The Sugar Quill
Author: Amtamburo  Story: After All  Chapter: Chapter 3 - Successful Sneaks
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The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

I would like to thank all of you who reviewed the first two chapters of my story... I really hope you are enjoying reading it as much as I am writing it! :-) I would also like to send a special thanks to NightZephr, my beta. Thank you so much for all your help!

Thanks again for reading...

Amtamburo

Disclaimer: Most of the characters and places mentioned in the following are the property of J.K. Rowling; I am simply borrowing them for a bit.

I am making no money or gain from this story. It is simply for fun, and is written because I love the HP series and the seventh book is too far away! Thank you J.K. my life is fuller and more interesting because of your imagination.

After All

Chapter 3 - Successful Sneaks

Nothing left to lose, after losing you
There's nothing, I can't take.
When I run to you, When I come for you,
Don't tell me I'm too late

- Enrique Inglesias, ‘Maybe’

Ginny glanced around the dining room of her and Harry’s home, checking to be sure that everything was in place for the party. Normally, Ginny would be racing around supervising every aspect of the preparations and eventually doing most of the work herself. However, since she was getting quite close to her due date, Harry had insisted that she take it easy and let the caterer take care of everything.

Because of this, Ginny was nervous, grumpy and fidgety. Consequently, when her husband walked in from the next room with a little red-haired girl clutching his hand and chattering away excitedly about the party and pretty decorations, her first reaction was to sternly remind the child not to touch anything.

“Yes, mama,” four-year old Lily Potter said, pouting slightly with an air of disappointment in her voice. “Can I go play with Crookshanks?”

Ginny had inherited Crookshanks from Hermione when she left for America. He was getting on in years, and Hermione had feared that he would not adapt well to the move, so she had given him to Ginny who in turn had handed him over to Lily when it became obvious to everyone that she was the only one he didn’t hate.

Sighing, and feeling guilty for grumping at her daughter, Ginny gave Lily a big hug and said, “Run along and play dear, but be careful not to get your dress dirty, okay.”

Smiling, Lily returned her mother’s embrace, ran back to hug her father as well, and then skipped out the front door calling in a voice that sounded remarkably like her grandmother’s “Crooooookshaaaaanks… where arrrre yoooou?”

Chuckling, Harry walked across the room, and standing behind Ginny’s chair, began to rub her shoulders while he spoke.

“How is everything going?”

With a dramatic sigh, Ginny stated, “Just awful! I just know everything will be a disaster!” Turning slightly in her chair, she gave her husband a reproachful look although Harry could see that she had a twinkle of playfulness in her eyes.

Rolling his eyes, Harry walked around to the front of her chair, and squatted down so that his face was level with hers, “And why is that?” he asked, amusement obvious in his voice. “Because someone, who is being entirely stubborn, won’t let me help!” she stated, sticking her lower lip out in a pout that she knew made the resemblance between her and Lily so obvious that Harry could barely resist.

“Ginny,” Harry began, his voice still amused but with a hint of seriousness mixed in. “We discussed this. You are less then a month from your time… you need to take it easy and relax. The caterer is doing a fine job, and I am sure everything will be just fine!”

Before Ginny could truly get into a full pout, there was a tapping at the dining room window, and she looked out to see a beautiful tawny owl perched on the sill outside.

“Oh, that’s Barnabas! I’ll bet Hermione sent a gift or a card for Mum and Dad,” Ginny said and struggled to lift herself from the chair.

Placing a hand on her shoulder to stop her, Harry said, “I’ll get it, you stay put.”

Harry walked over and opened the window so that Barnabas could step into the room. The owl stretched out his leg and Harry removed the small scroll of parchment that was tied there.

Breaking the wax seal that held the scroll closed, Harry petted Barnabas absently on the head, gave him a few owl treats, and then closed the window behind him as he flew away.

Turning back to Ginny, Harry opened the scroll and began to read. Suddenly, his expression changed to one of surprise, and then deep thought.

“Harry, what is it?” Ginny asked, sounding a bit anxious.

