The Sugar Quill
Author: Montavilla  Story: Playing at Love (in Four Acts)  Chapter: Act One
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Keeping Away the Flammeracts

Disclaimer:  Much as I adore him, Ron does not belong to me.  He belongs to J.K. Rowling.  So do all the other characters in this story.  I thank her for leaving this bit of the book blank for all of us to fill in as we like.  Thanks to PirateQueen for her beta-reading and especially for helping me with the Britticisms.


Act One

Keeping Away the Flammeracts


It was late, he thought, because the moonlight was creeping through the room. Late. And it was the hospital wing. Odd. Ron Weasley tried to put both facts together and puzzle out their connection. He didn't remember coming to the hospital wing and he vaguely remembered it being morning. Beyond that, all he could remember was the feeling of being tossed about in raging water--disorientation, pain, and the panic of drowning. But now it was as still and quiet as a graveyard.


With effort, he turned his head and was greeted with the disconcerting sight of his parents asleep on a loveseat. His father had one arm about his mother's shoulder. He was holding her other hand, which was resting on her left breast. Definitely odd.


"Mum?" It was barely more than a croak; his throat felt like someone had shoved a bludger down it. She immediately stirred.


"Oh, Ron's awake," she cried out. "Arthur! Ron's woken up!"


His father shook his head and blinked at Ron happily. "Hello, son. How are you feeling?"


"Silly question," Mum said indignantly. "How would you feel if you'd been poisoned?" She poured a glass of water and held it out for him.


Ron tried to raise his hand, but none of his muscles seemed to be working. She clucked impatiently, tipped the liquid into his mouth and patted him reassuringly. "There you are, Ronnie. Don't worry about the arms. Madam Pomfrey told us it might take time to get your limbs working again."


Ron was still puzzled about why he was in the hospital wing and even more so about why his parents would be there. Parents didn't come to school. Hermione had spent a month with a face like a cat and six weeks petrified in second year. Her parents never showed up. In third year, Ron had broken his leg and all he got was a get-well card. Why were his parents here? And why was his mother talking about poison?


It was too hard to articulate these thoughts. His mouth was barely working, and his throat wasn't at all, but Dad seemed to understand. He leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees and explained everything in his quiet, calm voice.


"As far as we know, you and Harry were visiting Professor Slughorn this morning. He offered you both a glass of oak mead. Unknown to him, the mead was poisoned. Dumbledore said it was a very powerful poison. You took the first drink and went into a fit."


"Harry saved your life!" his mother cried. "I'm so proud of him!"


His father nodded. "Harry said he used a bezoar."


Ron nodded, or rather he blinked. That was as close as he could get to a nod. He remembered the bezoar from class.


"So, they brought you up here. And Dumbledore let us know right away. We've just been waiting for you wake up."


His mother started fussing in earnest then, smoothing the coverlet over him and tucking it in. Ron had no energy to resist or protest. He didn't even have the energy to mind. His father remained leaning forward, looking at Ron like he was the latest Muggle toy.


This is the way people look at babies, Ron thought. Like they can't imagine anything better to do. What a funny thing. Then again, he didn't seem to have anything better to do, either. So they all just looked at each other until he fell asleep.


When Ron woke up again, the moonlight had been replaced by sun. Instead of his parents, it was Hermione sitting there. Unsurprisingly, she was reading an enormous, leather-bound book. Ron watched her for a few minutes.


"Hullo," he said finally.


Hermione put the book down, reached out, and took his hand. She squeezed it gently.


"Hello," she said in a calm, soothing voice that sounded very rehearsed. "Don't worry if you're feeling weak. Madam Pomfrey says that's to be expected. She said you might be here for a week or so." She looked down for a moment, biting her lip. Then she smiled reassuringly at him. "She didn't tell me what it was, which is very annoying of her, but it must have been strong. She is giving you essence of rue, which narrows it down to about two dozen possibilities."


Typical Hermione. Had she gone researching poisons because of what happened, or had that been something she'd looked up for fun? Ron didn't feel the need to ask. He was getting used to the idea of just looking at people. So, he just looked at Hermione until she got nervous and let go of his hand.


"I thought I'd come and sit with you a bit before breakfast," she said. She picked up the book again. The title on it read An Unabridged History of Hogwarts: Year Twenty-third.


