The Sugar Quill
Author: Stella (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Understanding  Chapter: Chapter 1: The fight
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Understanding

Disclaimer:  It’s all JKR’s, I’m just playing.

 

A/N:  Big, huge-antic thank you to A.L. de Sauveterre, beta-reader extraordinaire, for straightening sentences, correcting grammar, calming my italics fetish and, of course, for telling me what she likes!  Now, go read Harry Potter and the Society of Orpheus and Bacchus, if you haven’t yet.

 

 

 

Understanding

 

Chapter One: The Fight

 

 

It didn’t happen until the third day after Hermione arrived.  The fact was that Harry had been half-hoping and half-dreading it would happen from the moment she stepped out of the fireplace and Ron greeted her with, “So, what have you been doing this summer?” 

 

Hermione had answered coolly, completely avoiding the information that Ron was so obviously seeking.  In the end, he managed to find out a few hours later, anyway. 

 

Mrs. Weasley was being extra nice to Hermione in, what Harry assumed was, an attempt to make up for her short-lived harshness of the year before.  Hermione couldn’t ignore Mrs. Weasley’s innocent inquiry at dinner and revealed the fact that she had not gone to Bulgaria that summer.  A revelation that Hermione made while studiously avoiding Ron’s suddenly intense stare.

 

Harry was relieved that the Viktor Krum issue would not be hanging over them for the single week they had left till term.  For a few brief hours he had hope that the week might pass tension-free and, therefore, far more enjoyably for Harry.

 

He hadn’t counted on Voldemort ruining it. 

 

To be honest, it wasn’t exactly Voldemort, though Harry felt he was justified in blaming the Dark Lord for nearly everything wrong in the wizarding world and was inclined to do so at the moment.  It was really just Ron and Hermione.

 

The fact was that everyone was tense.  Harry was no exception, though he noticed that he seemed to have come to terms with everything far more comfortably than others.  The awareness of Voldemort’s return was a persistent ache, but not something that he thought about constantly anymore.  He had done too much of that over the summer already.  He had dealt with the situation as best he could, there was nothing he could do.  It simply was.

 

Ron and Hermione, on the other hand, clearly had not dealt with it.  Harry had expected it all to start when the Daily Prophet was delivered at the breakfast table on the first morning after Hermione’s arrival.  Both Ron and Hermione had looked at it darkly and the expressions on their faces had tightened, but the expected snapping and bickering didn’t come.

 

Harry could almost feel the two holding themselves back from a good verbal duel and kept waiting for the dam to burst.  But they just continued with their strained silence, making any attempt at fun on Harry’s part a laborious exercise.

 

It only took him until lunchtime to figure out why they had become so uncharacteristically restrained.  They were trying to spare him.  They had to know that he got annoyed with their bickering and a few meaningful looks between the two over their sandwiches told him that they had planned this all out in advance.  He could just imagine the owls they had exchanged over the matter.

 

Hermione,

 

It’s been two days since you’ve written.  Why haven’t you written?  Where have you been?  Did you go someplace interesting that you’d like to tell your best friend about?  Did I tell you that my dad says he’s not sure it’s the best time to be traveling?  Maybe I should have him owl your parents about it, in case they were, possibly, for some reason, considering some sort of holiday.

 

By the way, I’ve been thinking about when Harry comes and, first of all, maybe you should come now so that you could be here when he arrives.  That is, unless there’s something else you were thinking of doing before you come here.  There wasn’t anything, was there?  Because I don’t think you mentioned it in your last letter.  I really think that you should come…for Harry’s sake.

 

Also, he didn’t sound so great in his last letter.  He mentioned something about wanting a real holiday and I think that he may have been hinting to me, for some reason, that if I bugged you too much he wouldn’t consider it a real holiday.

 

I figure that goes doubly true for you bugging me.  So, how about a truce…just till school, anyway.  (I’m not sure that you could hold off bugging either of us much longer than that, especially about schoolwork.)

 

Owl me back.

 

Within the day, if possible.  (It should be possible, assuming you’re in the country…  You are in the country, right?) Ron

 

 

Dear Ron,

 

Thank you so much for your heartfelt interest in my doings over the holiday.  Actually, the reason I hadn’t owled you in the last two days may have had something to do with the fact that you hadn’t yet responded to my last owl.  Of course, I could be wrong about that.

