The Sugar Quill
Author: inyron (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Inside and Out  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.

 

The ride home from London was the longest it had ever been. She usually spent it chattering away to her parents all the things she had learned and done (or, some of the things she had done) but she didnít have the will for all that now. Not after the school year she just lived through. Her mind and heart were back at Hogwarts, back with Harry and Ron. What a long summer it would be. A long and rather boring summer, but it was good she had the extra time as she had a lot of studying to do. She wanted to learn a lot before rejoining the magical world next fall.

"Youíre so quiet today, dear. Whatís the matter, didnít you learn anything in school this year?" Her mother exchanged an amused look with her father from the front seat.

"I learned loads, Mum. Iím just thinking of all of it."

"Well, thatís all right, I just want to hear about it later on. But surely school canít be the only thing on your mind."

"What do you mean?"

"Your father and I were discussing this before the train arrived. You know we trust you, Hermione, and only want the best for you. So we were wondering about your summer plans. We did give permission for you to visit your gentleman friend in Bulgaria. But you never wrote us back to tell us when- or for how long- youíre going."

"Oh. " That had been the last thing on Hermioneís mind. "I havenít decided if Iím even going yet."

"You shouldnít go if youíre not sure, dear. Although Iíve heard Bulgaria is a fascinating place to visit. But if youíve had a falling out-"

"No, Mum, nothing like that. I just have to work out some details. Make sure the timing and travel arrangements can be arranged. Donít worry about it."

With that, her mother lapsed back into silence. Hermione almost wished her parents would continue talking, just to have something to distract her from these new feelings, but she hadnít the energy to think up a safe topic. So she once more mulled over her thoughts, this time, of her love life.

Hah! What a joke. She didnít have a love life. Or at least she didnít want one. Not if it meant being a girl like Lavender or Parvati, fussing over clothes and hair as if those were the most important things in the world. As if love was about peopleís external qualities, rather than their internal ones.

As if sheíd know. As if sheíd ever been in love.

It had been fun to go to the ball with Viktor, to playact. She could see the appeal, at least. But she was still true to her standards, she still only went with him because he was brave and interesting, not because he was rich and famous. And of course she knew he only went with her because she was intelligent and hardworking, because he had shown interest in her before she turned chameleon. And they had gotten on well. It was like she thought it would be. They had talked, shared details about their lives, discussed world affairs and favorite literature (or, literature they had both read, which there wasnít a lot of, but enough for at least a good conversation or two) and even done nice things like take walks around the lake.

They didnít put on a show in public, but they did nice couple-y things in private. It should have been perfect. But then, she realized the flaw. She didnít love him. She didnít even like him, not in that way. Not in the way he liked her. Not in the way she wished she could have. But it didnít seem there was anything to be done. She had realized it too late, weeks ago.

And she still hadnít done anything about it. She felt guilty about that. Guilty about the way she had left him today. As if nothing had changed. She even let him believe she was going to Bulgaria.

Was she? Hermione would love to, thatís for sure. But not for the reasons she should. Not to see Viktor.

If he was just a friend and had made the offer, it would have been a different story. But if she went to Bulgaria as things stood, she would be going as his girlfriend, because she was his girlfriend, to be his girlfriend. And she couldnít do that. She couldnít accept his offer.

Stupid, she thought, you admit this to yourself now, when heís gone. When the only way to communicate with him is through post. When you donít have to say it to his face. Youíre just as bad as all the others.

*****

Hermione wouldnít have believed it possible, but her anxiety increased after a couple of weeks spent at home. Maybe it was the remedial Defense Against Dark Arts studying she was doing. Or maybe it was the Daily Prophet being delivered to her window every morning.

She kept looking at it expecting it to announce an attack on Harry or a group of Muggle-borns, or maybe a tell-all article by that Rita Skeeter she had hastily unjarred in London. Hermione would stare at it in horror for a second every morning, but every time she absorbed the contents of the page, it turned out boring and ordinary. She would feel relieved momentarily, but the clawing in her stomach would only come back.

Her parents stopped trying to draw her out, instead seeing her frantic studying as a good thing, and her withdrawal and paleness as signs of her "growing up." They were rather proud of her. In the meantime, her correspondence with Viktor wasn't helping. She had written a letter to him fast (but not too fast, she didnít want to hurt his feelings) and he had responded within a few days.

He understood completely, of course. He had been hopingÖ but he was just fooling himself, because he had gotten the impression a while back that Hermione wasnít as into everything as much as he.

Hermione felt awful.

