The Sugar Quill
Author: Penpusher (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Harry's Dilemma  Chapter: Chapter One: Of Difficulties and Detentions
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Chapter One – Of Difficulties and Detentions

Ron Weasley leant slowly over the Gryffindor Common Room table with his head in his hands and sighed in utter defeat and frustration as the jeering voices faded away down the corridor. Presently, he looked up and met the sympathetic gaze of Neville Longbottom.

“You’d think,” began Neville, tentatively, “that Malfoy would be positively encouraging her behaviour, rather than giving you grief for not keeping her under control. After all, it is Harry who’s her target – Malfoy ought to be cheering her on!”

“He’s probably doing just that on the quiet,” responded Ron, wearily closing his books and preparing to go down to supper.

“He’s probably feeding her all sorts of nasty little tricks she can play on Harry,” he continued dolefully, “and then coming straight down to me to whine about the standards of behaviour of the Gryffindor fourth-years. I may be her brother, but there are some tasks that are beyond even the wit of Godric Gryffindor himself, and this, I’m sorry to say, is one of them.”

“You’ve got to admit it though, she’s becoming unbearable; really over the top.” Seamus Finnigan pushed his recently vacated chair under the table with a scraping sound, turning a thoughtful look on his friend.

“Have you heard the latest?” At Ron’s worried negative, Seamus continued, not without a certain relish.

“Yesterday,” he began, “Harry not only found his Quidditch robes were bright green with yellow and blue spots (for the third time this term) but when challenged with the deed, she turned his hair the same colours! Not that Harry isn’t capable of reversing the spells, of course, but it takes time. He was late for Quidditch practice again and Madame Hooch deducted five points from Gryffindor – and it wasn’t even his fault!”

Ron, who had been about to leave the table, sank once again into his chair with a heartfelt groan.

“I take it no one told you about that last one till now.”

The voice was Hermione Granger’s. Ron looked up. The girl’s face was serious, but her eyes twinkled and her mouth twitched slightly at the corners. Neville, Dean and Seamus finished tidying up and sauntered out of the Common Room down to supper. Hermione waited, eyebrows raised.

“I have to say, Ron,” she spoke into the sudden silence, “she certainly has talent – that hair colouring was extremely detailed and very effective – but why does she hate Harry so much? And, more to the point, how are we going to persuade her to stop these constant attacks?”

Ron shrugged wearily.

“The best I can get out of her is that she had a silly, childish crush on Harry the Hero when we three first got to be friends. Now she’s grown out of it, she feels thoroughly embarrassed and blames Harry. Illogical, I know, but when was Ginny ever anything else?”

“Hmm.” Hermione frowned. “It’s gone on for rather a long time, hasn’t it? All through last summer, and the term before that. In fact, I think she started making his life a misery just after Christmas last year, didn’t she?”

Ron gestured helplessly.

“Oh, come on, ‘Mione,” he protested weakly, “All she did then was refuse to speak to him and play the occasional prank. It was really during the summer term that she started getting – well …”

“Spiteful?” suggested Hermione, innocently. Ron shook his head.

“No, no!” he declared, loyally, “Just – concentrated. Goodness, if you think last term was bad, you should have been staying with us during the holidays! I think Harry even considered writing to his uncle, he was so hacked off – imagine Ginny driving him to run back to the Dursleys!”

Hermione smiled.

“I with I had been there.” she replied, wistfully. “I regret my parents’ decision to say in Australia for another two weeks even more now. I was so disappointed when I had to cry off visiting you, Ron.”

He grinned at her, at once looking more like his usual self.

“Aw, don’t worry, ‘Mione.”

He put out a hand and patted her arm, lowering his voice unnecessarily as they were by now quite alone.

“You’ll get plenty of chances to bat your eyelashes at Harry now we’re back at school, I’ll make sure of that. After all, we’re together again now – should be a piece of cake.”

Hermione blushed and her expression stiffened.

“I’ve told you before, Ron, I really have no feelings for Harry, beyond friendship.”

