The Sugar Quill
Author: Mizaya (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: A Friendly Game of Deception  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: I originally wrote this for the Genfic Challenge, but elements of R/Hr that I couldn’t resist seeped in, and the story took on a life of its own

A/N: Many thanks to TheGiantSquid for her beta work, which is always wonderful. Reviews are welcome and appreciated!

*****

A sigh, and the distinctive thud of a book closing.

Ron lifted grateful eyes from his own book and looked down the long wooden table at Hermione. "Finished with that one?" he asked. He proffered another from the large stack beside him, but Hermione didn’t take it; instead, she shook her head and, without ever looking at him, backed her chair away from the table and stood.

"I think I’m done for the day." She flicked her wand at her clutter of parchment on the table and instantly it separated into neatly bound scrolls, her quill and ink jar leaping into place beside them. "Good night."

Ron frowned and glanced at the clock that ticked noisily over the old stove. "It’s only nine," he said. They’d been staying up far later than that since arriving at Grimmauld Place. Usually they pored over books and manuscripts and musty old documents until ten or so and then headed to the lounge for some down-time. Hermione would knit and Harry and Ron would play Gobstones or Wizard’s chess. It was by far Ron’s favorite part of the day, and the prospect of her not being there made him more disappointed than he would have imagined.

Hermione wasn’t deterred, though, apparently. "I know what time it is. Aren’t I allowed to go to bed if I like?" She didn’t sound angry so much as exasperated, and she didn’t wait for an answer before heading out the door into the dark hallway, hair flouncing in her wake.

"But..."

Ron stared after her for a moment, even when she was out of sight. Then he turned his attention to Harry, who was jotting down notes about Rowena Ravenclaw and apparently hadn’t noticed Hermione’s abrupt departure.

"Harry" – Ron waited for him to look up from his writing – "did Hermione say anything to you about being upset?"

"No." He went back to his notes.

"She didn’t say anything?"

"No, she didn’t," Harry told him with a sigh.

Ron glanced at the vacant doorway again, concerned. "But she just went to bed. She isn’t even going to meet us in the lounge."

"I’m not deaf, you know. I heard her."

Ron’s frown deepened. "Oy, what’s with you lot tonight?" Hermione was in a funk and Harry was snapping at him, and Ron had no idea what had set them off. He racked his brain, trying to remember if he’d done something horrible at dinner—accidentally insult their mothers, perhaps?—but it had seemed a pretty normal meal to him: beef stew, cabbage, some pumpkin juice, and a lot of discussion about Horcruxes.

"What day is it, Ron," Harry said suddenly, and it wasn’t really a question.

"Er, I dunno." The days at Grimmauld Place all sort of ran together for him. "Tuesday?"

Harry put down his worn eagle feather quill and turned to Ron, shaking his head. "It’s Sunday, actually, but I meant the date."

"The date?" Ron asked. He looked over at the tower of Daily Prophets next to the rubbish bin, but from where he sat he couldn’t quite make out today’s date on the one they’d added to pile after breakfast.

"It’s August thirty-first," Harry said significantly.

"So? What does that have to do with—oh." Now he got it. "I hadn’t even thought about that."

"I know." Harry slapped him once on the shoulder once in a friendly way. "I’m not really surprised."

"Gee, thanks." Ron didn’t feel much like joking, though—he was busy thinking about Hermione, putting her actions into perspective. Her odd behavior made sense now, and Ron was beginning to feel a little miserable about it himself. "I hate not going back," he said to Harry, though he was looking straight ahead, at the peeling wallpaper and the cracks in the plaster underneath.

"So do I."

Ron turned quickly to Harry, who had picked his quill back up and was drawing squiggles in the margin of his parchment. "I know it’s not your fault, mate, I didn’t mean that—"

"I know." His squiggle turned into a sharp angle, and it was clear to Ron that he wanted that particular subject to end there.

"But it’s got to be killing Hermione. You know how much she loves school."

Harry nodded slightly, thoughtfully. "She was going to be Head Girl."

"Really?" Ron wasn’t surprised by the news, but rather that Harry knew and he didn’t. "How’d you find that out?"

"I saw her open her Hogwarts letter—I was going upstairs and she was in her bedroom—and she took a badge out of the envelope. She didn’t see me." He paused and then added hesitantly, "I think she was crying."

Sighing, Ron planted his elbows on the table in front of him and put his head in his hands. "Sometimes I wish we could make her go back."

"I know, but we can’t."

"I know," said Ron, and he did.

For a few minutes they were silent. Harry went back to taking notes from the barely legible biography of Rowena Ravenclaw and Ron stayed how he was, rubbing his eyes and thinking. About Hermione not being able to go back to school, mostly, but also about their entire situation. If they died, it wouldn’t matter if they missed their seventh year, if Hermione couldn’t be Head Girl, but he didn’t want to think about that. He couldn’t. Visions of Hermione lying cold and lifeless in the middle of chaotic battle already came too freely to his mind.

"Hey," he said after a bit, and lifted his head up. "I have an idea."

"This’ll be good," Harry quipped, putting his quill down again.