Harryís letters didnít help either. She wrote to him constantly, thinking how dreadful it must be in that prison his aunt and uncle called a house. She was sorry he didnít have decent folks around like at her house. And he wrote her back, confirming all her suspicions. So she was left feeling the way she had felt during the end of the school year- worried and sad and unable to do a thing to help.

And she had written to Ron, of course. Concerning Harry, and Rita, and what was going on with the wizarding world and if his family was doing anything to prepare for Voldemort, and oh make sure youíre doing your homework, too. Favorite responses of his were You-know-who! and weíve months left, and theyíre not telling me anything, and you wouldnít believe what Fred did to PercyÖ

He didnít seem to be as troubled as she, but with Ron it was hard to tell exactly what was going on.

She liked getting his mail because he kept her up to date on Voldemort in a way she trusted more than the Daily Prophet, but she also kind of didnít like getting his mail. It reminded her of him, and the unfinished business still between them. Ron was one of her very best friends, and that wasnít to be taken lightly, especially when best friend meant "willing to give up your life for your friends" and with a broken foot to boot. But things had been different between her and Ron ever since the Yule Ball, no matter how hard she tried to pretend otherwise. She was a little mad at him, and a little sad. He was like all the others. External. And his comments when he was considering prospective girls, like they were these beasts that had no feelings at all! A troll, he had said. A troll. Of all things.

 

Ron was probably one of only three students at Hogwarts who had ever seen a troll up close. Nasty, rotten things. And he had used that thing to describe girls who, who werenít good enough. Like Hermione. She wasnít good enough. Not just as she was. She was a last resort. A good old stand-by who obviously wouldnít have a date of her own. Ron hadnít even- he hadnít shown the single slightest bit of interest in her until he had seen her all dolled up. Externally sufficient. If she had done that before, she bet he wouldnít have dismissed her.

A troll. It reminded her of her first miserable months at Hogwarts. Doing everything right, just the way she knew how, but completely friendless. She had resisted crying, though she felt sad, because she felt that was too girlish, too childish. But after Ron had said that, had said no one could stand her, she felt tears welling up in spite of her views on the subject. Lavender and Parvati had been extra nice to her on that occasion, knowing that crying in bathrooms was perfectly ordinary for girls, and probably thinking it was the most normal thing she had done since arriving. But she had sent them away, and the next thing she had seen was a troll lumbering towards her. And then, she had seen Ron and Harry.

Beating up on the troll. Stupid, smelly thing.

She and Ron had a fight after the Ball. She was upset at the way he treated Viktor, and he was waiting for her. Though she had been confused at first, it became obvious that he had kind of liked her in that way. In the way she couldnít like Viktor. But it was nonsense anyway, he just liked the way she looked that night, and he was such a boy anyway. So she remained a little uneasy around him, and he was the littlest bit different in ways she couldnít describe. She didnít know what was going to happen, but hoped he was getting over it, because she was not going to go into any sort of relationship with him, even if he was up front about it. She wasnít Parvati or Lavender. She did things differently. More maturely.

*****

At the end of July, her parents asked after Ron and Harry, and she had to admit she missed them terribly. Per usual, they were making plans for Harry to go to the Burrow at the end of the summer to prepare for school, and Hermione received an invitation too.

"Of course you can go, dear. We wouldnít dream of holding you back. But I was wondering- youíre always going and meeting up at the Weasleys. We have plenty of room here. I know weíre not magic, but do you think your friends would like to spend some time here? Weíd be ever so delighted to host."

Hermione thought that sounded like a good idea, and was a bit surprised at not thinking of it herself. But then she remembered Harry had to stay at the Dursleys, and they had to convince Dumbledore just to get him to the Weasleys for a week. She wasnít sure heíd be allowed, but she had to ask. And Ron- she could show him all this Muggle stuff! Heíd learn a lot. She wondered if heíd be impressed with all the things they had.

*****

Letters went out, and as she expected, Harry was not allowed to come. But Ron wanted to, and their parents agreed he would come for two weeks, then Hermione would go back home with him for the last week before school. Her parents worked themselves in a bit of a state before he came; they had never really hosted before, and they found the whole thing rather fun. The guest bedroom was aired out and decorated in his favorite colour ("not maroon") and they fussed over what wizard food to serve ("the same as always, honestly, itís fine") and worried a bit about what would happen during the weekdays when they had to work. Hermione, thinking of all the undone homework Ron must have, assured them they would not be getting into trouble.

Ron arrived by Floo powder Monday night. His father set it up so the Grangerís would have use of the network for all two weeks in case of emergency, and Ron carried a bit with him to get back. He looked rather excited. She knew he was excited about the trip, and getting away from his family, some of whom were impossible to avoid year-round. He looked around at her house with interest.

