The Sugar Quill
Author: Honeychurch & Lallybroch (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Aquae Sulis  Chapter: Part Two
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Part Two

He had lost Hermione somewhere. The torch lit halls were endless, and the shadows behind every column suggested lurking monsters. He knew that it wasn’t really night, that sometime these dark corridors would break into the sunlight, but it felt as though he had been wandering for hours. He had been here before, but he didn’t remember the corridors stretching out for miles. What if he never found her?

He turned a corner and light shone from the end of the corridor. Breaking into a run, he charged toward the beckoning light. He knew where he was going and what he would find there. His bare feet made small slapping noises on the stone. The flickering torches were hot echoes of the sunlight waiting for him, but the light seemed to grow no closer- this hallway was forever. He groped for his wand, and stopped in mid-stride when he realized it was no longer in his pajama pocket. He had lost it. It would take her now, and it was his fault. A thousand kisses were on his mind, all of them hers and his. Distant kisses, now, kisses that had happened but never would again. And what would he do? His eyes were fixed, unseeing, on the daylight. It began to advance slowly toward him, as if it were hesitant about moving, but could no longer wait. Ron blinked the water from his eyes, and watched, awed, as the end of the corridor crept closer.

He began to run.

When he burst into the courtyard, he found the pool empty. There were no laughing women gathered around it. His disappointment was enormous; he had been certain he would find her here. Without thinking, he went to the edge of the pool and sat down, his long legs dangling in the water. She should be here. She’d promised. He sighed, and the wind caught the sound and threw it sharply, bouncing it off the stone. His pajamas were wet, and he shivered as he stood, even though the courtyard was flooded with sunlight. He left a trail of damp footprints as he walked to the balcony where he hoisted himself upon the railing with his back to the view below. He would wait. Idly, he watched the sun catch the red hairs on his forearm and turn them to gold.

"I got lost."

Her voice was like the first pebble breaking the surface of a lake. It rippled through him and through him. He raised his head and saw her standing no more than a foot away. The black of her Hogwarts robes looked incongruous against the backdrop of the courtyard. They were crumpled and dusty, as though she had squeezed and clambered through tight places to get to him. He stretched out his arms, and she stepped into the circle they made. His eyes closed. He was about to say something about how afraid he’d been, how certain he was that he had lost her, but her lips were on his. He clung to her, the damp from his pajamas soaking her robes. There was no need for breath; this was life sustaining.

He opened his eyes and found himself staring up into pitch-blackness. There was no doubt he was awake now; he could hear Neville snoring. Remnants of the dream hung in the air, impossible to ignore. He could still feel the pressure of her lips and…He sat up suddenly, determined to shake the image from his mind. He needed to focus. They were going to be spending a lot of time in library together researching the spell and he wasn’t going to be much help if he was thinking about…ridiculous dreams. He would just have to put it out of his mind entirely, and forget it.

***

Ron was still trying to do that the next morning at breakfast. His plate, piled high with sausages, egg, and tomato, sat untouched as he stared blankly into the far corner of the room. He’d come to several conclusions in the wee hours of the morning, after he’d been unable, or unwilling, to fall back to sleep. First, he’d decided that it was ridiculous to get worked up over a couple of silly dreams that obviously didn’t mean anything. Second, he reckoned it wasn’t unreasonable for Hermione to show up in his dream. She was one of his best friends, after all, and he was around her all the time. Why shouldn’t she be in one of his dreams? What she had actually been doing in the dream was immaterial. He blushed then, and vigorously rubbed his hands over his face in frustration. He felt like an idiot. She’d probably even shown up in Harry’s dreams before, right? She was his best friend, too. But the thought of Hermione kissing Harry like she had in the dream was so bizarre that he felt like laughing. Besides, he thought with an irrational rush of irritation, Harry didn’t have any business dreaming about kissing her anyway. Ron turned abruptly to look at Harry, who was drawing a diagram in the air with his wand.

"…and so the opposing Seeker is distracted long enough to miss the Snitch." He and Ginny were engrossed in a conversation about Quidditch strategies.

Ginny was nodding in agreement. "Right. ‘Course you’d need an excellent Seeker to pull it off. And we all know who the best Seeker at Hogwarts is…"

Harry grinned. "Oh, Ginny, you don’t have to say that."