Unfortunately, her blushing cheeks and generally flustered demeanour seemed to give the lie to this simple statement. Ron’s grin widened.

“Sure you don’t, ‘Mione, sure. After all, you never blush or get embarrassed when he’s around, do you? Come on, we’re old friends, you can talk to me. I don’t understand why you haven’t given him some clue as to how you feel … For Merlin’s sake, we’ve been through this so many times – I can’t see why you keep denying it. This is me, Ron – I’m not going to laugh at you. You’d make a great couple, you and Harry … Oh, I give up! Come on: let’s go and get some supper.”

He rose from the table decisively and strode from the room, hands in his pockets, whistling. Hermione stared after him, a bleak expression on her face.

“The reason I keep denying it, Ron, is because it’s just not true.” The whisper was so soft it was almost subvocal. Shrugging her shoulders, she followed him out of the Common Room down to supper.

“Honestly, I’m not getting at you Ron. It’s not as though you’re responsible for the things she does – you’re only her brother, for Merlin’s sake! I’m just completely baffled as to why she’s picking on me!”

Harry was making a mountain out of his mashed potato only to hack it down again roughly with his fork, as though his current difficulties could be solved by similar tactics: he was too preoccupied to eat. Ron looked at him sorrowfully.

“This is the Quidditch robes and hair thing yesterday, is it? I’m sorry Harry, why didn’t you tell me? I only heard about it third-hand this evening.”

“I didn’t want to seem as though I was nagging you. You’ve been getting enough aggravation from the likes of Malfoy, the last thing you need is for me to join in.”

Harry frowned, pushing stiffened fingers through his thick, wayward brown hair.

“It’s not the fact that she’s obviously trying to make fun of me – I like a good joke as well as the next person – it’s the consequences. I had five points deducted from Gryffindor because I was late for Quidditch practice. Now, I admit I’d been late twice on the trot, and this was the third time – but she was responsible for all of them!” Ron could only gaze mournfully at his friend and rue the day his parents decided to have just one more little Weasley.

“Harry,” he asked pointedly, “are you going to eat that mashed potato, or Transfigure it into something more palatable? It must be cold by now.”

Hermione, her face in a set expression, removed the fork from Harry’s hand and set it firmly on his plate.

“I’ll get pudding – my treat.” she said quietly, muttering a brief incantation.

Instantly, the smeared plates, cold mashed potato and dirty cutlery disappeared from the table, to be replaced by steaming bowls of fruit crumble with creamy custard. Students at Hogwarts were not strictly permitted to supplement the meals provided, but many saw creating a more palatable alternative to that offered by the kitchens as something of a challenge, and a number of the staff viewed it as good, harmless practice. Hermione was particularly good at puddings. Ginny’s misdemeanours temporarily forgotten, the boys sniffed eagerly before piling into the hot sticky confection.

“I gotta hand it to you, ‘Mione,” commented Ron indistinctly, his mouth dripping berry juice, “You really know how to conjure puddings – this is first-rate!”

Harry added a muffled agreement before scraping his bowl so meticulously that Neville accused him of trying to eat the glazed pattern. With an effort, Hermione managed to throw aside her abstracted mood to smile broadly and genuinely at the boys’ sincere, if muffled, compliments.

“One day I might just make it for you the muggle way.” she announced, fixing them both with a piercing gaze. “It’s your turn to come and stay with me over the summer – I’ll teach you to cook!”

Ron choked over his last mouthful, and Harry stopped scraping long enough to stare at her in horror.

“Now, steady on, Hermione.” he began, in genuine anguish, “My Aunt Petunia’s a muggle, as you know, and she makes food in the muggle manner. Frankly, if that’s ‘cooking’, I want no part of it!”

Ron, having recovered from his coughing fit, made urgent noises of agreement.

“I’ll second that – it sounds terrifying.”

Hermione frowned mightily, although her eyes still twinkled.

“Are you telling me that you two – my very best friends, partners in crime, fellow members of The Dream Team, and, I might add, frequent beneficiaries of my meticulous studies with regard to homework,” here the two boys squirmed uncomfortably, “d’you mean to say that you doubt my prowess in muggle cookery?”

