Eau de Hermione I love the title
Eau de Hermione
There are few things more frightening than a perfume store.
There had been that three-headed dog a few years back, but at least that had been pretty straightforward. So had the Chamber of Secrets, come to think of it, and the werewolves and giant spiders and escaped convicts and murderers and hippogriffs that had appeared throughout the years. But those had all been pretty obvious threats--the ones that wanted to kill or disembowel or eat you right off the bat. A perfume shop, on the other hand, represented something far more subversive. Something that would sneak up and tear out some vital part of you (like your dignity, for instance).
Bearing all this in mind, Ron gulped, steeled his resolve, and entered the shop.
Madam Puddifoot was used to seeing gangly, awkward-looking teenagers in her place of business, especially during Hogsmeade weekends. Though, admittedly, they usually had their gangly, awkward-looking dates in tow. This one appeared to have left his at home.
Ron looked around the shop. He'd never seen so many pink frilly lacey things amassed in one place. (The reason being that up to that point in his life Ronald Weasley had a) lived in an overwhelmingly male household and b) yet to visit Dolores Umbridge's office.) He stared at it all until Madam Puddifoot's throat-clearing prompted him out of his lace-induced stupor.
"Can I help you, m'dear?" Madam Puddifoot also looked rather like Professor Umbridge, short and stubby with ugly rings on her hands, though, fortunately distinctly less toad-like.
"Oh, yes," he said, knocking over several of the spindly chairs in his haste to get to the other side of the shop. "Oh, sorry--"
"It's fine, dear. What can I do for you?"
"Well, I was wondering what you had by way of--of Christmas gifts."
"Ah!" she said, lighting up. "Wouldn't be for anyone special, would it?"
"Well, sort of..."
"How lovely," she said, smiling and leading him to a corner of the shop bedecked with shelves of neat little glass bottles. "What did you have in mind?"
"I was thinking of some scent, er, perfume. Whatever you call it."
"What a lovely idea! I'm sure the young lady will enjoy it immensely. If you'll take a look over here, you'll see we have a wide array of body mist for you to choose from." Body mist? Ron thought, puzzled. "No doubt you'll find something that catches your eye."
"Nose, you mean," he pointed out.
"If it's perfu--er, body mist, something will catch my nose, more likely than my eye."
"Oh, yes. Very amusing, dear."
Whenever his mum had dragged him and Ginny to a shop like this, when they were smaller, he had always felt a bit nervous. Everything was so small and close together that he was sure he could send something flying and shatter it by one small gesture. Ginny had always attempted to initiate a game of hide-and-seek or some sort, but Ron had felt he couldn't concentrate on them, as worried as he was.
Let's see...lavender, lily of the valley, early morning rain. Early morning rain? Since when did rain have a scent? And what differentiated between it and rain in, say, the evening? Ron shook his head and looked past that to the shelf below.
Here were peach, apple, apricot, grape, and midnight. Midnight? What was it with times of the day having different smells? Shrugging, Ron struggled to remember if Hermione liked peaches. He had seen her eating one at the Burrow once, hadn't he? Or was that an apricot? Damned if he knew.
Come to think of it, why did girls want to smell like food? Didn't that just make them hungry? Didn't it encourage auto-cannibalism?
Snickering to himself at the thought, Ron caught sight of the price tag on the bottle of apricot surprise (sounds like a pastry) and stopped.
Seeing that her potential customer was standing up, Madam Puddifoot hurried over. "Have you found one, dear?"
If the boy had looked uncomfortable before it was nothing compared to now. He shifted this way and that and moved the cap on top of his head. "I--er--"
"I was wondering if have anything that's lessspensive," he mumbled.
"Less expensive," he said more clearly. "I--er, well, limited funds, all that."
"I see." Madam Puddifoot looked him over from head to toe and appeared to come to a decision. "I think I've just the thing." She knelt down behind the counter. "It's in here somewhere I know, just--ah, here it is." She appeared with a few bits of dust in her shiny black bun and the biggest bottle of perfume Ron had ever seen. It made a dull thunk as she set it on the glass countertop.
