The Sugar Quill
Author: Ciircee (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Byron  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: JKR owns the people you know.  The poetry belongs to the...well, hopefully the poet is listed, if not...I guess there'll be a section at the end.

Thanks: To HPGuy for beta.  And Chelle, who listened to me rant and did bits-and-bobs beta.  Thank you a thousand times.

Dedication: To Catherine's husband's mother.  ^.^ Siriusly.  While writing 'One Week' I had to keep reminding myself 'Bryon' and not 'Byron' and that meant I was juggling the letters around in my head....So thank you Mrs. Bryon's Mom!  Thanks also to Catherine...for letting me use her name and Bryon's, they're not in this...but what the heck, why not?

 

Byron

"Summer holiday is a worrisome business, isn't it, Pig?" Hermione mused aloud.  Ron's owl hooted gleefully and hopped into her Potion ingredients.  Hermione ignored him with ease and studied her letter from Ginny with a worried frown.  "Harry, N.E.W.T.s, Voldemort," Pig trilled and dove into her mercifully empty cauldron.  "Sorry, You-Know-Who, Ron and all the other Weasleys, N.E.W.T.s, the Order, S.P.E.W,  Death Eaters, Ron and Harry," she sighed.  "Now is not the time for Ron to crack." 

Hermione settled into the plush chair in her room to re-read Ginny's letter.  Ron, Ginny had written, had become increasingly moody.  Worried, they all supposed, about Harry; the war was heating up and Voldemort couldn't seem to let poor Harry have a moment of peace at all.  Four attacks had been made south of Little Whinging, all spaced neatly a week apart, all quite close to Harry's Aunt and Uncle's house.  The last time it had happened, last summer, Hermione had been certain that Voldemort was trying to find a way past whatever ancient magic protected Harry; she'd considered writing  Dumbledore about her suspicions.  She'd written Ron about it first and then worried until the day Ron's tersely worded letter arrived,  'Harry's window faces South'.  Voldemort couldn't touch Harry at the Dursleys', not physically, and so he had been, and was continuing, to strike out at Harry emotionally. Still, Harry would be at the Burrow by the end of summer and Voldemort wouldn't dare try anything while Harry was under the care of several adult wizards, one of whom had Ministry connections. 

"Not that this is any comfort to you, is it, Ron?" Hermione sighed to her empty room.  "Not this year, at any rate."  According to Ginny, Ron was spending the majority of his days down in Ottery St. Catchpole doing Merlin only knew what.  He had a muggle job, actually, but it was only a morning paper route and it was mostly to keep an eye on the Muggle news for Professor Dumbledore and the Order.  Not, she reminded herself, that Ron told her these things.  She'd had more letters from Ginny than her brother.

It was enough to worry her; she and Ron usually wore Pig out completely during the summers.  "Mum?" she moved to her writing supplies and patted Pig absently on the head as she passed him.  He nearly fainted in joy and Hermione smiled.   She'd write Ginny and ask if it would be possible for her to visit during Harry's stay; somebody needed to keep an open eye and a level head.

"Yes, love?" her mother's head poking around the door coincided with the arrival of another owl at Hermione's window.  "Isn't it late for the post?"

"Yes," she would have been worried about it if it weren't for the small clutch of sweet alyssum that accompanied the letter; rarely, in her experience, did bad news arrive with flowers.  Still, she opened it with a bit of trepidation, not sure what she could expect to find.  A current of shock ran through her as she quickly scanned the page.  She certainly hadn't expected what she found; vivid red ink formed the neatly curved words of the first love letter she'd ever received.

There be none of Beauty's daughters
with a magic like thee;
and music on the waters
is thy sweet voice to me.

So the spirit bows before thee,
to listen and adore thee;
with a full but soft emotion,
like the swell of Summer's ocean.
~Stanzas for Music
 

Byron

She read the words quietly aloud without really thinking about it, wanting to hear them. "Lord Byron..." she sighed softly.  It was lovely; simple and lovely.

"Hermione, love?" She'd rather forgotten that her mother was in the room with her.  "The post?"

She folded the letter, her first anonymous love letter, and placed it primly beside the letter from Ginny.  "It's a love letter, I think," she said, trying to keep her voice casual despite the riot of emotions she felt.

"Well now!" Her mother smiled brightly and fanned at herself with one hand. 

"It's not like that, Mum," Hermione laughed.  "It's not signed.  It's rather nice that somebody thought of it, really, but I don't really have time for a...boy...right now.  The N.E.W.Ts are coming up and I'm going to be busy enough with Harry and Ron and everything else.  It's sweet and I do wish he'd signed it so that I could tell him straight off that I'm not interested but I guess he'll figure it out eventually," she finished in a rush.  She didn't want to talk about it.

"Hermione," her mother began.

"And I do hope things aren't awkward whenever he sees me, whoever he is," she said softly and picked up the note, fingering the edges. "I'd hate if it were Neville and he was terribly hurt by my not wanting...anything.  I don't recognize the handwriting and I'd know if it were Neville's, but still..."

"Hermione," her mother tried again.

"I suppose I ought to throw it away; rubbish is all it is, really, since I'm not interested," she hesitated, hand and letter poised over the bin, before dropping the bit of poetry in to the trash.  "It's not as if I even know him, really, as nobody I really know at school really knows anything about Muggles and especially not Muggle poetry and I don't want to encourage him, whoever he is, by keeping it, really."  She smiled brightly, grabbing a fresh sheet of parchment and a quill though she didn't quite know what she was going to do with them.  "Did you need something, Mum?"

Her mother tilted her head and looked at her.  "Nothing, dear," she said after a moment.  "The Weasleys' other owl just fell out side your window.  Would you like me to bring him in?"

"Oh, Errol!" Hermione winced.  "Please do.  I've got Restorative Powder in my school trunk.  I'll meet you in the kitchen; if Errol isn't dead we can try to make him feel a bit better."  Her mother left with a quick nod and one last, speculative look.  Hermione quickly found the vial of bluish powder in her trunk and was reaching for her scales on the desk when she stopped and looked at her trash bin.  The scarlet ink was very, very visible.  "It's foolish, right Pig?" she said as Pig hooted happily and fluttered over to land on her arm.  He hooted again and peered into the trash with her.  "It's not something a person keeps, is it?  Some unsigned note from some boy that I don't even know?"  Pig, either in agreement or disagreement, dove into the rubbish.  "Honestly, that's no answer," she laughed, pulling the tiny owl out again.

"Hermione, love, it's post from Ron," her mother's voice echoed up the staircase and Hermione hurriedly tucked Pig onto the make-shift perch formed by her cauldron handle and grabbed up her scales and measuring spoons and adding a blossom from the alyssum for it's medicinal properties.  "He wants to know if you'd like to stay over when Harry comes to stay."

Quickly, not daring to think about what she was doing, Hermione plucked the love letter from the bin and tucked it into her Potions book.  "I meant to ask about that earlier, Mum," she called down, tucking her supplies together and moving for the door.  She very carefully didn't look back at her desk or her books as she left her room.

* * *

"I know I'm better at Quidditch than this," Hermione muttered.  "All right, Ginny, I think I'm ready now; I just needed to get used to the broom is all.  I haven't flown all summer."  She waved to Ginny and Harry as they glided together at the other end of the paddock.  They waved absently back, heads bent together discussing strategy, Hermione thought.  She didn't mind; it gave her a moment to peer through the trees, looking for Ron.  Despite Harry's presence and her own, Hermione noted, Ron still spent a good portion of the week in the nearby village and he would answer all questions about it with only the words 'nothing' or 'nothing much'.  She was worried about him, truth be told.  Percy, Fred, and George no longer lived at home and the place seemed oddly empty without the constant noise of more people than should have logically fit.  The out-of-place tranquility seemed to underscore Ron's odd behavior.  "Ron, what on earth is wrong?" she whispered, trying to see past the leaves to the road beyond the trees.

"Hermione, mind yourself!"  Harry's warning came a bit late; the impromptu Quaffle bounced off of her arm and into the trees.  Harry stopped and hovered, looking from the tress to Hermione.  "You're supposed to catch it," he sighed.

Ginny landed.  "I'll fetch it.  It's a good thing we're using a beach ball; easier to see.  Honestly, the things Dad has taken to enchanting," she grinned quickly up before disappearing into the wood. 

"Want me to go over Chaser-basics again?" Harry asked, moving to her side.

Hermione shook her head, catching a glimpse of coppery-red from the direction of the village.  "No, thank you, Harry.  I'm done in; do you mind me leaving the game?" She landed without waiting for an answer and pretended that she didn't hear the quiet chorus of 'thank god' as she stashed George's old broom by the back stairs. 

