The Sugar Quill
Author: Seriana Ritani  Story: Thank You  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.

***

***

Thank You
By Seriana Ritani and Hypatia

***

Notes: The authors would like to thank Emily, for knowing us too well, and the tea kettle for boiling in all the right places.  Copyright J. K. Rowling et cetera. 

***

Ron was always more comfortable in an environment with a healthy sense of dishevelment. He wondered absently why the Healers didn’t leave some dirty laundry or forgotten books, maybe a dirty dish or two, lying around the lobby. The infuriating dullness of the room was giving him the creeps. He wanted to kick over a couple of chairs, just for some atmosphere, but he guessed his mother wouldn’t take very kindly to that.

Of course, the room wasn’t the real problem. It was just adding insult to injury. The real problem was Hermione.

Why hadn’t he seen this coming? In retrospect, there had been hints all summer. Why hadn’t he noticed something, done something? Why in Merlin’s name hadn’t Hermione said something? She was so strict about other people eating their vegetables and doing their homework and getting enough sleep. Why hadn’t she been just as careful with herself?

She was waiting for me to notice; to say something. She always says I’m thick: this proves it. All right, Hermione, you won. You happy?

Sighing, he stared down at the floor between his feet. How long had it been, since she’d collapsed? An hour and a half, maybe. Suppose no one told him anything for hours to come? He was going to run mad.

He was wearing his latest Weasley sweater again, although it was June and blazing hot outside. The sleeves were already starting to get too short. The pale scars on his wrists peeked out from under the cuffs. Irritated, he tugged on the sleeves and leaned back in his uncomfortable chair, resting his head against the wall.

Scars caused all the problems in their lives. Harry’s scar was nothing but trouble, what with the mind-reading and the pains and all. Ron’s new scars were ghastly. Everyone said they weren’t that bad, that they’d faded and would continue to fade, that they were nothing to be ashamed of -- Fred and George had even expressed jealousy -- but they were all lying. They were trying to spare his feelings, and they were failing. He’d worn long sleeves all summer.

That’s what they’d been talking about -- scars. Hermione was the first to get fed up with him, and she had cornered him in his bedroom and was telling him off.

“We all have them now, Ron. They show we’ve been through a battle. They’re something to be proud of. You’ve heard Charlie brag about that Ridgeback that gave him the burn on his arm. He says it’s dead useful for picking up girls.”

He turned on her, out of temper and in no mood to be lectured. “Useful for picking up girls?” he demanded, shoving up his left sleeve and displaying the pale crisscrossing slashes that ran from wrist to elbow. “I dunno, Hermione, what d’you think? Attractive, are they?”

She looked back at him, her face set in that look of diehard stubbornness he’d learned not to challenge. “They say you’re a hero,” she snapped. “Just put on a t-shirt, Ron, for heaven’s sake. Stop moping. You survived a battle. You deserve to show that off. At any rate, whether you like them or not, you’re stuck with them, and you’re going to run out of long-sleeved shirts if you keep on like this.”

She hooked two fingers through the neck of her shirt and pulled it down and sideways, showing the front of her shoulder. A great pale gash, at least half an inch wide, ripped across her skin and disappeared below her neckline.

“I’ve got one too,” she snapped, her eyes daring him to interrupt her. “We’ve all got them now. I’d show it off if I could, but I can’t.”

Ron didn’t know which to stare at: Hermione in a temper, or the great ghastly scar of the attack that had nearly killed her. It was twice as wide as the biggest one of his, and, from reports of the fight, went clear across her body.

“It isn’t hurting me,” she said, her tone a little calmer now that she realized she’d rendered him speechless. “And yours aren’t hurting you. It’s just your silly vanity, Ron Weasley. So put on something sensible and come downstairs to help your mum with lunch.”

She let her shirt return to its normal shape and waited for a response, no longer angry but no less determined.

Ron knew better than to try to fight her when she got fixated on something like this. With a sigh, he said, “Turn around.”

She turned and looked at the wall of his bedroom while he dug a t-shirt out of his dresser and swapped it for the cumbersome sweater. It was a hand-me-down of Charlie’s, the color faded and the seams fraying, but it was one he rather liked. His arms were now bare to just above his elbows, and the scars skittered across them every which-way like uncooked spaghetti spilled across a floor. He tied the arms of the sweater around his waist -- Just in case.

“Okay,” he said when he was decent again. Hermione turned and surveyed him, from his uncombed red hair to his ratty, hole-filled stockings, surveying the scars with the same level of interest she afforded to his freckles.

“You look much more comfortable,” she pronounced at last.

“Don’t feel it,” he grumbled. This was only half-true: while having his arms bare made him feel nervous and vulnerable, there was no denying that the room felt about five degrees cooler. 

“You will,” she said, absolutely sure of herself.

She turned towards the doorway. Ron followed her, still trying to re-accustom himself to feeling the air on his arms. “There are days when I think you must be about the bossiest person ever born, including my mum.”

“Well, you’re absolutely hopeless, Ron. Somebody’s got to . . .”

She suddenly trailed off and paused in the doorway. Ron pulled up short. “What?” he demanded.

