The Sugar Quill
Author: Ellyse (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: In Winter they Burn  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.

Author’s Note ~

In Winter they Burn

 

Author’s Note ~

Some of you may notice that this is the second time this story has posted. It was accidentally submitted before it was beta read, and I would like to thank everyone who read and reviewed the first time for their lovely comments. A huge thank you also goes out from me to Zsenya, for beta reading this and giving me such wonderful advice.

Merry Christmas everyone!

 

*      *      *

 

The sun lovingly stroked the crumbling, wobbly house. The snow on the ground sparkled deep violets and icy blues when draped in its golden rays. The stone house sported its new white hat with pride, while the restless trees allowed the cold white powder to slip through their fingers and fall anonymously to the paper-white ground.  

 

And there was silence. The wind had stopped moaning and wailing and the air was still, holding its breath with excitement. The chickens were still snoozing, fat bodies sitting on fat eggs. The odd flake of Christmas drifted to the ground like a whisper and the animals scattered on farms and hills nearby chewed noiselessly.

 

BANG!

 

Harry shot up in bed, his heart pounding. Fumbling, he reached for his glasses and slid them hurriedly onto his nose. His eyes were instantly drawn to the ceiling from which showers of red and green sparks cascaded like a waterfall to the floor. They mingled on the mouldy carpet for a few moments, before flickering away.

 

Two identical, freckled faces peered up at Harry from their squashy sleeping bags on the floor. They were grinning wickedly.

 

“Merry Christmas Harry!” Fred said happily.

 

“Seasons Greetings Ron!” George laughed.

 

Harry looked over at Ron who had sat up and was irritably rubbing his eyes. His vibrant hair stuck up at odd angles and he scowled at his brothers.

 

“What – what did you do that for?!” he cried, failing to cover a yawn.

 

“To get you up, my dear brother,” George said, jumping to his feet, still in his sleeping bag.

 

“You were both snoring away and there are presents to be opened and no time to waste,” Fred explained.

 

Ron’s anger turned to a wide grin. He suddenly looked wide awake.

 

“Yeah, let’s go downstairs,” he said, his eyes shining with excitement. “We can…”

 

BANG!

 

This time the house shook not from an explosion but from a door being slammed open. Molly Weasley stood, towering in the doorframe, wearing a fluffy blue dressing-gown over a large white nightdress. A hairnet covered the majority of her red hair and Harry noticed she had mismatching socks on. She folded her arms across her chest looking as if she herself was about to explode and sprinkle to the floor in green and red sparks.

 

“WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING?” she bellowed. “IT’S FIVE O’ CLOCK IN THE MORNING!”

 

Five o’clock?” Fred said mildly.

 

“We’re late,” said George, “it was half past four last time.”

 

Mrs. Weasley advanced on them, purple with anger.

 

“DO YOU TWO NEVER THINK TO HAVE CONSIDERATION FOR OTHERS?” she shouted.

 

“Mum,” Fred said, getting awkwardly to his feet in his sleeping bag. “Before you do anything…

 

“…We want to wish you a very Merry Christmas,” finished George.

 

Mrs. Weasley swelled like a great purple balloon but just then two things happened. First, she noticed Harry, sitting up in bed, looking sleepy, yet shocked, and second, the door that had slammed shut upon her entering eased open and Mr. Weasley, Hermione and Ginny all entered, looking very tired. By the sound of it, the rest of the Weasleys, unable to fit in Ron’s cramped room, were clustered in the hallway. 

 

“What’s going on?” asked Hermione, frowning. “What exploded?”

 

Mrs. Weasley appeared to be counting to ten.

 

“Nothing dear,” she said, ushering the girls out of the room, “just one of Fred and George’s… ah ha… jokes.” Harry thought she said this with rather gritted teeth. She clapped her hands together, suddenly businesslike. “I’ll start the breakfast shall I?”

 

“Cool,” Ron said.

 

“Oh,” Mrs. Weasley said turning back to the orange poster-plastered room, “and I’ll need two helpers for table-laying and fry-up minding.”

 

Her eye lingered nastily on the twins. 

 

*      *      *

 

The Weasley kitchen looked magnificent. Strands of tinsel were draped over about every surface possible. It sparkled and shone like Muggle tinsel, but Harry noticed it also changed colour and sprinkled glitter like twinkling snowflakes to the floor. A fire cackled happily to itself in the grate, and all of the Weasley children’s stockings hung over it with their names embroidered in different colours. Harry was pleased to see that he and Hermione also had a stocking each, laden with sweets and trinkets.