"Hermione!" Ron waved to her when she stepped up to the gate.  He was farther down the lane than she'd thought he was, in fact, if it weren't for his hair she probably wouldn't have seen him.  Funny that he could see her; had he been watching for her?   She stilled the flutter in her heart with the ease of long practice; she'd learned in her fourth year how to ignore it but never how to entirely prevent it. "Come to walk with us, have you?" A lopsided smile tilted his mouth; that smile didn't help her heart much but it was sweetly familiar and very dear. 

"No," she smiled easily and reminded her heart about friendship; she also walked out to meet him instead of waiting at the gate, as she'd planned.

"Thrown out of Quidditch, then?" he asked, nudging her shoulder with his own.  He stayed comfortable against her as they fell into step.

She snorted, "Not hardly.  I  wanted to talk to you, actually."

Ron held up both hands. "I did the History of Magic essay!  Harry can vouch for me; I did it even though we all know that Professor Binns will never read it."

"Well, good," she smiled.  "But that isn't what I wanted to talk to you about.  It's something more important."

Ron shot her an inscrutable look as they bypassed the front door of the house, wandering into the shade of the trees by the pond.  "Oh?"

"Yes," she decided to broach the subject delicately.  "Ron, what's going on?"

He looked at her again, eyes unreadable, and settled to sit in a patch of sunlight.  "How do you mean?"

"Well, lately you've been..." she trailed off uncertainly.

"I've what?" She didn't look at his face and instead watched him twirl a bit of clover between his fingers.  "Hermione?"

"I've noticed that...oh, blast!"  Hermione muttered as an owl fluttered down between them.  She didn't need it to peck her hand to know the letter was for her; the bright red ink and the clutch of alyssum gave it away.

Ron watched her with an undisguised curiosity as she untied the letter. "What's this?" He smiled but Hermione couldn't look at his face.

"Nothing," she answered hurriedly, tucking the note away.  "Just a bit of...of...rubbish, I suppose."

His eyes closed off and Hermione swore to herself she wouldn't throttle him if the word 'Vicky' slipped past his lips.  "Nothing, eh?  All right."

"It's nothing, yes.  I'll deal with it later.  I wanted to talk to you about...well, you haven't been home very much lately, spending all your time in town and we're all..."

He cut her off.  "It's nothing, Hermione.  It's as 'nothing' as your letter."

"Ron," she heard the frustration in her voice.  He could be so stubborn.  "Honestly, if you must know..." with fingers suddenly fumbling she drew the letter out of her pocket.  "Somebody, probably Neville, but maybe not, somebody sent me a...a letter.  He didn't sign it and I don't have time for; well, read it."  She handed him the letter and watched his ears flush red as he opened it.  He handed it to her wordlessly after a glance at the contents.  She couldn't help reading it for herself, even if it were nothing at all.

And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
so soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
the smiles that win, the tints that glow,
but tell of days in goodness spent,
a mind at peace with all below,
a heart whose love is innocent!
~She walks in Beauty

Byron

"That's not Wizard poetry."  Ron's voice broke into her second reading.  He was staring out at the pond, watching the frogs jump.

"No.  No, it's Muggle," she couldn't think of anything else to say.

Ron nodded.  "Yeah.  That's something...that some bloke likes you enough to say those things."

Quite possibly this was, Hermione thought, the last sort of conversation she'd ever expected to have with Ron.  "Oh, I'm flattered," she winced at the bright, flustered tone of her voice and wondered if Ron could hear it.  "But I'm not interested in him, whoever he is.  I mean, I don't even know him and so I couldn't really..."

"Thought you said it was Neville," Ron shrugged.  "You know Neville well enough.  He's a good sort."

Hermione wondered if she were as red as the Weasley family hair or if it merely felt that way.  "Oh, but I'd recognize Neville's handwriting, I'm sure.  I don't recognize this at all and so I probably don't know him well and, well, if I don't know him then I wouldn't want to..." she shrugged and hoped she wouldn't have to say 'date' in front of Ron.  "Going 'round with somebody I don't know would be the worst sort of awkward."  She could have bitten her tongue.

"There's probably worse," Ron muttered softly.  "I'm going to play Quidditch, since you're not."  He stood with a stretch and looked down at her; he was very tall, she thought, and very handsome looking with the sun making him a silhouette.  "You'd best take care of that owl; there are pellets in the kitchen."

She nodded, "All right."  It was only later, sitting in Ginny's window and watching Ron and Harry laughing and diving, that she realized that she and Ron had barely had a chance to talk about what was driving him as of late.  She glanced at the newest letter, tucked inside of her History of Magic text, and wondered if she should throw it out for interrupting; she pondered it until the game outside ended before deciding it would make an excellent reminder to try another talk with Ron about what was bothering him.

* * *

"Ready, Percy?" Bill was holding his wand over the mashed potatoes. 

A surprise dinner with the Weasley family was certainly full of surprises.  "What are you doing?" Hermione asked.  A quiet week had passed and now that she'd finally become used to a quiet Burrow, the entire family had turned out to have a last meal together before term started.

"They're breaking our hearts with their cruel lack of faith in us," George said aggrievedly. 

The Burrow was back to normal; crowded, loud, and fun, she had to admit.  It was also a bit of a learning experience. "You two deserve it," she patted him on the arm in a maternal fashion. 

"Ready?" Charlie aimed his wand at the twins.

Percy, holding his own wand, shrugged.  "Are we ever?  Aperio!" he sighed, touching the lip of the dish with the tip of his wand.  The potatoes turned a lovely reddish-black and Hermione felt herself arch one eyebrow.

It was Bill's turn to sigh.  "Abrogare."   The potatoes went back to being a harmless, fluffy white.  "Onto the chicken, Percy?"

"Choking cherries?"  Charlie folded his arms and looked to George to Fred and to George again.  "What, are we all still two years old?"

"We wouldn't want Ickle Ronnie to die before he finishes out his last year, would we?" Fred offered with a snicker.

Charlie shook his head.  "Who in the world would choke on mashed potatoes?  Mum would have had you scrubbing for hours without magic.  Try something harder to find, easier to clean, and far away from my dinner."

"Yes, Mum," George grinned.  "Hermione, want a custard?" 

She shook her head with a smile, "I'm not nearly stupid enough, thanks."

"Nobody is that stupid," Ron added, coming to the table with a bowl of raspberries.  "This lot won't need a go-over; Ginny and Harry just picked them."  He tilted his head towards the door; Harry and Ginny were leaning together in a gentle kiss. 

"Ohhh!"  Bill, Charlie, and the twins immediately plastered themselves against the window, placing squeaky, smacking kisses against the glass.  Hermione rolled her eyes while Ron laughed and Percy continued to de-hex the food. 

Harry, flushed and grinning, leaned into the door, a firm hold still on Ginny.  "Jealous that I have a girlfriend or is dinner ready?" he asked archly.

"They're jealous, I'd wager, but dinner is also ready," Molly Weasley said, shooing her laughing sons into their seats.

"Nobody in his right mind would be jealous of some bloke kissing his sister, Mum," Charlie tousled Ginny's hair as they came to the table.  "Especially not this sister."  Ginny, for her part, swatted at him and dodged behind Harry as Bill reached out to tickle her.

Hermione ended up sitting next to Ron, who kicked her ankle and nodded towards Harry and Ginny, who were still holding hands.  He grinned and raised his eyebrows meaningfully.  "Who would have thought of that back in second year, eh?"  he said softly, leaning close to her.

Maybe somebody who'd fallen for a certain red-head destined never to come around, she thought.  "I don't know," she murmured airily, trying not to be overheard, "I've always considered it a possibility."

"Really?"  Ron's eyebrows went up in surprise.  "I thought...because they were friends, see."  He gestured vaguely, leaning closer to her. Hermione glanced quickly around the table but nobody seemed to notice them.

She leaned a bit closer to Ron as Harry and Ginny were almost directly across the table from her. "That was probably the biggest factor in their relationship, Ron.  Once they became friends it was a short jump to becoming more, don't you think?"

"So, you reckon being friends is a good way to start something?"  He seemed so incredulous, so stunned by the idea.  It stung, and Hermione sat back in her seat as far away from Ron as she could get. 

"It's certainly more stable than unsigned love notes," she heard herself snap.  Loudly.  She looked tentatively at the Weasleys and discovered that she was, indeed, the center of attention.  Harry's eyes tracked from her face to Ron's and back again.  Hermione felt her face burn.  "For example," she quickly.  "Just...as an example.  An example of...of," she tried to force logical thought through her embarrassment. 

"Post," Ron spoke up beside her.

He was quick on his feet, she thought, seizing his idea.  "Exactly!  An example of reliability of postal service!  Without a name..."