 

And since you are so interested in how my summer has been going, I’m sure you’ll be happy to know that I’ve included a detailed description of the book I’ve been reading on the oft-overlooked Mayan contributions to the development of modern wizarding architecture.  I look forward to discussing it with you when I arrive one week before school starts…as previously planned.

 

As for Harry, he did sound rather bad in his last letter (though he seemed to appreciate all the birthday goods, especially the cake your mum sent him).  I’m really worried about him, Ron.  I wish that there were more that we could do.  But I just don’t

 

I agree that you may not want to pick on me quite so much as usual while we’re all at the Burrow, since it does seem to bother Harry so.

 

As for me picking on you…I think that Harry might, in fact, take some pleasure in this.  It would be awful to deprive him of any pleasure, don’t you think?  But, on the off chance (very slight chance, if you ask me) that it may bother him, I agree to the terms of the “truce.”  No fighting until we arrive at Hogwarts.

 

Love from, Hermione

 

P.S. It’s so interesting that your dad said that it wasn’t safe to be traveling, as he told my father that he thought it was perfectly safe, as long as the proper precautions were taken, when they spoke on the telephone last week.

 

Harry appreciated the gesture.  He really did.  But it wasn’t making his holiday any more enjoyable.  The longer they restrained themselves, the worse the inevitable confrontation would be, he was sure.

 

But even he couldn’t have predicted the explosion when it came.  Though, perhaps more surprising was the fact that it had nothing at all to do with Viktor Krum.

 

Ron and Harry had been outside playing Quidditch with the twins.  Hermione had opted not to join them, even just to watch, which surprised Harry, but he supposed that she and Ginny had some way of entertaining themselves that didn’t involve flying brooms or balls.  The only things that Harry could think of were cards and chess, but he got the impression that he might possibly be ignorant of some mysterious girl activities.

 

When he and the Weasley boys tramped in on them after it had gotten too dark to play, however, he was surprised (and somewhat disappointed) to find Ginny cleaning up from dinner, as Mrs. Weasley was visiting a sick friend.  Hermione was sitting at the kitchen table working feverishly over a piece of parchment, glancing occasionally back at one or more of the books lying open in front of her.

 

Fred and George hurried through the kitchen, ignoring the girls, and practically bounced up the stairs.  Harry supposed that they were trying to take advantage of Mrs. Weasley’s absence.  They had been muttering to each other excitedly during the walk back from the paddock and seemed eager to get to their room.  But Ron stopped short in the doorway.

 

“Don’t tell me you were working this whole time!” Ron said incredulously to Hermione, echoing Harry’s thoughts on the subject.

 

Hermione barely glanced up.  “Is there a problem with that?” she said, somewhat distractedly.

 

Ron gaped at her.  “Yeah.  We’re on vacation, Hermione!”

 

Hermione placed one finger on the line she was reading and looked up with exaggerated slowness to first glare at Ron and then glance meaningfully at Harry.

 

Harry rolled his eyes and slumped down into the chair opposite Hermione, flipping one of the currently unused books around to look at it disinterestedly.  Flying Through the O.W.L.s, the title read.

 

“Aren’t you studying for the O.W.L.s a little early, Hermione?” he asked, trying to ignore Ron, who was standing stiffly, clearly fighting some internal battle.

 

Hermione went back to her work.  “It’s never too early, Harry.  We’ll have to take them later this year, won’t we?  I just want to be prepared.  You two might consider taking some time to do the same, if you can fit it in between Quidditch and Exploding Snap.”

 

Ron couldn’t seem to help bursting out at this.  “We’re on holiday!  We’re supposed to be having fun, Hermione.  Or did you forget that?”

 

Hermione didn’t say anything right away, she just stared down stonily at her parchment, clearly not focused at all on what she had written.  Ron crossed his arms and watched her.

 

Finally, she exhaled loudly.  “You’re right, of course, Ron.  Let me finish up this paragraph, if you don’t mind, and then we can have fun, all right?”