 

The scrubbed Weasley table had been pushed back, and the spotless, tiled floor had been covered by a rather worn but colourful furry mat.  

 

Light from the icy outside flooded the room, and the windows looked like a Muggle Christmas card, steamed up by the snow, revealing an idyllic family scene inside. Delicious smells of Christmas dinner wafted around the room, teasing everyone’s nostrils. Mrs. Weasley didn’t seem to do Christmas by halves.

 

But probably the most impressive thing about the room was the gigantic Christmas tree. It stretched, much too tall for the low ceiling of the little kitchen, its tip having had several feet severed off. The dark green apparition was weighed down by every sort of Christmas decoration Harry had ever seen. Sweets and sugar sticks, bows and bells, candles and baubles, fairies and streamers and on top, a glittering, icy crystal star. Harry had helped decorate the tree a few days before and knew it to be quite an experience. Seven Weasley children, plus he and Hermione had all clamoured around the tree, pushing to hang the most upon its spiny arms. He secretly thought that the reason there was so many decorations was to avoid too much conflict. This of course, had happened anyway, with Fred ending up with a bloody nose, and Ginny elbowing Percy in the eye.

 

Harry had to admit that their efforts, however violent, had been rewarded. The tree towered above the room, sporting all its embellishments with honour and pride, its feet piled upon by mountains of presents.

 

Oy, Harry!” Ron yelled, as Harry narrowly avoided a present hitting him square in the face, “open mine first.”

 

“Ron!” Mrs. Weasley exclaimed. “Gently.”

 

But behind her, the sound of Fred and George attacking identically wrapped presents, and the shower of paper that came from the wrestle told her that her efforts to retain order were to no avail.

 

Zonko’s stuff!”

 

“Oh, wicked!”

 

“Thanks Mum!”

 

“Thanks Dad!”

 

Mrs. Weasley tried to preserve a tight-lipped expression, but a grin crept through as she observed her indistinguishable sons delve delightedly into their new boxes of tricks. Instead she made do with a half-hearted; “you really shouldn’t encourage them Arthur.”

Harry meanwhile, had ripped off his wrapping to reveal an enormous box of sugar quills from Ron.

 

“Cheers Ron,” he said, holding them up.

 

“And to you,” Ron said, brandishing a Chudley Canons T-shirt at Harry and grinning.

 

“Oh Ron!”

 

Ron was distracted by Hermione who had unwrapped a large, dark green book entitled: A History of House-elves by Professor R.K. Wickle.

 

“This is what I was looking for in the library all last year,” Hermione said, excitedly, “how did you get it?”

 

“Ordered it,” Ron muttered, his ears a tell-tale red.

 

“Thank you,” Hermione said breathlessly. Everybody in the room seemed to be looking at them. Ginny, perhaps deliberately, chose that moment to unwrap her Weasley jumper.

 

“Ooh, thanks Mum, that’s lovely,” she said, holding up a navy blue woolly jumper with a robin knitted boldly on the front.

 

“My pleasure dear,” said Mrs. Weasley, kissing her daughter. Ginny pulled the jumper over her head immediately. The static wool made her bright hair stand on end, and she patted it down self-consciously. Harry felt himself watching, and turned away.

 

When he turned back to Ron and Hermione, he saw that Ron had unwrapped her present, a book about the Cannons, but had decided that he was not going to go about a public display of gratitude in front of his family. Instead he smiled, and turned his attention to the huge box of Bertie Botts bestowed on him by his elder brothers.

 

“Oh!” Percy gave an animated squeak, “Careers in High Places, by Professor M. Bishous.  Oh! Thank you, Mother! Father!"

                                         

Fred and George simultaneously opened their mouths but shut them under the glare of Mrs. Weasley.

 

Other presents included a small, gold, goblin-shaped earring for Bill from his parents (“it’s less conspicuous dear”), new dragon hide gloves for Charlie, a talking recipe book from Mr. Weasley to Mrs. Weasley, and a Muggle tool box to Mr. Weasley from his children (“Amazing! And Muggles actually use these to stick things onto the wall with!”) Numerous boxes of Chocolate Frogs, Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans, and Fizzing Whizzbees were also equally distributed among the group from various friends and relatives, and everyone seemed to be happily digging into each other’s sweets.

 

The floor was strewn with so much wrapping paper that Harry felt as if he was swimming in a vast sea of shiny holly leaves and Christmas puddings. The snowmen on Ginny’s wrapping paper were laughing, and hollering messages of Christmas cheer in deep, fatherly voices so frequently that she had to sit on them to make them stop.