Ron cut her off.  "No, I mean, there's post.  Right now." Hermione followed his eyes to the window where a very handsome owl sat patiently on the sill, with a clutch of flowers in its talons and a red inked letter under it's wing.

As Hermione stared at the owl as it bobbed in place before fluttering to land daintily in front of her plate; it extended the flowers without a sound.  Ginny sighed, "Isn't that romantic?"

Harry shrugged.  "I guess it's really well trained," he offered, trading looks with Hermione.  Occasionally the differences in background were made crystal clear.

Bill let out a low whistle.  "Somebody sure is serious, Hermione," he said.  "That's a sooty owl; they're hard to keep because they're not native to anyplace but Australia.  They don't fly cheap."

"And they're mostly for special occasions; like when Mum and Dad announced their engagement."  Charlie added, looking to his parents for confirmation.

"Let's have a look at lover-boy's contents, shall we?" Fred and George were suddenly leaning over Hermione's shoulders, plucking at the letter.  "How much of a nancy boy is he?  He's probably talking bollocks about undying love.  C'mon, give us a look."

"Certainly not," she clutched the letter to her chest. 

"Let her alone," Ginny piped up from across the table.  "It's personal."

"Thought it was rubbish," Ron said quietly.  "Nothing but Muggle poetry and some boy you don't know and don't care to."

Hermione spoke before thinking, "I think it's very sweet, I'll have you know."

Every eye in the room swung from Hermione to Ron.  "How'd you know what's in it?" Harry asked at the same time the twins pinched Ron's cheeks. 

"Aw, our ickle baby has grown up!"

"It wasn't Ron!" Hermione protested.  She was summarily ignored.

Fred and George each threw an arm around Ron's shoulders and smiled sweetly at Hermione.  "Isn't he the cutest thing?"

"Love letters, cor, Ron, that's smooth," Bill looked impressed.

Hermione sighed.  "It's not from Ron."

Ginny looked ready to burst.  "But he knows what's in the letter!"

"He's been gone a lot," Harry said slowly, eyes still moving between Hermione and Ron.  "An awful lot."

Ron shrugged off the twins with ease. "Well, there you all are, then.  I'm spending my days in the Muggle library reading Muggle poetry so I can send it on to Hermione like some besotted pillock. Quite."  He took a bite of chicken and looked utterly content to say no more. 

"Honestly," Hermione gritted her teeth.  "It. Is. Not. From. Ron."  Although she wouldn't have minded if it were, she simply couldn't let everybody go around misinformed. "Ron was there when the last letter came.  That's how he knows what's in it; the letters are always the same style.  Honestly," she muttered again, "thinking it was Ron." 

Beside her, Ron shrugged.  "Well, it could be me.  If I were spending my days in the library, had money to spend, and access to a Wizard Post Office."

"Exactly," Hermione agreed, tucking the letter away.  "Mrs. Weasley, may I be excused?"

Mrs. Weasley smiled, a knowing smile even if she didn't really know.  "Of course you may, dear." 

She'd barely made it into the family room when Ginny asked, "Mum, may I be excused as well?"

"Certainly not," Mrs. Weasley's voice was the pleasantly firm 'mum' voice that was used to set law into stone.  Hermione smiled.

"Mum," came a chorus of male voices.

"No."

"Aww, Mum, come on."

"You boys are certainly interested in love notes today, aren't you?  Fine then, Hermione Granger is not the only woman in this house to have received a love letter.  Back in my seventh year your father sent me a rather passionate..."

"Mum!"

"Molly!"

Hermione grinned and slipped up the stairs to Ginny's room.  The smile fell away, however, as she opened the letter.  Who was he? 

Though the night was made for loving,
and the day returns too soon,
Yet we'll go no more a roving
By the light of the moon
~So we'll go no more a roving

Byron

Who in the world was sending her lovely poetry and why in the world wasn't it somebody she wanted to send her poetry?  This one, she decided, was destined for the rubbish bin if for no other reason than the fact that it had arrived in front of every Weasley she knew.

"Hermione?" Ron's quiet voice and a soft knock at the door stopped her before she'd taken so much as a step.  "Can I come in?" he asked, pushing the door open.  Something in her face must have revealed her upset because Ron tilted her a lopsided grin.  "That bad, was it?  What, did he proposition you?"

She laughed at that.  "No, actually I think it's more of a 'see you at Hogwarts' sort of thing," she offered him the letter, bemused when he shook his head; she wouldn't have thought him capable of passing up the chance to tease her a bit about it. 

"But you're upset," he said. "All pink in the cheeks." 

Hermione shook her head.  "I'm not upset," she said.  "It's more or less the idea of this in front of your entire family..." she trailed off, feeling heat lick into her cheeks.  "And everybody was asking about it and staring."

"Git probably didn't think that everybody was going to be here," Ron said.  "But if it makes you feel any better, Mum is still talking about herself and Dad and their 'exploits'."

"Exploits?"  

Ron grinned.  "She used that word and everything; I tell you, everybody is regretting asking after that letter now.  Exploits, my Mum and Dad," he shook his head.  "Moving onto something that doesn't bring to mind scary images, I brought you these to cheer you up," he offered her a napkin filled with the raspberries Harry and Ginny had picked earlier.  "They're a bit squidgey, but since you didn't eat any dinner you're not allowed to complain."

Hermione took them and felt her heart flutter.  "That's nice of you, Ron, thank you."  He shrugged, ears turning pink at the tips and Hermione heard her mouth continue without her brain.  "It was very sweet of you to say the things you did."

Ron's eyes snapped up to meet hers.  "What things I said?" he asked quietly.

"Downstairs, when you took the attention to yourself," Hermione said softly.  "That was very sweet of you, to take the attention off of me and the letter."

"Oh. Well, they're my family and that git should have thought about it before he sent that letter."  Ron ducked his head. 

Hermione laid a hand on his arm.  "Still, it was very nice of you," her voice had become even quieter and she had the insane urge to reach up and kiss his cheek.  If she could even reach it.  Ron stood very still and she thought that if he'd stay that way, she might be able to use his arm for balance and reach his cheek just fine.  "Really, it was."

"What was?  That  letter?" Ginny whirled into the room.  "When did they start?  Who are they from?  What do they say?"  She frowned.  "Get out, Ron, this is girl's business."

Ron grinned at Ginny and Hermione's hand slipped off of his arm as he stepped back.  "That's a fine way to talk to the author of those notes," he chided.

Ginny rolled her eyes as Ron left.  "Boys.  Hmph.  And you wanted brothers, didn't you?"  She patted her bed firmly, "Now sit, tell me about these letters.  How many have you got so far?  Do you honestly not know who they're from or is that something you said to keep my brothers off?"

"Yes, three, yes and no," Hermione answered.

"Hermione, that's not what I meant!" Ginny giggled. 

She shrugged and popped a berry into her mouth, "Can't say I didn't answer you."  She grinned and ducked Ginny's pillow.  "Here, have a look if you'd like; I'm only going to throw it out anyway," Hermione offered her the letter.

"Really?" Ginny pounced on it with shriek, eyes zipping over the page.  Hermione continued to eat and wait for her to finish. "You're going to throw this out?  But it's so romantic!" Ginny hugged the letter briefly before handing it back.  "I wish Harry would think of something like that," she sighed.

"Maybe he'll get the idea," Hermione shrugged and crossed to her side of the room and the rubbish bin.  "It's probably a lot more 'romantic' to get love letters from somebody you know than it is to get them from some stranger who won't put his name down."  She slid the newest letter into her History of Magic text when Ginny wasn't looking.  She'd stained it with raspberry juice as she'd taken it back from Ginny; Ron had been thoughtfully sweet to bring her something and she wanted to remember that.

* * *

"Hermione?  I know that study group isn't until Thursday, but do you think you could help me with Arithmancy?  Professor Vector assigned us a paper on how Arithmancy is different from, and more reliable than, other forms of divinatory magic." 

The first few days at Hogwarts were always thrilling, Hermione thought as Colin Creevey leaned across the breakfast table earnestly.  It wasn't just the excitement of being able to do magic again, it was more; it was seeing that she'd remembered everything she'd learned in the last year, it was the smell of fresh parchment and fresh ink, it was the teachers working to enrich their minds.  "She's hacked off at Professor Trelawney again, according to Ginny, and you've had Divination and Arithmancy both."  Colin looked as though his life were hanging in the balance and Hermione made a mental note to check his Arithmancy scores from the previous year before the start of the next study session.

"All right, Colin, but it'll have to wait until after dinner," she sighed.  "Today's the busiest day on my schedule."  That was another good thing about Hogwarts.  She was busy and so, apparently, was the author of those summer notes.   There had been no new letters after the unfortunate arrival at the Weasleys and since over a week had gone by Hermione figured that, whoever the boy was, he'd given up.