 

Harry glanced back and forth between them, not sure that he completely understood what was going on.  Ginny’s movements had stopped and she turned back to watch them, as well.

 

“Fine,” Ron said, nodding stiffly.  He sat down beside Harry with his arms crossed and watched Hermione through narrowed eyes as she continued to work.

 

The minutes ticked by, the scratching of Hermione’s quill the only sound.  Ginny looked on with an odd sort of fascination on her face, but Harry almost walked out, frustrated by the ridiculousness of the whole situation.  Sure they would have fun, now, he thought darkly.  He was really looking forward to a game of Exploding Snap with Hermione and Ron glaring at each other the whole time.

 

He needn’t have worried.

 

“There.  All done,” said Hermione, with an imperious toss of her bushy hair, as she collected her books, quill, parchment and ink together.  She stacked it all neatly in a corner of the living room.

 

Ron followed her and stood watching from the doorway with what looked to Harry like suspicion.  “Why aren’t you bringing those upstairs?” he asked.  Though he was clearly trying to seem simply curious, Ron couldn’t keep the accusatory tone out of his voice.

 

Hermione looked at him calmly and shrugged her shoulders.  “I may work on them a bit more tonight, if there’s time after we have fun,” she said and tried to walk casually past Ron.

 

Harry turned around in his seat to watch with a deep sense of foreboding in his stomach.  He could sense Ginny, behind him, moving forward to get a better view.

 

Ron stepped in front of Hermione to block her and for a few moments the two just glared at each other.

 

“You said that you had finished your holiday work,” Ron said in a deceptively quiet voice.

 

Hermione responded in a similar voice.  “I had.”

 

“You weren’t supposed to do any work this week.  You told me…”

 

Hermione’s eyes flashed.  “I never said that!  You told me not to nag you and Harry about whether you had done your work.  So that you could have fun.”  Hermione practically sneered the words.  “Well, I haven’t nagged, have I?”

 

Ron’s cheeks were slowly darkening and Harry thought he might be gnashing his teeth together.  You were supposed to be having fun, too.  That’s why you came, isn’t it?  To have fun?  The three of us?  I think I still have the letter upstairs, if you’d like to refresh your memory…”

 

“My memory is just fine, thank you,” Hermione interrupted him, her own cheeks growing somewhat pink.  “I’m not so sure about your memory, however.  I never promised to have fun every second of every day that I was here.  The O.W.L.s are coming up this year, I would like to feel prepared for them.  If using a few hours while you were otherwise amused to make sure that I get more than two O.W.L.s is too much to ask, then…”

 

That’s when Ron exploded.  “MORE THAN TWO O.W.L.S?!  ARE YOU CRAZY?!  If you took the O.W.L.s tomorrow, Hermione, you’d still get more than Fred and George combined!  What’s the matter with you?  Even Percy wasn’t this crazy about…”

 

Hermione burst to life, her eyes practically glaring daggers.  “For your information, Ron, I actually care about my schoolwork…”

 

Really?!” Ron interrupted, sarcastically.  “I hadn’t noticed!”

 

“…even if some other people think that the most important things in the world are Quidditch and…and…I don’t know what else…”

 

“Spending time with your friends, you mean?!  Pretending that you actually care about us, for a change?”

 

Hermione gasped and her mouth dropped open in shock.  Harry could only watch the scene unfold in disbelief.  He glanced at Ginny and saw that she was equally as stunned as he was.

 

“How dare you,” Hermione managed to splutter.  “How dare you even imply that I don’t care about…”

 

“Then start acting like it!” Ron countered, a bit more weakly than before, Harry noticed.  “Who cares about the stupid O.W.L.s?  Everybody knows you’re going to ace them, anyway.”

 

If anything, this seemed to enrage Hermione further.  “Everybody knows, do they?!  Of course!  Why didn’t I realize it?!  Everybody in the wizarding world must just assume that little Muggle-born Hermione Granger, who never even believed in magic till four years ago, will outstrip everyone in the O.W.L.s.  Why didn’t I think of this before, Ron?  I’m sure I would have done just fine at Hogwarts all these years if I hadn’t bothered to pick up a book!”

