The Sugar Quill
Author: Morgead (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: In the Bleak Midwinter  Chapter: Chapter One
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The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

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A/N:  A first try at fanfiction in general. Forgive the all-around 'green-horn-ness'... I'd be grateful for any type of feedback. No-one seems to love Ron enough, so I had a go at writing him his own story. (Yes, Ron, we all love you... you and your spiders and your touchy moments...) If you like it, review; if you don't like it, review anyway. If it's acceptable I'll write the next parts (in which I shall gather sufficient material to make a complete fool of myself).

Disclaimer:  All characters except 'spooky (I wish) hooded figures' belong to Joanne Kathleen Rowling.


PART ONE

in the bleak midwinter / frosty wind made moan / earth stood hard as iron / water like a stone

Winter at Hogwarts was usually bearable, as long as one had the warm fires of the common rooms, friends to talk to, and the promise of Christmas, not to mention Madam Pomfrey’s Pepper-Up Potion. This winter, however, was proving itself to be quite different.

So far, winters at Hogwarts had never been unbearably cold. Snow had not yet fallen, but the grounds were bleak and wet and the wind blew fit to knock over any students who wandered out. Practical study of Care of Magical Creatures was abandoned, taught instead in the relative warmth of a spare classroom, Hagrid explaining the theory in a booming voice that echoed ‘round the four walls. Draco Malfoy’s face seemed more pinched and white than ever, his slender frame now painfully thin.

In the deserted, cold library, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger were working on an Astronomy chart and trying to forget about the ravaging cold that was making its presence known outside, howling and battering the walls of the castle. Ron was yawning and watching Hermione bend over the Astronomy chart, the dim light doing strange things to her hair, making it soft and foamy and tumbled. It suited her.

‘I give up,’ he said at length, tossing her the book that he had been pretending to pore over for the past hour. ‘Let’s just go back up to the common room, shall we? Harry will be wondering where we are.’

‘Ron, your homework isn’t finished…’ The cold had crept into her voice, making it low and soft and almost windy. It was nice, Ron thought sleepily. ‘Are you sure?’

 ‘It’s the weekend. I can always finish it another time.’ He put his quill back into his pocket. ‘My brain won’t work. It’s all fogged up.’ He stretched his too-long arms, a subtle invitation to sleep; ‘I’m tired.’

‘So am I.’ He looked at her then, and realised with a pang that he had been keeping her there too long; her eyes were shadowed and her eyelashes drooped.

He half-stood guiltily. ‘I’d better take you up – shouldn’t have taken all your time –’

‘Nonsense, Ron, you know you need it.’ She laughed softly. ‘Besides, I don’t think I want to go up – face Parvati and Lav, and everybody talking…’ Looking around, she ran her hand through her hair, the curls tumbling over her shoulders. Ron wondered why he was suddenly noticing everything. ‘It’s nice here.’

Ron threw a disbelieving look at the library, at its cold stone floor, tired lamps giving off a dim light, the rows of books that only Hermione was totally familiar with. ‘Here? But Hermione, it’s –’

‘I know,’ she said, thumping the book closed, ‘but… it’s different, here. We’re alone. It’s… nice.’

If I didn’t know her so well, Ron thought, I’d be worried about the connotations of that speech.

‘All right,’ he said, throwing up his hands. ‘We’ll stay here. For a while. After that it’s back to your dorm for you.’   ‘Yes, Father,’ she said, giggling quietly. ‘Actually, I could just sleep here.’ And she leant her head against his shoulder and closed her eyes.

‘Hermione, are you crazy?’ he laughed, his shoulders shaking her head slightly.

‘No…’

‘We really need to get you back upstairs. I think you’ve been working too much…. Hermione?’ He looked down at her, or at least what he could see of her, her curly brown hair and the tip of her nose and shoulder. She was asleep.