Rather then replying, Harry handed the scroll to Ginny, and then walked back over to the window. He stood gazing out as though he were watching Barnabas fly away even though the owl was long out of sight.

Glancing at Harry for a moment and seeing that he was obviously lost in thought, Ginny turned to the scroll in her hand. It was obvious that the note had been written hastily as Hermione’s normally neat and even writing was a bit on the messy side.

Dear Harry,

Things here have calmed down a bit, and it looks like I have an
open weekend. Goodness knows that doesn’t happen often.
Anyway,I thought that since I was free this weekend I would attend
Molly and Arthur’s party after all. I am very sorry about the
short notice. However, I just found out today that I would have
the weekend free.

I plan to Apparate over this evening and spend the night at my
parent’s home. Please let me know if there is anything that I
can do to help get things ready. Say hello to Ginny and give
little Lily a big hug for me. I am so looking forward to seeing
you all.

Love From,

Hermione

“Oh no!” Ginny said when she was finished reading the note.

“You did say that Ron was coming?” Harry asked with a strange tone to his voice.

“Yes” Ginny replied, “Although I did make a point of telling him that Hermione would not be here,” she said with a sigh.

“Hmmm…” Harry murmured, the words just barely reaching Ginny’s ears, “I think that perhaps the time has finally come.”

“All right, Harry Potter,” Ginny said, “What are you playing at?”

Harry turned back toward her, a look of total innocence on his face. “Whatever do you mean, dear?” he asked with a twinkle of mischief and amusement in his eyes. Ginny continued to look at him closely, a suspicious look on her face.

“Don’t look all innocent with me, Potter!” she growled. “I’ve known you long enough to know when you are scheming. If you are planning something I want to know! Maybe I can help!”

Chuckling, Harry walked to his wife, bent and gave her quick kiss, then turned to leave the room. As he left, he stated over his shoulder, “I’m going out for a bit, okay? Don’t overdo it while I’m gone.”

“Harry!” Ginny called after him, a warning tone in her voice.

“Worry not, my dear! Just leave it up to me!” he called back, and then Ginny heard a crack in the hall, and she knew that Harry had Disapparated.

“And once again I am left in the dark,” she thought, her irritation increasingly slightly, “Infuriating man.” Stomping her foot, Ginny continued to sit and brood for only a few more minutes before she suddenly had an idea of her own, one so perfect that she doubted even her beloved and very annoying husband would think of it.

Smiling slyly, Ginny pulled herself from the chair and walked to the desk. Quickly she scribbled a note, and took it to Hedwig’s cage. “Here you go girl, wait for a reply, okay?” she said petting Hedwig’s head affectionately. Then she went to the window and let Hedwig out. “I may not know what you are up to, Harry,” she thought, “but I do know one thing, this evening is going to get very interesting.”

With a wry smile and a shake of her head, Ginny looked around at the party preparations. Deciding to take her husband’s advice and let the caterers take care of everything, she went to check on her daughter.

**********

Harry Apparated into the street in front of Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, the joke and magical novelty shop run by Ron and Ginny’s older twin brothers Fred and George.

As soon as he stepped through the door he was hit with the smell of smoke and an acrid odor coming from the back room where the twins did all the testing and experimenting on their new inventions.

“Blimey, George,” he heard Fred saying in a choked voice mixed with a cough or two, “I reckon you put in a bit to much bat wing powder!”

“I reckon you’re right,” George stated, walking into the main area of the shop and beginning to open windows.

“Oh, hey there, Harry!” George said when he turned toward the front of the shop and saw Harry standing there.

“All right there, George?” Harry said chuckling as he stepped forward to shake his brother-in-law’s hand. “I’m sure I will regret asking, but what exactly are you two doing?”

“Not much,” said Fred glumly as he walked into the room. His hair was standing on end, and he had soot on his face and the front of his shirt. “We are working on a new Skiving Snackbox, one that causes you to break out in hives. We’ve had several requests for new illnesses. Apparently enough of the teachers have been in the shop that they have caught on to the others and they aren’t working so well anymore.”

