Cedric was still up and running, his robes smoldering slightly. Mediwizards on all sides of him sprayed a white frothy stuff, extinguisher, from their wands and pounced on him the moment he was out of the arena.

            Fleur and Krum's performances allowed me to distract myself from the tight knot of dread in my stomach that threatened to wheedle its way to my head and reveal what its source was. I watched as Fleur's silver hair whipped around her like a scarf, and Hermione brought her attention from the tournament for a second to wordlessly lift my chin and shut my gaping mouth. I turned to look wryly at her but she had her eyes on the Welsh Green again.

            As Krum's rather messy (and somewhat disappointing) attempt came to an end with his arms around the prize, and several smashed dragon eggs (I heard Hagrid moan a few seats down), I remembered whose turn it was next. As Bagman called his name, I scowled at the cheering crowd, trying to drudge up my resentment for him right now, and at Hermione's sideways glances at me when I didn't clap. This was what he wanted, wasn't it? All this cheering and attention and fame.

            But it wasn't, not really.

            I'd thought it before I had a chance to think about it, as if some voice in my head had chosen now to speak up on Harry's behalf. About time.

            He'd never liked all the attention he got for being the Boy-Who-Lived. I mean, for him to have lived, his parents had to die. Not to mention how embarrassed he was of it all the time- trying to sink back into the shadows, unnoticed and average, while the rest of the wizard population dragged him to center stage in most conversations and situations. Hadn't Harry told me once that he loved winning in Quidditch because he got recognition for being just Harry, not for being Harry Potter, Boy-Who-Lived?

            It was slowly dawning on me, that to make myself hate Harry, to raise my resentment of him beyond jealousy, I'd had to look at him like most do, from outside his head. But here I was, his best friend. I probably knew him better than most. Hell, I could read Harry better than anybody, even Hermione at times.

            He couldn't want this.

            The realization was immediately followed with another like a stubborn pit bull, latched viciously to its tail:

            "He could die out there."

            Hermione turned to me, nostrils flaring. "It took you this long to get it through your thick skull, did it, Ronald Weasley?" Her voice softened a bit. "They're real careful out there, I suppose, with all the trainers but… It's all I've been able to think about, the possibility that… something awful could happen to Harry. And you have been so caught up-"

            "Save it, Hermione," I said breathlessly, trying desperately to remember what I'd said to Harry last. I couldn't. It was probably just as well- it'd probably been something awful, and hurtful and spiteful and why did I have to be such a prat sometimes? Someone was trying to kill Harry and he could very well succeed, right here, with me watching and knowing that Harry thought I hated him from his toes to the scar on his head.

            The scar on his head- Harry had known. He'd as good as offered to switch places with me, and I knew he would in a second, even though I was the sideline friend and brother. Even though he got the attention- that he hated. I didn't see it before, not even when he'd lost his temper and thrown that badge at me, asked if I’d wanted his scar… his scars…

            It was panic now that choked me. What had I done?

            And there he stood at our end of the field, looking very small and white. And the Hungarian Horntail stood ominously above her brood.

            "You can do it, Harry… Accio… Accio Firebolt…" Hermione was whispering into her hands, leaning so far over the rail that I instinctively grabbed the collar of her robes and tugged her back a bit. She shooed my hand away.

            "What are you on about?"

            "Practicing… we've been practicing Summoning Charms… so he can… Oh!"

            Something had gone whizzing over our stands, and Harry's Firebolt rushed to his side and waited for him to mount it. Hermione let out a whoop as he lifted off into the air, but clutched her face again as he dived toward the dragon.

            "Harry!" I heard myself yell, far off and amidst the gasps of the crowd as the Horntail spat fire right where he'd been only a second before. I gripped the rail and leaned forward like Hermione, eyes fearful.

            What if I never got to say I was sorry?