He groaned, but decided not to wake her up. She had looked so tired, so stressed. It was the ever-present cold, he realised, that was drugging their senses, sending the harsh whisper of the wind into their ears. Shifting slightly, he looked at her sideways. Maybe he’d just let her sleep for a little while, and wake her when it was time…

Bang. Something hit him like a Bludger on the Quidditch pitch, and for a moment he was stunned.

Suddenly he had the strangest urge to take her face in both hands and kiss her.

She looked so peaceful in her sleep; he could just see the tip of her nose from the corner of his eye. Ordinary girl, but very very strange feelings. He felt sure she was going to be woken up by the sound of his heart trying to get out of his chest. Maybe he was going mad, just like everyone else this winter.

Ron Weasley, you do not kiss your best friend.

But –

You just don’t.

I want to.

He shook his head angrily, her head rocking slightly on his shoulder. It was too strange, this feeling. Almost as though she wasn’t only his best friend, but something more. And his motto was, strange out!

Looking down at her, he suddenly really, really wanted to kiss the tip of her nose and her eyes and her mouth and…

Stop thinking about that.

I don’t want to. His second voice was mutinous. I want her.

Why?

He couldn’t answer that. Didn’t want to. If he even tried to put this feeling into words he would explode. Expressing himself had never been his forte anyway. It was like watching the stars at night, like getting a brainwave in the middle of Potions class, it was like summer and flowers and everything the opposite of this goddamn winter…

In other words, he really, really wanted to kiss her.

He had to be content with slipping an arm around her to caress the slope of her shoulder and arm, with letting his fingers play in her hair, tugging gently at the overabundant curls that had plagued her for almost her entire life. He had always thought critically that she had too much hair.

How could I? I love it.

That more-than-best-friends feeling was becoming dangerously prevalent.

And finally he couldn’t stand it any more, and, taking her by the shoulders, gently turned her around and almost kissed her on the temple…

There was a cold hand on his shoulder, and Ron looked up into the face of Madam Pince; finally removed from the desk behind which she had sheltered for the duration of the miserably inclement weather, she wore no friendly expression. He gulped.

‘Mr. Weasley,’ she said softly, ‘we will have none of that in my library. Please remove yourself.’ She glanced down at the slumbering Hermione. ‘And her. Besides, it is after hours.’ She turned and left for her desk, robes swishing behind her like a vanishing threat once the victim has complied.

He had no choice but to shake her awake. ‘Hermione? Hermione?’

‘Yes?’ She looked up with sleepy eyes.

‘We have to go.’ He cast an anxious look at Madam Pince, who was eyeing them. ‘It’s – it’s after hours.’ Not to mention that if you don’t get the hell out of here I am going to give up resisting and kiss you…and…

‘All right.’ She climbed up him like an arthritic bean, standing up and rubbing her eyes, stretching her arms to the side instead of into the air like most people. He tried not to look at her. ‘What time is it?’ Her voice was still windy and soft and low. He tried not to listen.

‘I don’t know,’ he half-whispered.

‘Let’s go up, then,’ she said, gathering up his Astronomy chart and their textbooks and the ink-bottle. ‘Thank you.’

‘For?’

She smiled, eyes crinkling, and pushed him to the door. Why hadn’t he ever noticed how sweet it was to watch her eyes crinkling? ‘For letting me stay down here. Come on, let’s go up to the common room, Father.’ As they walked along the corridor he felt a pang of something that was painful in its sweetness: he was no more than a friend to her. No more than a friend. Surrogate father, best friend. The more-than-best-friends feeling wouldn’t allow him to think about that.

Hey, wait a moment. Why are you dwelling on that? You don’t want to be more than best friends, do you?

She whispered the password, and they entered the common room, the fire stoked down, Harry sitting alone staring into it. Ron felt a pang of guilt for leaving him alone, but suppressed it. He was Harry Potter. He didn’t need anyone.

‘Hey,’ he said, as the other two sat down next to him. ‘Where’ve you been?’

‘Library,’ said Ron, his voice slightly clearer than it had been. ‘Homework.’

‘I’m tired,’ said Harry moodily. ‘Let’s go to bed, shall we?’