Ron stared. "Wow."
"This was made by an old man who used to live just outside the village. Made all his own scents and sold them to me before I started getting them from another supplier. Liked making things by the bulk, he did." That was the reason she had always had a hard time selling the bloody stuff, but potential customers weren't to know this.
Ron was uncertain. "So, how old is it?"
"Oh a few years," Or decades, she added mentally. "But really, it's like wine, this stuff. Best well-aged."
Ron's ignorance of perfumes was only matched by his ignorance of wines, but wasn't there a bit about being well-aged in there? He thought so...
Ron stared again. "Three Galleons! But that's even less than the stuff you have on the shelf, and there must be enough in there to fit a dozen of those smaller bottles."
"Yes, well, you know, it's not exactly of the same quality as the rest, but..." she trailed off, seeing him look doubtful. "Look, didn't your mother ever tell you that the most expensive isn't always the best?"
No, Ron thought. No, Mum had always been more "you buy cheap, you get cheap". But a part of his brain with more money-sense overrode this; you couldn't go wrong with three Galleons. Besides, this was the last chance he'd have before Christmas to buy anything in Hogsmeade, and while Drooble’s or some Every-Flavor Beans might be OK for Harry, they just didn't work with Hermione. She'd be really impressed by some perfume, wouldn't she? Especially this much perfume...
"I'll take it," he said finally, fishing around in his pockets for the right amount of gold.
A month passed. In Hogwarts, a secret society was formed, while meantime in the city a werewolf, a Metamorphmagus, and a convict played excessive amounts of gin rummy in the basement of another one’s headquarters. (Secret societies were all the rage that holiday season, it appeared.)
Finally, after a snake attack and a few emergency trips to St. Mungo's, Christmas arrived at the Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix.
When Ginny and her brothers had been very small, they had taken part in the time-honored tradition of racing downstairs at the first break of dawn on Christmas morning. Now, however, Ginny had entered that portion of her life where she wished to get the most sleep possible while on vacation. Unfortunately, her and Hermione's bedroom had been graced with easterly-facing windows and Doxy-infested curtains. The sunlight streamed in and woke her much earlier than she would have liked.
"Happy Christmas, Ginny," said a voice to her left.
Grumbling, she turned over and saw Hermione in bed holding, imagine that, a book, giving every indication that she had been sitting up for at least a half hour before Ginny had woken up.
"I admire you self-restraint," Ginny told her as she reached for a gift from her pile.
"How's that?" Hermione asked, also reaching for a parcel.
"You've been sitting up reading, completely ignoring all your gifts?"
"I was waiting for you," Hermione said loyally.
They worked their way through their piles mostly in silence until there was only one gift left between them.
"What's that?" Ginny asked, clearing the paper off her bed.
Hermione stared at it. It was large and hastily wrapped. The word "FRAGILE" scrawled across it looked awfully familiar...
"I think it's from Ron," she said, picking up the gift. It was heavy. She shook it lightly and heard it go swish.
"This should be good. Go on, what are you waiting for, it to do a trick?"
You could tell a lot about someone by how they unwrapped a Christmas present. Ginny had always been of the sort that ripped off the paper quickly in a rush to get to the gift. Hermione was the maddening type that removed all of the paper very carefully to preserve it in its entirety. Far too conservative for Ginny's taste.
"So, my brother's given you...a milk jug. How nice."
"Its not a milk jug, it's perfume."
"An industrial-sized vat of perfume. Even better."
"Well, I'm sure not going to need perfume for awhile..."
"Did you ever need—what on earth is that smell?"* Hermione had unscrewed the cap.
"Oh my," said Hermione. "That's certainly a strong scent..."
"My God!"* Ginny exclaimed, pulling her nightie over her nose. "They must have had to cut the heads off a thousand flowers to get all that!"
"Ginny, that's not very nice--"
"Massacre in the rose garden, I bet it was. Oh, the humanity, there were petals everywhere! Stems, strewn like fallen warriors!" Ginny fell off the bed, laughing, while the sickly fermented smell wafted throughout the room.