"So only the three of you live here?"

Hermione blushed; it was a pretty big house. "Yes, we have almost all my life. And that thereís the bathroom, and down here, this is the guest room, where youíll be staying."

"Cool." He threw his bag to the ground and tested out the bed by throwing himself on it heavily. "Whereís your room?"

"Down the hall a little further, but I donít use it much, just for sleeping. We have a room downstairs where I spend most of my time. Itís where I keep my books and do my homework."

He rolled his eyes and jumped off the bed. "Here- look. Brought all my Muggle clothes. I reckon I should fit right in. Dad wanted me to take some batteries, he said all Muggles need lots of them. Donít see why, they donít do anything, but your parents said I didnít have to bring anything anyway, so there you go. I had to promise Iíd try a whole bunch of things with eckeltricity though, and tell him about it."

"Well, youíre in luck. Dad rented some movies he wants to show you. He said itís a crime some kids grow up not knowing these exist."

Ron looked at her with a hint of trepidation in his eyes. She thought he probably didnít know what a movie was, so she took him by the hand and started dragging him downstairs. "Come on."

*****

Ron seemed entertained enough by the movies, Hermione mused the next day, but not particularly impressed. She remembered that he was used to moving forms of entertainment, but in any case, he didnít really see what the point was to sit down for hours on end to watch these people. Hermioneís father wasnít giving up though, and she knew for a fact he would be bringing Jaws home from the rental place tonight. Honestly, Hermione wasnít too excited either. She hadnít really watched movies since she was eleven. But it made her father happy. Too bad Ronís father wasnít around.

The day hadnít gotten off to a good start this morning when Hermione had found out Ron hadnít packed his schoolbooks, and she strongly suspected him of lying when he claimed to have started it at home and not having "that much more to do, anyway. Whatís the big deal?" even though she lectured him that that would mean less time with Harry in two weeks. She very nobly decided to stop lecturing him at that point, though she seethed to herself for the rest of the day. They had tried to play a game of Monopoly after Hermioneís parents had left, but Ron had quickly become bored with the lack of action and the complicated paper money. They had both ended up very cross and bored. Hermioneís parents helped a little when they arrived. They had all four of them worked on making supper, though Ron thought this was a little weird, explaining that his mum always took care of that, and the most he was expected to do food-wise was set the table.

The Grangers didnít let him get away with that, though they did excuse the subpar appearance and taste all food he helped with had. And that night again, he seemed entertained by Jaws, though he claimed the Shark wasnít at all scary. After all that they had been through, Hermione had to agree.

The next day was much better. It was a beautiful day outside, so they decided to brave the Muggles and go to the park. There, Ron discovered football. He grasped the point very quickly, and was invited to play to even out the teams. He was rather good too. Hermione bet he missed the broomsticks, but he seemed to be enjoying himself and getting very sweaty.

At first, he came back to check on her a couple of times, but she assured him she did not want to play, and she was not at all bored sitting on the bench watching. The game continued for hours. It was very hot at midday, so one of Ronís teammates shared water with him, and most of the team, including him, stripped their shirts off and threw them aside. Hermione felt herself blush as she watched him. Mustnít think those thoughts, dear. Remember, we donít care about things like that. But he did look pretty decent out there, as was pointed out by some of the girls who joined Hermione near the bench. They were collecting their own boyfriends, and asked her which one she was here with. Ron and a group came over after play was done, and they all smiled nicely at her and invited him to play again whenever. Hermione felt very self-conscious as they walked away together.

They stayed outside, in the backyard when they got back to Hermioneís. Ron was very up on Muggle sports, so Hermione, deciding Frisbees were within her abilities, procured one, as well as an old radio to listen to while they were outside.

"We have radios too."

"I know Ron, Iíve seen them at your place."

"They play a different type of music."

Hermione turned the dial a few times. "This plays different types too. See?" She left it on a harmless song that sounded mostly instrumental and picked up the Frisbee.

"Itís just different than Iím used to."

"I know, Ron."

*****

A week went by before Hermione realized she had stopped worrying about everything, and her stomach was feeling fine. But around the same time she appreciated her new stress-free state, she began to worry again, though this time it was something new. Ron. He wasÖ Well, he was just being impossible. Her mother loved him because he actually cleaned up after himself, plus his puddings were getting less sticky. And her father loved him ever since he revealed that, instead of schoolbooks, he had brought comic books, these comic books about a Mad Muggle, or something. Her father thought they were hilarious. And she- well, she was getting on with him alright. Better than she had feared. He had even worked on his Charms a little bit yesterday, when it was rainy, and she had pressed her book on him. But she was worried, because, well, because she was starting to like him. A little. In that way. She tried to stop herself, but itís a little impossible when heís your best friend, and heís rig ht there all the time, telling jokes and laughing, with his eyes crinkled up like that. But she didnít want to like him! Not like this. Not in a way she couldnít control. Not in this irrational way.

