UNUSUAL (chapter 1)
Ron swore under his breath as his scissors slipped,
ruining the paper snowflake he'd been working on. He pushed the mangled
snowflake off the table, watching as it drifted to the floor to join a steadily
growing pile of his previous misattempts. It seemed stupid to be cutting paper
when he wanted to be doing something - anything - worthwhile. His father in St.
Mungo's, Harry locking himself upstairs, Hermione gone... Ginny laughing at him
"I told you I can't do this, didn't I?" he
Ginny grinned. "When you said you couldn't cut
paper, I assumed you were joking."
He glowered at her. "I can cut paper."
Casting an amused glance at the pile of disfigured
snowflakes at the foot of his chair, Ginny raised her eyebrows, then resumed
her cutting in silence. George ambled into the room and ruffled Ginny's hair,
laughing as she squirmed under him.
"Keep working with him, Gin. Ronnie can be a little
. . . <i>special</i> sometimes."
Again, Ron muttered a few choice words, then pushed paper
and scissors away. "Where's Sirius?" he asked. Surely Sirius had
something better for him to do. Something that didn't involve paying attention.
Something that didn't involve skill.
"Hanging mistletoe around his mum," George
said, throwing a Bertie Botts bean into the air and catching it in his mouth.
"Listen, you two." He pulled out a chair, turned it backwards, and
straddled it, leaning his arms on the back. "Fred and I have decided to
give you your presents early this year."
Ginny set down her scissors and spread a perfect,
intricate snowflake on her pile. "Why?" she asked, adding
suspiciously, "And what's the catch?"
George put on an expression of mock outrage. "What
is this world coming to, when a loving elder brother can't give his little
sister an early Christmas present without arousing suspicion? How do you know
it isn't simply out of the goodness of our hearts?"
"Because your hearts are attached to fake wands and
"You wound me, Dear Sister." George reached
into his robe and withdrew two large bags of coins, which clunked heavily as he
laid them on the table. "Fifty galleons each," he said simply.
Ron stared down at his money bag, eyes widening. With
this gift, he could buy himself almost anything he wanted - surely the biggest
Christmas present he'd ever received. Looking up at Ginny, he saw that her
thoughts matched his exactly.
"George," she breathed, "where did you and
Fred... how can you do this?"
"Business has been booming," said George
casually. "And if you're wondering why it's early, it's because... well...
with Dad in the hospital... we figured you might want some extra money for
presents. We could all use a good Christmas this year."
The three of them were silent for a few minutes, then
Ginny said softly, "Thanks."
"Yeah, thanks," Ron added. "At least all
those first years suffered for a noble cause, right?"
George grinned broadly at him, apparently grateful to him
for lightening the mood. He was about to reply when a knock on the door
startled them all. The three of them sat quietly, straining their ears as they
had done all summer. But in this case, there was no need to strain.
Ron knew he'd recognize that earnest voice anywhere, not
only from the familiarity of it, but from the nice way it made his stomach
hurt. Especially tonight, when he thought the voice and its owner were hundreds
of miles away, participating in some ridiculous Muggle game with wooden sticks
strapped to her feet.
"Hermione," he smiled, standing quickly and
scattering the paper scraps at his feet.
"That can't be Hermione," said Ginny.
"It's Hermione," said Ron.
He shoved the bag of coins into his robe and made for the
door, stopping in the hall when he saw her. Her windblown hair was even bigger
than usual, and she was dotted with snowflakes. And to think that only minutes
before, he had been cursing all snowflakes to inappropriate recesses of
Wormtail's body. He didn't know what she was doing there, but she was there.
Everything would be alright now. She would bring Harry to his senses. She would
help Ginny cut snowflakes. Bugger that, she would come up with some ingenious
charm to cut the snowflakes. She would be there. Her cheeks were flushed, and
she looked exhausted.
"Hermione!" cried Ginny's happy voice behind
him, and Ron stood still as Ginny and the twins moved past him and joined
Hermione at the door. His mum hurried in from the kitchen, and Sirius came
dashing down the stairs. Mrs. Black was screeching at the top of her lungs,
though Ron couldn't be sure if it was more because of Hermione or the
Everyone was bombarding her with questions -- "What
are you doing here?" "Won't you go upstairs and talk to Harry?"
"I thought you were going home for Christmas?"
Sirius shut the door behind Hermione, draped her coat
over his arm, and carried her trunks away.
"I told my parents I wanted to study for the
exams," she said, unwrapping her scarf and shaking her hair out slightly.
Small flecks of snow still clung to her. Ron took a few steps nearer.
