The Sugar Quill
Author: Dogstar (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Twenty Minutes  Chapter: Default
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For the next few minutes, Hermione covered her confusion by concentrating on Ron’s essay

With thanks to my beta reader, the wonderful Suburban House Elf.

Twenty Minutes

For the next few minutes, Hermione covered her confusion by concentrating on Ron’s essay. The worn-out Spell-Checking quill had made a real mess of it. Even so, this second paragraph describing the Occlumency theory of dealing with Dementors was dreadful. You’d think that even if Ron couldn’t be bothered to listen to Professor Snape, he might remember something about the basic method from Harry’s experiences last year. Not her problem. She’d always refused to actually do the work for them and she wasn’t about to start now …

“Sort of fell apart, yeah …” Harry’s words filtered through. They were talking about Lavender now.

“…the more I hint I want to finish it, the tighter she holds on …”

Hermione stopped reading and her wand remained poised, unmoving. The writing on the parchment danced in front of her eyes. They sounded so casual, as though they discussed this sort of thing all the time. Well, Harry was easy to talk to, she knew that. Ron was another matter. Hermione wasn’t an idiot. She’d known Ron a long time. She could hazard a hopeful guess as to the meaning behind the surly expression he wore these days, every time he reappeared from Lavender’s clutches. Or the impatient glances he would shoot in Lavender’s direction when her high-pitched giggle rang out around the common room. No, Hermione wasn’t an idiot. She knew these were good signs. Signs on not quite the same scale as hearing him refer to Lavender as ‘the Giant Squid,’ mind.

Ron and Harry went back to talking about Slughorn’s memory. Sinking back into her chair, Hermione held Ron’s essay up in front of her face, as though she were looking closely at one of the feebler spellings, and allowed her overloaded brain a moment to slow down. “I love you, Hermione.” Oh, don’t be such an idiot. She wasn’t going to fool herself – or even pretend for a second – that it had been anything but an offhand remark. But she knew Ron. Better than anyone she knew how easily, unthinkingly his words – usually spoken in temper – betrayed him. Speak first, think later, or not at all. That’s how it went with Ron.

Hermione remembered the other time – well over a year ago now – that she’d sat here, just like this, correcting a different homework. Harry’s too that time. What had it been? Astronomy, that’s right. The essays hadn’t been that memorable, Jupiter’s moons or something … Easier than this one anyway. Hermione squinted at the parchment, correcting absentmindedly once more. Could he really not have noticed some of these? I mean, honestly … Surely even Ron knew how to spell Patronus? But that night stood out in her mind for another reason. It had been the night she’d realised (not for the first time perhaps but certainly the clearest she’d seen it until then) that he wasn’t just go-with-the-flow-Ron. Or take-the-path-of-least-resistance-Ron. Then there was won’t-stand-up-to-his-brothers-Ron, closely related to doesn’t-take-being-a-prefect-seriously-Ron. Not forgetting the classic messes-about-constantly-in-lessons-Ron.

She remembered the look on Harry’s face as they’d read Percy’s letter together. The same bleak, blank, carefully-composed look that crossed it whenever he was trying to pretend he didn’t care. The look which always reminded Hermione that Harry had been alone for ten years before he’d come to Hogwarts. She remembered even more clearly Ron’s face as he’d taken back the letter – closed, set, determined.  This, then, was stand-up-for-your-friends-Ron. How many times had he stood up for her? One step further on from that was stand-by-them-at-all-costs-Ron. And then it hit her. That, to her, he was Really Quite Extraordinary Ron, for that reason alone. Which was the moment Hermione realised she’d never be able to go back to seeing him in a lesser light again, no matter what he did.

Oh, she’d tried. These past few months, she’d really given it her best possible shot. And he’d done everything to make it easy for her by being, it seemed, almost wilfully cruel at times. Not that she hadn’t given as good as she got. Hermione’s cheeks grew hot. Ron wasn’t the only one who needed to think first sometimes. She’d never admit it to Harry – or Ron – but Hermione couldn’t help but feel that if she’d had Professor Snape as Defence teacher since first year, she’d be as good at controlling her wilder impulses as she was at attacking other people.

Hermione sighed and tapped at another word. Oops, no, perhaps he had meant to write “hungry” rather than “angry sole-socking friends”. She’d used to wonder whether Ron would have worked harder at lessons if he hadn’t been Harry’s best friend. She’d speculate whether he might have ended up doing a sensible subject like Arithmancy or Ancient Runes instead of Divination. She’d even entertained little fantasies about them studying in the library together. No wonder he’d gone off with Lavender.

“You can’t fix people, Hermione,” her mum had said at Christmas, holding her as she sobbed, finally able to relax her guard, away from school, away from the girls’ dormitory.

“B – but I – I only wanted him to b – be what I knew he could be. What I thought he wanted to be …”

“Oh, my clever, brave girl. That’s just what you can’t have. Not if you want a happy life.” Taken aback, Hermione’s sobs had shuddered to a halt, as she considered this.

“Wh – what am I going to d – do?”

“Give it time, my love. You’ll work it out.”

And she had. Weeks later, on Ron’s birthday, she’d gone to hide in the library to cry a bit more over the present she now had no intention of giving him, the one she’d bought in Fred and George’s shop all those months before. Professor McGonagall had found her, perhaps not knowing about the rift, perhaps not thinking it was important, and told her, briefly but gently, that Ron had been poisoned. That he was alive but it was too early to say if there would be any permanent damage. For the next eight hours, Hermione’s world had shrunk to: ‘Let him be all right. Let him be all right and I’ll never ask for anything else. Let him be all right and I’ll be his friend again. Let him be all right.” Over and over again.

The next day, she’d sat in the chair next to his bed and watched him sleep for a bit. Happy that he was who he’d always been. And when he woke up, he caught her looking because she didn’t look away. They didn’t need to speak to know that they were both glad to be back.

Hermione tapped the last word on Ron’s essay and handed it to him. “There,” she said, meaning, “I love you, too.”

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