The Sugar Quill
Author: B Bennett (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Better Late Than Never  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.

A/N: The title applies more to the missed Sugar Quill First Annual Fan Fiction Tournament deadline than to the story, but I suppose it works for that too. All characters owned by JK Rowling; this story is purely for fun.

Pretend it's December…

****

The first Christmas that I knew Ron, he gave me a box of Chocolate Frogs, with the following note:

To: Hermione

From: Ron

Happy Christmas

Later, he mentioned that he was still missing the Agrippa and Ptolemy cards, and since I didn't collect, would I mind keeping an eye out for them? And did I think I'd be eating the frogs soon? Or, if I didn't want to eat them right away, when did I think I might unwrap them?

I made that box of Frogs last almost an entire year.

The next Christmas that I knew Ron, he gave me a box of Cockroach Clusters, with the following note:

Hermione,

Don't eat them all at once!

HA HA HA HA

Ron

After opening my other presents, I went downstairs to the common room. Ron was there. When he saw me, a wide grin spread across his face.

"Merry Christmas, Ron!" I said, cheerfully. "Thank you for the chocolates!"

I then sat down on the sofa and ate the entire box. Even the legs.

By the time I finished, Ron's grin had disappeared. He instead looked horrified - and rather impressed.

I smiled at him, then left for breakfast.

Prat.

The third year that I knew Ron, he gave me the Super Giant Holiday-Sized box of Bertie Botts Every Flavoured Beans, with the following note:

Dear Hermione,

Hope you like these.

Happy Christmas,

Ron

It was February before it occurred to me that I hadn't come across one disgusting flavour: no tripe, no vomit, no liver, no sweat socks, no cantaloupe. There was still horseradish, though, which Ron has always insisted is really quite good once you get used to it.

I guess he was trying to make up for the cockroaches.

The fourth Christmas that I knew Ron, he gave me a box of chocolate toffees, with the following note:

Dear Hermione,

Happy Christmas.

Your friend,

Ron

p.s. Who are you going to the ball with?

I didn't get to eat any of those. After the dance was over, Ron and I had a big fight, and I threw the box into the fireplace in my room.

Then I cried all night.

That brings us up to this year.

****

Smiling, Hermione reached for the rectangular box at the foot of her bed. Ron's presents were always easy to recognize; Honeydukes used the same gold-colored wrapping paper year after year. Unlike previous years' presents, however, this one had an unfamiliar sticker pressed across the bow. It read:

Careful, Dear -

You wouldn't want to break

one of these!

Hermione opened the box. Fitted into slotted protective holders and covered in layers of tissue paper were twelve perfect Sugar Quills. She selected one, and held it to the light. It shimmered transparently. She thought about third year, when she and Ron had gone alone to Hogsmeade, and how standing in front of the display case at Honeydukes, he'd lectured her on the intricacies of making wizarding sweets - talking about how each Sugar Quill must be spun by hand and spelled individually. "It's an art, really," he'd explained, very seriously. "There're wizards who train their whole lives, just to make Sugar Quills. Each one costs as much as a whole box of Frogs. Worth it, though - best candy you'll ever taste."

Included with the box was the following note:

Dear Hermione,

These reminded me of you.

Love from,

Ron

Hermione opened the rest of her presents, then dressed and went downstairs. Ron was drinking cocoa, on the sofa in front of the fire. He was alone.

"Happy Christmas, Ron."

Ron jerked to his feet, spilling the cocoa down the front of his jumper. "Ow!" he yelled. "Hot!" He grabbed the jumper by the waist and held it away from his body, fanning himself rapidly with his other hand.

"Ron!" Hermione said, hand clapped to her mouth, "I'm sorry! I didn't mean to… oh, here!" She pulled her wand from the back pocket of her jeans. "Amotio liquidus macula!"

The dark spot vanished.

Ron let go of the jumper. He looked embarrassed. "Thanks. That was… hot."