“Nothing,” she said, but her voice sounded oddly breathy.

“Did you just remember something?”

No, I . . . oh.” She turned to face him, one hand straying up to press her chest. “Oh . . .”

“Are you okay?”

“Yes,” she said, trying to take deep breaths. “I think I just need . . . oh . . .”

With her free hand, she reached out to grab the door frame. Her hand missed it entirely, and she stumbled, before her legs collapsed underneath her.

“Hermione!”

She was still awake: her breath was coming in shallow, shaky pants, and her face looked gray. Her eyes were wide, staring in confusion and fear. She opened and closed her mouth, but couldn’t manage to say anything. One hand was clutching her throat, as if trying to rip it open and let air in, while the other pressed down on her chest in desperation.

Ron jumped over her and ran to the top of the stairs. “MUM! DAD! COME QUICK! SOMETHING’S WRONG!”

In a stampede of footsteps that set Mrs. Black shrieking again, everyone in the kitchen -- half the Order -- came charging upstairs, Molly Weasley in the lead. “What? What’s happened?”

Hermione!” Ron pointed to her, prostrate in the hall. “She fell and I don’t think she can breathe . . .”

“Let me through!” Shoving students and adults alike, Snape forced his way onto the landing and dropped to the floor next to Hermione while everyone else crowded around. He got his arm under her shoulders and lifted her up, supporting her head with his elbow to ease what little breathing she could manage. It was an awkward thing to arrange: she’d gone strangely stiff, and her hands were shaking violently.

He spent barely two seconds glancing over her before he began fishing around in his pockets and pulled out a little silver bottle. He uncorked it with his teeth and spat the cork in Ron’s general direction, then, shifting Hermione to his knee, supported her head with one arm while forcing the bottle halfway down her throat.

She choked, and blue-green potion went trickling down her face.

He took a firmer grip on her and poured the rest of the potion into her mouth, then threw the bottle away and forced her mouth closed. “Come on,” he hissed as she began to thrash, “Come on, you stupid girl, swallow it . . .”

“Let her go!” Ron hollered. “You’re choking her!”

When no one listened to him, he jumped at Snape, but Bill grabbed him by the back of his t-shirt and pulled him away. Hermione was thrashing now, her hands clawing feebly at Snape’s arms and her head twisting in a feeble attempt to free herself from his vicelike grip. Ron kicked Bill in the knee, only to be seized by Charlie and held immobile by them both.

“He’s gonna kill her!”

“Shut up, Ron!”

Finally Snape released her mouth, and she gasped in one deep, complete breath. Her body relaxed, and her eyes drifted closed as her head fell against his arm.

Snape let out his breath as well. “She needs to be seen by a Healer immediately,” he snapped. “Give me something to keep her warm.”

Molly pulled her knitted shawl off her shoulders and offered it. Snape wrapped it deftly around Hermione and stood up, bearing the sixteen-year-old in his arms. “The hippogriff.”

Charlie shoved Ron at Bill and went to fling open the door to Buckbeak’s room. Snape started down the stairs, soon followed by Charlie with Buckbeak’s chain in both hands. The hippogriff was confused, and starting violently, but Charlie spoke gently to him in some foreign language and got him to come down the stairs.

Bill let go of Ron as soon as Buckbeak was out the front door. Ignoring Mrs. Black’s portrait, about to give itself an aneurism, he charged out into the square with everyone else close at his heels.

“I’m coming, too!” he announced as Snape swung a leg over Buckbeak’s back and wedged his knees in behind the wing joints. Hermione was sitting sideways in front of him, still out cold.

“No,” said Snape. He fished his wand out of his pocket and disillusioned all three of them. They melted into the background of the houses across the square, but Ron could feel the gust of wind that Buckbeak’s wings stirred up as he took off.

“Mum!” Ron hollered, turning on his mother. “We’ve got to go, too! She could be dying!”

“Don’t you shout at me, young man!” Molly ordered. “You don’t even have any shoes on! Go on, lickety-split.”

‘Lickety-split’ did not do justice to how fast Ron got his blasted shoes on. Without bothering to tie the laces (he was, in fact, perfectly willing to show up at St. Mungo’s barefoot), he ran to rejoin the group in the kitchen, who were assembling cloaks and wands and all talking at once.

“You’d better stay here, Mundungus: it’ll look fishy if we all come at once. Remus, I need you to call Hermione’s parents. Ginny, dear, have you even combed your hair today?”

“I’ll go flag down the Bus.”

“Will someone shut that blasted portrait up?”

“Do you have enough fare for everyone, Molly?”

“We should be all right . . .”

“Here, take something to eat. There’s no telling how long you could be there.”

“Oughtn't someone to tell Harry? He’ll blow his top if he’s left out of this.”

“Good idea. Remus, would you . . .”

“Of course, if Arthur will call the Grangers.”

Absolutely. But you’d better tell Professor Dumbledore first.”

“See you in a bit.” Bang.

“Bill, just throw those apples into a sack or something, we’ll take them along . . .”

“The bus is here!”

“Oh, good . . . Ron, tie your shoes, you’re going to trip and break your neck.”

“Hang on: where’s my wand?”