 

Nearby, a faint ringing sound was heard, struggling to make an impression above the gaggle of noise. Mrs. Weasley jumped to her feet, and bustled over to the oven. Moments later she returned, armed with an enormous tray of mince pies in pink oven-mittened hands. Harry felt his mouth begin to water, as he became aware of the smell for the first time. He was not the only one. Seven Weasley boys and one Weasley girl knelt up, tongues practically wagging, like dogs begging for scraps.

 

“Nah ah,” Mrs. Weasley said, waving a large finger at them. “I believe it is guests first.” She smiled fondly at Hermione. “Guests, and ladies first.”

 

“Thank you,” Hermione said, helping herself carefully to a piping hot mince pie.

 

“My pleasure dear,” Mrs. Weasley beamed. “And now,” she said, taking care to wave the tray past her husband and youngest son on her path, “Harry dear.”

 

Grinning at the mutinous expressions on Fred and George’s faces, Harry took a sizeable mince pie and sank back against a table leg.

 

“Cheers,” he said.

 

*      *      *

 

“Hey, Hermione!” Ron yelled.

 

“I’m not falling for that!” Hermione called, running with her hands over her head.

 

“Yeah idiot,” said a voice behind him. “You have to be subtle.”

 

Ron felt a horrible trickle of ice skip down his back before the rest of the snowball followed with a slushy thump. He let out a strangled cry, and scooped up enough snow to take down a small army, let alone his attacker.

 

Ginny seemed to be prepared for his offensive, for as soon as he turned around, he got a face full of snow. Giggling madly, she ran, pursued by her enraged brother.

Harry watched the scene with interest. Both Ron and Ginny were desperately scooping at snow, ducking behind trees in their furious warfare. Ginny’s face was flushed, and her hair was covered in snow, dripping onto her coat.

 

SMACK!

 

He had looked too long.

 

“Gotcha!” shouted a twin.

 

SMACK!

 

“And again!” shouted the other.

 

Harry shook his shock of hair, sending snow flying in all directions, and then he attacked. With a lunge at the twins, he hurled as much snow as he could carry in their direction. The alliance shattered as the twins scattered. Coughing snow, they turned against him and each other, in a whirl of crystal flakes, glittering in the sun like diamonds.

 

Hermione was building a snowman using magic. She had discovered from “The Standard Book of Spells Grade 5” that she could enchant the snow so it had the texture of clay, yet still glistened and sparkled like snow. It made it much easier to mould, she thought, stepping back, pleased with her work. She had added buttons for the eyes, and a carrot nose. Mrs. Weasley had suggested she use one of Arthur’s old cloaks to make it a proper snow-wizard. Hermione had liked this idea, and now it only needed a scarf to complete its outfit. She began to pull her own off from around her neck.

 

WHAM!

 

“OH RON!” she cried.

 

Ron, covered in snow from head to foot, tangled in his father’s old wizard robes with a carrot stuck behind his ear, and his sister bearing down on him with a handful of snow, sat in the remainder of Hermione’s snow-wizard.

 

“Oops, ‘orryermione,” he said, through a mouthful of snow. “What’s this carrot doing ‘ere?”

 

Hermione suddenly looked on the verge of violence. Her lips had gone tight and she folded her arms, watching Ron spit on the ground.

 

“Ron!” she cried, “you’ve completely ruined… I spent all that time… and now you…”

 

Scooping up snow, she threw it as hard as she could at Ron. It hit him square in the face, so that his head resembled that of the former snow-wizard, his long nose poking out in the place of the carrot. Ginny laughed hysterically, backing away and falling right over Harry. Harry tried to regain his balance, failed, and they both came crashing to the ground, dazed. Ginny blushed furiously, trying to disentangle her arm from his leg.

 

“Oh sorry Harry,” she squeaked, still on the verge of giggles.

 

“No problem,” Harry said, reaching for his glasses. He attempted to wipe them, and then pushed them up his nose. Then he suddenly became conscious of his vulnerability.

 

Too late.

 

Two identical red-headed figures charged towards them. Ginny screamed, throwing her arms over her head, while Harry caught the full blow of the attack.

 

Fred and George, heaving with laughter, stumbled to a nearby tree, leaning against it to support their mirth.

 

A big pair of brown eyes exchanged a conspiratorial glance with electric green ones.

 

“Did – you see – Harry’s face!” Fred panted.

 

“You – couldn’t!” George gasped. “It was covered – in snow!”

 

Cackling once more, they sank to the ground, watching Ron chase Hermione all around the icy chicken coop. George began to idly examine the shape of the tiny snow flakes. Suddenly, Fred gripped his arm.

 

“Does it seem…?”

