The Sugar Quill
Author: B Bennett (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Getting Close to Somewhere  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: This follows The Other Kiss, although you don’t have to read that story for this one to make sense. All characters belong to JK Rowling, of course. Rated PG, R/H.

Ginny Weasley was not a morning person. Hermione discovered this the last time she stayed at the Burrow, and in a year things hadn't changed. From the soft breathing across the room, she could tell Ginny was asleep. Quietly, Hermione climbed out of bed, slipped into shorts and a sweatshirt, then crept out of the room, book in hand. The best time to read while staying with the Weasleys was before the boys awoke; once up and moving, they made so much racket that it was impossible to concentrate on anything. It didn't actually bother her; as an only child, she found the noise strangely enjoyable, but at the moment she was looking forward to an hour alone on the beach.

The cottage Mr. Weasley borrowed from a Ministry colleague had only two bedrooms, so the twins, Ron, and Harry slept in the living room. Hermione tiptoed through the lumpy sprawl of worn sleeping bags, trying not to step on a stray arm or foot. The fire from the night before had died out, leaving a smell of burned wood, damp towels, and salt air. Exploding Snap cards were scattered about the room; half-empty mugs of cocoa and last evening's bowl of popped corn had been left on the coffee table. The cottage felt familiar after only one night.

She reached the back door without incident and jumped off the low porch onto the sand, which began where the cottage ended. It felt wonderfully cold to her bare feet. She stopped to admire the view. The sun had just risen, and the warm, indefinite edges of the sky reminded her of a watercolor. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, enjoying the tang of ozone and the sound of crashing waves. The chill in the air made her tug the arms of her sweatshirt down over her hands. She thought about the coming week and smiled.

"Sneaking out to feed your addiction?"

Hermione's eyes snapped open. Ron was standing not five feet away in the sand; the noise of the ocean must have muffled his footsteps.

He smiled sheepishly at her expression. "Sorry. Didn't mean to scare you."

"What are you doing out here?" she blurted, her heart beating quickly at being startled. "I thought everyone was still asleep."

He shrugged. "I'd like to be. I woke up early and couldn't get back to sleep, so I thought I'd come for a walk." He gestured to her book. "Can't go a day without reading something, can you."

"There are worse hobbies," Hermione said, sounding more defensive than she intended.

His smile faded. "I know. I was just kidding."

Hermione shook her head. "I know you were. I'm sorry. I guess I'm just not awake yet. I didn't mean to snap." She took a step closer. Her heart was still pounding, but now for a different reason. "Look, I can read anytime. Want to walk with me?"

"Alright." Ron hesitated. "If you're sure you want to."

"I do," she said, both afraid he might change his mind and half-hoping he would.

She glanced up and down the beach. "Shall we head toward the pier?"

Ron nodded. "That sounds good."

They slogged through the loose sand to the water's edge, where the tide had washed the beach smooth and the walking was better. Both were silent. Hermione cast covert glances at Ron, who seemed lost in thought. He was wearing a flannel shirt and jeans, and his feet were shoved barefoot into a pair of old trainers. He'd grown since the end of term; he wasn't taller, but he was less skinny. She wondered what he was thinking, and why she just didn't ask.

Ron cleared his throat. "Does this seem weird to you?"

Hermione stopped abruptly. "What? What's weird? This?"

He shrugged. "I don't know, yesterday we picked you and Harry up, and then we came here, and we were really busy last night - we didn't have much of a chance to talk. And now we're here." He paused, looking embarrassed. "It seems kind of weird, that's all."

Hermione racked her brain for a response. Ron was one of her very best friends, but for the first time since they'd met, she couldn't think of a thing to say to him.

Ron glanced sideways. "I've liked writing you this summer." He sounded cautious.

"I've liked writing to you, too." To her annoyance, she felt herself blush. "I'm afraid we may've worn out Pig, though."

Ron shook his head. "Not a chance. He loves it, the little show-off. And as a bonus, he's tired enough at night that he'll shut up and lets me sleep."