"Oh," she sighed, looking around at them all, "you have no idea
how desperately I've wanted to get away from school and join you all! How is
Mr. Weasley? How's Harry?"
"Arthur is making a splendid recovery," Mrs.
Weasley assured her. "And Harry..." Her bottom lip trembled.
"Harry's being a git," said Ginny frankly.
"Ever since we returned from the hospital, he's been hiding upstairs.
Won't even answer Mum."
Hermione craned her neck and looked around the others.
"Ron?" she said, finally seeing him. She walked past the others and
approached him. "Have you talked to Harry?"
"I've tried, but he won't talk to anyone."
"I'll go upstairs," she said wearily.
"Maybe... maybe if you and Ginny would meet us in your room? Then we can
all have a talk."
"Alright," he nodded. She was just turning when
he added, "I'm glad you're here."
She looked back at him and smiled.
"I'll light a fire and make some sandwiches,"
said Mrs. Weasley from the hall.
"Oh, thank you, Mrs. Weasley, that would be so nice.
I'm starving." Hermione started up the stairs, Mrs. Weasley returned to
the kitchen, and Ginny joined Ron.
"Well," she said as they climbed the stairs
slowly, "this should be interesting."
"Yeah," he replied absently.
"If anyone can talk Harry out of hiding, it's
Ginny regarded him for a minute. "Have you decided
what you're going to get Hermione for Christmas?"
"There's a book she's been talking about. New Theory
of Numerology." He shrugged. "I'll probably get her that."
They reached his and Harry's room, and Ron sat on his
bed, followed by Ginny. "Have you considered... maybe... not getting her a
book?" asked Ginny easily.
"But that's what Hermione likes," he replied,
looking at her in bewilderment.
"It isn't the only thing she likes. Girls do enjoy
getting other things. Even girls like Hermione."
<i>Just because it's taken you three years to
notice, Ron, doesn't mean no one else has spotted I'm a girl!</i>
"What else would I get her?" he asked, staring
at the wall as if he'd never seen one quite like it.
"Let's go to Diagon Alley tomorrow," she
suggested excitedly. "I love shopping for presents, and we both have money
to spend. And then I can show you some other places you might look. Okay?"
This idea sounded about as attractive as an afternoon tea
party with Snape and Umbridge. "Er... okay, sure."
"I hear them coming," she whispered.
"Good. I have several things I want to say to Harry, whether he thinks our
opinions are worthless or not. Tomorrow then?"
Hermione squinted into the darkness as she stepped
quietly down the stairs, holding her robe closed with one hand, smoothing her hair
as much as possible with the other. Everyone in the house was asleep, but she
herself had found it impossible to drift off, even after spending a few hours
staring up at the ceiling. There was simply too much to think about, and lying
in the dark only made it worse. She craved a glass of warm milk, not to mention
the escape that awaited her in the book under her arm.
She saw light shining from the kitchen and wondered if
Kreacher was awake as well. Approaching silently and peering around the corner,
however, she felt her insides soften when she saw Ron. He was hunched over the
table and seemed to be cutting paper. Hermione smiled. Somehow the sight of
him, so quiet and unaware of being observed, brought about the same effect as
reading and warm milk.
He had evidently attempted sleep as well. His hair was
sticking up in all directions. He wore blue striped pajamas that he had
outgrown ages ago; they came a few inches above his ankles when he sat. His
shirt... Hermione felt a flush creep into her cheeks as she realized. His shirt
was partially unbuttoned. She squinted her eyes again, trying to figure out
what he was cutting. Then he set down the scissors and unfolded the paper, and
her eyes widened as a new smile spread over her face. Ron was cutting snowflakes.
She had no idea why, but she did know that he had done a beautiful job. The one
he held up was cut in hundreds of intricate little shapes and patterns, so
delicate that Hermione wondered how he could have done it with scissors and his
large, awkward hands.
"Hi," she said softly, slipping into the
Ron quickly put the snowflake down and looked up. His
ears were pink. "Hi." He watched her in silence as she sat across
from him. "What are you doing here?"
"Same thing you're doing," she replied, setting
her book to the side. She reached across the table and carefully took the
snowflake, holding it up between them and watching him through the cut-out
shapes. "Couldn't sleep?"
"No." Hermione laid the snowflake on the table
and met his eyes. "I'm sorry about your dad," she said. He said
nothing, and she hadn't expected him too. Ron wasn't exactly one to state
certain feelings. "It's scary, though, about Harry, isn't it?"
"Yeah." He stood up, and for a moment, she
thought he was leaving. She opened her mouth in protest, then realized that he
was taking two mugs from the cupboard. The world suddenly seemed peaceful, and
her eyes followed Ron as he poured milk into the mugs, drew out his wand, and
murmured a simple heating charm. Turning, he set the mug in front of her, and
Hermione took it gratefully.