 

“… A bit quiet?”

 

Perturbed, the twins looked around. Except from the squeals Hermione made, as Ron’s snowball hit her on the back of the head, it was completely silent.

 

“Where’s Harry?” George asked.

 

“It’s not him I’m worried about,” Fred said.

 

“Yeah, where is the little sister?” George said.

 

“Here,” said a voice.

 

It couldn’t have been more perfect. Both twins, perhaps in a moment of foolishness, perhaps just by natural instinct looked up into the tree. They were greeted by a red face with red hair, grinning at them. Then a soaking boot shook a snowy tree and the world went white.

 

Harry helped Ginny down from the tree, admiring their handiwork. Fred and George were reduced to spluttering mounds of snow, with the odd patch of red hair sticking out from the blizzard indignantly.

 

“We’ll get you for that Weasley!” Fred coughed.

 

“And you Potter!”

 

“Wait!” said Ron, running towards them, “look!”

 

Percy whistled as he walked out from the Burrow, opening the gate carefully so as not to disturb a confident robin. He had been watching the snowball fight from the window. Ginny’s shrieks of laughter had reached the house making Mrs. Weasley tut in a warm sort of way. Percy had remained inside to tend the fire and enjoy watching his father bang little metal sticks into the wall with a wooden mallet.

 

“Everyone!” Percy called. “It’s lunch time!”

 

He looked around. There was no one in sight. The snow was disturbed, and there were remnants of Hermione’s snow-wizard scattered across the ground, but he couldn’t see hide nor hair of his younger siblings or their friends.

 

“Hello?” Percy said as loudly as he thought was decent, and walking into the lawn. A tree

Bill and Charlie had used to climb seemed to have been shaken vigorously, and its entire icy cloak lay in two heaps at its feet.

 

“Look, Mother says you have to come in now,” Percy shouted crossly, “or the turkey will get cold.”

 

Still nothing. A few chickens, venturing out from their cosy houses regarded him coldly; shaking their feathers in what Percy thought was a rather condescending manner.

 

“She’s gone to all that effort,” Percy continued, sniffily. “The least you could do is…”

 

He stopped; a red-haired, freckled face had appeared behind a wall. It grinned at him nastily. Percy recognised it at once.

 

“George,” he said, “it’s time for dinner, I think you should come in now.”

 

“Do you know what I think Percy?” said Fred, who had popped up next to his twin on the wall.

 

Percy didn’t give Fred the satisfaction of an answer.

 

“We all think,” said Ron, who had been crouching behind the style with Harry.

 

“That you should duck,” said Ginny, appearing with Hermione behind a bush.

 

Percy opened his mouth to ask impatiently what they meant, and was met by six huge snowballs that knocked him clean off his feet.

 

*      *      *

 

Christmas dinner was a little later than planned. Harry had thought that Mrs. Weasley had looked like she was about to faint when he, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Fred, George and Percy, had entered the house, soaking wet and shivering.

 

After a half hour or so of shouting in which the words “covered in snow” and “you’ll catch your deaths” featured heavily, Mrs. Weasley ordered them all to have baths.

As there was only one bath, this took some time, and a line of shaking children materialised outside the bathroom, awaiting their turn.

 

Harry, being a guest, had got his bath third, after Hermione and Ginny who had used their “I’m a girl” cards with relish. When he had dressed, he ambled downstairs and gasped. The kitchen table was covered in the Christmas feast and it looked magnificent. A huge turkey sat in pride of place emitting mouth watering smells, while potatoes, peas, carrots, Yorkshire pudding, gravy, fresh bread and little sausages on sticks framed it tantalisingly.

 

“Oh hello Harry dear,” Mrs Weasley said, taking yet more potatoes out of the oven. “Find a place for these will you, that’s right, hold it by those handles. How many people are ready?”

 

“Just me, Hermione and Ginny,” Harry said.

 

“I hear you had a pretty intense snowball fight out there,” Bill said, leaning against the mantelpiece. Harry grinned.

 

“Yeah,” he agreed. “We absolutely covered the twins in snow.”

 

Charlie chuckled. “They’ll want revenge,” he said. “I remember the time when I threw a bucket of water over them during a water fight; they somehow managed to conjure up a cloud that followed me around for three days, raining on me.”

 

“Breaking about half the Ministry rules,” Mrs Weasley muttered.

 

“No they weren’t because they hadn’t started Hogwarts. I think it was probably an accident that went terribly right,” Charlie said.

 

“The story of their lives,” Mrs Weasley growled darkly.