"I’m serious. We should do something for Hermione. Cheer her up tomorrow, or..."

"Or what?"

"Well, I was thinking maybe we could talk to McGonagall. Maybe she has schoolwork Hermione could do, like a correspondence course, or Hermione could help her out with something a Head Girl would do. I dunno."

Harry was quiet for a moment, but then he smiled a little. "I think Hermione would love that. I could send my Patronus to her in the morning. She’ll probably be busy with school stuff, but she’ll come if she thinks it’s Order business. And kill me when she finds out it’s not," he added.

"No, I think we should owl her," Ron said, a plan forming rapidly in his head. "I bet Hedwig could get to her tonight; Pig’d be too slow. We could tell her to pretend it’s her own idea." They’d already had a few heated discussions with Order members, including McGonagall and his parents, about their not going back to school. "Hermione wouldn’t want us to know she’s so upset—you know how she gets. Yeah?"

"Yeah." Harry pulled a fresh sheet of parchment from the bottom of his stack. "You really thought this through, didn’t you?" There was something knowing in the way he said it, but Ron shrugged off the question. Lately, thinking things through when it came to Hermione was all too easy.

"You should write it. She likes you better."

"That’s not saying much." But Harry poised his quill over the page anyway. "What should I write?"

Ron dictated the letter and Harry wrote, with a few changes in diction and syntax. In fifteen minutes it was done and Harry went up to send it off with Hedwig while Ron set up the chess board. He was feeling too strategic for Gobstones.

*****

Rolling onto his stomach and dragging his pillow over his head, Ron tried to find a comfortable position so he could get a bit more sleep. After a few moments of trying and failing, however, he realized what had awoken him: tapping. Immediately the events of the previous night came back to him, and he forced himself to sit up.

"Harry," he said to his friend, who was sleeping soundly in the room’s other bed, "get up. Hedwig’s back."

Harry grunted.

Ron threw his pillow at Harry’s back and went over to the window, where the snowy white owl glared at him impatiently through the glass. She had a return letter, which Ron hadn’t really expected, and after dropping it in his hands she flew to the top of the bureau, clipping his ear with her wing in the process.

Ron shot an annoyed look at the bird, then broke the seal on the parchment and unrolled it.

Dear Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley,

I’m afraid your summer homework does need to be completed before the start of term. No extensions will be granted under any circumstances. I expect there will be ample time to complete your assignments on the Hogwarts Express, but if you are unable to hand in your work tomorrow on the first day of class, I’m sure you will find a week’s worth of detention sufficient motivation for completing future assignments. Let us not forget that your N.E.W.T.s are just around the corner.

Minerva McGonagall

Headmistress

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

"Bet she had a good time writing that." Harry had finally got up and was now reading over Ron’s shoulder. He tapped the letter with his wand, and immediately the words on the page morphed and rearranged, forming a new message.

The Order had created a system of sending messages in changeable ink, hidden as mundane letters. It wasn’t infallible, but hopefully it would suffice if anyone intercepted their owls. Patronuses were still the primary method of communication, but they couldn’t always convey enough detail.

The boys skimmed the newly revealed message.

It is clear you will not be persuaded to return to school, so I will not bother trying any further, though I must impress upon you that I believe you are making a mistake. Miss Granger should not have to suffer for it, however, and I will arrive at precisely eight o’clock this morning (without revealing to her that you had anything to do with my visit) to give her some schoolwork, as well as a task she can complete as my special assistant. If you two are wise, you will do the work along with Miss Granger: turn all of it in as I assign it and I will make arrangements for you to sit for the N.E.W.T.s come June.

"She’s a nutter," Ron said when he’d finished reading the letter. "As though I’d do homework if I didn’t have to. Bloody hell."

"Thought you wanted to be an Auror." Harry swept his wand over the parchment so the ink disappeared, then crumpled up the letter and threw it in the rubbish bin, which belched loudly after chomping the paper to bits. "You’ll have to sit for the N.E.W.T.s if you want to do that."

Ron walked away from the window and flopped down on his bed. "Maybe they’ll make us honorary Aurors after we kill Voldemort and all the Death Eaters, yeah?"

Harry smirked and threw Ron’s pillow back at him. "You wish. What if they make you an honorary janitor instead? You could get a job as a maid at the Leaky Cauldron"

"Ha ha." Ron stuck the pillow behind his head. His long legs dangled over the edge of the mattress. "I reckon I’ll do the homework. Hermione’ll be worse than McGonagall if I don’t, and I’d rather not spend the rest of my life cleaning up after hags at the Leaky."

"I’ll do it too," Harry answered from his own bed. "We might as well, right?" He sounded strange, almost constrained, but before Ron had a chance to think about why, they heard a crisp knocking sound.

"McGonagall," Harry said, standing and heading to their bedroom door. Ron followed suit, but when he reached for the handle, Harry stopped him. "Wait. Let Hermione answer it."

Ron nodded, but he turned the handle anyway and opened the door just a crack. The floorboards upstairs creaked; Hermione was heading downstairs. After a moment they heard the front door open and close, and voices echoed through the house.

