The Sugar Quill
Author: Hildigunnur (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Leap  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.

Leap

Author's note: Wow, my first fic on the Quill in two years. My thanks to Zsenya for beta-reading and Halla (aka LCL) for her initial read-over. This fic was written for the second Ron ficathon which snoopypez hosted on Livejournal.

 

Hermione shifted her weight from her right leg to her left. There were many things she would rather be doing than standing in a post office queue but her mother had pleaded with her to go and send back some dentist equipment which had been dispatched incorrectly. Since she was on a holiday of sorts, she didn't really have anything better to do. In all honesty, Hermione felt that lying in bed and feeling sorry for herself was more important than standing in line, waiting while one of the clerks tried to convince some old crone that she had to state an exact amount; he couldn't just pay her 'this week's pension' when he didn't know how much her pension was.

Leaning against a column, Hermione allowed her mind to wander to the real reason she was waiting in line at a post office, why she was back to her parent's place - and no, it didn't have anything to do with the wrong type of drills. It had more to do with her being devoid of all common sense and allowing herself to take to heart some silly office gossip.

-*-

It began with Hermione coming to work on Monday after Valentine’s Day, feeling nice and relaxed for she had hardly left her (and Ron's) bed all weekend expect for to take a bath or two. As soon as she walked through the office door, her co-worker Susan Bones (now Susan Bones-Smith) greeted her rather enthusiastically.

"So, any news?" Susan had asked, as if she was waiting for Hermione to tell her that she had just been elected Queen of the World.

Hermione had been a bit taken aback and made a mental check as to whether she’d forgotten an important event, like a birth or wedding. 

"News about what?" she had asked.

"Stop being so coy, show me the ring!" Susan had demanded.

The surprise must have shown on Hermione’s face; Susan started to laugh.

"Oh, you thought it was a secret! No worries, I saw Ron at the jeweller's. That's why I know. Can I see the ring?"

At that moment a thousand things had gone through Hermione's mind. None of them involved discussing the issue further with Susan. She had looked at her watch in a rather theatrical way and pretended to be late for something. For the remainder of the day Hermione had hidden in at the reference library, knowing that Susan wouldn't bother to look for her there. Around lunchtime, Eddie Carmichael, who had always had a bit of a crush on her, had found her and congratulated her a little bitterly.    

She had been in a frazzled state of mind when she finally got off work and home. Part of her had wanted to confront Ron on the spot but something had told her that asking him in a subtle way would be wiser.

So when Ron appeared in the kitchen later, she had played it calm, suggested something to eat for supper and then started making small talk about work, working up to asking him about being at the jeweller's.

"Susan mentioned she saw you in Diagon Alley just before the weekend, outside Alberich's." 

"Oh … erm … yeah," Ron's ears had turned bright red. "I was just there looking for ... a birthday present for … Mum." Hermione's heart had sunk. Molly's birthday was in late October. Though she had felt like hurling the frozen chicken that sat on the counter at Ron, she had just smiled politely and said, a little bit too cheerfully, 

"Oh, how nice. Let me know before you buy anything. I want to be in on the gift."

Ron had looked relieved, but it made her heart sink. The rest of the evening she had worked to maintain a cheery façade while debating on the inside what she had to do. Finally she had gone early to bed, lying on her back, waiting for Ron to come to bed and fall asleep. Then she had sneaked out of bed, gathered a few necessities into a bag and Disapparated.

-*-

Hermione snapped back to reality as a creaky voice in the speaker said: "Go to cashier number five please."

After finishing her business at the post office she headed back to her parents' house, taking her time wandering the streets. This would be the ninth day she owled in sick at work. The guilt over not being at work doing her job shrank in comparison with the temporary relief of not having to face Susan, Eddie and the others. Susan would probably smother her in fake concern and facing Eddie would be even worse. He happened to be one of those Ravenclaws always asking her why she hadn't been sorted into Ravenclaw and when he was drunk at office parties he kept telling her to jilt that 'loser Weasley' because she deserved someone with brains. Hermione snorted scornfully at the idea. As if she would ever want to date someone who was as full of himself as Eddie Carmichael.