Ron suddenly remembered something from the day before, when he had drifted between unconsciousness and that choking, stifling pain. There had been a strange jumble of voices, but he distinctly remembered Hermione's voice jutting out of the chaos like a boulder in the center of a rushing river.


"Heardsommityesserday?" he said. It wasn't the most coherent thing he'd ever said. Hermione stared at him blankly for a few minutes. Then she nodded.


"Yes. We were all here. Harry, Ginny, Fred and George. They brought you gifts for your birthday, but…"


He concentrated harder this time, "Missed your voice."


"Oh." Hermione seemed taken aback. She suddenly looked very sad. "I'm sorry. I was being…"


Ron shook his head. "Just missed it," he said simply.


"Would you like me to read to you?" Hermione asked. Ron nodded. Her voice was high and quavering as she raised the book.


"And thus did the second generation of students fulfill the promise they had made to the first by planting the oak upon the place on the ground whereon the vision of the kneazle had appeared…" Hermione peeked out over the book. "I know it's a bit boring," she said apologetically.


Ron smiled at her. "S'all right," he said. "It's like… that fellow."




"In the box thing."


"You mean the music in my walkman? Mozart?"


"Yeah, him."


She laughed and shook her head. "You're mental, Ron." She turned the page and started reading again. Her voice was deeper and surer.


"'Yea,' young Roger the Rancid spake, 'from this one tree shall grow a mighty forest and thus will be protected from the dragon and the centaur and the werewolf and the crumple-horned snorkack our castle…'"


Ron listened. The words made little sense. It was the rhythm, the rise and fall of her voice, that mattered. It was a cadence he'd been hearing for years. Not until she stopped speaking to him in January did he realize how delightful it was. Like music. Like Mozart.


Hermione was still there when he woke up later in the day, but she wasn't alone. At the other end of the loveseat sat a very pale Ginny holding her pygmy puff, Arnold. Harry was leaning against the windowsill looking both worried and relieved, which was the kind of complicated facial expression that only Harry could pull off well.


"About time you woke up," Harry said. He smiled wickedly. "You missed your birthday, you know. I was getting worried you'd miss your next one, too."


"Ha," Ron replied. He felt much better than he had in the morning. The pain in his throat had moved down to his chest. He couldn't feel much below that. Perhaps the poison was slowing leeching out of his body, like ink from a sponge. At this rate he'd be stuck in the hospital wing, staring straight up at the ceiling, for days.


Maybe Harry had managed to pick up some Legilimency, because that thought had barely crossed Ron's mind before his friend had grabbed some spare pillows and propped him up in a sitting position.


This was much better, now he could see the whole room clearly. As soon as Ron was settled upright, Ginny jumped up and threw her arms around him, climbing right up into his lap. Putting her cheek against his, she hissed in his ear, "You idiot! I ought to kill you for being so stupid!"


That made him laugh, and the laugh gave him enough energy to lift one arm and put it around her. She buried her face in his shoulder and sobbed quietly. He hugged her gingerly, remembering the way she used to crawl into Charlie's lap when she was little.


With Dad, Ginny had always played the brat, teasing and demanding in turns. With Bill she'd been like everyone in the family--in awe. But it was quiet, patient Charlie she'd go to when she was unhappy. She'd sit in his lap and cry while he stroked her hair and sang softly. Ron suddenly wondered if Charlie ever sang to the dragons. Maybe he ought to hum something to make Ginny feel better, but the only thing that came into his head was "A Cauldron Full of Hot, Strong Love," and that didn't seem very appropriate.


He looked over at Hermione reading her book with her head bowed. She was just a shade too concentrated on the page. Hermione was so uncomfortable with the Weasley way of wildly swinging emotional displays. It was one of her most endearing and entertaining traits.


Ron turned his head to smile at Harry, who had taken Ginny's vacated spot on the loveseat. He was holding Arnold in the tips of his fingers and watching Ron and Ginny with a strange, unreadable expression.


That wasn't good. When Harry looked like that, it meant he was slipping back into one of his dark moods. Ron felt a sudden pang. Why was life so unfair to Harry? Losing both parents, then living with the Dursleys--who were worse than having no family at all. Then, just last year, having his godfather Sirius die rescuing them all from Death Eaters. It was one bloody horror after another.