 

Ron stared at Hermione in utter bafflement.  “What are you on about?!  Everybody knows you’re the cleverest witch in our year—probably in the past twenty years!  If I had one ounce the brains you have I’d…”

 

But they didn’t get to hear what it was Ron would do if he had one ounce of Hermione’s brainpower, because Hermione suddenly let out a short, shrill scream and pushed her way past Ron, practically running for the stairs.

 

“JUST FORGET IT!” she yelled as she stormed up the stairs.  It sounded as though she might be crying.  “Just forget it!  You couldn’t possibly understand, if you tried!”

 

Ron stared after her, his expression a mixture of anger, bewilderment, and hurt.  He turned toward Harry and Ginny, but didn’t really seem to see them. 

 

“Couldn’t understand?  Couldn’t understand, if I tried?” he repeated loudly.

 

He stomped over to the table and roughly pulled out a chair to sit in.  “What does she know?” he muttered.  “Nothing, that’s what she knows.”  He grabbed an apple and a knife from the middle of the table.  “Can’t get away from those books for a week…  He began slicing into the apple haphazardly.  “Some clever witch…”  The knife banged into the table. “Doesn’t know what she’s talking about…”   Ron threw the apple on its side and began chopping at it again.  “Worried about the O.W.L.s…”  The apple was beginning to look rather squishy to Harry.  “Stupidest thing I ever heard…”  Ron reached for another apple.  “Thinks I’m stupid…”  Ginny flinched as the apple was unceremoniously carved in half.  “Thinks I never look in a book…”  Ron stabbed the apple with the knife and began to pull at it with both hands.  “Thinks she isn’t going to do well on the O.W.L.s…”  He continued to struggle with the knife, which seemed to be wedged in rather securely.  “Thinks anyone cares she’s Muggle-born…”  Ron let go of the knife and glared at it suspiciously.  “Thinks she isn’t really clever…”  The impaled apple suddenly tipped over onto one side.  Ron didn’t seem to notice.  “Stupid thing to think…”

 

The kitchen went quiet.

 

Harry had no idea what to say or what to do.  The fact was that, even though they bickered, bantered and teased rather often, Ron and Hermione rarely fought.  Harry could count on one hand the number of times he could remember them clashing seriously with each other, and most of those seemed to center around Scabbers’ disappearance in third year.  The only other serious argument he could remember was at the Yule Ball last year and Harry hadn’t been about to step into that one.

 

He glanced over at Ginny helplessly and was shocked to find her glaring at him.  He glared right back, defensively.

 

This did not have the desired effect. 

 

Ginny widened her eyes and motioned with her head toward the stairs.  Harry glanced at the stairs and back at Ginny.  She expected him to talk to Hermione?!  He had even less of an idea of what to say to Hermione than he did of what to say to Ron.

 

“Why don’t you talk to her?” he said irritably.

 

Ginny opened her mouth to answer, but was cut off by Ron, who had obviously missed their silent exchange.  “Well, I couldn’t possibly understand, could I?” Ron said, starting to get worked up again.  “I’m not a Muggle-born, so how could I possibly even begin to ima…”  Ron stopped mid-rant and turned to look at Harry, as though seeing him for the first time.

 

Harry shifted uncomfortably.

 

Harry,” Ron breathed.  “You…I mean, you grew up with Muggles…she’ll listen to you.  You talk to her.”

 

Harry’s eyes snapped toward Ginny, who quickly averted her own but still managed to look triumphant.

 

“I don’t think that I could…” he began, but the desperate look in Ron’s eyes stopped him short.  “I mean, I’d like to…” he started again, but was distracted by a sudden movement from Ginny.  She began cleaning up the apple mess on the table with slow methodical movements.

 

“Do you want something to eat, Ron?” she asked, softly.  “Maybe a drink.”

 

Ron barely glanced at her, he was keeping his gaze on Harry.  “What?  No.  Thanks.”

 

“Do you want something, Harry?” she asked, without missing a beat.  Harry stared at her in confusion.  What was she doing?

 

“No, I’m fine, Ginny.”

 

“Maybe Hermione would like something.  What do you think she’d like, Ron?”  Ginny kept her eyes on the table as she wiped the last of the apple remnants away.

 

“How should I know?” Ron asked, distractedly.