Throughout it all, Ron could only think one thing: What if Hermione dies? She’s not going to die. But what if she does?

Before he knew quite what was happening, he and Ginny were being herded onto the Knight Bus, with their mother and Bill right behind. The bus pitched and swerved its way through the streets of London, but Ron barely noticed. Hermione’s gray, gasping face was still frozen in his mind. It was the most awful thing he had ever seen. Except maybe the acromantula colony in the Forbidden Forest. Maybe.

He’d sprinted across the lobby to the main desk, demanding of the girl behind the counter, “Hermione Granger, she just came in.”

“Granger . . .” said the girl, flipping through some parchments. “Granger . . .”

“She’s about yea high and she has bushy brown hair and she showed up with a slimy old git and a hippogriff.”

“Granger.
She’s with the Healers at the moment. Have a seat, and they’ll come and tell you as soon as they know anything.”

That had been an hour ago. He checked his watch: more than an hour.

His mother was slicing up the apples they’d brought with them, more to give herself something to do than because anyone was actually hungry. Bill was wandering the room, looking at the portraits. Ginny was curled up awkwardly in another chair with her eyes closed, but she was breathing too shallowly to actually be asleep. And Ron was seated, staring at the celling, having pulled the sweater back on to offer him some security against all the confusion and fear.

“Mrs. Weasley.”

Ron’s head snapped up. Professor Snape was standing in the doorway, looking just as out-of-temper as usual but with a faint slump in his normal ramrod-straight posture. He was tired.

Severus!” His mum jumped up, as did Ron and Ginny. “What kept you?”

“The girl was near dying. I was enlisted to help with her potions, and there was quite literally not a second to spare.”

Was near dying?” Ron demanded.

“She is alive.”

Alive? Is she okay? What happened? What potion did you give her? How -”

“I would be able to tell you a great deal more,” Snape snarled, “If you would hold your tongue long enough for me to draw breath.”

Ron wanted to shoot back some scathing reply, but Snape had the information he wanted and if he wanted to know anything then there was no choice but to do as he was told. He hated losing to Snape. Greasy git.

“The scar tissue from Miss Granger’s injury was pressing against her heart,” said Snape. “She has, in all likelihood, been experiencing chest pain and shortness of breath for some time, but did not have the sense to mention it to anyone.”

She wouldn’t have wanted anyone to worry. She kept quiet to protect us, you slimy ugly scum, and don’t you dare say she doesn’t have any sense.

“The healers have her stabilized for the moment. Before she leaves this hospital, however, she will need some very invasive procedures to free her heart.”

“But she’s going to be all right?” asked Mrs. Weasley.

“She has an acceptable chance of survival.”

“Acceptable?” demanded Ron. “How much of a chance is ‘acceptable’?”

“Mr. Weasley, if you pose one more useless question I will have you serving detention during the start-of-term banquet.”

“Hush, Ron,” his mother snapped. “Can we see her?”

Soon. Someone will come find you when she’s settled. Please excuse me.” With a cursory bow to Ron’s mum, Snape left.

Molly Weasley took a long, deep breath and closed her eyes.

“Ron?”

Ron wheeled. Harry had come in through the main entrance, with Professor Lupin at his heels. He broke into a jog towards his friend, which didn’t look like it was very easy to do considering he was wearing pants about six sizes too big for him, cinched in with a belt and rolled up at the cuffs, and his shoes were similarly oversized. In short, he looked ridiculous. The sight gave Ron some modicum of comfort.

“I came as soon as I could,” said Harry as he stopped next to his best friend. He sounded very responsible and heroic, and realized it, because he rolled his eyes and corrected, “Well, no, I actually just came when Professor Lupin told me to. How’s Hermione?”

“She’s alive,” said Ron. “Something about her scar pressing on her heart. Snape says they’ve still got to do some sort of procedure.”

And?”

His words were ‘acceptable chance of survival.”

“How much of a chance is ‘acceptable’?”

“No idea. Slimy, ugly old cretin.”

“Yeah.”


Harry gave him a wry smile, and Ron returned it. That was the nice thing about Harry. Ron never had to explain things like ‘I am very worried about Hermione’ to Harry. Harry just understood, and didn’t ask questions.

“I’m sure she’ll be all right,” said Ginny, looking between the boys’ downcast faces.

“If you were sure, you wouldn’t bother saying so,” Ron pointed out.

Ginny shrugged. “It just seemed like the thing to say. I’m actually really scared, but I thought I’d better not mention it.”

Ron smiled a little at his sister’s frankness. “Yeah, you’d better not, or you might freak Mum out worse than she already is.”

“You hush, Ronald Weasley,” said Molly, in a tone that suggested she wasn’t paying the slightest bit of attention to what he was actually saying. “It’s good to see you, Harry dear.”

“Hey, Mrs. Weasley,” Harry answered. He and Ron moved off to a corner of the room where they could talk in peace. Molly talked to Remus with Ginny listening in to see what she could pick up.

None of them really got a chance to converse, however, because suddenly people started showing up. Ron’s dad arrived with the Grangers in tow, followed by Tonks and Kingsley who’d just gotten off work, followed by Professor McGonagall. Everyone seemed to want to greet Harry and interrogate Ron, so talking had to be postponed.