Hermione laughed. The pounding in her chest eased somewhat.

Ron's grin lit up his whole face. "Do you want to sit down?"

She smiled back, feeling a bit more like herself. "Okay." She followed Ron up the beach until they were safe from the reach of the tide. Early morning sunlight bathed everything in a warm, golden glow. "It was really nice of your parents to invite me," she said, settling cross-legged in the sand.

Ron leaned back on his elbows and stretched his long legs out in front of him. "I'm glad you could come. It was really short notice."

Hermione smiled. "I was bored stiff at home. You could've owled yesterday morning, and I still would have been packed in time. I'm just happy the Dursleys didn't refuse Harry permission. I was afraid they'd say no, just to be nasty."

Ron shook his head. "Harry almost didn't come, but it wasn't because of his relatives."

"What? Was it Professor Dumbledore?"

"Nah, Mum got the okay from Dumbledore for Harry to visit a month ago. Harry didn't want to come."

"You're joking!" Hermione asked, shocked. "Why ever in the world not?"

Ron shrugged. "Misplaced sense of nobility. I think he's got this idea he's putting everyone around him in danger, so he turned down my invitation. He actually tried to convince me he and Dudley were getting along so much better, and he'd just stay in Little Whinging the rest of the summer, thank you very much." Ron snorted. "The prat. I'm not that dense."

"So how'd you get him to come?" Hermione asked, curious.

Ron grinned. "I didn't, I just forgot tell anyone he wasn't coming. Dad and I kind of showed up at the Dursley's yesterday morning. Harry had the choice of either coming with us or making excuses as to why he couldn't and staying with the muggles, who, by their expressions, would've locked him in the cellar 'til school starts." He chuckled. "You should've seen Dudley's face - priceless. Wish I'd had a camera."

"Ron!" Hermione admonished, although she was fighting a smile. "It's really not funny. Poor Harry. Wasn't he mad?"

"Oh, I'm sure he's quite put out with me," Ron said, matter-of-factly. "But he's too polite to have said anything in front of Mum and Dad last night. I expect I'll get yelled at sometime today." Ron didn't seem particularly upset by the prospect.

Hermione frowned thoughtfully. "I'm sure we are in danger, but there’s no way around that, is there? Even if Harry had his way and never spoke to us again, Pettigrew still knows we're all friends, and if he knows… "

Ron nodded. "Then Voldemort knows."

Hermione looked at him, surprised. "Ron, you said his name!"

Ron grinned ruefully. "Yeah, I've been practicing. You know, breaking it down into syllables and all. Couldn't get past "Vol" for the longest time."

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Ron."

His grin slowly faded. "We probably are in danger, Hermione. You're right, it's too late to change that." He paused to pick up a handful of sand, letting it shift slowly through his open fingers. "I figure if we do run up against him, damned if I'll be too scared to call him by his name."

Ron's change in tone made Hermione's eyes suddenly fill with warm tears. This was too serious; they were too young for this. The morning had warmed up considerably, but it felt as if her insides had turned to ice. She pulled in her knees, hugging them close to her body.

Ron noticed. "Are you cold?"

Hermione blinked rapidly, looking away. "Yeah, I guess. Should've brought a jacket. I didn't think about it being so chilly in July."

Ron hesitated, then leaned in and carefully put an arm around her shoulders. "Is this warmer?"

Hermione dared a glance at him. His face was quite red; she imagined her own was a perfect match. She swiped at her eyes. "Yes, that's better."

"So," he said, quietly, "when we see Harry, we tell him he's being a stupid git, we're not abandoning him, and to get over himself?"

She offered him a small smile. "Absolutely."

"Good." He paused. "I wish we could've brought our brooms. This'd be a great place to ride."

Hermione welcomed the change of topic. "Too bad this isn't a wizard community. Although I think your Dad’s enjoying his new Muggle clothes."

Ron grinned. "He was beside himself when he heard he couldn't wear robes. He really wanted to go all out, even to the point of asking Mum to cook the Muggle way."