"I was referring of course, to Draco Malfoy." She smiled serenely, and then stuck her tongue out at him. He laughed and threw the roll he was holding at her, which she neatly dodged. "Honestly, Harry, it’s brilliant. Ooh, I can’t wait to see it! They’ll never see it coming. Sounds a bit like that move from the Wales-Romania match last year, when the Welsh Keeper pulled …" She broke off, noticing Ron’s sudden movement. "Ron? Are you all right? You look odd." Ron was looking at Harry, with narrowed eyes.

Harry gave him a questioning look. "What? Why are you staring at me?"

"I’m not staring."

"Yes you are. You’re staring at me."

"I’m not staring at you. I’m… looking in your direction. There’s a difference. Oh, stop grinning at me, you prat, and eat your bread."

Harry’s grin grew even wider. "I can’t. I threw it at Ginny." The two of them laughed, and Ginny picked up the conversation where she’d left off. Ron stood up abruptly and stalked out of the Hall. The stupid dream was starting to make life difficult, and he hadn’t even seen Hermione yet.

***

Hermione was fighting the desire to be severely annoyed. She had been waiting for Ron in the library for almost a half an hour. They had been meeting every night after Quidditch practice, trying to find as much information as possible on elemental magic and proxy spells and so far, they hadn’t had much luck. In fact, about they only things they had found were warnings against doing the very spell they were planning to attempt. This had ended any discussion of telling Harry about the spell, because they both knew he would never let them try it. Hermione knew that he worried about putting them in danger, but if this spell worked…it was worth the risk. It didn’t make the task any easier, however. After one particularly gruesome description of a proxy spell gone wrong, she’d looked up to meet Ron’s grim smile.

"Let’s get this one right, shall we?" he’d said.

Right. So where was he?

She turned back to the book that lay open in front her, and had barely started to read when she noticed someone standing next to her. Draco Malfoy was leaning against the table next to her, with an annoying smirk on his pointed face. "So, Granger, did Potter and Weasley finally drop you? Where are your boyfriends, anyway?" He smirked even wider.

Hermione leaned back in her chair, crossing her arms in front of her. "I don’t know, Malfoy. Where are yours?" she replied, giving him an innocent look. It took him a moment to realize she was referring to his hulking companions, Crabbe and Goyle. He gave her a slightly nauseous glower, and left.

"Slimy git," she murmured. As much as she disapproved of swearing, there were some situations that merited comment. There was a commotion in the hallway, and she heard Malfoy’s loud "Watch where you’re going, Weasley!" and Ron appeared in the doorway, his Quidditch robes slung over his shoulder. He waved at her with one hand, while leaning out the door to make a rude gesture with the other. He turned and ran over to the table, panting slightly. Her arms still crossed, Hermione waited for an explanation.

He dropped into the chair next to her. "I’m sorry, Hermione, but practice ran late and I just couldn’t get Harry to stop talking about this new move he came up with. I have to admit, it’s really cool, but people kept asking questions and he had all these diagrams. So I had to wait until he paused to ask if anyone else had a question and I jumped up and yelled ‘Right! Good practice, mates!’ and I ran out the door. Probably looked like I’d gone nutters, but at least I got out." He broke off, looking at her. "You’re not really mad, are you? Look, I didn’t even stop to take a shower! I know I’m really late but…I’m sorry, okay?"

He was trying to be contrite, and Hermione knew it. But she was having the hardest time concentrating on what he was saying. She’d already noticed that he hadn’t taken a shower. His hair was slightly damp and lay in little curls at the back of his neck and his cheeks were slightly flushed from the exertion. His chair was close enough that she could smell him, a mixture of outside air, dirt, sweat, and boy. It was disconcerting, because she realized that she liked it. She must not have been very discreet either, because he sat back.

"Hermione?" he ventured, tentatively. "Do I smell bad, or something? I just thought it would save time if I skipped the shower but I could go and…"

"Wh-what?"

He shrugged. "I can go and shower, if you want me to."

"No! I mean, you don’t have to. Um, let’s just get started, okay?" Her cheeks were flushed with embarrassment. Inwardly, she cringed. She was starting to think like Lavender and Pavarti, and that needed to be avoided at all costs. He grinned, apparently relieved to have avoided a row. Hermione turned back to the stack of books in front of her, and handed the top most one to Ron. "Dig in!"