 

Hermione and Ginny entered. Ginny was wearing her Weasley jumper, the big robin protruding from the front. Her hair was fluffy after the wash, and she kept patting it self- consciously. She didn’t look at Harry and had seemed to have stopped laughing at last. Instead Harry saw the familiar blush rise in her cheeks and decided he preferred giggling Ginny. Hermione crossed straight to Mrs Weasley.

 

“Do you need any help?” she asked.

 

“Thank you dear, but I think we’re all done. Arthur, do stop playing,” she chided her husband.

 

Mr. Weasley looked up mildly from his work. He had successfully and much to Mrs Weasley’s irritation, sawn a corner of the kitchen work surface off, all the time murmuring things like “amazing, it’s quite amazing.”

 

“Mum can we eat now? I’m starving.”

 

Ron had come in, clutching his stomach. He hadn’t bothered to dry his hair, and it stood up at spiky angles on his head.

 

“Ron! Your hair!” Mrs Weasley exclaimed. “Do something about it right this instant!”

Scowling, Ron attempted to flatten his vivid hair, and Harry noticed Hermione's eyes linger on him, a small smile appearing on her lips. Bill and Charlie noticed too and exchanged a glance. Charlie looked as if he was about to comment, when Percy entered, still wet with a blanket over his soaking clothes.

 

“Mother,” he said crossly, “George pushed me on the way to the bathroom, and took ages, and now Fred is also taking an awfully long time.” He made sure his teeth chattered for effect.

 

“Fred! George!” Mrs. Weasley roared up the stairs so loudly that Harry had the strong urge to clap his hands over his ears. “Hurry up! Or we’ll start without you!”

 

Almost instantaneously, the thunder like noise of two pairs of feet came thumping down the stairs.

 

“No need to shout woman,” Fred said, trying to extract water from his ear.

 

“We’re not deaf,” George said.

 

“Well, not to most things,” Fred said with a grin at his twin.

 

“Well,” Mrs Weasley sighed, “we’ll have to start; otherwise everything is going to get cold.”

 

Percy’s jaw dropped.

 

“Mother!” he said indignantly, I haven’t bathed!”

 

“Well you better hurry,” Mrs Weasley said. “Otherwise they’ll be none left.”

 

Percy mouthed soundlessly for a few seconds, like a goldfish out of water, before dashing up the stairs.

 

“We’ll save you a few peas, Perce!” George shouted after him.

 

“Be quiet,” Mrs Weasley snapped. “Now,” she clapped her hands together, “who wants turkey?”

 

*      *      *

 

Dinner went on for several hours. Harry couldn’t remember ever eating so much, even at a Hogwarts feast. Mrs. Weasley seemed to have been prepared to feed an army, and like soldiers they ate, ploughing through the food they were given as if it was some great task that had been assigned to them. Besides, Harry thought, as he was served his third helping of roast potatoes, it was a shame to see perfectly good food go to waste. Percy arrived ten minutes into the meal and quickly made up for lost time, much to Fred and George’s disappointment. Even Mr. Weasley had tugged his attention away from his tool kit long enough to have several helpings of turkey.

 

After an explosive Christmas pudding that still occasionally spat blue sparks every few minutes, and Fred and George had carelessly done the washing up, the Weasley family and their guests made their way slowly to the living room.

 

Before long they had arranged themselves peacefully into a content family scene. Mr. Weasley and Percy sat reading sections of the Christmas edition of the Daily Prophet. Mrs Weasley had arranged herself beside him on the sofa, with her knitting. Bill and Charlie talked by the window, sharing a box of “Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans” with caution (several lay untouched on the coffee table). Hermione sat on an armchair, Crookshanks in her lap, reading A History of House-elves. Fred and George sat on the floor by the door, heads bowed over their newest box of tricks. They were whispering conspiratorially in a manner that made Mrs Weasley frequently glance over and tut loudly. Ginny lay on her stomach by the fire, staring into the flames. Harry thought she looked tired, drained by the day’s events perhaps, but he said nothing. He himself was losing spectacularly to Ron in a game of chess. Harry wondered how it was possible, after numerous games spanning the course of over four years, for Ron to get more smug each time he won. He kept grimacing every time Harry’s hand hovered over a bishop or a knight, until Harry got confused and his chessmen shouted at him.

 

“Look, you’re letting him get to you, you fool!” The Queen squawked. “He’s bluffing! Ignore him!”

 

“He’s not!” a pawn of Ron’s piped up, “only a complete idiot would move you there!”

 

“I hope you’re not implying my queen is an idiot!” said Harry’s King wearily.

 

“Is there any chance you could make your men be quiet?” Hermione asked testily.