Finally, a Healer turned up. He was about forty-five-ish, tall and thin with thick graying hair and a sort of Dumbledore-like look of secretive confidence about him. “Mr. and Mrs. Granger? I’m Healer Pomeroy.”

Hermione’s parents both shook his hand. “Hermione?” Mrs. Granger asked, choking a little. “Will she be all right?”

“She’s not out of the woods yet, but we pulled her out of a very close scrape and we have every reason to expect she’ll continue to respond well to treatment. She’s a very resilient girl. We’ll know more after we’ve done some more work, and tried to reduce the scar tissue.”

“Can we see her?” asked her father.

“Of course. I’ll show you her room. She’s not awake yet, but that’s all for the best.”

As Hermione’s parents followed Healer Pomeroy out of the room, Ron went after them, only to be caught and held by Tonks. “Easy, Ron. Your turn’s next. Give her parents a chance to see her.”

Reluctantly, Ron watched the door close behind them and then returned to Harry’s side.

“If you want,” said Harry hesitantly, “I’ve got this.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a corner of silvery fabric. Between the lightness of the tissue and the bagginess of his pants, it was impossible to tell there was anything in the pocket at all.

Ron shook his head. “I guess her mum and dad should see her first.”

Harry nodded and tucked the Cloak away.

“How’s your summer been?” Ron asked, by way of passing the time.

“Rotten. Dudley’s set up a sort of gym in a corner of the living room and whacks away at his punching bag all day long. It’s disgusting to watch.”

“At least it’s a punching bag these days, and not you.”

“Mostly thanks to the dementors, I think. They probably scared him out of ever messing with me again. Who’d’ve thought they’d be useful?”

“Yeah, that’s weird.” Ron hesitated a moment, then screwed up his courage and asked, “How is it . . . I mean . . . Sirius, and . . . are you okay?”

Harry regarded him, lips pressed together, and didn’t say anything for a long time. Ron was ready to kick himself for being such an inconsiderate prat and bringing the subject up at all.

Finally, Harry swallowed and said, faintly but firmly, “I’m all right.”

Yeah?”

“Yeah.”


They didn’t talk any more. Somehow, this didn’t seem the time for Harry to start demanding the League standings he’d been missing.

Finally, another Healer appeared in the lobby. “You can come and see Miss Granger now,” she announced, “But don’t wake her, if you can help it. She needs rest, and no excitement of any kind.”

“Of course,” Remus answered for everyone. He turned to Harry and Ron with an understanding smile. “Let’s let the boys go first.”

The corner of Ron’s mouth twitched up in what he hoped would pass for a grateful smile. He and Harry slipped through the crowd of adults to follow the Healer down to the small private room where Hermione was sleeping.

Hermione’s mother had pulled a chair over next to her bed, where she sat very still with one hand on the blanket. She was a nice sort of lady, although she didn’t look a thing like Hermione -- she had dead straight dark blonde hair, and her face was rather angular. Hermione’s father, who didn’t seem to be able to sit still, was the one she took after. His hair was short enough to be curly, instead of frizzy, but it was undeniably the same color and texture, and his face was the same shape as his daughter’s.

Hermione was fast asleep with several thin blankets spread over her and her hands lying on top of them. Someone had replaced her t-shirt and trousers with a plain white robe with short sleeves. Her face had returned to its normal color, and it was hard to tell there was anything wrong with her at all.

“Hello, Harry. Hello, Ron,” said Mrs. Granger as the two boys hesitantly approached Hermione’s bed.

“How is she?” Harry asked.

“I’m afraid you probably understand that more than I do,” she said with a wry smile. “Hermione’s tried to explain magic to me, but I’m afraid I haven’t any idea what she’s trying to say most of the time.”

“Join the club,” said Ron.

Mrs. Granger brushed a few strands of Hermione’s thick, textured hair off her forehead. “We’ve always been so happy that Hermione is a witch. Even when she talked about Stones and snakes and escaped murderers . . . I’ve always trusted her good judgment to keep her safe. Suddenly I’m realizing that whatever you’re all involved in is bigger than anyone’s judgment. Suddenly I’m scared.”

“We’re all scared,” said Harry. “Down there, in the Department of Mysteries . . . it was the scariest thing that’s ever happened to me.”

“Except the spiders,” said Ron.

The door opened again, and the room was suddenly crowded as Ron’s parents, Bill, Ginny, Lupin, Tonks, Kingsley, McGonagall and Mudnungus all came inside. Ron found himself suddenly up against the far wall, with Harry next to him, and a half-dozen adults between them and Hermione. Everyone was speaking very softly, but it got loud nonetheless.

But over all the noise, Ron could still hear Hermione’s faint, “Ugh . . .”

Ron stood on his tiptoes to see over Tonks’s shoulder as Hermione tossed her head wearily back and forth. “Peh . . . peh . . . peh . . .”

She was trying to spit, he realized as her mouth worked in strange shapes and the muscles in her neck twitched in distaste.

“Hermione?” Hermione’s mother reached out and put a hand on her face. “Hermione, sweetheart, are you awake?”