***

Ron was starting to get worried. They had been in the library for hours and they were no better off than when they’d started. Madam Pince had started hinting that she’d like them to go, and Ron was beginning to agree with her. Hermione looked exhausted, with blue shadows gathering under her eyes. So far, all they had was a list of warnings. Hermione had argued that at least they would know what not to do, but he was having a harder time being optimistic. They both knew that time was running out, it was only two weeks to Halloween, and they were no closer to understanding the spell than before. Not to mention the fact that they still hadn’t figured out how to actually get to Aquae Sulis. He leaned back in his chair and sighed.

"Hermione? What’s say we just hop a train down to Bath."

Her head snapped up and she glared at him. "Oh, honestly Ron! It’d take at least ten hours and, ooh, you’re teasing me, aren’t you?"

He knew he shouldn’t be teasing her, not just now, but she looked so tired and it seemed the only way to distract her. He gave her the biggest grin he had in his arsenal, and hoped that she wouldn’t hit him. "Yes, Hermione, I’m teasing. Look, maybe we should stop for the night." To Ron’s surprise, she gave a weary sigh, and nodded. She started to close books and clean up the messy table. Ron picked up a large green book and was moving to put it away, when he noticed the book that lay underneath it. It was open to a page that contained a single picture. A picture of a gorgon’s head, exactly like the one in his dream. He dropped the book is holding and leaned down to examine the picture more closely. Yes, it was exactly the same.

Hermione came and stood next to him. "What is it? Did you find something?" She looked down at the picture. "Oh, yes, the statue. I haven’t found much else on it, besides what Flitwick said in his lecture. Apparently…Ron? What’s wrong? You look a little sick, or something."

"I had a dream about this," Ron mumbled.

"What?" said Hermione.

"I said, I had a dream about this." Ron’s ears were very red, and he wasn’t meeting Hermione’s eyes. "Only-" he abruptly shut his mouth.

"Only what?" Hermione said impatiently. "This could be important, Ron."

"It’s not important. Forget I said anything."

"But-"

"Forget I said anything, ok?"

"Fine." Hermione turned around and stalked toward the door.

He chased after her, and grabbed her arm. "Oh Hermione! Wait! It’s… not important what happened in the dream. The important thing is the fact that I dreamt about it in the first place!" She pulled her arm back, but followed him back to the table. She sat in her chair, wary and obviously still angry. Ron’s brain was racing. He had to tell her something about the dream, but a highly censored version, to be sure. "Look. I had a dream, but I don’t really remember much of what happened. There was a tunnel…and a pool… and the statue. That’s about all." He was pleased with himself, because it was mostly true. He really didn’t remember much except those things. And of course, Hermione. But it would be a bloody cold day in hell before he told her that last bit. He searched her face. It didn’t look as though she believed him.

***

He was obviously lying. She just couldn’t figure out why. He looked so earnest, leaning forward in his chair with that pleading look on his face. She wanted to believe him, but…no, there was definitely something he wasn’t telling her. "Ron, maybe there’s something in your dream that will help us with the spell. It could be important! Maybe something that could help Harry."

He shook his head vigorously. "Believe me, it had nothing to do with Harry." He wasn’t meeting her eyes again.

Hermione leaned forward suddenly, and grasped his hands. "Alright. You don’t have to tell me. Just promise, if you have any more dreams, you’ll tell me about them?" He gave her a lopsided grin and squeezed her hands. He looked down then, as if realizing for the first time that he was holding them. She wondered if she should take them back, but they felt so nice where they were. Ron lifted his head and she looked right into his hazel eyes. She was dimly aware that her hand no longer rested in his, but had moved to rest on his muscular forearms. There was a connection moving between them now and she found she couldn’t take her eyes away from his. She wanted to be closer to him, and leaned forward just a bit, noticing as she did that he did the same.

"Miss Granger and Mr. Weasley! How odd to find you two here so late on a Friday evening!"

She jerked back, and tried to bring her brain back into focus. Hogwart’s headmaster, Albus Dumbledore was standing in front of them, smiling serenely.

"Uh, hello, Professor Dumbledore," she stammered. Ron mumbled the same.

Dumbledore moved closer to the table, his long white beard swishing in front of him. "I was just picking up a little bedtime reading," and he indicated the book under his arm. "When I saw you two sitting there, I thought I might come and say hello. I’m not…interrupting, am I?" Hermione shook her head and Dumbledore gave her a beatific smile. "Excellent!"

Hermione searched for something to say. "Um…what are you reading, Headmaster?" The book he carried was oversized and a brilliant shade of lime-green.