"Professor McGonagall!"

"Yes, hello, Miss Granger." The Headmistress’s tone was brusque.

"What are you—?"

"Upstairs, if you please. The lounge will do nicely."

Their footsteps came closer as they walked up the first flight of stairs. Then the door shut, however, and Ron couldn’t make out what they were saying. "Damn. Do you think we should move closer?"

Harry pulled back from where he’d been listening at the door, just below Ron, and said, "Wait!" He hurried over to his trunk and dug around for a moment before returning triumphantly with two long, string-like objects. Extendable Ears. He handed Ron one of the flesh-colored devices, courtesy of Fred and George, and they both sent them out the hall, down the stairs, and under the lounge door. Suddenly Ron could hear everything Hermione and McGonagall were saying as if he were in the room with them.

"—highly irregular, but I am willing to make this exception. There is something I would like you to do in return, however."

"Of course!"

"This is something you would have done as Head Girl," McGonagall said tersely, "so you may think of it as a duty. I would like you to enter all of the individual grades into the official Hogwarts ledger once per month. It is no small, unimportant task, Miss Granger, and you must complete it promptly and accurately."

"I’d be honored," Hermione started to say, in her eager manner. Ron could just imagine her standing there straight-backed and attentive.

"It will require you to come to the school on the third Wednesday of each month, at precisely ten a.m. Is this understood?"

There was a silence, and then McGonagall said in a gentler voice, "Though if you find yourself unable to come in at that time, other arrangements may be made. I trust you will let me know in advance if possible, however."

"Yes, Headmistress." Hermione sounded relieved, and Ron wondered if she would have turned down the offer had McGonagall not given her any leniency—they all knew that their futures were unpredictable, especially as they came closer to actually going out to find the Horcruxes.

"That is all, Miss Granger." The gentleness was gone, replaced again with her normal brisk, clipped manner of speech. "I would like to encourage you to get Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley to join you in the homework. The same offer I made to you is available to them, as well."

"She’s relentless," Ron complained to Harry.

"That’s why Dumbledore chose her," Harry said as he lowered his Extendable Ear. "Come on." He opened their bedroom door then and strode down the hall. Ron, slightly confused, followed.

They approached the lounge just as Hermione emerged behind a stern-looking McGonagall. Ron tried to read Hermione’s expression, but it was rather blank.

"Professor!" Harry exclaimed, as though he was surprised to see her.

"Hello, Mr. Potter, Mr. Weasley."

"Anything wrong?" Ron asked as casually as possible.

"Yes. Making this trip has altered my schedule beyond repair, and I’m sure you all remember that it is September first." She gave each of them a pointed look in turn. "Now if you’ll excuse me, I may be able to get back to Hogwarts before the last student is Sorted."

As she walked down the stairs toward the front door, Ron muttered to Harry, "The train hasn’t even left yet," and rolled his eyes.

Ron, Harry, and Hermione all followed her down to see her out, and as they offered her polite good-byes and Harry opened the door for her, Ron could have sworn she winked at them both just when Hermione’s head was turned the other way. He probably imagined it, though.

"What was all that about?" he asked Hermione when the door was shut behind the Headmistress. He and Harry had to appear ignorant of her visit.

Now that McGonagall was gone, Hermione seemed to relax, and she let out a breath and shrugged her shoulders. "She wants us to do some homework and send it to her via owl. She says that we can take the N.E.W.T.s at the end of the year if we complete it all."

"Really?"

"Yes," Hermione said, and Ron could see her going into lecture mode. "I’d like you both to do it, too. Neither one of you ever looks to the future, and you’re going to need skills to fall back on, career paths chosen. I know you both want to be Aurors, and N.E.W.T. scores are very important—"

"I’ll do the homework," Harry cut in.

Hermione had halted with her mouth wide open, and now she shut it in surprise. "You will?"

"Yeah, and Ron will too, won’t you, Ron?"

"Er, yeah. Sure. Maybe it’ll be a nice break from research."

"Well," Hermione said, looking back and forth between them. Clearly she’d expected an argument. "Well. Good. Yes." Her lecturing tone came back and she continued, "I think we should work out a system. Let’s go have breakfast and then we can get started right away. Professor McGonagall gave me some assignments to start off with, and I can make copies of them for you. We’ll study until noon everyday. It’ll mean less time to research Horcruxes, of course, but I’ve been thinking about that and I believe I can come up with a more efficient method…" She kept talking as she headed down to the kitchen, obviously expecting the boys to follow.

Ron and Harry shared an amused smile. The plan had worked. Hermione wasn’t jumping for joy, but they both knew her well enough to realize she was ecstatic—in her element. Harry walked down the hall, and Ron trailed after.

It was a small victory among the challenges that awaited them, and Ron still wasn’t satisfied with the way Hermione had hidden being named Head Girl or the fact that Harry refused to discuss anything involving his having a future, but it was a victory nonetheless. Maybe Ron couldn’t be a hero like Harry or a brain like Hermione, but he could support them both. If that was his role, he’d take it gladly.

The End

 

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