How could Ron possibly be luckier? Five older brothers, four of whom were bona fide school legends. All of them alive. All of them healthy. Only one of them a complete git. Both his parents were alive--which was worth more than a million galleons, especially after that scare last year. And Ginny, who had nearly faded away into a memory her first year, was sitting reassuringly real and warm on his lap.


For years, Ron had moaned about being poor, wearing second-hand robes, fixing his broken wand, having a hand-me-down rat. But it turned out the solution to no money was easy. You just get some. What was the solution to no family?


Ron nudged Ginny, who had gone quiet. She tilted her head to look him in the eye. "Am I too heavy?" she asked. "Legs going numb?"


That was as good an excuse as any. "Yeah," he nodded.


She smiled and kissed him on the cheek to show that there were no hard feelings. Then she stuck her tongue out at him to show that she wasn't going soft as she slid off his lap.


She retrieved Arnold from Harry and immediately started teasing him with it. Harry turned pink as she tickled his neck with the soft furry puff. His quick hands shot out to grab it from her, and it turned into a Seeker's match.


Quintessentially Ginny, it was the perfect thing to do. It brought Harry out of his mood; within seconds they were both flushed and laughing. Hermione, no longer nervous and uncomfortable, put down her book to watch. Ron was able to enjoy the show without using the energy it took to be the center of attention. He stayed awake nearly half an hour before drifting off into dreams.


Over the next several days, almost every time he opened his eyes, someone was there to greet him. It was the social equivalent of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans. He never knew who it would be. Sometimes it was Harry, and they talked with great gusto about Quidditch. Sometimes it was Hermione, and she read aloud, causing his knowledge of the minutia of Hogwarts to grow by leaps and bounds. Sometimes it was Ginny, who relayed the juiciest bits of school gossip, complete with dead-on imitations of those involved.


At other times, he awoke to see random people from the school. A delegation of firsties brought a card for "Our Favorite Prefect." Some giggling girls (who may have been hoping to catch a glimpse of Harry) came a few times. They always left quickly.


Professor McGonagall showed up early on to assure him that he could catch up on his classes (which he hadn't even thought about). Professor Dumbledore came and, oddly, apologized to him but wouldn't explain why. Maybe it was for letting his parents come up. He even heard Snape once in conversation with Madam Pomfrey, discussing exactly which poison might been used and where it could have been obtained.


Once he woke up and a sobbing Lavender talked his ear off about how worried she had been, and how she was constantly crying in her classes, and how everyone said she was very brave. At least Ron thought that was the gist of it. He didn't listen very hard because it sounded tiresome. He knew he'd be fine as soon as the poison worked its way out and he could move his legs. The greatest danger now was being bored to death. He wanted to say these things, but Lavender probably wouldn't appreciate them, and she wasn't giving him any room to talk in any case. So he just let himself fall back sleep.


He had a nightmarish, half-memory of seeing Malfoy's face and hearing him whisper maliciously into his ear, "Drunk too much of old Sluggy's wine, Weasel? Pity it wasn't Granger." He woke up with his heart pounding, but there wasn't anyone there. The room was dark and quiet.


He told Hermione about it when she showed up the next morning, but she didn't seem worried or think it worth pursuing. She forbade him to tell Harry. "I've had just about enough of his Malfoy obsession," she said. "I don't need you adding to it because you had a bad dream."


Ron thought she was probably right. Why would Malfoy bother sneaking into the hospital wing? Maybe it was his own mind echoing back to all the Slytherin's insults. Hermione let them roll off her back, but Ron never could. He kept seeing a cold flash of hatred in those pale eyes that went beyond bullying. He wouldn't put it past Malfoy to want Hermione dead.


That night, he opened his eyes and found Neville lying alone on the loveseat, asleep. His face was a bluish white in the moonlight, and he looked utterly exhausted. A large book hung from his arms as if he'd dropped off while reading it.


Another time he woke up to see both Hermione and Lavender sitting on opposite ends of the loveseat, glaring daggers at each other. At that point, Ron--who had once played the best chess game at Hogwarts in many a year--made the strategic decision to close his eyes and fall right back asleep.