"What did she say?"

"No. Told him he could spend his vacation eating burnt food if he wanted, but she wasn't going to. She backed him up about the brooms, though."

"I'm sure you'll live," she gently teased, "It's only be for ten days."

"I know, but I could use the practice." He hesitated. "Fred and George want me to try out for Oliver Wood’s old position once term starts."

"Ron, that’s wonderful!" She'd watched enough quidditch with Ron to know how much he loved the sport.

"Really?" he asked, sounding uncertain. "I mean, you don’t think anyone'll say I'm trying out just because Harry's on the team, do you?"

"Ron!" Hermione nudged him. "Of course not! You don’t really think that, do you?"

He shrugged. "No. But I know some people do."

"Well, their opinion doesn't count. And you're so good at chess strategy - I think you'll make a wonderful Keeper."

"Oh, right," he said gruffly, ducking his head. But Hermione thought he looked pleased.

"Am I interrupting something?"

Hermione shrieked, and Ron leapt to his feet. When he saw who it was, he clutched at his chest."Give me a heart attack, why don't you, Harry," he gasped, breathing hard. "Could you not sneak up like that again? Ever?"

Harry grinned at them. He was barefoot, swinging his trainers by their laces. He dropped to the sand next to Hermione.

"Not my fault you weren’t paying attention."

Hermione blushed. "We were just talking."

"Yeah, I could tell," Harry said. He looked amused.

Ron sat back on the other side of Hermione and glared at Harry. "Look, wear a bell or something next time, okay?"

Hermione was careful not to look at Ron, as she was quite sure she would implode if their eyes met. "What're you doing out here?" she asked.

Harry wiped his glasses on the sleeve of his sweatshirt. "Your mum's making breakfast. I was drafted to find you two." He settled his glasses back on his nose and squinted at the ocean. "It's pretty here, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is. I was just telling Ron how nice it was of his family to invite us. Both of us."

Harry leaned around Hermione. "I take it that means you told her?" he asked wryly.

Ron raised an eyebrow. "That rubbish about not coming on holiday with us? Sure, I told her."

Harry frowned. "That wasn't exactly a fair thing to do, just showing up in the fireplace like that."

Ron laughed shortly. "You didn't exactly give me a choice, did you."

"Really, Harry, what were you thinking?" Hermione began. "Did you honestly think we were just going to let you stop speaking to us?"

Harry shrugged, but didn't answer. He became very interested in tracing a pattern in the sand with his index finger.

"Harry," Hermione sighed. She caught his restless hand and squeezed it tightly. "Look, you're not in this alone. We're your friends."

"I'm sorry," he blurted, his brow crinkling. "I just…" he shrugged again. "I'm sorry."

Hermione realized his apology was about more than just the summer. She looked to Ron, who was contemplating Harry.

"Just don't do it again, okay?" Ron said. He shuddered. "Trust me, I have no desire to ever pop in on the Dursleys like that again."

"Okay," Harry said, offering a tight smile that didn't reach his eyes.

Hermione squeezed his hand again. "Well, good," she said, and pretended to wipe sweat from her brow. "That's settled. Now let's go back. I'm starving." She stood, pulling Harry with her, and looked down at Ron. She liked the glint of sunlight on his red hair. She also liked the way he was looking at her. "Coming, Ron?" she asked. She extended her other hand.

Ron stood and placed his hand in hers, carefully twining his fingers around her own. "Yeah," he said, smiling into her eyes. "I'm hungry too." His expression suddenly changed to a glare. "What?"

"Nothing, nothing," Harry said hastily, wiping the smirk from his face. "We better go, your mum's making blueberry waffles. Wouldn't want Fred and George to finish them off."

"Blueberry waffles? Why didn't you say so earlier?" Ron feigned alarm. "Forget Fred and George, Ginny's the one to watch for - she adores waffles. We'd better hurry!"

Hermione laughed. "Then stop talking and move!" she tugged at them.

They were still holding hands when they reached the cottage.

//
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