Hermione sniffed again. "I suspect it's a little stronger than normal since there's so much of it." She paused. "I'm sure it'll smell perfectly fine," she said at last, ever the optimist.
"Then put some on."
"What? Now? It's seven in the morning."
"Well, we'll go down and say Merry Christmas to everyone. Go on, put some on. I'm sure it'll smell lovely."
Obviously Hermione was having a hard time believing her own words, but she took a tissue and dabbed some of the stuff on her neck and wrists. "There, happy? Now let's get some breakfast."
Ginny seemed unable to stop snickering on the way downstairs, however.
"You smell like my maiden aunt."
"You don't have a maiden aunt," Hermione snapped.
"Well, I do now!"
"Shut up, Ginny."
Sirius, Lupin, Mrs. Weasley, and the twins were in the kitchen. The five of them said "Merry Christmas" to the girls when they entered, but since the speed of light is considerably faster than the speed of smell it was a few seconds before they caught a whiff of Hermione.
Sirius sniffed. "Wait a minute. I know that scent. My mother used to wear it. Funny, I thought I tossed all of it. Have you two been digging up in her room? I would've thought the hippogriff would've overpowered it."
Ginny appeared to be stuffing her whole fist in her mouth while Hermione said, "It's not your mother, Sirius. It's, er, me."
Sirius seemed a bit fazed. "Oh. So that's what the girls are wearing these days, huh?"
"Sure. Smelling like spinster aunts. It's all the rage. Not that I would know," Ginny added, catching Hermione's furious glare, "as I have no spinster aunts."
"Yes, you do," said Mrs. Weasley from the stove. "Aunt Gertrude, don't you remember?"
"What was it that the girls always smelled like back in our day?" Sirius asked Lupin.
"You're on your own there," said Lupin.
"Wait a minute, Aunt Gertrude's real?" asked Ginny, amazed.
"No, no, I remember it real specifically, you see, Mrs. Potter had that real good pastry she'd send to Hogwarts that James'd share with us if he wasn't being a jerk--"
"Of course she's real," said Mrs. Weasley, taking a pan of sausages off the stove and setting it on the table. "Why would we make up a great aunt?"
"I thought she was just one of those stories you told us to behave! You know, 'behave or so help me, I will ship you off to Aunt Gertrude!'" Ginny thought for a second, then pointed accusingly at the twins. "You two told me she wasn't real!"
"And that one time," Sirius continued to tell Lupin while spearing a sausage on the end of his fork, "I was on a date with Sylvia Forbisher and I remember thinking real clearly: it's apricot! Bloody apricot, like in--"
"You offend us, dear sister," said Fred.
"Yeah, we've done some bad stuff in our day, but we'd never go as far as to tell someone that someone else doesn't exist."
"That's just heinous, that's what it is. Dear old auntie Gertrude is alive and well."
"--Mrs. Potter's apricot surprise," said Sirius and Lupin together.
"Oh right, I remember her now. Big blue-haired lady, am I right?"
"Yes, I see what you mean," continued Lupin, buttering his toast. "Girls smelled like food. Pity if a starving man ever ended up in a girls' restroom. He would have gone on a cannibalistic binge."
"Girls still smell like that," Ginny assured him. "It's just that Hermione's being polite--"
"I'm sure Ron paid a lot of money for this stuff," Hermione said loudly.
"Sure," said Ginny while the twins snorted.
"It's very, well, um..." Lupin trailed off. There was some P-word he wanted to say here…pungent…putrescent…perhaps you should ask him for the receipt. No, no, best go a little kinder. "Potent, that's the one.
The twins' laughter did not subside. "So, maybe Ron's secret ambition is to date a bird 50 years older than him..."
"That's it!" said Hermione. "I do not smell like an old woman!"
"Of course you don't, dear," said Mrs. Weasley.
"I don't think you smell like an old lady," Sirius supplied helpfully.
"Thank you! Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to wash this horrid stuff off!"