‘Good night, then,’ said Hermione, putting an arm around Harry. ‘Don’t look so glum. It’s the weekend.’ Harry grinned half-heartedly at the idea of Hermione saying something like that, and allowed Ron to pull him up to the dormitory. The red-haired boy was slightly glad to leave Hermione at the bottom of the stairs, to get rid of this strange feeling that he was vigorously trying to squash.

‘Are you all right, Harry?’ he asked in concern, turning to his other best friend, one for whom, thankfully, he felt no untoward sentiments. Harry looked tired, almost haggard, his head drooping, eyes shadowed like Hermione’s.

‘Yes, I’m fine – just tired.’ He gave his friend a tired smile and flopped onto his bed, a bundle of robes, not bothering to undress. ‘Good night.’

Ron shook his head, dropping onto his bed in turn. Long limbs huddled under the sheets, he stared at the darkness formed by the box of the curtains, thinking (or trying not to). He was determined to forget about that evening in the library. He hadn’t been himself. She must never know what he had been thinking… even he didn’t want to remember what he had been thinking.

How could he have wanted to do that? To kiss her, to press his lips to her eyelid and the tip of her nose and of course her own lips…

Typical me, he thought. Attack of the hormones, aimed directly at my best friend. I am going to forget all about this and treat her like the best friend she is.

Still.

It would have been nice to just press his lips to hers, even for a moment, just to know what it would feel like…

He was asleep.

***

How are you this morning, Harry?’ Hermione asked, pouring maple syrup over Ron’s pancakes, something oddly motherly she did every day. He took the plate from her gently, looking in turn at Harry, who looked much more cheerful as he sliced his pancake into quarters.

‘Fine,’ he said half-apologetically. ‘I’m sorry; it’s just that I can’t stand the winter. It’s so bleak and cold and horrible –’ Breaking off with a shudder, he bit off a mouthful of pancake.

‘I know,’ Hermione said comfortingly, ‘but it’ll be over soon, and anyway the Christmas holidays begin in a week. Are you going home, Ron?’

‘No,’ said Ron, slicing his pancake in turn. ‘I don’t feel like enduring Percy’s job description, thank you very much. I’d have more fun here anyway, common room fire and all.’ He was pleased to realise that the strange feelings of last night had disappeared, and grinned at Harry, who grinned back.

Then he turned his head and looked at Hermione, who was pouring maple syrup over her own pancakes, her curly brown hair tumbling over her shoulders almost as though uncombed. Her face was groggy but peaceful, a wholly unfamiliar look for Hermione, who was usually terribly stressed if tired. And that strange feeling flooded right through him again, leaving him breathless and terrified. What if he were to just lean over and kiss her, right there, over her pancakes? Would anyone notice?

Of course they’ll notice. Are you off your nut?

He squashed it firmly and took a mouthful of breakfast. Harry was saying something about Quidditch.

‘…of course there won’t be any more Quidditch practice,’ he said dolefully, ‘not with Professor McGonagall banning all matches until the cold spell is over… Ron, are you listening?’

‘Yes,’ said Ron promptly, ‘and I think it’s unfair.’

‘You’re right,’ said Harry. ‘It is unfair. We were scheduled to smash Slytherin…’ He sighed. ‘Oh well, we can always do that after the winter. But a team doesn’t perform half as well without practice…’

‘You’re becoming another Wood, Harry,’ Hermione said gently. ‘Don’t worry so much. You have an excellent team.’ She smiled at Ron, who had been taken onto the team as a Chaser. He was intensely proud of it, and was just as intense in practice.

‘I suppose you’re right,’ said Harry, getting up. ‘Do either of you want to go for a walk?’

Ron was startled. ‘Outside, and in the cold?’

‘I find it invigorating – god knows I need a little waking up.’ Harry yawned. ‘It’s all right if you don’t want to –’ His face was full of the innocent yearning that Ron could never resist.

‘All right, all right,’ said Hermione, grinning. ‘Harry, you must have been very cute as a baby. Very, very cute.’