"Who has a busy day?" Ron flung himself into the seat next to her and grinned.  "We haven't even had any homework yet!"

"It's only been a week, Ron, and we do have..."

"N.E.W.T.s, I know, you've only said about a thousand times," he beamed.  "The entire wizarding world knows that our exams are only ten months away."

Parvati Patil shot Ron an evil look as she sat down.  "Must you bring them up?  I thought Hermione and Padma were bad about it, but you?"

"You what?" Seamus, Dean, and Harry joined the table.

"Ron is talking about the N.E.W.T.s," Neville explained from his seat.  

"Hermione was talking about N.E.W.Ts," Colin corrected helpfully.  "And study group."

Lavender rolled her eyes.  "Honestly, is that all you're about?  Homework?  Studying?"

"Are we changing study group?" Kevin Whitby, one of the Hufflepuff's that Hermione tutored, had joined the throng.

"N.E.W.Ts study group or regular study group?" Stewart Ackerley of Ravenclaw had apparently overheard too.  "I can't make it if it's not on Thursday."

Parvati gestured expansively, "It's all Ron's fault that we can't have breakfast without a crowd and the mention of exams and homework."

Dean scratched his head.  "I thought it was Hermione's idea," he said.

"What was Hermione's idea?  Study group?  That was a really good idea," Ginny dropped down next to Harry. 

"Hermione should have an idea about boys," Lavender and Parvati chorused.

"Honestly, all I said was that today was my busy day," Hermione muttered, sharing a commiserating look with Ron.  "And the last thing I need is ideas about boys," she addressed the last to her dorm-mates specifically and just exactly in time for an unnoticed owl to land on her plate with a very familiar bundle of flowers. 

Ron spoke up before anybody had done more than participate in a collective intake of breath.  "They're from me."  Breathe, Hermione reminded herself, large groups tend to display numerous parallelisms to the same stimulus; she focused on that thought as every one at the table turned to Ron in an eerie replay of dinner-at-the-Weasleys.  Ron looked at her, then everybody else and lifted his hands.  "Really.  I sent it."

"That's right," Hermione said brightly as she took the letter and flowers.  Of course, she knew they weren't really from Ron; the red ink gave it away entirely.  "Because of that fight we had."  Ron's brow furled and she kicked him under the table. "About homework and studying, remember?  I'm sure you all remember our little row; we were so loud.  What a thoughtful apology, Ron."   She smiled innocently at everybody and hoped for the best.

"What fight?" Neville was frowning thoughtfully.  "Neither of you were in the common room last night."

"The fight they had while they were walking out by the Quidditch Pitch," Ginny announced brightly. 

At the same time Harry chimed in with, "They were fighting in the library, before dinner."

Hermione sighed loudly as everybody in the Great Hall, or so it seemed, hummed in speculation.  "It's just a bit of poetry, honestly!  Ron and I had a debate going on about the poet Lord Byron.  I bet Ron that he could find a passage of his works in the Hogwarts library despite the fact that he's a Muggle poet."  She opened the letter with a gusty breath.  "I told him he'd have to send me flowers if he found one.  You see?"  she asked as she read it aloud.

"I grant I never saw a goddess go:
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
"
~Sonnet CXXX

Byron

"That's not Byron, that's Shakespeare," Kevin said after a moment of silence.  "My Dad's an actor in London; his troupe did a Shakespeare festival the summer before last. I had to be stage hand; I know this stuff."

Ron stood abruptly and slung both his and Hermione's bag over his shoulder.  "Look, I sent the letter and the flowers. I spent all night in the library looking at poems and I snuck down to Greenhouse One this morning before heading to the Owlery just so that Hermione could have a love letter over breakfast on the day she has the most classes.  All right?"  He strode off without another word and Hermione could only shrug before following him and reclaiming her bag in the entrance hall.

"I don't think they believed you, Ron," she told him as they headed for Hagrid's hut and their Care of Magical Creatures class.

Ron shook his head and muttered, "I don't know why not."

"Possibly because it's you and it's me," she said by way of answer.  She waited until he wasn't looking to slip the note into her Runes dictionary; he'd claimed to have sent it and, even though he really hadn't, Hermione wanted to remember that he'd said he had. 

* * *

"Oh for heaven's sake," Hermione stared at the owl sitting on her plate.  "He's not going to stop, is he?  It's been months now!"

Parvati barely glanced up from her Divination charts.  "No, he's not.  Just send him a note saying you'll meet with him,"

"Or that he should find a way to prove his love by dying nobly," Lavender added.

"And get him to stop," Parvati finished.  "If another owl interrupts study group or lands on my bed again, Hermione, I swear I'll hunt him down for you."

Hermione rolled her eyes,  "The only reason the owl ever came into the dorm was because you said getting those letters at breakfast was making you 'positively ill'."  She fed the owl, one of the school's, a bit of toast and opened her letter. 

Ah! midst that proud and mirthful company
Send'st thou no wondering thought to love and me?
~Sonnet VI by Caroline Norton

Now for the long years when I could not love you,
I bring in recompense this gift of yearning--
~In Recompense by Eda Lou Walton

Confess you will be kind to me.
Give hopes of bliss or dig my grave:
More love or more disdain I crave.
~Against Indifference by Charles Webbe

Byron

"Looks like I'm getting desperate, Hermione," Ron murmured from behind her.

Parvati fixed him with an stare, "Ha, ha. We all know they're not from you, Ron."

"How so?" Ron challenged with a wink at Hermione.  She smiled back at him; baiting her dorm-mates was fun, in a way.

"Because you're you," Ginny grinned at her brother from across the table.  "And you just aren't the sort to send love letters to a girl."

Around the table, heads nodded.  Ron threw up his hands with a noisy breath. "That last note was delivered by my owl," he reminded everybody.

"So?" Dean riffled through his notes, making additional notes in his margins.  "You left him in the Owlery where anybody could have got to him." 

"He's my owl; he's only supposed to make deliveries for me unless I tell him otherwise."

"Pig'll do whatever anybody asks him as long as you give him an owl treat and pat him on the head," Harry told him. 

Hermione listened without saying anything.  Privately she thought that Ron would be the sweet sort who would think of sending love letters and it was her greatest unhappiness that he would never think of her when he thought of girls worth sending poems to.  "Harry's right, you know," she said, just because seeing Pig with that red inked letter had made her heart stutter foolishly even though she'd known he'd been left in the Owlery with the school owls.

Ron closed his eyes in defeat, "So nobody believes I'm sending them."

Hermione nodded.

"I've claimed to have written every single letter," Ron sighed, eyes still closed.

"Not the first two," Hermione corrected him, pleased to see that they were being ignored in favor of homework. 

With a snort, Ron cracked one eye open to look at her, "Hermione, if I'm going to say I wrote the last thirteen letters then of course I'm going to say I wrote the first two."

"Point taken," she agreed, tilting her head slightly to smile at him. 

Ron turned to look her fully in the face, "Do you believe I sent them?"  The look he wore made her pulse trip. 

"Certainly not," she told him, taking a determined drink of her pumpkin juice.  "But since you brought yourself into this, I have a question for you.  If you were writing me these letters,"

"Which I am," Ron said.

"And I told you to stop," she continued, ignoring him,  "Stop and leave me alone, would you?

He eyed her thoughtfully.  "That depends. Would you mean it?"

Not if it were you she wanted to say, but didn't.  Instead she said, "Well, you're my friend and I really wouldn't want you to go away.  But I don't even know this boy so, yes.  I'd mean it.  "

Ron shrugged.  "I guess if you told me to stop, and I knew you meant it, I'd listen.  But if I knew you didn't mean it, and I really fancied you, then I wouldn't listen at all.  In fact, I'd just try harder."

"But he wouldn't know I didn't," Hermione said, satisfied.  "So he will, right?"

Ron shrugged again.  "If he didn't know better, he would."

"Well, he won't," she said firmly.  Her heart was soft, however, as she tucked the letter into her bag.  Three months; it was nice of Ron to still be trying to pass the notes off as his.  It certainly had cooled speculation on the real author and Hermione appreciated that.  She told herself that one day, today even, she would use those bits of parchment for scratch paper in class...but not the ones that reminded her of Ron.  "Now I just have to find a way to get a message to him."

* * *

 "I prize thy love more than whole Mines of gold
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that Rivers cannot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee give recompetence.
~Anne Bradstreet--To my Dear and Loving Husband

Byron"

Ron was reading in a rich voice that would have been more at home on a stage than echoing down the hall to the portrait of the Fat Lady.  He was also, barely, in Hermione's opinion, holding back a laugh.