The next time he woke up, he opened one eye cautiously. Would it be Lavender or Hermione? It was neither. Perched on the edge of the loveseat, staring at him curiously, was Luna Lovegood. She was wearing a crown made from clear moonstones and jagged crystals bound together with silver wire.


"I can tell you're awake," she said serenely. "You stopped snoring."


"What are you doing here?" Ron asked.


"Hermione and Ginny were busy. I’m here to annoy Lavender if she turns up." She picked up a copy of the Quibbler and put her feet up on the arm of the loveseat. Her toenails had been painted in the Ravenclaw colors.


"I don't mind," she continued. "It gave me a chance to give you your birthday present."


She nodded to his bedside table. A small figurine of a scarlet lion was lazily cleaning its paws.


"Thanks. Did you make it yourself?"


She nodded slowly. "I'm very clever with charms."


"Who told you to annoy Lavender?"




Ron didn't know whether to be amused or disappointed. He decided to be amused. "That's hard luck for you, though."


Luna shrugged. "I don't mind. I've done my homework. And you're interesting to watch when you're asleep. Most people are boring."


"You’ve watched enough people to compare them? What do you do, walk around the dorms and study them at night?"


"Sometimes," Luna nodded, wiggling her toes. "I only sleep one or two hours, so I have a lot of time to fill."


"Really? Why is that?"


"I don't know. I've always been that way. Why do you kiss Lavender Brown so much? Ginny says it's disgusting. Are you in love with her?"


That was a disconcerting question. He had no answer for it.


"I told Ginny that you were probably just practicing. After all, Lavender is a very good kisser."


"How do you know that?!"


"Neville told me. Seamus told him that Lavender was the best kisser he'd ever met. Neville thinks you're practicing, too. He thinks you're in love with someone else."


"Is everyone in school discussing my love life?" Ron asked, feeling both indignant and proud.


"This year. Last year your love life wasn't very interesting. They talked about Harry and Cho Chang instead. Except Ginny. She gets mad when people talk about Harry and hexes them. How much practicing does kissing take, anyway? Is it like Apparating?"


Ron decided to ignore the last two questions. "Neville told you that I'm in love with someone else? Who?"


Luna stared at him for a moment, blinking her eyes slowly. Then she said, "I don't think it's a good idea to tell people who they're in love with. They ought to figure that out on their own."


Ron sighed. Luna stared at him for another minute before finally remarking, "But I do think you must be very thick if you haven't figured it out by now."


Ron felt his face getting hot. Luna didn't seem to notice. Her gaze had drifted away to the moon rising over the mountaintops. By the time she looked back, Ron was back to normal and she carried on as if they hadn't both been silent for nearly ten minutes.


"You ought to think about my question about why you're kissing Lavender. When you do get a proper girlfriend, she'll want to know why you spent months kissing someone you don't love in front of her."


Ron played with the hem of his coverlet. There was a small goosedown feather that was sticking out at the seam. "What if your reasons aren't very good?" he asked. "What if it was because you were jealous, or wanted to prove that you could, or just plain liked kissing?"


"Maybe you can say it in a nice way," Luna pondered, her head tilted to one side. "It's always possible to say things in ways that aren't hurtful. For example, people are always saying that I'm barmy, or odd, or nutty as a fruitcake."


Ron blushed. He had thought all those things about Luna at one time or another. She smiled at him dreamily and asked, "What did you think about me when you met me?"


"I suppose I thought you were odd," he mumbled.


Luna nodded. "You could say it like that, which is rude, or you could say, 'I thought you were odd when I met you, but once I knew you better, I realized you were very special and fun to be with.'"


Ron grinned. "That does sound better. And it's the truth, too. What did you think of me the first time you saw me?"


Luna thought for a moment. "The first time I saw you," she said. "I was walking down by the Quidditch field and I saw you burping up slugs."


Ron grimaced. "So, you thought I was a complete prat, but after time, you realized I wasn't so bad?"


Luna blinked. "No. I thought, 'Hermione Granger is the luckiest person in the world.'"


At that moment, a stray moonbeam caught the crown of crystals, lighting them up and sending rainbow halos dancing her around her head. Ron blinked in astonishment.


Luna smiled and tapped her head. "Moonstones. They help keep away the Flammeracts."


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