Then there was Ron. She had received half a dozen owls from him, asking her when she'd be back and to tell her that he missed her. All she had written him was that she'd be staying with her parents for a short while. He didn't really press her for any further answers which made her feel relieved and vexed at the same time. It was so hard to read between the lines. Was he hiding something? The obvious thing was of course to go back and confront him. Which was what she usually did. They had always been able to tell each other everything; one of the benefits of having been friends for so long. But now she was shirking confrontation.

Could it be that she was shy about even approaching the subject of marriage? They had been together for almost seven years and a lot of their friends were married already, like Harry and Ginny - who of course had found the perfect solution to it all. They'd gone on holiday in Greece and used the chance to elope. They’d returned all tanned (well, Ginny was really more freckled than tanned) and radiating of happiness. Hermione envied them though she could never see herself eloping. It was probably some misplaced sense of duty as her parents' only child to have a proper wedding. 

Still deep in thought she entered the house and noticed right away that her mother was in the kitchen, having a cup of tea.

"Is that you, darling? Back from the post office?"

Hermione grunted affirmatively as she zipped down her winter boots.

"Thank you, darling. Want a cup of tea? I also have some biccies."

Slumping down in the chair opposite her mother, Hermione grabbed one biscuit absentmindedly and dunked it into the tea cup her mother had poured her.

"Something bothering you?"

"Not really." She wasn't ready to go into things with her mother. Her parents were used to her coming home every now and then. Most often it was for more pleasant reasons but a few times she had made a break for her childhood home when she'd walked out of a fight with Ron.

Her mother looked at her but didn't ask any further and kept on reading the newspaper she was reading. Occasionally she would comment out loud on the articles and news items she was reading, mostly to herself but one or two she meant for Hermione to hear.

"Hermione, listen to this, 'Aside from the fact that those who have their birthday on Leap Day can only celebrate their real birthday every four years, the day is special for several things. For instance, it's more likely that Leap Day will fall on a Monday than a Sunday because how the repetition pattern has fallen. Also according to folk beliefs, a woman can ask for a man's hand in marriage on Leap Day. In some countries this was adopted as a law.'"

Nothing of this was new to Hermione so she was just half-listening to her mother.

"Typical of them to allow this only on Leap Day. Not quite in the spirit of gender equality, is it?" Mrs Granger added.

Hermione stopped listening.  Leap Day was two days away.   That would give her enough time to plan…

-*-

Stepping into the humid heat of the gym was a bit of a shock for Hermione after the bitter cold outside. She unbuttoned her winter jacket as she pondered where Ron could be this Sunday afternoon. It was his routine to go to the Ministry's gym every Sunday afternoon and work out for a good while. The problem was that she didn't know where to find him. She sincerely hoped he wasn't back in the changing room.

She didn’t see Ron, only a couple of sweaty wizards who worked in the Department of Magical Transportation doing some lifting.

She began to panic. By the time she reached the door to the swimming pool hall her heart was beating fast and the palms of her hands felt sweaty.  It didn't improve when she realised she didn't have to look further for Ron. Even though he was underwater, she recognised him right away. There was the red hair, darker because it was wet, and his long limbs moving in the water. He was doing a crawl and turned his head away from her.

Leaning on the towel rack she watched him do a couple of more laps. She felt disconnected from him, watching him like that, as if he was a tropical fish in a tank.

Suddenly he stopped and almost immediately hauled himself up from the pool. Grabbing a towel lying nearby, he strode towards her without saying a word.

Not being able to read his face, she prepared for the worst. The worst being him walking past her without saying anything. Even the fact that he was wearing nothing more than swimming trunks didn't register with her.

When wet arms wrapped around her and she was enveloped in a tight hug, she could hardly believe it.

"I've missed you so much," Ron whispered into her ear and then moved his hands up to tilt her face to his. He kissed her with something she could only describe as intense longing.

It didn't wash away her insecurities but it filled her with more determination to go through with her plans.

"I was hoping that you would allow me to make my absence up to you tonight." She looked at him, chewing her bottom lip. A familiar spark lit in his eyes.

"I would love nothing more," he said as he moved his hands down to her waist.

"I was thinking I might cook dinner and then we would have the evening to … ourselves."