"This? Why, it’s a treatise on understanding Muggle sports." He held the book so they could see the flashing gold words on the cover: Why Play Something Without A Broom? Ron and Hermione exchanged a glance. Dumbledore went on. "I was remembering one fine summer holiday I spent traveling through southern England. I had stopped at Dragon Hill, in Uffington, as there is a rather intriguing local legend concerning a large chalk figure of a dragon etched into the hillside. It seems the townspeople claim the mound is actually the burial place of a large dragon that used to torment the countryside. I have a particular fondness for dragon-lore and so naturally I wanted to see it. It really is beautiful country, but I was a bit disappointed to find that the dragon rather looked more like a horse."

His tone was wistful and he appeared to be entirely lost in this memory. Hermione couldn’t help but wonder what this story had to do with his book on Muggle sports. She knew he was probably the most powerful wizard of their age, but, honestly. The man did tend to ramble.

"Professor?" she prompted.

"Ah, yes, well. I enjoyed the journey, regardless, and wanted to take home some small souvenir. I chose a strangely shaped rock and suddenly, I found myself in quite another place entirely! It seems I’d been dropped right in the middle of a Muggle football game. It startled me, I don’t mind telling you. A herd of Muggles running straight at me! Apparently, I was standing in front of net that was rather important to them. Strange sport, Muggle football. Thought I might do a bit of reading on it tonight." He turned to leave, but Hermione’s voice stopped him.

"Professor. I don’t understand how you ended up at the game…how could you…" Something inside her brain had just clicked on. "Unless the rock was a Portkey!"

"Oh well done, Miss Granger! Indeed, I had stumbled upon an ancient Portkey. They’re more common than you might think. Most magical sites used to be connected by Portkey, back before each one needed to be registered with the Ministry. Back before there even was a Ministry, for that matter. Yes, I imagine there are still a few lying about. You never know where one might be hiding." He winked at her, and ambled out the door.

"What’s he on about?" said Ron, half amused, half exasperated. But Hermione was already on her way to the front desk. She couldn’t take the time to explain- she needed to get to the card catalog.

***

"That sneaky old codger," Ron said in an admiring voice.

"Ron!" Hermione’s response was automatic.

"Yeah, yeah. So we’re looking for a portkey, then?"

"Shh!"

They were now in front of the Fat Lady, who was regarding them with great interest. "Haddock," said Ron quickly.

"There you are, dears." She said cheerfully, and swung forward. Hermione hoped she hadn’t heard too much of their conversation.

She followed Ron into the common room. It was especially crowded now that Quidditch practice was over. It seemed that half of Gryffindor tower was out on the pitch whenever the team practiced. Quidditch groupies, thought Hermione with derision. She didn’t lump herself in with that lot, although she wasted her fair share of evenings watching practice. That was different, she thought defensively. Sometimes the only way to get Harry and Ron to do their homework at all was to grab them on the way off the field and hustle them to the library. It wasn’t as though she went down there to gawk at the players and giggle with her friends. Well, occasionally Ginny came with her.

She was distracted by the sound of Harry’s laughter from across the room. He and Ginny were sitting by the fire playing chess. Hermione made her way over to them, glancing behind her to make sure Ron was following. As she approached, she saw the source of Harry’s amusement. Ginny was playing with Ron’s chess set, and the pieces were behaving very oddly. Instead of staying on their spaces and waiting for instructions, they were staring up at her with expressions of adoration, heedless of their locations on the board. "Listen," Hermione heard her say earnestly, "Turn around now and play the game. Pawn to Knight Four. Come on! Pawn to Knight Four." Harry let out another peal of laughter.

Ron let out a sigh of exasperation. "Every time you play with them, Ginny, they’re no good for at least a week."

Ginny and Harry looked up from their game. "Where’ve you been all night?" Harry demanded.

"The library. Ron’s having trouble with Weaving Charms, so we’re studying the theory." Harry shot Ron a commiserating look.

Ron shrugged. "Yeah, well, I’m still not clear on the difference between interlacing and knotting, so I think I’m going to find a table, and… uh, hit the books." Ginny and Harry looked at him strangely.

"Who are you and what have you done with my brother?" Ginny asked. "It’s Friday night."

Ron summoned an indignant expression. "Are you implying that I am less than diligent in my studies? Just for that, I’m leaving you two layabouts to your unproductive idling." He turned and swept away, not quite managing to conceal a grin.

"What did you do to him, Hermione?" Ginny laughed.