"Hold Pig still and stop snickering, Ron," Hermione tossed the new letter onto the table in front of the Gryffindor common room fire.  "It'll only take me a moment to write a reply."

Ron held the wildly hooting owl as she'd requested but he didn't stop looking amused.  "You're going to have to work hard to convince me that you want me to stop after a letter like this one, Hermione."

She glared crossly. "Don't start," she told him as she hastily picked up somebody's quill and took the poem from Ron, flipping it over to pen her own note on the backside.  "I'm just glad that he's used Pig again so I can tell him that I'm not interested and I want to be left, in peace, with my friends."

"You don't sound like you mean it," Ron chuckled as he helped her tie her reply to his owl's leg. 

She ignored him.  "Take this to the person who gave you the last letter," she told Pig, grabbing his beak and staring straight into his black, beady eyes.  "Take this directly to that boy, Pigwidgeon."  She released his beak and gestured for Ron to send him on his way.

Ron released his owl with a smile that quickly became a full-blown grin as Pig, instead of flying off, hopped along his arm to twitter madly in his ear.  "Well then!" he said brightly.  "Let's see what this says, shall we?"

Hermione snatched Pig and marched to the Tower windows.  "You," she told the bird in her hands, "have a job to do.  You can love Ron later."

"He's just going to keep coming back to me," Ron said as she tossed Pig out the window.  "You see?" he nodded as the tiny owl fluttered back into the room to nuzzle against his jaw.

"No wonder," she muttered, burying her face in her hands, "no wonder he used Pig.  He's the stupidest owl in the entire country."

Ron laughed, and Hermione glanced up to see him stroking his owl's feathers.  "You," he told her, "were the one going on about how clever he was to come and get Harry's birthday present from you."

"Apparently I was sadly mistaken," she moaned.  "Now what I am supposed to do?" she wondered as she sank into an armchair. 

It was a rhetorical question and she was surprised when Ron hunkered down in front of her, eyes serious.  "Look, Hermione, I'll take Pig up to the Owlery and see about making sure the right bloke reads your letter.  Will you be all right?"

"Sure," she answered, a smile tugging at her mouth.  "I'll sit here and bemoan my fate and throw things...just like I always do."

"I'm supposed to be the one saying nonsense," he patted her knee with a smile, the serious look gone.  "Haul out your Transfiguration notes; I've a question about the Animagus section we read the other day."

"Why don't you just ask Snuffles about anything you don't understand?"

Ron grinned  "Why ask him when you're right here?

"You think you're so clever!" she laughed as he slipped out.  "Right here indeed," she smiled.  How strange that Ron could make her run the gamut from anger to frustration to laughter in just a few short minutes, she thought with a shake of  her head as she took her notes out of her bag.  Of their own volition, her fingers snagged her History of Magic book and the summer letter with  the raspberry stains.  Fingering the stains, Hermione thought again that he would be the type to send love notes, when it mattered. 

* * *

"Post this morning, Hermione?" Ron was flipping through several massive tomes regarding cross-species transfiguration.

She glared at him as she set her bag under her seat and reached for the books on the table.  "Of course there was.  I have post every Tuesday; he's like clockwork."

"Too bad I have Quidditch practice so early on Tuesday, hmm?   I could help you keep watch for him otherwise." 

"I'm glad you do.  I don't want you there when I confront him, Ron," she said matter-of-factly despite the fact that her foot and Ron's were touching under the table.  It was nothing, just a touch of the toe of her shoe to his, but she'd long ago given up on being reasonable about such little things.

Ron pursed his lips as he looked up at her, a secretive glint in his eyes.  "I'll be there when you talk to him."

"No, you will not be."

"I bet I will."

Hermione shook her head at his persistence.  "The only way you'd be in the room when I talk to whomever the letter-writer is, is if I tell you about it beforehand.  Which I won't."

"I'm going to be there, Hermione," Ron grinned.  He held up a hand to stop her when she opened her mouth to tell him he had another think coming.  "Wait...let's just agree to wait and see."

"If you like," she tossed her hair back and smiled.  "But it won't matter because he won't be writing to me again."

Ron's hand dropped as his brows rose.  "He won't?"

Hermione nodded breezily, checking the book's index for 'animagus transfigurations, selection of form'.  "Mm-hm."

"You're certain?"

"I asked him to stop, didn't I?  Explained my reasons?" she flipped pages and ignored Ron's incredulous look.

"Wait a tic..." he placed one large hand over hers, stopping her from turning the pages and forcing her to pay attention to him.  "You tell him to sod off, you have your mates and that's all you want, thank you kindly, and you think he thinks you meant it even though you told me that you didn't mean it?"

She resolutely brushed aside the warmth that curled in her veins and glared at the boy causing it.  "I told you that I wouldn't have been serious if it were youHe, for one thing, doesn't know I told you that and for another thing, he's not you and so I most certainly did mean it; that means that he'll be leaving off on those letters."

"He said that?"  Ron asked.

Hermione decided not to notice that one finger was tapping softly against the back of her hand.  "Not as such, no."  It wasn't so much the tapping as it was the rubbing.  "I haven't read the letter yet, I had to go back to Gryffindor for another bottle of ink."  Every three or four taps that finger would rest against her skin and stroke it, just a little.

"Hm." Ron's fingers stilled, resting warmly over her wrist.  "So...for all you know, he might not believe you any more than I did."

Irritation made her pull her hand away.  "I'm sure he's agreed to stop sending me letters," she muttered as she fished the envelope out of her bag.  "You said he would since he wouldn't know any better."

Tears in mine eyes and sorrow at my heart.
If this be love, to live a living death,
Then do I love and draw this weary breath.
~Samuel Daniel--If This Be Love, To Draw a Weary Breath

Byron

Hermione glared at the offending parchment and then at Ron's expectant look.  "It just proves that you don't know everything, Ron."

"Said he'd love you anyway, am I right?"  Ron grinned. 

"You said he'd stop."  She told him as she tucked it away into the back pages of the book. 

"If he didn't know better, yes," Ron agreed with a self-satisfied nod.  "Are you going to leave it there?"  He gestured to the bit of parchment peeking out of the pages and Hermione quickly tucked it out of sight.

"No; I'll be checking this one out for my essay."

Ron's eyes darkened.  "Keeping it?" he asked quietly.  Hermione froze.  Saying anything other than 'yes' would be a lie and saying anything that wasn't a lie would be too much.  Her face betrayed her, she thought, or else Ron knew her to well because he sat back with a smile.  "Have you kept all of them, Hermione?"

"No," and she hadn't.  She'd sent the one back with Pigwidgeon.

Ron did know her too well.  "You have."  He was entirely too pleased with himself.

"You're entirely too pleased with yourself, Ron Weasley," she told him.   "It so happens that you honestly don't know everything."

Ron's grin threatened to crack his face.  "And that letter is your proof?  You'll pull it out again some day just to prove that I've been entirely wrong?  You'll keep it just to remind me of that?"

Well, yes.  But she didn't tell him that.  "Really," she muttered.  "Hurry yourself up or we'll be late to Potions."

* * *

"I feel like I haven't seen you in ages, Ron," Hermione sighed as she pushed the door open to the Prefect's Study. 

Ron shrugged and kicked the door shut behind him, "I agree.  You'd think that as Head Boy and Girl we'd run into each other every now and again.  Especially since it's term break."

Hermione groaned.  "It's certainly not much of a break.  I thought the work load for the O.W.Ls was tiring but it's nothing compared to this."

"Said the champion of studying," Ron remarked as he began Banishing the tables to sit against the walls. 

Hermione began to Summon the chairs into a rough circle in preparation for their meeting with the Prefects.  "It's not all the studying, though that's enough; the campaign for Elvish rights really took off this year.  S.P.E.W. has more members than ever and we're honestly close to a breakthrough, I think."

"I never had any doubts that you'd make changes," Ron told her as the last table flew to the center of the circle of chairs.

"Yes you did, you told me that nothing would ever come of it because the elves like being enslaved," she reminded him curtly. 

Ron pocketed his wand and waved off her claim.  "Which is sort of true.  They like to serve people even if the conditions of servitude aren't what they should be," which was, Hermione thought, as close as he ever really came to admitting he'd been wrong.  "But, knowing you, I knew that if you didn't give up then somebody, somewhere, was going to give in to you."

Blushing slightly, she dipped her head.  Why did he have to say such sweet things to her?  "Thank you."

Ron seated himself at the table and patted the chair next to him.  "Come sit by me," he entreated.  "There's a bit of time before the Prefects come and I really haven't seen you in days.  It's all that extra Quidditch," he said as she sat.  "I never, ever, thought I'd regret more Quidditch."