"Thanks," she said, taking a slow sip.
Ron raked his long fingers through his already messy hair
and studied her over the edge of his mug. "I'm tired."
"Me too." She sighed and took another sip.
"When's your dad coming home?"
"Soon, I hope. Or else he might be in St. Mungo's
They fell into easy silence, both thoughtful, drinking
their milk and staring at the snowflake between them. "What's that for?"
Hermione asked finally.
"Just bored, I guess. Ginny was making them earlier,
before you got here."
"It's really pretty." She glanced up and noted
the flush that slipped under his freckles. "You know, there's a charm
to--" He suddenly met her eyes with a big grin, and Hermione stopped.
He shook his head and glanced away. "Nothing....
Well...." He looked at her again. "Just that I know you too well for
my own good."
Hermione took a moment to wonder what that meant.
"I'm not entirely ignorant on the subject of Ron Weasley, either,"
she replied, smiling.
Ron grinned. "Are you ignorant of any subject?"
He paused. "Besides Quidditch?" Hermione felt the familiar sensation
of her heart beating a little faster, but said nothing. He was making fun of
her, as usual, but she recognized his compliment and took it for what it was.
Ron reached to his left and slid a piece of paper towards her. "Show
"What, the charm?"
Hermione finished her milk and looked away. "I don't
There was a brief silence, then Ron said, "Say that
She smiled in spite of herself and met his eyes this
time. "I don't know it."
He laughed. "Wait till I tell Harry..."
At the mention of Harry's name, Hermione sighed and
stared down into her empty mug. She and Ron had spent half a year trying to get
closer to him, but he only seemed to push them away more. But she didn't want
this to be yet another long, serious discussion about Harry. They had been
through quite enough of those over the past months. This was a chance to relax
with each other - to try not to think of Harry, homework, exams, Prefect
duties, Umbridge, and a million other things that always seemed to preoccupy
them. The things that kept them awake at night.
"What do you want for Christmas?"
The question was so sudden and unexpected that Hermione
had no idea what to say. "What do I want?" she repeated stupidly.
Neither Ron nor Harry had ever asked her that before, and she had always
assumed that the answer was obvious to them. She loved books. "Well, I...
you've always gotten me a book, haven't you?"
Ron shrugged, running his forefinger around and around
the edge of his mug. "Just thought you might want something different, I
"I guess I never really thought about it," she
said. "Why do you ask?"
"Ginny and I are going to Diagon Alley in the
morning," he replied. "I thought maybe there was something you really
There was something she really wanted, but she wouldn't
dream of telling him. She wanted him to stop being so blind and stupid... to
say what they both knew he'd been wanting to say since last year.
"I want things to go back to normal," she said
instead. "I miss having fun with you and Harry. I miss Hogwarts."
He said nothing, and they stared down once more at the
snowflake. Finally, he said lightly, "I don't think they sell that at
Flourish and Blotts."
"No," she replied absently, "I don't think
"Well, I'll think of something," he said.
Hermione reached over and picked up the scissors, looping
her fingers through them and twisting them around. "What about you? What
do you want?" A long time passed with no answer, and Hermione studied his
"I want the same thing you do." She felt
shallow and silly for wishing that he referred to what she had left unsaid. And
she felt even shallower when he continued, "You know, it's like he hates
They'd had this discussion. More than once. It almost
made her feel angry. Would Harry always be the center of everything? He was
their friend, and he needed them. But what about <i>them</i>?
Couldn't she talk to Ron about something else? Couldn't she drink warm milk and
relax with him? Sometimes she felt that she and Ron orbited around Harry, and
she wanted to break away. Then orbits made her think of Astronomy, and
<i>that</i> made her think of exams...
"I don't know what I would have done this year
Hermione's breath caught, and all the negative emotions
coursing through her suddenly turned pleasant. She knew she needed to respond,
but felt that if she did, it would shatter whatever wonderful spell had made
Ron speak so openly. Fortunately, Ron didn't seem to be waiting for a reply,
and actually went on.
"You were the only thing that stayed the same.
Harry's changed, Hogwarts has changed, even Dumbledore's changed. Everything is
strange and wrong somehow. But you stayed the same."
She bit her lip. Ron had never given her a better
compliment. And if she thought about it, she knew that she could honestly say
the same thing to him. "So did you."
He turned red to the tips of his ears, and Hermione
smiled. She often thought to herself in exasperation that Ron would never
change. And tonight, the idea made her happy.