 

“What do you think, Harry?”  Ginny’s eyes suddenly focused right on him and something about the way she was looking at him made Harry feel like the biggest prat in England.

 

“Erm.  Maybe some pumpkin juice,” Harry offered, feebly.

 

“Pumpkin juice,” Ginny repeated, keeping her gaze steady.

 

Harry resisted the urge to squirm.  “Er…maybe I’ll bring it up to her.”

 

Ginny smiled.  “What a nice idea, Harry.”

 

Harry grinned back uncertainly, deciding that her smile seemed sincere, even if her words were not.

 

Within a few moments he had secured the juice and—with a backward glance at Ginny, who was pouring another glass, and Ron, who was rising from his chair and looking like he might just follow Harry up—made his way up the crooked staircase to Ginny’s room.

 

Harry stood there for a moment listening carefully.  Relieved that he couldn’t hear any crying from inside, he knocked softly.

 

“It’s open, Ginny,” Hermione called out, sounding almost worn.

 

“Er…Hermione, it’s me.”  He paused.  “Could I come in?”

 

There was silence for a moment.  Then, “Is Ron with you?”

 

Harry glanced at Ron, who had been making his way up the stairs with excruciating slowness, but froze now at the mention of his name. 

 

Harry watched him hesitantly before replying.  “No, Hermione.  He…he’s going up to bed now.”

 

Ron blinked and for a moment Harry thought he might protest, but instead he resumed his trek up the stairs.

 

“All right,” answered Hermione.  “You can come in, Harry.”

 

Harry opened the door, glancing again at Ron, whose eyes strayed into the room for an instant as he passed Harry in the hallway.

 

Harry moved into the room, shutting the door quietly behind him.  Hermione was lying on one of the beds, facing away from him.

 

“Hi,” he said.

 

“Hi,” she answered, without turning over.

 

“I brought you some pumpkin juice.”

 

“Thanks, Harry.  Hold on.”  She was making some motion with her arm.  It looked like she might be wiping tears from her face, but Harry couldn’t be sure.  After a few seconds, she sat up in the bed and faced him with a small smile.

 

He grinned, feeling a bit more confident, and walked over to sit on the second bed, facing her.

 

“Here’s your juice,” he said, holding it out.

 

“Thanks.” She smiled again and took a small sip of the liquid.  “Mm.  It’s good.”

 

“Thanks.  I poured it myself.”

 

Hermione made a small sound that might have been a laugh, but Harry couldn’t be sure.

 

They sat in silence as Hermione continued to sip the juice.  When she had gotten about half-way through, she reached over and put it down on a small table between the beds.

 

“Pretty pathetic, huh?” she said, glancing down at her lap.

 

Harry shrugged.  “Well, it did take you a while and you only got through half the glass, but I’ve seen worse.”

 

Hermione looked at him in confusion.  “What?”

 

Harry gestured lamely at the glass, but she seemed to catch on and smiled weakly.  “That’s not what I meant.”

 

“I know.  So what did you mean?” Harry asked.

 

Hermione began plucking at the blanket that was twisted around her legs.  “Ron’s right, you know.  I probably could do better than the twins if I took the O.W.L.s tomorrow.”

 

Harry still didn’t understand.  “What’s pathetic about that?”

 

Hermione sighed.  “What’s pathetic is the fact that I’m still worried sick about them.”

 

“Oh,” Harry said.

 

“I mean, you’d think that I’d have loosened up a bit by now…”

 

“You have loosened up!” Harry protested.  “Remember third year?  That was crazy.  This is just normal.”  He grinned.  “Well, normal for you, anyway.”

 

To Harry’s utter astonishment and chagrin, Hermione burst into tears.  “I know, and that’s just it.  I’m not normal.  I’m just…maybe I try too hard, but what if I didn’t?  What if I let up a little and everybody found out that I’m not as clever as…”

 

Harry couldn’t stop the words before they came out.  “Well, that’s just stupid, Hermione.  There’s nothing to find out.  You are really clever.  It doesn’t matter if you’re Muggle-born.  I’m practically Muggle-born and I’m not nearly as clever as you…”

 

Hermione glared up at him through her tears.  “I know it’s stupid, Harry.  I know that it doesn’t make sense.  But that’s still the way I feel.”