“It’s not going well,” George said with a sigh and a glance around the store.

.“Apparently,” Harry said, and laughed as he wiped the soot from a chair so he could sit. Waving a hand in front of his nose he took off his glasses to wipe away the sooty residue that was blurring them.

“So, Harry,” George said as he waved his wand and began clearing up the mess that the smoke and soot had made in the front of the store, “to what do we owe the honor of this visit?”

"I trust that Ginny is well?" Fred said, coming back into the room with an armload of burned papers and dumping them into the dustbin behind the counter.

“Ginny is doing fine,” Harry replied, the grin on his face revealing that he was only half serious when he continued on to state, “I must say though that I am not sure who will be happier when she delivers, her or me! Her mood the last few weeks has been pretty dicey!”

Fred and George both chuckled at this, and launched into several jokes about the Weasley temper, and the fact that Ginny was reputed to be the worst of the lot when she was riled up. When Fred made a comment about Ron’s temper being pretty close to Ginny’s, Harry saw his opening and decided to sway the conversation in that direction.

“Which brings me to the reason for my visit today,” he said. “Your brother is a right bloody git, and I think that it is time something was done about it!”

Arching a brow, Fred looked at Harry and said, “I trust that we can assume that you are not talking about Bill, Charlie or Percy here. So the question is what has ickle Ronniekins done this time?”

Wrinkling his nose and grinning at the use of the twin’s old nickname for his friend, Harry sat back and began to explain the situation and what it was he wanted to do.

When he left the twins shop two hours later, Harry was feeling immensely proud of himself. Fred and George had been more than eager to help, and his plan was already set into motion.

“Ron Weasley,” Harry thought, “you are in for one heck of a night.”

**********

Molly Weasley was attempting to eject a gnome from the garden when she spotted Hedwig swooping in toward the fence. She was so busy watching the owl approach that she temporarily forgot the gnome that she was holding in her left hand. She was quickly reminded, however, when the ugly little creature turned its head and sunk its teeth into her finger.

“Ouch!” she cried, and dropped the gnome who quickly scurried away and, only pausing long enough to turn and stick its tongue out at her, disappeared into a hole near the rosebush.

“Nasty little things,” Molly muttered, rubbing her finger. Then she turned and walked over to the fence post where Hedwig was now perched.

Cooing gently at the owl, she stroked Hedwig’s feathers as she removed the scroll from her outstretched leg.

Mum,

We have just received an owl from Hermione. She is planning to come to the surprise party this evening after all. Do you think that we should tell Ron that she will be there?

I plan to let Bill and Charlie know she’s coming. I think that it would be nice if they made sure to spend some time with her, to make sure she feels very welcome. I do hope that perhaps she and Ron can at least be civil to each other.

See you soon,

Ginny

A smile crept over Molly’s face as she read the note. Quickly, she plucked a quill from her apron pocket and scribbled a reply to her daughter on the back of the parchment.
Ginny,

Surprise party? What surprise party is that, dear?

Incidentally, I think that it might be a good idea to let Ron know she will be there. We do not want him to think that we purposely kept it from him. I will send Errol to him with a note straight away.

I think that it would be a wonderful idea for Bill and Charlie to make Hermione feel welcome this evening.

See you soon,

Mum

**********

Ginny was standing at the window waiting when Hedwig returned with the reply from her mother. She quickly took the scroll from her leg, and replaced it with two others.

“There you go, deliver these as quickly as possible,” she said, and gave Hedwig a few owl treats before turning to read her mother’s note.

She giggled when she came to the part about sending a note to Ron with Errol. Errol, her parent’s old owl, had been retired two years before when she and Harry had purchased her parents a new owl, whom her parents had named Hyrum, for Christmas. Since that time Errol had been lazing around her parent’s garage and enjoying his old age. By sending Errol to make the delivery, her mother was almost certainly guaranteeing that Ron would not receive the note until well after the party was over.