"Perfect. There's stuff I need to finish up at the office, so you can prepare dinner without me interfering." He released her from the embrace and looked apologetically on the water marks he'd left on her clothes. She couldn't help but smile as she rose to her tip-toes to kiss him good-bye before she Apparated home.

-*-

She had expected their flat to be a bit of a mess but everything seemed to be more or less in its place. Granted, Ron hadn't bothered to do a Dusting Charm, but compared to what she had expected the place was pretty much tip-top.

This came as both a pleasant and an unpleasant surprise. A part of her obviously wanted him to be so helpless without her that he couldn't be bothered to clean up. It was an ugly, selfish part of her, she admitted, but she panicked, the fear of him realising he could be without her grabbing her again. How would she be able to ask him to marry her? He might possibly say no and she knew that would completely devastate her.

Sitting down at the kitchen table she tried to will herself to feel braver but it didn't work. She simply could not ask him, but that would mean a relapse to the nagging doubt that had tortured her over the last couple of weeks.

Her eyes wandered to the bottle rack stacked with bottles of French red wines, elderflower wine and Firewhiskey. If she were a tad tipsy, then it might be easier to ask. At least it wouldn't harm to have just a little bit.

-*-

As Hermione was cutting some tomatoes and sipping on her Firewhiskey, she felt strange. This was perhaps the first time she was drinking without being at a bar or a party.

After having concentrated on the cooking for a while, she looked at the bottle she was drinking from. How on earth had she managed to drink almost half the bottle without noticing? She really didn't feel all that drunk; a slight lightness in the head, but nothing else. Hardly enough to suppress her inhibitions. With some hesitation she poured another glass as she finished making the salad.  

As she put the salad on the windowsill, she looked at the time. It was at least half an hour until Ron came home. Time to kick back and relax. She took her glass into the living room, lit a couple of candles and turned on the wireless. At that moment, her plans seemed to be going perfectly …

-*-

There was someone looking at her. She was heavy with sleep and didn't feel like opening her eyes. Her head was throbbing and her mouth felt dry.

"You awake?"

"Uhmm," she grunted, throwing her arm over her face to shield it from the daylight.

"Come on, I'll make you a potion for the hang-over. You owe me to not sleep the whole day."

All day? Hermione suddenly remembered what she'd been about to do the night before. Suddenly she was wide awake and her mind was racing. Nothing had gone according to plan and to her mortification, she'd probably passed out. With a groan, she hid her face in the pillow.

"Darling, you can't be grumpy today. It's my birthday!" Ron said playfully as he gently touched her shoulder.

Blimey!

She had completely forgotten that since she had been so focussed on asking him to marry her. Now she felt twice as bad. He seemed to sense what she was feeling. The grip on her shoulder became firmer.

"Hermione, what's wrong? It's not just a hang-over, is it?"

No, she wasn't going to cry now. Ron didn't have to know about her stupidity, but if she started to cry she would probably end up revealing everything.

"Please tell me what's wrong."

That proved to be her undoing. She turned over to him and buried her face in his chest and sobbed loudly as she tried to explain everything: what had caused her to go away in the first place, her plan and how she had screwed it up.

He didn't interrupt her, simply held her and stroked her hair and occasionally kissed away her tears. As her sobs subsided he pulled her up so as to face her.

"Oh, Hermione. As incredible in every way as you are, you sometimes allow your need for perfection to run away with you. I'm sorry I didn't tell you why I was at the jeweller's. I broke the clasp on the bracelet you gave me and I was embarrassed because it broke when I was playing Quidditch."

"Could we be any sillier?"

"Well, we make a perfect silly match then." 

"But I win because I forgot about your birthday."

"You always have to be better than anyone else. But I can beat you at something now." There was a certain glint in his eyes. "You can give me a birthday present here and now … and it will be something you haven't done before."

She looked at him curiously as he took her hands into his own large hands.

"Hermione, will you give me an answer to a question I long to ask you? Will you marry me?"

Her first response was to laugh with sheer happiness.

"Of course! You knew I'd say yes, after everything I told you. Yes, yes, yes. I love you, you bastard. Here, now you have your birthday gift. Now, where's the potion you promised to make?"

He beamed at her before leaning forward to catch her lips in a kiss.

Fin

 

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