 

Ron scoffed. “Of course not,” he snapped.

 

Hermione shut her book with a crack.

 

“You know Ron, in Muggle chess, the pieces don’t speak or move at all.”

 

“Well, that sounds boring to me,” Ron said, idly picking off one of Harry’s pawns.

 

“It’s rather less anti-social though,” Hermione said shortly.

 

“Why don’t you go somewhere else then?” Ron asked.

 

“Ronald Weasley!” Mrs Weasley snarled. “Don’t you dare be so rude to one of your guests!

 

“Oh, I knew you’d take her side Mum,” Ron said miserably.

 

“I should think so too, when it was you that was being bad-mannered and uncouth!”

 

“He only said she had to move, Mum,” Fred cut in.

 

“The men weren’t bothering us,” George added.

 

Mrs Weasley rounded on the twins.

 

“Now… Molly dear…” Arthur began tentatively.

 

It was amazing how the fight escaladed in a matter of seconds. Harry opened his mouth to say he didn’t mind moving somewhere else to finish the game, but found his voice useless against the noise of the room. Mrs. Weasley was bellowing at Fred and George, about everything from the morning’s awakening to their Wizard Wheezes of the previous year. Mr. Weasley was trying to calm her down, while Percy was pompously supporting Mrs. Weasley and earning himself harsh words from Bill and Charlie, somewhere along the lines of “smarmy little suck-up”. Ron and Hermione meanwhile, were shouting so furiously at each other, Harry was reminded of their argument after the Yule Ball. And in the midst of all the excitement, the chessmen lost their heads completely and began wrestling one another violently to the chessboard. Harry watched Ginny quietly slip out the room, unnoticed by her quarrelling family.  

 

It took a shower of sparks from Mr. Weasley’s wand to stop the commotion. His livid family turned on him.

 

“Please,” he said, “it’s Christmas.”

 

Head held high, Hermione walked determinedly out of the room. There was a short silence.

 

“Go after her Ron,” Mrs Weasley said.

 

“But why do I…”

 

“She’s given up Christmas with her parents to spend it here with you and Harry. Go after her.”

 

“But I never…”

 

“Now!”

 

Scowling, Ron stalked out.

 

Mrs Weasley sighed theatrically. “I’m making tea,” she said, and left.

 

Mr. Weasley settled himself back into his chair with the paper. Gradually, Bill and Charlie began to resume their conversation; a vivid account of Charlie’s ride on a Chinese Fireball. Gradually, Fred and George began to pour over their Zonko’s treats once more. Awkwardly, Harry took up Hermione’s book and pretended to read it.

 

“Well,” Percy began pretentiously, “I’ve always said…”

 

“Don’t,” Mr. Weasley said, turning to the horoscopes. 

 

 

*      *      *

 

Ron crashed up the first flight of stairs, up the second and flung open Ginny’s door.

 

“Knock,” Hermione said crossly. Then, “oh, it’s you.”

 

Ron had been so cross climbing the stairs that he had now forgotten what he had wanted to say to her. She also looked upset; it was disconcerting. The silence seemed to drag out for hours.

 

“Come to yell at me some more?” Hermione asked acidly.

 

“Me yell at you?” Ron retorted, rapid as lightning now he had material to work with. “I believe it was the other way round Hermione!”

 

“It was not!” Hermione shouted.

 

“Oh it definitely was!”

 

Wrathfully, they stared at one another, at a complete loss. Hermione turned away first, looking out of Ginny’s window, at the setting sun. It was blood red against the golden sky. She was strongly reminded of the Gryffindor colours, blaring out at her determinedly.

 

“We always fight,” she said quietly.

 

Ron’s mouth, open in anticipation of the next insult, closed.

 

“You never fight with Harry, except for last year, and I never fight with Harry. I never fight with anyone as much as you.”

 

Ron put his hands in his pockets and leaned against the wall, watching her. After a while he attempted conversation in a more level tone.

 

“But we’re getting pretty good at it I’d say,” he commented. “I mean, I can almost predict what you’re going to say. I get my arguments stored up.”

 

Hermione turned around, stunned at his honesty. Ron was relieved to see she was smiling. “Same here,” she said.

 

“So the way I see it,” Ron continued, “is that our incredible bickering skills are just another one of our substantial talents, another inch to our wands.”

 

Hermione nodded seriously. Ron grinned, turning to leave. Hermione stopped him with hand. She drew it back quicker than necessary, feeling an odd tingling sensation as she touched him.

 

“Are we okay?” she asked earnestly.

 

“Yeah,” Ron said, shrugging.