Mmm . . . Mum?” Hermione dragged her eyes open and blinked once or twice, as though she were out of practice. “No more potions . . .”

“Not right now, darling. Just lie quiet. You’re in the hospital.”

Hermione did as she was told, and lay still with her eyes open for a while. Then she asked, “Where’s Ron?”

“Here!” Ron said it louder than he’d meant to, but he didn’t want someone else telling her to lie quiet and not worry about him. He shoved past Tonks and made his way up to the other side of Hermione’s bed. “I’m here.”

There was . . . something. Ron wasn’t too good at identifying his own emotions, but there was definitely some intense feeling associated with the thought that he was the first person she asked for.

She reached out her near hand to find his. At any other time, it would have been a strange and personal gesture, but here Ron knew she needed some way of compensating for the fact that she could barely talk.

She pulled weakly on his sleeve. “Sweater . . .”

Hermione!” Ron hissed, aghast. “You just about died, and you’re still worried about my stupid sweater?”

She glared at him.

“You’re mental.” He continued grumbling as he pulled the sweater off and dropped it on the floor. “Absolutely mental . . .”

He felt rather than heard an intake of breath from a few of the people in the room as they got a good look at his arms. He refused to look at them, glaring instead back at Hermione. “Happy now?”

“M-hm.”
She nodded and sighed, sounding absolutely exhausted.

“Goodness’ sake,” said a new voice. An Apprentice Healer carrying a glass of something elbowed his way through the crowd until he was standing next to Ron. “We should have put you in a bigger room. I have something for you to drink.”

Hermione tossed her head weakly sideways. “No more potions.”

“It’s only water. It’ll get some of that awful taste out of your mouth.”

Hermione looked up at him and nodded her consent. With a steadiness that came from long practice, the Healer helped her to sit up a little and gave her the cup, helping to support it as she drank.

“How are you feeling, sweetheart?” Hermione’s mother asked when she’d finished.

“Fine,” said Hermione. Her voice was hoarse and unsteady. She smiled a little and then said, “Awful.”

“Had you been having chest pains for a while?”

Hermione nodded.

“Why didn’t you say something?”

“I didn’t want you to worry. I looked it up, but . . .”

Hermione’s mother sighed. “My brave girl.”

I haven’t a bit of sense.”

“No, you haven’t,” said Ron.

“It appears,” said yet another voice, “That everyone and their owl has beaten me to the party.”

Everyone turned their head to see Professor Dumbledore standing in the hallway since he couldn’t get inside the room. People started trying to rearrange to let him in, but Dumbledore raised his wand. “Allow me. Engorgio!

The walls stretched. In less than three seconds, the room was thrice its original size, and now boasted a good number of comfortable-looking sofas. With some relieved sighs and a renewed murmur of conversation, most everyone found somewhere to sit. Harry and Hermione’s dad finally made it over to stand by Hermione’s bed, and Dumbledore joined them.

He very gently took one of Hermione’s hands in both of his. His face was more serious than Ron had ever seen it. “Miss Granger, I wish I had something more to say than ‘I’m sorry.’ I know how hurt and frightened you must be, and I only wish I had done something to prevent it.”

Hermione looked up at him, and Ron saw moisture start to well up at the inside corners of her eyes. “Professor,” she rasped, “I chose to go down there. I knew the risks.”

Dumbledore nodded. “I’ve heard many say that, and it gives me little comfort . . . but much pride.”

He drew his wand, and with a graceful flourish pulled a bunch of flowers, complete with vase, out of thin air. He set them on the table by Hermione’s bed, then engaged the Grangers in conversation, leaving Harry, Ron, and Hermione alone to talk.

“Harry,” said Hermione, smiling at him. “It’s so good to see you.”

“I’m sorry, Hermione.” Harry looked her over and smiled bitterly. “I guess I can’t do much of anything right.”

“If you blame yourself,” she said, softly and taking deep breaths between phrases, “I will curse you . . . into next week.”

“You couldn’t curse him into next week if you tried,” said Ron. “We’d better get all the teasing in that we can, before she gets better and can actually do stuff to us again.”

Hermione made a sound that was the beginning of a faint laugh. She took Ron’s hand again. “I’m sorry I scared you.”

“Nah,” said Ron. “You didn’t scare me.”

She raised her eyebrows.

“Okay. You scared me a little. Some. A lot.”

Her fingers squeezed his, and he squeezed back, just to prove that he was still as strong as ever and wasn’t shaking in terror. “I’m just glad you’re going to be okay.” If she’s okay, he thought, but didn’t say it.

“Me, too,” said Harry.

She smiled at them both, then asked, “Did anyone bring my homework?”

Hermione!

***
The moment Ron closed his eyes, he saw it again. Hermione choking and twitching, her face pale, the potion trickling down her face . . . then Ron realized he was choking, too, because he wanted to scream and couldn’t . . .

His eyes snapped open, and after a few seconds he realized he was staring at the ceiling. Hermione’s room was empty and quiet. People had gone, promising to visit again tomorrow, and those who remained had gone up to the tea shop for something to eat. They’d asked him if he wanted to come, but by then he’d already been half-asleep.