The question caught her off guard. "Nothing! I-" Too late, she realized Ginny was teasing her. She felt color creep into her cheeks as she tried to formulate a response. Why was this so hard? It seemed like everything that had to do with Ron made her touchy lately.

"Hermione?" Ron called. He’d staked out a table near a window. "Are you coming?"

"Yeah," she called back with relief. She waved a hand at Harry and Ginny and headed off. She missed the significant look Ginny shot Harry, and his answering grin.

Hermione slid into her seat with a sigh. "Okay. Back to work."

Ron looked at her in disbelief. "Work at what? I thought you said that the book we needed was in the restricted section."

"It is," Hermione said patiently. "If there’s a portkey to Aquae Sulis anywhere around here, it should be in The Dangers of Ancient Magical Artifacts. We’ve got to get our hands on it somehow."

"This is the first time I’ve ever missed Lockhart," said Ron.

"I know. It’s going to be nearly impossible to get a professor to sign off to let one of us get a book from the restricted section." Her voice was despairing. "I think even Trelawney would know better than that."

***

Ron leaned back in his chair to stretch and noticed the common room was beginning to clear out. It was well past midnight. Neville was the only sixth year left in the common room. He was busily scribbling something a few tables away. Ron glanced over at Hermione, who was skimming through a book for the third time, looking for a sentence or word they might have missed. "Come on, Hermione. It’s late. It’s obvious that we’re not going to figure this out tonight."

"Just a few more minutes," she insisted. She sat up and rubbed her eyes. "There’s no use for it, Ron. We’ve got to get our hands on that book."

"So you’ve said a hundred times tonight. Why don’t we just borrow the Invisibility Cloak?"

"You mean steal it. Were you planning to explain why you wanted it, or just sneak it out of Harry’s trunk?

Ron had the grace to look slightly guilty. "Well, it’s for his own good, isn’t it?"

"I’m not stealing," said Hermione heatedly.

"You act as if you’ve never done it before."

"That was different."

"I don’t see how."

"It just was!" They’d entered full combative mode. Ron started to devise a comment about logic and girls, but Neville appeared at their table just in time to prevent it.

"Am I interrupting something?" he asked, a bit timidly.

"No! And why does everyone keep asking that?" Hermione screeched. Neville backed up a few steps.

Ron cleared his throat. "No, it’s all right, Neville." He said in the most casual tone he could muster. Across the table, Hermione buried her face in her arms.

Neville’s glance flickered back and forth between the two of them. "Er- okay. I just wanted to ask your opinion about something." He pushed two pieces of parchment across the table. "Do you think these look alike?"

Ron peered down at the bits of parchment. "Why do you have two scraps of parchment with your Gran’s signature on them?" he asked, puzzled. Hermione raised her head and picked up them up from the table.

Neville looked very pleased for some reason. "D’you really think they look alike?" he said, eagerly.

"Why wouldn’t they?" Hermione asked.

Light began to dawn. "Neville," asked Ron, "Did you forge your Gran’s signature?"

Neville blushed. "Well…Snape keeps giving me these notes- you know, about how badly I’m doing, and how I’m a danger to others-" His eyes darted to his feet. "And he wants them signed and returned to him- but I think I’d rather be expelled than have her read them." He finished in a whisper.

Hermione was scandalized. "Neville, we’re prefects. You can’t come over here and tell us you’re going to forge a note for a professor." Obviously, this had not occurred to Neville. His blush faded to a clammy pallor.

"Lay off, Hermione," said Ron. "We’re not going to rat you out, Neville." Hermione looked poised to protest, but Ron met her eyes squarely. She couldn’t want to turn Neville in. It was just her misplaced sense of obligation. He was glad his conscience wasn’t quite so inconvenient.

"All right," she finally sighed. As Neville swayed with relief, Ron grinned at Hermione and snatched the parchment from her fingers.

"Neville, this is really good!" he said, impressed. A terrible and wonderful idea began to formulate in his brain. "Is your Gran’s the only signature you can copy? Could you do, say, a professor’s?" Hermione looked up at him sharply.

"Yeah, no problem," said Neville. "I can copy anyone’s. I’ve always been able- but it’s not a very useful talent unless you’re in trouble as often as I am."

"Oh, I don’t know, Neville." Ron said enigmatically. "I think it could be a very useful talent."

Author’s Notes: Will Neville save the day? Will Harry catch on? And most importantly…will Ron take a shower? Stay tuned, dear readers.

//
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