"But it's a wonderful idea, Ron," she told him earnestly, and it was.  "Having time-limited matches between the reserve teams has really been boosting everybody's spirits."

Ron shrugged, ears a telltale pink.  "Well, it was really just to give our reserve teams an extra edge," he shrugged. 

"It's still a good idea," Hermione said, watching his ears glow even more.  "In fact, it gave me an idea of my own."

"We're in for it now," Ron laughed. 

Hermione laughed too.  "Hush, it's a good idea."  She waited for Ron to gesture for her to continue, content to listen to him laugh to himself.  "Done?" she asked archly, just because she could.  "I thought that we could train the Prefects in the duties of the Head Boy and Girl.  Give them a head start for the next year," she explained.

"We don't know who'll be stepping into our shoes, Hermione," Ron pointed out.

"I know that; I've drawn up a schedule of teams..." she handed him the schedule she'd made and tapped the flow chart.  "Each Prefect will be paired with a Prefect of the opposite sex and from a different House.  I've arranged for them all to have two rotations, each with a different student and following us for a different set of our duties."

Ron studied the chart thoughtfully and Hermione studied him.  His hair was getting too long in the front, it was hanging into his eyes; somebody needed to push it out of his way.  "It's nice plan," he said, startling her into dropping her hand back into her lap.  "But there's one big problem."

"What's that?" she bristled.  She'd planned for every contingency. 

"Hermione, I've just said that I've been missing you for a solid week and now you want to have the Prefects barge in on the only time I've had to see you lately."

"Oh."  It was the best she could come up with on such short notice.  "Well, I..." It was obvious he wasn't joking and Hermione had no clue how to respond to what he'd said aside from the drying of her mouth and the sweating of her palms.  "I guess..."

"I guess somebody else has missed you too," he said seriously as an owl landed neatly on the table.

Hermione knew herself to be non-violent.  It didn't stop her from wanting to hex the owl into the next week.  "Lovely," she muttered through clenched teeth.  "I'd hoped he'd given up...I haven't had a letter yet this week."

"Missed it?" Ron asked, opening the letter for her.

"Not at all," she said, unrolling the parchment and holding it between them.

Room after room,
I hunt the house through
We inhabit together.
Heart, fear nothing, for, heart, thou shalt find her--
Next time, herself!--not the trouble behind her
Left in the curtain, the couch's perfume!
As she brushed it, the cornice-wreath blossomed anew:
Yon looking-glass gleamed at the wave of her feather.
 

Yet the day wears,
And door succeeds door;
I try the fresh fortune--
Range the wide house from the wing to the centre.
Still the same chance! she goes out as I enter.
Spend my whole day in the quest,--who cares?
But 'tis twilight, you see,--with such suites to explore,
Such closets to search, such alcoves to importune!
~Robert Browning, Love in a Life

Byron

Ron read it aloud along with her.  It was nice, she thought, to hear their voices together that way.  "I reckon he feels exactly the same way I do.  Looking for you and not finding you, having a bit of fun with the chase," he said when they finished the letter.

"That's not exactly comforting," she muttered, "seeing as how he  probably doesn't see me every day unless he's stalking me"  Hermione dropped her head onto the table.  She wished Ron really did feel the way the letter writer did. 

"Well," Ron said, patting her back, "he's in love.  Besides, I have classes with you every day."

She laughed, lifting her head and elbowing him in the side.  "You're not still trying to maintain that you're the author of these letters, are you?"  She really wished he'd stop.  Or maybe never stop. 

"I'm not going to say I didn't," he said as the first of the Prefects slammed into the room, complaining violently about Hufflepuff's chances against the Ravenclaw reserve team.  Hermione used the distraction to tuck the letter into the binder with her meeting notes...it reminded her that Ron had missed her, too.

* * *

"Blast," Hermione cursed softly as the nib of her quill broke.  The dratted essay was due this morning and she'd realized only now that she'd forgotten to annotate her footnotes.  True, it wasn't necessary to explain why or how she'd chosen to use Hairy Snout, Human Heart as a reference but anything else was only half-done.  "Harry, do you have a quill you can lend us?"

Harry didn't even look up from his essay.  "I'm using my last one.  Why didn't the school supply list tell the seventh years to bring triple the number of quills?  I've gone through at least that and we're not even at Easter."

"Why didn't the list tell us to bring an extra brain just for storage?" Seamus chimed in, eyes closed and nearly sleeping where he sat.  "I can't believe how tired I am.  I can't believe we haven't even made it to breakfast yet."

Hermione refrained from telling him that he was tired because he'd been up until nearly three finishing the essay he'd put off and the surprise Herbology homework.  "Ron, have you got?"

Ron nodded absently, eyes closed, as he chanted the days' Potion ingredients to himself.  "I should, try the front pouch on my bag."

There were a surprising number of things in the front pouch of Ron's book bag, but none were quills; Hermione huffed in irritation and began to search amongst the books in the inner pouch.  "Honestly, Ron, being organized would help you study," she told him as she came across a half-eaten Honeydukes bar and homework from the previous term.

"Dittany, moly, it's organized enough for me," Ron told her.  "Wiggentree bark,"

"Flobberworm mucus."

"Shut up, Hermione. Asphodel." 

She laughed and pulled a ragged looking quill from the bottom of his bag.  "Thanks, Ron, I'll get it back to you after classes."  Ron tilted his head slightly, eyes still shut, still muttering Potion ingredients.  She took it for agreement and went in search of her essay and the reference book she was using to annotate her notes.  Which was gone.  "Blast and bother," she muttered, slapping the quill down next to her parchment.  "Has anybody seen 'Wizarding World Wonders?"  There were several headshakes, but Hermione didn't notice them; the quill she'd set down was calmly writing on the table.

"You lent it to me, Hermione," Ginny called, "I'll bring it down."

Hermione paid her no mind at all.  Familiar red ink was standing out on the light wood of the table; the words she'd just spoken were written in a, by now, familiar hand.  "What in the world..." she whispered and watched as the quill dutifully copied them down, dropping to the floor to write.  She picked the quill up from the floor when it finished, turning it in her hands, studying it closely.  "ViaVoice Quill," she read and had to tighten her grip as the feather threatened to leap from her hand.  "Our spelling is faultless, our handwriting lustrous; for those suffering cowardice, you remain...anonymous."   She dropped the quill in shock, barely noticing as it wrote out it's own advertising copy and added a tiny 'created by Flourish and Blotts'.

"Here's your book, Hermio--what's wrong?" Hermione might have noticed Ginny's concern if she hadn't, at that moment, realized exactly what the quill had really spelt out before her.

"Ronald Bedivere Weasley!"  Everybody in Gryffindor jumped, there was, distantly, the sound of several things being dropped and one thing breaking.  Hermione didn't hear them.  Her target had turned to face her, eyes as large and round as milk saucers.  "You horrid, spiteful, manipulative,"

"Hermione, I can explain," Ron took a step towards her, hands outstretched, voice pleading.  

"Unfeeling, underhanded, unbelievable excuse for a--"  He didn't let her finish; Ron clapped one large hand over her mouth, and used the other to take hold of her wrist and tug her to the portrait hole.

"Ron!" Ginny sounded shocked.

"Blimey!" Harry sounded faint.  "It's the same writing as those love poems.  It is, look, it's all over the walls!" 

"Merlin, he's right!"  It was the last thing she heard before she was out in the hallway and the Fat Lady was swinging shut behind them.

Ron didn't bother to take his hand off her mouth as he began talking; a good tactical maneuvers, Hermione granted, as she would have dearly liked to have finished what she'd been saying in the common room.  "Hermione, I can explain.  Honestly, I can."

"Trouble, dears?" The Fat Lady looked concerned.

"Not if I can do this properly," Ron told her with a wince.  "Could you, would you please go visit or something?  I'd like to talk to Hermione alone, if I could."

The Fat Lady smiled benignly at him, "Of course dear.  You are aware that you'd have better luck talking to her if you uncovered her mouth?"

Ron smiled, hard edged and grim; it was a look Hermione hadn't seen since first year and she knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they'd talk whether she wanted to or not.  "If I could be sure she wouldn't start screaming again, I'd do it in a heartbeat."

"Oh, that was you, dearest?"  Ron nodded earnestly as Hermione glared and the Fat Lady pressed a hand to her chest.  "Goodness, I'll be going right along then, won't I?"

Hermione yanked Ron's hand away from her mouth as the Fat Lady bustled out her frame.  "I had every right...every right to scream and say those things," she hissed.

"You know," Ron sighed, ignoring her, looking at the empty picture frame.  "As often as I imagined this moment, it's hard to believe that I didn't think of this."

