The Sugar Quill
Author: Seriana Ritani  Story: Firelight  Chapter: Default
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Firelight

Firelight
By Seriana Ritani

***
For Cara
***

It was homework night. For at least one evening, every other worry had to be put aside in favor of studying -- the assignments had piled up and there was no escape.

Harry, Ron and Hermione had claimed the armchairs around the fire, but Ginny and a couple of her friends had taken control of the hearthrug, where they all sprawled in a mess of books and parchment. Crookshanks lounged on the back of Hermione’s chair, washing his paws. The rest of the common room was filled with chatter and activity, but within the orange half-circle of the firelight everything was warm and calm, comfortable and quiet. The crackling of the fire, the soft rushing of smoke up the chimney, the rustle of paper, and an occasional sigh were all that could be heard.

Hermione glanced up at Ron as she inked her quill. He was slouched down in his chair as far as he could physically go, his long legs stuck out in front of him and his stockinged feet resting, ankles crossed, on a worn footstool. There was a hole in his left sock. He had an overstuffed pillow on his lap that he was using for a bookrest, and he was holding the Transfiguration book open with both hands so that his elbows rested on the chair arms and stuck out like grasshopper legs. He’d tucked his quill behind his ear and now had an ink stain on his neck.

Hermione pressed her lips together to keep from laughing at him. Good old Ron. Years ago, she’d never imagined having a friend like Ron. She’d assumed that she’d gravitate towards people like herself -- intelligent, hardworking, talented girls with a low opinion of athletics. Instead, she’d fallen in with Ron Weasley. And now she couldn’t imagine anything more comforting than sitting next to him as she did her schoolwork, just enjoying his company and his unshakable friendship.

Ron wasn’t remotely the friend she had imagined. He wasn’t intellectual -- sometimes she thought the only way to get information into his head was to beat it in with a good stout club. He wasn’t dedicated: he seemed to go out of his way to avoid challenging his brothers’ reputations in academics. And he certainly wasn’t polite. Ron always said the first thing that occurred to him, whether brilliant or foolish, endearingly sweet or incredibly rude. But the things he said were always absolutely honest -- Ron was about the world’s worst liar -- and they were always just the sorts of things that Ron would say. No one could ever hope to copy his distinctive, individual dialect. There were days she was secretly happy even to hear him put his foot in his mouth, just for the distinctive Ron-like way in which he always did it.

There were days when she hated him, too. It varied. Some days, she saw his stubborn streak as die-hard loyalty, and other days it just meant he was an insufferable mule-headed git. In the same way, his attempts to protect her from Malfoy were brave and chivalrous, but his attempts to protect her from Viktor Krum were overprotective, nosy, and completely uncalled for. He had some basis for thinking her to be completely mental. There were days when she thought he was right. Ron just had that effect on her. Her feelings for him were always intense -- if she was happy with him, then he was wonderful, the best friend in the world, and if she was mad she was both furious and heartbroken. She’d never been able to feel apathetic about Ron.

That was probably where a lot of the fighting came from. Hermione was an only child -- she’d never been argumentative, simply because she’d had no one to argue with. But Ron was one of seven, and fighting was as natural to him as talking. It had taken her a long time to understand that. An argument didn’t always mean he was angry: it could mean he was bored, or hurt, or that he just wanted attention. She’d learned not to take it personally, and to enjoy the battle of wits. Usually. There were those memorable, weeks-long, never-speak-to-you-again furies that hurt her more deeply than she’d ever admit -- the Crookshanks fight, the Firebolt fight, and that horrible incident the night of the Yule Ball, just to name a few. Ron had said some unbelievably hurtful things in the course of those, and she’d said things just as awful right back. Any other friendship would have disintegrated in the face of even one such row.

And yet there they both sat, at peace with one another, still friends. They’d gotten over it, every time. And if they could get over those, then what in the world could ever break them up? What fight in the world could be worth losing Ron? Goodness, what would life be like without Ron?

She tried to imagine it, and failed. A life without Ron’s unfailing loyalty, mule-headed stubbornness, reckless bravery, biting humor, or unintentional charm? Impossible. Ron belonged in her world. He was in almost every Hogwarts memory, and turned up in every speculation of her future. She could more easily imagine a world without the color blue. Well, no, orange. Ron was more of an orange: loud, garish, sometimes irritating, but as comforting, honest, friendly and familiar as the firelight.

She shook her head at him, a secret and affectionate smile sneaking onto her face. Ron saw the movement out of the corner of his eye and looked up.

“What’s so funny?” he asked, so quietly that she had to watch his mouth carefully to make sure she understood.

“You are,” she replied at the same volume, still grinning. Then, feeling this was rather vague, she added, “You’ve got ink on your neck.”