Not when he didnít like her- or he only did because of a dress and some potion. Not the real her. She hadnít got any hints that he did in any case, actually, not lately. He had stopped bothering him about "Vicky" after she wrote to say she wasnít going to Bulgaria.

Today was another rainy day. Hermione had no intention of being bored, and Ron had no intention of studying. A brilliant idea was suggested instead.

"But how are we supposed to get to him? He canít be allowed to answer the phone."

"We shouldíve owled ahead, seen when they were going to be gone."

"Thatís no fun. Weíll think of something. But you talk."

Hermione, feeling slightly giggly, dialed, then panicked when the phone was picked up on the other end.

"Hello?" Gruffly.

"Hello? Yes, Hello." Hermione adapted a very high pitch to her voice. "I am looking for a Mr. Harry Potter. Is there a Harry Potter there?"

"Wh-what? There might be. Whoís this calling?" Even more gruffly, if possible.

"This is Mrs., um, Mary Sparks. And itís very important I speak to Harry Potter."

"In regards to what, may I ask?"

"I, I believe I have something that belongs to him. You live on Privet Drive, no? Iíd really rather speak to just Mr. Potter."

It was a longer wait, and in the meantime, they could hear what could only be muffled threats. But finally, Harry was on the phone. "Er, hello?"

Hermione motioned Ron to not burst out laughing loudly. "Harry! Harry, itís us!"

"No, I donít have one of those."

Ron leaned in and whispered. "Just called to say me missed you, Harry. No fun without you." Hermione looked up at him quickly. "But buck up, youíll be out of there and surrounded by Weasleys in just another week."

"No, Iím sure."

"Good luck, Harry! Bye."

"Well, thank you for calling anyway. Good-bye."

When they hung up, the urge to giggle had subsided, and their smiles were melancholy.

"Heíll be all right."

"Yeah. Just one more week."

"Yeah. Heíll be all right."

*****

Time flew without them noticing, and it was soon the night before Hermione and Ron were to travel to the Burrow. In honor of the occasion, the Grangers took them out to eat. Hermione felt a bit antsy, so she went to Ronís room afterwards and the two of them talked about nothing for a few hours, until Hermione sat up and noticed that it was very late, and her parents had long since went to bed.

Ron had a gleam in his eye. "Why donít we walk to the park?"

"Ron, itís so dark out."

"So? Itís not dangerous, is it?"

"No, Iíve justÖ never snuck out before."

"Sure you have."

"Not at home."

They walked to the park, letting the dim street lamps guide their way. Hermione sat on the bench she had become accustomed to.

"Ron?"

"Yeah?"

"Remember when we called Harry up that day?"

"Yeah."

"Well, I was just wondering if you really meant what you said. About not having fun without him. I thought we had fun."

"Of course we did, ĎMione. I just didnít want, you know HarryÖ The last thing he needs is to be feeling bad about not being here."

"Yeah. I know that." Hermione felt foolish. She hated feeling foolish. And hesitant, she hated feeling that too. She should just say what was on her mind. Shouldnít she? Ron sat down next to her, looking upwards at the trees and the stars. She stared at him, wondering what she wanted.

She neednít have bothered. Two seconds later, Ron looked at her looking at him. He smiled at her, then leaned in closer, and closer, then he kissed her gently on the lips. They broke it off quickly, then stared at each other, frozen and not speaking for a moment. Then they kissed again. This time, they both leaned in. This time, it was a bit more ardent. This time, they didnít come up for air for a very long time.

Oh my, thought Hermione. This is perfect. This is right. This is Ron. All of him, inside and out. Why couldnít I see it before? I care for him. I do. For just being him. And heÖ he cares for me. Not my teeth or my hair. Me. Here.

They broke apart again, and Ron pulled her in for a hug. She was surprised to find she was almost crying. She was surprised to find how warm and safe she felt here.

She kissed him on the cheek, and they sat there holding hands. She looked back over at him, to gauge his statement. His face was full of wonderment and concern. He looked like he was about to say something, about to finally admit what he should have back at Christmas time. Hermione smiled, and waited for it, understanding in that moment it would be okay. Together, they could get through awkward declarations of love. Together, they could watch out for Harry, together being his best friend. And together would be able to face- maybe not defeat, but they would be able to face the world and accept what would come ahead.

 

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