He didn’t sit up for a long time, half-afraid some nightmare thing would find him if he moved. When his brain cleared and he convinced himself that this was unlikely, he stood and stretched his back. He hated sleeping in the middle of the day. He hadn’t had much choice, though. The crash after his adrenaline rush had knocked him over like a ton of bricks.

Hermione was still asleep. Ron went over to her bed and sat down in the chair Mrs. Granger had been using. It occurred to him that even though they’d been friends for nearly five whole years, he’d never really seen Hermione sleep. He’d seen her asleep, of course, usually passed out from exhaustion with her face in some textbook, but he always woke her up without another thought. And he’d seen her Petrified, but that wasn’t the same thing at all. For the first time, he was just sitting, watching her sleep, and finding it strangely interesting.

He wondered if everyone breathed that slowly when they were asleep. He could see her chest rise and fall, but in between the motions there seemed to be an unnaturally long pause. At every one, he thought, What if she stops? What if something’s wrong? and each new respiration brought a corresponding wave of relief.

He wondered, too, what it was like to have hair as long and thick and bushy as Hermione’s. He wondered if it made her neck too hot in the summer, or kept it warm in the winter, or got in her eyes, or if she could bunch it up under her head and use it for a pillow. He wondered what she saw on the back of her eyelids when her eyes were closed, and if she dreamed about schoolwork, and if she knew that she had a freckle behind her left ear. He studied the little pink holes in her earlobes and wondered how much it had hurt to get them, and if she thought the hurt was worth it to be able to wear earrings at the Yule Ball. He wondered why she didn’t wear them more often, or if she had plans to ever wear any again. They had been nice earrings. And it was a shame, really, to get a hole jabbed in your ear and then only use it once.

And then he wondered why her hair was brown but her eyelashes were black. He then wondered if his eyelashes were red -- he’d never really looked. And if they were red, did they just blend into his skin so it looked like he didn’t have eyelashes? And was this a physical trait even more ridiculous than his freckles, and if so, had Hermione noticed it? He wondered if she’d ever watched him sleep the way he was watching her now, sometime when he’d been incapacitated in the hospital wing. If she had, did he mind? Would she mind, if she knew he was doing it? Was this a normal sort of thing to do and find enjoyable, or should he stop before someone caught him?

She was still breathing, in and out, almost too slowly. Breathe in, stop, breathe out, stop, breathe in, giving Ron a jolt of worry at every pause. At this moment, there was nothing in the universe more important than Hermione’s continued breathing, keeping her alive second by second. He had the dreadful feeling that if he looked away it would stop.

A colony of giant killer spiders was not as scary as the possibility of Hermione dying. Not even close.

***
The ‘invasive procedures’ Hermione needed to relieve the stress on her heart were scheduled for Thursday, two days away. During the intervening time, Ron, Harry, and Ginny camped out in her room, playing chess and cards and doing homework. Everyone else was constantly in and out, bringing flowers, books and sweets in such enormous quantities that finding anything became a major challenge in all the clutter.

They were under strict orders not to surprise or upset her in any way (a command which had to be drilled into the the twins’ heads, since most of their methods for cheering people up were the sort of thing that could prove lethal), and she had to drink absurd amounts of the Drought of Peace at carefully-timed intervals. She slept quite a lot, but every time she woke up she seemed stronger and more energetic. She got ludicrous amounts of homework done, with Ginny as her scribe when she was too weak or dizzy to write properly. When Professor Lupin visited, which was frequently due to his lack of employment, she even talked him into starting on material for their Defense Against the Dark Arts N.E.W.T.s. Ron and Harry groaned at this, but only for form’s sake. First, Defense Against the Dark Arts was the one subject they were genuinely interested in studying right now. Second, it was nice to study under Professor Lupin, even informally, since he was still the best teacher they’d ever had. Third, it was just the sort of thing Hermione would do, and somehow made everything seem more normal.

Thursday morning came at last. Ron slept on one of the couches with a hospital blanket over him, his feet hanging over the arm, and woke when most of his family and all of Hermione’s came trooping in. They all offered last-minute encouragement, and both her mother and his kissed her on the top of her head and told her she would be just fine, even though she looked a lot more sure of that than they did. Ron found himself shoved into the corner of the room again, which annoyed him greatly.

Just when the party was getting started in earnest, one of the Apprentice Healers entered to announce that it was time.

“They’re all ready for you. How about you?” When Hermione nodded, he drew his wand and said, “I’m just going to cast a Hover Charm on you. It won’t hurt.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Hermione. “I can walk on my own.” She threw back her blankets and set both bare feet on the floor, then stood on them. She looked unusually small, and Ron couldn’t decide if it was because she was wearing the simple white robe with the short sleeves or because she was frightened.

With one hand on the Apprentice Healer’s arm for support, she walked steadily out the door and into the corridor.

Ron felt a lurch of dread. Hermione might be walking to her death, and he hadn’t even said anything to her! He hadn’t the faintest idea of what he wanted to say, but he was dead sure that he needed to say something.