            I hadn't expected to be angry at him all year, I don't think. I mean, I think I just wanted… to get what I thought was the truth from him… or maybe to teach him… to show him how hard it was for me to be the Friend-of-the-Boy-Who-Lived, instead of Ron Weasley, Whatever-I-Am. I couldn't just tell him how I felt, I had to do this. And now we could loose him, no matter how they assured us that this was safe… half of the champions in past years had died… There was always the possibility.

            In slow motion, it seemed, the Horntail raised her tail. Harry came around again, dodging another possible scorching but failing to avoid the horned tail. He wavered a bit, and for a few horrible seconds I imagined he was about to fall off his broom, struck too hard. I couldn't even yell this time; me, who's shouted through more Quidditch matches than I can count.

            "That was too close! He's hurt!"

            "He's been hurt before," I choked, trying to assure Hermione through my own intense worry. Harry had paused now, and suddenly was diving back and forth on his broom, above the seething Horntail. "He's- he's not lost control of his broom, has he?" I frantically asked no one.

            "Don't be silly, Ron, he's drawing it away from the nest! Oh!" Harry had come toward them mid-zigzag, rustling our hair, and I saw the ugly gash on his arm where one of the dragon's horns had scratched him. "He's bleeding!"

            "It's just a scratch," I said, trying to convince myself as much as her. Too close.

            Finally Harry had teased the Horntail enough; she rose on her hind legs, and in a flash, as if he had seen the Snitch in a Quidditch game, Harry dove at the nest. And then he was in the air again, the golden egg shining in his arms.

            Relief blossomed inside me like spilled ink. Dully I could hear Hermione's relieved shouts of triumph beside me, adding to the cacophony of voices that roared and cheered as Harry circled once around the field to slow himself down and land. I slid down numbly to my armpits, slumped over the rail, my hands aching where they had been gripping the wood. I glanced at them, now in front of me as I kneeled, holding them out straight; they were shaking slightly from tension.

            Hermione was suddenly pulling my arm as if panicked, and I thought for a split second something had happened to Harry before he could leave the field, but she was only trying to get me to move faster.

            "Come on, Ron! We have got to go see him!" She pulled me off the bleachers as she had pulled me onto them, with a tight grip on my forearm. As she reached the bottom of the stairs it hit me that I would have to face Harry. And as badly as I needed to see him, right now, on the ground, I didn't fancy the thought of a confrontation. And I knew I had to apologize… and I didn't want to explain why…

            I hooked my fingers around one of the bleacher's posts, stopping Hermione, who still had a hold of my arm, with a jerk.

            "Oh, Ron, no. Please don't still be-"

            "I'm not. I… I…" There was a long pause in which she let go of my arm, letting it fall to my side. "What do I say to him?"

            "I don't know, Ron," she said, not unkindly. "Maybe… 'I'm sorry.'"

            I snorted, maybe to prove I didn't quite think I'd been in the wrong yet. She bit her lip, and I could tell she was impatient to see him grounded also. What I said to him when I saw him suddenly didn't matter anymore, as long as I saw him.

            "Come on," I said, rushing past her to the white tent meant to be a makeshift hospital.

            Something in my chest thudded sharply when we rounded the corner and saw him sitting on a cot, absent-mindedly holding his arm below a gash in his robes. It was like seeing him for the first time in a long time, like he had come back from the dead, or I had. I felt nerves stir themselves in the pit of my stomach.

            What if he wouldn't forgive me?

            I made sure to stay close to Hermione, a bit afraid of him and his reaction, thinking maybe she may be the only friend I had in the room.

            He didn't get up when we entered, but his eyes locked on me, looking at me like I was the last person in the world he expected to walk into the tent. I knew I was. He didn't stop looking at me when Hermione said something to him.

            "Harry," I began, my pride long ago swallowed by gratitude for his survival. "Whoever put your name in that goblet- I - I reckon they're trying to do you in!"

            He didn't let me apologize, not really. But he smiled at me when I smiled at him. And that was enough.

            Hermione burst into tears.

 

***

           

              

//
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