Smiling at her mother’s guile, Ginny folded the note and tucked it into a drawer in the desk where Harry would not see it. Then she went back into the kitchen to consult the caterer as to how much extra it would cost to have a few bottles of champagne added to the order.

**********

“Everything looks wonderful, dear,” Molly said, “thank you so much for throwing us this party.”

“You’re welcome, Molly, it was our pleasure,” Harry replied before spinning Molly away and then pulling her back.

Harry had asked his mother-in-law to dance in an effort to escape from Colin Creevy who was prattling on as usual about Harry’s accomplishments as an Auror. Colin worked for The Daily Prophet, and he was once again trying to get a scoop for the paper.

“Some things never change,” He thought, as he whirled Molly about the dance floor. A smile came to his face as he thought back on his second year at Hogwarts, and the fact that Colin had nearly driven him mad with his blasted camera and autograph requests.

Harry was pulled from his thoughts by his mother-in-law’s playful admonishment. “Harry dear, how many times do I have to tell you to call me Mum?”

Chuckling and whirling her out and back again, Harry replied, “Yes, Mum.”

Molly beamed and patted his cheek as the waltz ended. “That’s more like it dear,” She said before excusing herself to go find Arthur.

Glancing around the room, Harry spotted Ron talking to Remus Lupin. They appeared to be deep in conversation. Another quick scan found Ginny seated at one of the tables chatting away merrily with Charlie’s fiancé, Janet, and Fleur. Bill and Fleur had just recently announced that they were expecting their first child, and Ginny and Fleur had been spending hours discussing the trials and tribulations of pregnancy.

At first Harry had teased Ginny unmercifully about this. Harry knew very well that Fleur had never been one of Ginny’s favorite people. In fact, there were occasions when Ginny, Ron and the twins still referred to her by their secret nickname, Phlegm. However, all that had seemed to change when Fleur had announced the pregnancy, and now it appeared that she and Ginny had truly become friends.

Deciding that he couldn’t quite stomach another “pregnancy” conversation, Harry decided to join Ron and Remus. Making his way across the room, he stopped several times to say hello to friends. At one point, he was stopped by Charlie Weasley, who asked him whether Hermione had arrived yet. Harry had told him that he hadn’t seen her and then continued across the room.

Suddenly he stopped, and thought. “Wait a minute! How does Charlie know that Hermione is coming…?” Turning back around, he searched for Charlie but he appeared to have moved on and Harry could no longer see him.

Shrugging, he turned and made his way over to Ron and Remus.

“Hey there, Harry!” Ron said and clapped Harry on the back, “Remus and I were just arguing about whether the Cannons have a shot at making it to the World Cup this year, what do you think?”

The three engaged in a spirited conversation about the different Quidditch teams, and which teams did or did not have a shot at being in the running for the World Cup, as well as previous games they themselves had played.

Suddenly, in the midst of an anecdote about how he had won a game of one on one against Oliver Wood, Ron suddenly stopped talking. His face seemed to drain of color, and he stood frozen.

“Ron… what’s wrong?” Remus asked, concern clear in his voice. “You look like you’ve seen a dragon!”

At the same time, Harry said, “Hey mate, you all right?”

When neither received a response, Remus and Harry both turned to see what had Ron in such a state. There in the door, her hair bushy as ever and looking somewhat wind blown with her cheeks pink from the chill outside, was Hermione.

**********

Ron stood in stunned silence. He couldn’t have spoken at that moment even if he had been able to think of anything to say. The only thought that penetrated the fog that had engulfed his brain was, “She is so beautiful!”

For several moments he simply stood there drinking her in. His eyes scanned her face and then traveled down to her shoes and back up to her head. He could feel his heartbeat increasing, and his palms began to feel moist. Suddenly a pair of brown eyes turned and met his and a shock of excitement ran through him. He tried to force his frozen lips into a smile, which came out looking more like a grimace.

Several seconds passed with them simply staring at each other, and then suddenly Ron slowly became aware of voices around him. Someone was trying to get his attention. Ron mentally shook himself, and with a feeling of almost physical pain, he tore his gaze away from Hermione and tried to bring the two people standing next to him into focus.