“Well,” began Ron, nervously nudging Harry.

“Well,” repeated Harry, without the faintest idea how to reply, “I – er – I can’t imagine you being, er, unsuccessful at, well, anything you wanted to learn, Hermione.”

“Except for muggle cookery?”

“Oh, ‘Mione, it’s not you I’ve got worries about!” exploded Ron, frowning in irritation at Harry’s ineptitude. “It’s the whole idea of producing food without magic. My dear, sweet, beautiful, clever, intelligent, capable Hermione – how could you fail at anything you set out to achieve? It’s not the artist that I doubt, it’s the process!”

Hermione’s cheeks had flushed a bright pink at this fulsome praise, despite its lighthearted delivery. She quickly lowered her eyes and began the incantation to clear the dishes. Abruptly, a large yellow blancmange materialised in the middle of the table with an audible thump.

“Yeuch!” announced the two boys, in unison. Blushing even more furiously, Hermione rounded on them.

“Oh, for goodness sake: you two are enough to make any serious witch give up magic completely!” she exploded, “Now look what you’ve made me do?”

Ron’s expression was full of wounded innocence and hurt. He quickly dug out his wand to assist, but so angry was Hermione’s expression that he backed off quickly.

“And do you think I’m incapable of clearing up after my own mistakes?” she hissed, indignantly.

Just at that moment, Fred and George passed the table on their way out from supper.

“Hey, look: a blancmange!” yelled Fred, alerting his twin, “I wonder if it’s as good as mother’s.”

Without bothering to reply, George seized a spoon and started cramming the yellow, gelatinous mass into his mouth. A split second later, Fred did likewise. There was a short pause then both boys coughed, gagged and sprayed the table. Fred continued spitting, covering chairs, table and floor alike with yellow slime, while George shouted indignantly.

“Ach! Yellow blancmange is supposed to taste of banana – not mustard!” Glaring at Hermione, he grabbed a nearby carafe of water and proceeded to sink the contents in one go.

By this time quite a crowd had gathered, and Fred and George wasted no time in playing to their audience. Hermione bit her lip, observing the imminent approach of any one of a number of teachers, and produced her wand, intending to put the damage right before any more trouble could result. Unfortunately Ron beat her to it. Urgency made him slide and slither over the words of an admittedly complex charm and as he tapped the table with his wand, the whole things rose several feet in the air and burst into bloom like some enormous floating garden.

“Can’t you even get it right on the second try?” sneered George, hastily pulling pansies out of his hair and ears. Hermione flushed crimson to the roots of her hair and glared furiously at Ron, who was by now patting Fred on the back as he coughed up daisies, petunias and an interesting variety of crocuses. An open-mouthed Harry was physically trying to drag the table back down to earth by one of its legs.

“That is enough! Who is responsible for this outrage?” Professor McGonagall was not amused in the least. She tapped the legs of the floating table twice with her wand, and it descended gently to the floor, while the array of flowering plants transformed themselves back into crockery and cutlery. She then fixed each of the major participants with a piercing gaze while most of the onlookers melted away like snow.

“Mr. Fred Weasley, Mr. George Weasley.” she rapped out sharply. “I dislike pranks, particularly when they are as public as this. Report to me for detention at 7.30 sharp this evening.”

Fred and George looked anything but repentant, however they bowed their heads, having no choice other than acceptance of their punishment.

“Miss Granger, Mr. Ron Weasley,” McGonagall continued, swinging her glance around to land on them, “You will report to Madame Pomfrey for your detention, also at 7.30 sharp. Mr. Potter …” Harry’s jaw dropped and a derisive giggle was heard from one of the remaining onlookers. Professor McGonagall wheeled sharply and homed in without missing a beat. “… and Miss Ginny Weasley …” There was a collective gasp at such rough justice. “… will report to Madame Pince in the library at the same time. Perhaps such heavy sentences will make you think twice before creating such a spectacle at mealtimes in future. You are dismissed.”

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