"I bet you didn't, you lowlife creep," Hermione snapped.  "Snickering to yourself in the Owlery, having one off on me for months.  It must have been--"

Ron placed one finger against her lips and one against his own.  "Shhh," he motioned to the door, "do you want them to hear every word?"  He drew his wand and pointed it at the door.  "I'm going to lock it, so they can't come barging out.  Do you know a spell to make it so that they can't listen in on us?  I really, really, don't want to have this conversation with an audience."

She glared.  And relented when she looked into his eyes.  "Tacere."  She turned from the door, arching one eyebrow as she pocketed her wand. 

"Ta, Hermione."

"You're not welcome."

Ron shook his head. "Look, I don't know why you went through my bag,"

"There weren't any quills in the pocket," she protested, stung and wondering what he'd thought she'd been doing.

"Sure there were; they're in the bag with the acid pops, so I don't mix them up with my sugar quills."

Hermione scowled.   "I've never--"

"I'm sure not," Ron spoke over her. "My point is, you were looking in my bag and if you'd have looked a little more you'd have found another of those letters you've been getting."

"Which I knew once I saw what that quill was doing, you heartless bastard," Hermione reached out, wanting to scream again, wanting to hit him as hard as she possibly could or throttle him or hex him to the moon.

Ron caught her hands before she could do more than pound once, solidly, on his chest.  "Whoa!" He gathered her hands, holding them tightly in his own, pressed against his chest in the spot where she'd hit him.  "Hermione, please.  Please, just let me talk and if," he swallowed and she felt his hands tremble over hers.  "If you don't think anything of what I have to say then you can pretend I'm Malfoy and bat me about as much as you'd like."

"I've never, ever, wanted to hit Draco Malfoy as much as I want to hit you."

Ron laughed, mirth making his eyes sparkle.  "Some part of me is very proud of myself for accomplishing that," he told her.  "The fact that it's blazed out in five-foot high, 'stunningly scarlet' letters on the wall in the common room does my heart good."  He laughed again, "Part of it."

She laughed too, caught by his easy joy, the flush of amusement in his cheeks.  "Only you would think that," she said.  Only Ron would really mean it because only he would...he was the only one who'd...the one...she felt tears well in her eyes.  Her friend Ron had been the one...

"Don't cry, Hermione.  Come on, don't," he shook his head, bringing one hand up to touch her cheek, but dropping it before he did so.  In fact, he dropped both her hands and backed off several steps.  Despite everything, she missed his closeness.  "Do you remember what happened at King's Cross this past summer?" he asked, eyes intent.

"When at King's Cross?  When Crabbe hexed Neville pulling in?  The check at the barrier?"  A lot had happened, as it seemed to every year.

Ron gestured vaguely, flustered; apparently he'd never considered how to start this conversation when he'd thought about having it. "After that, after.  When my Mum was there, when Harry's uncle arrived.  What happened then; can you remember?"

Hermione rubbed her forehead, her thumb massaging her temple.  "At...okay.  Harry's uncle arrived and we said goodbye to him and he left.  Then we..." she stopped as Ron held up one hand.  "What?"

"We said goodbye to Harry," he said, "and I told him to write and that we'd have him at the Burrow before the summer ended.  And you..." he nodded at her.

"I hugged him and told him to be careful and to write to me the moment he arrived home."

"You hugged him and kissed him on the cheek and told him to write and Harry left," Ron agreed.  "Then we said goodbye because Mum and Ginny were ready to go.  How'd that go?  What happened?"

She didn't see what it had to do with those letters, but she went along with him; it was like a puzzle, trying to figure out what he was trying to say; her anger was draining away in the face of this strange discussion.  "I hugged Gin and your mum.  Your mum told me to watch out for myself and write if there was any difficulty and then you and I said goodbye.  I told you to be careful and write, the same as I did Harry."

Ron backed up another step before nervously taking two forward.  "Yeah.  You put your hand on my arm and smiled and told me to take care of myself and write so you wouldn't worry."

His skin had been very warm, she remembered and nodded.  "You told me to have a nice summer."  Ron nodded and opened his mouth; it triggered something in her memory.  "Wait, no.  You said my name and I asked you 'what' and you...that's when you said to have a good summer."   She turned over the significance of that pause, those odd few seconds when her hand had been on him and he'd been looking at her and not saying a word.  "You didn't say something to me," she said softly, not even really needing to see his wry, confirming smile.  "What didn't you say?"

"I'm not sure," he admitted softly.  "Part of me wanted to ask why you didn't hug me or kiss me on the cheek the way you did everybody else."  Without meaning to, Hermione took a swift step back; Ron's mouth twisted into an line that would have been a smile if it hadn't been so unhappy.  "Yeah," he said with a shrug.  "There was this other part of me, a big part, that was going to say 'I miss you'."

"You...?"

Ron, mouth still in that sad line, turned and strode angrily to the window  and back.  "It was mad, Hermione.  Barking.  Mum was talking to Seamus's mum and your dad hadn't even turned up to collect you yet, and I missed you.  I missed you and you hadn't even left.  I didn't get it.  I didn't understand how I could feel that way; it was just  you."

"Oh, thanks," she couldn't help the roll of her eyes.  "'Just you, Hermione' makes everything okay."  It was one of the phrases she hated to hear most.  Ron laughed even though his hands were shaking when he pushed them though his hair.

"But it didn't.  It being 'just you' didn't help.  It made things worse than before.  And I tried to tell myself, to say to myself, what, are you daft?  You'll miss being nagged to do homework when there are months yet to do it?  You'll miss carting around a mountain of books because somebody has to bring reference books to study group?"

"I don't..."

Ron ran his hands through his hair again, gripping handfuls of it.  "Just shhhh and wait, alright?  Let me get through this."  She huffed and he smiled again.

"I kept thinking of that, you know," he said quietly.  "I kept thinking about that noise you make when you're annoyed and the way your mouth lifts up at the corner when you tell us we shouldn't have waited on the assignment; it's like, maybe you'll laugh at us or maybe you'll smile and watch us sweat it before you help us.  I thought about your hair for Ptolemy's sake!" He threw up his hands, as though it were somehow her fault.  "About how you always take on huge projects like the Elves and the group and the Order and you make me and Harry help you without even blinking an eye."

"Ron, I...I..."

"I like your eyes," he said, almost to himself.  "I like the way they look by firelight and the way they keep saying things that you're not saying.  That's why Malfoy really backs down, you know.  Because your eyes don't ignore him; they tell him where to get off before you blast him into more bits than he can count."

She didn't try to say anything, too stunned, too beyond words, to even attempt it and Ron went on.

"Because it was you, just because it was you...I didn't know how to say anything about it without looking like a total prat," he waved one hand at the hallway they were standing in, at the space between them.  "There were all these new feelings and I still had all the old ones; the feelings that really don't miss being asked if I've done my Astronomy calculations and looking up study-guides for first years."

Hermione found her voice, sort of; it wasn't a voice she'd ever heard herself use before.  "Why didn't you just say it out the way you are now?"

Ron leaned against the wall and tipped his head back, staring at the ceiling for long moments.  Finally he said, "I didn't know how or what or anything, Hermione.  How do you feel like being best friends and feel like being in love with the same person?  How do you do that without mucking it up?"  He thrust his hands into the pocket of his robes and Hermione could see him swallow.  "I had to find a way to tell you.  I knew that if anybody could figure this thing out, you could.  And you could tell me how to do this thing with you.  How to be your friend and love you all at the same time.  I knew you could, Hermione, if only I could tell you without wrecking things.  I looked for spells, at first.  I found some that would make you say whatever I wanted you to say," he fidgeted against the wall but wouldn't look at her.  "But I couldn't.  Sometimes I hate what you have to say to me, but I'd rather hear what you have to say than make you say things you don't mean."  He glanced over and smiled briefly, "There was even a potion I found that would have had us screaming 'forsooth' at each other."

"But, Ron, at dinner, at the Burrow, I said," she expected the interruption, and got it.

"Harry and Ginny," he nodded.  "I thought about that, I did and I think that they had it easy.  Gin's always liked him and he never knocked out a Troll with her and they weren't what we are."

"Is that why you didn't ever sign your name?" she asked.

He looked at her then.  "But I did.  All but the first three, I did.  That last night I thought that maybe...up in Ginny's room I thought that you were going to k--hug me or something and I decided that I'd give you a more of a clue and then you'd know and you could find a way to tell me yes or no without everybody knowing."

"But you didn't," she protested.  "You never put your name on them and you even lied...well, not lied, I guess, but you made it seem that you were lying when you said you wrote me those letters!"