He felt under his ear where the quill tip had been resting and looked at the black marks on his fingers. “Oh, yeah?” he retorted. “Well, you’ve got cat hair on your robes.”

She reached up to brush it off her shoulder, then realized that her robes were perfectly clean. “I do not!”

“Gotcha,” said Ron, smirking.

Hermione tried to scowl at him but couldn’t quite manage it. His silly, self-satisfied grin sent a little shiver of happiness up her spine that was too pleasant to ignore. To hide the smile that was fighting to get out, she turned her face back to her book and made herself pick up from where she’d left off.

Ron tried to do likewise, only to realize he’d just forgotten everything he’d read. Oh, well. He’d known he wasn’t going to get anything done: he was too warm and comfortable and at peace with the world. He had problems enough to worry about, but they were all going to wait until morning whether they liked it or not.

He arched his back, stretched his toes, and yawned, then twisted his head sideways to pop the joints in his neck. Hermione had gone straight back into study mode, and now looked as though nothing short of a bucket of frigid water would get her to look up from her Ancient Runes book -- she was bowed over it, perched on the edge of her chair, quill in hand, both feet flat on the floor and elbows tucked tight against her sides, silently mouthing the words as she read.

Ron chuckled at her, not loud enough to disturb the quiet around the fire. If that wasn’t a classic Hermione pose, nothing was. Sitting perfectly, with perfect focus, taking inch after inch of perfect notes, terrified that someone would catch her not being perfect and denounce her as a regular kid just like the rest of them.

What in the world did he hang around with Hermione for? He had enough perfect people to deal with -- five brilliant older brothers, Ginny the Uncatchable for a younger sister, and Dark-Lord-Defeating, Snitch-Catching, Unbelievably-Famous Harry Potter as his best friend. By all rights, he should have had his fill of overachievers long ago. Why did he clutter up his life with yet another perfect person to make him feel small?

Because . . . she didn’t. Hermione often lectured, teased, stopped speaking to him, cried, or shouted harsh things in anger, but she’d never once belittled him. The opposite, really. She made him feel, well . . . important. He was the person she turned to in trouble, to be brave when she was scared. Ron had never considered himself particularly brave, but Hermione seemed to think he was, and Hermione was almost never wrong so he could take her word for it.

She was almost never wrong, but she was still a pain sometimes. A lot. She lectured too much. She got the strangest ideas and clung to them like grim death. She got upset about perfectly random things, and cried more than Ron thought must be normal. She just didn’t understand about Quidditch. And whenever he or Harry got hurt, she fussed.

On second thought, Ron took this last off the list of her faults. His mother’s fussing was unbearable, Madam Pomfrey’s fussing was tiresome, but Hermione was different. For no reason that he could understand, it was nice to have Hermione nearly worried to distraction about him, imagining worst-case scenarios and offering unhelpful advice. Nothing made a broken leg or dragon bite or slug curse or concussion easier to bear than the thought that Hermione was worried about him -- that she considered him important enough to worry about.

She did lecture too much. But even if she lectured, she always came through in a pinch. It didn’t seem to matter how much she disapproved of his abysmal study habits or how long she’d spent on her own work that day, she would still sit down with him and go over his homework until he had it right. And no matter how much she disapproved of rule-breaking, and no matter the danger to her life or her grades, she was always there to face any danger. Hermione was true as steel -- she would never abandon a friend in trouble.

She did get fixated on strange ideas . . . SPEW immediately sprang to mind, along with the jinxed-Firebolt scare and a number of others . . . but, in all fairness, all of her crusades were rooted in compassion. She couldn’t bear to see anyone suffer, and she would go to any lengths to protect them. And she didn’t understand about Quidditch, but she was still there, every game, cheering her friends on no matter how much she might have preferred a few quiet hours to study.

And as for the seemingly random fits of distress, fury and tears, that she refused to explain to him no matter how genuinely confused he was . . . well, he guessed that was just normal girl behavior. And she was allowed to have some, considering how little she was like other girls most of the time. Other girls traveled in packs, giggling and chattering, encouraging boys to make fools of themselves. They were mysterious, spiteful, unpredictable, and sometimes downright vicious creatures. Hermione was none of these things. She was frank, caring, honest and brave. She was, in short, as different from his understanding of ‘girls’ as it was possible to be. Of course she wasn’t a ‘girl’. She was too good for that. Why she hadn’t taken it as a compliment was beyond him.

He’d explain this to her, eventually. When the subject came up. There was no hurry -- they had the whole rest of their lives to work out exactly what they thought of one another. For now, it was just nice to have her sitting one chair over, radiating Hermione-ness like the fire radiated heat, trying to be perfect, failing, and ending up more likable for it, keeping him company as they did their homework in the warm half-circle of the firelight.

//
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