 

“Oh,” said Harry again, feeling rather useless.

 

“Ron’s right.  I should have been able to put away the books for one stupid week.  Who knows what this year’s going to be like for us?  I’m probably wasting the one good chance we have at some normalcy.”

 

Harry tried not to take that comment personally.  Tried not to jump to the place in his mind that said, ‘She isn’t going to have any normalcy because of me.  But he didn’t quite succeed.

 

“I’m sorry,” he said, and it came out sounding far more defensive than he had planned.

 

Hermione’s eyes widened in shock.  “What, are you…You’re angry at me too, now?!”

 

Harry lifted his hands quickly at the new onslaught of tears, this time accompanied by sobbing.  “No…no, Hermione…I’m not…I’m really not angry.  Ron’s not really angry either, I don’t think.  We’re both just…we’re worried about you is all.  And…”

 

But Hermione didn’t let him finish.  She threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly for a moment.  “Oh, Harry, I know.  I’m just being stupid.  I’m not angry at anyone either.”

 

Harry found himself almost wishing that the hug could have been longer, because he wouldn’t have to wonder what to say if she was still hugging him.

 

“So…do you…do you feel better, at all?” he asked.

 

Hermione gave him a watery smile.  “Yes, much better now.”

 

“Good.  I…You can study for the O.W.L.s all you want, you know.  I don’t mind.  I’ll make sure that Ron doesn’t bother you about it.”

 

Hermione laughed.  “Oh, Harry.  I don’t think…But, thank you.  I appreciate the sentiment.”

 

“I meant it,” Harry said defensively.

 

Hermione laughed again.  “I know.  That’s why it was so nice.  I probably will study some more before we leave.”

 

Feeling that he was on a roll, Harry added, “And, you know, it would be all right with me if you wanted to argue with Ron a little, too, while we’re here.”

 

Hermione stared at him in disbelief.  “Argue with Ron?  Why…”

 

Harry hurriedly explained.  “I mean, I’d prefer a few nice, light bickers over another night like this.”

 

Hermione covered her mouth with a gasp.  “Oh, Harry, we don’t…we don’t always bicker, do we?”

 

Harry laughed.  “No, only when you really need to.  I think you’ve been needing to for the past three days.  You were both overdue.”

 

Hermione laughed through her fingers.  “Don’t say it like that.  You make it sound terrible!”

 

“What do I make it sound like?”

 

“Like…like we do it for fun…or just to let off some steam…”

 

Harry raised his eyebrows.

 

Hermione looked positively affronted.  “It’s not…it’s not bickering.  It’s just…bantering…we tease each other a little, that’s all.”

 

Harry leaned back on his arms.  “Usually that’s all it is.  But when you’re in a bad mood, it’s bickering.”

 

“Hmph.”  Hermione tried to look insulted, but Harry could see that she was rather pleased with his assessment.

 

“Do you want me to get Ron?” he asked, sensing an opening.

 

“No!” Hermione stared at him incredulously.

 

Apparently, he was wrong.

 

“I’m not talking to Ron until he apologizes,” she informed him.

 

“Oh.”

 

Hermione shifted slightly on the blankets.  “Well, at least until tomorrow morning.  He shouldn’t think he can just order me around like that.”

 

“You’re right,” Harry said, suddenly tired of the conversation.  He would never be able to understand how or why Ron and Hermione kept up with this.  “I’d better go to bed,” he said.  “Do you want me to bring the juice downstairs?”

 

“No, that’s all right,” Hermione said.  She seemed to be back to herself.  “I might want more later.”

 

“Okay.”  Harry rose heavily from the bed.  “Have a good night.”

 

“Have a good night,” she told him, lying back down on the bed.  “Oh, and Harry…”

 

Harry was halfway to the door, but he stopped and turned around.  “Yeah?”

 

“Thanks again.”

 

Harry smiled.  “Sure, Hermione.”

 

As he slipped out of the room and shut the door behind him, he didn’t have to wonder why he hadn’t said, “Anytime.”  He sincerely hoped he would never have to do this again.

//
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