 

“And Ron,” Hermione bit her lip, “thank you for the book. It’s wonderful.”

 

Ron scratched his head.  "Oh, that's okay," he said, "it really wasn't that hard to…" He stopped.  After a moment of staring at the floor, he looked up at Hermione.  Hermione caught his eye and his ears turned red almost immediately.

 

The moment of eye contact was thrilling, but frightening, and they both quickly looked upwards.  Big mistake.  Hanging from a crooked dark wooden beam, it hung, bathed in the golden dusk light. Like the white of the snow outside, and the green of the barely recognisable Christmas tree, it mocked them from its height.

 

Mistletoe.

 

Hermione looked at Ron, who appeared to be doing some considerable quick thinking.

 

“Um…” she began, but gave a start as Ron moved. For a wild second she didn’t know what he was doing, but was able to breathe again when he plucked the offending plant from above them.

 

“Weird,” he said, twirling it in his fingers, and looking everywhere but at her face, “Ginny’s put this stuff up everywhere. Dunno what for, must be a Muggle thing.”

 

“Must be,” Hermione said, deciding that Ron should never, ever go on stage.

 

“I’ll just, er, take it away then,” Ron said, pocketing it.

 

Hermione grinned, and then without warning, threw her arms around Ron. Ron, shocked and unready for this, staggered backwards slightly. Hermione knew she was red in the face, but the thought of her featured was driven far from her mind as she felt Ron’s arms slowly wrap themselves around her, holding her tight. It was a hug; a proper hug. He didn’t tap her head or shake her off embarrassedly. He didn’t gape at her, or call her barking. He just held her.

 

They broke apart shortly. Ron, without looking at her, walked slightly dizzily to the door, and out of the room. Hermione sank down on Ginny’s bed feeling the soft sheets underneath her hands. She lay back staring at the darkening room just as the door clicked shut, leaving her alone with her jumbled thoughts.

 

*      *      *

 

Harry dragged his feet up the rickety stairs, debating whether to go to bed or not. The atmosphere of Christmas cheer had definitely taken an unpleasant nose dive and he was still feeling very full of turkey. He reached a landing, opposite Percy’s room, and was just considering going to find his toothbrush, when a breeze ruffled his hair with an icy touch that exposed his scar. Surprised, Harry saw that the little window to his left was open. He tugged the curtains back and tried to find the catch, feeling that Percy would have a terribly cold night if the wind continued to howl through the landing.

 

“Don’t close it.”

 

Harry frowned, peering out of the window.

 

“Oh, Harry, it’s you.”

 

Harry squinted into the darkness. The little window opened onto what would normally be a corrugated iron roof, but was now a sheet of undisturbed snow. A tarpaulin had been arranged over it and a figure, hands hugging knees, stared at him with mild panic.

 

“Ginny? What are you doing here?”

 

“Just… thinking.”

 

She turned away from him, observing her garden, and the contrasts of black and white that it contained. Harry ducked away from the window, but curiosity overcame him. Awkwardly, he scrambled up onto the roof. Ginny’s shoulders seemed to tense, but she didn’t say anything.

 

“Can I share your seating?” Harry asked.

 

“Um… y-yes,” Ginny said.

 

Harry sat down. He felt the cold snow underneath him and a sheen of condensation began to form on his glasses.

 

“Aren’t you cold?” he asked.

 

“Harry,” Ginny said looking at him, her voice changing suddenly into something close to Hermione’s scolding tone. “I’m wearing this,” she plucked at her Weasley jumper, “I could trek through the arctic in this. It’s tailor made you know.”

 

Harry grinned. Ginny blushed suddenly, apparently startled at her behaviour, and stared fixedly forwards again. Small snowflakes teased the top of her hair, looking ironically white hot against the red. Her brown eyes were wide and moist in the bitter evening cold. Her nose was slightly red from the temperature, and adorned neatly with the Weasley freckles, and from her small mouth escaped uneven breaths of winter, rising above them both in cloudy white wisps.

 

“What are you doing here?” Harry asked her, reluctant to allow her from dodging the question.

 

“I come here every Christmas,” Ginny said quietly. “Every year it gets like this, it gets too much. We wake really early, really excited, use up all our energy and pretty soon we’re all sniping at each other.” She shuddered. “It’s horrible.”

 

“But why here?”

 

Ginny blushed. “It sounds silly,” she said. “But once, I wanted to run away; Fred had hidden all my Christmas presents and I was so cross with him. So I got all my stuff together and prepared to climb down the drainpipe. I’d written a note and everything, whining about how hard it was having six older brothers or something. I shut the window behind me and prepared to live as an outcast.”