“Huh?” he muttered, not sure what they had been saying.

“Never mind, mate!” Harry said with amusement in his voice.

Finally bringing Harry and Remus back into focus, he saw that they were both trying hard not to laugh at something. Clearing his throat and willing his vocal cords to work properly, he finally managed to speak.

“What’s funny?” he croaked, wincing at the choked sound of his voice, “what did I miss?”

“Nothing, mate,” Harry responded, “not a thing!”

Clapping Ron on the back, Harry and Remus excused themselves and walked away into the crowd. Ron could hear their laughter trailing along behind them, and he felt his ears getting hot as he realized that the joke, the hilarious thing that they both were so amused by, was him.

Turning back toward the door, his eyes immediately found Hermione again. She was no longer looking in his direction. She had been joined by his mum and dad, and his brothers… four of them. Charlie was taking Hermione’s arm and apparently leading her over to sign the guest book. Meanwhile, Fred and George were arguing over who was going to take Hermione’s coat to the coat closet, and Bill was rushing off to the punch bowl to get her a glass of punch.

Frowning slightly at the fact that all of his brothers seemed so interested in greeting her, Ron moved a little closer. The group was now gathered near a table that contained the guest book and a small basket of miniature bottles of champagne.

Not wanting to be noticed, but wanting to be able to hear them talking, Ron moved a bit closer and stepped behind a large potted palm tree. From there he could hear what was being said.

**********

From the second she stepped into the room, Hermione was immediately aware of Ron’s eyes on her. She tried hard not to return his gaze, and instead focused on Molly and Arthur making their way through the crowd toward her.

Without thinking, she casually turned to see if Ron was still looking, and her eyes met a pair of blue ones. The second their eyes met, Hermione felt a jolt of excitement flash through her. A funny look came over Ron’s face, and she couldn’t tell if he was smiling, or trying not to vomit.

Hermione simply stood there, gazing into Ron’s eyes, her heart thumping like mad, and her pulse racing. Silently she fought with two separate emotions, one being an insane urge to run across the room and fling herself at him, and the second being an equally ridiculous urge to turn around and run back out the door.

Molly and Arthur finally managed to get through the crowd of well-wishers and reached Hermione just as she was deciding to act on the second urge. She accepted a hug from each of them, and thanked them for inviting her. At that moment, she was greeted by Charlie, Bill, Fred and George who had apparently started toward her from another part of the room at the same time as their parents.

Still in a bit of a daze, and almost wishing she had acted on her urge to run sooner, Hermione threw a quick glance over her shoulder to see if Ron was still looking. He was now turned and talking to Harry and Remus. Quelling a quick flash of disappointment, she turned and accepted Charlie’s arm, allowing herself to be led to the guest book.

Although she appeared calm and interested, her body was simply going through the motions. She could hear herself answering questions and exclaiming over the decorations and tiny bottles of champagne. She was amazed at how normal she sounded considering the fact that her brain was in complete disarray.

She accepted a glass of punch from Bill, and allowed herself to be led to a chair. A jumble of thoughts was racing through her head, each sweeping through fast enough that she barely registered having them before the next one came, but one thought was clear and steady in her mind.

She had expected to see hate and anger in Ron’s eyes. Hate for leaving him and going off to America with Viktor, and anger at her for being brazen enough to come to a party for his mother and father. She expected him to be offended and put out with her. She had seen none of those things in Ron’s eyes. In fact, unless she was mistaken, the only thing that she had seen in those eyes, as surprising and improbable as it was, was longing.

Trying desperately to figure out what that could possibly mean, Hermione was nearly unaware of the fact she had been dancing non-stop with each of the Weasley brothers in turn.

Suddenly, she realized that she was very tired and simply wanted to sit for a moment and collect her thoughts. She wished that the party was over so that she could find Ginny and maybe have a nice long talk about that look she had seen in Ron’s eyes.