Shoving between Fred and George, which was generally a foolish and dangerous thing to do, Ron squirmed his way out of the crowd and out into the corridor. “Hermione!”

She turned around to look at him; he was dimly aware that everyone else had followed him to watch, too. He stopped dead. What on earth was he intending to say? Surely nothing so important that it justified coming out in all this state to announce it. Too late to turn around now, though . . . he had to do something.

An idea occurred to him. It was perhaps the most foolhardy and utterly daft idea that had ever come into his head, but now that it was in it wouldn’t go out, and it wouldn’t make any room for any better ideas to share the space with it.

She was looking at him . . . he was running out of time. The awful idea was the only one he had.

So he did it.

“Good luck,” he said, and kissed her on the cheek.

Once he’d done it, she was still looking at him. The only thing that changed was that her cheeks began to go red, which was generally a sign that she was furiously angry. Ron was mortified, and that made him angry right back.

She opened her mouth to say something, then shut it again. She repeated this several times without actually accomplishing anything. Finally, she said, “What . . . what was that for?”

“What?” Ron demanded. “You did it, to wish me luck for the Quidditch match!”

“Y . . . yes, I did,” she admitted. “I, um, well . . . thank you.”

“What?”

“Thank you,” she repeated, then she smiled. “Thank you, Ron.”

He smiled back. It was rather a lopsided and awkward-feeling smile, but he was so relieved that she wasn’t shouting at him that he didn’t much care how he was smiling. It was some comfort to him that her smile wasn’t entirely comfortable, either. She looked decidedly embarrassed, but also very pleased.

They both stood there, being pleased and embarrassed and wondering how to proceed, when Hermione put a hand on her chest and took a deep breath.

“Are you okay?” Ron demanded, going from relief to terror in what must have been world-record time.

“Yes, I’m fine.”

“That’s what you said last time!”

“It’s all right,” said the Student Healer. “She has so much Drought of Peace in her system she couldn’t have another attack if she tried. But it’s not going to last very much longer, so we need to go.”

He gently pulled Hermione away. She looked at Ron as long as she possibly could before turning to follow.

Ron also turned, only to be faced with far too many heads adorned with red hair and smirks. To be perfectly accurate, only the twins were smirking, per say . . . but that was still far too many. But his mother was trying not to smile, his father had his eyebrows raised, Bill was studying his fingernails in a much-too-deliberate fashion, and Hermione’s parents were sharing a conspiratorial glance.

“Smooth, Ron,” said Fred.

“Didn’t think you had it in you,” said George.

“Just think,” said Fred, “Now you can truly say that you’re such a good kisser that you give girls heart attacks.”

“Shut up,” said Ron, shoving back between them to get inside the room. Harry came close behind him.

“You shut up, too,” Ron told him.

“I didn’t say anything!” Harry protested.

“Neither did I!” said Ginny when her brother’s glare landed on her. When he looked away, she giggled and muttered, “I’m going to, though.”

Ron returned to the couch, picked up the first textbook he could lay hands on, and sat down very deliberately to put on a show of studying. Harry joined him, still keeping his thoughts to himself. This was good, because Ron wanted to go through his own thoughts right now.

He’d kissed Hermione. Not the sort of kiss that was a big deal . . . goodness’ sake, no, perish the thought . . . but a sort of ‘good luck’ kiss. Hey, she’d done it first.

He began to wonder if she’d do it again. Maybe just before the next Quidditch match . . . and then he could kiss her good luck when she went into a test that he and Harry didn’t have to take . . . and then she could kiss him good luck before he plunged into the black depths of the Forbidden Forest . . . he didn’t have any idea why he would be plunging into the black depths of the Forbidden Forest, much less plunging into them alone, but he liked the image nonetheless.

And Harry . . . he glanced at his best friend and shook his head. Nah. Harry wouldn’t kiss Hermione good luck. He just wouldn’t. A good luck kiss wasn’t a big deal, but big or little it was his deal. Harry understood that. There he sat, very deliberately taking notes from his Potions book, not saying anything, just understanding. That was the sort of friend Harry was.

Ron wanted all those hypothetical ‘good luck’ kisses to happen. He was suddenly looking forward to it with a slightly ridiculous anticipation. But they would only happen if she came out of this hospital alive.

He focused on the page in front of him and scanned the lines, one at a time, while not actually managing to read them. If she lives. If she lives. If.

***
Ten o’clock -- no news. Half past -- nothing. Eleven -- same.

“Ron, for the love of heaven, sit down,” his mother ordered him after his third lap around the room, kicking the wall with the side of his foot at every step to alleviate the boredom. “You’re making me nervous just watching you.”

Ron sat, but could only hold still for about thirty seconds before he started drumming his heels against the floor.

The twins had gone back to their shop, promising to check in when they gave themselves breaks, and Bill, Charlie, his father, and Hermione’s father had likewise returned to work. The room was now occupied by the two mothers, chatting as his mum knitted, Harry and Ginny playing a round of chess, and himself, worry forcing him into perpetual motion.

He’d been beating his heels for about a minute when Ginny reached up and grabbed one of his knees rather too hard. “Stop that.”

“If you have to fret, go pace the hallway,” his mother told him. “There’s more floor space.”