Hermione grinned. "Sorry I startled you."

"Oh. It wasn't your fault." Ron went a bit more red. "I was just thinking. I didn't hear you."

"Oh. Well…" Hermione's gaze shifted from his face. "Ron! Your jumper - it's not maroon!"

"Yeah, I know." Ron laughed shortly, tugging again at the waist of the sweater. It was medium blue. "Ginny must've clued Mum in."

Hermione smiled. "Oh. It's lovely."

For a moment, neither spoke.

"Ron, thank you for…"

"Hermione, thank you for the..."

They both laughed. Hermione cleared her throat and began again. "Thank you for the gift. It was wonderful."

"Do you really think so?" Ron asked, sounding cautious. "I thought after that maybe it was sort of dumb - it's not like you slack off in class and need to pretend you're still taking notes or anything. I could always find you something el-"

"No," Hermione firmly shook her head. "I don't want anything else. It was one of the…" She paused. A pink stain spread across her face. "It's the best gift I've ever got."

Ron ducked his head, looking very pleased. After a moment, he glanced up and smiled.

"What you gave me," he said. "I couldn't believe it when I opened…how did you find..."

Hermione smiled. "Just got lucky, I suppose." She looked pleased.

Ron laughed. "I've been looking for those two cards for six years, and you just got lucky?"

Hermione's smile turned into a triumphant grin. "Just luck."

Ron shook his head. He seemed to hesitate for a moment, then rather awkwardly, leaned in and carefully put his arms around her shoulders. After a moment, Hermione leaned into him. He smelled like clean wool, and he was warm.

When they parted, neither could quite meet the other's eyes.

"So," Hermione said, looking at the floor. "Any cocoa left, or did you spill it all on yourself?"

Ron laughed, sounding startled. He gestured toward the hearth. "Pot's right there, want some?"

"Please." Hermione sat down on the sofa, watching as Ron filled a mug, handed it to her, and then refilled his own. He sat down beside her, his knee not quite touching hers. Neither spoke as they drank their cocoa, both staring into the fire.

"Hello."

Hermione abruptly slid away from Ron. "Morning, Harry!" she said, brightly.

"Happy Christmas," Harry yawned, and dropped into the squashy chair next to the sofa. His thick, dark-green sweater looked very much like Ron's. He carried a small paperback book.

Ron raised his arm and pointedly looked at his wristwatch.

Harry made face. "It's not that late," he said. "Just because I didn't tear through my presents at the crack of dawn and rush down to the common room like some people…"

Ron flung a pillow at Harry, which Harry caught and stuffed behind his head.

"Is that the book I gave you?" Hermione asked, looking pleased.

"Yeah," Harry smiled. "Thanks. This'll come in handy."

"What book?" Ron asked.

Harry handed it to Ron.

"Checkmate," Ron read aloud. "The Non-Enthusiast's Guide to Playing Chess and Beating Friends and Relatives Who Almost Always Win and Are Obnoxious About It." "Hey!" He looked indignant. "Almost? When've either of you ever beaten me once?"

Harry threw the pillow back at Ron. Hermione shook her head, her eyes turned toward the ceiling. She seemed to be fighting a smile.

Harry grinned. "What time's breakfast?"

Ron checked his watch. "Not for an hour." He smirked. "Anybody want a game?"

Harry shook his head. "Nuh-uh. Not until I read some of this." He swung his legs across the arm of the chair and opened his book.

"Won't help," Ron said flippantly. He turned to Hermione, his eyebrow cocked. "How about you?"

Hermione met his eyes, and smiled.

Ron's smug grin faltered.

"I think," she said quietly, "I'd just like to sit here and drink some more chocolate."

Ron's ears turned pink. He reached for Hermione's mug, refilled it, then handed it back, his fingers brushing hers.

They leaned back into the sofa, their shoulders touching. Neither moved until Harry stood, half an hour later, and announced that he was hungry.

//
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