‘Why?’ asked Harry, his eyes flying wide. ‘There aren’t any pictures of me as a baby. Well – except that one in the –’ He coughed loudly. ‘Well. Er.’

Ron grinned. ‘I was an extraordinarily ugly infant. My mother thought I was going to grow up a giraffe.’ He looked down at his lengthy frame, almost a foot taller than Hermione. ‘She was right.’

They got up, walking down the corridors that seemed to ooze with a tangible, uncomfortable cold which invaded bones and minds and voices. The air that hit them in the face as soon as they exited the castle and entered the grounds was sharp but somehow not fresh, as though it had originated very far away. Ron walked slowly, his hands in the pockets of his robes, letting the wind hit him in the face. He worked on pretending Hermione wasn’t there, but it didn’t work very well, especially when she was walking right next to him. The strange feeling seemed to come in short, devastating bursts, leaving him tottering.

‘It’s nice out here,’ said Harry finally as they reached the secluded portion of trees near the lake that they usually leaned against when they wanted to think. ‘Even if it is cold. Actually – I think it’s colder inside the castle.’

‘You’re right,’ Hermione agreed thoughtfully. ‘The air is stale out here. It’s strange.’

It was still cold, Ron thought resentfully, and he was about to freeze.

‘There’s something wrong about this winter,’ said Harry, his voice rising in plaintive vehemence. ‘It’s unnatural. Paranormal. I don’t know – it’s just not supposed to be like this.’

‘Never mind, Harry,’ said Hermione, patting him on the shoulder. ‘It’ll clear up. Spring will come soon enough.’

‘Can’t come too soon,’ muttered Ron, one long leg up against the rough bark. ‘I really think Harry’s right. There’s something unnatural about all this cold.’

‘Nonsense,’ said Hermione, somehow not sounding quite so sure of herself. ‘You’ve not been sleeping enough during Divination lessons. It’s just like something she would say. “Foreboding! Doom! Death!”’

Ron laughed, but only half-heartedly. They continued to stare out over the lake, looking over the frozen water to an inner fantasy that none could understand but each knew in their own clumsy way.

The winter moon that rose to shine over the castle found Ron Weasley staring out of the window, forehead pressed against the glass, trying in vain to comprehend the latest Strange Feelings.  It wasn’t working. The sheets were wrapped around him in an effort to keep out the cold.

He felt strangely light-headed, as though he was floating above himself, each breath taking him higher and higher and higher… Perhaps this was what they called ‘ascension’. It felt like flying, felt like he was under the Imperius curse and feeling that slow relaxed state of bliss.

Movement caught his eye in the grounds just outside the Forbidden Forest. He blinked and shook his head to clear it, regretfully bringing himself back down to earth, and looked out, squinting. It was a group of seven people, all tall, all hooded. They had come out of the Forest into the clearing, forming a circle of hooded figures in the clearing.

You’re  dreaming.

No, I’m not, said the voice which had earlier been mutinous. This is real.

The circle looked more like a pentagon. Professor Binns, in a dry voice like chalk snapping: ‘Pentagons were a source of power for strong Dark Magic and other wild sources…’ There were two people in the centre, one robed in black, one robed in white. They both held daggers. Even from the window Ron saw the moonlight glinting off the blade.

They were moving, joining, separating. A complicated dance of the two elements in the centre, who were hopelessly intertwined, stabbing with their daggers into the cold night air, seeming to pierce the veil of the world and to let something in…

They had let in the cold. Ron didn’t so much see it as sense it. He could feel it, could hear the hiss of escaping death, see the faint luminous glow of the white-robed one’s cowl, feel the freezing cold that seemed to be driving at him from all directions… He covered his eyes and toppled to the floor.

And so they found him in the morning, the four other sixth-year boys staring worriedly down at a mass of long limbs and tousled red hair and a face paler than the winter snow hopelessly tangled in the crimson Gryffindor sheets. The face was cold to the touch.

 

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