 

Harry grinned again. “What happened?” he asked.

 

“I looked up,” Ginny said simply.

 

Instinctively, Harry tilted his chin to the heavens. He gasped. The sky was alive with stars, shining so brightly he didn’t know how he could have missed them. It was as if someone had taken a handful of glitter and thrown it over the inky blue background excitedly and at random.

 

“In winter they burn,” Ginny said. “I think it’s the cold air. I suppose it’s just tradition that I come here now. But…”

 

She trailed off, aware that she was talking too much. Her eyes flickered downwards and she became very interested in a thread that her mother had failed to tie in properly.

 

“What?” Harry asked. He had never heard Ginny talk this much before. Ginny seemed to mutter to herself, then looked at him, her expression daring him to make her feel embarrassed.

 

“It’s hard you know,” Ginny said. “It seems out of place.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

Ginny swallowed, aware that she was struggling to explain herself.

 

“All this,” Ginny waved an arm around. “It’s so cheerful, it’s wonderful. And then we fight, and that’s fine. We sulk, it’s normal. I come to look at the stars, it happens every year.”

 

“So?”

 

“It’s pretence.” Ginny bit her lip, making it go as white as the snow on which she sat. “I mean, it’s different now. He’s back, and everyone’s really worried.”

 

“You mean it seems inappropriate?”

 

“Yes,” Ginny said appreciatively. “And I know I sound ungrateful for everything, or just horrible but…”

 

“I know what you mean.” 

 

They were silent, feeling oddly prickly all over, having shared this forbidden information. Harry was amazed that he was having this conversation with Ginny of all people. He supposed she wasn’t the same girl who had sent him a singing valentine. But then again she was. He scratched the back of his head, confused.

 

“Do you remember first year?” Ginny asked suddenly. “My first year? Your second year?”

 

Harry looked at her. “Of course,” he said, surprised that she had brought up such a taboo subject. Ginny’s knuckles around her knees whitened, and she looked like she was trying to make herself as small as possible.

 

“What about it?” Harry asked.

 

“I was so scared,” she said, face burning. “I was so frightened all year. And it was more because I didn’t know what was happening than because I knew the truth. Tom – I didn’t know who…”

 

She trailed off, shaking her head, frustrated.

 

“You feel like that now,” Harry said. “Afraid of the unknown?”

 

Ginny nodded. As Harry looked at her, he was startled to see her eyes brimming with tears, threatening to overflow. She blinked hard, frowning.

 

“And I feel horrible,” Ginny said, her voice cracking slightly. “I feel so bad because they go to all that effort. But I think Mum and Dad have forgotten Harry. I think they’ve forgotten what it’s like when he’s around. He was gone when I was still a baby, but I've read about what it was like.  And… I've met him, Harry.  How can they be so cheerful when we're all so helpless?"

 

She stopped suddenly, the words caught in her throat. Without realising quite what he was doing, Harry had put his hand on hers. It was icy cold to the touch, and he remembered once when it had felt like this before, probably the only time he’d ever touched her.

 

Guiding her hand away from her tense torso, Harry squeezed it slightly.

 

“For circulatory purposes,” he said, a little sheepishly.

 

Ginny stared at him, her mouth an ‘o’ of shock, then quite suddenly burst into a fit of giggles. The sound filled the air, like bells, shattering the atmosphere with joy. Harry decided he liked Ginny’s giggles much more than those of other girls, much more than the likes of Lavender’s or Parvati’s. Ginny’s soft brown eyes came alive in laughter, her nose wrinkled, and her smile lit up her face better than all of the stars in the universe. She was beautiful, Harry thought recklessly. Suddenly a feeling hit him, as if a wand had been pointed directly at his chest and had Apparated hundreds of little butterflies inside him. He let go of Ginny’s hand quickly. Noticing, her laughter subsided slightly. She hugged her knees again, her head cocked to one side, watching him.

 

“What are we going to do Harry?” she asked quietly.

 

Harry sighed, leaning back on his elbows in a reclining position.

 

“We’re going to stay out here, discussing very important things, such as how many of my Bertie Botts can I trade with your Chocolate Frogs, and what will annoy Filch more next year, a farting skipping rope or belching juggling balls. Then the sun will rise.” He scoffed at the sky, “you think your stars are impressive, wait for my sunrise.”

 

Ginny tucked a strand of red hair into a hair clip. “That’s not what I mean,” she said, smiling. Harry was conscious of her body shifting slightly towards him. It was comforting.

 

“I know,” he said. “But I think now we just have to wait until the dawn.”

 

//
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