For years Ginny and Harry had been insisting that Ron still loved her, but Hermione had refused to really believe it. Things between them had been so bad at the end, and she had hurt and betrayed him so badly by making it appear that she and Viktor were more then friends. She could barely forgive herself, never mind expect Ron to do so.

Now though, after seeing him look at her that way, she was beginning to wonder if Ginny and Harry could be right. Now if she could just get away from these Weasley men who were insisting on keeping her cornered on the dance floor… but nothing she said about being tired seemed to make a difference to them.

**********

As soon as Harry was out of Ron’s sight he circled around the other side of the room, and positioned himself so that he could see Hermione and the Weasley’s. He watched with a grin as Fred and George fought over who was going to take Hermione’s coat.

Oddly, Bill seemed to have forgotten all about Fleur, and Charlie had likewise left Janet sitting with Fleur and Ginny. Both men were paying a great deal of attention to Hermione and hadn’t been near their own partners since she had arrived. This struck Harry as a little strange for the simple fact that although Bill and Charlie had always seemed to like Hermione, they had never seemed to think of her as more then “Ron’s girlfriend”. However, since their added attention appeared to be irking Ron and a quick glance told him that Fleur and Janet seemed completely unbothered by the situation, Harry shrugged and dismissed it.

And so the evening had progressed. Bill, Charlie, Fred and George took turns whirling Hermione around the dance floor. Between dances, they argued over who would fetch her plate and who she would sit next to. Through all of this Harry watched Ron closely, trying to gauge his reaction. Although Harry had no clue what had gotten into Bill and Charlie, their close attention added to that of Fred and George’s seemed to be accomplishing his goal quite nicely. Ron was visibly steaming at his brothers antics, and appeared ready to approach Hermione himself.

After a few more minutes, Harry saw Ron making his way through the crowd to the edge of the dance floor. He stood there for a few minutes, simply watching Fred and Hermione whirling about the floor, a dark look on his scowling face. Glancing quickly at Hermione, Harry began to hope that Ron would make his move soon. Hermione was beginning to look tired and just a bit grumpy herself. Harry noticed several instances when she tried to sit a dance out but was swept back onto the floor by a Weasley man. This seem to be annoying her more and more as the evening progressed.

Finally, when Harry was about to give up and intervene himself, Ron stepped forward and, walking over to the dancing couple, tapped Fred on the shoulder.

“May I cut in?” he asked. His tone was civil but the current of anger in his voice could not be missed.

“Can I say no to my ickle...?” Fred began, but when he saw the dark look on Ron’s face and spotted Harry shaking his head over Ron’s shoulder, he apparently thought better of it and simply stepped away from Hermione.

**********

Ron watched from the outskirts of the crowd as his brothers lavished all of their attention on Hermione. As the evening wore on, his mood became darker and more brooding. He had done nothing over the last few days but think about what Ginny had said. He had decided just that morning that he was going to take a leave of absence from the Ministry. He didn’t know exactly what he would have said or done, but he had decided that he had to talk to Hermione. Even if they were never any more than friends again, he needed her in his life.

Grabbing another glass of champagne from a tray, he began to make his way slowly across the room. When he reached the edge of the crowd, Ron stood there watching Fred and Hermione dance.

Finally, after watching them for several minutes, he screwed up his courage and walked out onto the dance floor. Walking over to the couple he tapped his brother on the shoulder and asked if he could cut in. His words were directed at his brother, but his eyes were glued to Hermione’s face. He scanned her face for any signs of resistance or refusal. Seeing neither of these, he took a step closer and reached out a hand to her. She didn’t appear to hesitate at all before reaching out and taking the proffered hand.

He knew that Fred had begun to make a wisecrack remark, but for some reason he had suddenly stopped and disappeared. This barely registered, however. Without saying another word, and without ever breaking their gaze, he pulled Hermione into his arms and began dancing her away across the dance floor.

Once he had reached a spot in the center of the room, away from the ears of his family, Ron smiled and said, “Hello, Hermione.”

Smiling back, Hermione replied. “Hello, Ronald.”


//
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