Fine.” Ron threw himself onto his feet and stormed out, not because he was particularly mad at anyone in the room but because storming out would burn more energy than simply walking. He fumed and fretted from one end of the hall to the other and back again, back and forth, trying to wear himself out to silence the worries in his brain.

After about twelve laps, the door to the stairwell at the end of the hallway opened, and George appeared.

“What are you doing here?” Ron demanded.

“I left Fred at the store and came to check in,” said George, and his face was oddly blank. “Ron, I . . . I asked about Hermione at the front desk.”

And?” Ron demanded.

“She’s dead.”

Ron stared at him. His entire body, down to his heart, came to a standstill, and his brain went numb. It was so numb that he barely registered George’s expression change from studied neutrality to a wide grin.

“Just kidding,” said Fred, sticking his head through the door.

Ron took a minute to process all this. His brain shuddered back to life, and the first thought that flashed across it was Kill them.

“YOU FILTHY, ROTTEN . . .”

Tackling both Fred and George at once was a very foolish thing to do, and it was so unexpected that he managed to throw George to the ground and proceeded to punch the living daylights out of him while Fred tried to pull him off.

“Excellent, are we having a brawl?” asked Ginny. She pounded down the hallway and jumped on Fred’s back. By the time he got her off, Harry was in on the mess and Ginny went to help Ron, who was now getting better than he’d given from George. The twins were at a disadvantage because they were laughing so hard they could barely hit straight. After a few minutes, Ron started laughing too . . . not because he thought their joke was even remotely funny, but because he needed the release. In a family of seven, when someone was upset, what else was there to do but wrestle?

“For heavens’ sake! Fred, George, Ron, Harry, Ginny, stop that at once! You’re going to get yourselves thrown out, and good riddance to you!”

The cease-fire was called, and everyone flopped onto the floor, laughing with the sudden relief. Ron found himself with Ginny’s head on his stomach and his feet on Fred’s back, laughing until he couldn’t breathe. He was dimly aware that Hermione’s mother was laughing, too.

“I think he blacked my eye!” George cried, gingerly touching his left eyelid. “Ron, I think you blacked my eye!”

“Serves you right,” Ron told him. “Telling me Hermione was dead --”

“You did WHAT?” his mother gasped, and walloped George’s head with her knitting, needles and all. “George Weasley!”

“Fred’s idea!”

I don’t doubt that!”

“She’s fine!” Fred protested. “She’s just fine. They were sending somebody to tell you, but we said we’d do it.”

“You nearly gave your brother a heart attack!”

“Well, good thing he’s already in a hospital,” said Fred.

“But heart attack isn’t a magical malady or injury. He’d have to go down the street.”

“But she’s okay?” Harry demanded.

“Sleeping like a baby, they said.”

“They even got an Arithmancy book to put her face in so she’d be more comfortable.”

“She’s going to be out for the rest of the day and all night, and they’ll let her wake up in the morning.”

And then she’ll need three days of bed rest and is not allowed to exert herself for the rest of the summer, so she can’t play Quidditch.”

But since she can’t play Quidditch anyway . . .”

“Thank heaven,” said Mrs. Granger. She sat down on the floor with one hand over her heart. “Oh, thank heaven.”

“Don’t we get a ‘thank you’ for bringing you the good news?” Fred demanded.

“No!” said everyone. Ron gave him a halfhearted kick in the stomach.

“There, you see?” asked Mrs. Weasley, patting Mrs. Granger on the back. “She’s out of danger.”

“Well, except for You-Know-Who,” said George.

“And the Death Eaters,” said Ron.

“And that basilisk,” said Harry.

“And the N.E.W.T.s,” said Ginny.

“And Hagrid’s pets,” said Harry.

“And dementors,” said Fred.

“And politicians,” said George.

“But other than those things, no danger at all,” said Fred.

“Oh, and Malfoy,” said Ginny. “Don’t forget him.”

“Yes, we mustn’t forget Malfoy.”

“She can wipe the floor with Malfoy,” said Ron. “I’ve seen her do it.”

“She’ll wipe the floor with all the rest of it, too,” said Harry.

“Got that right,” said Ron, grinning.

***
When Hermione came to, the first thing she saw when she opened her bleary eyes was Ron asleep in the chair next to her bed. His mouth was open and he was snoring a little, and his scar-slashed arms were dangling towards the floor.

Hermione smiled and went back to sleep.

***

 

//
Write a review! PLEASE NOTE: The purpose of reviewing a story or piece of art at the Sugar Quill is to provide comments that will be useful to the author/artist. We encourage you to put a bit of thought into your review before posting. Please be thoughtful and considerate, even if you have legitimate criticism of a story or artwork. (You may click here to read other reviews of this work).
* = Required fields
*Sugar Quill Forums username:
*Sugar Quill Forums password:
If you do not have a Sugar Quill Forums username, please register. Bear in mind that it may take up to 72 hours for your account to be approved. Thank you for your patience!
*Comment:
The Sugar Quill was created by Zsenya and Arabella. For questions, please send us an Owl!

-- Powered by SQ3 : Coded by David : Design by James --