"But you just said--"
"I know what I said! But I'm going to get dressed and I can't very well go to St. Mungo's smelling like...whatever it is I smell like!"
"I was going to say a French pro--woman of ill repute, but I didn't," Sirius whispered to Lupin as she stormed out.
"I'm glad you've been exercising your self-restraint," said Lupin mildly.
"It had to kick in sometime, didn't it?"
"Tell him what you think," said Ginny.
"Can you still smell it? I think I can. Oh, why won't it come off--"
"Really, Ron should learn not to be so cheap, Mum always said--"
"I read once about certain types of Wizarding perfume that are charmed so they never come off! Oh, and I never found the countercharm for it either, I had to return the book--"
"You buy cheap, you get cheap, that's what she said. Doesn't Ron listen to anyone?"
"I didn't even put that much on, why do I still stink like a cathouse?"
"Who says you smell like a cathouse?"
"I do! I smell like a cathouse rolled in a rose bed sprayed with a skunk!"
"See, now you're just overreacting--"
With a cry of frustration, Hermione attacked herself with the sponge even harder. After several minutes in which Ginny thought she must've removed a few layers of skin, she stopped.
"Is it gone?"
Ginny sniffed the air tentatively. "Yeah, I think so."
"Good." She sank into a chair.
"Of course, I've been around you for so longer perhaps I'm just failing to note--hey, put the sponge away, I was only joking. You're going to skin yourself. So, what are you going to tell Ron?"
"What am I going to tell him? What do you think, 'Hey Ron, your gift sure was terrible. It certainly did stink. Literally!' That doesn't sound right, does it?"
"Well, it depends. What did you get him?"
"A homework planner. What's that matter?"
"Ah. Well, I'd say you're about even, gift-wise."
"What's that supposed to mean? I think a homework planner's a great gift! Very sensible!"
"Of course it is. But--hmm, how can I put this? If your gift was a scent it would stink about as much as you did a couple of minutes ago."
"Shut up, Ginny."
Later that evening, Ron and Hermione were playing chess. And she was letting him beat her. That's what she always told herself, despite the fact that she was a smart girl who knew when she was losing badly.
Wait a minute, she thought suddenly. Why was she letting him beat her? He had just given her a gift that made her stink to high heaven, and she was taking pity on him? Not likely.
Soon after, however, when her queen lost a terrific battle with his bishop, she decided that in an act of infinite charity she had changed her mind and had let him declare checkmate. It was the season of giving, after all.
The fairies on the tree started chittering in those high voices that Hermione found so annoying.
"So," said Ron, tearing his eyes away from it. "You, uh, smell nice tonight."
He wasn't. He couldn't. Please, he's got to be kidding...
But there was nothing but very flimsy hope in those eyes.
"Er, thank you." She thought a little. "I suppose I remind you of Aunt Gertrude."
Puzzlement crossed his face. "Who?"
"Aunt Gertrude. Long-lost aunt of yours from Manchester. Ginny and your mum were telling me about her today."
"Oh." He looked a little lost, so he stared at the fairies a little while longer. Two of them appeared to be squabbling over a piece of branch.
It had been four years, Hermione realized, since she had last spent a Christmas at home. Most people didn't reach that milestone until they're at least 18.
She, incidentally, also had an elderly aunt in Manchester, and most Christmases were spent there with her other aunts and uncles, all of whom didn't like each other much. It wasn't that they were particularly bad people, on their own. But when they got together there was a lot of yelling and curtness punctuated by periods of enforced silence and really bad burnt turkey.
Hermione decided she preferred sitting there with Ron smelling vaguely of a spinster aunt than spending time with her real ones. Sort of funny that way.
Outside, it started to snow.
Ron still didn't say anything.
Their silences, he thought, were bordering on that wobbly line between being awkward and companionable. But that was all right for now. It was nothing grand or splendid or profound, but it was a start. And that was enough for now, he thought.
The fact that he knew that she thought so too probably served to prove this right.
The snow fell on the dark city and one last thought crept through Ron's mind:
She does sort of smell like Aunt Gertrude, now that I think of it. Wonder how that happened...