Ron laughed, "You still don't get it?  Byron, Hermione.  Byron.  By Ron."  He laughed again at look on her face, a happy laugh and he pushed away from the wall, exuberant.  "I thought you'd get that....especially since after those first ones it wasn't him and they were all Muggles.  I kept saying I wrote them so that when you figured it out, nobody would care; they'd either know the truth or not care about the letters one way or the other."

Hermione felt her cheeks flush.  "That was very clever of you, Ron."

"If it were really so clever, you'd have figured it out sooner," he shrugged.  "But this from love, not vanity proceeds," he said suddenly, eyes narrowed in concentration.  "You know who writes, and I who 'tis that reads.  Judge not, Hermione," he met her eyes, held them with his own and she felt her heart swell.  "Judge not my passion by my want of skill: many love well, though they express it ill."

She knew this one; her mother had had it engraved on a plaque for her father, years before Hermione had been born.  "Anne Finch," she whispered.  Delight lit Ron's eyes.

"Yeah."  His grinned shyly as he reached out a hand to her.  "All right?" he asked as took her hand in his. 

Hermione smiled, it trembled and that seemed to make Ron's smile a little bolder.  "Of course," she whispered.

Ron glanced down at their clasped hands and she watched a smile flitter on his lips. "All right?" he repeated softly, turning his hand to twine their fingers together; their palms pressed together softly, a warm, cupping heat held between their two hands.

"Perfect," she answered, because it was.  It was exactly.

He squeezed her fingers with her own and took an audible breath.  "Hermione Granger, I know we've done this nearly every day of every year since we were eleven years old but...will you walk down to breakfast with me?"

"Everyday, if you want," she said, squeezing back.  Ron smiled suddenly and it was so unutterably sweet that she had to touch it; just her fingers at the corner of his mouth.  She felt his smile grow as he nodded and the heat between their hands grew as he drew her towards the stairs.  "Wait!  Ron, we have to unlock the portrait hole!"

Ron kept walking, tugging on her hand when as she slowed to turn and look behind them.  "It's not locked."

"What?"

He smiled cheerfully at her as he pulled her back to walk at his side, "It's not locked.  I drew my wand and said I was going to lock it and then I had you cast the Silencing spell...they never heard if I cast a spell or not.  If they can't open the door, it's not our fault."

"Ron!" she stopped dead in the hall, staring at him.  A familiar look set on his face; stalwart determination to argue his point, the preparation to refuse to go back and tell everybody that the door was open, general amusement and expectation.  Anticipation.  They both knew this; knew she'd scold and he'd refuse to be cowed, he'd laugh and she'd fold her arms, smiling even though she was serious and not about to be talked out of her position.  This was them.  "Let's go down to breakfast," she said instead with a grin and a shake of her head.  Ron's fingers tightened on hers and stayed tight.  She didn't mind.

"You know what I'd love right now?" he said suddenly.  "I'd love to see their faces if they don't get out and McGonagall has to fetch them out.  I'd love to see the looks when they find out that they've been sitting around, trapped by an unlocked door.  That'd be great.  Let's do that to the Slytherins as well, Hermione."

"Ron!" 

And they went to breakfast, together.

* * *

Author's note: Anne Finch, 'To a Husband'.  All poems used without permission...but it's not like Ron cared and most of them are dead. 

Another Author's note: So.  There we have it.  The first sappy, non-poetic poetry-fic in which nobody gets kissed or says 'I love you'. 

Final note: Yes, HPGuy, I know we disagree on Divination and Aritmancy...but I'll stick to my guns.  Arithmancy was the father of Numerology.  Thanks for your beta. 

I lied: Final note is...I wrote an omake ending for this puppy.  It's short and it probably sort of sucks.  I might post it at my site or else I'll give into my own need for feedback and beg Zsenya to tack it on to this story as another chapter. 

 

AND HERE IT IS!!! :) Zsenya

***

Disclaimer: JKR.  ^.^  Used without permission, but I think she'd approve.

Dedication: To everybody at the SQ!  We all deserve a bonus ending every now and again.

Omake, by the way, is what the little bonus cartoons for Japanese anime are called.  They often take place before the credits or between episodes--they have little to do with the episode itself, but they sure are fun.  Sue me, I'm an anime fan. 

Byron's Omake ending! 

And they went to breakfast, together...

(sorekara!) (And then...)

They had to drop hands to eat breakfast.  It was all right, Hermione thought; the knowledge was there that she could hold his hand again if she wanted to.  Right after breakfast, if she chose.  She blushed down at her pumpkin juice.

"Something wrong, Hermione?" Ron asked and she glanced to the side, blush deepening as she shook her head.

"No, everything is fine," she said and bit her lip.  Carefully she nudged his knee with her own under the table.

It was Ron's turn to flush.  "Oh," he said.  Under the table his knee nudged hers back and then stayed, pressed cozily against her own.  "So, uh...your essay for McGonagall...you weren't finished with it?  That's a first."

"Hardly," she scoffed.  "I was making a notation on my footnotes."

Ron dropped his fork and stared at her.  "You were making footnotes on your footnotes?" he asked incredulously. 

"I was explaining a reference choice," she corrected, smiling.  Their legs were now pressed together from their knees to the soles of their shoes.  "Knowing how and why I chose a particular reference adds a new depth to my work and expands on certain theories contained in the essay."

"It's extra credit, isn't it?" Ron laughed, hooking his ankle around hers.

"It's not!" she protested, kicking his foot with her free leg.  "It's about a deeper understanding."

His eyes were sparkling as he swung his foot, bringing hers along with it.  "Yeah.  I can believe that."

"YOU!" Dean was leading the other Gryffindors into the Great Hall.  "Ha.  Ha. Ha.  Very funny joke," he said as they reached them.  It was too bad, Hermione reflected, she'd rather liked having the table to just herself and Ron.  She trapped his foot between her own, just in case he was thinking about pulling away now that everybody was around them.

Ron shot her a wink and wiggled his foot, swinging it again.  "What?  What joke?"

"Not locking the door, for one!" Lavender glared.  "We tried eight different Unlocking Charms, with nothing happening, before Dennis Creevey fell though the door by accident."

Hermione bit her lip to keep from laughing.  "But Ron never did a spell.  Surely you noticed that before I put the Silencing Spell into effect."  There were several more glares, most tempered with various degrees of self-depreciation, before Parvati spoke.

"Well, we're not falling for that practical joke with the quill," she said with a huff.  "Honestly, it's worn thin." 

"It was good, and all that," Neville chimed in, "I mean, we all believed it at first.  Then we realized that you'd never, ever, let Ron drag you around, Hermione, and we knew that you were in on it."

"What?" Ron sounded as if he couldn't believe what he were hearing.  Hermione understood the feeling. 

"And we've left the ink for the two of you to clean up," Harry said. 

Ginny made a face, laughing, "That was really creative of you, Hermione, yelling like that.  You never shout."

"But it's not a joke," Hermione told them, looking around the table.  "I accidentally found the quill Ron's been using to write all those letters; I figured out what was going on and then Ron," she felt her cheeks go pink but determinedly kept her eyes on her friends.  "Ron explained why he'd been sending me those letters."

Nobody, it was apparent, believed a word she said.

"Really," Ron backed her up.  "I've been saying all year as to how I'd been sending those notes." 

Seamus nodded exaggeratedly.  "Sure, sure you have.  Because you fancy Hermione beyond all reason."

"I do!" Ron protested.

"He does!" Hermione agreed. 

Parvati rolled her eyes.  "I'm sure.  And I'm certain that you're desperately in love with him, too."

"I am!"

"I should hope she is!"

"We've been playing footsie all morning!"  Although somewhere amidst the disbelief they'd stopped.

"Riiiiiight," the last time Gryffindor had been so solidly behind one idea had been the Triwizard Tournement.  Hermione shared a hopeless look with Ron.  Was nobody going to believe them?  Ron spread his hands helplessly.

Sometimes there were times for privacy and proper manners, and sometimes there wasn't.  "Ron," Hermione said softly and held out her hand to him.  His eyes were confused but he took her hand with surety.  She leaned over and kissed him, using his hand for balance and contact; this was the hand that had grabbed hers after the Quidditch World Cup, the hand that had been on her shoulder when she'd accidentally placed cat hair into Polyjuice Potion.  It was something familiar in this new, unfamiliar world of soft lips under her own and quiet breath against her cheek.

"Hermione," he said softly, awe in his voice, as she pulled back from him.  His eyes were something dazzling and bright and strange and wonderful.  She smiled and watched a smile settle onto the mouth she now knew by feel as well as by sight.  There were clamorous discussions breaking out across Gryffindor table, most of it still disbelieving, though some were now reconsidering their former assumptions.  All around the Great Hall, heads and conversations were turning in their direction.  Hermione didn't care and as Ron's thumb stroked across the back of her hand she stopped noticing altogether. 

//
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